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

Toolbox Tip: Backup options for digital genealogy files

Do you back-up your research frequently? A fellow genealogist had a virus scare recently reminding him to backup more often. But he still feels very intimidated about the process.

There are several options to help you in backing up digital genealogy files. It doesn’t matter which options you choose, just be sure to follow through with this much needed chore and often. How much is often? Setting a habit to backup your files each time you add new material will ensure the data and prevent headaches of loss later. As life can get in the way, weekly backups or at the least monthly can help keep your files in top protection.

This toolbox tip regards some of your backup options.

Printing: Printing hard copies of your digital documents and photographs can be a genealogy research life savor. The downside is paper takes up space and printing everything you have in your database can be expensive.

Flash drives & thumb drives: These handy gadgets are nice for toting information but not as reliable for long term, storage. They very in lifespan in my experience about two years and can suffer damage from daily use and travel. I even had one catch fire! So my recommendation is to use these drives as a temporary storage option.

CD & DVD: Using the burn tool on your computer is a economical option to protecting your digital genealogy files. For longevity, write on the center “spindle” portion not the CD/DVD itself. Writing with CD/DVD safe pens can reduce the bleeding some inks can cause, damaging your backups. Test your backups occasionally to ensure they are still retrievable. Making an extra copy and storing it at your bank deposit box or sharing with other family members is also a good backup system. One brand of pens I’ve relied on is Memorex CD label pens.

Genealogy Software backup tools will assist in saving your data. Just be sure to save it twice: once to your computer and again off your computer to CDs or DVDs or a backup drive.

Backup/External Hard Drives: These are great for backing up and storing additional copies of digital genealogy files for your family tree. Drives come in many style and price ranges and are often on sale. Pay attention to special deals during the school supply season and Black Friday Sales. I would still recommend backing up on CDs or DVDs in addition to using backup drives. To compare backup drives, offers a large selection of many brands.

Online Backup Sites: Using online sites dedicated to backup service can be an option to protect your digital genealogy files. They are easy to use once setup and convenient to access your files while away from the home computer. Several sites offer a minimum of storage space for free and the option to purchase additional storage space. The downside can be a company that shuts down or the ability to download large amounts of data in a hurry. Choose your backup site carefully. One way to understand online backup site services is an upcoming webinar by Legacy Family Tree discussing Dropbox.

While backing up your files may be troublesome, it’s well worth the time to ensure the data you have collected over the course of your researching life.

Good luck leaf’n through your data!

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Got genealogy software?

I receive many requests for assistance from friends and conference goers on choosing genealogy software. If you have been researching your family for years or just a few months, consider installing this genealogy helper. Not only can the software assist in staying organized and keeping track of your family finds, it can help you share genealogy with fellow researchers and the family.

Genealogy software programs come in varying user levels and with different bells and whistles. Choosing one that fits your comfort level and needs is easier than ever. Most companies offer trial versions for previewing before you invest. Two popular programs you may have heard of are Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic.

Family Tree Maker by is very popular and contains many bells and whistles to get your family materials organized and ready for sharing. Many fellow genealogists love its interface and annual updating of features. New this year is Family Tree Maker for Mac. I have experienced through assisting others that some beginning users with computer knowledge challenges may find the program difficult. Ancestry offers free tutorials and webinars to assist the user learning as well as a guidebook for purchase. Family Tree Maker retails for $39.95 and is currently on sale now for $31.96. the Mac version retails for $69.95 and on sale for $55.96. Upgrades are regular retail price and on sale now for $27.97.

RootsMagic 4 by RootsMagic, Inc. is popular for its simple interface without a loss of features. One of my favorite features is a built in browser that allows you to surf online websites without closing or shrinking the software window. Its great for the beginning user to the professional. With its short learning curve I feel it functions well for those with computer knowledge challenges. Perhaps that’s why RootsMagic remains my genealogy software of choice and have been a fan of this program since its humble beginnings from Family Origins. They offer free tutorials and webinars to assist the user learning. A guide book is also available for purchase. It retails for $29.95. Small updates to the program are offered free of charge. An upgrade from previous versions is $19.95.

There are many additional software choices and Cyndi’s List has a long list of those options.
For the rundown on software features and their pros and cons for users, instead of comparing here, I’ve noted a few links to previous reviews:

Mac Genealogy
Top Ten Reviews
Consumer Research

And just as I write this blog, one of the many bloggers I like to follow is Amy Coffin, MLIS and her blog We Tree Genealogy Blog. Amy is currently hosting a contest drawing for a copy of RootsMagic 4 and the book Getting the Most Out of RootsMagic 4. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her blog as well as a chance to win through March 2nd.

As new programs are announced, I give them a spin. But seeing how I have continued with RootsMagic, I believe I have found the program that works for my family history gathering needs.

How about you?

Keep looking for those lost leaves!

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Reclaiming Family Photographs

The memories we mentally record can be a lifetime recalled but lost in an instant. The mind can play tricks on us stealing vital nuggets of information much like holding it hostage. Perhaps that’s why photographs are one of the most valued objects in our search to glimpse into the lives of our ancestors.

If we are lucky, photography has captured many of our family members from birth through death. Much like a whispered story, photographs depict a life that might otherwise have been a mystery. While we may find some of these valued objects among family treasures there are likely additional family members who remain faceless.

Grandpa Jones during WWII

Grandpa Jones during WWII. This photo was lost but a negative was found in a box of old receipts.

Lost family photographs can occur through various reasons. In my family, many losses were due to a house fire and an unknowing relative clearing out the clutter. But no matter the occurrence, once the photographs are gone it’s a piece of the puzzle we desperately strive to solve.

Here are a few tips to get you on the way to rebuilding a family photograph collection.

Look to family.
Setup a private family photo site for family members to scan, share & swap family photos and the stories behind them. Two free user friendly sites I enjoy are Walgreens and Shutterfly. And best of all, both sites offer specials for prints.

Look locally.
Antique dealers & Flea market sellers obtain their resell goods through estate sells and auctions. The cost of retrieving can very but I love a lazy, sunny day rummaging and bartering.

Look regionally.
Newspaperscan be a valuable photo source and other tidbits of information. With today’s digital microfilm printers you can save a quality photograph onto your flashdrive in a snap.
Clubs, organizations, and business directories often photograph their members. Look for existing groups or check nearby historical societies. Not only may you find photographs, you may uncover further information to add to the family tree.
Government entitiesmay have documented family members from court dealings to registrations. Each government has its own rules of privacy so call ahead before a visit.

Look virtually.
Cyndi at Cyndyi’s List has a long listing of websites dedicated to reuniting photographs with their families. Cyndy’s List is a free, one woman show of links regarding genealogy. You’ll want to visit often so feel free to drop her some gratitude.

Look for alternatives.
Some family members may have not been photographed due to the time period or an economic situation. Saving headstones and paper documents into photographic formats such as TIF and JPG are a great option to include them into family trees and photo books.

Grandpa Jones headstone

Grandpa Jones headstone

Phew, now if this helps you solve a pictureless situation come back and post a comment. I’d love to hear about your photographic problem creativity!

Just leaf’n through life,


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To be or not to be…illegitimate?

Just a few nights ago, I watched Blossoms in the Dust, a 1941 documentary of Mrs. Edna Gladney and her fight for civil rights of orphaned children in Texas. Not only was this movie enlightening, it sparked my interest in the birth records of these orphans and their effect throughout adulthood.

Over the course of family researching, have you come across notations or ink stamps highlighting legitimacy on a birth certificate or register entry? Let’s take a moment and look into that particular question imposed.

(click image to see full view)
This birth register entry is of the unnamed child of Rita Harris (Missouri, 1884), considered illegitimate.

Notice the notation of illegitimacy is written under the column regarding the father.

This birth notice of the unnamed child of Merodith (Texas, 1905) strikes out legitimate indicating the child is out of wedlock. Notice the mother’s surname is omitted.

Other standardized forms may contain an ink stamped “ILLEGITIMATE” on it’s face.

Studying various laws for the time period can bring further focus on the purpose of knowing legitimacy and particularly regarding children’s rights to inheritance. If a child was born within the confines of marriage, then he was the legitimate child of the couple and entitled to full rights of inheritance of both father and mother. If the child was born outside of wedlock, many states retricted claims of inheritance from those proven to have been from an illegitimate union. Some states allowed these children to inherit from their mother and maternal next of kin but overwhelmingly, the father’s inheritance was not awarded.

The branding status of legitamacy on birth certificates spawned movements for amending birth certificates to prevent children marked for life. Amended and sealed birth certificates of today reflect this movement in courthouses across the country. And in some instances, children noted at birth as illegitimate could become legitimate upon the marriage of the parents; the original birth replaced.

Now, I can go on and on discussing this issue but perhaps offering a couple google book references below can move you to reinvestigate your family birth registrations in a new light. ;)

Principles of the law of real property by Joshua Williams (1845)
Illegitimacy laws of the United States by Ernst Freund (1919)

Just leaf’n through life,

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Hello & Thanks for dropping by The Leafseeker!

As a window into my world pertaining to genealogy & historic preservation, this blog is an extention of the leafseeker website. I hope the tips and adventures soon to post here will help in your ventures!

Raking up those lost leaves,

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