Monday, May 29, 2017

Writing a Family History – The Nitty-gritty

The book Guide to Genealogical Writing by Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff was mentioned in a couple of sessions I attended at NERGC. I decided to purchase a copy and am glad I did!

This book gets down to the nitty-gritty of producing a written family history. The first chapter sets the stage: “Shifting Mental Gears.” In other words, you have to stop thinking like a researcher and get into the mindset of a writer. Now, this is the heart of the matter and what I struggle with for my September presentation - how to encourage genealogists who love the chase, but feel they have no writing skills.

Some suggestions: After deciding the scope of your project, one ancestral line or several, determine your audience and time frame. Those decisions will narrow down your focus. From the research you have completed, develop a table of contents. This is not set in stone, but will serve as a guide to keep you on track.

Chapter two explains the genealogical numbering systems, and I admit I have not followed either in my previous monographs. That is something I have on my to-do list.

Chapter three explains how to make a style sheet, and this is something I have done. It is necessary to ensure consistency in your writing. I also use it for citation styles I use the most – utilizing the formats in Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

The above is a sample of the wonderful information contained in this book, taking the genealogist from the very start right through publication. I encourage anyone thinking about writing up family stories to purchase this book. It even gets down to the detail that there is only ONE space after a period! Not what our generation was taught.

A Worlds Collide Moment - I was surprised to see their example of a narrative geographic setting on page 48. The narrative, “On the Coast of Ireland,” starts by saying “… among the markers in St. Rose Cemetery in Sandy Hook, CT … “ That information, I believe, they got from the Irish Tombstone Transcription project I did in 2005!!!  My transcription of the Irish tombstones was published in Connecticut Ancestry (November 2005 Vol. 48, No2), and also resides on the Genealogy Club of Newtown’s website. It proves once again genealogy is a small world. After completing the transcriptions in St. Rose Cemetery, I then did the Irish tombstones in Old St. Peter's Cemetery, Danbury, CT, with the help of Harlan Jessup. Harlan took our project to the board of Connecticut Ancestry, who assembled volunteers to record the rest of Fairfield County's Irish tombstones.

Friday, May 26, 2017

NERGC 2017 – Writing a Family History

I looked forward to this session, since I am to give a Writing Your Family History presentation to our genealogical society at its September meeting. There is no better person to learn about writing from than Warren Bittner.

It’s important to know the concept of your story. Are you using information from diaries, letters, or first hand accounts? To fill out your ancestors, search all the records: Military, court, probate, contemporary letters and diaries. Analyze each document and understand it in its historical context. Read local histories and family histories. Know the law at the time your ancestor lived. Understand their ethnic and religious background. How did those affect your family? What was the educational philosophy of the time? Know their medical history.

When you have completed an exhaustive search following the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), according to the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), you can then start writing.

Hook the reader from the first sentence. This applies to all writing, but might not be so apparent when writing family history. Choose a significant event or an interesting ancestor. Start with action, and begin the story in the middle or near the end. Get the reader hooked, define the story’s theme, and add context to your ancestor’s lives.

Use active voice, strong verbs (Warren included an extensive list), and make every word work. Make every sentence advance the story. Describe (if you can) your ancestors and the places they lived. Did your ancestor (s) change over the years? If so, how?

There are a number of ways to present your family story. Find what works best for your family, and enjoy the writing journey.

P.S. The writing process will show you what details you are missing.

Monday, May 22, 2017

NERGC 2017 – Searching for Living Persons

We’ve all wished we could talk to someone who might have that critical piece of the family puzzle. If only we could talk to Aunt (or Uncle) So-and-So. They are in their 80s or 90s now, and we don’t know where – or if - they are living. How can we find out? That’s the reason I attended Thomas MacEntee’s, They’re Alive! session at NERGC.

Besides expanding our genealogy research, other reasons you might need to find long lost relatives is if you are planning a family reunion, or find cousins who might be working on collateral lines. website is free to search, and it might give you enough information in order to use other sources to drill down. When I put hubby’s name in and the state, the site came up with four cities he was associated with, along with a list of people. The site wants you to click through to their paid section for more information, but Thomas warned the audience about doing this. is another reputable site. When I put hubby’s name and state into this site’s search function, it was very fast. It gave two locations in which he had lived, and one in which he hadn’t. It gave a list of people, some with middle initials, and one more than PeopleFinder.

ZabaSearch was fast, provided hubby’s current address and includes a Google map of the location. It listed the same associations, but the phone number listed was outdated. is another interesting site, providing much the same information as the others. All these sites have paid options for more information, and Thomas said – Use at your own discretion.

Other ways to find folks is to utilize Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. These sites might have the information you need. White pages, Facebook, Ancestry public trees, Twitter, Google Blog search are all options for finding people. Alumni associations – high school and colleges, court records are also possibilities.

My Best Takeaways: Learning about ZabaSearch with its Google map feature. Whether you find a family tree online or information from one of the people finder sites, always verify the information yourself. Thomas allows information he produces to be used in genealogical society newsletters. All the newsletter editor has to do is contact him and ask permission. Very generous.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

NERGC 2017 – Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past

Marian Burk Wood at NERGC 2017
The session we were waiting for was at 3:00 on the first day of the conference. Our good friend, Marian Burk Wood was presenting information on how to organize and preserve your genealogy materials for future generations.

I didn’t need to take notes. I already had her companion book Planning a Future for YourFamily’s Past. This book is a must-have for every genealogist.

The room was packed, even though Marian’s time slot competed with presentations by well-known speakers like Thomas MacEntee. Elissa Scalise Powell, and Helen Shaw.  It was apparent that conference attendees craved information on how to preserve their genealogy collections.

Marian introduced the audience to her PASS Process: Prepare by organizing materials; Allocate ownership; Set up a genealogical “will,” and Share with heirs.

She went on to explain how to sort your “stuff,” and various organizational techniques. She had examples of storage materials and showed how to use and label.

After placing documents and photos into acid/lignin free archival boxes, Marian inventories the items. She explained how this process makes it easy for her and other family members to know what is in box.

She covered the delicate situation of family feuds. What to do if more than one person wants possession of your genealogical materials. She also explained what to do if no one steps up. She suggested donating your material to your ancestor’s local historical society or other interested repository. She found repositories for items that were of no value to her family, i.e. she donated a WWII war bond wallet showing General MacArthur to the MacArthur Memorial Museum in Norfolk, VA. Make sure you contact the organization and find out their specific donation requirements.

My best takeaways: “By the inch, it’s a cinch.” I have to remind myself that in order to tackle the job of preserving my genealogy research, I have to do it in small increments. Although I have acid free boxes and photo envelopes, they aren’t adequate for our documents and photos. Nor have I inventoried the boxes. Many items are in Pendaflex folders and we have photos that are not labeled. I have ordered more archival boxes and protective sleeves. Not enough to take care of everything hubby and I have, but it is a start – remember – by the inch, it’s a cinch. We also have to develop our genealogy “wills.” Good luck with your preservation efforts.

Monday, May 8, 2017

NERGC-2017 - Finding Someone Who Eluded Census Records

Directions to the Springfield, MA Civic Center provided by the New England Regional Genealogical Society were easy to follow. We exited I-91 at Columbus Street, onto Main Street, and within a few blocks was the Civic Center where the Fourteenth New England Regional Genealogical Conference was being held. Excitement was mounting!

Parking was right across the street; registration was easy. While we waited to meet our friends Wally and Marian for lunch, we had a long chat with speaker DonnaMoughty. We first met Donna when we lived in Newtown, CT, and she spoke to our newly formed genealogy club. Donna now lives in Florida, is a member of the Manatee Genealogical Society, as are we, so we see her there as well. It was nice to have a chance to visit in Springfield. Donna is a professional genealogist specializing in Irish research along with U.S. research, methodology and technology including Macs, iPhones and iPads.  She provides research, consultations and training. She is one busy lady!

After a delicious lunch at the Red Rose restaurant, my first NERGC session was Finding Someone Who Eluded Census Records, by Carol Prescott McCoy.

There are different types of censuses. The population census is the most used, but there are also industrial, agricultural, Veteran’s, some state censuses, and slave schedules. Note the date when the census was taken, i.e. in 1920, the date was 1 January. Check every year, every type. People moved and could have been missed. Or they were too far out in the country, in dangerous territory, where the census taker didn’t want to go. Sometimes ancestors are listed twice, if they were traveling between residences. And these could contain different information!

Copy/download entire census page to capture neighbors for future searches. Record all members of the household. Sometimes boarders or “servants” can be relatives. Record names, ages, and places exactly as in the census.

Name spelling issues are the most common. Try every variation. If that doesn’t work, find neighbors from previous census. If your ancestors stayed in the same place, finding the neighbors will locate your people. This was the only way we were able to find my New York City Nunn family in the 1900 census. When the census taker was told the last name was Nunn, he thought he was being told “none.” After several attempts at this misunderstanding, he finally wrote the deceased father’s first name “Joseph,” as the last name, scribbled in with the wife’s first name – a real mess. I located them because I found a 1905 New York Times article where Elizabeth Nunn (eldest daughter) sued her neighbor for return of money Elizabeth had entrusted with the woman in 1900. When I untangled that mess, I found the family!

Census Substitutes. Town records, tax lists, school lists, old maps, town histories, voter lists are all places where your ancestors’ histories reside. Hubby and I developed an 1890 Census Substitute for Newtown, Connecticut by using tax records, school and voter lists, and some church records. It was our hope that other towns would follow suit in order to fill in this 20 year gap.

My best takeaways: Develop a census database. This can be done for each person or by family, to sort by last name as well as date. Develop a timeline (I did that years ago, but it is a good reminder to review and update.) FAN Club - Follow friends, associates and neighbors. Be flexible!