Research Tip of the Week

This week my tip is about a simple grade school concept that can be helpful in organizing your genealogical research. I think we all learned how to make a simple timeline at some point in early education. The concept is simple. A straight line with marks to show notable events in chronological order.

Family History Timelines

In family history research creating timelines can be a quick and straightforward way to visually understand what documents you need to find as part of your research. No fancy software or websites required; I often jot down a quick timeline on scratch paper with a pencil. For more elaborate timelines there are software programs and websites that allow the creation of detailed timelines.

A quick refresher

The concept is simple. A line, typically straight, from left to right. The dates at each end will be determined by the topic of your timeline. If you were researching the lifetime of one ancestor your start date would be the year the person was born, and the end date would be the year of death. Between your start and end dates, fill in events that may have generated records during your ancestor’s lifetime.

What to include?

Any records that your ancestor generated between your start and end dates are worth considering for inclusion on your timeline. Census records are a document that people in the United States generate every decade. If your ancestor lived in the United States between 1790 and today, census records might be an item to list on your timeline. If your ancestor lived during a period of military conflict, they may have generated records related to that event. Marriage is another even that leaves a paper trail that you may want to list on your timeline. The birth of children is another noteworthy event to include.

Why create a timeline?

Timelines can be useful in genealogy in several ways. They can help you build a research plan by showing the records you should be looking for in your research. They can help your research stay on track by letting you easily see the records you have found and the ones that you still need to find. Timelines are especially useful when trying to find determine if a research subject is two people with the same name or the correct person by letting you compare events and places in their timeline. As a tool in the genealogy toolbox, timelines can help push complicated research to the next level.

Genealogy timelines in action

Here is a timeline I have created to help me work on my brick wall ancestor Emma Davis. Emma was my great-great grandmother. I have more questions than answers about Emma. The family lore is that my great-great grandfather, James Spence, left Emma early on in their relationship and took their three young children to Michigan. Further tales tell the story of Emma remarrying and being under the impression that her children with James died in an epidemic and that when her grown children found her later she refused to accept them because she had told her new family the story about their death.

timeline of Emma Davis
Timeline of Emma Davis

A newspaper clipping from 1887 indicate she disappeared from Marblehead, Ohio and I have found no conclusive proof of her existence after that, or a death record. Did Emma drown herself or did she start a new life?

7 April 1887 Stark County Democrat

What is the truth? Who knows? Often records don’t tell the whole story. I want to find as many records as I can so that I might know as much of the story as possible. This timeline helps me organize my research. My research into Emma won’t be complete until I can locate all the documents that she generated during her lifetime.

As I find documents, I can add them and compare my facts with others to make sure things add up and I remain on the correct track. The 1880 census has been especially helpful in eliminating incorrect possibilities. While not impossible, it is improbable that she shows up in two places on the 1880 census.

My timeline for Emma Davis doubles as a research plan. I use excel for mine which allows me to add my documents right to the workbook. I can link the source documents which I have loaded onto another page of the workbook to my timeline. My timeline is visually basic, but it is easy to dress up the worksheet with photos, images, or other eye dressing for situations where you are sharing your information.

Do you use timelines in your genealogy research? What great discoveries have timelines helped you uncover in your searches?

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Each week I provide a tip that can be helpful in genealogy research. This week my tip is about the use of social media in genealogical research. I use several forms of social media. My primary form of social media is Facebook, but recently I have ventured into the land of Twitter and Pinterest. Each platform seems to have its own drawbacks and benefits. This week’s tip will focus on using Facebook in genealogy research.

Facebook in genealogy

Social media can be valuable in genealogy research in unexpected ways. Here are my tops uses for Facebook when working on genealogical related projects.

Connecting to living people

Facebook is a great source for researching living people. While genealogy focuses on researching ancestors, you may need to look up a living person as part of your genealogical research. DNA matches are one instance where Facebook can be helpful. People test out of curiosity about ethnicity and never return to the site. If you have a DNA match that you want to connect with, it might not be a bad idea to search Facebook. People respond to Facebook messages more readily than they do Ancestry messages in my personal experience.

Genealogy groups and pages

Facebook has become a hub of genealogical activity. It’s free, and it gives genies a chance to collaborate across the globe in real time. Some of the brightest minds in the genealogical world have carved out a presence on social media.

One of my favorite groups on Facebook is Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques. The group has over 60k members and Blaine Bettinger is one administrator of the group. It is my go to source when I have questions about genetic genealogy. The group is hugely active and it usually up to the minute on big news in the genetic genealogy field.

The second group that I really enjoy on Facebook is the Genealogy Squad. It is a group with Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s list, the Genealogy Guys, and Blaine Bettinger as administrators. The Genealogy Squad is the sister group to Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques which focuses on the traditional records based aspect of genealogy research.

Family groups and pages

Facebook has become a popular place for families to create groups that serve as a connecting spot. My personal journey of genealogical sharing began with a Facebook family group. Support from my family members helped build the confidence I needed to venture out into a more public platform. That first group, The Shuck Funny Farm is now a virtual family reunion that never ends. It spans generations of people with a shared family line in rural West Virginia.

Members of the group share memories and personal stories of family members long gone. There are photographs shared that are not available anywhere else. The group is just under 100 members, and it has added a rich layer to the genealogical research for many relatives. The personal details add an amazing context to the genealogy. 

Facebook is just one social media platform that can be useful in genealogy. With the use of Facebook, you can put yourself in contact with the best minds in genealogy and stay up to date on latest news and events. It also allows you to connect with both close and distant relatives and opens up the possibility of creating ongoing virtual family reunions.

Do you use Facebook in your genealogical research? What groups or pages do you find useful? Have you checked out the Facebook page for this blog?

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Digitize your photos and documents

Each week I provide a helpful tip that helps create better genealogy researchers. This week my tip is about digitizing photographs and old documents.

**This blog post contains affiliate links and if you purchase items on this post through the links I may receive compensation.**

In the past, it was a complicated chore trying to make copies of photos. In the era of film, most people found it easier to order multiple copies of photos at the time of development than to get duplicates after they developed the film. It could be time consuming and cost prohibitive to get copies of old photos. As a result, people could be possessive of original family photographs.

woman looking at photo
Photo by Luizmedeirosph on Pexels.com

Today, that is not a problem. Technology for the win! Getting digitized copies of photographs and other documents is a breeze with modern technology.

There are several reasons you should start digitizing your photos today.

The number one reason you should digitize your photos and documents is because each time we touch an original, it sustains damage. Wear and tear will add up even with the most careful care. Digitizing your images and documents in their condition today will preserve them as they are now.

Another reason to digitize your photographs and documents is to safeguard your treasures if there is ever a disaster. House fires, tornadoes, floods, and other unfortunate events happen. In a moment’s notice, you can lose everything you own. There is no replacement for an original, but if you lose the original, a digitized copy is great to have.

Digitized photographs are also useful if you need to edit or repair the original photographs. There are several great software options out there for repairing digitized images of old damaged photos. You can copy the digitized original image and run the image through various changes, risking no damage to your original photo. One caveat here is that if you make edits to an original, it is good practice to show it is an enhanced version.

Flip-Pal mobile scanner

The final reason on my list of why you need to digitize your old photographs and documents is to share! A digitized image is easy to share. With the use of digitized photos and online family trees, the landscape of genealogy has changed. It’s a visual experience covering generations and connecting family members who otherwise might have never met. There is no longer a need to hoard family photos for a personal treasure with the ease of sharing digitized photos.

Learn More About the SRRS Solution

Digitize your photos today to better safeguard your research and treasures. It will not only protect your originals and help you fix damaged images, but it opens the door to sharing the images with other relatives. Great research only matters if you take the steps to preserve it.

Join my email list to get my research tips each Tuesday!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Research Tip of the Week

Maps add extra context to your research.

tip Tuesday graphic

Each week I try to provide a research tip. This week my tip is about maps. Maps are an important genealogical tool. They add extra context to the lives of the people we research. I have used maps heavily in my blog series about Fred L. Jacobs to help explain the landscape of battles.

Looking at a historical map of an area and time that your ancestors lived can help you get a better understanding of their day-to-day life. Did they live in an industrial area? Perhaps they lived on a farm.

Was the area dominated by a certain profession such as coal mine workers in a coal town. Perhaps it was a coastal area dominated by shipping and seafaring trades. Looking at a map can show the landscape and provide clues. Examining the area in which ancestors lived provides depth to genealogy research.

West Virginia Archives & History: MAPS &emdash; Ma066-14

Did your ancestor live in a wealthy area or a poverty-stricken area? By looking at a map, you might better understand if they were from a more well off area. Or a map might explain why every son in a single family enlisted in the military. That was the case in one branch of my family where the options were coal mining or war.

Maps open the door to other clues.

Using maps can also reveal information that might not be otherwise be obvious otherwise. Proximity was important in an age where people may not have traveled far during their lifetime.

Is there a church near where they lived that they may have attended? That might suggest a place to search for records. Schools and cemeteries are two other things that looking at the map may reveal. Maps are valuable because they can help direct your genealogical research on a local level.

1920 Flint, Michigan map
1920 Flint, Michigan

Maps can be helpful in locating other relatives. If you have two people and you are trying to determine if they may have crossed paths in life by comparing locations on a map it may be possible to decide if it was probable that two individuals knew each other. Maps can provide information to help us weigh the quality of other evidence we are faced with during research.

Where are some places you can get an idea of where your ancestors lived?

  • Census records
  • City directories
  • Draft cards
  • Vital records

Here is a great guide to using maps in genealogy that is really recommend.

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Take advantage of family gatherings.

This week many families will gather together to celebrate the things they are thankful. These multi-generational events are an excellent opportunity to share the latest genealogical discoveries because the audience is captive at least until someone cuts the pie. Beyond the chance to share family lore though, holiday gatherings can often provide a great chance to preserve family history. Holidays are a wonderful time to do family interviews.

Personal interviews do not have be a formal affair. All you really need is a willing participant, your cell phone to record the interview, and a few questions. Pick a quieter area and have a casual chat.

people at dinner
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The best idea is to start with the oldest member at the gathering if they are willing and able. Start the interview by turning on your cell to record audio and announcing the name of the interview subject and the date of the interview.

Try to guide the interview toward more positive memories but allow the conversation to flow. Family history interviews can provide some interesting genealogical tidbits, but only if you ask. After your interview make sure to thank the individual you interviewed and save your recording. Holiday season can provide many great situations for genealogical digging.

Get started with a few easy questions!

  • Where and when were you born?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Who is the oldest relative you remember?
  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • Who was your favorite relative growing up?
  • What were some of the holiday traditions of your childhood?
  • What was your childhood home like?
  • What were the names of their parents?
  • Did you have siblings?
  • What is the longest trip you have even been on?

UCLA Library has a center for Oral History Research. They have a great outline for a family history interview.

Family history is not only digging up old records. It is creating new records today to leave for future generations. Take the time to sit with an older relative this holiday season and record their memories for generations to come. It can add a great extra element for future generations to find and add a fun layer to your current holiday season.

Here is a great article from Family Search about how to easily capture audio with their app.

Research Tip of the Week

tip tuesday graphic

Last week, my tip was about keeping a research log. The research log is the document that will allow you to retrace your steps to find the document should you need to get it again. It is also important because it helps save time. Research logs save you from looking for the same record in the same place twice.

Research Plan

This week my tip is about creating a research plan. If the research log is the directions, the research plan tells you the destination. A research plan explains the purpose of your search.

Research plans can be broad or simple. It is a matter of preference. The important detail is that the research plan helps you focus your research so you accomplish your goals.

Most of my research plans have the same basic concept. I start out with an individual. The name of my research subject is my starting point. I want to know anything and everything I can find out about my subject. Each of the many things I search for become objectives toward reaching that goal. Standard objectives for any research subject are vitals such as birth, marriage, and death. I also attempt to locate the person at least every decade on census records possible.

An Example

As an example, let us say that I have a project that requires me to look up information about a man who lived Bay City, Michigan. This is just a random name I picked. We’ll say this person was my imaginary client’s grandfather. His name was Stanley Burton.

My research plan goal is learning about Stanley Burton. The events of his life then become objectives. The first aim on my list would be the first search on my research log. I used a broad search because I used a fictitious name. I wanted to get results. Here I used a general search of the name Stanley Burton and the city and state. The first fact I need to check off on my list is a record of birth. My imaginary client has a guess on his grandfather’s age but few concrete details.

The first result is a man named Stanley Burton born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1901. It is his birth record. If I had a family tree for my client, I could confirm or discard this record as a match based on the listed parents. Without further facts, I could sit this record aside and look further for information on this person later to determine if it’s the right or wrong person.

Tip Tuesday

There are a few results that come back in Ancestry.com that I might need to investigate if I lacked further information. For simplicity’s sake, I will say I know my research subject’s father was born in England. That gives me a strong clue that the birth record I found for Stanley Burton born in Detroit in 1901 is the target of my search. From that point, I would probably research this subject for further vitals. It might pan out to be the wrong individual after more digging. Or I could discover definite proof it is the correct person.

With the case of Stanley Burton born in 1901, my next step would be to locate the 1910 census. That would be aim two on the list. I’d hope to find Stanley, age 9, living with his parents listed on his birth record. I’d move on to the 1920 census, 1930 census, and so forth. Because of Stanley’s age, I would probably also check for military records from both the world wars.

Each record I searched for would become a new entry on my research log, and every detail I discovered would fill in a blank on my research plan. It might even add new objectives as I discover more information about his life. Perhaps Stanley served in the military during World War II.

With the use of a research plan and a research log, staying focused and organized becomes a much easier task.

**Disclaimer: I picked the name Stanley Burton out of a hat and just got lucky that he existed. I have done no research on this individual beyond a quick name search for a random name. **

Research Tip of the Week

Keep a research log.

Read that again. Keep a research log.

Keeping a research log is one of the most important things a genealogist can do. Hobby or expert, this is something that every family historian should be doing. There is no one item that goes further to organize research.

A research log is a simple document that allows you to make note of the places that you look for records. It helps prevent you from wasting research time by looking for the same document in the same place.

Each research session should begin with your research log and a research plan. With this strategy it will be easier to get the most out of every research session.

Here is a free research log you can use to get your started!

Research Log PDF.

Research Tip of the Week

Always check for local genealogical societies when you are doing research in a certain locale.

If there is an expert on local history this is a good place to try to find them. Genealogical societies often have records that aren’t available in other places or information on how to find them.

Members of local genealogical societies may know the location of long forgotten cemeteries and details of family histories that might not be published or widely known. It’s also a good place to stumble upon distant cousins!

Research Tip of the Week

Always look at records or images of records whenever possible

It is convenient to take the quick route and take information from the transcription of a record. This is a mistake. The actual document often has information that is not available on the transcription.

When I pull a document to source a fact, I look at the entire document. I have found valuable clues in looking at the neighbors listed on census records and witnesses listed on marriage or death records just to name a couple places you can locate valuable information that might not be on a document transcription.