Friday, December 2, 2016

Making Family History Fun for the Kids

Fun? When was the last time you heard someone say family history was fun? If you have worked with some people beginning their research you might have heard them exclaim how much fun it was when they found a new record. But generally, people who aren't doing family history consider it a boring task, best left to the retired members of the family and definitely not for the children. What if I could tell you some ways to make family history research fun for your children? Would you try them? I hope so.

With the holidays upon us, there are many opportunities for family gatherings. These are the perfect setting to add family history to the discussion. Many of us are planning on travelling and need activities for the children to do during the long trips.

One activity you can prepare are word search puzzles. There are many online sites that help you develop your own word search puzzles. Discovery Education has a great word search generator. You can enter in words or names of your ancestors and it creates a puzzle. Below, you can see a puzzle I created using some general words that we run across during our research but you can use any variety of words to make it interesting for you and your children.

Word Search Puzzle from Discovery Education

Did you ever play Car Bingo when you were a kid? If you did, you probably remember finding license plates or road signs with the words or numbers you were searching for to fill in your Bingo card. Now, you can create your own Bingo cards with information about your family history by visiting the BingoBaker or the TeachingStuff website. Just fill in the squares with information that your children may find as you travel and connect it to your family history. In the example below I have included a few dates, places and names that they may find on license plates, signs, or other things they will see.

Example of Bingo Cards from TeachingStuff website

Do you have a bunch of family photos sitting around? Maybe you can create a matching game or jigsaw puzzle from copies of the pictures (don't use the originals). For the matching game you can make duplicate copies of the photos and attach them to card stock paper to make them sturdier. Shuffle the pictures and place them face down and have your child pick the matches. You can make it more difficult by using two different pictures of the same person as the marching cards. As your child picks up a card and turns it face up you can tell them who it is and maybe a short story to help them recognize the photo. Jigsaw puzzles are easy to make. All you have to do is enlarge a copy of a photo and glue it to a hard backing then cut it into interlocking pieces. If you want to get elaborate with this, you can attach the photo to a thin piece of wood and use a jigsaw blade to cut pieces.

How about 20 questions? As your child becomes familiar with their ancestors you can start playing 20 questions. One person thinks of an ancestor and the other asks yes or no questions to try to figure out who it is.

In today's world, kids are used to video games and the electronic world. It could be interesting to show them games that you played as a child, or games that their grandparents played. Get them outside after the meals and play freeze tag, follow the leader, or hide and seek. If the weather isn't suitable you can stay inside and play jacks, checkers, or hot and cold. I am sure you have your favorite games from your childhood that you can teach to the kids.

There are so many ways to work family history into your children's activities. Take the opportunity to learn more about your family history and pass it along to your children in a way that they will enjoy.

It's All Online, Why Should I Visit the Family History Center?

Good morning all. I decided to take some time off from work to catch up on my writing. It is a beautiful crisp 68 degrees this December morning (I love south Florida) and as we get into the holiday season the number of visitors to our Family History Center (FHC) is begining to drop off. As the Vero Beach Stake Family History Center Director, I have been working on ways to increase the use of our FHC and when I woke up this morning it hit me, I haven't written about the Center. I maintain a Facebook page for the Center, but how else should I be reaching out to prospective patrons?

I do hear from many people that there is so much information online that they don't feel the need to come to the FHC. As long as they are working on family history somewhere, I am happy, but they are missing out on the excellent resources that the FHC has available. So why should they visit the FHC? Here are just a couple reasons to visit your local FHC.

1) Expert Assistance: Our Center has 7 consultants available during the week. We are open to the public most Mondays and Fridays 10:00 am - 2:00 pm and Wednesdays 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm. We are also open for LDS members on Sundays during Sunday School hour. There are always at least two consultants available on Monday and Friday and on Wednesday and Sunday we have 5 or more consultants available to give personal assistance.

2) Equipment: We have 7 computers in the FHC and one printer/scanner. We also have several film and fiche readers. The printer/scanner can scan your family photos directly to your Gallery in FamilySearch.

3) The FHC Portal: The FHC Portal is a collection of sites which you can access free from the Family History Center. This collection includes:
  • 19th Century British Library Digital Newspaper Archive
  • The American Civil War Research Database
  • American Ancestors
  • Ancestry
  • Findmypast
  • Fold3
  • Geneanet
  • Kinpoint
  • MyHeritage
  • Newspaper Archive
  • Paper Trail
  • ProQuest Obituary Collection
  • Puzzilla
  • and ArkivDigital Online

4) Trained Staff: We have been working to make sure all our FHC Consultants are properly trained. Through regular in person and online training, we are building a set of expertise that can provide you the help you need to find those elusive ancestors.

5) Record Access From Salt Lake: You can order microfilms and other records from the Salt Lake Family History Library and have them sent to your local FHC where you can take your time looking through them. It's much cheaper than flying out there for a record but maybe not as much fun.

6) Our secret weapon: Ok, if you come in on Wednesday you get me. Yeah, I know, now the doors will be busting down on Wednesday evenings.

7) Special Events: We are working on providing special events so the patrons get to know us better. Our first event of 2017 will be the Indian River Genealogy Conference. This is a free event scheduled for Saturday, March 18 (8:00 am - 4:00 pm). You can visit the Facebook site for more information on this conference. We are also planning for an open house and other events during the year.

8) In Home Assistance: For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we can provide in-home assistance on your family history. All you have to do is contact one of our Consultants and set up a time. We will take the opportunity to get to know you better, figure out your research interests, and develop a research plan for you to achieve your research goals.

We welcome all visitors from beginners to experienced researchers. We are called to serve the members of our Church as well as the people in our communities. Our Center is located at 3980 12th Street, Vero Beach, Florida and our phone number is 772-770-2361. Come visit us and learn more about your family's history.

So, how do you find your local Family History Center? One way is to go to and click on the [Get Help] link. From there select [Contact Us] and enter your zip code. This will provide a map to your local Family History Center. Once you locate your FHC give them a call and let them know you are coming to visit them, I'm sure they will be glad to hear from you.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Death Records - Digging Up Your Ancestors

Good morning all, hope you are having a great weekend. Earlier this week I was invited to speak on death records at our German Genealogy Interest Group. The speaker following me gave a short presentation on the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS). I figured I would write about my talk and add some of the resources that can help you fulfill the GPS this morning. This blog post will be a little longer than many of my others but it is packed with a great deal of information that I hope is helpful to you in your research.

We all use death records in our family history research. They are a great source of data but not all death records are created equal. One of my favorite sources for death information are the cemetery databases. Many of these databases are crowd source projects where people can contribute information, photographs, documents, etc. to build the information about a person or cemetery. The most popular cemetery database is Find A Grave. Find A Grave was founded in 1995 and currently has over 154 million burial records from around the world. This site is now owned by Ancestry and its records are searchable from Ancestry and FamilySearch. One thing I really like about Find A Grave is that many families are now being linked together on a page. The links allow you to search for other family members quickly and compile your list of names and dates. Also, I like the ability to search for family names in a specific cemetery, county, or state.

Another of the larger online cemetery databases is Billion Graves. Billion Graves is based around a smartphone app which allows you to take pictures, tag them with gps coordinates, and upload them to the cloud. Every record on Billion Graves has a geo-referenced picture of the headstone. Of course the location of the headstone is only approximate and depends on the quality of the satellite data at the time and the phone's gps system, but it does give you a good approximation of the location if you are visiting the cemetery. I like this app because it allows you to take around 200 pictures in an hour and, once they are transcribed, gives researchers a great deal of information. Billion Graves data is searchable on FamilySearch and many of the burial records are linked directly to the person on FamilySearch.

An older site,, contains lists of cemeteries and names. This site was founded in 1997 and has about 6 million records. It is affiliated with GenealogyBank. The site can be useful but has significantly fewer records (only about 6 million) than either Billion Graves or Find A Grave. Also, there are no pictures on this site. Additionally, there is no search capability for individuals, all data are delivered as lists for a specific cemetery. The search functions on this site are for either GenealogyBank records or Google search results, not for the cemetery index itself.

Beyond these larger databases there are several smaller ones that could provide great results. For your ancestors who served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs has the Gravelocator database. I have found records from the Civil War, Indian Wars, World War I and II, Vietnam, Korea, etc., on this site. The database includes individuals located in national cemeteries as well as those who had military funerals or markers.

One of the original online genealogy databases, US GenWeb, also has a cemetery database called their Tombstone Project. This is a text list of of individuals buried in a cemetery. You can search for the cemeteries by location and go down the list of burials until you find your person.

One more cemetery site is found on AccessGenealogy. AccessGenealogy was founded in about 2000 and provides a database of cemetery web sites. It does not hold any information itself, but gives you a list of websites that have the information on your specific cemetery.

Now that you have used the various cemetery databases to locate your ancestor, you should have some information on his burial location, dates for death and birth, and possibly some additional family members. Now you can move on to the next set of records, the death records. The death certificates can provide a wealth of information including birth, death and burial dates and places, names of parents and their birth place, other relatives (spouse, children, witnesses), cause of death, duration of illness, and many more pieces of data which are essential to your research.

FamilySearch and Ancestry have great collections of death records available. However, actual death certificates may only be available for a short period of time for each state. For example, Ohio only has death certificates available online for the period between 1908 and 1953. After 1953 you have to rely on other records such as the Social Security Death Index or death certificate indexes. Prior to 1908 you might need to rely on individual county death rolls. Each state has a different set of years where data is available so I recommend looking at the FamilySearch Wiki to see what is available and where to find it. FamilySearch and Ancestry also have indexed records that provide the basic information from the original records. Additionally, Ancestry has a great collection of Probate Records. Many states also have online access to their death certificates. You might try looking at the state's Memory Project or Archives, or even their individual state vital records site. It might be difficult to find these additional site so I will give you another site which could help you in this search, This site is a compilation of links to national, state and regional databases which have death records. One little tidbit of information about death certificates: Have you ever noticed the numbers in the cause of death area of the certificate? Those numbers are the International Cause of Death (ICD) code. The ICD codes have been in use since the early 1900s and may provide additional information about the cause of death. If you want to find out what your specific code means, I suggest you take a look at Wolfbane's database of codes. Make sure you look at the specific range of dates that your record is in because the codes do change periodically.

Now that you have specific dates for the death and the location of death, the next death record I try to find are the obituaries. The obituaries are found in the local newspapers. Remember to search the newspapers from the location of the event, the location where the person lived at the time of death, and the location where they were born. You may want to search the larger regional newspapers for mentions of the death also. I like to check multiple newspapers since you could find additional information in each newspaper. So, where do you look for newspaper articles?

One great database is the Library of Congress' Chronicling America Historic Newspaper Collection. This site has a collection of newspapers from across the country between 1789 and 1922. Another site that I use often is Genealogy Bank's Obituary Collection. This is searchable to Genealogy Bank subscribers but is also available for free from the FamilySearch website. If you cant't find your local newspaper on these sites, I suggest looking at Wikipedia. This link to Wikipedia has a list of online newspaper archives from around the world. Some of the papers are free while other have subscription fees. There are also several sites that compile lists of obituaries, some are for specific regions such as Elmer Spear's Genealogy Corner (Ohio and Southeast Georgia/Florida) and the Rutherford B. Hayes Library (Ohio). If you want to find obituary records for your region, I suggest looking at GenealogyBuff Obituary Collection. This is a site which compiles links to websites that have obituary collections. For more recent obituaries I suggest looking at the Tributes and Legacy websites. Both of these sites collect obituaries from funeral homes around the country. Sysoon also has a collection of death records. Sysoon is a wiki which starts out from death records compiled by the Social Security Death Index and then allows users to add additional information to fill out the data. One last tip, if you visit Cyndi's List she has a set of obituary and death collections that are very useful.

I hope that these resources provide you hours of research fun and result in new discoveries for your family. Have a good weekend.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Using BLM Land Patent Maps for Family History

Hello everyone. Fall is finally in the air. The temperatures here in Florida are falling into the low 60s at night and the pool is too cold to swim in. With the cooler temperature the grass grows more slowly and I hope to have a little more time to work on my family history and on blogging. One of the things I have been working on lately is using more mapping tools to help people locate ancestors. I have occasionally written about maps in my previous blogs but I wanted to discuss something that happened last week in our Family History Center.

One of our family history consultants was searching for an ancestor in the panhandle region of Florida. She has had a hard time finding anything on this person. Previously, we had found his land grant on the BLM Government Land Office Records database. This database includes more than five million land title records beginning as early as 1820 as well as many land surveys and field notes going back to 1810. We searched for her ancestor, Willie Kite Vickers and found that he had a land grant in Section 23, Township 1S, Range 12W in Bay County, Florida. His parcel included the southwest quarter of Section 23, approximately 160 acres.

GLO Records Results for Willie Kite Vickers
After seeing the results we looked at the original Land Patent image.

Land Patent Record for Willie Kite Vickers
From the land patent we learned that Willie received the patent on 28 March 1906 and we could see a full description of the land he received.

The next tab, Related Documents, leads to some further information including the plat image and surveys.

Survey Information for Township 1S, Range 12W in Bay County, Florida
We were able to copy the map provided by downloading it as either pdf, jp2 or sid formats. Most everyone has Adobe or another program which opens pdf files. JP2 files are jpeg2000, while SID is the MrSID format and not all graphics software can open those file formats. For most people I would suggest sticking to the pdf format. After I downloaded the image I opened it in my graphics software so I could draw out the property boundaries of his land. I use a free program called which is available online.

Willie Vickers Land Grant - cross hatched area
Then we searched the Related Documents tab to see who else received land patents in this same area. As we search through the 3 pages of other records she saw a last name that was familiar. It was the name for James V Sewell.

Related Documents - Other land owners in this area
Looking at James' land patent we discovered that he had land in Section 22. His land is listed as the NE1/4 of the NW1/4 and NW1/4 of the NE1/4 of Section 22.

James Sewell's land patent (Cross hatched Section 22) and Willie Vickers land patent (Section 23)
When we map the lands received by Mr. Sewell along with that of Willie Vickers, we see that they were neighbors. This discovery has led to some further investigation which is still ongoing. Hopefully we will break through this brick wall with the discoveries coming from this mapping exercise.

I encourage each of you to look into the possibilities of using maps in your research. They are a great tool and provide spatial information that the usual paper records may not.

Good luck, and keep researching.

Friday, October 14, 2016

French Archives

Good morning folks. I decided to take a vacation day today to catch up on some things around the house. Last week we were struck by Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 hurricane. We lucked out and the hurricane stayed just offshore as it made its way up the Florida coast. Our damage was minimal but that put me about a week behind on the typical housework items like mowing the yard. So, as I am waiting for sunrise I decided to write another short blog post.

Yesterday I attended our monthly German Genealogy Interest Group meeting. This was the first meeting of our year. We start in October and have meetings through May while the snowbirds are here and then take off the summer months. One of the members began asking about archives. As you may remember, I started a series of posts on archives in Germany, France and the Netherlands a little while ago. She was interested in the archives for the Alsace region. After her question I decided to provide more information on the French archives that I have been able to find.

In 1791, after the French Revolution, France was divided into departments which are the local divisions of government. Today, there are 96 departments in France and 5 overseas departments. Each of the departments is distinguished by a two digit number as shown in the map below. These departments have their own archives, and many have smaller local archives. Many of these archives are online.

Departments of France

These archives have important collections of records for your genealogy research. I have been able to use several of them for research that I have done for others. You can see my previous posts concerning the Paris, Haut Rhin, Bas Rhin and Moselle archives. My goal this morning is to provide you with a link to a comprehensive list of the French archives that I have been able to find online so you can further your French research.

The national archive for France can be found at Once you arrive at the National Archive you can find a list of the departments. Each department lists their main webpage, contact information including e-mail, hours of operation, and any regional or local archives within the department boundaries. You can find the department archives list at The archives also have a specific set of pages for genealogy research - In case you can't read the French pages, there is an English translation of the pages available by clicking in the upper right corner of the pages for the English link.

If you want to learn more about the departments and other political regions of France this link is a great resource (

Hope you have luck and let me know if you find any discoveries in these archives.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

German Census Records - Where Do I Find Them?

Good morning! I have been wanting to post more stories to my blog but keep forgetting what the topics are. Maybe one day I will start writing notes to myself to remind me what I am thinking about. So, since I couldn't remember what I intended to write about, I figured I would take an old presentation and discuss that.

As I do my genealogy research and teach others how to do their research I rely heavily on the US Census records which are widely available online. As we start to go back to the original immigrants this resource becomes less helpful and we need to begin looking for records from their homelands. Many regions have great church records available in the digital collections online but finding good census records is more difficult. In my case, I need to find the records for several German states. As you look for the German census records you are told by many that those records don't exist or they were lost in the war. In some cases that may be true, but not always.

Last year I was privileged to hear a talk from Dr. Roger Minert at RootsTech2016. He had spent a great deal of time researching the German Censuses, looking in the corners and boxes of various archives, and compiling what is actually available. Earlier this year he published a book compiling the results of his research. This book, German Census Records 1816-1916: The When, Where, and How of a Valuable Genealogical Resource, is available from for under $35 or you can see if your local library has a copy by looking it up at WorldCat. In the book, he describes the history of German censuses and the status of the census for 34 German states.

Did you know that some German states held censuses every three years? Or that Prussia had 16 censuses between 1818-1864? Or that the German Empire held 10 censuses between 1871-1961? Just like in the US censues, the amount of information in each German census has increased over time, beginning with the haushalts bestandsliste which only records heads of household and number of residents in the earlier censuses and ending with the urlisten which provides information for each resident in the household.

But where are these records kept? Most of the censuses (~85%) are held in city and town archives. The remainder are held in state/federal archives (~5%) and regional archives (~10%). You can find some of these records in digital format on A very few are available online in various archives. But since many are in regional archives you might need to visit the fatherland for the time being until those are digitized and made available.

How do you know where your family was from in Germany? Well, prior to 1871 when the German Empire was formed, Germany was just a consolidation of various states with constantly changing boundaries. The best way to determine where your family may have been from is using maps from their time. The Meyers-Orts und Verkehrs-Lexikon or Meyers-Ortz Gazatteer from 1912-1913 includes the farthest extent of the German Empire. This Gazatteer can be found on Ancestry. The search is by letter and is found in the Browse This Collection box to the right of the search page. But remember, everything is written in German. If you have trouble reading the original German version of the Meyers-Ortz Gazatteer it has been translated to English at

Example of a page from the Meyers Gazatteer.
So far, I have only found a few examples of the German censuses digitized and searchable online. They consist of the following:

Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1867) - FamilySearch - Ancestry - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1890) - FamilySearch                  - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1900) - FamilySearch Ancestry - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1919) -                        - Ancestry

In addition to those listed above there are a few sites in Germany that have census indexes. The Arbeitskreis Volkszahl-Register claims to have 3,188 censuses with over 1.7 million individuals indexed. The Arbeits-Gemeinschaft Genealogie Schleswig-Holstein website has an incomplete index for a variety of censuses from Schleswig-Holstein region including 1803, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, and 1860.

If you are interested in reading up on the older German census records, there is a good article by Rolf Gehrmann at

I hope these tips help you in finding your ancestors in Germany. Viel Gl├╝ck!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

October is Family History Month (Again)

Welcome back. I just returned from a week in West Virginia for work related training. It is always nice to get up there because it is cooler and they have topography. Here in Florida it is hot, humid and flat. While I was there I worked on adding another 200+ graves to BillionGraves. I try to add cemeteries when I travel. You might want to consider a random cemetery trip the next time you are on the road.

Now that I am back I have a bunch of projects to work on, least of which is the burned out compressor in our AC unit. But back to genealogy where I am organizing a conference for March, preparing my talks for several upcoming conferences, helping to organize a genealogy society in Second Life, starting a Facebook Group for our local Family History Center, and much more. With October being Family History Month, I hope to get a few more projects completed and hope to be posting a couple more articles to my blog (if all works out).

Here are some suggestions on what you can do in October to celebrate Family History Month:

  • Register for RootsTech 2017. Did you know that RootsTech registration is now open? RootsTech will be held February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City. They have reduced early bird rates of $159 for the conference pass, $189 for the RootsTech + Innovators Summit pass, $69 for the Getting Started pass (Thursday-Saturday), one day passes for $49, and free Family Discovery Day passes for Saturday. This is an incredible conference and I plan on being there again in 2017.
  • Join in on a free live genealogy webinar conference. BCG will be hosting a day of free webinars on October 7 (9am - 5pm Mountain Time). Speakers will include Ann Staley, Judy Russell, Pamela Boyer Sawyer, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, and David McDonald. For more information click here
  • Do some sourcing. WikiTree is hosting a Source-a-thon on October 1-3. The purpose of the Source-a-thon is to focus on the trees that have been contributed without sources. Participants will be eligible for prizes during hourly random drawings. Currently, the prizes include annual subscriptions to MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Ancestry, Fold3,, and GenealogyBank; DNA kits from FTDNA; subscriptions to online courses; books, magazines, gift certificates, t-shirts; a 4-day pass to RootsTech 2017, and many other items. WikiTree is a free community based family tree which offers you the ability to write wiki page profiles for each person in your tree. Register, get a number (I am #354) and join with the other Sourcerers for a fun weekend of random genealogy. For more information on this event, and to register, click here.
  • Record a cemetery. Find-a-grave is hosting their Find A Grave Community Days on October 7-9. Join in helping to preserve your local cemetery information. Use their mobile app to record the headstones in your local cemetery, post stories to your social media sites, or join with a scheduled meetup. More information on this event can be found by clicking here
  • Win a vacation. Geneabloggers is sponsoring a free 7-night stay at Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites in Salt Lake City. Imagine winning a full week in Salt Lake to do your research and see the sights of the city. I love visiting Salt Lake but every time I have gone it has been in February. The registration is free, no purchase required. All registrations must be received by 2:00 am CDT, September 26, 2016, For more information click here
  • Join a Virtual Genealogy Society. We are starting an online genealogy society called the Second Life Virtual Genealogy Society (SLVGS) in Second Life. Second Life is a virtual world with free basic subscription fees. The SLVGS is meeting monthly with our next meeting on Sunday, September 25, at 8:30 pm Eastern Time (6:30 pm Mountain Time). We meet at the Just Genealogy fire pit. For more information about the organization, click here
  • Do your DNA. Have you thought about adding your DNA to one of the many sites out there? DNA can be a powerful tool in finding your cousins. With's DNA kit you can see how you are related to the matches as well as seeing your ethnicity results. And you might just get included in the next season of BYU's Relative Race.  Use this link to get 10% off your DNA kit from 
  • Find out something new. If none of those things interest you, you could just spend some extra time getting to know your ancestors through additional research. FamilySearch's mobile Memories app now allows you to record an interview with your relatives. Use this app to record a conversation or scan your family's photo albums and then upload the information to For more information on the Memories app click here.

With all of these ideas you won't have any time to do the other things around the house (cleaning, dishes, cooking, etc). Just tell your family you are celebrating Family History Month and if they get hungry give them the phone number for Pizza Hut. Have fun celebrating!