Are You Using LibGuides for Genealogy Research?

Have you heard of LibGuides ? Unless you are a librarian or spend time poking around library websites, you may not be familiar with this research guide website. Officially, “LibGuides are a content management and information sharing system designed specifically for libraries.”[1]  What’s important for you to know is that LibGuides are research guides that provide information about  a repository or a topic  that aids the reader in finding resources, books, websites, and more. LibGuides are a tool to help you do better genealogy research.


Now you may be thinking, “but this isn’t a genealogy resource!” While this resource does not specifically target family historians,  it does include research guides covering topics important to researching your genealogy including history, African American studies, maps, periodicals, and yes, even genealogy. These guides are important for academic researchers as well as family historians.  Luana Darby, AG ,  LibGuide author and Legacy webinar speaker, points out that “LibGuides are essential for the family historian and genealogist. These organized subject guides, filled with information, links, and often videos, are key to becoming acquainted with the resources of a repository and accessing unique and vital collections.” Some of Luana’s favorite LibGuides for family historians  include the University of Maryland’s Maryland Genealogy and the State Library of North Carolina’s Beginning Genealogy Resources.


There are two ways to search for LibGuides. The first is to go to the LibGuides  website and search by topic, library, or even librarian (author). Libraries with LibGuides run the gamut from those serving  grade schools to public and academic institutions. Academic institutions use LibGuides to accompany courses as well as serve as finding aids for their library and archival collections. Browse the list of libraries on the LibGuides website  to get a sense of what might be helpful to your research. You can also check a library’s website for their collection of LibGuides which may be referred to as “guides” or “research guides.”


If you choose to search by keyword on the LibGuides website think about keywords that might describe the resources you need to fill in the gaps of your ancestor's life, such as the name of your ancestor’s occupation, their religion or a war they served in. Don’t forget to search on the name of an historical event your ancestor lived through or they name of the place they lived. You can also just search on words describing resources for family history such as newspapers. With 580,000 guides from over 4,700 institutions in 58 countries, you’re bound to find a LibGuide that can help you with the resources you need.


[1] “LibGuides @ Pitt - A Faculty Resource: What is a LibGuide?,” University of Pittsburgh ( accessed 20 April 2018).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

FamilySearch Family Tree Hints

FamilySearch has a fairly new feature where they will email you document hints. I got an interesting one today. 

FamilySearch Hint
(click image to enlarge)


This hint really intrigued me because as far as I knew, I have no connections to Mexico at all.  I clicked the Review My Relative's Hints button and I got this:

James Jeremiah Slade
(click image to enlarge)


Slade is definitely one of my surnames but I didn't recognize James Jeremiah so I clicked the View Relationship button:

Relationship Chart
(click image to enlarge)

 [Please note you must be logged in to FamilySearch to see the linked documents below.]

I couldn't get the entire chart in a single screenshot. Mary Richardson Grantham is my 2nd great-grandmother. She and James Jeremiah Slade were 4th cousins. That makes Jeremiah and I 4th cousins, 4 times removed. 

I then opened up James Jeremiah's page.  There is a Mexican marriage record attached as a source that is tagged to James's name and gender. You can see the record here when you are logged in to FamilySearch. It the marriage of James J. Slade to Consuelo Farías in El Sagrario, Teziutlán, Puebla, Mexico on 28 March 1900. James is listed as being 30 years old and his parents are James J. Slade and Lila B. Slade. 

So this marriage record belongs to James Jeremiah's SON. It was attached to James's page because he is named on the document as the groom's father. James Sr. married Leila Birchett Bonner (see here when you are logged in to FamilySearch), The names match their son's marriage record so this appears to be correct information. But why was their son James Jr. in Mexico?  The Slades were a Georgia family. Time to take a closer look at James Jr. 

I opened James Jr.'s page in the Family Tree. He has 13 attached sources which makes me happy. There is one document source that explains it all.  James Jr. went to Mexico the first time in 1896 and stayed until 1914. He was there for business purposes (lumber business) and he apparently met and married his wife during that time. In 1917 he went back to Mexico. The researcher has several other very interesting documents attached including James Jr's. death certificate (Mexico) which confirms his middle name as Jeremiah, his place of birth in Georgia, and again confirms his parents. 

Am I going to add all of this data to my file? James Jr. is my 4th cousin, 5 times removed so I don't see an immediate need. Even so, I really enjoyed learning more about James Sr. and James Jr. and reading these interesting documents. I was also able to confirm that the document match that FamilySearch emailed me was a legitimate match even though I didn't immediately see the relevance. 

Michele Simmons Lewis, CG
® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

City directories are  an often underutilized resource in genealogy research.  Initially, researchers may think city directories refer to telephone directories, but telephone directories are  relatively "modern" directories. 

Early directories were created shortly after the Revolutionary War and were created for craftsmen and salesmen to be able to contact potential customers. 

Six (6) Reasons To Use City Directories In Your Genealogy Research

1. City Directories, which were created yearly, provide a way to track an ancestor year by year. When an ancestor appeared in an area and/or when an ancestor left can be tracked by their appearance/disappearance in the directory.

2. Directories are a great alternate resource for areas suffering significant county record loss.

3. An ancestor's wife's name are often included next to the husband's name. (This varies area to area over time.) In the 1917 Rochester, New York directory, a wife's first name was placed in parenthesis next to her husband's name.  

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source:


4. Clues to an ancestor's death date can be narrowed down by the appearance of his widow. In this 1917 Rochester, New York example, Mary Little is identified as the widow of William Little. William Little died prior to 1917. Research into earlier directories can help narrow down William's death by tracking when he disappears and his widow Mary appears. 

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source:

5. An ancestor's street address can be found.  Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong of Columbus, OH in 1874 resided at 256 E. Rich. 

Columbus, Ohio City Directory, 1874 (Source:

6. An ancestor's occupation can be found listed. In the example below, the Salem [MA] Directory published in 1850 by Henry Whipple, occupations for individuals are listed. 

The 1850 Salem [MA] Directory (Source: Google Books)

Tip: If you ancestor lived in an area too small to have its own directory, check the nearest town that did have a directory. Smaller towns were sometimes included in a neighboring town's directory.

Don't Stop At The City Directories

City directories are only one type of directory that genealogy researchers can use. A variety of directories have been created over time and are useful in our research. 

Examples include:

  1. State Business Directories
  2. Mercantile and Professional Directories
  3. Church Directories
  4. Telephone Directories
  5. School Directories - These do not typically include students, but rather teachers, janitors and school board members and anyone associated with the running of a school or a school system. The 1883 Directory of Public Schools of the City of Harrisburg, PA is one such example.
  6. Alumni Directories
  7. Society Directories - The Numismatic Directory for 1884 lists names and addresses of coin collectors!

Where To Find City and Other Directories

Directories of all types can be found in a variety of places. The 7 places below are a good place to start.

  1. The Big Genealogy Databases: MyHeritage, FindMyPast,
  3. Local and University Libraries
  4. InternetArchive
  5. Google Books
  6. United States Online Historical Directories
  7. The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Take time to explore the directories for the location and the time period of your ancestors!


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Source Quality Not Quantity

Source Quality Not Quantity

No one explains this concept better than Elizabeth Shown Mills:

Citing a source is not an end to itself. Our goal is to rely only upon the best possible source. In the research stage, we record every source consulted, regardless of our immediate opinion of its value. When we recognize that a source is deficient or that a better source might exist, the better source should be sought and used. When we convert our raw notes into an interpretive account, we want our information and conclusions to be supported by the evidence of the highest quality possible. Toward that end, source citations have two purposes:

  • to record the specific location of each piece of data; and
  • to record details that affect the use or evaluation of that data.[1]

I am going to give you a few simple examples to further explain this concept and then I am going to show you how to record all of this in Legacy.

Let's say you consult an online state death index and you find your ancestor's date and place of death. You record the online index in Legacy as your source. You then order a copy of the death certificate. You receive it in the mail and now you record a new source. When you print a report do you want both sources to print? The answer is no. You will use the state issued death certificate as your source for the person's date/place of death because when you weigh the evidence the certificate trumps the index. 

Let's say you have the following sources for a person's date/place of birth; death certificate, obituary, and their tombstone. The informant for the death certificate, the obituary, and the tombstone is probably the same person so I wouldn't even look at these as three distinct sources (assuming all three agree). You would record all of these sources in Legacy but would you want all three to print in a report?  No.

Let's say you are using the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census to show a couple was married. Do you want all of these census citations to print for their marriage. No, one is sufficient. Even better would be to find their marriage certificate and then use that.

In Legacy there is a way mark your sources so that even though you have recorded everything that you have consulted you can restrict what actually prints. I am using Asa Clark Brown [1] in the Sample File that comes with Legacy as an example. Open Asa's Assigned Sources screen. There are five sources for Asa's Birth. Asa's Bible is the best source. The other sources listed support the evidence contained in the Bible but the Bible is what I will use as my source citation.

Assigned Sources screen
(click image to enlarge)

Click Edit Detail (NOT Edit Source) for the first citation that you want to restrict and then UNcheck the box to include the citation on the report. Do this for all of the citations that you don't want to appear.

Citation Detail screen
(click image to enlarge)

Now when you run a report only the one citation appears. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can record all of your sources so you can properly analyze them and weigh them against each other but you can also restrict what prints in your reports so that you don't clutter them up with unneeded citations. You want to record all of the sources you consulted for your research notes but your reader doesn't necessarily need to see them. There will be times when you will need to record more than one source in a single footnote which is perfectly okay. You might need multiple sources to prove a single piece of evidence especially when you are dealing with indirect evidence. You just don't want to be redundant by including sources that aren't needed.

Source Citation
(click image to enlarge)

So what is all this about weighing evidence against each other? Again, Elizabeth Shown Mills explains it best in her Evidence Analysis Process Map (pdf). Legacy has a built-in tool to help you with this.  Go back to Asa's Assigned Sources and this time open the Detail screen for the Brown Bible. You will see a button to Analyze Source Quality.

Analyze Source Quality option
(click image to enlarge)

You can see this looks very similar to the Evidence Analysis Process Map. I have marked the Bible as:

Original Source - Geoff has the actual Bible in his possession
Secondary Information - Remember, this is the source for Asa's BIRTH. Even though Asa recorded the information himself he wasn't in a position at the time of his birth to be a reliable witness. He recorded the date of birth that his mother told him
Direct Evidence - It directly answers the question, "When was Asa born?"

Source Quality screen
(click image to enlarge)

This same source is used in many places and the evidence analysis will vary a bit depending on what you are using this source for. For example, let's say Asa and his wife's marriage date is recorded in the Bible. Now it will be Primary Information because Asa was at his own marriage and he is reporting the date with first hand knowledge. 

You can go even deeper than this because you have to take some other things into consideration. What was the publication date of the Bible? Are the entries all in the same hand? Are some of the entries before or after the primary owner was born or had died? You need to look at EVERY source you use critically. 

So where do you put this kind of information?  Here is another shot of the Source Detail screen. You can see I have added a comment for the provenance and my analysis. This is all made up information. I am only using this as an illustration.

Adding Comments
(click image to enlarge)

Notice that the box to Add these Comments to the Source Citation on Reports is checked but I have some additional control of how this will print. After you have closed out these screens go to Options > Customize > Sources > Option 7.2.  Remember, you want your sources to be complete but also as concise as possible for readability. I only want this extra information to print once.

Option 7.2
(click image to enlarge)

You will be recording all of the sources that you consult but sometimes you need to restrict what is exported to make the report more concise and readable. Having your reader wade through 15 redundant sources will never be better than reading one pertinent source. 

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 42-43.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Beginning the Search for Your English Ancestors


You've done it!  You have traced your ancestors back to the immigrating ancestor and discovered (or confirmed) your ancestor immigrated from England. 

Now you are ready to begin your genealogy research in the English records.

Do you know what records for your English ancestors exist? What records should you look in first? Where are those records housed?

Let's explore where to start your English genealogy research.

Begin the Search for Your English Ancestors

As with any new-to-you records, take time prior to the start of your research to familiarize yourself with record collections. Know the answers to questions such as 

  • What time periods and locations do the records include?
  • What type of information does the record include?

Knowing answers to these questions ahead of time prevents you from wasting valuable research time searching for information that was not recorded or was lost over time.

English Census Records

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with census records making these a great place to start your research.

English census records began in 1841 and were taken every 10 years.  Census records actually began in 1801, but prior to the 1841 census, the census records did not include the names of the individuals. The 1911 census is the latest census accessible to the public.

Keep in mind as you explore the English census, an individual's age may be rounded down to the nearest "5". This practice of rounding an individual's age will be a new concept for US researchers as they begin the hunt for their English ancestors.  For example, in the 1841 census, a female aged 24 years will be listed as 20 years of age. Children less than 15 years of age are enumerated with their correct age. You'll find English Census records available on all the major subscription sites (see resource list at the bottom).

Civil Registrations

Remember the year 1837!

Civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths (BMD) began in 1837 resulting in a national index. If you find your ancestor in the civil registration index, you can then order a copy of the actual certificate.

England and Wales Birth Registration Index (Source:


The England and Wales Birth, Death, and Marriage Registration Indices can be found on

Parish Registers

If you are researching ancestors prior to 1837, turn to the parish records. Going back to their beginning in 1538, these can be a gold mine for the genealogy researcher.

Parish records were created and kept locally by the vicar recording baptisms, marriages and burials. Typically, parish records were kept chronological order. The tricky part of researching parish registers is knowing which parish your ancestor lived in and which county that parish was located in. Many parish registers have been indexed, transcribed or digitized. 

Beginning in 1598, copies of the parish register known as the bishop's transcripts were sent annually to the parish bishop. These make good substitutes for damaged or missing parish registers. If you fail to find your ancestor in the traditional parish records, check the bishop's transcripts.

Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are another resource to find your English ancestors. Genealogy researchers are both thrilled and frustrated by the variety of information found in these records. Earlier passenger lists may provide only minimal information on passengers, while later passenger lists can contain quite a bit of information on individual passengers. From example, the 1920's passenger lists out of the UK asked for the last known UK address!

1923 UK Passenger-List
1923 UK Passenger  List for the Aquitania (Source:, courtesy of The National Archives, London, England)


Resources For English Records

Resources for English records include:

Not sure where your American ancestor immigrated from? Find strategies for researching your immigrant ancestors in Where Did My Immigrant Ancestors Come From? 


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Working with DNA Using MyHeritage and Legacy

Working with DNA Using MyHeritage and Legacy

MyHeritage and Legacy will help you with two parts of your DNA puzzle. MyHeritage is the testing company and Legacy is your master genealogy database where you keep track of all of your information. Legacy 10 will have a direct sync to MyHeritage which will make working with DNA matches even easier. 

Our FREE Hands-On with MyHeritage DNA webinar will walk you through using the DNA tools on the MyHeritage website. I highly recommend that you watch this video so that you don't miss any of the features that are available to you. I learned several things even though I have had my DNA on MyHeritage for quite some time.

You can DNA test directly with MyHeritage or you can upload your raw DNA file from another company. You can upload your raw DNA for FREE and their matching service is also FREE. MyHeritage will analyze your DNA and give you a match list of everyone who shares DNA with you. To take advantage of all of MyHeritage's matching tools you need to upload what you know about your family tree and attach your DNA to it. You can have a FREE Basic site that allows you to have up to 250 people in your tree and up to 500 MB of storage space.

For DNA matching you need to have, at the very least, your absolute direct line (pedigree minus siblings). Again, there are some people that don't have this information and that is okay. MyHeritage's DNA matching will help you fill in the blanks when you start communicating with your matches. My absolute direct line is only 173 people so you can see that this is doable with the free account. After you work with your matches and start growing your tree, you can easily move up to a paid subscription. MyHeritage offers tiered pricing so that you only pay for what you need.

Legacy will help you record all of the information you glean from MyHeritage so that you can work with your matches. You can use the FREE Standard version of Legacy which is fully functional. We are confident that once you use Legacy for a bit you will want to upgrade to the full Deluxe version which has all of the nifty bells and whistles. Working with Legacy in conjunction with MyHeritage it is a two way street. You can upload your family tree to MyHeritage via a gedcom export and you will also be taking information from MyHeritage and inputting it into Legacy.  Again, once we have the direct sync up and running this process will become easier and faster.

There are two important things you can do in Legacy to help keep track of your matches. You can add your DNA matches along with all of their contact information to Legacy and you can record how those people connect to you, if known. It is very important to me to be able to record as much as I can in a single program. This saves me time and it keeps me from missing important clues because my information is scattered between software programs. Here are two articles that will show you how to do both of these tasks.

Keeping Track of DNA Contacts in Legacy

Recording DNA Matches

You can also use Legacy's To-Do List to keep track of your efforts. It functions as a research log to keep track of what you need to do, what you are in the process of doing, and what you have done. It will keep you from duplicating your efforts. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast let alone all of the things I have done while working on a brick wall. Be on the lookout for a future article on this topic. 

I hope you noticed all of the FREEs in the above article. I don't think you will find any genealogy company that offers so many things for free as a service to the genealogical community. 

On a personal note,  I have my mother's autosomal DNA everywhere. I have it on every testing site and every 3rd party site.  Since my maternal side is 100% German (all lines have been in Central Europe since the 1600s) she has very few matches. For example, her highest match on GEDmatch is 30.4 cM. She only has 18 matches that are over 20 cM. On 23andMe her top match is 28 cM. On FTDNA her highest match is 47 cM which is a bit better. MyHeritage has more international testers so she has more useful matches there. Her top matches are 124.6 cM, 71. 1 cM, 54 cM, and 51.8 cM and all of these testers are in Germany and The Netherlands. My mother has 73 matches on MyHeritage that are greater than 20 cM. My Heritage's DNA has been very helpful to me with my mother's lines.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


Using the Quilt Index to Find Female Ancestors

Using the Quilt Index to Find Female Ancestors

The Quilt Index  “aims to be a central resource that incorporates a wide variety of sources and information on quilts, quiltmakers and quiltmaking.” What does this website database have to do with  genealogy? One of the biggest issues with researching female ancestors has to do with the lack of records. This is especially true when we focus our family history research on records that document men’s experiences rather than women’s lives. How do we find female ancestors? Researching female ancestors using what they left behind is a start. As you research, don't forget to take into consideration materials that document women like cookbooks, diaries, needlework samplers, and quilts. In some cases, there are databases that can help. 

Quilt Index home page
The Quilt Index website

The Quilt Index takes information and images from 90,000 vintage quilts and makes them available via a searchable database. Similar to genealogical databases, you can find  names, dates, and places recorded on The Quilt Index.

Information found on the Quilt Index is  from:

  • “...privately held quilts compiled by state and regional quilt documentation projects in the United States and internationally
  • ... museums, libraries, and private collections…”

Over 250 museums are represented on this website including  the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, the Royal Albert Museum, and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, just to name a few.

The Quilt Index provides the ability to search and browse their collection. Search for a quilt by clicking on Search in the top toolbar and then in the drop-down menu, select Quilts. In this search engine you can include terms such as name and place or even quilt specific information like fabric pattern. Results can be viewed by “basic info” or “full record.” “Basic Info”  includes the following fields:

  • Quilter group (or the name of the person who pieced the top and quilted it)
  • Period
  • Date
  • Location made
  • Project name
  • Contributor
  • Layout Format
  • Quilt Size
  • Fabrics
  • Constructions
  • Quilting techniques
  • Purpose or function (such as fundraising)
  • Notes
  • Inscription
Quilt Index Search
The Quilt Index Search Screen

The Full Record version provides more details including specifics about the construction of the quilt. Both versions include photos of the quilt.

The Quilt Index also allows you to browse by category or to view the entire index. 

This is a good example of a database where you should conduct multiple searches.  Don't just search on your female ancestor's name, conduct a search on the name of the place she lived, the name of a church or group she belonged to. She could have been a member of a group who created a quilt, but the individuals involved are not named.  

Consider reading The Quilt Index FAQs and About page  to learn more about the project. The website also has a wiki and essays about quilt topics that you might be interested in. If you find a quilt from your family history and want to use The Quilt Index image, keep in mind that you’ll need to contact the quilt contributor for permission.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Loose Records, What Are They?

Loose Records, What Are They?

Genealogists are always on the lookout for new records. As the archivist of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, one type of record that I find genealogists are unfamiliar with is loose records (also referred to as loose papers).

Archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies and even museums have bound record books. These bound record books contain such information as County Court Minutes, Marriage Records, Deeds, Last Will and Testaments and much more. Genealogists are usually well versed in finding, requesting and researching in these types of bound records.

Bound Records
Bound Records. Photo courtesy of Melissa Barker of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

There is another type of record source that you should be doing genealogy research in and accessing. This record source is loose records/loose papers. The name of these records is very telling. In most cases, they are literally “loose” documents or papers that are not bound in any type of book. These loose records are also archived differently from the bound records.

Loose records are considered the “working papers” or “accompanying paper work” to the records recorded in a bound volume. Loose records, many times, can hold additional information and fantastic discoveries for the genealogist that are not found in the bound volumes.

Some bound volumes that have loose records associated with them include:

Court Records

The court system produces bound volumes of minute books and docket books. Most of the time, the courts also produce boxes of loose records. For instance, each court case is usually recorded in a bound volume. The case that is recorded in the bound volume includes the pertinent information about the case and how the case was resolved. The loose records associated with a court case contain such records as affidavits, subpoenas, witness statements, photographs and sometimes even actual evidence. These loose court records can be archived in their original sleeves in archival boxes or the records are removed from the sleeves, flattened, cleaned and put in archival file folders. The loose court records are something every genealogist should seek out when doing research in court records. Don’t just settle for the information that is recorded in the bound volumes.

Marriage Records

Genealogists are very familiar with marriage records that are found in bound books. We can usually locate the marriage license, marriage bond and the marriage return. Once we have found these records, we think we are done. In many cases, this is not true. Like the court records, marriage events could have loose records associated with them and are not archived with the bound volumes. For instance, in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have a collection of Loose Marriage Records dating from 1950-2014. These loose marriage records consist of documents like parent permission letters, blood test results and copies of the marriage license. Like the court records, these documents are archived in archival file folders and boxes separately from the bound volumes.

Loose Papers
Loose Papers. Photo courtesy of Melissa Barker of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Probate Records

One of the most coveted type of records that genealogists seek is the last will and testament of their ancestor. If a will can be found, we hope it will give us clues about other family members. Along with the last will and testament are the other probate records that were generated during the estate probate process. Items such as the administrator bond, estate sale and estate inventory. Some of these records and information are in bound volumes, however, still more are found in loose records. Keep in mind that the information found in the bound volumes (also referred to as copy books) are copies of the original documents and not originals. The documents deemed most important were copied and bound but the loose papers contain all the originals. Other items that could be found in the loose probate records are handwritten letters from family members, affidavits from family members, detailed invoices from local businesses that the deceased owed and so much more. Loose probate records are one of my favorite record sources to do genealogy research. It is important to remember that what is found in the bound probate records may not be all that is available for a particular probated estate.

These few examples are not the only types of bound records that have loose records associated with them. It is always a good idea to ask the archivist about what they have available that are separate from the bound volumes. Most archivists know their collections and should be able to help you find those wonderful loose records, if they exist.

So, the next time you are visiting an archive or contacting them by email or phone, ask about their collections of loose records. The information found in them will most certainly add to your ancestor’s story and might even break down a brick wall!


Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, is a Certified Archives Manager currently working as the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist. She is also a professional genealogist and lectures, teaches and writes about the genealogy research process, researching in archives and records preservation. She has been researching her own family history for the past 28 years.


Clean Copy


One of my cousins asked me to look at a will for her because she was having a hard time reading some of the names. Whenever I am presented with a document that I did not personally obtain I try to get a "clean copy" which means going back to where the original document came from and pulling my own copy. Sometimes a document has been photocopied so many times that it is junk to try and read.  I also like to get a clean copy so I can format a proper source citation and to make sure that the document I am looking at is what I think it is.

My cousin sent me a link to someone's page. That person had uploaded a copy of Anderson Chick's will from Walton County, Georgia.  This was not a document they had linked to on the website so not a digital image from microfilm. I didn't link to it for you to see since it is attached to someone's tree page which includes their name. I checked FamilySearch to see if they had a digital image of Anderson's will taken from microfilm. They did. You can see Anderson Chick's entire loose probate file HERE which includes his will. The names recorded in the will are clear. A bonus is that my cousin can now see the entire probate file and not just the will. If a digital image taken from microfilm had not been available online, I would have instructed my cousin to contact the Walton County Courthouse to obtain a photocopy or digital image from them.

Beginning of Anderson Chick's Will
Beginning of Anderson Chick's Will

Another example, I was asked to transcribe a will from Abbeville County, South Carolina. The document was unreadable so I called the courthouse to get a clean copy. When I received it I found that not only was it very readable but there was a second page. That second page contained some very valuable information. I now had the date the will was proved which gave me a date range for when this man died. The will was proved over  five years after he wrote the will. One of the witnesses was different between who witnessed the will versus who was there to prove the will. It turns out that one of the witnesses had died. The new witness was the original man's sons-in-law. I didn't know that right off but after a little digging I was able to figure it out. These little bits of information make for a clearer picture. This wasn't my family but I wanted to be able to give the person I was doing this for as much information that I could.

It is common to find miscellaneous documents in someone's personal papers. If your great uncle Norman hands you his marriage certificate you will have to cite the certificate as an artifact unless you obtain a clean copy from the agency that created it. This is another reason why it is a good idea to go back to the original creator, if possible.

You can expand this concept to the digital copies available online. A digital image of a document can easily be available on multiple websites. Each website has their own way of "cleaning up" the images so they can look very different from website to website. If you are looking at a document that is hard to read you can try finding it on another website before you try and contact the originating agency.

If you are presented with bad copy of a document don't immediately throw your hands up in despair. Try and get a clean copy and many times you will be rewarded.

Michele Simmons Lewis, CG
® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Let's Make FamilySearch's Family Tree Better for Everyone

Let's Make FamilySearch's Family Tree Better for Everyone

I am a big supporter of FamilySearch’s Family Tree. Yes, there are some inherent problems with a collaborative tree but I think the pros outweigh the cons. The biggest complaint researchers have is that other people can change data that they have submitted. There are a couple of things I want to say about that.

  • All of your research should be on YOUR computer. You should not be using FamilySearch as your genealogy database program. I think it is a mistake to use FamilySearch that way. People can change what is on FamilySearch but no one can change what is on your personal computer. You can easily sync to FamilySearch using one of the authorized programs (I of course use Legacy) which gives you full control over what is uploaded and downloaded.
  • They aren’t “your” ancestors. These ancestors belong to other people too. Here is a fun Descendants Calculator. I set it at 5 generations, 25 years per generation, and 4 for an average number of children (a very conservative number). This person would have 3,905 descendants.  I am sure more than one of these descendants is a genealogist.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can help make the Family Tree better:

If you don’t know what you are doing you can mess it up for everyone else  
This is my biggest pet peeve. People get excited and try to make changes to the Family Tree without taking the time to educate themselves on how everything works. Adding people, merging people, and deleting people affects EVERYONE who has those ancestors in their tree.  The very best training I have found is the Riverton FamilySearch Library Handouts (look for them under the Family Tree heading). There are 11 pdfs you can download to your computer to read and use as a reference. They include screenshots and Riverton updates them as needed. These are the handouts I use when I give a presentation on FamilySearch (with permission). 

Take the time to address the possible duplicates
A lot of people don’t address possible duplicates. They have FamilySearch ID (FSID) ABC-1234 in their tree and they only worry about updating this FSID. All of the programs that can sync will present you with a list of possible duplicates. If you are working directly on the FamilySearch website you will also be presented with a list of possible duplicates. The two mistakes you can make are not combining duplicates when you should and merging people haphazardly when you shouldn’t. If there is any question, don’t merge. Please see the Riverton Handouts for more information.

Please add your sources
Other researchers need to know where you got your information because if it conflicts with what they have and you don’t have a source, chances are they are going to update the person with their information knocking your data off. FamilySearch only allows you to "tag" sources to the vital events. I like to use the "Reason this information is correct" box for sources. I can copy and paste my source from Legacy into that box and it will show up with the event instead of at the bottom with the tagged sources. I think this make it easier to know which source goes with what.

Take advantage of the Discussions area
This is a great place to post your theories for other researchers to ponder and then add their thoughts.

Take advantage of the Notes area
This is where you can add information that won't fit in the Events area. You have the opportunity to add some explanatory notes and transcriptions.

Be amazed by the Memories tab
Distant relatives you have never met have photos that you don't have and you just might find them here. If the submitter hasn't given blanket permission to use the photo please don't forget to ask for their permission. If you have old photos I encourage you to upload them to FamilySearch. I put a copyright statement in the Description field that says the photo can be downloaded for personal use. If it will be used in any other way they need to get my permission first. Be aware that if you upload a photo you have given FamilySearch the right to use the photo as they see fit. All of this is explained HERE.

Make sure your email address/contact information is correct
Nothing is more frustrating to a researcher than not being able to contact a contributor.

If you use Legacy, here is the training information you need: Legacy FamilySearch Training 
If you use one of the other programs that can sync, check to see if they have specific training materials that address both how you use the Family Tree in general and how to use their program specifically to sync. 

Take the time to educate yourself on how FamilySearch's Family Tree works so you can help other researchers make it better for everyone. I am sure that you too will be one of those people who benefits.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.