Genealogists shall not live by Google alone...

After my experience with Google and Cyndi's List this weekend, I'm ready to create the genealogist's version of the " shall not live by bread alone..." scripture to read "...genealogists shall not live by Google alone...".

Ever since DNA proved that Griffin and John Brown ARE part of our Brown family, I've worked nearly every day to discover how exactly they fit in. I've even taken a day or two off from building our fence to find them - and that's big!


This weekend, after unsuccessful Googling, I turned to Cyndis's List. Within minutes I found precisely what Google could not find. I was trying to learn about possible mid-1800s Methodist church records in western Pennsylvania. Under the category of "Methodist > Libraries, Archives & Museums" was a link to:

the "United Methodist Archives - Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church".

While this was a good resource, it was still too far east. But if there was a central Pennsylvania conference, I thought there just might be a western conference as well. And while Cyndi's List didn't have a link for it, now that I had a title to search for, I returned to Google and searched for:

"United Methodist Archives - Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church"

The first link in the list was entitled "The Western PA Conference - Home". No wonder I couldn't find it before. There, they had church records, pastoral records, and statistics going back to the year 1784! And while there were no actual church records like baptisms/marriages/burials, it did have a brief history of every church in the conference and my Griffin Brown was mentioned!

"A new Church was built in upper Tidioute in 1853 under the leadership of Judge Brown..."

So no "Griffin was the son of Asa and Elizabeth" statements there, but now I knew where he was living in 1853 and that he played a major role in the community. Better yet, an email address and a mailing address was listed for the local contact.

Hats off to Cyndis' List for pointing me in the right direction. Afterwards, I clicked on her "Submit a New Link" button and submitted the new Western Pennsylvania Conference for her consideration. Late last night I received the email from her that my suggestion has been accepted. Right now it's found by clicking on the "Browse New Links" button in the left panel. 

If it's been a while since you've used, I strongly encourage you to add it back into your research toolbox. And if you want a tour from Cyndi herself - take a look at our recent webinar:


Explain this - deceased husband serves as informant on his wife's death certificate

I've heard of people coming back to life, but that was more than 2,000 years ago. Yet according to Adelaide Brown's death certificate, her husband, who had been deceased for more than two years, was listed as the informant.

Leonard, Adelaide - 1916 death certificate

In two places it clearly states that Adelaide was a widow at the time of her death:

Field 5:


Field 8:


Yet field 14 clearly shows the name of the informant AND has the informant's relationship to the decedent:


How could Adelaide's deceased husband be the informant on her death certificate? Below are a few ideas I had, but if you have any other ideas, please let me know in the comments.

Could her husband, Charles Frederick Brown, have been alive at the time of her death? Yes, and I should follow up on this to have more convincing evidence of it. He was last known to be alive in 1910 as he was living in Philadelphia in this census. He was a lodger, working as an operator for the telegraph company, and although he was not living with his wife, he was listed as having been married for 33 years (Adelaide was living in the State Hospital for the Insane in the next county). I've also narrowed down Charles' death year to sometime before 1915 because in 1914, the book Armstrong County Pennsylvania: Her People, Past and Present, was published wherein it states that Charles was deceased. So Charles' death year was sometime between 1910-1914. I am pretty sure I have found his death certificate where he died January 2, 1911, but I'm still working on confirming I have the right one.

Could the informant and husband, C. F. Brown, Sr., be a different Charles F. Brown, Sr.? Not likely. First, her surname at the time of death was still Brown. Secondly, her death certificate shows that she died in the State Hospital in Norristown, the same place where she was enumerated in the 1910 census. My guess is they did not see too many weddings in this hospital and that she did not remarry to another C. F. Brown, Sr.

What is most likely is that when Adelaide was admitted to the hospital, Charles filled out some paperwork which provided her age, birth place, and names of her parents. Not being able to get in touch with Charles when Adelaide died in 1916 (remember, Charles died before 1915), the hospital personnel probably just filled out her death certificate from the information he previously gave them, and listed him as the informant.

Before today, I used to think the informant on a death certificate was always alive at the time the certificate was filled out. Now I have one more thing to be cautious about when analyzing vital records. And if I were to continue the research to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, I would next try to locate hospital records, pursue Charles' death certificate, and even look for their obituaries. 

DNA testing, Legacy, and FindMyPast's hints - why I'm closer to solving my genealogy brick wall

One of the great stories of the year is how DNA testing is solving so many genealogy brick walls. Between DNA and the recent release of the largest online collection of US marriage records at FindMyPast, I'm closer than ever to solving the long-standing brick wall of Asa Clark Brown's two missing children.

Remember this slide? It explains it all.


In the recent "Watch Geoff Live: DNA" webinar, I discovered that John and Griffin Brown DO share DNA with my grandmother, and that somehow they fit into OUR family. If you missed it, watch the recording here. Some people are saying it was the "best overall DNA presentation I've every caught." It certainly felt that way to me as I learned what I did about my family.

I've long suspected Griffin Brown to be Asa's third child but haven't found enough evidence to be confident about it. Now that DNA has proven that he fits in somewhere, his family is my #1 priority again. Knowing that the answers to our ancestors' questions often lie in the records of their children, grandchildren and beyond, I am now resuming my research on Griffin's family, but with a heavy emphasis on his children.


In my recent article, "My first look at FindMyPast's new 100 million marriage records" I explained how Legacy Family Tree found 8,301 individuals in my family file who had no place of marriage recorded. I then searched FindMyPast and quickly found a marriage record for one of these individuals. With this finding, I predicted that "my relationship with FindMyPast is going to get a lot closer in these next few months."

After hours of sleeplessness last night, thinking about Griffin Brown's family, a brilliant idea came - in the morning I would export a GEDCOM file of Griffin's family, upload it to a new tree in FindMyPast, and see how FindMyPast's new Hinting tools would perform.

After explaining to my wife that it must have been someone else who was snoring all night, I made my way to the office, opened Legacy, and created the GEDCOM. Here's how:

1. At File > Export > GEDCOM file I clicked on the Record Selection button, clicked on the "Edit Focus Group" button, selected the "Add an Individual and Entire Family Line", selected Griffin Brown, clicked OK, and clicked Close.


2. I clicked on the "Select File Name..." button in the upper right, gave it a file name, and clicked Save.

The small GEDCOM file was now created. Following the steps below, I uploaded the file to FindMyPast:

1. At, click on the Family Tree menu, then click on Import a tree.


2. Select the GEDCOM file, and click the Upload button.

Eleven seconds later, the tree was complete.


What showed up next was completely unexpected and very exciting! Griffin's family appeared, as expected, but what I did not anticipate was how quickly FindMyPast's Hinting would get to work.


Here is a zoomed-in portion of Carl A. Brown, one of Griffin's children. Notice all the orange circles? The numbers represent the number of hints waiting for me. Maybe they appeared so quickly because the GEDCOM file only included 36 individuals, but I was ready for some instant gratification, and I was not disappointed.


I first clicked on Carl Brown's orange circle and was shown this screen with the six hints:


Since Carl was one of the 8,301 individuals in my Legacy file without a marriage place, I was delighted to see three FindMyPast hints about a possible marriage for him. From prior census research, I estimated his marriage to Gertrude Sturgeon to be about 1896 in Pennsylvania.

The first hint's screen looked like this:


The real jewel of this screen is the small View Transcript button in the upper right which brought me to this page, which this time had the full marriage date displayed:


Finally, clicking on the View Image button displayed what looked like the first page of his application for a marriage license:

Brown, Carl A and Sturgeon, Gertrude B 1897 marriage record

The next hint led me to a digital copy of the marriage certificate:

Brown, Carl A and Sturgeon, Gertrude B 1897 marriage record page 2

And the last hint led me to one of the most interesting marriage records I've ever seen:


There are lots of goodies in this marriage record including the exact birth dates of both Carl and Gertrude. It also lists Carl's exact place of birth, which matches where Griffin and Griffin's father were from! And then it says this:

...that he has once been married before to his present wife in Camden NJ Feby 1897 now desire to remarry

How cool is that?!? Apparently, this marriage in Philadelphia, which occurred on May 17, 1897, was their SECOND marriage to each other in three months. I bet there's a really interesting story there.

Since there were no other hints for Carl related to marriage records, I went to the main United States Marriages database here and did a manual search for Carl and Gertrude to see if I could pick up their marriage in New Jersey. Look what it found:


This time there was no digital image, and it gave their first marriage date as May 6, 1896, not the February date like the other marriage record showed.


I then noticed that there was a FamilySearch film number in the record, so I turned to FamilySearch to see if they had anything else.


While they had the digital image of the index page, it did not have a copy of the original record. So it'll take a little more effort to obtain the original. 

So...why two marriages? Looking at Google Earth, Camden and Philadelphia were right across the river from each other. Was Camden a "Gretna Green" as webinar speaker Gena Philibert-Ortega often discusses? Did they have a late-night decision and later regret it? I don't know. Maybe I'll get lucky and find a newspaper article or a family story somewhere.

My Conclusions

  1. DNA testing should be mandatory. Test yourself, or the oldest living relatives in your family - today!
  2. FindMyPast's tree hinting brings the research to you! And with their massive US marriage records collection, FindMyPast should be in every US researcher's toolbox. I encourage all Legacy Family Tree users to upload, at the very least, a small GEDCOM file of the portion of the tree they are currently working on, and then check out the new hints. Guess what I'll be doing all weekend?
  3. You never know what you are going to discover. That's why genealogy is so much fun!

Generational differences - emails vs texts


Today I learned how "out of touch" I am, and that I might even be classified as a "nerd". Here's how the conversation with my 14-year-old went.

"Dad, I need a phone." (son)

"How come?" (me)

"So I can talk to my friends this summer." (son)

"We have a house phone, you can still talk to your friends." (me)

"Yah, but I want to text with them." (son)

"You could email them." (me)

"Dad, email's for nerds." (son)

Looking at my email archives, I've received 68,044 emails and sent 52,593 emails since August 29, 1998. The way I figure it, I've saved $24,718.71 in stamps as a result. If that makes me a nerd, that's okay. Interesting though how my primary method of communication is so different than my children's. Am I getting old? Also makes me wonder if my ancestors noticed their own differences between one generation to the next.

World's Largest Family Tree Chart - designed by Legacy Family Tree


The world's largest family tree chart was on display for the first time at RootsTech this weekend. Here's a picture I snapped of the 30-foot-tall chart. Doug Butts of designed and published the chart, and I believe he is submitting it to Guinness World Records. And listen to this - the chart was designed with our software, Legacy Family Tree!

Here's a close-up of me with Doug.



To create a chart in Legacy, look for the Legacy Charting button on the My Toolbar tab.


Here, design the chart, and then use our Chart Printing service to have it sent to your front door.


My first black sheep ancestor

With the help of Google Translate I found my first black sheep ancestor this morning.

Initially I wondered why all of the writing on this page was beautifully scripted except for the one entry in Jan Olsson's record.


After typing the phrase into Google Translate I figured out why.


If I were the person recording this statement in the household records book, I probably would have been a little shaky too.

And so to start my new genealogy year, I've learned that the grandfather of my Swedish immigrant to America was beheaded for murder. In this record I also see that Jan's wife, my 6th-great-grandmother, died in 1804.

Here's to many more genealogy discoveries - good or bad - in 2016!

Dream about genealogy leads to discovery - again!

Two nights ago I had a dream which was so good that I woke up energized and with renewed hope. Since I'm writing this on a genealogy blog, can you guess what my dream was about?

If you said it was about my Swedish ancestor's estate inventory record - you're right! And you're a terrific guesser!

Years ago when I was looking for my Asa Brown family, I had a recurring dream. In the dream I had located the family's bible, and I had the feeling that the bible had the genealogical answers I had been looking for about the family. While holding the bible in my hands and bringing it closer to my eyes to read the content, the information on the family page became blurry. The more I looked, the blurrier it became. I woke up frustrated because I felt the key to unlocking the family's puzzle was right before me. Well, kind of. Yet, the dream gave me the hope to continue looking for the elusive bible. Long story long, I located the 19th century billfold of Asa's son, David. Inside, and folded into quarters were the four "Family Record" pages from the actual Bible. It had all the exact birth, marriage, and death dates and places for three generations of the family!


Fast forward to this week. After my recording session with Kathy Meade for her webinar, Introduction to the Swedish Estate Inventory Records (published in the webinar library just today) I knew that the estate records were just what I needed to make progress on my 18th century Eric Matsson family.

While the Swedish records are more complete than any others I've ever used, there was a small gap in the parish records where this family lived, and the usually reliable church records weren't available. I learned from Kathy that an estate inventory was required for all persons who died, and in the record's preamble, it would usually list the names and whereabouts of all of the survivors. In the webinar she also showed that the estate records were usually indexed. The ones I needed weren't. And so began the page-by-page process of looking for Eric Matsson's estate records.

779 pages later I still hadn't found Eric's estate records and I started getting a little depressed about it. Everything was in Swedish, and the records were more than 200 years old, so I could have easily overlooked Eric's papers. I started to think that maybe I should just move on to someone else for now.

And then I had the dream.

In the dream I was browsing these same estate records. All, of course, were in Swedish. And then I turned the page and something odd started happening. All of the letters began to morph into words I recognized. The entire record was now in English. And guess what? It was Eric's family! I tried so hard to memorize what it said so that when I woke up I would remember everything. Well, you can guess how that went.

Determined and now with renewed hope to find Eric, yet inexperienced with this part of Swedish research, I asked Kathy if she had any ideas. She pointed me to an online database of the Swedish National Archives which had an index of some of the estate records. I quickly located two entries for the place where Eric was from - one for Eric and one for his wife, Greta, who died three years earlier. The entries showed that the records were part of a registration district that was different from the one I was searching. Examining the record in ArkivDigital, it is clear that I've located the right family. I'm looking forward to what I will learn if I can figure out how to translate it all.


I know nothing of the science of dreaming. I don't often remember them. So for whatever reason I've had dreams about the records of my ancestors, I'm thankful for them. While they've never directly solved my genealogy problems, they've given me hope to keep pressing on. It's interesting though how these have happened after I've had feelings of switching my efforts to another part of my pedigree. There might be something about those Kindred Voices after all.


This Age At Death ALMOST fooled me!

Without reading ahead, can you guess this age at death? Although this is from a Swedish parish register, the numbers are pretty clear. And you probably don't need this clue, but age at death in any record I've seen, is usually written in this format - years, months, days.


What's your guess?

I, too, thought it read 80 years, 4 months, and 6 days. I even transcribed it that way the first time. But it didn't add up.

According to this death record, Eric Mattsson (my 7th great-grandfather) died May 10, 1809. So I plugged this in to Legacy's date calculator (find it by going to View > Calendar) to verify his birth date:


and pressed the Calculate button:


If I've 1) interpreted and 2) calculated everything correctly, AND 3) if the person reporting the age was spot on, Eric would have been born on January 4, 1729. Of these three, the calculator probably has the best chance of being 100% accurate.

I'm so glad I took a closer look. Had I accepted this birth date, I would be looking from now until the end of my days for an Eric Mattsson with this birth date. It simply doesn't exist.

In prior research, I discovered that Eric was born 15 Sep 1729 - an 8 month and 11 day difference. My initial thoughts were 1) maybe there were two Eric Mattssons who died in 1809 and I should look for the other (mine was reported in the household records that he died this year) or 2) the age at death could easily be wrong. So I looked for another Eric Mattsson's death and didn't find one. I almost concluded that the person reporting his age just didn't know for sure.

I'm so glad I took a closer look.

You see, between the years (80 år) and the months (4 mån) was a Swedish word or words that I couldn't interpret. With my English-speaking eyes it looked like the month of January, but my cheat sheet at the FamilySearch Wiki had a different spelling for January. So I took it to the Swedish Genealogy Facebook group which I learned about from Kathy Meade's webinar, "Have Swedish Roots and Don't Know How to Get Started?" Last night I posted this question:


This morning I woke up to a response from one of the members of the group:


At first I could not figure out how she came up with 79 years, 7 months, and 24 days old. Then I copied and pasted her response into Google Translate.


"80 years as close as 4 months 6 days."


And then it hit me. This is saying that Eric was 4 months and 6 days away from his 80th birthday. While I've never seen an age at death reported this way before, it made sense. If I add 4 months and six days to the end of his death day, we get September 14 which is pretty close to the 15th.

Thanks to Facebook group member, Ingrid Björkudd, for teaching me something new today! Isn't genealogy great - a never-ending educational process. Also, thanks to the technology at ArkivDigital, Google Translate, FamilySearch Wiki, FamilyTreeWebinars, and even Legacy's date calculator for helping me put this together. 

My genealogy addiction - it's back

I am no longer sleeping very much. And if you've ever been hooked on genealogy, you know exactly what I am referring to.

Ever since Kathy Meade's webinar on beginning Swedish genealogy, I've gone to bed late and have woken up early. I've gone from not even knowing I had Swedish ancestors a month ago to learning a new language, discovering new records, and subscribing to ArkivDigital which has the best collection of genealogy records I have ever seen. I can't wait for today's work day to be done so I can get going on it again!

In my early efforts to learn how to do Swedish research I have stumbled. Trying to learn the language and analyze the different markings and abbreviations is challenging. When I've hit these roadblocks, I've turned to something I learned in Thomas MacEntee's new Facebook webinar. Thomas taught about new ways of searching Facebook, as well as the power of Facebook Groups. Using his techniques, I searched Facebook to see if there were any good groups on Swedish Genealogy.

I quickly found the Swedish Genealogy public group and submitted my request to join. Within minutes my request was approved. I noticed there were nearly 1,900 members in the group already, and the questions being asked and the answers that were given seemed to be very helpful. Being a "greenie" to Swedish genealogy and to the group, I was a little shy to ask my first question, but I'm glad I did. The question I posted was about a phrase that I wasn't yet familiar with. I posted it at 1:49pm and by 3:02 I had the first answer.

Today was even more amazing. I posted a question at 8:45am, and by 9:30 there were eight comments. My immediate problem was solved - in less than an hour!

Technology, and the wonderful community of genealogists is really shining!

Skeletons in the Closet

I received the following from one of our customers today and enjoyed it so much that I'm republishing it here (with permission).

Decades ago when I first started investigating my 6th great-grandfather’s family of descendants I was particularly fascinated by the oblique notes I found in the older genealogies.  

“Killed in a hunting accident” “Met an accident in the woods” “Went West and untraced” “Died in the great Galveston Hurricane.”  

Since then I’ve discovered that none of the above was entirely true if at all. 

I’ve also discovered descendants omitted, “died” or down-played in family accounts for more onerous reasons – multiple divorce, murder, kidnapping, suicide, medical tragedy and more. 

If like me, your twig of the family tree hasn’t exactly been pristine, consider the gifts these people have given you. 

Strength – if you have experienced one of these things as a near relative, realize that no matter how much you suffered at the time that you have survived it and congratulate yourself. You are strong. 

Perspective – if you know or discover that an earlier relative is a closet skeleton - thank them if you haven’t experienced the same thing yourself. If you have, also thank them – it means you aren’t the only family member who’s faced the same thing whether now or generations ago. 

Faith – Learn about the lives of your ancestors and their message to you. I have found at least three times that their survival is the miracle that I even exist. 

Embrace the past with love and sensibility. Learn as much as possible about your ancestors recent and distant and respect any medical problems those in your twig might have had – you may have inherited them as I have.