Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taking Them from Names to People

Have you ever read the poem "The Dash" by Linda Ellis? If not, you should take a look at it before you continue reading this blog ( Just remember to come back here and read the blog afterward. For those of you who have read the poem, remember what it says as you read what I have written.

Many times when we start working on our genealogies we have only names and dates. We always want to know their birth date and death date, but there is much more to find. How many times have you seen people listed as follows: August Jacob Wise (1874-1946)? What does this tell us about this person?

Let’s look at his life a little more closely. Everything I have listed below came from records and documents I found on the internet. Records include 1880-1930 US Census, Ohio Death Certificate, Church Records, Newspaper Articles, Immigration Records, and other historical documents.

August Jacob Wise was born 19 June 1874 in Berlin, Shelby County, Ohio. He was baptized at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on 21 June 1874 with Jacob Gaier and Maria Pleimann as his sponsors. The priest at that time was Reverend Wilhelm P. Bigot. August was the son of an immigrant from Westphalia, Germany and local saw mill operator, August D. Wise and his wife Theresia. August D. Wise had immigrated in 1854 at the age of 19, on the ship William Tapscott from Liverpool, England with his parents Justus and Margaretha Wyse and three sisters. August Jacob Wise’s parents were fairly old at the time he was born. His father was around 37 and his mother was about 35. He was the first of two children. His sister Louisa was born two years later. In 1880 he was attending school and living with his parents, sister, grandfather Justus and two teamsters from the saw mill that his family operated.

In 1896 August Wise, along with several others including Frank Willman and Adolph Raterman, founded the St. Michael’s Commandary No. 300 of the Knights of St. John. He was a life long member of the post and was listed as an honored guest at the golden jubilee dinner that was held on 1 June 1946.

August had a close brush with death on 24 April 1897. He was in his horse drawn buggy about 1 mile north of Newport when it started to rain. He was making his way into a barn owned by the Barger family when a lightning bolt struck and killed his horse. He was not injured.

After his marriage in 1903, his family began to grow. They had a total of 7 children born between 1904 and 1919, 6 of which were girls. During his life he served four terms on the village board of education and was an active member of the community fire department. By 1900, the town had changed its name from Berlin to Ft. Loramie and August had become the head sawyer at the mill. His father, age 64 was still in charge of the company. August was now 26 years old, living at home and single. In 1903 he married Catherine Reiss. August and Catherine grew up together in this small town. Catherine’s father, Joseph Reiss, became a fireman and engineer at the Wise Sawmill in the 1860s after his service in the Civil War ended.

After the death of his father in 1902, August took over the operations of the Wise Sawmill and is listed as the proprietor of the mill in the 1910 US Census. By 1920, the Wise Sawmill is listed as one of the major manufacturers in the area. August managed the sawmill until 1942 when he retired at the age of 68.

On 24 April 1946 August suffered a paralytic stroke which rendered him bedfast. I think this is an interesting date since he survived the lightning strike on 24 April 1897. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on 13 August 1946 and died at 11:45 PM on 18 August 1946 after four months confined to his bed. He was 72 years 1 month and 22 days old. At the time of death he suffered from arterial sclerosis and obesity. He was buried in the new St. Michael’s Cemetery on 22 August 1946. His wife is buried by his side.

This is a tribute to my great grandfather August Jacob Wise (1874-1946).

At this time of Thanksgiving, let us remember our ancestors for the people they were, not for the dates they lived. Let us see them in a more complete light as people, not just names. We are what we are due to the decisions they made. For better or for worse, they are all part of us and we are part of them. Take the time to talk to your families and learn something more about each of them as you gather around the dinner table this holiday season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Native American Heritage Month

This month is Native American Heritage Month. Many of us have heard family stories about possibly having Native American blood in our lines. Several people I know claim their families connect to Pocahontas. But proving these lines can be difficult. We have a picture of a Native American in one of our family photo albums and have not been able to figure out who he is. It is a mystery to us.

In my regular life I work for the US Department of Interior. We have observances of all these cultural heritage months. As part of the month, we receive e-mails with trivia and questions to test our knowledge. Today I received the following in my e-mail:

Did you know…………………………….Many Native American names are created specifically for the bearer or to describe various stages of the bearer's life? For this reason, there are very few common Native American names. For example, names such as Woo-ka-nay (“arched nose”), which was the real name of the Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose, or Wa Tha Huck, the original name of legendary Indian athlete Jim Thorpe (which means “bright path”).

In some tribes, the use of names is highly restrictive. Certain names can only be used by specific families within the tribe, and can only be transferred by loan or gift. Using a name of this sort without first receiving permission could be considered an enormous faux pas or even theft. At a minimum, it's an affront to a specific culture and race.

For some Native American tribes, personal names are kept very private, sometimes even secret, and reserved for use only among other members of the same tribe. When members of one of these tribes are with people not of their own group, they'll often use “public” names instead of their true given names. Traditions vary widely among tribes. What may be an acceptable borrowing of a name to some tribes may be unthinkable to others.

If you are interested in how Native American Heritage Month was started and what it means, I suggest you visit Another interesting site is the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian which is found at

So, how do you go about researching Native American records? This can be a problem for some researchers. I will try to list a few websites that can help in this research. Some of these will be free while others have subscriptions.

Footnote is a subscription site but they offer many free records and are completely free if you visit your local Family History Center. This month they have over 1.5 million Native American records available for viewing. These records include Ratified Indian Treaties (1722-1869), Indian Census Rolls (1885-1940), Dawes Enrollment Cards (1898-1914), Eastern Cherokee Applications (1906-1909), Guion Miller Roll (1908-1910) and Cherokee Indian Agency (1801-1835). They also have several tribal histories documented on individual tribe pages. Civil War and WW II Indian Regiments are also highlighted along with their document. These are all great records to search as you look into your Native roots. To view the records go to this link:

Another useful site is Access Genealogy at This site has indexes of many Native American Rolls, such as the Armstrong, Baker, Cooper, Dawes, Guion, Reservation, Ute and Wallace Rolls. There are many helpful documents and a discussion of Indian DNA on the site. It also links to images of Indian Census Schedules from Ancestry.

A site that I use frequently in my research is Genealogy Branches. This site provides lists of sites by subject. Their Native American list is found at You will find links to Ancestry as well as state archives, GenNet, and other websites.

Cyndi’s List is well known for its expertise in bringing genealogical websites to a common list. The Native American links can be found at

And finally, I will discuss a new comer to the stage: FamilySearch Wiki. FamilySearch Wiki is a baby in the genealogy world; it was started recently and is still asking for contributors to provide information for their Wiki. There are several pages concerning Native Americans but they can always use your help to improve them. I suggest that you start at

I hope this article peaks your interest and sends you looking for more information on those links to Native Americans that you have been told about.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beginning Your Online Search for Ancestors for Free

I am in the third week of teaching my 8 week family history class. The lesson today is about online research opportunities. We started out with collecting family information from available resources, such as relatives and family records the first week. The second week was about entering your data into a program such as PAF. This week we discuss where to go to find records to develop the story of these individuals after you have begun to compile information for your family tree.

In the past, most researchers would travel to the regions where the family lived, search through libraries and courthouses and hike through local cemeteries. Today much of this information is available online. Online resources allow you to begin your research from the comfort of your own home. Many databases on the internet require subscriptions but if you are willing to spend the time searching them out, there are many sites that you can access for free that provide comparable information. The following sites are all free and include a wide variety of information that will allow you to fill in that dash between the birth and death of your ancestors.

FamilySearch Records Pilot – ( – This site is being developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It consists of records that have been indexed through their volunteer FamilySearch Indexing ( The site includes millions of indexed records from around the world with more records being added monthly. There are a variety of records such as death certificates, marriage licenses, birth certificates, US and state census records, land records and others available. This site will eventually include records come from most of the Church’s 36 million rolls of microfilm. I recommend that you come back to this site regularly to see if your records have been added.

Cemetery Records - Find-A-Grave ( is a volunteer site working to index cemeteries in the US and around the world. The volunteers take pictures or provide written indexes of graves within the cemeteries and post them on the website. I have found this site to be very useful in areas where volunteers are actively recording information. Try the site occasionally to see if new cemeteries have been indexed. Also consider volunteering for cemeteries in your local area by taking pictures and posting them to the site. Another potentially useful listing for cemeteries is Interment ( Many states also have similar records sites. For example, Ohio has a county by county collection of cemetery photos at the Ohio Gravestone Project (

US GenWeb – ( – US GenWeb is a site that includes state sites managed by volunteers. Each state site contains county sites which are also managed by volunteers. I recommend that you begin at the county sites, search their records and post queries concerning the research you are working on. Many of these sites have indexed census, cemetery, birth, marriage and death records as well as a variety of other helpful links.

Immigration Records – There are a couple websites that provide great immigration records. The first one that most people go to is the Ellis Island site ( Most people mistakenly think that this is where most of the immigrants came ashore. However, Ellis Island was not a major entry point until the 1890s. The website includes information on all the ships that came to New York from 1892-1924. Another useful site is Castle Garden ( This site offers information on 12 million immigrants who entered the US in Manhattan from 1820-1892. Another site that I have found to be useful is The Ships List ( There were many other ports of entry including Philadelphia, New Orleans as well as smaller ones between the US and Canada and Mexico. A full list of these ports of entry can be found at

Land Records – The Bureau of Land Management ( has an online database which includes the images of early land patents from across the US. These records allow you to see when lands were transferred from the federal government to private land owners. The records include boundaries, descriptions of the land and the acreage transferred. Some states have early land grants online also. For example, Florida includes the early Spanish Land Grants online at the Florida Memory Project website

Books – There are many books that have been digitized and posted online. A few of the major collections include Google Books ( and the BYU Digital Books Collection (, as well as some lesser known collections at Scribd ( and the Internet Archives (

Message Boards – There are a variety of message boards on the internet. Message boards allow you to post queries and discuss evidence with people researching the same names. One of the largest message boards is RootsWeb ( Other sites also have message boards. Be sure to post queries with detailed headers so people can find them easily.

Social Security Death Index – The SSDI provides the Social Security numbers, birth dates and death dates for people who have died since about the 1950’s onward. This database is updated weekly with new deaths. There are several sites that host these records. RootsWeb ( and FamilySearch ( both have these records online.

Civil War Records – The National Park Service hosts the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System, an online collection of Civil War indexes at These indexes include rolls and unit histories. It provides a good starting place to find out what unit your ancestor fought in, when they enrolled, what rank they achieved and a list of the battles that unit was part of. Once you have this basic information you can research the unit in more detail on a variety of websites. The state of Florida has their Civil War Pension Records online at the Florida Memory Project (

Court Records – Some states and counties have begun posting court records online. These records usually only include more recent records but in some cases there are older records for some areas. One example is the Jacksonville, Florida records at To see if your locality has their records online search Google for *** court records (replace the *** with your locality).

Death Indexes – Several sites have death indexes and records available. One site which provides links to a variety of such records is the Online Searchable Death Indexes Guide ( This site provides a list of sites by state. Another site which I have found to be useful is Tributes ( This site allows you to build a profile page of deceased individuals. Many pages have obituaries and stories about the person’s life. The pages generally start out with information from the Social Security Death Index and rely on contributions by individuals to fill out the rest of the information.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Facial Recognition Programs

Hi again. I am off work today preparing for a talk at a local genealogical club so I figured I would post a new article to my blog. Have you ever gone through an old box of photos and wondered who those people were? I know that has happened to more than a few of us. How did you solve this mystery? Many times we bring the photos to another relative hoping they remember who they are. Sometimes we find one photo with a name on it and try to match the others to it. Other times we just close the box and put it on the top shelf hoping to one day take up the task again. Some of us might scan them and keep large folders of unknown pictures on our computer (this is what I do).

Today I am going to discuss some options that use facial recognition technology to help you find those mystery faces. A few weeks ago, (ok, maybe it was a few months ago) I wrote an article about This site lets you upload your scanned photos to an online family tree and it searches the pictures for faces. The faces are then grouped by similarity and you can add names to them. This is an easy way to search through your photos. There is a subscription fee and there are limits to the number of photos you can store there. But it is a great help in doing your research since you can tie the photos directly to your family tree for others to look at. This site also allows you to invite relatives to add more information about the people in your tree.

Another online site is the Picasaweb photo albums at Google ( This site lets you upload online photo albums that you can geotag and add comments to. It also goes through your photos and groups similar faces for you to add names to. You can select a person from your album and see all the pictures with that person. You can send out invitations to the people in the pictures as well as anyone else so they can add comments. Geotagging is a nice addition also. This allows you to tag the picture to a specific place on Google Maps. With this ability, you can map out all of your cemetery photos and show your vacation photos on a map. One shortfall is that this site has a limit to the number of pictures you can upload and share.

The third program that I will discuss today is the downloadable program Picasa. Picasa is a program developed by Google and can be downloaded at This program searches your computer for all the photos and sorts them by similar faces. The interesting thing about this program is the ability to find faces. I have seen it pull faces from photographs hanging on the wall behind the people you intended to photograph. I really like this program since it looks through all of the photos on your computer searching for faces and there is no limit as to the number of pictures it will search. It could take a while to go through all of your pictures if you have a large number of them. I really like this program for other reasons also. As you tag faces, the program tells you who is associated with that person in other pictures. This program also allows for geotagging, placing comments on pictures and acts as the interface between your digital camera and the computer. You can also edit your photographs in Picasa. It does a lot for a free program.

I hope you try out some of these suggestions with your photo collections.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cocoa Florida Stake Prepares for Genealogy Conference

The Cocoa Florida Stake is hosting a Family History Seminar on November 7, 2009. This will be a great event with several sessions running through the day. I will be presenting two of the talks. Put it on your calendar and join us in Florida for a day. More info will be available on their website at

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Second Review of Dynastree

Hi there, I have been on travel for the last two months with my job and have not been able to keep up on my blog. But I have been thinking about some topics and plan on adding a few entries over the next few days. Here's the first topic:

Back on November 26, 2008, I wrote a short review about a website called This site is a social networking site with a genealogy twist. They currently claim over 90 million profiles in their database. At that time I mentioned that the site does make collaboration on family lines simple. You can invite family members to the site to work on the same lines and add information. I also mentioned that the layout was cartoonish with avatars which you could replace with your own photos. As a follow-up to that blog, the people at Dynastree have asked me to take a look at the additions they have made to their site. So, here it goes.

I still like the collaborative ability that this site gives families. I uploaded a small gedcom file and worked on it with my wife. She added family on her side while I added family on my side. I also invited my siblings and a few cousins to join in. They were all able to add family members to the one shared tree. As I mentioned in my earlier posting, other sites such as MyHeritage and newFamilySearch also allow for similar collaborative working within family trees but maybe not in the social networking arena.

You can view your family in several ways, such as tree, ancestor, descendant, circle and hourglass formats. This site uses the international symbols for events, with * for birth, † for death and ∞ for marriage. Clicking on an individual in your tree brings up profile pages for that person. The profile pages include spaces for a portrait, map, life information, links to other family members in the tree, biographies and notes. I like these features but they are not unique to this site. You can find similar profile pages at Ancestry and Footnote.

All of the features that I mentioned above are available in the free version of Dynastree. However, they do have a Premium version that includes features such as automatic matching of profiles of individuals in your tree with others in the database, statistics with data from your tree such as life expectancy, vouchers for up to 3 pdf family tree posters, family blogs and no advertisements on the pages. These Premium subscriptions begin at 13.95£/month and have an annual subscription rate of 54.95£. Notice that the rates are in pounds so you will have to make the conversion. Currently the conversion rate is $1.6312 per pound.

So, what do I think? I like the site for collaboration, but we now have sites, such as MyHeritage and newFamilySearch, which also allow collaboration. I like the profile pages, but sites such as Ancestry and Footnote link images of the source documents to their profiles. Dynastree does not have source documents to assist in your research but they do have some tutorials that help you find sources in other locations. My final verdict, this site doesn’t give me anything that I can’t find at a dozen other sites and the Premium subscription appears to be expensive for just a collaborative site with no records to assist you in your research. However, I believe this site could be beneficial to some researchers and their families so I invite you to stop in and give it a try.

If you would like to try out a no strings attached one month Premium subscription to the site go to their website at; and enter the following code in the Voucher block uyN-ZvDX7B-CG. There are a limited number so it is first come first serve.

As always, good luck and happy hunting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BYU Historic Journals Collection

I've got a new site for you tonight. This one is an invitation only site but I believe it is a great example of where genealogy research is going in the near future. The site is the BYU Historic Journals Collection. This site opened on July 4 and is currently in beta testing phase. As their news release says "Our "invitation only" public beta has begun! The interface is still a bit clunky, but the site is ready for people to start contributing information, tags, and journals. We are using an invitation system to make sure that we don't get too many users faster than we can handle."

I received my invitation last night and I am user#10 on the system, so they are obviously taking it slow. The development team rolled out their method of linking digitized journals with genealogical information at the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries held in Austin, Texas on June 15-29, 2009. So what does this mean? Well, the collection consists of the digitized collections from the BYU Library. This includes The Overland Trails collection and the Mormon Missionary Diaries collection. So far this is about 420 journals. Currently the authors of the journals are cross referenced with the newFamilySearch (nFS) database. That means that you can search by nFS PID# to see if there is
a digitized journal in the collection by that person. But there is more. When you get an invitation to join the beta test you use your nFS login information to create your account. This allows the journal collection to search your ancestors as they are laid out in nFS to see if there are any journals that match your list of people. Another thing that you can do is tag names as you read the journals. If you find a name in the text you can cross reference it with that person's PID# in nFS and they will be linked to that individual for others to search. Can you imagine the power of this type of tool in genealogical research. Consider if we had the censuses or court records cross referenced to individuals by their PID#. We could select the individual and ask to see all of the documents that reference that person. No more searching through various results in the hope of finding the right person.

In a discussion with Doug Kennard, one of the site developers, he stated "We're hoping that people will contribute information about journals they know about and upload scanned images of the journals they do have, since it is my belief that the majority of journals are in peoples' private possession instead of in libraries. We have done the work of developing the site, but we're hoping other people will see the value of adding content and reference information to it. Just like wikipedia bacame a great information resource because lots of people added content to it, we're hoping that lots of people will use this tool that we have built and add content (reference information and scanned journals). If they do, the combined effort will result in huge payoff for everybody who uses it."

The website can be found at A video is available on youtube at I hope you get a chance to visit the site and find something of interest. By the way I have a few invitations to give out. Only 10, so first come first serve.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Independence Day

It seems like I have been too busy lately to keep up with my blog. But I finally had to write something, not because of the blog, but because the bishopric called earlier this week and asked me to talk at sacrament on Sunday. I just finished my draft (it is 5 pages long). So, I figured I would post it for everyone to read (remember, it is just a draft). Those of you not of the LDS faith may not understand all of the references but I hope it gives you the incentive to continue researching your family lines. Have a great 4th of July weekend and watch out for the potato salad!

My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! ~ This is a quote by Thomas Jefferson one of our countries founding fathers.

As we are coming upon the 4th of July holiday, also known as Independence Day, we will be gathering as families to enjoy food, friends and fun. We will be visiting, swimming, having bar-b-ques, and watching fireworks as part of our celebration of our country’s independence from the tyranny and oppression of England. One of the freedoms our country was founded upon was the freedom of religion. This freedom of religion has allowed for a diversity of faiths, including the LDS Church, to grow within our country.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated in the Feb 1992 Ensign “I have always felt that the United States Constitution’s closest approach to scriptural stature is in the phrasing of our Bill of Rights. Without the free exercise of religion, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades after the Bill of Rights was ratified. I also see scriptural stature in the concept and wording of the freedoms of speech and press, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, the requirements that there must be probable cause for an arrest and that accused persons must have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and the guarantee that a person will not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “Reason, necessity, tradition, and religious conviction all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights.”

As a note, the author of the Bill of Rights was James Madison (4th President of the US).

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must……undergo the fatigue of supporting it. ~Thomas Paine

Colonel James Taylor, cousin to Zachary Taylor (the 12th President of the US) fought in the French and Indian War in 1758 and served in the Virginia House of Burgess. After the House of Burgess was disbanded, Colonel Taylor served in the Virginia Conventions of 1775-1776. This is where Patrick Henry made his famous give me liberty or give me death" speech. He was also a member of the Virginia Senate after the Revolutionary War. Colonel Taylor had a daughter, Elizabeth Hubbard Taylor, who married Thomas Minor. Thomas Minor was an officer during the entirety of the Revolutionary War. He was present for the surrender of Yorktown. He served as master of ceremonies for the reception of Lafayette and also at the age of 83 was the chief pall-bearer at Lafayette’s funeral. He marched in the procession on foot, got overheated, and took cold, which turned into pneumonia and died shortly afterward.

Whose responsibility is it to maintain our freedom? It is all of ours.

Freedom requires responsibility. And yet how many of us are truly willing to take responsibility for our own freedom, for our own lives? How many of us, for example, take true and total responsibility for something as basic and fundamental as our own food, for that essential connection to the earth that sustains our very lives? Almost all of us rely on someone else to provide the food that we eat.

The same ideas of freedom and responsibility relate to our life in the church. We are expected to be debt free, have our own food storage in case of emergency, be self reliant and magnify our callings. We hear these statements often and many of us have tried to abide by these to the best of our abilities. How many of us are relying on aunt Bertha to take care of our food storage, or grandma Bess to read our share of the Book of Mormon? We know that our spiritual wellbeing relies on us performing these tasks for ourselves. However, in one part of our church responsibilities the majority of us are relying on only a few members to perform 100% of the work. That is family history.

Why is family history important? Well on a personal scale it helps us appreciate the sacrifices of our ancestors. Remember that story I told about the patriots of the Revolutionary War? Let me explain the importance of these people to my wife.

  • Colonel James Taylor (7th great grandfather)
  • President Zachary Taylor (2nd cousin)
  • Patrick Henry (9th cousin)
  • Elizabeth Hubbard Taylor (6th great grandmother)
  • Colonel Thomas Minor (6th great grandfather)
  • James Madison - author of the Bill of Rights (3rd cousin)

(The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, [1946], 157). "Among the first in this dispensation to sow seeds of interest in family history were the brothers Orson and Parley P. Pratt, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Their efforts resulted in a Pratt family genealogy and the performance of temple ordinances for about 3,000 of their ancestors.

"Yet there were many Church members who did not fully understand the responsibility for their own kindred. President Wilford Woodruff was so concerned that he made the issue a matter of fervent prayer. Then, at the April 1894 general conference, he presented a revelation to the membership of the Church. From it I quote: 'We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. . . . This is the will of the Lord to his people' "

In previous years, the church has asked that all members complete ordinances for the last 4 generations. Many members have completed this and figure that is all that they need to do. But what President Woodruff, and many other authorities in the church, has said is that we are told to trace our genealogies as far as we can.

In October 1975, Elder Packer told a group of Regional Representatives:

“During the last two months … I have visited a number of high priest groups. Mostly I have been listening. I have been trying to determine what high priests quorums are doing about this work—and why not! It has been a most interesting inquiry. …

“I visited a high priest group with 39 members, well educated, well-to-do, and many of them retired. During the last year they have been responsible for 1,122 endowments at the temple. During the same period they have submitted, from their own genealogical research, from their own family records, two names—one of which had not yet cleared. This, I find, is about typical.

“Genealogical work in the Church, for the most part, is left to those few members who have taken a keen interest in it, who have found great excitement in it, and who devote themselves totally to it.”

Many of the names provided for our own Ward and Stake temple trips have been contributed by only a few members. I spoke to a member in another ward who had provided 100 names per month for 10 years so that the Wards in her Stake would have names to perform ordinances for. Do you think it is time for the rest of the Stake to step up, take responsibility and become independent in their own family histories?

(Elder W. Grant Bangerter, of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at General Conference, April 1982) "I have heard some members say, "But our family names are all done." It is all right to say such a thing as long as you realize you are only joking. "Your genealogy has not all been done. My own grandparents performed 'all' the temple work for their deceased relatives fifty-five years ago. Since that time our family has discovered sixteen thousand others."

The prophet Joseph F. Smith stated, “Even IF...and it's a big IF...all of our ancestors work is done, and there is nothing more we can find to do, we are STILL responsible to LEARN about our ancestors lives.”

I feel that this is what we miss when we think about family history. We should be learning about our ancestors not just collecting names, dates and places. Each of these people had lives, some were patriots, others may have been farmers, while still others might have been horse thieves. But each performed a duty that has helped to make our families what they are today. If we think of them as individuals we will love them and feel the spirit grow in our research and temple work.

Have you experienced or can you imagine the thrill of going to the temple for your own grandfather or great-grandmother? My son Colin and niece Alexis were able to be baptized for family members on their most recent youth temple trip. Nothing is so precious as those experiences we call spiritual experiences. And in no other area of Church activity are such experiences more available than when we are seeking out our kindred dead and going to the temple for them. Speaking of these things, Elder Packer has observed:

“Members of the Church cannot touch this work without becoming affected spiritually. The spirit of Elijah permeates it. Many of the little intrusions into our lives, the little difficulties and the petty problems that beset us, are put into proper perspective when we view the linking of the generations for the eternities. We become much more patient then. So if you want the influence of dignity and wisdom and inspiration and spirituality to envelop your life, involve yourself in temple and genealogical work.” (The Holy Temple, pp. 224–25.)

Just as there is something special about having Sister Neil’s homemade bread during sacrament, there is something special about the temple experience when you go for someone whose name you and your family searched for, prepared, and sent to the temple. In having both we can fill our whole soul with the joy of being part of the glorious work of the redemption of the dead.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said “Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something. There are many different things we can do to help in the redeeming of the dead, in temple and family history work. Some involve callings. Others are personal. All are expressions of devotion and discipleship. All present opportunities for sacrifice and service.” (Ensign, June 1989, 8)

If we work on our family history as a family we will begin to build tighter bonds. Some of us may know the family stories. Those stories should be recorded before they are lost. Others are good at using the computer. Take that knowledge and use it to document your ancestor’s lives with the multitude of records that are currently available. Some may have free time that they could devote to extracting documents for others to use through FamilySearch Indexing. While others may be able to attend the temple more often and can take these newly found family members to get their ordinance work completed.

Elder Russell M. Nelson 2008 April General Conf:

Any discussion of family responsibilities to prepare for exaltation would be incomplete if we included only mother, father, and children. What about grandparents and other ancestors? The Lord has revealed that we cannot become perfect without them; neither can they without us be made perfect. Sealing ordinances are essential to exaltation. A wife needs to be sealed to her husband; children need to be sealed to their parents; and we all need to be connected with our ancestors.

Joseph Smith (D&C 128:15) – “Let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation…they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without them be made perfect.”

I think many people may avoid doing their family history because they have been discouraged by the thought of searching for records in cellars and basements of government buildings far away. Travel is a hassle and who wants to search through volumes of old documents in the hope of finding that one page that holds the information they need to continue their family lines.

But Pres George A Smith said – “If we do our part, our genealogies will be unfolded to us – sometimes in one way, sometimes in another. So I want to suggest to you, my brethren and sisters: Let us do our part.”

We need to realize that in this day and age, family history research doesn’t have to be looking through old books in the basement or long trips to our families homelands. Many people can begin their family history at home in their slippers and pajamas on the computer. Genealogy has become one of the largest hobbies in the United States. There are millions of people online posting information on their families which may be able to assist you. Dozens of companies and many national, state and local governments are providing online access to their records archives. BYU and Google have provided online access to hundreds of thousands of out of print books. Never before has it been so easy to find documentation on family history.

Elder Mark E. Petersen has emphasized:

“What is our obligation then? Each one of us—if we pretend to obey the gospel at all—must search out our dead and have these saving ordinances performed for them.

“Many suppose that they are discharging their responsibilities by simply ‘going to the temple.’ But that is not wholly true. We must go to the temple, of course, and often. If we do not as yet have the records of our own dead kindred, then while we search for them, by all means let us help others with theirs.

“But be it understood that if we go to the temple, and not for our own dead, we are performing only a part of our duty, because we are also required to go there specifically to save our own dead relatives and bind the various generations together by the power of the holy priesthood.

“We must disabuse our minds of the idea that merely ‘going to the temple’ discharges our full responsibility, because it does not. That is not enough. …

“God holds each of us responsible for saving our own kindred—specifically our own.” Ensign, May 1976, pp. 15–16.)

Let me leave you with these last facts:

If each of the approximately 50,000 families baptized each year were to send to the temple the names of only their deceased four-generation ancestors and the deceased children of these ancestors, at least 3,500,000 people would receive these sacred ordinances each year.

James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights which entitles all of us to the freedom of religion was 17th cousins with the prophet Joseph Smith, the person who translated the Book of Mormon.

Patrick Henry, the man who said “give me liberty or give me death” was 18th cousins with the prophet Joseph Smith who died for his religious beliefs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Arbor Day

Hi there, I finally had time to resurrect a short article for the blog. My travel schedule has been hectic lately. I have also been busy with all the new things out there for genealogists to play with, such as the FamilyTree interface for new FamilySearch, AncestralQuest and FamilyInsight. And soon we will start testing some new additions to the FamilySearch Indexing program as well as new beta versions of FamilySearch and Family Tree. I can see that this summer will be busy. 

Here in the United States, Friday April 24th is Arbor Day. Take this opportunity to provide a legacy for your descendents and a memorial for your ancestors. Plant a “family tree”. Plant this tree in memory of one of your ancestors or as a marker for a newly born child. As the child grows, so will the tree. Not only is this a great way to remember an event but the tree will help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, provide oxygen, shade, and a home for a variety of animals. Make this a family event and have some fun.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day With Your Irish Roots

How in the world can so much time go by without realizing it? I can't believe my last post was February 10th. During that time my family went to the local Scottish Games and my wife talked to the representatives of the Lindsey, Campbell and Stewart Clans. She is descended from all three clans but thinks she will become a member of the Lindsey Clan since they are the closest to her original immigrant. I also attended a conference by to discuss some of their ongoing activities and their World Archives Project. Visit their website at for more information on this project. I have also been working on developing a new edition of the new FamilySearch teaching manual for the classes I teach. I am still waiting for FamilySearch to develop an official manual. I have part one in draft format posted at my website If you notice anything that I missed in the document please let me know. It is still a work in progress. I will follow up with a second manual with more advanced options and a third manual discussing FamilyTree.

Now, on to our topic for the day. St. Patrick's Day is coming up. How many of you have found your Irish roots? My wife has traced her Faul line back to Ballywillin, Ireland based on their immigration records. They came to the US before the Civil War and fought on the Union side. These are her black sheep since all the rest of her ancestors were Confederates.

So, where can you look for these Irish roots online? There are many sites but I decided to focus on the National Archives of Ireland in this blog.

The National Archives of Ireland has a searchable database which can be found at There are several databases on the Archives' website which may be useful in your research. Additionally, they have a link to a large number of websites where additional information can be found. This list is located at

I always like looking for black sheep when I do research. It adds a little color to the family. Did you know that Ireland shipped some of their convicts to the Colonies during the mid 1700's? A list of the individuals that were deported from Ireland to what would eventually become the United States during the time period 1737-1747 can be found at Some of these individuals are listed as vagabonds or were arrested for larceny. A few even had their death sentences pardoned so they could be deported. Ireland also transported their convicts to Australia from 1788-1868. The National Archives of Ireland has a searchable index at Check it out to see if any of your surnames are represented.

I hope these links help you get in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day and don't forget to wear your green.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

African American History Month

Hi everyone, I am back. I keep getting side tracked. This time it was the beta testing of new FamilySearch (nFS) and FamilySearch Tree. There are some new things coming with these updates. Can't talk about them, but it makes some of the functions much easier. Also, I have been trying to sync my AncestralQuest file with nFS. The interface between the two works great. I have also been teaching my Family History classes and have been busy getting things ready for them. Now back to business.

February is African American History Month. The theme this year is "The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas."

A proclamation by President Obama states "This year's theme, "The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas," is a chance to examine the evolution of our country and how African Americans helped draw us ever closer to becoming a more perfect union.

The narrative of the African American pursuit of full citizenship with all of the rights and privileges afforded others in this country is also the story of a maturing young Nation. The voices and examples of the African American people worked collectively to remove the boulders of systemic racism and discrimination that pervaded our laws and our public consciousness for decades. Through the work of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, the African American community has steadily made progress toward the dreams within its grasp and the promise of our Nation. Meanwhile, the belief that those dreams might one day be realized by all of our citizens gave African American men and women the same sense of duty and love of country that led them to shed blood in every war we have ever fought, to invest hard-earned resources in their communities with the hope of self empowerment, and to pass the ideals of this great land down to their children and grandchildren.

If you have tried to do African American genealogy research you know that it can be difficult to find records. So I decided to focus on some site that may be helpful in getting the research done.

First of all, FamilySearch Records pilot ( site has the Freedman Bank Records (1864-1874) and the Freedman's Burea Virginia Marriage Records (1815-1866) available online. Additionally, the 1850 US Census Slave Schedule is also available at this site.

Another useful site is Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database ( This site has information on almost 35,000 slave trading voyages with a total of over 10 million slaves who were brought to the Americas. You can research the various ships or look at the slave name database for information.

AfriGeneas ( is another site that may be useful. Their goal is to encourage and support the research of African ancestored individuals in researching their roots. This site has received awards from DearMyrtle and Dynastree and is consistently listed as one of FamilyTree Magazine's Top 101 Best Websites. This site provides great how-to guides for researching African American ancestory.

Access Genealogy ( has a fairly comprehensive list of websites that are available to assist in your research. It will probably take a while to go through all of the resources listed on this site and hopefully you will be able to find several that are especially of use to you.

I just ran across another great website this morning while doing some research. This website is from Suriname and includes a searchable database of 6,364 emancipated Surinamese slaves from 1832-1863. The site is located at The site is in Dutch so you will have to use a translator such as Google Translator or Babblefish. 

I also want to highlight a couple of websites associated with PBS. These are African American Lives 2006 ( and African American Lives 2 ( These sites have copies of interviews for famous African Americans such as Oprah, Chris Rock, Maya Angelou and others. Some of these stories are in video format and just send chills up your spine as you listen to them describe what it was like to find their ancestors. I especially liked Chris Rock's interview. These sites also include lesson plans for teachers to use.

I hope this discussion gives you some ideas on how to expand on African American History Month while doing genealogy research.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh Canada!

Hi again, I know that it has been over a week since my last blog. I have been busy getting a new computer setup in our Family History Center. We have a little problem with it accessing our wireless network properly and it takes some skill to make it work. Hopefully that will be fixed by this weekend when I start my next 8 week Family History class during Sunday School.

I have been following a discussion thread on one of the boards concerning the Canada 1916 census. This census was on the FamiySearch Records site ( for a few days for testing and then was taken down due to contractual agreements. Several users were upset to see it go. After reading this discussion I decided to focus today's blog on online Canadian records.

Canada has a rich supply of online records for your genealogical research. I don't use the Canadian databases much since we only have one small line that settled in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia regions. 

FamilySearch Records pilot site currently has two sets of Canadian records indexed. These include the Ontario Death Records (1869-1939 and 1939-1947 overseas deaths only) and the Quebec Catholic Parish Registers (1621-1900). Currently there are no images posted for the Ontario Death Records but the index is fairly complete. Also, the volunteers at FamilySearch Indexing ( are working on parts of the 1861 census. These volunteers are doing an incredible job and just last month were able to add 40 million new records to the FamilySearch Records site. If you have some free time I would encourage you to volunteer and assist in the indexing of these records.

The Canadian Archives has a large number of records available. There are a couple of sites that I recommend when looking through the Canadian Archives. 

The first is Archives Canada ( This site is the gateway for archival resources found in over 800 repositories throughout Canada and is maintained by the Canadian Council of Archives. This site allows you to search archival holdings across Canada, access Provincial and Territorial archive networks, view digitized photographs, maps and documents, and find where materials are located so you can view the actual records. My luck in finding digital records within this database has not been great but I suppose that is because I haven't used it very often to do research. It does give great details about the collections and their locations as well as telling you whether these colections are open to the public or have restricted access.

The Libaray and Archives Canada collection ( is another great site for researching Canadian roots. They have a searchable database called the Canadian Genealogy Center which provides access to many of the records that you will need during your research. You can select to search all records, only those that are online or only those that are not online. For example, I searched for Smith and had 37,000 results but only 8,000 of those were online records. You can also narrow your search by using a range of years or the record type. The site contains birth, death, and marriage records along with military, employment, immigration, census and land records. The images are high quality, easy to read and easy to copy to your own records. Another thing I like about this site is their Youth Corner. This part of the site is currently down but it is expected to be available by the end of the month. The goal here is to promote interaction between the generations.

That's My Family ( is a site run by the National Archives of Quebec. This search tool leads to genealogy and family history databases hosted by federal, provincial and territorial archives and libraries as well as other partners. This is another very useful search tool since it covers a wide variety of records and has a fairly easy to use interface.

I hope that some of these sites prove useful in your research. And remember, it is cold in Canada during the winter, so curl up next to a nice warm fire with your laptop and do some research for your ancestors from the great white north. Eh?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Finding Records Online - Looking in Places You May Never Have Thought Of

Hey there, long time no see. I have been busy again. I camped with the Boy Scouts on a Navy base last week. I didn't know that so many cargo ships came into port at night and we were right under the flight path for the helicopters. This week we had our Cub Scout pinewood derby. We finally were able to purchase a new aluminum track. It took us all night Monday to put together and then all night Tuesday for the Cubs to race. They had a lot of fun.

Now, since I have some free time this evening I decided to get back to my blog. While I was sitting here trying to figure out what my blog would be about tonight, my wife asked me to help her find a copy of The Lovelace Family and Its Connections from the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1921. She ran across this article as a source while researching her Todd family in early colonial Virginia (She is descended from Captain Thomas Todd [1619-1675]). She happened to find a listing for the article in JSTOR ( which is an online database of journals. Many libraries and some government agencies have access to this database, otherwise it will cost $10 per article to print. In the past, I have been able to use JSTOR to find agricultural journals from the 1800's which helped in my genealogy research. Several older historical and genealogical journals are also included in this collection.

Another useful online database is ProQuest ( ProQuest  is also a database that you may be able to access from your local library. One of my favorite collections in ProQuest is their historical newspaper collection. Yes, I know that Newspaper Archives and several other sites also have newspapers online but those are also subscription sites and they may not be available in your local library. I have been able to access the archives of the Atlanta Constitution while researching my wife's Coker lines.

Another site that you may have used but forgotten is the FamilySearch Library ( Some of the records indexed here are already in digital format and can be viewed online. I have been able to find copies of the county histories for Auglaize County, Ohio, where both my wife's family and mine originated.

By the way, just to let you know, I was not able to get the article from JSTOR because I forgot my University passwords and my DOI passwords and it has been removed from my DOD access. I guess I will have to get those passwords fixed before next semester when I start teaching again. So I went to my old faithful backup, Google Books and found the article right off the bat and was able to download it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt #3

Participate in weekly blog themes: Tombstone Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, etc. Many genealogy bloggers post photos of grave stones on Tombstone Tuesday or a photo worth 1,000 silent words on Wordless Wednesday. Participate in these informal events or invent your own.

A couple posts ago I wrote an article about Fannie Harris. You may remember, she was the one with the alligators in her picture. Well, today I want to write a little bit about her sister, my wife's 2nd great grandmother, Willie Mae Harris.

The gravestone to the right is about the only real record we have of her. What is so special about this picture is that everyone has told us that she was buried in an unmarked grave and there was no headstone. Well, I guess this picture proves them wrong.

The inscription states "Willie Harris wife of Andrew J Phares, born Nov 17 1862, died Dec 22 1909". This gravestone is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida.

I really enjoy visiting cemeteries. Each time I go to a cemetery to find the resting place of my ancestors I try to take pictures of as many headstones as possible. There are two reasons for this. First, many of the cemeteries I visit are small town cemeteries and eventually you may find that a large number of the people located there are related. If you only took pictures of the stones marking the relatives you knew at the time you visited you would have to return later to get the ones you missed. The second reason is that these pictures may be useful to people who do not live in the area and would not be able to easily travel to gather this information. I try to submit all the photos that I take to various databases on the internet.

Since this post is focusing on tombstones I thought I would add a discussion of where you can find virtual graveyards online.

One of my favorite cemetery websites is Find-A-Grave ( This site has over 29 million grave records indexed by name, location and cemetery. Each of these records is contributed by a volunteer who has visited the gravesites. I have provided hundreds of photographs for the area of Auglaize and Mercer County, Ohio. All of the pictures that are provided have to be reduced in size to less than 250K so you will have to process your pictures before you send them in.

Another site that I have enjoyed using in the past is the Virtual Cemetery ( I used to use this site quite a bit in the past but have not used it much since Ancestry bought them out. ( contains thousands of transcriptions of cemetery records and tombstone inscriptions, from cemeteries in the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs maintains the National Veterans Gravesite Locator database ( This site allows you to search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker. However, the site does not have information available for burials prior to 1997.

The American Battle Monuments Commission ( is another site that lists the graves of veterans. However, this site lists those that were interred outside the US or those that were listed as missing in action. The site has several databases pertaining to specific conflicts. These searchable databases are World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Mexican War, Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.

D' provides the United States Cemeteries Database ( This site links to other websites that have indexes of individual cemeteries. You can search a list of cemeteries for each state to see if the one you are looking for is online.

Many states have their own gravesite webpages. The one I use most often is the Ohio Gravestone Project ( This site allows you to view cemeteries by county and provides images of the gravestones that have been contributed.

There are many more websites that provide easy access to graveyard information. Try a few of the ones that I mentioned and see if you can find some of your own and make sure to contribute the headstones that you have collected. Happy hunting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This Day In History

What world stopping events have you lived through? One of my wife's earliest childhood memories is the funeral for JFK. A memory that stands out to me is the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. We are getting ready for an historical first tomorrow. These historical events are easy to find but how do we find out the trivial events in someone's life, those events that even they may have forgotten over the years. Have you ever wondered what life was like when your grandmother was born, what a house cost when she got married, what the top song was in 1950? This type of trivia is sometimes fun to look at. For example, the top TV shows the year I was born included Star Trek, Laugh-In and The Monkees and gas was $0.34 per gallon. 

In honor of the historic events tomorrow I decided to discuss some websites that highlight the historical as well as trivial events in our lives.

The first site is the dMarie Time Capsule ( This site is searchable by date and includes items beginning in 1800. The earlier years are pretty spotty and may include events of the year instead of the month, week or day. More recent dates include much more information such as top songs, plays, books, TV shows as well as the headlines and costs of daily items such as gas, milk, homes, stamps and bread. I like to use this site when developing a personal biography of an ancestor.

Another good site is HyperHistory ( This site focuses in on sets of years and presents the top events in fields such as science, culture, religion, people, politics and books over the last 3000 years. The events are color coded so you can see what category it fits in. It covers both US and world events. 

The last site I will discuss tonight is BrainyHistory ( This site lets you search history in several ways. You can select a day in history, for example January 20, and see what happend on that day over history, you can also see famous births and deaths on that given day. Another way to search is by year. This method gives you a chronology of events during a given year beginning in 1AD.

I am sure everyone will now go to their birthdate and see what was happening. Have fun and see what you can remember.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Scanning Old Photos

When was the last time you used a film camera? I believe that most of us today take digital pictures. We tend to take digital photography for granted. We can take the picture and within a short time we post them to websites such as Picasa, flickr, Facebook, or any number of other sites. We also e-mail copies to friends, send copies on CD, print them with portable printers before we leave, or send them via camera phones to all our friends. But I bet everyone of us still has boxes or books full of pictures and slides. We need to do something with these photos to make them more useful in our research and to make sure that they can be shared with the family. 

I bet most of you have a scanner sitting on your desk. I have gone through at least a dozen scanners over the last few years. My wife and I used to have our own business scanning other people's pictures. That worked well during the mid 1990's when scanning and printing technology was more expensive. We had scanners for slides, scanners for photos and scanners for large format images. At that time the scanners were stand alone flatbed scanners. Today many of the scanners are integrated into multifunction printers. 

Let's discuss some basics of scanning. When you are shopping for a scanner they always brag about how high their resolution is (dpi). Some will claim 1200, 2400, 4800, 6200 or more dpi. Bigger is better, right? Not in all cases. Truthfully, you will probably never use more that 300 dpi when scanning. You may use 600 dpi if you want to edit small areas or a few pixels at a time but then you are working with a very large size picture and it may bog down your computer processor. For web publishing 100 to 150 dpi are usually sufficient.

Another common question is what format should I save the picture in. There are dozens of possible formats given as options. Each one has a specific purpose. I generally use two different formats depending on the purpose of the picture. TIF files have great detail but they take up more storage space. JPG files look nice and take up less space but they also have less detail. If you are editing the picture I would keep it in TIF format. If you want to e-mail it or post it to the web change it to JPG.

Why would you want to scan all your pictures? The first reason is to preserve a copy of the picture. This picture was a tin-type. We don't know who the boy is yet. If you look closely you will see several cracks in the picture. We scanned the picture and put it back in the book it come from. Within a few weeks the picture had totally disintegrated into a pile of small flakes. The digital copy is all that remains of this picture now. Additionally, pictures in old adhesive photo albums are susceptible to chemical deterioration and will change color over time. Scanning allows you the opportunity to preserve them and adjust their colors to make them look more like the original photograph. 

Another reason to scan your photos is to correct any imperfections. Over time pictures discolor, get water stains, crack, bend or rip. We have had to replace many body parts on the photos we worked on. Sometimes people have wanted to modify history in different ways. We have added people to family photos and deleted people from photos. If Uncle Jim wasn't at the last holiday get together we could add him to the picture and if Aunt Jane's ex-husband was in a picture we could erase him. Generally, I don't recommend changing your genealogy related photos in this way though. But you might want to restore the missing parts.

Notice the missing corner and water stains on the photo to the left. With some fairly inexpensive graphics software you can make the picture look almost like the day it was taken. We were able to add the missing foot by taking his brother's foot and enlarging it to more closely fit his dimensions.

Another technique that I use often is to scan the entire page of pictures at once. That way you can go in, crop out the pictures one by one and save them individually. It is much quicker than lining up the scanner each time and scanning one picture at a time. Also, you eliminate the potential for damaging the photos when you take them off the adhesive backed album pages.

Scanning entire photo albums may be time consuming but just think how happy everyone will be when you hand them a CD with all of great grandma Bessie's pictures. Have fun and scan away.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cabinet of Curiosities Blog Carnival - Family Artifacts

Show and tell for grown ups, Cabinet of Curiosities is a celebration of the oddities and marvels of natural history, anthropology, archaeology and historic interest that reside in our personal collections. Tell us the stories behind the historical or religious relics, artifacts, mementos, talismans, specimens and ephemera in your steamer trunks, sock drawers and dusty fireplace mantles. Anything that is a conversation piece is fair game for a good storyteller. What's in your attic? Remember, this is show and tell, not merely a bazarre of the bizarre. It's just an old lump of flattened lead unless you can tell us - engagingly - that this was the Minnie Ball that shattered the stock of your ancestor's Enfield at the otherwise unremarkable Battle of Bean's Station back in December of 1863. So what have you got, and what's the story?

Family artifacts and memorabilia are wonderful things. Many of us have items that have been passed down across the generations. A friend of mine has his family’s original bible from the 1770’s. My wife has a necklace that was given to her great grandmother on her wedding day. My family artifact is not in my possession but it is still in the family. This artifact was the original steamer trunk that my 3rd great grandfather Justice Wyse and his family carried over from Germany in 1854. Having this trunk in the family makes you realize that many immigrants had very little when they came to the United States. So I decided to learn more about what their voyage was like.

You may wonder where to start when doing your research on immigrants. Well that depends on when your family immigrated. In my case, since they immigrated in the 1850’s I used the database at Castle Garden ( If your family immigrated in 1892 or more recently, you might try the database at Ellis Island (

Castle Garden, today known as Castle Clinton National Monument, is the major landmark within The Battery, the 23 acre waterfront park at the tip of Manhattan. From 1855 to 1890, the Castle was America's first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City.

Of the 10 million immigrants who entered through Castle Garden, most were German (3,425,000) and Irish (2,541,000). The rest, in descending numerical order, were English, Swedish, Italian, Scottish, Russian, Norwegian, Swiss, French, Hungarian, Danish, Austrian, Dutch, Bohemian, Welsh, Belgian, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, and Australian, plus 162,173 from “other countries.”

Once I found the immigration records I was able to track down the ship they immigrated on. If you want to research more on immigrant ships you could visit The Shiplist at

This picture is of the ship William Tapscott. This is the ship that the Wyse family took in their migration from Europe to the U.S. during March/April 1854. The average travel time for this voyage was about 31 days but could have taken over 45 days depending on weather. The William Tapscott was one of the finest ships of its time. It was one of the largest full-rigged ships built in Maine during the 1850's.

I was able to find more information about what a voyage on this vessel would have been like by looking in the published diaries in the BYU Digital Collection (

The ship had three decks. The passengers slept on the two lower decks. The second deck was entered through a trap-door hatchway. On each side of the deck, there were numbered cabins. Each cabin contained sleeping “berths”. Each cabin also had light from a large porthole covered with very thick blue glass. Two long tables ran down the middle of this deck. Benches, fastened to the floor, bordered these tables. When the sea wasn’t rough, the porthole window could be left open.

The bottom deck was entered by a trap-door hatchway on the second deck. Like the deck above, there were cabins with berths around the sides. There weren’t any portholes on this deck. For light, there were lanterns. It was very dark. It was described by a passenger on this deck as “… so dark that you could not see for awhile till your eyes got accustomed to the gloom.”

There was a cooking gallery for the common use of all passengers. In the center of the cooking gallery was a very large stove, about 10 feet square. Around this stove was space for passengers to stand and hold onto their pans as they cooked. The toilet closet was a large hole with a bar to sit on. A passenger described the closet as “…The only place I was frightened was when we had to go to the closet, there was just a straight stick across and of course you could see the ocean. How I did cling to my little sister when she was on that bar, for it was a large enough place to let a grown person down, let alone children.”

After plying the oceans for about forty years the William Tapscott was lost in the English Channel in 1888. The figurehead from the ship was salvaged and is now on display at the Bude-Stratton Museum in Cornwall, England. So, as my final step in researching this history, I contacted the Bude-Stratton Museum and was able to get pictures of the artifacts, including the figurehead, that were salvaged from the shipwreck.

Starting with just the one artifact, an old steamer trunk, I have now gained a much more in depth understanding of the trials that the early immigrants had to endure to come to our great country.