Why Researching Your Ancestor’s FAN Club is Important

I am on spring break, people!  Oh my goodness, it feels so good to get back to researching the ancestors.  I don’t seem to get a lot of time to research or blog these days because my little first graders keep me incredibly busy these days.  I love being a teacher but I definitely miss the research time.

But now that spring break is here, I have been researching like crazy!  I seem to have two different research projects going on but both boil down to one thing: researching and documenting my ancestor’s FAN club.

Left to Right: Joseph Gratzer, Grace (Frank) Palmer, Nancy Jean Rogers (my grandmother), and John N. Morris (my 2x-great grandfather).  This photo was likely taken in the Seattle or Tacoma, Washington area.  These people are all extended family of my grandmother, an only child.  Researching these people led me to a distant cousin with all of these photos - and now they belong to me!

Left to Right: Joseph Gratzer, Grace (Frank) Palmer, Nancy Jean Rogers (my grandmother), and John N. Morris (my 2x-great grandfather). This photo was likely taken in the Seattle or Tacoma, Washington area. These people are all extended family of my grandmother, an only child. Researching these people led me to a distant cousin with all of these photos – and now they belong to me!

FAN stands for friends, associates, and neighbors – pretty much the people in your ancestor’s lives.  So often we get suck thinking of our ancestors are islands in history – but the truth is, they interacted with all sorts of people.  Researching those FANs might shed new light on an ancestor or give you the missing piece to break through a brick wall.

Right now, my focus as been on documenting two specific families: My Harney line is a brick wall with my immigrant ancestor – although I have lots of documents for his life in the U.S., I have been stuck with his life in Germany.  My hope is that by doing more FAN research, I can narrow down more information about him and find him in Germany and extend that line back further.  My Dugger line is a bit of a mess when it gets back to my 5x-great grandparents, John Dugger and Mary Engle.  Together, they had 20 kids.  While many people have researched this line, there is so much junk out there about this family.  My goal is to break through some brick walls and find more solid evidence by researching the FAN club.

I’ve broken through brick walls by researching the FAN club.  With enough research on my ancestor and their FAN club, maybe I will break through another one.


Tracking “Maybe Ancestors” in OneNote

If you have been reading my blog for a long time, you know that I am a Microsoft OneNote junkie.  One of my favorite ways to use OneNote for genealogy is to use it to track my “maybe ancestors”.  Maybe ancestors are those people that *might* be an ancestor but you just don’t have enough evidence to know for sure.  Maybe ancestors can also be cases where you think you might have found your ancestor is a certain record, but you aren’t convinced that the person is the record is your ancestor.  In these cases, I want to keep track of all the research I’ve done on these people but I don’t want that information connected in my RootsMagic tree just yet.  So what do I do?  I stick it in OneNote.

All I do is create a page in OneNote and start adding.  What do I add?  I always add the conversation going on inside my head (my analysis), the source (not in Evidence Explained style, but enough that I can find the source again), and tables to sort out the data I find.  I have use one page for each research question I’m trying to answer.

OneNote Maybe Ancestor Example


Because OneNote lets me add images, tables, text, and drawing to a page, it is the perfect tool to help me track my maybe ancestors.  Plus, it is all saved in the cloud so I can access it from my laptop, phone, and the internet.  What more can a girl ask for in a research tool?


Going Against the Tide: Finding the Evidence

When I was 12 and my aunt was tagging me along on her genealogy adventures, I didn’t really realize that I was falling in love with this hobby.  I was just armed with a throw-away camera (remember those?) and a list of names to look for.  I looked for them in cemeteries and books in the library.  I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I was looking for, but I was definitely building the start of a long, rewarding, purpose-filled, insanity-causing journey in discovering my family’s history.  I had no idea that all that time stomping around the mountains and back woods of Elizabethton, Tennessee (a completely different atmosphere and community than what I was used to back home in Los Angeles) would have me hooked for life.

In Elizabethton – I’m pretty much related to everybody in some way.  I remember my grandpa telling me that I should be grateful I don’t go there for high school because I would be “kissing cousins” at all the dances.  It is the type of place where people sit around in the evening and listen while the eldest talks about the family stories and the family line.  The stories generally have some spice added to them and there is always plenty ancestral gossip about criminal activity and love affairs and drunken quarrels.  And generally, people don’t really question it – they all just kind of assume it is all true or mostly true.

And when people start doing their research in this area, they just take what the county history book says as fact too.  The county history book is full of these stories from the elders – people submitted them when the book was published.  And initially, I copied my tree from here.

But a few years ago, I started my whole tree over – I had decided that having a smaller, well-sourced tree was better than having a few thousand person tree with very little source material.  I put all of my previous work in binders and started over.

The good news: I’ve been able to find a lot of evidence to support parts of those family lines and some of the family stories have become more believable as the ancestors are mapped out.  But I have hit snags where I just couldn’t prove the connection between child and suspected parent – so I just didn’t enter it into my database.  And I kept not adding them to my database for years.  I would see these names over and over in my research but just wouldn’t add them to my database unless I could find that evidence-based connection.

In the last week, I think I finally found the solution that works for me: I add them to my database as an unlinked individual.  It just makes sense to still collect all this evidence I have for John Potter in my database because at some point, it might serve useful and it might help me some day “see” something that I didn’t see before that would finally link John Potter as the father of Peter Potter.

How do you handle those people you have research on but can’t fully prove you have a connection to?


Why I Did a Genealogy Do-Over

Earlier this month, Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers announced the Genealogy Do-Over.  He has decided to start his genealogy research from scratch in 2015.

A few years ago, I got to that same place.  I had started genealogy like most people started – just name collecting and pulling from online trees all over the internet.  But around 2008, I started to learn about analyzing sources and data and research methodologies.  So I began adding sources to my database and sometimes changing my conclusions based on the new sources and analysis I had done.

And then around 2009 and 2010, I came to the conclusion that my database was a mess.  I didn’t really have source citations included and there really was no consistency for place names or notes.  Most of my citations were a mess – not very clear and not in any sort of consistent formatting.  I was discovering that more and more of my previously copied “work” was not right.  And being the type-A personality that I am, the mess got to me.

So I started over.  I put all of my binders aside and all of my digital files in a holding folder and started over.  I started entering information in a consistent format and attempting to put my sources in Evidence Explained format (not always done perfectly, but close enough).  I was more consistently downloading the documents I was finding online and trying to really build my database and digital filing system without any major holes.

Starting your family tree all over again can be a daunting task, but it can also be a very rewarding experience. Photo courtesy of Kim Daniel of Unsplash.com

Starting your family tree all over again can be a daunting task, but it can also be a very rewarding experience.
Photo courtesy of Kim Daniel of Unsplash.com

Has the size of my database shrinked considerably?  Oh yes.  I generally don’t spend a lot of time on collateral ancestors anymore unless I am trying to break through a brick wall or feel like I have already gotten all the easy, low hanging fruit stuff.

Is my database perfect?  No.  Not even close.  But it is a lot better than it was and it is always a work in progress.  As my genealogical expertise improves, so does my database.

So for me…. it was worth it.  What about you?  Will you be joining in the genealogy do-over.


What Teaching First Graders Has Taught Me About Genealogy

It has been SO long since I have written a blog post.  The reason?  I have been teaching first graders at a charter school in Inglewood, California.  I have been up to my forehead in teaching stuff since I was hired in August.  In the last couple of months, my first graders have taught me a few things about genealogy:

1.) Family are the people that love you.  One of our mini-units in Social Studies right now is talking about our families and our communities.  So we have read books about different types of families and done all sorts of sharing about the people in our own families.  Time and time again, my little firsties made it clear that their families consist of the people that love them.  We did an assignment in which the kids drew pictures of their families and wrote a sentence about the people in the picture.  Very few students listed just Mom, Dad, and siblings.  In fact, nearly every kid had a grandparent or great-grandparent, an older cousin, step parents, half-siblings, aunts and uncles, and all sorts of different relationships listed as well.  Some kids even asked me if they could use two pages of paper to show the different family dynamics.

I loved having the kids write about their families, but it became clear that the current, traditional pedigree and family group sheet model used in genealogy will not work here.  These forms do not accurately show half siblings, step siblings, and other important family relationships.  If the form isn’t relevant to them, they won’t use it… so imagine in 10 years when these kids walk into a genealogy society and are handed a traditional pedigree or family group sheet?  They will turn around, walk out, and probably not think about their genealogy again for a long time.

2.) Kids have zero concept of time, space, or geography.  This week, we did a mini-unit on heroes.  Each day, the special helper of the day gets to pick a book from our themed basic for me to read aloud on the carpet.  On Monday, one of my adorable little kiddos picked a book about Abraham Lincoln for us to read.  We read little snippets about how Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president and was president during the Civil War.  We talked about how he grew up in a log cabin in Illinois and was a lawyer before he was president.  We talked about how he freed the slaves and how he now has a giant statue of him in Washington, D.C. to memorialize him.

“Can we go see the statue for a field trip?”  “No, sweetheart.  We would have to get on a plane to do that.”

“Can he come visit us?”  “President Lincoln?  No, remember, he was president a long, long time ago and he has been dead for a long time.”

“Can we go visit President Obama?”  “No, that isn’t really how it works.”

Bottom line: Make it concrete for them.  I created a timeline for them and we studied maps so that I could try to make it more concrete for them.  But at this age, they just don’t have that sense of time, space, and geography down yet.  Keep this in mind when you tell family stories to the little ones – try to make it concrete.  Use pictures, maps, timelines, and actual objects to help these kids understand the family stories you tell.

3.) They L-O-V-E to be helpers.  My first graders LOVE it when I give them a job – from sharpening pencils, sorting, cleaning, dumping trash, anything.  They are just so eager to please.  So why not put that to use?  Give them a camera and have them take photos at cemeteries.  Have them cut the grass and pull the weeds near grave stones.  Have them wear white gloves and put pictures in archival envelopes or sleeves.  Just about anything - yes, it will take them a long time to do it and you might even have to redo the whole job yourself when they are done, but in the process, you just taught the kids that genealogy and family history is fun and important work.  Besides, you are building memories for them to pass down to their families.

4.) First graders argue the same way people do in genealogy groups on Facebook.  Daily – no, HOURLY, I deal with random little arguments that break out: “But I wanted that color blue.  Not this color blue.”  “Stop holding all the crayons!”  “But I wanted to use that glue stick!”  It is always over the same things every. single. day.

In the genealogy groups on Facebook, the arguments are often the same too: “I don’t think I should have to pay to do genealogy!”  “Why is so-and-so stealing information on MY great-great-great ancestor!?”  “I deserve a refund because Ancestry.com is down!”  “Who is the father of John Smith!  Why isn’t anyone telling me anything?!”  The same arguments, every. single. day.


Alright-y then… back to the grading!  Hope you all have enjoyed my analysis on he similarities between genealogy and teaching first graders.  Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!


Why Collaborative Genealogy is Super Cool

I remember being 12 years old, walking around a rural cemetery somewhere along the border of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.  It was a hot summer day and we had driven round and round up a mountain, and then walked up a long drive way to get here.  My aunt, the genealogist in the family at the time, was so excited to finally see this cemetery.  My cousin, a year younger than I, was incredibly furious that we were spending the day in the middle of nowhere at a cemetery.  My job was to take the pictures while my aunt wrote down the names of the stone.  My cousin’s job was to cut the grass and overgrown bushes so I could get a decent photo with my throw away camera.

Afterwards, we drove through some more mountains and hills to get to an elderly woman’s house.  I don’t really remember who she was, but she knew my grandfather when he was a child and remembered my great-grandparents.  We sat uncomfortably on her plastic covered couch while she told stories of life in rural North Carolina in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.  She talked about my great-grandmother contracting tuberculosis and being sent to a special home for tuberculosis patients and never really being seen again.  She talked about how my great-grandfather remarried not long after, mainly so that there was someone to raise his children, and how all of these events led to my grandfather becoming a rebellious child and teenager.

It was on this day that I was bitten by the genealogy bug.  From the start, my journey in finding my family roots was a collaborative one.  Without the help of my aunt, the elderly lady, and many other distant cousins that guided us to the cemetery in the first place, we wouldn’t have found this information.  Discovering this information was a collaborative effort.

So what is collaborative genealogy: It is working together to find genealogical information, answer genealogical questions, and solve genealogical problems.  I would argue that all of us, at one time or another, have collaborated with someone in their genealogy research.

Here are some reasons why I think collaborative genealogy is super cool:

  • No one person knows everything.  There is always more to learn when it comes to genealogy.  Collaborating with experts in an area you are researching can help answer some of the ancestral questions you have.
  • Two minds think better than one.  Sometimes, talking it out with another researcher can help you think of a new way to break through that brick wall.
  • You never know who inherited the family Bible, only photo of the Civil War veteran, or old family letters.

But there are some things to keep in mind when collaborating with someone else:

  • Always ask for permission before using another researcher’s work and always give credit where credit is due.
  • Never assume someone else’s research is the gospel truth.  Confirm it for yourself and see if the conclusion makes sense.
  • Respect intellectual property rights and copyright law.  For a good guide on this, I highly suggest the Legal Genealogist Blog – Judy G. Russell is amazing.
  • Don’t go sharing or publishing (even on an online website) on living individuals.  Always be careful about respecting the privacy of others and be aware that family stories can sometimes be painful for living individuals.
  • Always cite your sources.  Let me say that again…. just in case you didn’t hear me: Cite. your. sources.  And explain your reasoning.

What have been your experiences with collaborative genealogy?



Review: HistoryGeo.com and the First Landowners Project

HistoryGeo.com is a website created by Arphax Publishing Company.  During Jamboree, I was introduced to Greg Boyd, one of the creators of the publishing company.  Greg was kind enough to show me his awesome website, HistoryGeo and the two databases, First Landowners Project and the Antique Maps Collection.  To say I was impressed with what I saw would be an understatement.

So after Jamboree, Greg was kind enough to offer me a free trial subscription so I could show all my lovely readers this awesome resource.  So let’s talk about the two databases.

The First Landowners Project is an interactive map that contains information on over 7 million landowners on 16 of the 23 public land states and Texas.  All of the information is mapped for you and allows you to track the early homesteaders.

HistoryGeo Homepage with Search Page

This is the homepage of HistoryGeo.  I picked one of my surnames, entered it into the search box, and clicked “Go”.

HistoryGeo Search Results

This is the search page, sorted by state and database (listed in parenthesis).

HistoryGeo Search Results


I clicked on the Indiana search result and was brought to a more detailed search results page broken down by counties.

I clicked on Greene County, Indiana and was brought to a map that shows the townships and ranges, and a alphabetical list of all the land owners in that county.  This means that I can easily click anywhere on the map to see the owner or scroll through the list on the side.

HistoryGeo Map


The green number two shows the two results for the two Duggers in that area.  So I decided to click on the two and selected a result.  The result is information about a land record for Thomas Dugger.  It shows all the details related to where the land is located and has links to view this spot in Google Maps, or links to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) source and actual document.

HistoryGeo Result for Thomas Dugger

So I decided to go to the source and view it.

History Geo BLM Document

How awesome is that?

Aside from what I’ve just shown you, other features include:

  • County Browser – This allows you to browse by county and search the landowner indexes this way.  This can be especially helpful if your ancestor’s name was often misspelled and may not show up in the search results.
  • My People – The list of people you want to keep track of.
  • Markers – Think of these as annotations on the map.
  • And more!

Right now, the First Land Owners Project only contains records of original land owners for 17 states.  The states my ancestors would have been original land owners in are not yet listed on the website.  But I love the potential and I see this website as a great resource for those that have ancestors in those states.

Have you tried HistoryGeo?  What do you think?


52 Weeks Ancestors Challenge: Zacheus Downer

This week’s 52 Ancestors Challenge is all about my 4th great grandfather, Zaccheus Downer and Harriet Thatcher.

Zaccheus/Zacheus is an interesting ancestor for me – mainly because I have been a bit stuck with him.  He isn’t a brick wall necessarily, but I have been unable to find a ton of original documentation on him.  He can be found listed in old genealogy books such as, The Downers of America or The History of the Brigham Family – and both books offer brief information about his birth, marriage, death, and children.  However, none of these books provide sources for the information.

So my hunt for Zaccheus/Zacheus has been mainly through the census records – tracking him every 10 years, from 1830 -1870, and from New York to Ohio to Indiana.  I have been unable to find a marriage record for him to prove his marriage to Harriet Thatcher (according to the censuses though, he is married to a Harriet).  Furthermore, I cannot find a will, obituary, or other death record for him either.  You can read about all my research on Zaccheus/Zacheus Downer at the WikiTree profile I created for him here.


My Revolutionary War Ancestors

In honor of the United States’ Independence Day tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to post a list of my known Revolutionary War ancestors.  So here is my list of ancestors that served in the Revolutionary War:

  • Julius Dugger, born about 1760 and married to Mary Hall and living in Tennessee and North Carolina.
  • Zaccheus Downer, born in Connecticut in 1755 and married to Bethiah Brigham.

I don’t have a lot of people in my direct line that served in the war but I do have a couple and many more indirect ancestors that served as well.


Review: Mind Maps for Genealogy by Ron Arons

After watching a webinar on mind mapping given by Thomas MacEntee (of HackGenealogy and Geneabloggers fame) at my local society meeting about two months ago, I have been addicted.

I’ve used mind mapping for years for my school work and as a teacher in my own classroom, but I had never thought of using it for genealogy.  But using it for genealogy makes perfect sense – it is such an easy, visual way of laying out your research for planning, logging, or brainstorming.  You can see holes in your research must easier and you have so much flexibility to make it work for you.

This is why I was so excited to hear from Ron Arons that he has released a new book on using mind mapping in genealogy.  So while at Jamboree, I was very fortunate enough to be given a free copy of Mind Maps for Genealogy: Enhanced Research Planning, Correlation, and Analysis by Ron Arons.  (Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of Mind Maps for Genealogy at Jamboree 2014 in Burbank, CA for the purposes of a review.  As usual, these are my honest opinions on the book).

Mind Maps for Genealogy by Ron Arons

I was so excited about the book that I actually took some time to browse through it in the hotel at Jamboree.  Once I was home and had fully recovered from the three day genealogy party conference, I sat down and read the book.  I love that this book is an easy read that packs a lot of information into it.  The book is completely full color with screen shots and actual examples of mind maps.  It is also so clearly organized for reviewing specific topics.

I love that Ron has devoted a whole section to mind maps vs other tools for genealogy research – and he includes full screenshots of things like Excel tables, genealogy programs, and timelines.  It then moves into a section devoted to the basics of mind mapping complete with full color pictures.

However, possibly my favorite thing about this whole books is that there are whole sections on the genealogical proof standard, inferential genealogy, and cluster research that is all explained in an easy to understand way and with full color examples from Ron’s own family.

Finally, Ron provides how-to instruction for three different mind mapping services.  He inspired me to go out and try one of those mind mapping services and although I don’t think I’ll switch from my use of Popplet, I do appreciate the step by step instructions for using those three services.

You can order Mind Maps for Genealogy: Enhanced Research Planning, Correlation, and Analysis by Ron Arons (2014) on his website for $26.95.