Cemetery Picnicing in 7 Steps

The spring and early summer are fabulous times of the year for family gatherings and picnics. So why not make the family cemetery one of the destinations?

(c) 2007 LaDonna Garner1) Take along a picnic basket, a blanket, a camera, and a pencil & paper on a clipboard. Don’t forget to invite the elders down to the youngest family members for the day trip. A digital recorder or camcorder may also be brought along to capture the moments.

2) Draw a simple overview map of the cemetery layout. Mark on the map all of the areas where family members are known to be buried. Record the condition of the cemetery. Is it well kept or is it in poor condition? Is it still an active cemetery or no longer used for burials? Is there a caretaker?

3) Walk the cemetery. Allow the elders to walk alongside the youngest members of the family. This may help rekindle stories and allow them to continue to pass down through the family.

4) Consult with the elders on past burials they witnessed. With a bit of reminiscing, the elders may be able to recall the events and customs used when past family members were buried. They may especially point out unmarked graves of loved ones where documents fail to assist or are no longer available. Be sure to add the information to your map.

5) Draw the layout of each family plot. Note the location of the plot. Also note the number of graves & known burials in the each plot. Record each headstone inscription in writing and note the condition of the stone and the plot. Has the stone been damaged or toppled over? Has the grave settled?

6) Photograph the cemetery and each family plot. Don’t be stingy on photographing as a digital camera works well for this project. Photograph an overview of the cemetery then narrow to the location of each family plot. Make sure to note each photographed location that is taken on your map. Take photographs of each family plot, then each individual headstone in the plot, front and rear.

7) After the picnic, scan and input your map details into your family tree software. I am not the best artist and also use drawing software to recreate the map into a shareable and usable format. It is also good to compare your map to historical maps of the cemetery if available.

In former years, cemeteries were a part of the social custom of our culture. Today they seem to be out of sight and out of mind. Sadly that is causing a detachment and an overwhelming disrespect for cemeteries in general. After 10 years of restoring the family cemetery, I hope to never see it disrespected again. And to think something as simple as a picnic visit can help reverse that trend. :)

Leaf’n a Legacy,

Posted in Cemeteries, Genealogy, Maps | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Getting Organized #1: Software Data

This month let’s be dedicated to setting aside a few hours to get some things organized for the family tree. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a few things I overlooked when tucking the sources away!Getting Organized!

Family tree software has its own ways of getting disorganized compared to the paper piles on the desk. Here’s a few tips to help keep the data updates hassle free and in top shape.

  • Make a master example for citations. Probably one of the most dreadful parts of using software is differing format one causes when citing your sources. Use a good reference or two such as Evidence! or Evidence Explained or Quicksheets y Elizabeth Shown-Mills for examples of each source type.
  • Make a master genealogy folder on your hard drive. In this folder include individual folders by category i.e. photos, birth certificates, land records then further divide into family groups or by person. This will create easy attachment while working within the software and easier backups for your files.
  • Consider a standard naming system for each digital document you create from your sources. For instance, file names that are longer than eight characters can be tedious to browse and relocate later example: ClarkDPerchantBirthCertificate.tif. By giving each family member their own personal code each document with that code pertains to that person only. Example: Clark D. Perchant  has a birth certificate and his code is CDP. So I’ll mark this document as CDP1 and save the file as CDP1.tif and CDP1.jpg. Be sure to make a master list and include it in the person’s software file.
  • Have an incoming box for new source documents. File sorting trays that hang on your office door or sit on the desk can be labeled to help you remember what was added to the family software and what is ready to be filed. Setting several trays marked with the needed process you choose will move along the sources documents between the times you have to step away from your research. Some examples:
    • “IN” these are the new items located on your recent research trip.
    • “SOFTWARE” these items need to be scanned, cited, and attached to the individual(s) in question.
    • “RESEARCH LOG” these items should be noted in your  research log and dated.
    • “TO BE FILED” these items are done and ready to be filed for safe keepings.

Set aside a time each week or month to do some software housekeeping and you’ll always be ready for making current TO-DO lists for your research trips.

Happy Leaf’n!

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Skillbuilder: Placing Your Ancestors Within Their Time

Genealogy should not be narrowed around a database of names and places, detached from reality. Your ancestors experienced events that effected their lives and decisions just as you do today.

The best part about living in the present generation is the many resources that enable you t0 revisit the events that touched your ancestor’s lives and reintroduce them to your ancestor’s history.

Timelines are a great avenue to experience and understand past events pertaining to the family:

  • If you use family tree software it likely has a timeline report that will list and print a chronological draft of your ancestor’s life events. Go ahead and print out this list to see what you have and what you can incorporate.
  • Use a word processor program such as Microsoft Word or Open Office Writer to build your timeline manually.
  • Index cards can also be used as a guide. Place the name, birth & death date on the top of the card then add bullet style notations of a list or single event, a summary of the event, and notations so you can incorporate your source citations.

To add to the above timeline, you’ll want to visit sites such as those below that mark events your ancestor likely was aware.

  • This Day In History on History.com has many national headlines and events that occurred on a specific date. Just put a date or year into the search box.
  • Any-Day-in-History has a simple list of event dates, historical figure birthdates, and other date information that may be useful according to the date you search.
  • On-This-Day.com is another simple site for nationwide and historical figure information. Just type a date into the google search bar and a list of possible dates will be shown. (More historical figures: Historyorb.com and
  • dMarie Time Capsule is a site that gives you some headlines, pricing of items such as gas and bread, and other information such as popular books of the date you specify.
  • Today in History by The Library of Congress is very useful.
  • Digitized newspapers are especially helpful in targeting specific dates. Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank are just two of several online database sites that offer a searchable collection of newspapers across the country. Both require a subscription to access the full image that may be accessible at a nearby library. (The New York Times’s “On This Day” and Washington Post’s “Today in History” print online articles for specific events for a given day .)
  • Then there’s the tried and true, visit the nearest library or archive for the newspapers on microfilm. You will find events closely related to your ancestor’s community and hopefully specifically regarding him as well. It will take some time and patience to roll through the microfilm roll and well worth the effort. But with growing interest in digitization, your nearest library may have digital microfilm readers that will save the images you locate directly to a thumbdrive. But if you still are required to print, just scan the document and save it into your family tree database.

Here’s to leaf’n through the newspaper!



Posted in Genealogy, Skillbuilder | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Documenting Civil War Ancestors

Here it is, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War…the Sesquicentennial. Yesterday marked the first official day of the Civil War. It’s remarkable how much we can enlighten our family history through the large assortment of records that have spawned from numerous years of revisiting one of the most detrimental periods in U.S. History.

So to get you going, I won’t monopolize your valuable time with chatter but will highlight several links to get you jumping on your military family search.

Gale Group is offering free access to an assortment of databases through April 24, 2011 including Slavery & Anti-Slavery: A Transitional Archive and NewsVault for 19th Century U.S. Newspapers

Free Civil War on Footnote.com Footnote.com is currently offering free access to its Civil War Document Collection. (Note: clicking through this link benefits my blog.)

Ancestry.com Civil War Collection and Civil War Records

Missouri State Archives, Soldiers’ Records: War of 1812 – World War I

National Park Service, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

Library of Congress, American Memory Timeline Civil War and Reconstruction

Keep on leaf’n thru history,

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Threatened Cemeteries: Mount Hope Cemetery, Illinois

Sadly, the Mount Hope Cemetery in Belleville, Illinois is another local cemetery  burdened with funding issues that have resulted in neglect. Read more…

Cemetery’s Sunken Graves Anger Belleville Mayor by Chris Regnier, FOX2now.com, April 8, 2011. (article & video)

Metro-east prepaid burial customers finally getting money back by BY Laura Girresch, Belleville News-Democrat, May 4, 2012 (article)

Posted in Cemeteries | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Threatened Cemeteries: Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia.

The Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia is a historic cemetery currently plagued with neglect and an unsure future. Read more…

Historic Cemetery in Philadelphia Shuts Down, Leaving Families With No Answers by Joshua Rhett Miller, April 07, 2011, FoxNews.com (article & photo)

Huge Historic Cemetery Shuts Down, Fox29 (article, photos & video)

A few websites resources for this cemeteries:

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African-American Special Interest Group Recap April 2, 2011

The African-American Special Interest Group (AA-SIG) of the St. Louis Genealogical Society is a roundtable discussion group for researchers focusing on African Ancestors. The following is a highlight of many items discussed during the April 2, 2011 roundtable.

Discussion #1: Many African-American researchers find themselves with Mississippi ancestors. Due to many counties lacking vital records prior to ~1910, roadblocks often inhibit the project. But don’t give up!

Be sure you know what is available and when in the counties you are researching by using references such as Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources by Alice Eichholz, editor. Redbook notes state and county information in table form of vital records, land transactions, and probate files that may or may not be available and other state and county information. Don’t go researching blindly, you may be looking for a record that does not exist or perhaps in a county that was not yet formed.

Visit the Mississippi State Archives for county record listings, maps, and other resources throughout the state.

Maps are very helpful when you can’t locate the records of family members across county boundaries. The University of Missouri-Columbia’s Special Collections has Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for viewing. They are available for large cities and smaller cities that may have had an established business community and offer additional detail such as buildings and utilities. For other states, try visiting their state archives and universities. Many libraries subscribe to ProQuest that has black and white versions scanned from microfilmed copies of the maps.

Consider alternative records that may offer the information you seek. For instance, land and probate records are likely available and may help lead to additional family information when vital records are missing.

Discussion #2: A few computer software tips to help your family history project.

Cutepdf is a virtual printer that will save webpages and other computer documents into PDF. After a quick download, just choose cutepdf from your printer options & save your document when prompted. Saves your information & your printer ink.

Consider using family history software such as RootsMagic to compile your genealogy and stay organized recording citations. RootsMagic has a free version you can give a whirl.

File your documents into a system that works for you short term but can be kept up and move along with you long term. Most of us begin with the 3-ring binder but after sometime, the binder may become cumbersome overflowing with generations of documents. This can inhibit your researching if you aren’t examining your documents regularly to compare with new findings. Consider scanning documents into an image or pdf format and connecting with family history software; leaving your hard copies safe at home.

Citations…remember to make note of your citations in source notes, on your document, and in your family tree software. Use references such as Evidence! or Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown-Mills to help your citing. A useful item to have beside your computer is QuickSheet: Citing Online African-American Historical Resources Evidence! Style by Elizabeth Shown-Mills. A copy of the quicksheet was donated recently by Mrs. Shown-Mills (Thank you!) and as a door prize, won by a genealogy newbie. (What a great inspiration for beginning your genealogy!)

When saving documents and images, be consistent in where they are saved to your computer. Making a single folder that contains additional folders for all of your family history and images offers quick retrieval and easier backups. Also be consistent in what you name your files. Long names are great but not necessarily easy to organize. I have a ” 8 digit or less” rule that I give each family member a unique code that follows them throughout their lifetime. Each of their document receives this code and is easily found within the family history folders on my computer.

Discussion #3: Skillbuilder: Fattening Up Your Family Tree.

View the 2011 Schedule for the AA-SIG, STLGS.
Join us on Facebook.

Leaf’n & Learn’n,

*Note: Items can be purchased from additional online and walk-in stores besides the ones linked above.

Posted in AA-SIG, African-American Research, Computers, Lectures & Workshops, Mississippi Research, References, Software, State Archives, STLGS | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rediscovered Cemeteries: North Carolina

A North Carolina cemetery, possibly African-American, was recently rediscovered during expansion of a nearby subdivision. Read more…

We can learn a lot from our historical cemeteries no matter how near or far.

Future news and issues regarding cemeteries can be followed through the tags below or categories on the sidebar.

Posted in African-American Research, Cemeteries | Tagged | Leave a comment

Get on the Genealogy Learning Band Wagon!

Have you heard? You can receive dozens of genealogy tips and research advice just by attending a genealogy conference or lecture by car, by mail, or at your fingertips.

Today, there are numerous opportunities for genealogy learning that assists your family research. By attending a one-hour lecture discussing genealogy how-to at a local library or a few days getaway at a conference covering genealogy technology, you can increase your positive results and maximize your search time. Even webinars can help you bring down brickwall you have tried to climb for years. The only thing you have to do is find the right course for you. What about the price range? Many genealogy geared educational resources offer free to fee based opportunities.

Held annually in the local area is the St. Louis Genealogical Society’s 41st Family History Conference. This conference is a one-day event held Saturday, 30 April 2011 at the Maryland Heights Centre. The day is filled with over a dozen lectures covering many topics including researching effectively, understanding historical documents, and tips for using online database sites. To view details on the full program, registration or location visit http://www.stlgs.org or to call (314) 647-8547. Registration is currently underway.

Soon to open for registration is the Federation of Genealogical Societies “Pathways to the Heartland Conference. Held 7th through 10th, September 2011 is just a few hours drive to the Prairie Convention Center in Springfield, Illinois. This four-day conference is jam packed with genealogy learning. Although geared for genealogical societies do not hesitate to attend. This conference is well equipped for the average family historian with a large range of topics discussing historical discoveries to tackling ethnic research from professional genealogists and historians across the country. view details on the full program, registration or location visit http://fgs.org or call 1-888-FGS-1500.           

If you cannot travel, webinars are the next trendy conference venue. Do you need assistance with genealogy software or specific online databases? Several well known companies have complimentary and nominal fee courses online for users and soon to be users. Ancestry has an online learning center with tutorials and webinars by visiting http://learn.ancestry.com. Family Search has many free resources available to fill your learning needs. Visit and search their online index at http://familysearch.org. RootsMagic also has complimentary online courses for software users listed here at http://rootsmagic.com/Learn.

If you would like something more at your leisure, consider taking a course online or by mail through the National Genealogical Society. A full listing of their available courses, fees, and registration are available at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org or call 1-800-473-0060.

No matter if you are new to genealogy or have been following your family tree for many years, there’s always new strategies and tips you can glean. Moreover, with today’s wide range of options, you can learn those new tricks in as much or little time as you have available.

Leaf’n lessons,
;) LaDonna

Posted in Lectures & Workshops, Newbie Notes | Tagged | 4 Comments

Skillbuilder: Fattening Up Your Family Tree

Do you have an ancestor who’s branch is bare of leaves? How about family reunions where the family just isn’t as thrilled about your latest death certificate discovery? © 2011 LaDonna GarnerWell perhaps you need to revamp your research with more detail and fatten-up your skeletal family tree.

Compiling a family tree doesn’t have to be boring. Just let a member of the family read your latest software data and you’ll know if your family’s history is lacking some meat on it’s brittle bones.

So what’s a family historian to do?

Put some life back into your research! It is not difficult. By adding a bit of context and historical background to assist the document, you can retell the story of each ancestor.

Let’s have a mini workshop here and try adding some of that C & HB to this individual:

  • Benjamin Follett died on 22 December 1884. He was under 1 year of age. He was buried in the Potter’s Field, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • This is all you know regarding great-uncle Benjamin from a tombstone; his life being very brief.

Begin looking at this information from a questionable standpoint:

  • Do you know his cause of death?
  • Was his cause of death unusual today?
  • Did he or other family members die during an epidemic?
  • What other health concerns were plaguing the city or neighborhood?

A look at Benjamin’s death register entry:

© 2011 LaDonna Garner

Register of Deaths in the City of St. Louis (1884), 810.

© 2011 LaDonna Garner

Register of Deaths in the City of St. Louis (1884), 811.

Benjamin was an 8 days old, African-American, lived in the rear residence of 922 N. 7th in the 2nd ward of St. Louis, and died from Infantile Convulsions and Testro Euteric.

With these clues you can add some extra details by…

  • describing the terminology used in the cause of death. A 1938 medical dictionary I have on hand states Infantile Convulsions was a condition caused by constipation. Testro wasn’t discussed but Euteric regarded the intestines.
  • canvasing the surrounding register page for other ailments. Recent St. Louis deaths were caused by Diphtheria, Pneumonia, Phthisis (consumption), and Scarlett Fever.
  • canvasing the remaining register for additional deaths that occurred in the second ward. Just next door, a 2nd ward neighbor lost a 3 month old to Inanition. Inanition according to the medical dictionary was a weakness or exhaustion due to improper nutrition.
  • adding maps of his residential area help visualize the neighborhood and the area encompassing the second ward. Ward maps changed frequently so find one closest to the date you are researching.

    © 2011 LaDonna Garner

    1878 Pitzman's New Atlas of the City of St. Louis, Mo. --Reprint, St. Louis Genealogical Society

Bringing your ancestors to life by enriching their stories will surely make the family history enjoyable and place it in the spotlight at the next reunion.

Leaf’n through time,

Posted in Skillbuilder, Understanding Documents, Vital Records | Tagged | 5 Comments