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 1000Memories.com 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 1000Memories.com?


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.


“Printing” to Microsoft OneNote

Earlier I wrote a post comparing Microsoft OneNote to Evernote.  Many people commented about wanting to learn more about the “print” feature of OneNote, so today I’m going to show you how it works.

But before I do that, I’d like to make a quick point: Just as with genealogy programs, everyone has their preference.  One program isn’t ‘better’ than another one – different programs will serve the needs and wants of different people.  Personally, I believe that we need a little competition because it will force some of these companies to constantly improve and add new features.

So how in the world do I “print” something to OneNote?  Let’s say I was surfing on WikiTree.com and I did a search for any profiles with the Dugger surname.  Then let’s say that I wanted to keep a copy of the page but I didn’t want to print it out on paper for fear of losing the page.  Here is what I’d do:

First, go to the page you want to print.  I’m using Chrome as my browser, so I go to the Wrench menu in the upper right hand corner and select print.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Once the print menu appears, select “Send to OneNote”.  Then click “Apply” and then “Print”.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Microsoft OneNote will then automatically open up and the page you ‘printed’ will now appear in the “Unfiled Notes” section of OneNote.  From here, you can simply drag and drop it into any notebook or section you’d like.  You can then highlight, draw, or write text all over the document.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

It is just that easy!  I love this feature of OneNote and I use it all the time!

If you are having issues with OneNote, I suggest that you check out the Microsoft Office Blog to see if your questions can be answered.

Disclosure: I work for WikiTree as the WikiTree Evangelist.  The above images are screen shots from my computer screen, which feature pages from the WikiTree website.


Microsoft OneNote vs. Evernote (Part 1)

In the last month I’ve been playing around with Evernote and OneNote, two different note-taking programs.  I am a note-taking fanatic – between school, genealogy, church, and all of the other gazillion things I am involved in, I need to be able to take detailed notes quickly and easily.

A year or two ago, I played around with Evernote but just didn’t fall in love with it.  I was attracted to Evernote because I’ve seen so many blog posts written about it; how easy it is to use, very mobile, syncs with the web – the list of cool features was pretty long.  So I tried it.  But I didn’t fall in love.  I felt that the interface wasn’t as intuitive as I would have liked and I got confused a few times.  After a few weeks, I gave up and moved on.  If I had had a smart phone like a Blackberry or iPhone, I probably wouldn’t have given up so quickly because the fact that you can edit and view your files from your mobile devices is pretty amazing and crucial if you are a constantly-on-the-go sort of a person.  But the mobile access thing just isn’t as important to a non-smart-phone-carrying person like me.

When school started last semester, I realized I had to find a better way to keep my notes organized.  The majority of my professors wanted to fit a bazillion concepts into one lecture and did so by speaking a thousand miles a second.  Half way through the lecture, my hand was tired and my handwriting was nearly impossible to read.  So I started looking at different note-taking programs for the semester.  Since I had just installed Microsoft Office 2007, I decided to check out Microsoft OneNote.

I fell in love.  You can easily create different notebooks with sections (just like a binder with tabbed dividers) and then put notes into sections.  I created one notebook for the semester and sections for each of my classes.  Depending on the class, I created a new note for each class meeting or for each major topic.  Come term paper time, it was super easy to put all of  my notes on a certain topic together by just searching all of my notes for a particular key word or phrase.  I loved how I could download handouts and “print” them to my notebooks.  I could then use the highlighter feature to make my cursor into a highlighter and highlight any important features.  Or I could make my cursor a pen to circle things, draw lines to similar concepts, etc.  I could recreate any drawings my professors made on the board by using the pen feature.  It was awesome.

But what do my class notes have anything to do with genealogy?  Well I do pretty much the exact same things with my class notes that I do with my class notes.  I need the ability to…

  • “Print” stuff from websites and put it in my notebook with my other notes.  I could easily “print” my family group sheets, pedigree charts, website search results, etc to my notebook by selecting “Microsoft OneNote” as my printer.
  • Highlight & Draw Stuff.  When I’m on the research binge, I need to be able to highlight certain things or draw out my thoughts.  If I printed out a map to my notebook, then I could highlight important places or draw lines to connect different places.
  • Organize Similar to my Paper Notebooks: While I haven’t been using my paper notebooks too often, I do love the way I have them organized.  I need a program that can mimic my paper organizational system by giving each surname a divider/section and each paper fits within a section.
Do you use note-taking software?  Which software do you use?  What features are your biggest priority?

3 Reasons I Love WikiTree

Disclosure: I work for WikiTree as the WikiTree Evangelist – which means my job is to share my love for WikiTree with other genealogists.  But after posting this on Facebook, I just thought this was too perfect for a blog post not too share.  Please keep in mind that even though I work for WikiTree, I still mean every word.  These are my opinions after all and I wouldn’t post it to my personal blog if I didn’t mean it.

What is WikiTree?  In short, WikiTree is a 100% free website created by Chris Whitten in 2008 with the goal of creating a worldwide family tree.  What separates it from the gazillions of other genealogy and family history websites out there?  Well… you’ll have to read below to find out.

From WikiTree.com

Here are my 3 top reasons to love WikiTree:

1.) Chris Whitten, the creator and webmaster of WikiTree, really cares about this website. This website is his baby and he wants it to be a valuable resource for genealogists everywhere – but he understands that in order to make that happen, he needs the help of genealogists everywhere. If you make a suggestion, have a complaint, a questions, anything – Chris will take the time to answer you. He takes every suggestion and new idea into consideration.  Just take a look at WikiTree’s Facebook Page to see how involved he is in the WikiTree community.  Check out his LinkenIn profile to learn more about his professional experience.

2.) There are 6 Different Privacy Levels. Different profiles can have different privacy levels and can be shared with different people. In other words: You don’t have to choose to totally share or completely block your whole tree with the whole world. You can decide that it is fine with you if your distant ancestors are shared with the whole world. You can decide to keep your living relatives completely unlisted from the search and hidden. You can choose to share your Smith line with your Smith researchers – but that doesn’t mean they see your whole tree – just the profiles you tell them too. Either way, it is pretty amazing. You have the control to collaborate while also protecting your genealogy information.

3.) So Many Ways to Share. The bottom line is that some relatives won’t want to sign up for WikiTree because they just aren’t genealogists and frankly, don’t care nearly as much as you do. WikiTree offers the Wikid Shareable Family Tree to be shared on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. And for the bloggers out there, there are also embeddable family tree widgets. In both of these trees, the missing information is easy to spot and will *hopefully* inspire your relatives to help fill in the gaps.

So those are my top 3 reasons of why I love WikiTree.com and I highly encourage you to check it out too. I know that you’re thinking, “But Elyse, this is just ONE MORE THING to keep up with” and my response to you is that this one is worth it. Check it out. Try it. Play around. You’ll love it. And if you don’t, then tell us why. Give us ideas and constructive criticism to make it better.  And if you love us, tell us that too.  This is an amazing community to be a part of and I am one proud member of that community.


Mission: Organize My Desk is a Success!

Last week, I wrote about my goal to get my desk area in my new apartment organized and re-vamped.  I am happy to report that this mission has been a success!

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is the view of my desk area.  You’ll notice my file cabinet to the right with my 3-in-1 printer, copier, and scanner above it.  You’ll notice my laptop on the desk, along with my glass (for diet Pepsi – a must have fuel for research binges).  I also have a vertical file sorter that has 3 folders (related to bill paying) and my coupon organizer in it.  On the left, I have my plastic 3 drawer unit with my pen organizer and my keys on top of it.


From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is the bulletin board that is on my wall near my desk that has a picture of my boyfriend and I, two Disney Tokyo ornaments that my best friend got me on her study abroad trip to Japan, and my shopping lists with the coordinating coupons attached.  Not seen in the picture is a gold chain with my Mom’s baby ring on it.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is a close up photo of my filing cabinet with my 3-in-1 printer, copier and scanner on the top.  You’ll also notice the blue sticky notes – these are sorted into 3 different columns: Geneablogging, Teaching Blogging, and Work.  These are generally some ideas that I want to consider for the day.  If I don’t get to them, then the ideas are filed away into Microsoft OneNote.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is my vertical file folder organizer that keeps all my file folders about bills and coupons organized and easy to access.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is my desktop organizer that holds all of the stuff that I need to grab in an instance.  I have my markers, highlighters, and scissors on one side, and pens on the other.  I also have my quick “Thank You” cards (no excuse not to write one when the occasion arises), white out, tape, and plenty of post-it notes.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is a view inside the first drawer of my three drawer unit.  I used some little containers from my local dollar store to organize the various chords and tech things I have.  By keeping them in separate containers, they are less likely to get tangled together.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

This is the second drawer in my three drawer unit.  This drawer contains the stuff I use less often – like envelopes, printer ink, business cards, my two boxes of extra highlighters and pens, and my cool round multi-colored highlighter.  I got the highlighter at the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Jamboree at the United States General Land Office booth – and honestly, they had some of the coolest free swag ever.  I can’t wait to use this highlighter during school to keep my notes organized.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Here is a photo of my cool entertainment center (made from two used Ikea bookshelves that have a cut out so a flat screen can fit).  At the moment, I’m keeping my binders and books here.  These might be moved to a small bookshelf that will go in my bedroom – I haven’t really decided yet.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Remember all of those papers I had to sort through and file?  Here is an example of how I got through it – chunk by chunk.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

First thing I did was replace my dividers – many of them were pretty worn.  Unfortunately, these aren’t over-sized dividers (which is always preferred for binders so you can see them over the page protectors) but for a college-student budget, I won’t complain.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Then I filed the family group sheets.

From Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Then goes all of the documents relating to that family.

It did take me a little while to get this done, but I got it done!  And I feel pretty darn good about it.

How is your organization mission going?