About Kelli

I am a wife, mom, writer, photographer, and avid genealogist. My tendency toward organization is a combination of my natural tendency toward order and also many skills I have developed along the way. Organization should always be for a purpose and should help you become a more efficient researcher.

My cousins notebook

One of my organizational tips is for everything to have a place… no more sticky notes and scraps of paper. For genealogy, I have something that I affectionately call my “cousins notebook.” 02_malibu journal refill pages

It looks like this… it is a portable notebook from Daytimer called the Malibu refillable journal. There is a lined page version and a plain page version. But any notebook will do!

01_malibu planner







There are many types of lists and contacts housed in this notebook. When I see a website, hear a speaker, or receive an email about something new, I track helpful websites, particularly if I have to wait to look at it and find it later.



09_helpful tips

I keep track of newly found cousins. I note which line of the family, Ancestry user name, family tree name, and I also track here whether I have shared my private family tree with them. I keep track of DNA matches as well.

12_dna matches_redacted 11_cousins correspond and invite to tree_redacted

Sometimes I find family trees that I want to look at later, so I note that.

10_helpful family trees_redacted


In addition to the hand-written notes to myself, I also have some lists that I use and update. I have a list for each person who has been DNA-tested. I have a ready-made copy and paste list of surnames for when I correspond with DNA matches.





07_list of surnames to paste into DNA messages

Something that I track in this notebook are the names that have “google alerts” set for surnames and the surname message boards that I have added to my aggregator, Feedly. If you need more information about Feedly, I have other posts about how to use it and set it up to streamline your genealogy sources, blogs, and surname message boards.

06_google alert list and family surname message boards in feedly

I have a list of the maps that I have collected for my research trips (and the ones I want to collect next).

05_list of maps

If you belong to RootsWeb groups, this notebook is a great place to track which groups are feeding into your email. I also update this list occasionally, removing groups that aren’t active anymore and adding new groups as my search expands.

04_rootsweb yahoo groups

The final list that I track and update in my cousins notebook is my society memberships, the cost, and the renewal dates.

03_genealogical society memberships


One of the best ways to clear your desk is to have a “go to” place for those notes and scraps of paper! Get a notebook and get organized!!

Optimizing browser usage for genealogy

People often ask me which browsers I use for genealogy. For quite a few years, my go-to browsers have been Firefox, Opera, and Chrome. I use all three for genealogy. And I use them for different purposes.

Firefox is a browser that I use for viewing my family tree at ancestry.com. I check Ancestry messages and DNA matches using Firefox. And I also have tabs for my frequently used databases or web sites.


One thing I have learned using Firefox is that it helps to alter a couple of settings. Under “options” and General Settings, I first chose for Firefox to start showing the same windows and tabs from last time. I also chose for Firefox to open a new window in a new tab. This helps me with my genealogical research. I don’t have to retrace my steps or back my way out of Ancestry’s site. If there happens to be an update to Firefox, there is an option to “restore” the last session as soon as it reloads. So, all of my tabs and web sites are still there.


Opera has some wonderful tools that are useful for genealogy.


Speed dial is one of my favorite things! When you open Opera, the speed dial opens and you can keep your commonly used sites here.



You can add new pages to your speed dial. And you can change the settings to view as many tiles as you want.

If you have other hobbies or work uses, you can rearrange the tiles in a way that collections of items are grouped together or groups of tiles are in a “folder.”



A folder can contain many similar items. You can arrange, rearrange, and fix folders in any way that you want.

In order to combine two items into a folder, drag one over the top of another, and a folder will appear.

In order to change the name of the folder, right click on the folder. A menu appears that will allow you to


change the name.









I use Google Chrome for many genealogical needs. The best thing about Google Chrome is the easy use and availability of Google Docs and Google Sheets and other office software. So, if you want to use a spreadsheet or document, particularly if you want to collaborate with cousins, Google docs are terrific.

chrome icon

And you can “pin” the documents to the browser, so opening and closing Chrome doesn’t disrupt what you are working on and logged into. If you right click on the tab, you can choose to pin it to the starting of the browser.


You can pin all sorts of sites to the toolbar. If you have genealogy sites that you look at often, pin them. And the other “quick use” I have found… if I am reading an email or see a link on Facebook, and I open it, I don’t have to read it right away. I can pin it, wait to read it without losing it, and then unpin it if I don’t need it anymore.


I meet many people who use Internet Explorer for everything. And it’s a good browser, but don’t limit your options. Give one of these others a try!

Joining local genealogical societies and searching small collections

Genealogy is more than Internet searching! Searching online or searching Ancestry can uncover clues, but it should not be your only discovery tool.

Part of hunting for clues in genealogy is to uncover clues in archives and local libraries and courthouses. Have you wondered where to start?

Most regions of the country, states, geographic groups of counties, individual counties or parishes, cities, and townships have archives. In the United States, we have National Archives. But finding information about your particular family, unless they were prominent or notorious, can be discouraging in the largest collections.

Rather than start at a large archive, I have had more success by “going local.”

Start at the little library or the local courthouse where your ancestors lived. Whether the family was there for 100 years or a dozen, you might be surprised at how many things there are to discover at a small local collection. This approach has worked for me dozens of times. From reading the family history books and Centennial books to looking at local plat maps and property atlases, there are rich clues to uncover. Church records and local funeral homes often donated their records to these local archives. Most of these smaller locations have vertical files by surname and obituary card files. Don’t forget to ask about those!

Another important step is to join the local genealogical or historical society where your ancestors were living. Most yearly memberships are between $10 and $20 per year. The newsletters that these society volunteers generate are full of gems.

I had been following a trail of Samuel Todd, my 2nd great grandfather. I was fairly certain, living in Lawrence County, TN, that he was involved in the Civil War. But I couldn’t find a record of him in any of the local regiments. One day my Lawrence County newsletter arrived. In it with an article about George Washington Shaffer and his best friend Samuel Todd. Apparently Samuel did serve in the Civil war, but he and his friend joined a group from Iowa that was passing through. I would have never looked in Iowa for him. And I would have never found this nugget without the help of the local genealogical society.

from Lawrence County, TN, Genealogical Society

from Lawrence County, TN, Genealogical Society Newsletter

While you are there, please donate. And when you compile your family history involving that area, donate a copy of your files and documents to their collection.


Use Feedly to help you with your genealogy

Are you looking for ways to use technology to help you be more efficient and organized? Feedly is an amazing tool to help the Internet work for you!  If you have never used an aggregator, it’s easy to set up and easy to use! Go to Feedly.com and get started!

feedly icon

What is an aggregator? It compiles news, website updates, blog posts, and podcasts. For genealogy, one of the best uses is to compile updates to Ancestry Surname Message Boards. Information keeps accruing at the site until YOU are ready to read it.

What you are doing now….

how hard I work

What Feedly will do for you….

how feedly works

Why is Feedly useful? The information that you want to read will be there when you want to read it. You don’t have to remember all of the places that you searched and when you last checked those sites. Never miss a blog post again! And you will be more efficient, saving time for other tasks.

Feedly syncs automatically when you are logged in. And it’s ready to read on your computer, mobile devices, or web-connected ereaders.

How do I add things to Feedly?

1. Find the rss logo. RSS means “really simple syndication”. RSS feeds allow users to receive timely updates from favorite web sites.

rss feed logo

2. Search Feedly’s categories. Feedly has common sites preloaded for you to add.

add content- genealogy

3. Paste in a web site to see if there is a feed to add.

How do I send or save what I found?

how to send the information

Where do I find out how to organize Feedly?

feedly organize

Where do I find out how to change the theme?

feedly themes

Where can I go to change the preferences?

feedly preferences

Gluten-free at FGS 2013

When I prepare for an out-of-town trip, one of my concerns is finding gluten-free options. Next week genealogists, librarians, and archivists from all over the country will descend on Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for the FGS Conference. Although I do not have celiac disease, I am gluten intolerant. I can usually find salad and grilled meat, but sometimes it is a challenge, particularly with time constraints. This blog contains local restaurant links on the far right column.



Ancestry DNA Test, Now What?

Recently I DNA tested my father, my mother, and a first cousin with Ancestry’s autosomal DNA testing. The results have been both fun and overwhelming. The results that arrive each week in my email are quite amazing! To determine what to do next, I started with The Barefoot Genealogist video blogs on Ancestry. Crista Cowen does a great job of explaining results, different types of DNA tests, and how to use what you have found.

source: forbes.com

source: forbes.com


One of my distant relatives, Byron Brown, wrote a 12-volume set called, “Cousins by the Dozens.” After DNA testing, I feel like I am trapped in some sort of electronic version of cousin compiling. How do I contact all of these people? I was emailing each cousin with common names, possible connections, and “I think we are related”, but I didn’t feel very efficient in my quest.

I decided to take what I learned about cousin relationships and develop something I could use over-and-over to contact cousins. In writing, this type of language that can be used efficiently and repetitively  is called “boilerplate language.” It’s a huge time-saver.

Because 1st cousin matches are most likely linked through common grandparents, here is what I wrote and then copied with each cousin email:

You and my father are 1st cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common grandparents. Here are my father’s grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Hiltbruner

Calderwood & Gilbert

Do you have any of these names in your family?

Then with second cousins, I wrote another boilerplate using what I know about my father’s great grandparents’ surnames.

You and my father are 2nd cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common great grandparents. Here are my father’s great grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Brelsford

Hiltbruner & Riffle

Calderwood & Throp

Gilbert & VanTilburg

Do you have any of these names in your family?

And usually by the great great grandparent list, unknowns begin to appear. I included them in the list of grandparents. It’s already helped me find the surnames of two of my great great grandmothers.

You and my father are 3rd cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common great great grandparents. Here are my father’s great great grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Unknown

Brelsford & Lawrence

Hiltbruner & Hagerty

Riffle & Unknown

Calderwood & Robeson

Throp & Wikoff

Gilbert & Unknown

VanTilburg & Clark

Do you have any of these names in your family?

I would encourage you to copy this boilerplate or write one of your own. Keep it simple. Save the more complicated emails for when someone responds. Reach out… at least to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins. And happy hunting!!

ancestry dna logo

Next post… how to organize the responses you receive from your cousins!

Are you a dot collector or dot connector?

One of the trends in popular genealogy that is impossible to deny is the rapid accumulation of information, even if it’s errant information. Professional genealogists complain about it. I read the message boards! This genealogical hoarding is an interesting phenomena. But like all hoarding, there tends to be a reckoning. Eventually something will gob-smack you in the face and wake you up to the reality of what you are doing. Everyone will have errors in their trees, but with sourcing and a little bit of research, we can greatly minimize those errors, particularly those passed on to others.

collector or connectorSome people on Ancestry are obviously just collecting names, collecting data, and collecting photos without even the slightest amount of logic or research applied. Case-in-point, I found a hint to my own name this week. I was so excited, but when I clicked on the link, it was to another online tree that had listed me as deceased and having died in a place where I have never lived and never visited. I was married to the correct man from the correct family, however, the information about me was wrong. I contacted the tree owner to see if he or she could update and correct the information… no answer yet. But then a strange thing happened. All sorts of people started attaching all of that wrong information to their own trees. The misinformation propagated like rabbits in springtime.

If you approach your research as a connector rather than a collector, you might be surprised what you find. Family history is about more than names and dates. It’s about lives and struggles, wars and ideals, faith and hope. You can learn about some of the heroes and some of the scoundrels. How many of us know the migration and hardships? The stories and the “overcoming” are what make a great testimonial of life. The connections woven between military men or farmers in a community, or the women at church are so valuable for us to understand how they survived and thrived. It’s important for us to have that perspective on how we came to be and all of the events that had to occur in order for us to be here right now. That kind of perspective is life-changing. To think that all eight of my great great grandfathers had to survive their Civil War service for me to be here right now is a thought that makes me choke up.

One of the great things about an online tree is the ability to seek and find. The difficulty lies in assessing the quality of information. I would encourage you to look at each tree with a careful eye. Is it sourced? Are there documents and photos and stories? If not, move on. If each of us approach the process as connectors rather than collectors, we will build a much more valuable network of information.

Getting Ready for Ft. Wayne and FGS

My favorite genealogical conference of the year is fast approaching. The Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, or FGS, is in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, on August 21-24. I attend a number of conferences each year, some focus on genealogy and some are for my day job. But by far FGS is the most enjoyable to me because the focus is on the librarians, the archivists, and the societies that are the foundation of genealogy. These hard-working and underfunded workers and volunteers are the protectors of data and records that we crave. And societies do the work at the local level to keep information available for all of us.  https://www.fgsconference.org/

Individual researchers and those curious about genealogy will find a variety of topics of interest. There are lectures and workshops for all areas and all levels of experience. In addition, the Allen County Public Library is one of the best collection of books, periodicals, city directories, and family history books in the country.   http://www.genealogycenter.org/Home.aspx

Spend as much time as you can in the stacks of the library. Prepare ahead of time to make the most of your visit. Explore the website and familiarize yourself with their resources. Typically, the library offers a tour for those who have never been to ACPL. The tour is well worth the time.

You may use computers and scanners in the Genealogy Center of the Library. Bring a lock to attach your laptop to the desk in order to roam through the stacks. No need to bring coins for the copier. The machines use a swipe card system where you preload money to pay for your copies. There is plenty of room (and multiple outlets) to bring your electronic gear with you.

Even if you have never attended a genealogical conference, take the opportunity to learn, to spend time with like-minded people, and get invigorated and more productive in your research. Whether you have one day or four, come to the FGS conference in Ft Wayne, Indiana. The program of speakers and luncheons is a great mix of society interests, individual learning, and technology courses.


Goodbye Google Reader. Hello Feedly.

I have to admit that I had a moment of panic when I heard that Google Reader was shutting down. I love Google Reader. I use it every day. I keep track of my favorite web sites, blogs, and surname feeds. Right away I went to work to find a replacement. I was looking for a way to save my subscriptions rather than reenter all of the web sites. I stumbled upon Feedly. 

I was so glad to see that Google Reader would allow a download of the data so that all of the subscriptions were preserved. Feedly imported everything without a hitch. And I was good to go.

The computer version is fairly easy to use. You can choose default settings for displays. It was easy to customize the categories. But the iPad version is outstanding.

The iPad version is user friendly and everything can be opened with the touch of a finger or article after article can be read and dismissed with a drag across the screen. A small number shows up with each category that tells you how many unread articles are available. If you tap on a category such as “family history”. Each subscription is then available if you want to look at one specific location. It functions just like Google Reader in that you can read as little or as much as you want.

If you decide to choose a particular subscription, such as the Reed message board, a list of new items appears. You can browse through the headlines and open what you want. Once the page is swiped, all of the items are changed from unread to read.

After you complete one category, a new category appears. I looked at the Reed message board, and then had a choice whether to move on to the Robbins message board. 

From my last few days of using Feedly, I am a convert. And I still think the web aggregator is one of the best and most useful technologies available, particularly for keeping track of geneological sites, blogs, and message boards.

















Free Yourself from Filing

How many times have you looked at the stack of papers in on your desk (or stuffed in the corner)? You feel bad that you have not been able to file? So you feel that the filing is overwhelming?

The focus of this blog in 2013 will be to help you organize your files, your leads, your projects, your cousins, and many other things. I will review products and articles on the topic and offer advice.

But before moving on to complicated systems and cumbersome notebooks or duplicated information to make “family notebooks”, let me tell you what I do.

I scan everything. I attach it to my family tree (Family Tree Maker). I have a clear plastic bucket where I stack things until I can scan things. When I file…

I have a series of clear plastic buckets with lids. And I file by surname on the record. I do not create any sub folders or sub categories. I file all of the Bs together and the Ts together without regard for suborganization. And for women who marry and even those who marry more than once, I file the papers or scraps or documents under the surname on the file.

Welcome to my system. I have never lost anything. And I don’t have to remember where the real document or real copy is.

Simple. Easy. Done.











Be Efficient at the Archives

When you get to the remote researching site, introduce yourself to the staff. At the Logan County Genealogical Society in Russellville, Kentucky, we met Lee and Denise. Both work at the archives as clerks, so they were able to locate and retrieve and copy any documents from the courthouse. I wish more courthouses offered this resource to genealogists!

Usually the workers or volunteers at site will offer a tour. Take the tour! It will save you some time when you try to locate items. And give the workers a chance to show off their collections and their hard work. Logan County has converted an old jail facility into their archives.  The original bars on the windows add some flair. This archive was an interesting place! It was apparent that the workers and volunteers had spent countless hours organizing and protecting papers and information for the future.

While at the archive, I write down each source, and whatever I find in each source. Hit your top three reasons for being there, and then attempt to systematically go through their local stacks and featured items that you will not find elsewhere. Make sure you refer to your list of what is already available at your local library. No need for duplicating what you can do at home. If you decide to make copies, track that in your notes. Write the source information on each copied page. I also track the photograph numbers on my notepad as well. I want a smooth transition when I get back home. I’ll have a ready-made list of items to transfer to my software and to file.

Remember as you leave the archives, give a donation. If you make copies, round up and give more. Consider donating for scans, even if the archives have a policy of not charging for scans. These local genealogical societies will make good use of your money and it’s important to help them keep the doors open.

Preparing your family tree for the trip

For a genealogy trip to a specific location, one important thing to do is make time to clean up the place names on your family tree. If you use Family Tree Maker, this task is easy, but can be time consuming. In order to show all of your family in the same location, each person needs to have the same format for the location of their birth, death, marriage, and other vital records. Otherwise, Logan County, Kentucky; Logan, Kentucky; Logan, KY will each have different lists of people.

In the green  next to “Places” look for “Resolve all”. A list will appear of the place names that need resolved. Choose your naming convention  so that all names match. I generally use City, Township, County, State, USA. FTM gives you alternate places to choose from as defaults in the list, but you can also go to another menu to make another choice. Resolving place names is something you should do at regular intervals.  Since my upcoming trip is to Logan County, Kentucky, I have decided to look at just the listings for Logan County. When I choose Logan County, Kentucky, a list of people appears on the right side.

But notice if I choose the standard naming convention: Logan, Kentucky, USA, I will actually find the majority of my  names. If you don’t have time to resolve your place names before your trip, do this process for each location.

 Now expand your list on the right hand side to show all of the details of what events happened in that location. In order to print the list of this one location, click on “Print” in the upper right corner and choose to “Print Place Usage Report for This Place”.

 A window will come up with the Place Usage Report.

If you would rather not print, but would like a pdf instead, click on the share button in the upper right hand corner and choose: “Export Place Usage Report”.

If you haven’t resolved your place names, don’t forget to repeat this process for other locations. This list is helpful when you are researching in a new library or location. All of the people in the area and how they are linked to the area will be at your fingertips.

The next installment of this blog will be How to be Efficient in the Distant Library.


An out-of-town research trip– Part 2

Preparing Your Notebook 

Taking a few small steps ahead of time to get organized will help you be more efficient when you go to a new archive or library to research.  Start with a three-ring binder to keep track of the trip. I have notebooks that track my library visits (and future visits) to other states. Using a tab for each state and a plastic sleeve or page protector to hold maps, you will be ready to compile what you need for an out-of-town trip. 

When you order maps for the local, county, and state regions, compile them all in one place in a plastic sleeve. I also look for a map that shows just the counties of the state where I am visiting. There are many places online where these county-only maps are available for no cost.

The first thing that I add to my notebook is a list of resources already available in my local library. I live near Columbus, Ohio, so I start with the Columbus Metropolitan Library. There is no reason to go out-of-state to another library and look at the same resources that your local library already has.

 I searched the genealogy department to print out the list of Logan County, Kentucky, books and Russellville, Kentucky, books. I use this list for two purposes. If I have time before I go, I can look at these. And this printout gives me most of the information needed for citations. Search for surnames along with location to make sure you have exhausted their collection.

Then I search for google books– pdfs of any of the older county history books or family history books that are out-of-copyright. Again, there is no sense using valuable research time in a library with a book that you can use at home.If an ebook is available for free, download it. I usually move them to another device, such as a Kindle or Nook, but save the pdf while it’s there and while it’s free. Occasionally I have gone back to look for a book that is no longer available. Most of these older centennial books and county history books do not have indexes, so I generally add the page numbers to the file name so that I can find them later.

The next stop to building a notebook is to print some things from Rootsweb. Print out what is available from the state or county archives of the destination state. And also, find cemetery addresses, hours of operation, and interment lists (if available). If you only have time to go to one or two cemeteries, make it count!

Use information at Find-a-Grave to uncover new leads and print lists. Remember, Find-a-Grave rarely has a complete interment list. But you might be surprised that someone has uploaded an entire cemetery’s worth of inscriptions and photos. Search by county or search by surname with county. 

The final item that I add to my notebook is a list of what the destination library has in their collection. In addition to having a checklist of what to look for and citations, I also can use these lists to prioritize what I am going to do first. I make a list of the books about the location. And I make a separate list for each major surname I plan to research as well. I have found some gems by searching library sites for surnames. It was not too productive here, but I was searching for Washer. You can imagine what kind of hits I get. And the second surname is Neal, so everything in their geNEALogy collection came up.

Use all of the available online sites to compile your lists and directions and possible sources at your local library and to prepare for the trip to your out-of-town library. The next installment of this series will be about preparing your family tree for the trip.

An out-of-town research trip– Part 1

When you plan for an out-of-town research trip, there is more to do than book a hotel and fire up the GPS. Any successful genealogy trip requires some preparation. Two major areas to consider. Are the resources and locations going to be available while you are there? What are the rules for the archives– the dos and don’ts?

6-8 weeks before you go 

First locate where the genealogical resources are in the county or city you plan to research. My upcoming trip is to Russellville, Kentucky, in Logan County. Start with the local genealogical society.

The first great find… volunteers to help with long-distance research! So, start making a list with each of these categories. Who do I need to find in “Marriages, 1792-1974″? It would help to know before you go if they have lookup and copy services available through the mail or by email. Your list of what you can do from home should help you refine your list of what to do on site. Look to see if the genealogical society has special collectionsLocate the name, address, and hours of operation for the archive.  Make sure you take note of any restrictions on accessing the archives. Some only allow paper and pencil. Some do not allow photography. If there are no restrictions posted, email or call to inquire. It’s worth looking up the special days that the archive is closed. It looks like the county has a listing of the officially recognized Logan County holidays.Their website lists each collection and how copies or scans can be obtained. While you are at the genealogical society site, look for information on membership. There are many benefits to membership. Most have nominal fees, but supply wonderful information, updates, and lists of new additions to their collections. If you have family that has been in a region for a generation,  you might be surprised how much you will glean from the newsletters and emails from that region. In addition, joining the society might offer the ability to access sites and collections at a lower cost or for no fee. Join and support the local societies even if it is just in appreciation of their hard work and diligence.

 Make sure to check the other online resources available. No need to make a trip out-of-town or out-of-state just to tread through sources you can look at at home. The State of Kentucky has online resources, so make sure you take note of their major collections. Check the website for the local chamber of commerce or tourism commission. Often times there is a short history of the county or town that will give a local flavor. Some of these sites have cemetery listings. Make sure to make a list of local cemetery locations, hours, and print/save the interment lists if they are available.

Finally, while at the local sites and state sites, order printed maps. State, county, township, and city maps are a valuable to addition to your research and files. The final pre-trip preparation is to look up the local or county library system. Just as with the archives, find the local hours of operation and address. It’s important, too, to make sure that you find the library services and restrictions. Can you scan? Can you take photos or bring your computer? How much does it cost to make copies?  Are there other restrictions?

 Check to see what is required to obtain a library card. Most libraries will grant a library card to residents of the state. I am always amazed at the library editions of databases or special services that are available on the web sites of some libraries. This will also allow you to take a book or two with you back to the hotel if you want to extend your research beyond the library hours.Now the beginnings of a research trip are underway. The next posting will delve more specifically into the research plan and how to stay organized and efficient when you are at a new site with so many new sources of information.

An interview with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith

I had an enjoyable talk with Dr. Smith at the National Genealogical Conference following his lecture, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies.” Dr. Alvy Ray Smith is a published author, lecturer, and scholar. Dr. Smith holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science. He also is a member of FASG, a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. This honorary society is limited to 50 living people receiving an invitation due to their scholarly contribution to genealogy.

In addition to his accomplishments in genealogy, I was in awe of his varied and amazing accomplishments. Dr. Smith was a founding member of Pixar. He has won technical awards for animation and filmmaking including an Academy Award for his work in developing pioneering techniques in digital paint systems used to make motion pictures. I have to admit I was a bit star-struck when I realized that he had ties to some large tech names and products including but not limited to Pixar, Xerox, Lucasfilm, Microsoft, and Altamira. I was fascinated to learn of his work on the Visible Human Project through the National Library of Medicine.

Even though the lecture was billed as an Intermediate to Advanced level class, there were a wide range of attendees. And just to make it interesting, there were Word users from 2003, 2007, and 2010. The occasional Mac user added some flair, complaining that they could not find the correct menus and commands. The presentation was interesting and informative. I left the session feeling competent to use automatic numbering to simplify my research and well-versed in the advantages of this type of organization. Especially useful with long registers of generations, the advantages of automatic numbering outweigh the time it takes to learn the techniques and set up a document.

Another take-away of the presentation is that publishing—genealogical and otherwise—is moving away from flat books to three-dimensional hyperlinked and expandable digital formats. PDF books are downloadable and much more user friendly than following the pagination and numbering of genealogical registers in print products.

I asked Dr. Smith if he would consider selling templates or macros to speed up with the auto numbering process. He made available a link to his web site where he has a tutorial, templates, and instructions for anyone’s use for no charge.

When asked if Dr. Smith used any other organizational tools in his own research and publishing, he responded, “I primarily use Word.” He talked about the power behind Word that is rarely utilized and not often capitalized upon. He suggested exploring Word to find its special features, built in macros, and amazing functioning power.

After an informative lecture and great conversation about genealogy, I still found myself enamored with having one degree of separation from the man who directed the “first use of full computer graphics” for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This genealogist and Trekkie loved it!

An interview with Robert Raymond

It was such a pleasure to interview Robert Raymond, the presenter of “Using Excel to Create Time Lines” at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference. Mr. Raymond is a member of the NGS Board of Directors and is Deputy for FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer, David Rencher. Mr. Raymond also writes an award-winning blog and the author of a family history website.

“Using Excel to Create Timelines” is an interesting topic to help genealogists place their families in historical context and to organize data in a visual format. Mr. Raymond demonstrated how to use Excel to create time lines. One of the tough situations at a conference of this type is to reach the audience about the possibilities of the software without getting bogged down in the keystrokes and menus. Mr. Raymond explained the technical aspects and also was able to convey the usefulness of this method to provide context for family history.

There are some tricks to working with Excel. Dates after 1900 are already formatted with the default settings, but Excel does not support pre-1900 dates. Mr. Raymond suggested placing dates in Excel in the typical genealogical format: 24 Oct 1881 and also making a separate column for the sortable format: 1881-10-24. There were some tricks to using years with no month or date: 1719-00-00. This sortable format will allow the time line to fill in the proper sequence.

Mr. Raymond generated many types of charts using data. He made a time line with a table where the text was oriented at a 45-degree angle.

 He also showed participants how to create an XY Scatter Graph.

 In addition, Mr. Raymond demonstrated making a bar graph from a table of data.

Mr. Raymond was so gracious to spend a few minutes from his busy time at NGS 2012 to talk about genealogical organization. If you have a chance at future conferences, look for a Robert Raymond presentation. You will certainly enjoy it and learn something new and useful!

Graphs used with permission of the author and creator, Robert Raymond.




If you are not at NGS, you are missing out!

This year’s National Genealogical Society Conference 2012 is fantastic! Thousands of professional and amateur genealogists meet up with dozens of experts, lecturers, and vendors to make one great gathering this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.

No matter where I sit or where I go to eat, I can spot “new friends” with a common interest and passion. I hear stories of how they started the search for their ancestors. We chat about tips and tricks and the last workshop we attended. There is much common ground here. Genealogists are a unique breed of historians, archivists, and hoarders.  We love libraries and collections. We are fascinated by dating photos and the newest genealogical software. It’s a wonderful place to come to improve your skills and learn new things.

With registration and payment, you receive electronic (pdf) syllabi of all of the presentations. There is a wealth of knowledge there to keep you busy until the next conference. This year there were a few workshops on subtopics related to genealogical organization. I interviewed Robert Raymond on the topic of “Using Excel to Create Timelines”. And I interviewed Alvy Ray Smith on his presentation, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies”. Those interviews and tips from the presenters will appear as future blog postings. Sign up for the RSS feed so that you don’t miss it!

The 2013 conference is from May 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada. I hope to see you there!

Using ebooks for genealogical research

One often overlooked source of genealogical information is family history and local history ebooks. Often in a library, you can find the books that have no index, but a wonderful added bonus with ebooks is that pdfs are searchable. And each ebook can be attached to relevant ancestors in Family Tree Maker. I have three major sources for ebooks– Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and WorldCat.

Project Gutenberg is a free resource for all types of ebooks. There are thousands of topics, authors, classics, and books are available in dozens of languages.  Books are also available as pdfs or many other ebook formats.  Project Gutenberg has a family history/genealogy subcategory.

Once you have thoroughly searched this site, then add it to your rss feed to see the latest additions. Going through the rss list makes it easier to keep on top of newly added books.

WorldCat is another fabulous resource for genealogists searching for family history books. Search by surname, location, event, and any other criteria. Sometimes you will find downloadable ebooks, but generally, WorldCat will tell you which library to contact to find the book. In addition to books, WorldCat also have a variety of media cataloged. You might be surprised what you find there.

 Google Books is a great search feature within Google for family history resources. Use  Google’s search tips to cut down the number of hits. Rather than just searching by surname (which will generate thousands of hits), I usually start with a search of surname +”family history”. With the plus sign and no space, Google will pair the name with anything you add to it. It will significantly cut down the number of hits. By placing “family history” in quotation marks, Google will show you those resources tagged or categorized as family history. For more tips on Google search tips, just google “google search tips”.

It is also helpful to combine surname +location. For example: offenbacher +ohio.

Or you can combine surname +event. For example: brelsford +flood or brelsford +”civil war”.

Use the Google search tools to account for surname alternate spellings. For example, in my family, there are Offenbachers and Offenbackers. So, you can google search with the asterisk to account for that. Just search for offenbac*er or even more generally search for offenba* which would also include the Offenbaughers and the Offenbakers.

Remember in all of these formats and sites, search for people, places, and events. And don’t forget to search for historical accounts, centennial/bicentennial celebrations,  and other local happenings. You might be surprised to find that one of your ancestors was a part of local history.

My search method is to go through a collection very thoroughly by surname on a regular interval. I use the same source tracking chart to keep track of ebooks in addition to the other sources that I mine regularly. If you would like a copy of the Excel file, email me at kelli.messonthedesk@gmail.com. I will send you a free copy! Happy ebook hunting!

Track the sites you have visited

Trying to organize genealogical leads is like trying to herd cats! There are so many things to track, but not just that, you have to go over and over where you have already tread. To make matters just a bit more complicated, there are hundreds of duplicate names, periods of inactivity, and an ever-expanding amount of information. The goal is to go back to sources, but not to go back to sources and redo the same steps as before with the same surnames or individuals.

This is something new I have developed, so I would love your feedback. It electronically mimics what I have been doing for many years in a paper/pencil format. My paper/pencil approach has a new page for each site and I regularly add to it. The advantage electronically is that it is searchable, sortable, easily backed up, and easily transported.

I have a list of sites that I visit regularly.Although I have listed Ancestry, here, I do not actually note all of the times I go to that site. Ancestry has a great tracking system for new information with the leaves, hints, and emails.. But the other sites listed here are a sample of what I am constantly trolling. As new sites come up, I add them to the list, even if I don’t get to them for awhile. It keeps track of my “new leads”, too.

The columns of the table are for the 16 common surnames. You can add more (or less). I have color-coded blue for my dad’s family and pink for my mom’s family.  This chart is an Excel spreadsheet. I saved it as an older format to make it accessible to earlier versions of the program. If you want to try it, email me at kelli.messonthedesk@gmail.com and I will email the file to you. I promise not to pass on your information and add spam to your life!

 Here is a sample of what it could look like.  I have added in the surnames for my parents, grandparents, and so on for both my mom and dad. There are more names in pink, but you will have to imagine the chart extending.

   There are two ways that I envision this chart being used. One method could just be to insert the date for the last time you searched there. Just deleting the old date and adding the new would keep the chart smaller. What I prefer is tracking all of the times I have been there, and even more about who/what I found. If you have worked with a spreadsheet before, you know sometimes the formatting can be tricky. I have set the row to expand with the content. Otherwise data would be covered up. Also, I use “line breaks” within each cell just for readability. To insert a line break in a cell (see the yellow circled area below), use ALT +Enter.  If you decide you want to track more than just dates that you have visited a site, then you can add more information. See the orange circle below for a sample of that. I used Find a Grave as my sample. It’s the kind of site that once you have located someone, you don’t need to go back to relocate them again. You might want to go back time-to-time to see if there are new people added to that same cemetery, or new information added to a person, but in general… once you found them, you found them.  So, for Find A Grave, I list each person by name as they are located. For those duplicated names, you can add dates to keep yourself straight. Just this week I noticed on Ancestry that Find a Grave is coming up under “new hints”, so perhaps I won’t need to track this the way I have been.  Let me know if you would like to try this chart. It’s free… and we all know genealogists LOVE to hear that!

Retread, retread, retread

One of the most difficult things to keep track of in your genealogical search is where have I been? what did I find? and how often do I need to go back?

I was talking to a cousin this weekend about her “brick wall”. We were batting around ideas about how to locate a rather scandalous and infamous ancestor who was lynched in 1860 for a murder. We were talking about newspaper records. One thing I suggested to her was the old standby… Find a Grave.  Sometimes cemeteries feature their famous burials. Most of us have used it at one point or another. I suggested that she look at that site, but keep going back. There are new things added all the time.

As I wrapped up the discussion with my newly found cousin, I decided that I needed to follow my own advice. I needed to retread some ground that I had already covered. I had been searching for my third great grandfather, John W Reed and a wife that I thought was nicknamed Fannie. I had seen his birth year in the family Bible. And the Bible said he had been born in Baltimore. I went to Find a Grave. I searched for John Reed in Ohio, as I had done many times before. Of course, there are thousands. But I focused in on a county by county search. And I found him!

John W Reed








And, I found his wife, and 18 other people buried there. Just retreading through sites that I have been through before, broke down that brick wall. And after a trip to the cemetery, and the library to search city directories, I found the house where my great great great grandfather used to live. And I found the location where the family grocery store used to be.

Don’t forget to go back and retread… I am working on developing an electronic tracking method just for this purpose. I will share soon (when I finish it).










Google Reader for the genealogist

I think it’s possible that Google Reader is my favorite technological innovation of the last decade. Google Reader has revolutionized the way I read websites, news, and compile information. If you have never used Google Reader, here is a brief synopsis.

Google Reader is an aggregator. You set up subscriptions to sites, each time the site updates it compiles in Reader, and then you  can read/listen/watch whenever you want to. This works for any site that has an RSS feed and even some sites that do not have the symbol shown. Look for the symbol, usually on the front page or bottom footer of a site. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.

To use Google Reader, first you will want to set up a Gmail account. It’s free. And if you don’t have a Gmail account already designated just for genealogy, it’s probably a good idea to do that. You can also have many Gmail accounts if that’s what you decide to do. When you log into Google (Gmail, iGoogle, or any other Google site), you can choose Reader from the drop down menu of products. You can choose from a variety of preset feeds, or you can paste your own links into Reader to subscribe to any number of website updates. To use Reader for genealogical work, you can subscribe to a site such as Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter. This is what the feed looks like. The bold type without shade indicates that I haven’t read any of these recent posts. To view the first article, just click on it, and it will open up within the feed. This is what it looks like. You notice that you have the option to email the update somewhere, possibly a cousin or fellow researcher. And if you scroll through titles and  do not want to read any of the updates, there is an option to mark them as “read”. Reader works for websites, podcasts, video feeds, and blogs. I have links to blogs I am following, including conference blogs.  This is what the FGS Conference Blog looks like. Note the shaded  articles that I have read, the unshaded ones that I have not read.If you use Google Reader to subscribe to the surname boards, it’s a great way to keep track of postings by other genealogist searching for information too. So, for example if you want to look for information on the Bodey family, look for the ancestry link:

Paste that link into the subscription field. Then any time someone posts a query or response, it will load to your Reader. This is what my Robbins Family feed looks like. Make sure you add feeds for alternate spellings such as Robins if they exist.  You don’t want to miss something just because of the alternate spelling of the surname. If you briefly look at this list and decide that none of the entries are relevant, you can mark them all at once as read by choosing the double arrow button on the right. No need to open each individually.
Google Reader also gives you the option of listing just the items that have new information, or you can list all of the feeds. Here is what it looks like. The bold items have new updates, and the unbold items have no new contributions.
Google Reader is a revolutionary way to keep track of all of the tidbits and websites that you want to read. And you might be surprised when you find a cousin or two! Before you leave this site today, subscribe to Mess on the Desk as well.




What do you do with those conference notes?

Have you attended a conference, received syllabi, written notes, and then promptly shelved them all when you get home… never to be used again? I used to spend time reading each syllabus, making lists of new leads, and again, finding that notebook on the shelf many months or years later.  After some time, I had about a dozen notebooks from workshops, regional conferences, and national conferences.

If your goal is to make those notes digital, searchable, and usable, try Microsoft OneNote. If you have never used OneNote, it is an amazing program to help digitally organize any type of data that you may have. Originally is was designed for students to keep track of notes, photos, videos, pdfs, handouts, and all of those scraps of information that a student needs to organize. It is based on a “notebook filing” look with folders and subfolders that you determine yourself.

You can have a notebook for writing projects or a notebooks with unfiled/unattached documents. I have a notebook for genealogical conferences. My notebook has subheads for each workshop topic. Some of mine are nationalities– Ireland, Germany, Scotland. Some are technology topics or photography topics. And some subheads are particular speakers that I hear often.

The other fantastic tool in OneNote is the ability to send web sites directly to it. If you find a web site you like or one you want to come back to at a later date, just right click somewhere on the page. “Send to OneNote” comes up as an option. Occasionally if material has a copyright, it may not send to OneNote. But it’s a great tool to track those things that you want to come back to. This added feature works best in Internet Explorer. I have used this for many gedcoms and registries that I have found on RootsWeb.

If you are looking for a way to use those conference notes again someday, scan them into OneNote. It’s a great way to put those classroom hours into use!

An easy way to get started with digital organization

If you want to save your digital files, photos, and documents in one convenient place, Family Tree Maker 2012 is the perfect place to start.  With FTM 2012, your ancestral data, photos, documents, sources, and notes can all be uploaded to one location and linked to the relevant person for ease of use. If you tend to be someone who can’t remember where you store things, this is a perfect solution. If you are a person who forgets to back up files (or never does), syncing your tree to Ancestry might be a great solution to the possible loss of all of your valuable data. FTM 2012 allows syncing of your tree to Ancestry with the click of a button. And you can still leave your tree set as “private and searchable” or “private and not searchable”.

Because files tend to get misplaced and digital files can be corrupted or lost, it’s important to develop a naming convention, stick to it, and make multiple backups. There are many experts who will try to convince you that you need color coding, multiple files and subfiles, or an elaborate system to keep track of documents, but I think sometimes that system is overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, most people will default back to not organizing at all.

You might have originals stored on your computer in a multitude of places. Sometimes you have picture folders by name or date, documents in “My Documents”, and so on. I don’t think you need to revamp your entire world and move all sorts of things. Just make a copy of what you are attaching to FTM and file it like this…

So here is an easy tip for your ancestry information… organize photos, documents, pdfs, and other scraps of digital information into two folders. One folder is “Attached to Family Tree Maker”. The other folder is “Waiting to Attach to Family Tree Maker”.  In my folder “Attached to Family Tree Maker”, I have a copy of all of the scraps related to individuals and families. In my other folder, “Waiting to Attach to Family Tree Maker”, I have the following:

  • all of the things that I have found that are most likely part of my family, but I haven’t proven it yet AND
  • documents that apply to many people in my tree, but they need further study AND
  • photos with no names or just a surname AND
  • items that need attached, but I didn’t have time to attach them yet.

I use a very simple naming convention for all of the digital files that I have.

year_full name_identifier_location.file type

for example:

1958_john wesley reed_graduation from high school_greenville darke ohio.jpg

1940_april adeline todd_birth certificate.pdf

mary ann calderwood reed_headstone_greenville cemetery.tiff

I use all lower cases. I try to include full names with maiden names. It makes the search easier if I cannot find one. And to have ONE folder with a running list of names, it is so much easier to locate information rather than remembering a complex filing system.


Welcome to Mess on the Desk

Recently I saw a post to a genealogy list with a subject line, “Papers, papers everywhere!” This list member in New York was asking the typical question that genealogists ask—what do I do with these papers, files, and scraps of things about my family? How do I file them in a useful way? What is the best way to preserve things and get organized?

I have read books about how to organize your home, how to organize your calendar and tasks, and how to organize your business. But there is a need for a site with advice on how to organize your genealogical information. Welcome to Mess on the Desk!