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FamilyTrackers Blog

28 September 2005

Genealogy Mistakes and Faux Pas for Beginners- Laugh and Learn From Mine

Nobody told me how to do genealogical research; I learned from trial and error - with a big emphasis on the error. Perhaps you can learn from my mistakes. My wife first suggested a topic called Ten Genealogy Mistakes to Avoid and I thought it would be difficult to come up with ten. In less than five minutes we came up with ten embarrassing things that I have done personally and it looks like this could turn into a Time Life series. So I limited this list to "beginner mistakes" just to keep my ego intact and give you some good ideas to help your search.

Pay Attention to Details: Margaret and I were so lucky to take a trip to her grandmother's home town in the village of Riseley in England. It was so nice to be able to involve her in the genealogy part of my life and I was excited to see her reaction when we finally got there. We toured the church, walked through the graveyard, and visited with the vicar. I insisted that she pose in front of the sign on the outskirts of town for a photo - the outskirts of the wrong town. It turns out that there are two villages named Riseley - one on the map that I purchased before we left California and one in the materials handed down through our family that emphasized Riseley, Bedfordshire, England as grandma's birth place. Sigh . . . I still think it is a nice photo and a really nice town to visit.

Back Up Your Data: This is a lesson that seems to go into short-term memory. It seems that everyone has a story about losing a document and losing a day's work; How about losing a genealogy file with 25 years of effort invested? It is a disaster compared to other similar computer losses. Still not likely to change your ways? In order to mitigate your losses you should share. Share with relatives by trading gedcom files and share with the world by publishing your info online. These two things effectively back up your information on other computers so that a loss at home can be recovered.

Get Permission to Visit: We tried to get permission to visit our distant relatives in Switzerland earlier this year and couldn't get contact information. Your relatives may not be prepared for a reunion when you just show up on their doorstep. Our last-minute visit was cordial and fun considering that they hadn't received so much as a Christmas card from us in over 250 years. An additional issue that I hadn't considered is that the people living in the original homestead may have received more visits before we got there since the original line of this family has expanded to over 100,000 people in the US alone. Thinking about the possible implications of that number makes me think that our relatives are saints - or at least something more than just really nice people like we originally thought.

Precise Descriptions: Many genealogists start with newsgroups, email groups, and online discussions because they are good places to get in touch with distant relatives. It's a great idea to find out if someone has already done the work before you invest 25 years. When you get involved in those types of places, you find that many beginners make the mistake of using general language in titles and subject lines - like "My Family" or "Grandparents." These are the short blurbs listed on the web site or in the email that people scan to see if they want to read your message or not. The problem with general language is that the people who scan the list don't know if they should read your post or not. You want people to read your post, but your really want the right people to read your post. A good subject line tells me who the post is about; name, location and date range. You can also include an event if you have that like birth, death, or marriage. One good example is "Langenegger, Ulrich b 1664 in Langnau, Bern, Switzerland." You can't really identify a person with less information than name, date and place. No matter how unique your relative's name, there are bound to be others when you consider all locations and all time.

Publishing Data on Living People: There are bad people out there who try to get information about others so that they can use their name and reputation to cheat people. Many security systems have used Social Security numbers and your mother's maiden name as identification. The better systems do much more these days. Still you shouldn't publish anything on the Internet that includes unique identifiers like Social Security or driver's license numbers. My genealogy software includes a filter that allows me to publish my file and replaces living people's information with "Still Living" or "Not Available." People in your file who are less than 120 years old and who don't have a death date should be assumed living for this purpose.

Prove Relationships: You should satisfy yourself that a person is really related to your family before you include them in published information. Proof is a bit of an issue sometimes and it means something different to every genealogist - sometimes different things to the same genealogist in different situations. I made a three hour trip one time to meet a distant relative who turned out to be not related at all. We have sent each other emails and joked about this meeting many times - just like family and still a great experience.

I have on occasion accepted a simple interview with a person who knew the person in question personally as proof, especially if I can confirm the information from two or three additional people. Generally, I require two bits of public information to prove a person. That kind of proof is not always available and sometimes I am content with just putting a person in my tree as a place holder (and marking it clearly as "Unproven").

Don't Believe Everything You Hear: I had a detailed family story about Mary Martha Higginbotham that came from my mother and her sister that included dates, names, and places. My uncle wrote about this person in somewhat less detail. When I finally got to the LDS Library in Salt Lake, I was determined to unravel this mystery - really aiming to routinely prove the family story. I found some great data for Nancy Matilda Higginbotham born on the same date as the family story in Macon County, Missouri and who lived in Gage County, Nebraska. I refused to believe the public record because the names were different from the family story even though all of the other details fit. "It must be her twin sister" I thought. My brothers were mystified that I would continue to search when faced with so much proof. I can't really defend myself, but I was just curious about how this story could have been wrong. I finally accepted the public record after I found Nancy Matilda's grave in Oklahoma on the same plot as my grandfather's first wife. Turns out that my uncle's recollection with less information was a more accurate story than my mother's. The lesson is this: Don't believe everything that your family tells you - or that anyone else tells you; Prove everything to your own satisfaction.

Proper Caution Notices: When you first started, someone helped you. After you have some experience, you will help someone else. Genealogists are some of the nicest people in the world and your generosity will pay dividends when you need help yourself - even without any dividends, you are just paying the people who helped you. One caution about sharing: be careful to quote sources and to give proper cautions to people who read your information. If you are not sure about a relationship, person, or date, make sure that you clearly say that and include it in your written information. It is amazing how many times I have gotten a hot lead on my current brick wall with someone who quotes another researcher and when I contact the other researcher, they quote me as the source. Those events have slowed for me since I started giving proper precautions along with the data that I share. I also stopped publishing data online that is not proven to my satisfaction because it was not clear enough to the reader no matter how many cautions I included.

Please keep in mind that we look back on these experiences as fun learning experiences - not the embarrassments they seemed to be at first. Have fun with genealogy; even the gaffs turn out to be fun.

Gene Hall is a genealogist with 30 years of research experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world. FamilyTrackers is located at
http://www.familytrackers.com/ .

This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above.

21 September 2005

Sherida K. Eddlemon to Publish on FamilyTrackers

Sherida K. Eddlemon, a genealogist with over 15 years of publishing experience has selected FamilyTrackers to publish and distribute her private collection of original and rare genealogical documents over the Internet.

A joint effort announced today by Sherida K. Eddlemon and FamilyTrackers, Inc. will allow Internet users to search a host of genealogical records that have never been available to the public before now. According to Eddlemon, “I have collected these records all of my adult life because I wanted them to be preserved – saved for relatives who may be searching for this information.” The records include extensive collections of information in Illinois, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New York in the United States.

Many of the items are non-traditional resources like Masonic records and work histories that include information about the activities of the people mentioned in the documents. Eddlemon says that, “Many traditional sources include just names and dates without much more information about the person. “

The first publication in this series will include images of the pages from the 1925 Masonic Directory from Springfield, Illinois.

“We are delighted to work with Sherida on this important project and happy that she recognizes the unique benefits of publishing on FamilyTrackers. Our system will match these new records with existing FamilyTrackers searches and with new searches entered later. Searches entered now will be compared with Sherida’s additional publications as they are added,” according to Gene Hall, CEO of FamilyTrackers. Membership and searching activities are free on FamilyTrackers. Individual items are priced by publishers according to the rarity and difficulty in extracting the information.

Sherida K. Eddlemon is a genealogist located in Tennessee and has published dozens of books including major works on birth, death, and marriage records in Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, Arkansas and Tennessee.

FamilyTrackers is a California corporation established as a tool to help genealogists find and track information about their families all over the world.
Contact Info:
Gene Hall, CEO
FamilyTrackers, Inc.
1075-239 Space Park Way
Mountain View, CA 94043

Sherida K. Eddlemon

19 September 2005

Genealogy in England – A Hinde Family Adventure

“Dad was a bobby in London in about 1905 and he met a guy in a pub– a scoundrel really – named Arthur Mamby who was murdered in Taos a few years later. This Mamby character said that Taos was a paradise in New Mexico where everyone was settling. I guess dad was ready for a change or something. He packed all their things and came directly to Taos along with mom and Doris. When they got here, there was nothing but the pueblo and a handful of people living in town. There was no blacksmith in town and dad opened a shop - the first in Taos.” This story from Thomas George Hinde about his parents’ trip from England was just the beginning of our search for our Hinde Family’s English roots.

The English have been migrating to the United States since 1607 when the first colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia. Additional colonies were established in subsequent years in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Salem, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Maryland; and Pennsylvania. This relative trickle of migration increased until the period between 1820 and 1920 when 2.5 million people moved from England to the United States – among them William Thomas Hinde, our “Grandpa Hinde.” After generations in the US, these immigrants have turned into millions of people with roots extending back to England and other UK countries.

Our initial effort was to begin to understand the family tree in a factual way. So we completed interviews with relatives who knew Grandpa Hinde and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Steer – our “Grandma Hinde.” We also made some trips to Taos during vacations to see grandpa’s blacksmith shop, the house he built, the old jail on the square, and numerous other examples of his blacksmithing talents around town. We suspect that he was commissioned to build the iron fence around Kit Carson’s grave – just across the street from the Hinde home. On our last trip there we discovered Hinde Street named in honor of this early day Taos pioneer family. This effort produced some colorful stories about the trip from England and their life in Taos along with some important documentation showing that the Grandpa Hinde was born Kempston, Bedfordshire in 1873 and Grandma Hinde was born in Risely, Bedfordshire in 1872.

Months turned into years as we gathered additional information about the Hinde family that stretched back to 1824 Olney in Buckinghamshire where the family was a stable member of the community for several generations. We found that the family lived for 2 years in Northampton where the Hinde family lived one generation back. Then they spent the next six years or so in the Pimlico area of London where grandpa was a farrier. The BMD project was particularly helpful in tracing members of the family back a couple of generations.

We found a distant relative through an Internet discussion group that tied directly to our oldest known relative in Olney – one of those happy occasions that we genealogists live for. We also spent $100 US to hire a professional genealogist in England to research William Thomas’ history as a bobby in London. As it turns out, he was not a bobby at all – but his brother, Ernest, was. This is a good example of how stories can get mixed up over time.

Grandpa died before my wife was born and grandma when she was very young. So, neither of us knew them very well except through family stories and the factual information that we had been able to find. At some time during our process we began to discuss a trip to England to see the places they had seen, to be in the places they had been, and to walk the places they had walked. We decided on a combined tourist and genealogy trip that would include highlights of London along with a few days of tromping through old church cemeteries – my favorite part of any trip. My wife decided that we would take the tube from the airport into London - something of an adventure for me. As we came up out of the station at our stop into a somewhat misty day in London, a kind local came up to us, "You two look like you are lost. How can I help you?" He gave us some precise directions to our hotel and a valuable tip on a pub along the way where we could lift a pint of bitter. That turned out to be typical of our experience; The British are friendly, witty and fun - something we will never forget.

After our time in London we took a train south to Maidstone where we picked up a car and toured Leeds Castle, a beautiful and relaxing spot not yet covered with tourists. Finally the genealogy portion of our trip was beginning! We continued to Dover where we took a wrong turn and very nearly entered the Chunnel under the strait to France. Thankfully, the tourist-friendly folks in England left a last-minute turn-around for us. We enjoyed a dock-side pub within walking distance from our hotel where I feasted on a fresh seafood platter in cream sauce. Margaret discovered her English roots with a plate of bangers and mash that were simply delicious. So much for the negative stories about English food; we found it different but quite nice everywhere we went. We slept with the window open to the channel where we peered through the fog watching the flickering lights in France – yet another world away.

Our schedule was much too tight as we could have stayed the week in Dover; it was just lovely with lots of interesting and historical things to see. We traveled along the south coast on our way to meet our distant cousin who had agreed to meet us for tea. We passed castles along the way that just begged us to pull off the road and linger for a few hours. Alas, we needed to move on and were content with seeing the beautiful beaches and countryside from the car. Somewhere along the way, our radio came on in the car with a warning about traffic conditions just ahead including detailed information about the motorway we were traveling and our direction – quite a fun surprise since we had never heard of anything like that before.

We reached cousin Rick and Linda’s house near Titchfield about mid-afternoon as they were finishing up a yard sale event at their house. It was fun to meet them and hear about their lives over tea. Since tea is not really a special event where we grew up in the US, it was especially meaningful to share it with these new relatives and friends. As you might expect, the conversation turned to family and genealogy as they told stories about some of the places we were planning to see. It just notched up the excitement level as we heard about the charming small towns and churches where grandma and grandpa lived as children.

We spent the night in a hotel on the harbor in Southampton, the port where the Hinde family boarded the Teutonic for New York in 1906 to begin the adventure of their lives. The next day we took a slight detour to the little town of Risely and looked through the graveyard without finding any familiar names. We went to the vicar’s house and got permission to go into the church to look around. We learned so much about England from that stop. There was an elevated section just off the sanctuary that had been built for the upper classes with a separate entrance; they did not go onto the main floor with the regular people. That section of the church now includes a stairway and is used as a classroom. There was a rope hanging near the back for ringing the church bell and the vicar said that training sessions were underway for bell ringers in preparation for an important anniversary celebration. The church was decorated for a fall harvest celebration from the previous week.

We also learned about conkers. Two people in two days had cautioned us to “Mind the conkers.” So we asked the vicar to explain. "Conkers are chestnuts – horse chestnuts to be more precise. They look a lot like a buckeye – but larger. In the fall, they are on the ground and could cause quite a nasty fall if you step on them in a certain way." Children – historically little boys - in England search for the largest and strongest conkers to use in a game called . . . conkers. "You tie the best conker you can find on a string by drilling a tiny hole in the conker and threading the string through the hole. Then you spin your conker on the string while your opponent spins his in the opposite direction until you conk them together. The objective is to break your opponent’s conker." I confirmed this story with British friends here in the states who just raved about the childhood memories that flooded back when thinking about playing conkers with their friends in England.

We wondered about how grandpa and grandma Hinde could have met since Risely was so far from Kempston and speculated as we made our way north to Buckinghamshire just an hour or so north of London. A few days later we discovered that there are two Risely’s in England – the one we visited and one within walking distance from the town where grandpa lived. Sigh . . . so much for planning. That’s why the original documents we had made such a big deal out of Riseley *Bedfordshire* England!

One of our first stops was the city graveyard in Kempston just to see if we could find any Hinde grave markers. The office at the cemetery was closed so we could not ask about records or locations – so we carefully stepped through the conkers and covered the entire cemetery in about an hour. We made our way to Turvey where great grandfather Hinde was supposed to be buried and found one distant cousin buried there next to a beautiful church.
We finally got to the correct Riseley church where grandma and grandpa were married in 1898. A member of the church met us in the street and directed us to the vicar’s house and he was very friendly and helpful. The church is quite old and the vicar explained that the main section was built first and then a side portion built later. The iron door was built by a famous metal worker from London and is still working and being used every day. The vicar apologized that they only have records back to the 1600s in the church – a pretty foreign concept to us since churches in the US are generally only 100 or 200 years old. We were able to get some good information about the Tabron family (Grandma's mother was named Tabron) from the ledger kept there. I took a few pictures inside including one with my wife standing on the step where her grandparents stood a hundred years ago and pledged their love for each other. It was a poignant moment for both of us as we soaked in the feeling of that place and imagined the beginning of their lives as a married couple.

Doing some research in this area? England is a place where you can still see little villages with thatched roofs, prehistoric stone circles, and Roman ruins. Well worth the trip and a relatively exotic trip where you can understand the language with a little practice. The records in England are wonderful - they include lots of information about parents and usually occupations - very helpful when you have two people with the same name. While record-keeping on the US frontier was not a priority, English records were being kept in good order. Here are some resources that helped us.
Bedford Library
Harpur Street
Bedford MK40 1PG
Tel: 01234 350931
Fax: 01234 342163
A great set of microfiche with both church and public records from Bedfordshire – many not online yet.

Taos County Historical Society

Buckinghamshire Family History Society

Bedfordshire Family History Socieety

Other neat links:

Gene Hall is a genealogist with 30 years of research experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world. FamilyTrackers is located at http://www.familytrackers.com/ .

This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above.

14 September 2005

Genealogy in Romania - It's Tough but Possible

Romania is located on a major migration route between Europe, Asia and Africa. This position along with political and other factors has produced a country of unusual diversity. While the majority of its people identify themselves ethnically as Romanian, there are at least 20 other ethnic groups in the country including: Hungarians, Gypsies, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, Serbs, and Croats. Parts of present-day Romania have been included at various times in the USSR, Moldavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wallachia, and Transylvania. Emigration from Romania has created demand for genealogy research in Romania, particularly from groups located in the United States, Canada, and Germany who are looking for family connections. Demand for information about Jewish people just before, during and after World War II is particularly high.

Genealogy Research Issues: The diversity of ethnicities in Romania is reflected in the public records available for genealogy research. Records are variously stored locally and nationally written in Romanian, Hungarian, Hebrew, German and other languages depending on the location and time of the events described. Very little of the information is available electronically. Most of the information is not indexed even if you are able to go to the archive in person. In addition, place names are different depending on the time period you are researching and many place names are used for multiple places. For example, Brasov is the name of a county in Romania, a town in the county of Brasov, and a town in the county of Transylvania.

Research Suggestions: How do you break through this multi-dimensional maze of changing borders, politics, and time?
Get the best information possible about your ancestor’s name, location, and time when they were there. Depending on their ethnicity you may be okay searching for the normal alternative spellings of that name. If you don’t know the ethnicity or if you are not sure, you may want to search for spellings in other languages as well. Search the most specific location possible right down to the village level if you know that.
· If you travel to Romania, consider hiring a local to help you with the different languages and locations. Many areas of Romania are distressed economically and people there are willing to provide services at a lower cost than in other European countries. Of course, you should check references and make sure that you can get quality and fairly priced help with your search. If you want to meet relatives while you are there, you should ask your local provider to do some research in advance and help you with introductions when you get there. Major collections of genealogy data are held at various district archives in Romania including . . .

Bucuresti District
State Archives
Arhivelor Statul
Bdul Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej 29
Sector 5 R-70602
Bukarest România

Alba District
Primaria Municipiului Alba Iulia
Plata Iuliu Maniu 1 R-2500
Alba Iulie România
Tel = 058-813 380

Arad District
Primaria Municipiului Arad
Bd. Revolutiei 75 R-2900
Arad România
Tel = 057-219 652
Fax = 057 253 842
Bihor District
Primaria Municipiului Oradea
Plata Victoriei 1 R-3700
Oradea România
Tel = 059-137 000, 130 753
Bistrita-Nasaud District
Primaria Municipiului Bistrita
Piata Petru Rares 1 R-4400
Bistrita România
Tel = 063-223 923, 224 706

Brasov District
Primaria Municipiului Brasov
Bd. Eroilor 8 R-2200
Brasov România
Tel = 068-116 550, 114 369
Fax = 068 152 628

Cluj District
Primaria Municipiului Cluj-Napoca
Bd. Eroilor 2 R-3400
Cluj-Napoca România
Tel = 064-111 743, 112 551

Harghita District
Primaria Municipiului Miercurea-Cluc
Bd. Timisoarei 11 R-4100
Miercurea Ciuc România
Tel = 066-111 819, 111 464

Maramures District
Primaria Municipiului Baia Mare
Str. Gheorghe Sincai 37 R-4800
Baia Mare RomâniaTel = 062-417 034

Mures District
Primaria Municipiului Tg. Mures
Piata Primariei 3 R-4300
Targu-Mures România
Tel = 065-132 463, 133 211

Satu-Mare District
Primaria Municipiului Satu Mare
Str. 1 Decembrie 1918 Nr. 13 R-3900
Satu Mare România
Tel = 061 713 550, 713 551

Sibiu District
Primaria Municipiului Sibiu
Bd. Victoriei 1-3 R-2400
Sibiu România
Tel = 069-210 449, 217 711
Fax = 069 216 033

Timis District
Primaria Municipiului Timisoara
Bd. C-Tin Diaconovici Loga 1-3 R-1900
Timisoara România
Tel = 056-190363, 193623
Fax = 056-190 635

If you are not able to travel to Romania, you may want to hire a professional genealogist to speed up the process. Prices are reasonable compared to other places in the world and well worth the cost. There are some excellent online resources where you can search for professionals who specialize in the type of research that you want. One of the best is the Association of Professional Genealogists that you can search from

There are a few Internet sites that have good information about unraveling the genealogy of Romania including JewishGen.org which has a searchable database of people in Romania and Moldova located at
http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Romania/. The authors of this article are working on several projects located in Romania including the recently announced publication of records from Jewish cemetery at Oradea, Bihor, Romania. All persons included in the cemetery index are compared to all searches entered into FamilyTrackers.com. There is also a good list of Romanian Web sites located at http://www.genealogylinks.net/europe/romania/.

Gene Hall is a genealogist with almost 30 years of experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world.

Marcel Mindrescu is a professional genealogist located in Romania and has access to all available records in Romania, Hungary, the Ukraine and Moldova. Marcel is a professional genealogist with years of experience researching records in these countries. Lookups and large projects are being published on FamilyTrackers. office@mindrescu.com.

This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above.

10 September 2005

Make a difference – Join a Genealogical or Historical Society

Since family information has become so available on the Internet, many people don’t realize the vital role still played by local genealogical societies. While all of the press and excitement has been focused online, these organizations have quietly gone about their business of preserving history and making it available to the world.
Societies come in many different flavors but mainly are . . .
They almost all have one thing in common – they are managed and run by volunteers.

These organizations are experts at “making do” with the resources at hand, leveraging facilities, information, and personnel into viable organizations that preserve our heritage for future generations. Generally these societies are organized as non-profit corporations and those without such legal designation are still just trying to break even. No matter where you live, there is likely such an organization near you. Continued support from current and future members and friends will keep them viable.

Here are a few good reasons why you should join these people and make a difference.

Meet People: A local organization is a great place to meet people who truly care about history and families; people who can teach you wonderful lessons about research, history, and life.
We have all used the services of a society that houses the archives and genealogical library for a local town or county. Just think back on that experience – helpful people providing accurate and timely information for the cost of copies, shipping, or a small donation. You can work directly with these people, learn from them, and help each other as you search for your family.

It’s fun: Do you remember the first time you stared at the record in front of you before breaking into whoops of joy at finding your long-lost ancestor? Do you remember the days of excitement while you told your family about the discovery? We only get a few of those moments usually scattered over the years of searching. You can gather a few more of these moments vicariously through your local genealogy society. When you find an ancestor for someone else, it is almost as much fun as finding your own. Society offices, museums, and libraries are filled with excitement and stories of these wonderful moments shared together.

One good deed deserves another: I joined the Greene County Genealogy Society in Tennessee several years ago when they helped me climb over one of the brick walls that occasionally block our research path. Their diligence and knowledge of the local archives produced the Last Will and Testament of my ancestor, James H. Hall, Sr. and named his entire family and a flood of new information for me. The cost: $3.00 for copies and mailing. Woo Hoo! – by far the biggest bargain I have ever received. I sent a check for a lifetime membership in lieu of the $3.00 charge.
I don’t even live near Greene County, but the membership has continued to produce information about my family there including a diary that mentions James along with members of the family and details about their lives.
You might choose to join a local society where you can participate on a daily or weekly basis.

Donate your talents: Don’t have money available to join? Donate your time and talent. Societies are always looking for people with all kinds of talents – or people with time to do all kinds of tasks. Can you organize, answer phones, research data? Are you interested in transcribing documents, indexing, raising money, promoting the group? Whatever your talents and interests, the local society can use them and you will reap the rewards of helping other people – sometimes people you have never met.

Donate money: Don’t have time to join and play an active part? Societies can always use donations to improve their displays, repair the plumbing, or pay the light bills. Money is always appreciated in a non-profit organization. You never know what the needs are until you ask. My suggestion is that you allow the local group to decide how to best spend your donation; don’t attach any strings to the donation. Those who are active on committees and boards are in the best position to spend the money in the best possible way.

You can make a difference – don’t delay. Join a society today!

Gene Hall is a genealogist with almost 30 years of experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world. FamilyTrackers is located at http://www.familytrackers.com/.

This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above. Non-profit genealogy societies may reprint without this paragraph and may add your contact information to the bottom of the article right after "Join a society today!" and change one of the bullets after the first paragraph to include your society's name and web site location.

04 September 2005

Genealogy - Make Your FamilyTree Come Alive

Back about 1970 there was a popular song by Bobby Sherman on the radio that included the lyric, “I gotta be more than just two lines in the Oklahoma City Times.” While the tune is catchy and the words poke fun of the obituary section of a great newspaper, it carries a serious message to those us interested in genealogy.
Anyone who studies family history knows how difficult it is to visualize the lives of our parents when they were young, our grandparents before they moved west in a covered wagon, or great grandparents that we never knew. Beyond two generations we can usually only pick up hints of what their lives were like through birth certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries, and other tracks that they left while alive.
These are wonderful bits of information that fill in dates, locations, and some of the cold facts of their lives but tell very little about what made them human. What were they passionate about? Were they funny? What makes them special? Did they love small children and dogs? Did they make a difference in other people’s lives?
The answer to these and other questions is usually within our grasp. Here are some good places to start. While you may not remember your grandparents, older members of your family might remember and their memories are yours for the asking. If you don’t have anyone older in your immediate family, expand your thinking to include cousins, aunts and uncles, second cousins until you find someone at least a few years older than you. Arrange to meet with them in person or by telephone to talk about your family.
It helps to prepare for the discussion with a few props and discussion ideas. There are some good discussion guides online that will help you get started with the most basic information like names, dates, locations, and relationships. You should also ask more open-ended questions like, “What do you remember about [grandma] when she was young? What was her personality like? Is their a particular event or occasion that stands out in your mind that demonstrates her personality? What are the things that she loved to do? What do you remember about daily life at [grandma’s] house? What do you remember about going there? Were there any things that she did as a tradition during the holidays or at special times of the year? It also helps to take along any photos or documents that you have to help guide the conversation and stimulate the memories. Who is this person in the picture? What do you remember about them?
Include your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in the conversation. Older people love to tell stories to children. My wife once gave an assignment to her fourth-grade class to interview people at the retirement home about their lives. They came up with some amazing stories that were written down and presented to the person’s relatives as a keepsake.
You should also check for any media items that might help you understand. Do you have any photographs, movies, or recordings of [grandma] that might help me get to know her better? Is it okay if I copy these?
Most people have a few events that stand out in their minds and you should let the conversation go where they want it to go. Record the conversation and take notes just in case the recorder doesn’t work. Take some pictures yourself just to document the occasion.
Finally, get a good software program that tracks not only cold facts but allows you to organize and show off your media – recordings, photos, movies. Share your information with family members and the world by posting it on a web site where relatives will find you and give you even more information.
Your family can be more than just two lines in the Oklahoma City Times. Through your effort their lives can continue to make a positive difference in the world.
Gene Hall is a genealogist with over 25 years of experience and thousands of relatives. He is the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc. a world-wide genealogy exchange with web site at http://www.familytrackers.com/
This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above.

03 September 2005

Genealogy in Switzerland - A Longenecker Family Search

Langenegger Family Still Strong in Langnau – Gene Cook Hall 10 Jul 2005
I recently visited Langnau and spent two days immersed in all things Langenegger. My wife and I arrived at the Langnau rail station on June 25, 2004, exhausted from a long flight from San Francisco. As we left the train station we were immediately struck by the unique character of this area.
Outside the train station are the remnants of a cobblestone street, now patched by asphalt. Everywhere we looked were beautiful Swiss houses and buildings – many of them hundreds of years old – and all colorfully decorated with pink and red begonias placed in flower boxes below each window. As we found later, the Emmental is also a wonderland of covered bridges, friendly people, church spires with Swiss clocks and chimes, tinkling cow bells – everything you expect Switzerland to be.
As we walked toward our hotel in Bareau we noticed how friendly and courteous the locals are – stopping to allow us to cross the street and smiling as we passed with a friendly “Hallo” or “Guten Morgen.” The town is dotted with long stone tanks with well water splashing in at one end and draining out the other. They look something like a stone horse tank. These are available to anyone who wants a cool drink of well water.
After we settled into our room at the Landgasthof Hotel Adler, the owner kindly invited us to a short ride into the countryside where we saw more beautiful houses and pastures. After we returned we asked a few locals in the hotel restaurant about the Langenegger farm and they had a good laugh. Turns out that there are a lot of Langeneggers there and we didn’t know the name of the people who lived in the original house that we came to see.
The hills are about 1200 feet above the valley floor and incredibly green with grass and forested areas visible from anywhere in town. Langnau is small – perhaps three or four long blocks across and the hills seem very close. Black and white cows break up the greenery and produce and wonderful tinkling sound as they graze around ringing the bells around their necks. Higher pitched bells worn by sheep and goats blend with the clunk-clunk bong-bong of the cow bells making a delicious backdrop to the scenery. This is the last sound we heard as we drifted off to sleep covered with a feather quilt on our first night in Langnau.
The birds woke us up to wonderfully green world that is Langnau in the summer. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread and jelly provided by our host, Stephen. We hoped to attend church, but found that our information was incorrect and arrived too early. Instead we started our walking tour of Langnau early. Langnau is a small town and we walked all of the main streets by about noon when we took a break for lunch to share a small cheese tart and an apple pastry from a small shop near the center of town. By that time, the local museum had opened. It is housed in one of the oldest houses in Langnau and is a great opportunity to look around inside one of these magnificent buildings and see all of the fancy joinery done by the builders. It is also a great museum with a number of permanent and rotating exhibits that depict the history of Langnau and its residents.
Langnau Museum
The museum’s docent has lived in Langnau for 70 years and knows the Langenegger name very well. She quickly found a book that contains the Langenegger family crests – one for those in the valley (Langenegg Ey) and one for those up higher in the hills (Langenegg Unter). She also loosely parsed the name into Lange (Long in English – pronounced ‘Long’ in German too) and negg (hill in English – pronounced ‘neck’ in German). I haven’t been able to confirm the word ‘negg’ anywhere – but that is what she said. The book also included a statement, “Ulrich, von Langnau, wanderte 1748 nach Pennsylvanien [USA] Aus (Faust 61)” [1] which roughly translates that Ulrich Langenegger immigrated to Pennsylvania in the United States in 1748. This is our ancestor Ulrich Langenegger Sr. The book doesn’t give a further source for this information. On the map, the Langenegg Unter is just about a 30 minute hike up the hill from the museum and Langenegg Ey is about a mile down river from Langnau. Since the Unter had been owned by someone other than a Langenegger for many years, we decided to take a closer look at the Ey property in the valley to see if we could at least get a picture of the house and perhaps, if we were really lucky, meet a distant relative.
Margaret and I walked along the river where many of the local people were taking a break from regular life to cool off. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of covered bridges in and around Langnau – all still being used. We even drove over one just outside of Langnau.

A Covered Walk Bridge in Langnau

Just as we approached the long driveway to the Langenegger house, two women came up from the river and one of them spoke English. She told us that we were in the right place and that the Langenegger family did live here. She offered to escort us to the right house among a group of several houses and buildings located on the property. With a cheery German “Woo hoo” she called out to the people inside and introduced us to my 9th cousin who lives in the house where Ulrich Langenegger Senior was born in 1664 (the same one mentioned in the book that immigrated to Pennsylvania).

The residents of the house were gracious and greeted us warmly even though we just showed up on their doorstep after over 250 years without a Christmas card! We had a short conversation about the family and viewed some of the information that they had there. Coincidentally, their sister-in-law was in Pennsylvania to attend a Longenecker reunion while we were in Langnau. We exchanged contact information so that we can follow up with them with information we find that might be useful to them. Finally we were offered a cool drink from their well before we took a short walk around the farm to get some photos. The cows were in the barn as it was unseasonably hot that day. Milk from their cows is sold into a coop of local farmers that makes it into cheese. If you are looking for some authentic Langenegger cheese, look for the Emmentaler type as that is what they make there. It is sold in the US as simply Swiss cheese – the type with holes in it. I must admit that it tasted much better in Langnau than in California.

Langenegger Cows in the Barn to Stay Cool

The house is located an easy hike along the river from Langnau and consists of the original house plus some additional houses and outbuildings. I found the house a challenge to photograph by itself. It is a typical Swiss farm house arranged with living quarters and barn under one roof. On one side is an earthen ramp going directly into the attic over the barn that is used to move hay into that area for storage and use during the winter.

The roof is steep by US standards but not as steep as I expected in an area that gets lots of snow. Most roofs in the area are tile and include a series of brackets about six inches high that hold the snow in the winter so that it doesn’t all fall down at one time. Some buildings had a simpler system with only one set of brackets near the bottom of the roof that held a four inch pipe running the entire length of the house – apparently for the same purpose as the brackets on other buildings. In addition, this system probably uses the snow to insulate the roof from the cold. Another interesting thing about some roofs and houses – the builders sometimes put their initials and the date of construction on the roof by using different colored tiles. Others painted this information under the eaves or on the face of the building under the eaves.

The Langenegger house is not as fancy as some in town but is large and includes some fancy joinery work that we saw repeated inside the museum, on the covered bridges, and elsewhere in the area. The main structure appears to be large beams carefully joined together at the proper angles so that they get stronger as more weight is put on them – and held together with wooden pegs. On one bridge near town we saw metal strapping that seems to have been added later.
Original Langenegger House in the Foreground and Other Buildings Around
The business of the farm centers around the milk cows. There was a large field of corn planted near the house along with a well-kept garden that seems to grace every house we saw in Switzerland. Along the driveway approach to the farm there were some cherry trees with mostly green fruit just beginning to turn pink in places. The rest of the farm appeared to be in grass. My friend John Garland in Oklahoma would call the fencing “psychological fencing” – not much of a barrier to an animal that wants out. We noticed that a lot of fences appeared to be temporary and electrified so that the cows can be easily moved to fresh grass as needed. We even saw one electric fence hooked up to a solar panel up high in the mountains a long train-ride away from Langnau.

Out of respect for the current occupants’ time and space, we only stayed briefly.
We returned to our hotel via a path the goes along the river and stopped for a rest in the shade of an old covered bridge. We were exhausted again and happy at getting to meet our distant relatives and to view the old house.

Research: If you are researching this area, no genealogy information is readily available in Langnau. The records office has information from 1886, but doesn’t release it without permission of the persons mentioned in the records and the charges to do so are very high. You will have much better luck in Bern where most of the Swiss records are held. There is almost always someone around that speaks English and the records offices are no exception. The records are neither computerized nor indexed – but they are very neatly categorized by location and time frames. You will need to tell them exactly who, where, and when you want to look in order to get the right microfilm. Then it is an old-fashioned search browsing through records written a long time ago using unfamiliar styles and letters. Lockers are located outside the office in the hallway and you will have to leave your backpack, purse, etc. there. It’s free and secure.
The Archives de I’Etat de Berne is located at Falkenplatz 4, CH-3012 Berne near the main railroad station. It was easy to find the third time I tried. The rail station is large and busy and on several levels. Locate the elevators on one end of the station and take them all the way to the top. If you have trouble, follow the students and the signs to the university in order to find the elevators. Once you are at the top, go toward the campus – the only way you can go really – and pass between two large university-looking buildings. Falkenplatz 4 is the first building on the right after you pass through the campus area. There is a small street stand just across the grassy park where the students congregate for a cheap and good sandwich – get there early as they run out of sandwiches quickly after noon. The office is open from 8:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 5:00 every weekday except Friday when it closes at 4:30. If you want to confirm before going, their phone numbers are 031/633 51 01, fax 031/633 51 02. Copies are one Swiss Frank per page – so take along plenty of cash so that you can get everything you want. You can easily spend 50 franks in one afternoon depending on the records you want. I didn’t have time, but you may also want to check out these sources provided by the museum in Langnau . . .

Zivilstands-und Burgerrechtsdienst
Des Kantons Bern
Eigerstrasse 73
3011 Bern
031/633 47 85
Fax: 031/633 47 39

Nieisen Paul-Anthon
Biochstrasse 7
3753 Oberhofen am Thunersee
033/243 24 52
[1] Emmentetaler Geschlechter – Und Wappenbuch by Hans Rudolf Christen, P 327, ISBN 3-85681-405-1, 1998, Publisher Fischer Media Verlag, Munsingen-Bern

Genealogy Essentials - How to Get Started on Your Family Tree

Since genealogy is my hobby, my profession, and my passion, many people ask me how to get started. What are the essentials to doing a family search? Here are some tips that should help you discover your family under the best possible conditions.

Get organized: I started working on my family tree almost 30 years ago by writing down names on a brown paper bag. Now there are 20,000 people in my tree – about 3,000 proven to my satisfaction. Your tree may not grow that large, but organizing is important regardless.

  • Papers: I suggest that you get a 3-ring binder with tabbed dividers to hold documents that you find. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you can add binders when one is no longer adequate. If you are like me, you may have to graduate to file cabinets later.
  • Software: You really must have some sort of electronic filing system as well. There are a number of good software packages out there at very competitive prices and some for free. There are good choices for both Macintosh and PC type computers. Just be sure that the software you pick includes these features . . .
  • Ability to import gedcom files: Gedcom is a standard format used by all genealogy programs and you can tell one of these files by the .ged extension associated with the file. If you get lucky and find a relative who has already done the work, you will want to import their data into your computer. For that reason, your software must be able to handle it.
  • Footnoting: Even if you are only moderately successful, there will be a few hundred people in your family. Each of them will have multiple events that happened during their lifetime – birth, marriage, graduation, death, burial, etc. As a result, you will gather thousands of bits of information and it is impossible to remember where you got the information without the ability to add footnotes. These will tell you where you got the information, when you got it, and how reliable it is.
  • Media features: While names, dates and places can be plenty satisfying, there is nothing like a photograph, recording, or movie to make your relatives come alive. Your software should allow you to save that type of information right along with the other information. This seems like an optional feature, but you will be glad that you have it later.
  • Internet Publishing: Not everyone wants to put their information on the Internet, but this is a really good way to share your family with the world and find relatives that you never would have found otherwise. Nearly all software programs include the ability to filter out living people so that you can publish with no worries of identity theft or other security issues.

Write down everything you know about your family or enter that information into your new software. Start with yourself; then your parents, siblings, spouse, and children. Initially, you want to record names, places, and dates of births, marriages, deaths and other events that you know about each person.

Talk to your family members to confirm and correct your information. Find out if they have documentation of the events that you have recorded like birth certificates, marriage licenses, church records, photographs or an old family Bible. Ask if they know someone in your family who keeps the historical documents or who has done a family history. Find out the basic information about their family – names, dates, and locations of events. If there are photos without names, dates and locations written on them – take some time to do this now. Buy an acid-free pen from just about any local store for this task. This is also a great time to record interesting stories about your family – either with a tape recorder or movie recorder. Notes are fine too if that is all you have available. Update the information in your software and footnote everything you enter – even if the source is ‘Interview with aunt Agnes Boudreau 25 Aug 2005’ – you must know later who told you that so that you can evaluate the value of the information you have.

Search the Internet: Initially you will want to try to find someone who has already done the work. One of the best places to get started is a site owned by the Mormon Church. Don’t be put off if you are not a member of that church. Family history is an important part of their belief system and the data that they collect is available to anyone. Point your browser to http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp and enter the information that you know about your family; click search to see if they have any information about your family. Some of this information is public record information which is usually true and some of it is provided by members of the church which may or may not be true. Use this information as a guide so that you will know the names, places, and dates to do more research.
If you have solid information about a relative in the US, you should try
http://www.usgenweb.org – a group that provides free information through a network of web sites that goes all the way down to the county level. I like their state search located at http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/newsearch.htm better than the rest of the site. They have a lot of census records which are great places to take your tree back one more generation. The most recent census counts are grouped by families so that you can see a person’s parents and where they were born. One shortcoming of this usGenWeb is that you can’t do a very specific search and the site doesn’t know the difference between Smith and blacksmith. As a result, you will get a lot of hits that don’t even apply to your family – tedious work that sometimes pays off. This is an issue with most web sites out there, not just usGenWeb. Just to compound the issue, most sites don’t save your search criteria so that when check back to see if they have more information in a year or two, you have to go through the same long list again. Sigh.

One of the brighter spots on the Internet is at EllisIsland.org – a great site to search if your ancestors immigrated to the US via Ellis Island.

There are a lot of networking and bulletin board sites available where people leave information about who they are looking for. The best ones will allow you to search specifically for name, date and location; others only allow you to search by keyword which usually gives you too many results to read. If the site you find is one of the latter, compose a short message about the person you are searching for and include the exact name, the exact location, and the exact time frame when you know they were there. Make the subject information very specific with name, date, and location so that people who are browsing will know if they should read it or not. Subjects like ‘My family’ or ‘grandma’ are just not very useful and almost nobody will read it. If the site you find allows you to search specifically enough, search it and read some of the posts there to see if you can contact a distant relative who can help you.

Join your local genealogical or historical society: Even if you are not really looking for relatives in your immediate area, the local society is a great place to learn, to network, and to give back to society. You will meet wonderful people with vast amounts of experience who can mentor you and make you a better genealogist – and a better person.

Publish you work: Nothing is more satisfying than helping someone else find their roots and one of the best ways to do that is to publish your findings. If you selected the right software, publishing your tree should be relatively easy – still a learning process for many of us. Make sure that you don’t publish information on the Internet about people who are still living. If you are not sure if a person is still living, you can assume they are still living if they were born less than 100 years ago and don’t have a death date in your software. The best programs will do this for you automatically once you set your preferences.

Another good thing to do is to publish your sources – the backup paperwork from your ring binder. This consists of birth certificates, deeds, census records, etc. Sites like usGenWeb and your local society are good places to consider when publishing records like these. Again, you should avoid publishing information about living people for security reasons. If you are interested in reaching a world-wide audience or in donating to your society, you should consider http://www.familytrackers.com. You can charge for your information, distribute it for free, or donate proceeds to your favorite society.

As you work through your family, go back in time one generation at a time documenting everything as you go. Once you have followed a branch as far as you can, start searching forward in time from the oldest person you know about.

Brick walls: When you can’t find any more information about a person to determine their parents or other relatives, it’s called a “brick wall.” When this happens to you – and it will – don’t give up. It is just a matter of patience, skill and luck. The best advice I can give you about a brick wall is to go back to the basics; look at the last place and time where you know this person was and start from there. Also, try to find genealogists who link to this person from a different line – your cousins. Even though you may not be able to prove a direct father/son relationship to your ancestor, you might be able to prove father/son/brother through one of your cousins.

Genealogy - Why You Should Get Involved in Your Family History

A few years ago I read a statistic that said that genealogy was the second largest hobby in the United States – second only to gardening. It was no surprise to me as I have been finding and documenting my family tree for almost 30 years. Over that time a lot of people have asked me, “Why genealogy? What do you get out of it?” There are a lot of reasons to find out about your family and I’ll cover just a few hoping that one of them will get you started.
Curiosity: A lot of people are just plain curious about where they came from, what their ancestors did, how they got here – to this time and this place. Lots of people find themselves in this category when they are told that they are adopted. While they have adoptive parents, traditions, and history, they also have another history that calls out to them. Other people have lost touch and are curious about where people are, how they turned out, who they married.
It’s a Great Puzzle: This applies to me in several areas of my life besides genealogy. I have worked with numbers a lot – particularly with market research. I just love understanding what motivates people to buy certain products, where they shop, how much they want to pay, and where they want to hear about those products. It is a very complex issue, but one that is satisfying when you finally understand something that nobody else in your company understands – perhaps nobody in the world.
When my wife and I go camping I spend hours working crypto quotes in the sun – fun and challenging puzzles that help me relax.
When it comes to puzzles, I don’t think anything can match the complexity and fun of genealogy. Just think about a jigsaw puzzle that has an almost infinite number of pieces – some of them that don’t fit and some of them missing. Nothing can match the satisfaction I get from finding one of those lost pieces of the puzzle and putting it into place. These are puzzle pieces that lead to long-lost cousins and far-off places.
Hobby: I did a lot of market research before organizing FamilyTrackers, Inc. The company was started out of my belief that Internet searches could be much more accurate than those usually conducted on the Internet. Interestingly, there is a group of genealogists who resist a more accurate way to find information. They are not interested in any tools that make the job faster. “That is the reason I do my family tree – to fill up my time. Looking into page after page of results is the part I like about genealogy. It’s my hobby,” they said. Fortunately for me and for FamilyTrackers those who like the things I find most tedious are not a large portion of the market.
Leave a Legacy: Some people approach middle age or have a traumatic event at any age that prompts them to think about their mortality. “If I never meet my grandchildren, what will they know about me? What will they know about my parents? How will we be remembered?” Those of us who are fortunate enough to have ancestors in this category are indeed lucky. My grandmother wrote a short story about her trip as a young girl in a covered wagon from Illinois to Kansas. Thinking about it now, it must have been a dusty, hot, and miserable trip. The events that she wrote about were ordinary, daily occurrences that were taken for granted in her time – something that she wrote about because the trip was out of the ordinary. Read the same story today and discover something that is unique to our experience – herding cattle, rustlers, camping out every night. If you do nothing else with your family history, you should write down or record your life experiences in your own words in any way that you see fit.
Emotional Satisfaction: This is a huge reason for being involved in genealogy and one that I hear repeated by other people as they talk excitedly about their latest discovery. There are moments that happen during a search that are touching and immensely satisfying. This is the moment that you look at your great grandfather’s signature on your grandparent’s marriage license; put your hand on the baptismal font where your oldest known ancestor was baptized; stand on the ground where your great grandfather from the old country is buried – knowing that your grandmother stood on this spot in front of an open grave grieving her loss. These moments are thrilling, goose-bump producing moments of a life time when you can almost reach across time and touch a person who you finally understand and know. This is a moment you must not miss!
Give Something Back: Lots of people get involved when they volunteer at their local genealogical or historical society. What a wonderful place to meet nice people who are willing to help you discover your roots. These groups are responsible for saving crumbling records all over the world and for making the information available to everybody. People who work in these places are almost always unpaid and give their time and effort on behalf of people like you and me every single day – people they have never even met. This is important work and you can get the satisfaction of helping other people by volunteering yourself. It is easy. Pick up the phone and call.
Whatever your reasons, give genealogy a try. It is a stimulating hobby that will put you in touch with yourself and with a lot of nice people who are ready and willing to help.

Gene Hall is a genealogist with almost 30 years of experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world. FamilyTrackers is located at http://www.familytrackers.com/

This article comes with reprint rights. You are free to reprint and distribute it as you like. All that I ask is that you reprint it in its entirety without any changes including this text and the link above.