Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category Lesson Reviews: Lesson 1

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Inspired by the movie “Julie and Julia” where Julie decided to cook her way through an entire Julia Childs’ cookbook, I have decided to work my way through the various online genealogy lessons available and:

1)  Give my candid opinion on their usefulness

2) Cover at least one good tip from the lesson

3) Tell you how long it took me to get through the lesson

So here we go!  I will start with the free series available from  If you want to enroll along with me, I’ll welcome your comments as well!  Go to to see the lessons.


Lesson 1: Mapping the Course and Equipment for the Hunt

Opinion:  Very basic as it was intended to be.  There are a several links to side articles that can have you doing lessons within lessons.  As an example, there was a link that sent you to an article about mapping that was pretty interesting except that some of the links were broken.  Another link led to an article about citing sources that I thought might be overwhelming to a newbie reading the lesson.  Lesson presentation was visually boring and could use some sexing up.

Best Tip: Telling new family history enthusiasts to use a Researcher Planner.  OK, I admit that I don’t do this, but I know I should!  The sample they provided wasn’t very impressive though. DOES ANYONE HAVE SUGGESTIONS FOR A GOOD SOURCE FOR A RESEARCH PLAN SHEET?

Time to Complete Lesson:  About 15 minutes but time will really vary depending on how many of the side links you chase down.  Maybe you will just want to bookmark some of them (like the article oan Maps) and go back to those later. 

Restoring a WWII Service Diary to the Family

Friday, September 11th, 2009

While shopping at an antique store this spring, I purchased a WWII Serviceman’s Diary. I really only glanced at it and intended to sell it on Ebay. Many WWII buffs love reading these diaries for their descriptions of battles and for glimpses into the psyche of the soldier so I had hoped to make a little money on it and bring enjoyment to a WWII afficianado.

I finally got around to reading it a couple weeks ago and, just a few pages in, realized that the soldier, Donald (last name omitted for privacy) of Michigan really used his diary to record his courtship of a lovely local lady named Elvie where he was stationed in Australia.
Skimming ahead, some final entries chronicled that Donald and Elvie had tied the knot in Australia and Elvie herself added a few entries at the end.

I stopped reading after a few entries as it seemed so personal. Armed with the fellow’s name and birth date, I quickly found that the soldier had passed away several years ago in nearby Muskegon, Michigan. I didn’t however, find an “Elvie” of the same last name so wondered if their marriage survived.

Off I went to and, buried in an Ancestry Tree from an Australian woman was the soldier’s name. Oddly, he was linked to no one at all. An e-mail to the tree submitter first came back saying that she had no such person in her tree.

In a follow-up e-mail, I got more specific to the submitter and then received a follow-up response that listed the names of all of Donald’s and Elvie’s children!

This delightful woman was only very slightly related to Elvie and thought that perhaps the family was somewhere around Queensland, Australia. This, however, did not jive with Donald’s death in Michigan.

From there, a simple search turned up a phone number for Donald’s daughter. I left a message and last night received a return phone call.

It seems that the family had held an estate sale some time back and, by accident, the diary had been put into the sale. They were utterly floored that it had managed to make its way back to them! Elvie, it turns out, is still alive but in assisted living in the eraly stages of Alzheimers. The daughter said that her mother is still alert enough that she will understand that the treasured diary has been returned.

It is going off in the mail today. It’s the ability to make “reunions” like this happen that makes having skills in family history sleuthing so darn much fun and so rewarding!


Friday, May 1st, 2009

For some time, I have been working on a genealogical mystery related to famous author Mark Twain. Visit to follow the story. Two days ago, my cousin and I were contacted by a German film maker about developing this story into a documentary! After some discussion, it looks like this project will be going forward. We are hoping that with the filming of this story, perhaps it will draw enough information out of the woodwork to prove (or disprove) once and for all our belief that Mark Twain’s gene pool did not, in fact die out. Stay tuned!

Funeral Home Records for Genealogy Research

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Funeral home records are a commonly overlooked source for family history research. I spent years trying to track down a somewhat distant relative who was rumored to have an old family Bible. Sadly, I did not know her married name. One day, my brother was visiting and we were discussing this dilemma. He said “Don’t you have her mother’s death record? Does it list the funeral home?” I pulled it out and sure enough, the funeral home was posted. The woman had died in 1975 so I figured it was a long shot, but I made a call. To my astonishment, the folks there spent over 45 minutes digging into old files and came up with “Cousin Pat’s” married last name and the city she had lived in at the time. With that information, I tracked her down and met a delightful woman who did indeed have a family Bible with data that went back to the late 1700s! She also had old letters and a host of other memorabilia including an 1845 teaching certificate for my great-great-grandmother.

Since then, I regularly call funeral homes when I am doing research for clients. They often have data about the family of the deceased that the cemetery would not have and even sometimes keep obituary copies in the file.

Have you discovered

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I think we all tend to get in the habit of visiting our favorite family history websites like and can get tunnel vision about what else is out there.  Recently, through I found a genealogy discussion board that mentioned     I headed there and was very surprised to see that NARA (the National Archives) has partnered with this site and is slowly adding some incredible images !  For example, for Civil War researchers, they have scans of  pension cards.  Now, has had them for a long time, but these cards seem to be different.  Many have actual death dates for the veterans where the versions do not.   As the unofficial historian for, I am on a constant hunt to find the death dates for all the soldiers who served in the 1st Michigan Light Artillery, Battery C (”Robinson’s Battery:) and I found several more this way!

Indications are that this site will eventually add images of the actual pension records themselves.  That would be a monumental task!  At present, you have to spend about $75 to get a single soldier’s file so that will be incredible. 

Certain parts of the site are free but an annual subscription gives you full access.  I believe it was less than $70 for a full year.  You can also share information and make annotations to documents that others can see.  Navigating around the site is a bit clumsy but the original documents make it well worth the cost!!


Monday, April 20th, 2009

As I have been doing more heir tracing, it makes me want to shout to everyone: “DON”T DIE WITHOUT A WILL OR TRUST!” You have no idea of the mess you will be leaving behnd! Sure, you won’t be there to see it, but some poor court administrator or attorney will be tearing their hair out trying to decide who gets your worldly possessions! If you really don’t care where things go, it would still be better to designate a charity to receive things rather than leave it all up in the air. Or should I say “up in the heir”? Sorry, couldn’t resist!