Handwriting Helps: The Eszett, Windows Character Map, and Legacy's Character Ribbon

Can you interpret this name?


Neither could I. Until I remembered something that Jim Beidler taught in Wednesday's webinar, German Names and Naming Patterns. And while this was from a Swedish record, the principle of the handwriting applies.

In the Question/Answer session (timestamp 1:20:21) a viewer asked Jim to explain the "double-S". He taught that this letter, known as an eszett, is easily confused with a capital B, and is no longer used in modern German handwriting. Here's what it looks like typed: 


Can you pick out the eszett in the image above? Knowing that this character represents back-to-back s's (is that even how to write the plural of s?) makes the surname easier to interpret. And with a little familial context, it is most certainly:


Any guesses on the given name? Try real hard not to look at the answer in the next line.


I never would have figured out the given name if it stood alone like this, but with the surrounding information in the record and what I had already learned about the family, it was easier to decipher that this was indeed Per Andersson, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, born in 1709 in Sweden.

Character Map

With my newly-found interest in researching my Swedish ancestors (thanks to another recent webinar) I've been wearing out the Windows 10 Character Map to type letters not found in my English alphabet. To find this tool, press the Windows button + Q, which brings up the Search dialog. Then type Character Map and click on its result. This is what it looks like:


Click on the letter you want to use, and look for the "Keystroke" in the lower right corner.


Zooming in a bit, we can see that to type this character, you'd need to press the ALT key, and then type the numbers 0223.


Here's the result:


So, I've been memorizing the keystrokes for ä, å, and ö, the letters I use most commonly when doing data entry for my Swedish ancestors.

ALT+0228 = ä

ALT+0229 = å

ALT+0246 = ö

Legacy's Character Ribbon

Legacy has a built-in tool that makes it 100 times easier than using Windows' Character Map. Basically, any place you can type, Legacy's Character Ribbon will be available. By default, 6 common characters are shown. Just click once on the desired character, and it will be typed wherever your cursor is. 



To use or add other characters to the ribbon, click on the blue box, double-click on the desired character, and click the Return Characters button. There's room on the ribbon for your favorite 8.

If you want to see this in action, check out the after-webinar party in this webinar (timestamp 1:34:36).

Lesson learned

Never miss Webinar Wednesday. Although the topic may not appear to be relevant to your immediate research, what you learn can often be applied to what you are working on. So thanks to the viewer in Wednesday's webinar for asking the question, and thanks to Jim Beidler for a terrific explanation!

Find Your Ancestor on Ships Passenger Lists to Canada After 1865

Genealogists are often looking for our immigrant ancestor's arrival in North America. Finding an ancestor on a ship's passenger list depends on the country of departure and the country of arrival.  Most countries did not keep outbound lists so genealogists must find out what lists survived in the arrival country and where they are held.

In 1803, the British Parliament enacted legislation to regulate vessels carrying emigrants to North America. The master of vessel was required to prepare a list of passengers and to deposit it at the port of departure. 

Ships passenger lists arriving in the United States were kept from 1820 on. Canadian passenger lists are another story. There are no comprehensive ships passenger lists of immigrants arriving in Canada prior to 1865. Until that year, the government did not require that shipping companies keep their passenger manifests. 

If your ancestor arrived in Canada after 1865 you are in luck. Library and Archives Canada has Canadian ships passenger lists from 1865 to 1935 online. The lists contain information on each passenger such as name, age, country of origin, occupation and intended destination. Formats differ by years and unfortunately there is little consistency.

Researchers can search Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 by ship name or year of arrival.   These lists are not indexed by individuals on Library and Archives Canada except for arrivals in Quebec. Available years vary by Arrival ports.

  • Québec (May 1st, 1865 to April 24th, 1900) - searchable by passenger name
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia (January 1881 to October 2, 1922)
  • Saint John, New Brunswick (January 4, 1900 to September 30, 1922)
  • North Sydney, Nova Scotia (November 22, 1906 to August 31, 1922)
  • Vancouver, British Columbia (January 4, 1905 to September 28, 1922)
  • Victoria, British Columbia (April 18, 1905 to September 30, 1922)
  • via New York (1906-1931) and other eastern United States ports (1905-1928) - these are lists of passengers stating they were going on to Canada. In 1905 the Canadian immigration service began to collect extracts of passenger lists kept at the east coast ports of New York, Baltimore, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and Providence
1913 Passenger list on Ancestr.com
1913 Passenger List courtesy Ancestry.com


FamilySearch has Canadian Passenger Lists 1881-1922   Genealogists can search the index by surname. Images of ship's passenger lists are also available for the ports of Quebec City, 1900-1921; Halifax, 1881-1922; Saint John, 1900-1912; North Sydney, 1906-1912; Vancouver, 1905-1912; Victoria, 1905-1912; New York, 1906-1912; and Eastern US Ports, 1905-1912. The lists for United States ports include only those names of passengers with intentions of proceeding directly to Canada.

You can also search the Passenger Lists and Border Entries, 1925-1935 database on Library and Archives Canada.  This is a series of old nominal indexes for the period 1925 to 1935. They provide the volumes and page numbers on which the names of Canadian immigrants appear in the passenger lists. The indexes generally do not include the names of returning Canadians, tourists, visitors and immigrants en route to the United States. To locate those references, researchers must consult the original passenger lists.

From 1919–1924 individual manifest forms (Form 30) were often used instead of passenger lists as the official immigration record. Form 30 records consist of 96 digitized films which are available for browsing on Collections Canada.

1920Form30FUllerCharles great grandpa 1920 copy
Example of Form 30 front side for my great-grandfather Charles Fuller, courtesy Ancestry.com


1920 Form30FullerCharles great grandpa 1920p2 copy
Example of Form 30 reverse side Charles Fuller courtesy Ancestry.com


Library and Archives Canada also holds the passenger lists for Home Children, 1869-1930. Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 young people were sent to Canada from Great Britain during the child emigration movement. After arriving by ship, the children were sent to distributing homes, and then went on to farmers in the area. Although many of the children were poorly treated and abused, others experienced a much better life than what awaited them in England.

If you are searching for an arrival from January 1, 1936 onwards, these records of immigrants arriving at Canadian land and seaports are in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They must be requested from that agency by a Canadian citizen or an individual residing in Canada.

For a fee of $5.00 (cheque or money order payable to the Receiver General for Canada) researchers can submit a request to:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Access to Information and Privacy Division
Ottawa, ON  K1A 1L1

The submitter must indicate that the record is being requested under Access to Information and a signed consent from the person concerned or proof that he or she has been deceased for 20 years. If the person would be more than 110 years old, no proof of death is required.

If you do not know when your ancestor arrived in Canada, there are other records you can search for clues:

  • The 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916 and 1921 Canadian Census indicate year of arrival for immigrants.
  • Land Records are helpful because immigrants often applied for land shortly after arrival.
  • Death Records sometimes indicate how many years the deceased had resided in Canada.
  • Statistic Canada's National Registration of 1940  asked year of arrival. This was the compulsory registration of all persons, 16 years of age or older, between 1940 and 1946

Other free resources for miscellaneous ships' passenger lists arriving in Canada after 1865 are:

Ships' Passenger Lists 1865 to present at Olive Tree Genealogy

Ships' Passenger Lists from 1865 on The Ships List


Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.

What is Your Family Reunion Like?

This past weekend I attended a family reunion. The funny thing is - we don't call it a family reunion. We might call it a family gathering. In essence, though, for me it absolutely is a family reunion. The ever decreasing older generations of my father's side of the family gather for a wonderful weekend each year in an idyllic New England coastal town. There are twenty of us at most.

The weekend is full of trips to the beach, kayaking, watching sunsets and then it climaxes with an all-family BBQ on the deck. Perhaps it's not your typical idea of a family reunion but for us it provides time for catching up and strengthening ties. However, there is little talk of genealogy or the people who came before us.

The Pierre-Louis boys kayaking with their uncle.

My mother's side of the family has a completely different type of reunion. They gather inland on a farm in the Amish country an hour north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania once every four years. All the descendants for my grandparents generation (my grandfather and his two siblings) attend and over the years it has grown to include distant cousins by marriage. All told there are probably 40-50+ people attending from all generations.

We spend the weekend entirely on the farm except for sleeping in our hotel rooms. Activities include archery, shooting, soccer and hay rides. But similar to my Dad's family there is much talking, laughter and catching up. This side of the family is much more inclined, however, to talk about the ancestors. You'll even find people pulling out documents, old photos and sharing information.

The New England reunion takes me an hour to drive to and planning only a week in advance.  The Pittsburgh reunion involves a 10 hour drive and booking hotel rooms almost a year in advance. They both have their differences but each add to my sense of who I am and where I came from

Geoff Rasmussen recently attended his 3-generational family reunion near Mount Hood in Oregon. He describes his family reunion this way:

"My favorite part of our reunion at Mt. Hood was the impromptu discussion and viewing of our family's pictures. I plugged my laptop into the TV to show everyone the family pictures we had just taken that day. Then one of my brothers asked to see pictures of our family when we will young. In seconds, I was able to display all of our family's group pictures from birth to the present. Because I had previously tagged all of my digital pictures in Photoshop Elements, it filtered through the 20+ thousand pictures, displayed only those with all 8 of us in the picture, and we had a wonderful trip down memory lane. The grandkids had a blast seeing what their parents, aunts, and uncles looked like."

Genealogist True Lewis' family reunion is probably a little different than most.  She attends a really large family reunion every other year. This year there were over 260 people in attendance.

Her family reunion comprises the descendants of great grandfather Ike Ivery, his 3 wives and 23 children. They hold the reunion every two years, which started in 1975, switching between the North and South. They are so organized they already have locations for future reunions - Orlando in 2017 and New Jersey in 2019. To get organized they maintain a Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of True A. Lewis

As genealogists we tend to focus on the dead rather than the living. Family reunions are an important way to strengthen ties among living family members no matter what type of reunion you have.  It could be as small as five people or as large as hundreds or even thousands. Whatever the size of your family try to schedule time together. Family reunions allow you to strengthen the idea that family history is an important family value. And that will help you ensure that all the research you've done will be passed down to the next generation.

Did you have a family reunion this year? What was it like? How far did you travel? And what was the highlight for you?

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


Researching the Musician in Your Family

Genealogical records are useful in understanding a musician’s background.  Consider the case of a well-known American composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa. He was born in Washington DC, 6 Mar 1854 to John Antonio Sousa and Elizabeth Trinkaus. The Sousa family was living in Washington DC in the 1860 Census. Antonio Sousa was head of the household and a 34 year old musician from Spain. Antonio’s wife, Elizabeth, was born in a place called “Hessedat,” confirmed to be a part of Germany.[1] Just one source tells us that Sousa had an upbringing in performing arts and we can even speculate how a culturally diverse background influenced his voice in music. Records also teach us that Antonio was a musician for the United States Marine Corps, adding more understanding John Philip Sousa’s decision to enlist in the marines at the age of fourteen. I hear more often than not that talent runs in the family; a little genealogy detective work can easily solidify one’s story of musical heritage.

Eleven musicians posed with their musical instruments, in the Washington, D.C. area, ca 1925.
Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Have you thought about how many different types of genealogy records can be applied to researching ancestors who were musicians? In addition to sources that researchers are most likely familiar with, there are sources specific to this occupation. Music in all of its forms has been integral to the human social experience. The ways in which we can learn about musicians and their relevant history are numerous and unique.

Existing scholarship on the use of genealogy records specific to musicians is rare; therefore, I have outlined an original methodology to guide researchers in learning about musical ancestors.



 I.  Start with basic biographical research

 If your musical ancestor had gained some notoriety for his talent, he will most likely be found in one of the numerous databases and encyclopedias for artists. Most of the information provided relates to a chronology of their career and achievements. The most genealogically relevant information is given name and vitals. It is important to identify the given name to trace the musician in their early life. Many artists assumed aliases when on stage and in the public eye. For example, if you were trying to research the genealogy of jazz singer Billie Holiday, you would need to know she was born ‘Elinore Harris’ and later changed her name to Eleanor Fagan.[2]

A good collection to check is the American Genealogical Biographical Index (AGBI). The original AGBI is housed at the Godfrey Memorial Library (Middletown, CT) and can also be searched online using Ancestry.com. Online biography websites found through Google should only be supplemental to reliable reference works. A growing musician encyclopedia that is useful and reliable is the Database of Recorded American Music (DRAM). DRAM is a great tool for researching a musician online, and continuously catalogs recorded music, composers, and ensembles.

Check WorldCat for  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in the reference section of your local library. This is by the far the best-published reference work for music and related terminology. There will most likely also be smaller collections of biographies related to a particular music genre. Individual biographies provided in county histories (also known as mugbooks or gazetteer) are a good source for local musicians. The Gazetteer for Caledonia and Essex County, Vermont 1764-1887, for example, tells that Judge Ephraim Paddock of St. Johnsbury was a "skillful musician" and appeased many with his talents.[3]

 II.  Search Records that State Occupation

Many different types of records will provide the occupation of the individual. Popular examples would be the Census Records or City Directories. This form of research only works if the ancestor chose to state music as their primary occupation. Even today, some musicians struggle to make full time careers out of their passion and have to perform other occupations. If information from relatives has not been previously exhausted,  it is at this point in the investigation that talking to family members would be useful.

 III.  Newspapers

 Newspapers are an excellent primary source for researching musicians, bands, and music history. For example, the obituary of John Metcalf, published 24 Aug 1810  in Old Colony Gazette (New Bedford, MA) describes him as a fiddler named ‘Blind Jack’ who died near ‘Knaresborough, Eng.’ at the age of 96.[4] You might even be able to find your ancestors because an upcoming concert was plugged in the local newspaper. Their name could be featured in a concert program like this one [See Below]. Check FamilySearch Wiki for Digitized Newspaper Collections and Library of Congress’ Historical Newspaper Directory.

Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 31 Jan. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


 IV.  Organizations that Hired Musicians

 Music has been performed throughout history for the enjoyment of people. Many of our local and federal institutions would organize a band or ensemble for the benefit of the local population. Two organizations that come to mind are churches and the military. Researching about musicians in the Armed Forces is possible through genealogy education regarding military service. Those interested in the history of military bands should consult scholarship and further reading:

  • Camus, Raoul F. Military Music of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976.
  • Garofalo, Robert, and Mark Elrod. A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands. Charleston, W.Va.: Pictorial Histories Pub. Co., 1985.

V.  Records for Musician Unions

Many universities and historical societies hold the papers of the local musician union. These are unpublished textual records that include member lists, minutes for meetings, and other associated information.  Here are some examples of the finding aids available in university catalogs.

 VI.  Researching Music, Culture, and Folklife

 An ancestor’s musical contribution, large or small, fits in a larger pattern of expression identified mostly through culture. It is important to explore your ancestor’s life in a different way through broader historical context. A country’s archives will usually have some information about the development of their music and folklife. Folklife is a newer term relating to the study of folklore. The study of folk life includes all material culture and oral tradition as inter-related. America’s Library of Congress (LOC) houses a large collection devoted to the history of American Music. Researchers can perform a name or subject search in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia for sound recordings, textual collections, photographs, and more. LOC also houses a growing database called American Memory that contains essays on American Music and Folklife. Scholarship on music from around the world can be found in JSTOR’s database of scholarly articles.

The guide is open to new additions and revisions from other researchers. My own desire to merge the worlds of music and genealogy has led me to consider creating a database for genealogical sketches of musicians. Family historians should feel fortunate if they are able to listen to their ancestors’ recorded performance. It provides a new window into their lives and a more complete view of their humanity.


Jake Fletcher is a genealogist and blogger. He received his Bachelor Degree for History in 2013 and is now researching genealogy professionally. Jake has been researching and writing about genealogy  since high school using his blog page Travelogues of a Genealogist.

[1] Antonio Sousa, 1860 United States Census, 6th Ward, Washington, District of Columbia, dwelling no. 666.

 [2] Eleanora Fagan, 1920 US Federal Census, 5th Ward, Baltimore, Maryland, Enumeration Dist. 61, dwelling no. 108.

[3] Hamilton Childs, The Gazetteer for Caledonia and Essex County, Vermont 1764-1887, (Syracuse, NY: The Syracuse Journal Company, 1887), 60.

[4] Obituary for John Metcalf, Old Colony Gazette (New Bedford, MA), 24 Aug 1810, Vol. 2, Issue 45, page 3: accessed at Newsbank, America’s Historical Newspapers (online database).


Don’t Let Mythology Guide Your Genealogy Research!

How can you tell if the information posted by individuals on internet genealogy sites is correct? Some sites have sources but others don't. How do you know what, and when, to believe what you read online??

A good rule of thumb is....

Don't trust anything you find on the internet (or elsewhere) if it doesn't have sources.

The Importance of Sources

Without sources you can't verify the information, which means you don't know if it is accurate or if it came from a reliable source. Perhaps it came from Great Aunt Martha. Aunt Martha may have some of it right, but she may have mixed up a lot too. Word of mouth, aka family lore, is often quite wrong or confused but with a shred of truth. Without verification, a researcher has no way of knowing what’s true and what is not.

The information may have come from a book written by someone 100 years ago who didn't have access to sources we have now.

Perhaps the information was transcribed from a book that was transcribed from a microfilm which was in turn transcribed from the original. The chance of human error is greatly increased with each succeeding transcription.

Verify the Information by Checking the Source

Even if a source has been recorded for the information, you should double-check it personally. That means find the original source and verify that what you found was correct. If the information does not have a source, it is up to you, the researcher, to track down where the information came from.

If you write to whomever posted the information online you might be lucky enough to get a source citation from that person. Then you can access the original source and check to see if the information you found is correct. If you cannot get a response to your request for a source, you will have to go on a hunt or look for other records to verify the information you found.

Evaluate the Source

You also want to think about the source itself. Is the source a good one? If Great Aunt Martha gives me information on the birth or baptism of my 3rd great-grandpa and I put it online with the source recorded as "Remembrances of Great Aunt Martha", that's not necessarily a reliable or accurate source. So while it is important to source your findings, you also have to consider how reliable the source is. After all, Great Aunt Martha did have that fall from a horse when she was a child and she IS 97 years old. How accurate is her memory?

However, if I source the birth or baptismal dates with full details on the church where I saw the original record, or the published transcript of those church records, that's much more reliable. There are many good books available on how to write proper source citations, such as “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition” by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Sources Can Be Misquoted

Sometimes (more often than you might think) sourced information is misquoted or misunderstood. For example on a newsgroup recently someone asked for assistance in figuring out exactly where in Ontario her great-grandfather was born. She provided a quote regarding his being born in a “...fortified town near the border with America” adding that it came from a newspaper article written about him while he was alive.

When I obtained the article I discovered she had misquoted what was actually written. The only reference to his birth stated “[He] is a Canadian…born in a distant fortified outpost on the borders of Canada and America”.

Credit: The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889). 7 February 1887. http://trove.nla.gov.au/

That’s quite different from her version. The American-Canadian border is found in other provinces besides Ontario. Thus her misquoting of the information was leading her astray. She had a mythical story of her great-grandfather being born in Ontario when in fact he might have been born in any one of several provinces that border on the United States. As well her use of “near the border” instead of the actual wording of “on the borders” makes a difference as to what locations fit the reference given (near vs on). It’s important to be accurate and precise when using quotes as a source.

Sources Can Be Misunderstood

Several years ago a friend asked me to help him find out where in Indiana his grandmother was born. His source for her birth was a family bible. But a check of the bible revealed that her parents were born and married in Ontario and all her siblings were recorded as being born in Ontario. All other records, such as census and death records gave her place of birth as Ontario. It seemed unlikely that she was born in the United States but what about the reference to Indiana? Further research revealed that there was a small village in Ontario called Indiana about 5 miles from where her parents were born and married and about 10 miles from the family’s location in various census records. My friend had misunderstood the original source.  

Keep This Mantra in Mind

When in doubt, remember....

"Genealogy without sources is mythology"

Don’t let your genealogy research be guided by mythology.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the
Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.



4 Places on Facebook to Find Genealogy Help

In last week's blog post "Ancestors Please! How to ask for help online" I wrote about best practices for asking others for help on social media sites like Facebook. A number of people commented, asking where on Facebook to find genealogy help. In this post we'll explore five effective places for finding genealogy help on Facebook.

1) Your Facebook Wall

You may not realize it but your very own Facebook wall might be the place to start. Who will better know your family history than your own family? Asking genealogy questions on your wall might prompt family members to share information  you didn't know they had and they didn't realize you wanted. Keep in mind that that Facebook is not really private. Consider who else among your Facebook friends can see your discussion and decided whether the topic should better be handled in an email or not.

The other great use of posting on your Facebook wall is to share with other genealogists. Genealogists has long since taken over Facebook and many of us use Facebook more for connecting with other genealogists than we do with old friends or family. In this case posting to your wall can be very effective.

If you don't currently have a lot of genealogy connections on Facebook start by "friending" the genealogists you do know from your local society. Once you connect with a genealogist that is very active on Facebook you'll notice that they are tied in to a much larger community of genealogists on Facebook. That will be your entry into connecting with a very large community online.

2) A Surname Group

There are many groups dedicated to specific surnames.  I belong to one group called the House of Learneds for Learned family descendants. Surname groups are perfect for posting a genealogy query but only if it relates directly to that surname.  Be sure to read the group or page description to understand what the group is all about. The description for the House of Learneds says "If you are a Learned/Larned/Learnard/Larnett, etc. (no joke!) you can join. If you can state your lineage, even better! Please keep it light - no politics or religious proselytizing. Beyond that, you may say or submit anything you want. This is YOUR Facebook page!" 

Here are some to get you started:

To find surname groups try searching Facebook for the surname plus the word "family" or "genealogy" such as "Chandler Family." Keep in mind that some groups are created for a small group of family members for staying in touch or organizing reunions rather than connecting with all descendants. Try to get a feel for what type of group it is by reading the description before asking to join.

Also, don't try asking questions about your other family lines or it might just get you kicked out of the group for being off topic.

3) A Geographic Focused Group

If you don't find a group for the surname you are looking for then try a group based on the location where your ancestors came from. This is a great way to get help from people who are experienced in researching in that same location. You may not share the same family but you may be researching the same records.

There are literally hundreds of these types of groups on Facebook. One that I belong to is the Indiana County PA Genealogy group.

Other groups include:

Not finding what you need? Katherine R. Willson has created a comprehensive list of "genealogy on Facebook" links which you can access on her website at http://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/


4) The Legacy User Group

And let's not forget the new Legacy User Group !

This group was created for people using the Legacy Family Tree software so most of the questions deal with genealogy as relates to the Legacy software.  There is a terrific amount of sharing going on the group and not only will you learn about the software but you'll get some great genealogy tips too!

Thanks to Alona Tester, Dawn Fulton, Liz Loveland, Clarise Fleck Soper, Joyce Homan and Elizabeth Handler for contributing suggestions to this article.

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

Storyboard Basics for Family Historians: How to Get Started in Three Simple Steps

Do you struggle to put together a family history narrative? Want to learn how to plot like a pro? A storyboard could be the answer to your writing woes. Many fiction writers use storyboards to plot their novels.

A storyboard is a simple way to visually outline or map out your writing project. You can use the storyboard as your guidepost to start writing, or as chapter or section titles to take you through the writing process. If you're not sure about where or how to begin crafting a story others will want to read, here are three simple steps to help you get started with storyboarding.


1. Think like a writer, not like a genealogist. During the research phase of family history, most genealogists deal primarily with facts (names, dates, places, and other pertinent details), and use their analytical skills to "put the puzzle pieces together" and interpret the information. But, when it comes to plotting a story, you should be thinking like a writer—tapping into your inner creativity to put those facts together in an accurate, yet compelling way.

2. Write cinematically. All good stories have three basic parts: Beginning, Middle, and End (or in theatre terms, “three acts”). Although you may not think of your family's story as a movie, it often helps if you do. Try writing cinematically—breaking the story you want to tell into scenes. Scenes move your plot forward, set the tone, and highlight your voice.

3. Outline Your Ideas. Identify key points, ideas, scenes etc. you want to convey or include in your book, profile, or short story using a technique typically taught in novel writing workshops: the “Index Card" method. For a book project, the “old school” way is to get a stack (about 60) of 3 x 5 index cards and write down one scene per card (aiming for 15 scenes for Act 1, 30 for Act 2, and 15 for Act 3). This keeps the story moving.

For example, in my book, Three Slovak Women, the overall main plot is a story about three different generations of Slovak women. For Act I, my main plot is my grandmother's immigration story, and my subplots would be her family life in Slovakia, her arranged marriage to my grandfather, and her assimilation in America.

The index card method is useful because once you have your scenes written out you can shuffle the cards around to get the order you desire—the one that makes the most sense for your story. Software tools or apps make the process easier by letting you create “virtual” index cards.

One of my favorite programs is Scrivener by Literature and Latte, (available for PC and Mac), which has many useful features, including the ability to set up your projects in storyboard format using a virtual corkboard. There is a 30-day free trial available (and it runs for 30 days of actual use rather than by calendar days).

Next, transcribe or develop what you've written on each card into an outline, with your main plot (and then subplot a, b, c). This process will help you to see what does or doesn't work. (Scrivener lets you seamlessly switch to outline view, and easily shuffle your cards if you want to change, move or delete a scene). For smaller projects (for example, ancestor profiles), you would use less cards, but follow the same basic guidelines.

To learn more about creating storyboards with Scrivener, register for the upcoming Legacy webinar on Storyboard Your Family History.

Consider giving storyboarding a try. A storyboard gives you a “bird’s eye view” of your project so you can build a structure that works, see the holes in your content, and have a place to store notes, ideas, source information, and more.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.

Ancestors please! How to ask for help online

Do you remember in the old days when we had to ask for help about an ancestor by submitting a written query to a publication like Everton's Genealogical Helper? The other direct way was to write to people who had the same surname and hope that they would respond and have a common ancestor.

Things have changed since then! So much of what we do as genealogists in now online. What hasn't changed is that we still need to ask people for help. We still need information that can only be found locally and we need information that is unpublished and resides only in personal family archives.

Asking for help online can be frustrating especially when you are crowd-sourcing, in other words asking a group of people to help you find an answer or give you suggestions.

Death Certficate for Joseph Walleck, 1916, from the Pennsylvania, Death Certificates database, 1906-1963, on Ancestry.com

When the internet first started,  genealogists went in droves to forums such as provided by Ancestry.com and Rootsweb. While forums are still important, we are just as likely to make connections by posting on our Facebook wall or a Facebook group dedicated to a surname or a geographic location such as a county.

The great thing about asking questions online is that genealogists truly want to help. The trick is making a positive experience for both the person seeking the information and the person providing it.

Here are some tips to help make the experience a good one for both you and the people helping you. For the record, I have made all of these mistakes myself! I'm hoping after I write this post that I will get all those errors out of the way!

1) Ask a specific question

It's fine to start by saying that you want to research Pleasant Ann Clawson, born 1823 and died 1902 in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, that doesn't really tell people exactly what you are after. Pleasant Ann is my 3rd great grandmother. What I really need to know is who were her parents.  Better to start with "Who were the parents of Pleasant Ann Clawson, (1823-1902)?" so that people can help you answer exactly what you are looking for.

Likewise, my 2nd great grandfather, Joseph Walleck came over from "Bohemia" around 1863. A specific question to ask would be "Where in Bohemia did Joseph Walleck (1841-1916) come from? That will tell people that you are focused on his ancestral origins rather than his history in the United States. This question will also alert Bohemian-experienced  genealogists that you need help with immigration or information about the old country.

2) Provide an overview of what you know

The number one thing that happens when you ask people for help is that they want to help you! While this is wonderful it also begins the frustrating dance of watching people do the exact same research you have already spent hundreds of hours doing on your target ancestor. Then you end up,  bit by bit, dripping out the details of what you have already found. Yes, there are two people in that county with the same name. No, they are not the same person. No, my ancestor wasn't married twice.

The best way to help yourself and those who want to help you is to provide to them what you already know. The thing is you can't easily do that in a Facebook post. There isn't enough space. The best solution is to write a profile of your ancestor in a blog post, preferably with citations, that lists everything you already know about them. That allows you to share a short link on Facebook. Anyone who is truly interested will click the link to find out what you know before they start helping you.

If you're not keen on writing a profile you could create a simple document list and sort it by source. For instance, you could list all the documents you found on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org etc. and perhaps provide links to the documents. Then the people who want to help you will see what you have already found and skip those searches.

3) Thank everyone for their help

This may seem obvious, but be sure to thank everyone for their help even if they weren't able to provide any new information. This is the number one complaint I hear from volunteers who help others with their research. After the information is sent off not so much as a thank you is ever sent in reply. I can understand why this happens. Perhaps the person receiving the email got new ideas from the information and they went off searching again as genealogists are bound to do. Then they simply forgot about the person who sent the email. Try to send that thank you email right away. It will make a great impression and will encourage that person to help you and others in the future.

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

I Found My Great Great Grandfather Online -- Now What!!??? (Verifying Records Found On Webpages)

You just found a church record for the marriage of your great great grandfather, or the record of your 4th great grandparents on a passenger list of a ship to the New World in 1777 - wow! But you have questions - how accurate is this information? How can you verify it? The first thing researchers need to remember is that all records have the potential for error once they have been transcribed.

Humans can make mistakes, a transcriber can miss a line or misinterpret an unfamiliar name. This results in the possibility of a culmination of errors with each succeeding transcription. Deliberate altering of the records (such as adding details the transcriber believes are correct; changing the spelling of names etc) results in even more possibility of corruption.

Generations (Versions) of a Record

Each generation or version that a record goes through increases its chance of errors. Researchers should always try to use records as close to the original as possible. Let's go through an actual example:

Many of the records and databases on websites such as Olive Tree Genealogy are transcribed from microfilm of the original. They can be considered a second generation level transcription. This means they have one chance of human error (assuming the original minister made no mistakes). If the original minister or clerk made errors then they have two changes of human error. In most cases these records may be considered as good as book-published records.

LFT Generations of Records 1881-2

LFT Generations of Records 1881-1

The two images above illustrate an error made by an indexer who indexed the name of a spouse as "Clanke Peer" But the image clearly shows the correct name of "Blanche Peer"

Records transcribed from published versions (such as the Marriage Records of the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam/New York used with permission of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record who published them in series), are third generation, having been transcribed from the original to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record (NYGBR) to the website publishing them.

Records at 3rd generation level stand a greater chance of error. How useful they are depends on how reliable and accurate the working publication is. In this example the NYGBR is considered a scholarly journal, is well regarded, and might therefore be considered trustworthy.

The following example is based on an interpretation and explanation of the number of generations an early New York will can go through before it ends up on a webpage or mailing list on the Internet.

An Example of Generations in Wills and Abstracts

1. Generation 1 (original) The original will. Many have been microfilmed by the LDS church

2. Generation 2 (2nd version/transcription) At the time of probate the will was copied into the book (or "liber") of wills. Microfilm of most of the early libers is available.

3. Generation 3 (3rd version/transcription) In the 19th Century a copy of the original libers was made. Microfilm of these is available from the LDS church.

4. Generation 4 (4th version/transcription) Abstracts were done and published as part of the Collections of the New York Historical Society. These are also available on CD-ROM

5. Generation 5 (5th version/transcription) Those abstracts were either scanned or retyped and made available as on-line databases on webpages.

6. Generation 6 (6th version/transcription) The Generation 5 on-line abstracts were posted on an e-mail list.

You can see how many times errors can be introduced, or parts of the records lost along the way. This holds true for all online records.

So what can you, the researcher, do?

1. Use original sources wherever possible.

2. If you can't use the original source be sure to carefully note where you found the information. Hopefully you will one day be able to consult the original to verify the transcript.

3. Scrutinize your source - is it reliable? Has it been altered? Was it taken from an original, or was it taken from a source further removed from the original?

4. Research your sources! Find out if there are better published records that are known to have fewer errors. Talk to those knowledgeable in the field, write emails and ask questions.

5. Don't accept everything you see in print. Be a savvy researcher and protect yourself from errors in your family tree.

The question you should ask yourself every time you access a webpage with information is:


The further removed it is, the more chance of error. Keeping that in mind will make for better and more accurate genealogy research.


Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.

4 Ways to Research in a Cemetery

Genealogists love cemeteries! Cemeteries can be critical for finding information related to the births and deaths of our ancestors. When there is a lack of records sometimes the only information we have will be on a gravestone. In this article we'll discuss four ways you can expand your cemetery research.

1. Ancestor Research

If you are researching from afar you will likely use the Findagrave.com or billiongraves.com websites to help search for your ancestors' graves. The challenge with using a website rather than visiting in person is that it causes you to focus too tightly on a single ancestor. One of the greatest benefits of researching in a cemetery is discovering other ancestors in nearby plots. While you can't do this virtually you can sort of recreate the effect on Findagrave.com

Search for an ancestor that you know is listed in Findagrave.com. Next use the "Find all [surname] in:" feature which appears in the sidebar to the left. This will show you all the other people in that cemetery with the same surname. There are also options for searching the surname more broadly in the same town, county, and state. If you are searching for a common name that might not be practical but searching the same cemetery is always a good idea.



2. House Research

One of the best ways to use cemetery research is to research the history of your own house.  Maybe you've never considered doing that before! It can be as fun as researching your own family and you'll discover that the former residents of your house become almost like family after researching them.

If you live in a house that was built before 1900 then chances are good that the former residents are buried in one of the local cemeteries. You'll have to do deed research first to find out their names, followed up with census and vital record research but it shouldn't be too hard to track them down. Once you've discovered the former residents of your house visit the cemetery to learn more about them.

3. Local History Research

Genealogists typically have ancestors spread across a wide region or even multiple countries. Our ancestors just didn't stay put! The flip side of genealogical research is doing local history - research in your own back yard. Researching the local history of your town or village can give you a deep appreciation of the people who lived there before you.

Start your local history research with a tour of the oldest local cemetery. There you will likely discover the founders of your town. Walk through the cemetery and notice the surnames that are most prevalent. These will be the earliest families that stayed to help build the town into what it is today.

Also notice memorials or veterans markers. Get to know the people from your town who served in the American Revolution, the Civil War and other conflicts. You might even see gravestones for certain professions such as ship captains or fraternal organizations such as the Masons.

Next think about what interests you. Is it a certain time period like colonial America or a conflict like the Civil War? Choose some folks from the cemetery who intrigue you and put your genealogical skills to work. Learn about their lives through census and vital records and local history books. You may even consider blogging about them or sharing what you find with the local historical society. The one thing that is guaranteed to happen is that you will gain a richer appreciation of your town!

4. Carver / Art Research

There is so much more to cemetery research than just the names and dates on the gravestones. Have you ever noticed that gravestones are different shapes and sizes in different time periods? If you look closely you will see patterns that will help you identify the age of a stone quickly.

The art and letter carving on a gravestone also changes with time. The history of the development of stone carvers in America is quite fascinating. The earliest carvers came from Boston and were collectively known as the "Boston carvers." As the colonies grew, local carvers started to take over. There is often a relationship or association between the local carver and the people he memorialized in stone. It can be a fascinating journey to learn about the individual carvers represented in your local cemetery.

The art on the gravestones contains symbols that held greater meaning in a time when many people didn't know how to read. For instance, grapes represented Christianity and an hour glass reminds us that time flies and life is fleeting.

To learn more about the carvers and the art they created visit the Association for Gravestone Studies. For more in-depth information about carvers in early New England see Graven Images by Allan Ludwig or Gravestones of Early New England and the Men who Made Them 1653-1800 by Harriette Merrifield Forbes. For gravestone symbolism see Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister.

Have you done other kinds of cemetery research? Let me know!  

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.