Category Archives: Uncategorized

Are Bloggers Leading the Genealogy Community?

Balanced Over the Bay

I’ve been quietly reading a few very thought-provoking blog posts by Michael Hait (The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are Bloggers the New “Experts”?) and Marian Pierre-Louis (Are Bloggers Really the New Experts? Part 1 & 2) and figured it was time to put my two opinionated cents into the conversation.

Is the Genealogy Community Changing?  Absolutely.  There is no doubt.  The change is already happening.  There will be growing pains.  BUT we can lessen the growing pains if everyone decides to embrace each other.

It means that the “traditional crowd” decides to dip their toes into the technology waters while also mentoring the tech community on how to get down and dirty in a courthouse basement to find the record.

It means that the “tech crowd” has to kindly help the more traditional crowd get their feet wet in the technology waters while also being willing to get down and dirty in the dusty stacks of undigitized records in an old courthouse.

Why?  Because both groups have the same goal and both groups have something valuable to offer the other.  In my mind, the genealogy community will thrive when it learns to walk the balance beam of using technology tools to go out into courthouses, archives, and other repositories to make genealogy discoveries.  Finding the balance isn’t always easy, but it is worth it.

But Are Bloggers Experts?

Sometimes.  There are definitely some blogger in the community that are undoubtedly experts in genealogy, technology, or both.  There are also some new people who are still learning.  There are some people who don’t have formal training but are definitely knowledgeable.  The community is so wide spread, so varied, and I don’t view that as a bad thing.  We can always learn something from a blog – even if it is just an example of how not to do something.

One thing is for sure: We are an opinionated group and we know how to make our voices heard.  If we love something, we will do everything in our powers to be the best cheerleaders possible.  If we dislike something… well, we’ll speak loudly on that topic too.  We have no problem being honest with what we think or believe.

But Does That Mean Bloggers are Leading the Genealogy Community?

In the sense of being vocal and being seen… yes, bloggers are leading the genealogy community and it is all because we know how to spread information quickly and effectively.

But bloggers aren’t the only ones leading the genealogy community – we also have big companies and information spreading groups that are influencing the community.  FamilySearch is not only well known for free online records and indexing projects, but also for creating RootsTech – a conference that bridges the gap between technology and genealogy. isn’t just known for being a huge company with lots tons of records online, it is also known for being the main sponsor of Who Do You Think You Are? (US Version).  These companies and many others are getting their names out there.

Are Genealogy Societies Doomed? 

If genealogy societies do not choose to learn technology, then the whole community is in trouble.  Genealogy societies not only provide a place for genealogists to meet face to face, many societies also offer learning opportunities by hosting lectures and bringing in speakers, offering libraries for research, and helping the community through indexing or transcription projects.

But genealogy societies will disappear unless they start welcoming the technology crowd with opening arms and start considering how they will interact with the online genealogy community.  The technology crowd also needs to make an effort to step away from the computer once in a while and visit a real society.


Thoughts?  Comments?  Agree?  Disagree?


Sometimes Family History Hits When You Least Expect It

Sometimes family history hits you when you least expect it.

As I was frantically working to finish an essay I have due tomorrow (trying to play catch-up from my weekend in bed with a cold), I took a break and headed to Facebook.  I was surprised to see that my cousin began posting pictures of my Mom on my page.  Looks like the essay will have to wait.

Not many of my family members are computer literate and there is an even smaller percentage of them who are social media literate.  Lucky for me, a cousin of mine recently joined Facebook and has been adding photos like crazy – mostly from his vacations over the years.  But tonight – unexpectedly – he began posting photos of my Mom and I and with the exception of one photo, I have never seen these before.

My new favorite photo of Mom. Mom is smiling for the camera as she sits next to her older brother, Don. She looks radiant here and just as tan as I remember she always was - a result of many days at the beach or outside exploring the world.


Here is a photo of Mom and her brother Don sitting on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico while on a family vacation in 1980. Mom always did look amazing in a bathing suit.


Here is a great photo of Mom cuddling with her Uncle Jack while brother-in-law Guy takes a photo. I love this photo because it shows Mom's loving side. Circa 1977 or 78.


Mom loved camping and we'd often go on camping trips - sometimes with the entire family and sometimes just the two of us. Here is a photo from around 1993 or 1994 of (left to right) Me, Uncle Don, and my cousin Christine.

I can't tell you how many memories I have at the beach as a kid - Mom always called me a "water baby". After we moved to Seattle around 1997, I would fly down to California to spend a few weeks of summer with my family. Mom was always willing to hand me over to relatives so I could experience as many adventures as possible - even though she had to work. This is a photo from around 1998 while at the beach with my Uncle Don.

Sometimes family history hits you when you least expect it.


Preschoolers & Family

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been regularly substituting at a local preschool.  While I’ve spent most of my time explaining that LMNOP is five letters (not one!) and how Free Willy is not the name of a species of animal but the name of a whale, I’ve also spent my time discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and families.

For example, the other day in the three year old room we talked about how one little boy is about to become a big brother because his mommy has a baby in her tummy.  We talked about how having a little brother or sister means that you’ll have someone to play with and someone to share your toys with.  Other kids weighed in on how sometimes brothers and sisters can make you mad but how you love your brother or sister anyway.

Later that day we did an art activity where the children drew the people that lived in their home.  The teachers then go around the room and write the names of the people in the drawing.  Some of the children understand and draw something that at least resembles the family and other kids just draw – we still write down whatever they say.

We get the typical responses:

“That is daddy and that is mommy.  And that is me.  And that is Jon and that is Zoe.”

“Is Jon you’re big brother?” I’d ask.


“And who is Zoe?”

“My cat.”

(Yes – 3 year olds consider their cats to be part of their families and those of us who are pet lovers would probably agree.)

Later, we asked the children to tell us what a family is:


“Yes, but what makes these people a family?”

“Daddy said a bad word in the car.”

(Have I mentioned that 3 year olds will also divulge every single secret, embarrassing, and humiliating moment that they see or hear to their classmates and their teacher?  Because they do.)

“Yes – Daddies are part of families.  Anyone else know what a family is?”

“A mommy and a daddy and a baby.”

“What happens when the baby becomes a big kid?  I’m not a baby and I have a family.”

“A family is people who live together.”

“My Nonna and Nonno live in Italy.”

“So families are people who live together but it can also include people who don’t live together?”

“Santa is going to bring me an umbrella!  I’m so excited!”

(Yes, a child actually said they were excited that Santa was going to bring them an umbrella.  And yes, young children can’t stay on topic for long.)

Tips to Discuss Family with the Little Ones in Your Life:

  1. Keep it short, simple, and brief.  Young children can’t handle long explanations and they don’t want to hear the exceptions to the norm.  If something comes up and they ask about it, then feel free to discuss it.  But otherwise, keep it short and sweet.
  2. Get Prior Knowledge.  Instead of starting a discussion with “A family is ______”, the teachers asked the children.  As each child added a bit to the discussion, the teachers helped them fully develop and express their ideas.  This helps them with critical thinking skills.
  3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  When asked to draw her family, one girl drew herself as a princess with the sun shining behind her.  For her, the princess was much more interesting at the time than drawing her family – and that is OK.  We don’t sweat the small stuff.
Do you have experience discussing family or genealogy with young children?

My Views on Family History Have Changed

Note: This is a long, sometimes rambling post that is all my opinion.  Hopefully, some of it actually makes sense.

I had a dream about my mom last night – seems I’m having more and more dreams about her lately.  Sometimes they are good dreams.  Sometimes they are nightmares.  But when I wake up, the feeling is always the same.  Like air suddenly can’t fill my lungs because a ton of bricks has fallen on my chest.  The realization then hits that she isn’t just in the next room, probably reading a book or watching M.A.S.H on TV like she always did when her insomnia kept her awake.  I wouldn’t be able to just wrap my blanket around my body and pick a spot in the living room to sit with her for a while.  It always takes me a few minutes to push the feeling out of my mind and focus on the day.

Since my mom’s passing, I can’t seem to do genealogy without thinking about her.  I can’t look at a pedigree chart and resist cringing when I see her death date there.  I can’t discover something new without having a feeling of hollowness because she isn’t here for me to share the moment with.  Mom was never really interested in genealogy or family history and was often unable to see things as objectively as I could, but she did humor me as much as she could tolerate when I did talk about genealogy.  Her knowledge of history came in handy too and we could bounce ideas off of each other.

I’ve always known that my mom was my ancestor, but the word has always felt old and distant to me.  When I searched for ancestors, it felt like I was searching for people in another time, far away from my own.  I was searching for people I didn’t know and even though I’ve always felt a connection, a pull, a well of inspiration from these people who are my ancestors, I’ve never felt like they were close to me.  Even when dealing with my own grandparents – my mom’s parents died when I was just a baby, my paternal grandmother got dementia just after I started taking my first steps and although she was alive, she was never herself after that, and my paternal grandfather seemed like this husky voiced old man who lived across the country and had a funny accent.  While I wanted to learn more about these people, there was always a disconnect there.  Sure, they had influenced who my parents were as individuals, but they still felt far away – like a story from a book.  I knew that their influence, their choices, their actions had affected me – which more times than not made me proud, but they still felt far away.

To think of my mom as an ancestor just feels… strange.  My mom is a huge influence in who I am as a person – of my very being.  Because of her, I am a passionate, stubborn, often loud vocally person.  I become easily obsessed with things I love.  I am enthusiastic.  I feel the need to understand how things work and why.  I spread myself too thin sometimes.  I can think on my feet, especially in emergencies.  I plan out everything and I hate deviating from the plan.  I’m a control freak and I hate surprises.  I am this way because of my mom.  Her life had a direct impact on me.

How could I possibly call her an ancestor?  She isn’t distant or far away.  She isn’t from a history book.  But as the days and weeks and months pass, my mom starts to feel more distant and far away.  A panic almost seems to set in as I realize how few pictures I have or how I should have written everything she said down.  I almost feel in a rush to record her story – like if I don’t it will disappear and be lost forever.

Two years ago, before my mom was sick, before my mom was gone, I recorded my family history and genealogy because it was interesting.  Because it helped me feel a sense of belonging.  Because the stories gave me strength and inspiration.  Because it was like a challenge or game of detective – how much could I uncover?  What could I find?  Could I decipher that document?  It wasn’t a need but a want.  If I didn’t find it, someone else would.  Like the stories from my family’s past was a treasure chest waiting to be found – sure, I could dig it up, but if I didn’t, someone else would.

I was preserving my family history out of choice.

But now it genealogy and family history are needs for me.  If I don’t record it… if I don’t protect it… if I don’t preserve it… then who will?  I feel anxious to record the stories of my mom, of who she was, my memories of her – like I’ll somehow forget it all if I don’t.

Someday, I will have children and sometimes I fear they’ll view my mom as this far away, distant person.  Like an ancestor.  I can’t let that happen.

Thoughts?  Did I make any sense whatsoever?  Have your views and/or reasons for why you research ever changed?


Why You Should Consider Your Source

We know we should cite our sources… but as a researcher, you should also consider your source.  Maybe you’ve collected all sorts of information about an ancestor and you have a variety of sources to back that information up.  But maybe there is something that doesn’t add up, something that doesn’t fit.

To avoid feeling like something is off, you need to evaluate and judge each source.  Why was the source created?  Who created the source?  Does your ancestor have some sort of reason to exaggerate or lie?  Maybe they didn’t lie purposefully – maybe they just forgot?  Perhaps you have immigrant ancestors who didn’t speak English (or had a very heavy accent) and there was a communication barrier.  There are a lot of reasons why information on a source document could be incorrect.  It is your job to weigh how likely the information on the source document is to be correct.

For example, after my mom passed away, I received a lot of beautiful condolence cards from family members and friends that often included a little anecdote or memory about my mom.  These were so special for me because it helped me get to know another perspective of my mom.

I trust that most of these stories were true.  However, I received one letter in particular that I know was full of inaccuracies and falsehoods: The letter from my schizophrenic aunt.

I know in my heart that when my aunt wrote this letter, she was telling what she believed to be the truth – but her mental illness has made it difficult for her to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

The letter itself was beautiful and talked about wonderful of a sister my mom was.  It talked about happy times and how much they got along.  It talked about when the Pope visited their little Catholic school.  It ended by saying that I was much too young to lose a mother and asked if I was excited about starting high school next year.  In short… the whole thing is made up fantasy.

The Pope never came to the Catholic school that both my mom and my aunt attended.  My mom and aunt had anything but a wonderful relationship growing up – in fact, my mom had plenty of stories that showed how my aunt was a bully and did some pretty mean (borderline cruel) things to her.  I even remember feeling the tension when my aunt and mom were in the same place – there wasn’t much sisterly love and happiness going on between them.

And I was 20 when my mom passed away – not a 13-year-old middle school kid.

If my grandchildren or great-grandchildren discovered this letter, they would be getting a lot of completely untrue stories.  The stories are nice, but there isn’t an ounce of truth to them.

As you are doing research, please remember to not only cite your sources, but weigh it too.


Looking Forward When Looking Back

Over the last few days, I’ve seen some great thought provoking articles about a survey recently conducted.  In short, the results showed more people are interested in genealogy but they know less about their family history.  Read more about the survey here.  You can read Caroline Pointer’s reaction (of 4YourFamilyStory fame) here and Thomas MacEntee’s reaction (of Geneabloggers fame) here.

Now for my opinion… You should look forward when you look back.

You Shouldn’t Have to Qualify for Medicare to Research:

It seems that it is an unspoken rule that you must be retired or over a certain age to want to research your family history – and this is a rule that needs to be erased from everyone’s head.  While people think that young genealogists like myself are a rarity in the community, I would disagree.  Having a curiosity of where you come from is something that we all have inside of us, regardless of age, but not all of us become addicted obsessed with it.

In my opinion, I think there are plenty of young genealogists and family historians in the world.  But a lot of them stay in hiding, afraid of making a mistake, afraid of being treated like an amateur, feeling that their computers and technology tools are unwelcome.  How do I know?  Because prior to connecting with the online genealogy community, that is exactly how I felt.  There are still days when I go to some genealogy societies and if I ask a question or make a suggestion that challenges the status quo, I’m treated like a traitor.  Before I had my network of genealogy friends online, I would become discouraged and feel like maybe I didn’t belong in this community.

So if you are a young genealogist in hiding, you aren’t alone.  When you are ready, make yourself known on blogs, social media, at conferences, and even at a genealogy society meeting.  You will find your tribe – I promise.  And if you are having trouble, tell me.  We’ll find your tribe together.

I Don’t Care Where You Put Your Comma

I am a big supporter of source citations.  I think they are vital in doing research.  While the industry standard is to use the formats explained in Evidence Explained, I don’t care what format you use.

Your source citations need to match your end goals.  Are you trying to become a professional genealogist?  Then you better open up that book of Evidence Explained and get your citations in proper form.  Are you trying to publish a family history  book or website?  Then you better pick a citation style (whether that be Evidence Explained or APA format… I don’t care) and stick to it.  Some other researcher or descendant of yours will someday find that book and want to retrace your steps to confirm your claims.  Are you just trying to research your family tree for yourself?  Then write down enough information to be able to find that exact document again – remember that it is safer to put more information than you need than to put too little and not be able to find that source again.

When it comes to source citations, the only thing I care about is whether you have given me enough information to be able to find the source again on my own.  Your source citation needs to be clear and detailed.  I don’t care if you put the comma in the wrong place or if you use APA format instead of Evidence Explained format.  Source citations are meant to be your bread crumb trail that can lead yourself and others back to the source document – as long as it does that, I don’t care.

Embrace Technology

I’m not saying that you need to be a computer expert, but I think you have to have a basic knowledge and an openness to learn.  Find a tech savvy friend to gain some new skills.  Take classes at seminars and conferences.  Always be learning.  Always.

For the genealogy societies of the world – listen up: Get a web presence.  You need a website and it has to be updated regularly.  Use the website as your advertisement to draw potential new members in and show them the value of your society.  Keep the calendar section updated to discuss new meetings and lectures.  Consider adding pictures and copies of your newsletter too.


Making these changes means more people will have the opportunity to learn about how to do genealogy, which is good for everyone.

So what are your thoughts about the survey results from


Matrimony Monday: Julia Downer & William Morris

For the longest time, I’ve been searching for the marriage record for my great-great grandparents, Julia Ann Downer and William M. Morris.  I had been unsure of which county and state they had married because they moved around so often.  To complicate matters further, Julia’s family lived on a border town between Ohio and what is now West Virginia.

After not coming up with any solid leads online, I ordered some indexes on microfilm from the Family History Library to see if I could find the marriage record.  I couldn’t.  I started getting frustrated.  I started searching another roll of microfilm and trying not to lose hope.

Then I saw it: “Julia Doroner m Wm Morris April 24, 1851″.

My stomach was instantly filled with butterflies and something in my gut just told me this was them.  Once I found the page, I knew it was them:

From October 14, 2011

Julia Downer (not Doroner) and William Morris were married on 24 April 1851 in Washington County, Ohio.  Julia’s father, Zachues Downer, was living in Belpre Township, Washington County, Ohio during the 1850 census – so the marriage most likely occurred close to Belpre.

But I didn’t get everything I had hoped out of this marriage record: Since “William Morris” is such a popular name, I had hoped this record would give me more identifying information about William.  Then perhaps I could finally learn about his parents.

But at least now I have a date and a place.  YAY!


An Essay on Candy Baskets

Authors Note: This is an essay I wrote for one of my classes.  I’m posting it here because it discusses my emotions during and after my mother’s illness – something generations from now will not find in the medical records or death certificates.

But it also touches on the fact that certain acts of kindness, love, and compassion can never truly be repaid.  When I was originally given this assignment, I wanted to write about YOU – the genealogy community that sent more love, support, and words of encouragement than I could ever have imagined.  I survived on the blog comments, emails, and Facebook messages of support, advice, prayers, encouragement.  On the days that I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore (and trust me, there were a lot of those), I could feel all of you holding my hand, reminding me to take a deep breath, count to ten, and somehow give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other.  Every time I think about it, I am deeply humbled and reminded just how much I love this community.  But since I could easily write a novel about all of that and the assignment was to only write a 600-700 word essay, I picked this topic instead.

Enough of me rambling….Here it is:

Candy Baskets

         It is often in our times of great need, when we are shown great love and kindness, that we realize that there is no gift sufficient enough for repayment.  In Billy Collins’ poem “The Lanyard,” the speaker comes upon the realization that he will never be able to repay his mother for all she has done for him.  Similarly, I feel that the baskets of candy will never repay the nurses, social workers, and firefighters that supported me through my mother’s illness and death.

My mother began suffering from liver failure in September 2009 after many years of alcoholism.  Since my mother did not have health insurance, she was forced to be treated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where many of the nurses are overworked and tired.  As I was trying to learn how to manage my mother’s illness and the treatment options available, it was often the nurses who took the time to calmly explain new terms and keep me updated on new options.  When the stress became too much, it was the nurses who gave me a supportive smile and encouraging arm squeeze to keep me going.  Although the nurses were overworked and underpaid, they always took a few seconds to make sure I was coping.  Once it was time for my mother to be discharged, she told me to bring the nurses a basket of candy as a token of appreciation for their care.

In January of 2010, I had to call paramedics to my apartment to rush my mother to the hospital.  As the paramedics were taking my mother to the ambulance, one firefighter stopped and placed his hand on my back.  He gave me a reassuring smile and asked me if I was alright.  I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak and could only give a nod in response.  He gave me another reassuring smile, reminded me that the paramedics would do everything possible for my mom, and then walked away.  I dropped off a basket of candy and sweets to the fire station the next day.

My mom spent much of January in the Intensive Care Unit with some of the brightest minds in the hospital keeping her stable.  The doctors spent a lot of time educating me about her various medical conditions and guiding me in how to care for her.  When visitor hours would close, the doctors would call to check on me, give me updates on my mother’s care, and answer any new questions I may have had.  As the hospital decided to transfer my mother to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center because she lacked insurance, it was a young doctor who held my hand and eased my nerves.  I spent the night creating another candy basket that was promptly delivered to the doctor in the morning.

On February 28, 2010, I called the paramedics for the last time to my apartment.  It was the second emergency in a month and the paramedics had a bleak demeanor.  As I was in a state of panic and dread, the firefighters no longer attempted to relieve my fear but instead tried to help me endure the pain that was coming.  One firefighter in particular tried to soothe my panic by reminding me that he was going to hold my mother’s hand the whole ambulance ride.  Once at the hospital, he brought me a glass of water, said I looked so much like his own daughter, and wished me well.  I made a note in my planner to bring him a basket of candy.

Later that evening, a social worker came to speak with me about my mother’s worsening condition.  She asked me about my mother’s final wishes and clearly explained each of the options I had in front of me.  As I sat in the emergency room waiting room, her presence gave me strength.  When her shift was over, she gave me a glass of water and told me she would check on me in the morning.  When my mother did not survive the night, I made a note to bring the social worker a basket of candy the next day.

During my mother’s illness, I was fortunate enough to receive the kindness and encouragement of the nurses, firefighters, and social workers that cared for my mother.  Just as the speaker of “The Lanyard” felt that he would never be able to repay his mother for her love and parenting, I feel that my small and insignificant gift of a candy basket will never repay the staff for everything they’ve done for me.


How War Has Shaped The Lives of Our Ancestors

As many of you know, another school year has started for me – which means less time for genealogy and family history activities.  This semester I am taking a really cool class called “War & The Human Experience”.  When I registered for the class, I was worried that it was going to be incredibly depressing and boring class with an old professor that has a monotone voice that seems to go on and on and on and on…

Luckily for me, this has turned out to be an incredibly interesting and fascinating class.  My professor is passionate, vibrant, and a total history geek.  The class analyzes how the attitudes of war has changed over the centuries and in turn, how that attitude is shown in art and literature.   Best part?  Instead of buying an overpriced textbook, we just have to buy 4 novels that were all under $10 (used).

This class has helped me understand how war has changed, not only through the advancement of weapons, but how war went from some the two sides getting in straight lines to war becoming “total war” where entire cities and countries were bombed.  It is also fascinating to watch how war has influenced art & literature.  Prior to World War I, art and literature depicted war as an exaggerated honorable and “glamorized” event.  For example, the art might depict everyone in uniforms and riding white horses – when in fact, most of the fighters were wearing whatever they owned and very few had horses, especially white horses.  World War I brought about literature and art that depicted a more somber, frightening, and truthful side of war (just read All Quiet on the Western Front).

Over the next few weeks, get ready to hear more about how war has shaped our ancestors – and I hope you find it to be as interesting as I do.


Max Doerflinger’s Birth & Baptism Certificate

Today’s topic is the birth certificate and the baptismal certificate for my maternal grandfather, Maximillian Adolf Doerflinger.  Maximillian was born on March 14, 1908 in Butte, Silver Bow, Montana.  He married Margaret Janice Harney in Seattle, King County, Washington on 12 June 1934.  Maximillian and Margaret had six children: Eugene William Doerflinger (1935-1961), Donald Doerflinger (1938-2007), Sharon Doerflinger (1959-2010), and three children who are still living.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog
From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Both of these certificates were found in a dark green metal box that belonged to my mother.  In July of 2010, after my mom had passed away, my aunt and cousin came from Seattle, Washington to visit.  My mom and I had stored a few things in the basement of their home before we moved and while we had every intention of going to get the stuff, we never did.  So my aunt and cousin brought a few random boxes down for me.

I honestly did not even remember ever seeing the green box and I was skeptical as to what could be in it that was so important that we didn’t need it for 10 years.  When I opened it, it was like opening a genealogical treasure chest.  I still can’t believe that my mom never mentioned these records to me.  Maybe she forgot she even had them.  Either way, I love that I have these records.