Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 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: and the First Landowners Project 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.


Military Monday: Did Joseph Frank Serve in the Civil War?

My third great grandparents are Joseph Frank and Nancy Rice.  Joseph Frank was born around 1823-1824 in France.  Nancy Rice was born in October 1834 in Kentucky to John Rice and Margaret Brite.

I have Joseph and Nancy, together with their children, in the 1860 and 1880 Census in Shawswick, Lawrence County, Indiana.  I have been unable to find the family listed on the 1870 Census.

And honestly, I hadn’t really thought about Joseph serving in the Civil War until I stumbled upon his FindAGrave Memorial.  On his memorial I found a comment by a man named Bill that appears to be an obituary.  This comment/obituary says that Joseph served in the Civil War and even gives the exact company and regiment information: Company A, 67th Regiment, Indiana Infantry.

After doing a quick search on Google, I found “The history of the 67th Regiment Indiana Infantry Volunteers, War of the Rebellion” on  This showed a Joseph Frankle enlisting in Company A, 67th Regiment in Indiana on 19 Aug 1862.  There is nothing under the “remarks” column.


History of the 67th - Joseph Frankle

History of the 67th – Joseph Frankle

My next step was to try finding Joseph Frank in the enlistment records somewhere.  However, Fold3 does not have the Indiana enlistment records online – they only have index cards.  But I did find an index card for Joseph Frank – and his name is spelled right!

Joseph Frank - Indiana Service Index Card

Joseph Frank – Indiana Service Index Card

My next step was to look for his pension record.  Sure enough, I found his Civil War Pension Index Card.  This time, his name was listed as Joseph Franikh.

Joseph Franikh Civil War Pension Index Card

Joseph Franikh Civil War Pension Index Card

I noticed that the Civil War Pension Index Card listed a widow’s pension, so I went off looking for that and found one for Joseph’s wife, Nancy.  She is listed as Nancy Franikh.

Nancy Franikh Widows Pension Payment Card (Front)

Nancy Franikh Widows Pension Payment Card (Front)

Nancy Franikh Widows Pension Card (Back)

Nancy Franikh Widows Pension Card (Back)

The pension card reports that Nancy died 4 Jan 1910.  The day and month aligns with the death information I already have, but I have Nancy’s death as occurring in 1909.

Based on this evidence, I’m gonna make a guess and say that yes, Joseph Frank served in the Civil War.  The extent of his service, whether he was injured, and the details of his pension are still unanswered questions and avenues to explore.



Packing for a Conference: Jamboree 2014 Edition

As you prepare for a conference, you need to decide what you will pack.  My preference is to make a packing list before I start, so I can plan out what will be needed – this keeps me from forgetting something important and from over packing things I don’t need.  While the exact things you will need will vary based on the conference, the region of the world the conference is in, and the time of year that the conference is happening, some things stay the same.

Here is my packing list for Jamboree 2014:

  • Comfortable Shoes.  This can’t be understated enough – you will be doing a lot of walking, so make sure your feet are comfortable.
  • Clothes.  Always make sure you are prepared to dress in layers – even though it will be in the 80s this weekend at Jamboree, the conference rooms themselves can sometimes be quite cold.  Having layers will keep you comfortable.  I’ll be wearing more professional looking attire this year since I will be presenting all three days.
  • Toiletries and Medications.  Obviously, this varies from person to person, but be sure to bring the basics like a toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Tech.  Obviously, this also varies from person to person but I never go to a conference without my smart phone, my laptop (which I hop will one day be a tablet – so much easier!), my camera, and chargers.
  • Extra bag.  If you plan on doing some shopping while at the conference, an extra bag can come in handy for carrying all your goodies home.
  • Itinerary and Reservation Numbers.  Always good to take with you on any trip.

Are you going to Jamboree?  What do you pack when you go to a conference?


Jamboree 2014: Planning My Sunday Classes

Here is my third and final post in my Jamboree planning series.  You can view the posts about Friday’s classes and Saturday’s classes here.

Here is my plan for Sunday:

  • 7:00 – 8:30 a.m. Gena Philibert-Ortega will be presenting, “Of Elephants, Gold, and Dashed Dreams: Researching the California Gold Rush”.  Breakfast will also be served (can you say LOTS of coffee and extra concealer to hide the under-eye bags?) and the recipient of the Suzanne Winsor Freeman Memorial Student Genealogy Grant will be announced.
  • 8:30 – 9:30 p.m: I will probably want a break, so I will probably just make my last round in the exhibit hall and get some last minute socializing in with friends.  And I’ll be exhausted.  If I am awake and checked out of the hotel, I might head over to Josh Taylor’s talk, “Resources of the DAR: Beyond Revolutionary War Soldiers”
  • 10:00 – 11:30 p.m: I’ll be on a panel with Janet Hovorka, Crista Cowan, A.C. Ivory, Michael Melendez, and Josh Taylor.  We’ll be speaking about “Rebranding Genealogy and Engaging the Next Generation”.
  • Then it will be saying goodbyes to everyone as people leave the conference at different times for flights home.  The conference is officially over at about 4 p.m., when the grand finale drawing is done.  I keep promising myself that I will be the winner this year of the 7 Day Stay at the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, just steps from the Family History Library.  You have to play to win!

I am so looking forward to this conference!  I can’t wait to see everyone again – it is truly like a family reunion for me.  If you will be there, come say hi!


Jamboree 2014: Planning My Saturday Classes

Here is my second post in my series on planning the classes and lectures I will take at Southern California Genealogy Society’s Annual Jamboree.  You can view the post about Friday here.

Here is my plan for Saturday:

  • Spend the first part of the morning visiting with friends, drinking coffee, and doing some social media work.  Check out the exhibit hall.
  • 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Judy Russell will be speaking on “Staying Out of Trouble The Rights and Responsibilities of Today’s Genealogist”.  Judy Russell is a fabulous speaker that can make complicated topics like law, easy to understand.  She is fabulous.  I would listen to hear talk about the process of paint drying – she is that good.
  • 11:30 – 12:30 p.m.  The Blogger Summit is where you will find me.  I love supporting my blogger friends at this panel session.
  • 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Josh Taylor and I will be presenting “Preserving Stories: Tech that Isn’t Scary”.
  • Break time and socializing time.  Probably some exhibit hall time too.

What are your Saturday Jamboree plans?  Will you be attending or just watching from home?  If you are attending, be sure to come say hi to me!