Category Archives: Research Tips/Tricks/Hints

Think That Message Board Post Won’t Help? Think Again!

Last night, I realized that I hadn’t posted to a genealogy message board in a long while.  Message boards are valuable resources that should never be ignored.  So, I found my three most difficult ancestors and posted some information/queries about each ancestor on their respective surname board on Genealogy.com

After posting my first message on the Doerflinger message board (a message board with very few queries posted), Genealogy.com gave the suggestion that I post the information/query on the three different regional boards that are mentioned in my post.  This is a great idea and a way to up my chances that someone might be able to help.
Sure enough, I checked my email this morning, and a lovely man had responded to one of my posts on the Missouri board about my ancestor, Adolph Doerflinger.  While he was not related, he did a quick search for me and posted a couple of possible matches.  After looking at these possible matches and checking on Ancestry to make sure everything was correct, I found out that these records matched my needs.  He even got me proof of the names for the next generation.
Needless to say, I was THRILLED!  I did my little happy dance before entering the data into my database and citing all of my sources.  How kind of him to take time out of his day to help me when we weren’t even related.  There are many “regulars” on these boards who are willing to help.
Tips for Writing a Query
When posting a query to a message board it is important to include certain information to make it easier for others to help you.  Below are some tips to help you:
  • Post your query to the surname board that it fits with.  For example, my query dealt with an Adolph Doerflinger and so I posted the query to the Doerflinger board.
  • Also post your query to state or regional boards. For example, my Adolph Doerflinger lived in Missouri, Iowa, and California.  Therefore, I posted the query to each of those boards also.
  • When writing your query, be clear about the facts versus your theories.  It is good to post both what you know and what you think you know, but be sure to be very clear about it.
  • Include in your query the places you have already searched. This will keep responders from suggesting sources that you have already checked.
  • Be clear about what you are looking for. Never say that you “just want more information”.  Always be specific about the type of information.  Do you want to know when he got married?  Want to know if he had any siblings?  Want to know when he immigrated to the U.S.?  Whatever it is – be clear about what you are looking for.
  • Always use good grammar and writing skills. Make it easy for others to know what you are searching for.
  • Make your title specific.  Include the first and last name, date ranges, places, and maybe even what you want to know.  The goal here is to get the message noticed so that someone (hopefully a distant cousin) will read it.  If you just say “Looking for Doerflinger information”, someone else might not read it.  Having the title say “Adolph Doerflinger 1859 – 1937, MO, IA, CA”, then people are going to notice.  This is especially important for very active boards or boards for common surnames.
  • Be polite. Always remember that the people who are responding to you are doing so out of kindness.  So remember to say your pleases and thank yous.  You might be making someone’s day.

I also want to discuss the issue of responding to message board posts.  Lorine Massey of The Olive Tree Genealogy Blog recently wrote a great blog post about responding to message board posts – and it is such a great post that I just have to share it.  There are some great tips and suggestions for anyone responding to a message board post.

Your Thoughts

Have you ever had great success with a message board post?  Do you have a great tip for getting your query noticed?  This is the place to share them!

Suggested Reading:

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Mozy – A Backup Service Reviewed

Note: In honor of Data Back Up Day (the 1st of every month), I am republishing this article that originally appeared on this blog on 21 Dec 2008.  To the bottom, I have added a new update that discusses my feelings about Mozy over the last year and a half.  Remember, keep your data safe!

I was inspired today after I read Dick Eastman’s blog article (The link for that article is at the bottom of this blog entry).  I realized that I really needed to look into other ways to back up my genealogy.  So, I figured I would try the website that he recommends: Mozy.

You all know that I am a huge fan of backing up your genealogy files – and luckily, I’ve been able to keep it all to a 2GB thumb drive (I use 2 different thumb drives – one for my genealogy and pictures and one for all of my school stuff).
So I headed on over to Mozy.com to see what they have to offer.  Since I am a poor college student, I immediately began searching for a free offer.  Luckily, they have a free service where you can upload 2GB of information.  This is what I am using and it compliments my 2GB thumb drive system perfectly.
I was surprised to read that for only $4.95 a month you could get unlimited storage.  If you think about it – this is SUPER CHEAP!  In a year that is about $60.  With that $60 you can save yourself a ton of headaches, crying spurts, and hair appointments to cover that new bald spot that you gained from pulling your hair out.  You’ll have piece of mind knowing that if tomorrow your computer decides to crash or if a virus gets your computer – all of your important files are safe and sound.  You’ll be able to restore everything.
So, the way Mozy works is that you download the program on your computer.  Then, you just tell it what files you want it to backup, when you want it to backup - and your done.  It is pretty easy to use and very user-friendly.  I’ve never used this service before today, and I figured it out rather easily.
However, (and this is such a small “however”), it will only backup files that are on “fixed” drives. For those of you who don’t know what fixed drives are, they are drives that can’t be disconnected from your computer (So, your thumb drive is not a fixed drive but your C drive is). This was a very small inconvenience that took only seconds of my time to fix: I simply copied the folders that I wanted to my desktop – and now I can easily back up all my genealogy files!
Link to Dick Eastman’s “Backups: A Testimonial” blog entry: http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/12/backups-a-testi.html
Update:
Miriam made a great comment on this blog today.  She said that Carbonite charges only $50 a year.  Plus, Mozy apparently charges you to send a DVD with all of your data on it, should your computer ever crash.  Great point Miriam, and thanks for pointing that out!  And as for your question Miriam, I don’t believe that Mozy will backup external hard drives.  But please, don’t take my word on it since I am just now trying Mozy out.  It might be best to check some of the review sites like CNET to get a better answer.
Update (30 Jul 2010):  I have had Mozy for a long time now – and I LOVE it.  I’ve since upgraded to the paid version and I back up every picture and database to it.  It works great and I’ve never had a problem with it.  There are people who are dedicated to both of the major companies, Mozy and Carbonite.  I think it is similar to searching for the perfect genealogy program – it comes down to preference.
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A Busy Genealogist’s Plan

Let’s face it – while we would all love to spend most of our day doing genealogy or genealogy related activities, this just isn’t possible for the majority of us.  We have family and work responsibilities along with a long to-do list of errands to run and tasks to complete.  Most of the time, you oly have ten to thirty minutes a day (if that!) to squeeze in some genealogy.  To make matters worse, you spend the little time you do have for genealogy figuring out what to do next!

But it isn’t like this topic isn’t discussed often.  Nearly every major genealogy blog and magazine has dedicated at least one articule to this topic.  We’ve all read the columns, and yet, the problem remains the same.
So what is a busy genealogist to do?
Make a plan in the form of a “quick” to-do list.  In other words, make a list of things that you can do in a short amount of time so that you are making progress (even if it is small) and you feel like your research is going somewhere.  If you have this list handy, then whenever you get ten or twenty extra minutes, you can complete a task.
What exactly do you put on this list?

The list should be personalized to suit your needs, but the general idea can remain the same.  I have included some general ideas for you here that can easily be personalized for your research.
  • Scan ten photos.
  • Learn about where you can locate a specific record that you need.
  • File ten papers.
  • Print an updated family group sheet/pedigree chart/research plan/etc.
  • Create a research plan for a particular ancestor or couple
  • Read a genealogy blog to learn about something new.
By having a plan like this, you can ensure that you will make progress in your research without having to devote a large chunk of time.
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GenealogyBank Adds New Features (Quick Tip)

I highly suggest that you head over to GenealogyBank.com to check out some of their new features (like searching multiple states and cities). These are some long overdue features – and I really think that it will make searching a lot easier on their site.

I would love to hear what you guys think!

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Getting Started in Genealogy

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, someone asks me how in the world one gets started in genealogy.  It seems to be the million dollar question (in the genealogy world at least).  Luckily, I got some answers for you:

1.) Start with yourself and work your way back, starting with the three basics: birth date and place, marriage date and place, and death date and place.  Once you’ve finished writing your birth date and place for yourself (include marriage date and place if that applies to you), start with your parents.  Then move on to your grandparents, etc, etc.
2.) Ask your relatives about what they know about your family.  Usually, they can give you information that you might not of known about.  Write down any dates and locations, even if they are only estimates.  All of the information you gather will serve as a guide for when you finally jump into the research pool.
3.) Put all of that information that you’ve gathered onto a Pedigree Chart and on some Family Group Sheet (You can find these sheets at a TON of websites, but the links that I included go to the forms provided by Cyndi’s list).  By putting your information on these forms, you have it all organized.
4.) Start researching information about the censuses, birth records, death records, marriage records, etc. in the area you are researching.  Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to memorize it or to look at all the records that are available – the point of this is just to get an idea of what you can search and what records your ancestors might be found in.
5.)  Now, it is time to go out and start proving that information.  If you are ready to invest some money, then try to buy a subscription to a website like Ancestry.com or Footnote.com (I recommend Ancestry.com when you are just starting out).  If you don’t want to invest money just yet, try the message boards on websites like Rootweb.com and Genealogy.com.  Try going onto free websites like FamilySearch.org.
So now that you have some easy steps, go ahead and try to get your feet wet in genealogy.  Just be careful though – this will become an addiction.
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How to Take Care of Those Pictures

As genealogists, we all understand the huge amount of photos that eventually come into our care.  We scour attics, basements, photo albums, all in an attempt to obtain more photos.

But what do you do with all of these precious photos once you have them?  Preserve them!  I have for you some general rules about preserving your photos, along with some suggestions on store these photos, and some great further reading.
The first general rule of preserving your pictures: Never, Ever, EVER do anything that cannot be undone.  That means (but is not limited to) no cutting or gluing.  If it can’t be undone, then it is bad for your photos.
General rule number two: Acid-free, lignin-free, and PVC-free are your best friends.  Acid, that is often found in paper will damage the photos.  Lignin is a chemical that is often found in paper that makes the paper stronger – but over time, lignin breaks down and turns the paper brown and yellow, which will ruin your photos.  PVC is a chemical often found in plastic products, and if you put your precious pictures into a regular page protector, that PVC will damage your photos.
General rule number three:  Remember those magnetic photo albums?  (The photo albums with the sticky page that you put the photos on, and then you put the plastic over the page)  Magnetic photo albums are the enemy of your photos!

General rule number four: Where you store your photos is vital to whether they will last.  High humidity and temperature fluctuations are very damaging to your photos.  Lots of light is also very damaging to your photos, which is why you should never have your original on display.  Basements and attics are a no-no when it comes to your pictures because of the extreme humidity and temperature changes…plus all of those gross pests!  Keeping your original photos on display is very damaging because of the sunlight. The best place for these photos is to be stored in an acid-free box under the bed or in the closet, where there won’t be any extreme humidity and temperature changes. 

So, how in the world do you store photos without damaging or destroying them?
Make sure that everything your pictures comes into contact with is acid-free, lignin-free, and PVC-free.  So if you are going to put your pictures into a box, then make sure that box is acid-free and lignin free.  If you are going to put your pictures into plastic page protectors, then make sure those page protectors are PVC-free.  I also suggest that you place acid-free paper in between each picture, so that the pictures don’t stick to each other.
For further information:
Over at Ancestry.com, you’ll find their free webinars.  They have a great webinar on Saving Your Family Treasures – and this is a great webinar full of great information.  It is a much watch/listen for anyone interested in preserving their family treasures.  You just need to register real quick (which just requires your email address) and then you’ll be allowed in.
Where do I buy all of this stuff:
My genealogy store has everything you will need.  Everything from acid-free, lignin-free storage boxes, acid-free paper, even the camera that you need to take the pictures.  I am constantly adding more stuff to the store, so check back often for new things!
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Telling An Old Family Friend The Sad Truth

Back in 2003, I was just starting out in genealogy.  I was 13 years old, had no idea what I was doing with genealogy, and I really only used Ancestry.com as something to amuse myself with inbetween dance classes that I took at the performing arts center my mom worked at.

Well, I wanted to gain some information about my grandfather, Maxamillian Adolf Doerflinger.  So I went onto Ancestry, found their Doerflinger Surname Message Board, and went at it.  I posted a bried post asking for information about my grandfather.  I remember thinking that someone was going to respond and give me all the answers – that every question I could ever imagine would soon have an answer and the story of my Grandpa Max would be complete.  I checked back every day for weeks…knowing that the answers would eventually turn up on the page.
Before long, weeks went by and I lost hope in the post.  I eventually forgot that I had even posted it there.
Well, tonight I was bored and I thought I would make a quick google search for my uncle, Don Doerflinger.  As I quickly scanned over the results, one result caught my eye.  It was that post that I had made way back in 2003 – and it had a reply.
So I quickly went to the site and sure enough, a woman (who I’ll call Susie for privacy) had responded, listing my Aunt Diane as an old friend from school and talking about my grandpa’s welding work.  She even mentioned that my grandfather had given her a beautiful brass butterfly peice as a wedding gift.  I was enthralled.
Well…that is until she asked how my Aunt Diane was doing and she talked about how she would love to get in contact with her.  My heart dropped.  How could I possibly tell her that her old friend was now deeply schizophrenic and refusing to speak to most of the family?
After talking to my mom, I only felt worse.  Susie and Diane were good friends in high school who shared a lot of memories together.  And here I was – about to ruin it.
So, I reluctantly sent the email out.  It was difficult to write and I gave many pleas for Susie to contact me through email anyway – even if it was just to share an old story or two about my Grandpa Max.  I only hope that I didn’t scare her away…and that she is willing to share with me some of her wonderful memories about my family.
P.S: I am sorry that I spent so much time talking about “the hunt”, but I am still coming down from the wonderful genealogy high that one gets when finding a contact like this.
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Using Genealogical Society’s To Find Information

I was surfing the web today, reading different blog articles. I love to do this because there are so many interesting stories out there, not to mention all the great stuff you can learn.

I read one article that discussed the St. Louis Genealogical Society and the website they have. Since I have some ancestors from there, I decided to click on the link and get some more information about it.

Sure enough – this websites has some great databases and it gives information on how you can order records from that particular area.

I figured I’d give it a shot and do a quick search – because it couldn’t hurt. Well…guess what I found?

I found my great-great grandfather’s naturalization record. Now, mind you – I’ve been scouring Ancestry.com’s databses for ages, along with many other popular websites.

And sure enough – there was the record that I was looking for – or atleast the index for it anyway. It gave me all the information I needed to order a copy of the actual document, and I can’t wait to do that next month!

So the lesson here: Check the websites of local genealogical society’s in the areas that you research. They might just have a couple of databases up that you can search, or they might know where you can find what you are looking for.

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Can There Be Two Of The Same Census?

Why indeed – there can be two of the same census. The way this works is that the area was enumerated twice. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen and I have one such case in my family tree.

My great great grandfather Adolph Doerflinger and his wife, Augusta, lived in St. Louis, Missouri in 1880. Both had immigrated from Germany and they owned and operated a boarding house/bar. They lived there with thier only son, Max and multiple boarders.

Well, when I did the search for Adolph, I discovered two entries on Ancestry’s 1880 census database. So, I began looking at their index and sure enough – both entries listed a wife as “Augusta Doerflinger” and a son as “Max Doerflinger”. Adolph was listed in both entries as being born in 1851 in Germany (one actually said Baden). One said that he was a boardhouse keeper and another said a bar keeper.

So I looked at the dates of enumeration for both – and I found out that both were indeed the same person – with a lot of the same boarders listed. However – one enumeration was done in June of 1880 and the other in November of 1880.

I don’t expect it happens often, but it obviously happens enough where us genealogists need to keep our eyes out for it.

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What Would You Save? (Meme: Family Heirlooms)

With all the hurricanes and evacuations going around, I think it is vital that everyone start thinking about an evacuation plan; both for yourself and for your family history.

Let’s say, that tommorrow you were told that you had to leave your house immediately. Maybe you only have 30 minutes to grab what you can and get out. What would you save?

When making this decision, you have to find a way to choose what to save – and things that would certainly go under this category would be family heirlooms and pictures. These items can’t be replaced like a census or death record can – besides, I already have most of my genealogy scanned and online so I can access it from anywhere if need be.
So what would I save? Well here are a few things I would certainly save:

I recieved this kaliedoscope on my birthday. After my uncle died, he left me a lot of precious jewlery, but the only thing I wanted was a kaliedoscope that used to sit in his guest bedroom. As a child I spent hours gazing into it. It is something that is very precious to me.

Another object or objects I would save would be the metal statues that my grandpa created throughout his life. While my mother and I only own a few of the many he made, these are very precious to me. Since I never knew my grandfather (except for the first few months of my life before his death), these items are very precious to me and bring his personality to life for me.

I would also save my filing cabinet, which houses a lot of photos in protective boxes and albums and a few other small items from my family. I would carry that filing cabinet and walk if need be because it houses so many prized possessions – I couldn’t handle the loss of them.

I hope that all of you in Texas and surrounding areas are safe tonight as Hurricane Ike pulls in. I will keep you guys in my thoughts.
And I hope the rest of us learn that with a little preparation, we can hopefully save our wonderful family heirlooms.
(By the way, this article was inspired by Julie Cahill Tarr. You can find her great GenBlog at: http://juliemc77.livejournal.com/4474.html)
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