Persistence Pays Off

Persistence Pays Off

I was researching a German soldier who had been interred in a Russian POW camp during World War II. His family never saw him again and didn't know what happened to him after the War was over. I had very little information about him. The Russians did not release him until 1948 (I found this out later). The soldier was incapacitated in some way but the details were fuzzy. I did know that he died in the town of Göttingen because this was recorded in the family's "Stammbuch." A Stammbuch is an official record book that families keep of their birth, death, and marriage records. It include the civil document numbers which is very helpful to researchers. With this information I was able to obtain his death certificate. The death certificate lists the address where he died as Rosdorferweg 70.

 

August's death certificate
(click image to enlarge)

 

I plugged that address into Google Maps and this is what I found.  The address belongs to a hospital.

Google map image
 

 

So was it a hospital in 1949?  I emailed them and asked. 

Hospital in Göttingen
 

 

They told me that yes, they are the same hospital that was in operation in 1949.  I asked them if they had the medical records from that time period. They told me that the old medical records had been turned over to the Stadtarchiv Göttingen. They were kind enough to provide me with a contact person there.

 

Stadtarchiv Göttingen
 

 

The Stadtarchiv told me that the records were now being housed at the Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv in Wolfenbüttel.  I was again given a contact person.

Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv
 

 

I contacted the Landesarchiv and they advised that they would write back when they knew whether or not they had this man's records. I got my answer less than a week later.

“Sie können von der Akte des Landeskrankenhauses Göttingen, die [NAME REDACTED] betrifft (NLA Hannover Hann. 155 Göttingen [FILE NUMBER REDACTED]), Kopien in Auftrag geben. Die Akte umfasst ca. 75 Seiten.”

They found the man's medical file, seventy-five pages worth. They mailed me a CD with crystal clear images. His medical file provided a lot of answers to the questions his family had had for their entire lives. 

This entire process took several months but I was on a mission and wasn't about to give up. I honestly thought that there was no way these medical records still existed but I knew I had to go through all of the steps to find out for sure. 

  


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.


DNA Matches - Where's Their Tree?

DNA Matches - Where's Their Tree?

 I am a member of several DNA Facebook groups and a common frustration you will see is when someone contacts a match and the match doesn't answer, there is no tree attached to their DNA, or they have their tree marked as private. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The person is not a genealogist and took a DNA test just for their ethnicity report. All of the DNA advertisements on TV focus on ethnicity because that appeals to non genealogists. These testers log in to see their results and then never log in again
  • The person doesn't work on their genealogy full time like some of us do. They only log in once in a while so they aren't seeing their messages immediately
  • The person is a newbie genealogist just starting out. They may only have their tree sketched out on paper and haven't tried to construct a tree online or by using a genealogy software program. They may not know what a gedcom is
  • The person is adopted and has no clue about their biological family so they don't have a tree
  • The person has a close misattributed parentage issue and doesn't want to advertise it so they keep their tree private
  • The person is working off of mirror trees which must be kept private (A mirror tree is when you create a tree for a cousin match and then attach your DNA to it in hopes of discovering which line this cousin match is on or even the most recent common ancestor. This technique is used a lot by adoptees)
  • The person in control of the DNA is working for someone else and wants to keep their information private

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? You need to record what you do know about this person and his/her DNA as well as your attempts at contact. This is no different than what you would do for any DNA match. Most of the DNA websites have a notes section that you can use but some do not.

I handle it by recording this information in Legacy. It is easier for me to keep track of everything if it is all in one place. I can easily add the tester to my database as an unlinked individual (by their AKA if I need to) and I can add any known contact information. I can use events to record their DNA info (who they tested with, kit numbers if applicable etc.) I can also use events to record attempts of correspondence with them. I can still put these people in triangulation groups by using Hashtags. If I find the connection I can then add their ancestors that hook up with mine. These people are "invisible" in my file and  I use a temporary source of DNA Match - Lineage not Confirmed.  

I try not to get frustrated because that is non productive. Actively working with these matches reduces the frustration for me. If I get further information at some point it is easy for me to add it to what I already have. You can also view this as a teaching opportunity to help others understand DNA research.

For more tips on connecting with your DNA matches watch "Who are You? Identifying Your Mysterious DNA Matches" by Blaine Bettinger in the Legacy library.

 


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.


DNA Ethnicity Reports - Are they all the same?

DNA Ethnicity Reports

I receive a lot of emails and see a lot of Facebook posts from people wondering why their ethnicity varies so much from company to company. Here are some general principles that you need to keep in mind:

  • Different companies use different reference populations
  • Different companies divide up the world a little differently
  • All of the companies periodically update their algorithms so your percentages will change
  • Once you get back to the 3rd great-grandparents, their DNA starts dropping off the further you go back. You can see a chart showing this. Scroll down to the grandparents chart. This is STATISTICAL data. Real life data will be more pronounced
  • If you have tested your brothers and sisters they will, most likely, have different percentages than you because they have different DNA than you do (this one throws people too so I though I would mention it)

My paper research has my mother's family in central Europe to the late 1500's on all lines that I have been able to carry back. All of my dad's lines migrated across the pond prior to 1750ish. Best I can tell I am looking at England, Wales, and Ireland (Again, on the lines that I have been able to carry back that far). Here are my results from the different companies. The first thing you should notice is the different geographical areas so it is pretty much impossible for these to match exactly.

MyHeritage DNA
(click image to enlarge)

 

FTDNA
(click image to enlarge)

 

23andMe
(click image to enlarge)

 

AncestryDNA
(click image to enlarge)

 

LivingDNA
(click image to enlarge)

 

GEDmatch
(click image to enlarge)

 

DNALand
(click image to enlarge)

 

Looking at your ethnicity is fun but don't think it is written in stone. Genealogists should be more concerned with the cousin matches which will help you extend your family tree and break down brick walls.

Want to see another ethnicity report comparison? Check out the YouTube video Marian Pierre-Louis made comparing her ethnicity across MyHeritage, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA.


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.


A Little Help from a Friend

A Little Help from a Friend

I am the administrator of the Glaentzer One-Name Study with the Guild of One-Name Studies. It is a rare surname so it is a great name for this sort of project. The name originates in Germany but I have known lines migrating out to Italy, France, the Netherlands, and even to the United States.

I was talking about my project with Kirsty Gray. She is based in England and is an expert with One-Name and One-Place Studies. She is also one of our Legacy Webinar presenters

Kirsty found an entry for a Glaentzer on the FreeBMD website. I hadn't thought to look there because I had no indication from my research that any Glaentzers had immigrated to England or Wales. This is the first place Kirsty would think to check because she is based in the UK. There is a single entry in the death indexes for a George Glaentzer who died in 1860 (there was a second entry for the same record under the name Georg).

George Glaentzer
(click image to enlarge)

Kirsty ordered the death certificate and emailed it to me. She also pointed me to the official UK vitals website that includes wills and probate. There is a single Glaentzer entry, George. There was something in the index that immediately caught my eye..

"...Francis Glaentzer the Brother and one of the Next of Kin of the said Deceased now residing at Ancona in Italy..."

George Glaentzer entry in the index (last entry on the page)
George Glaentzer entry in the index, continued (first entry on the page)


Bingo! Francis is the Italian line. I checked my file and sure enough I found George (Georg) and his brother Francis (Franz Joseph). They are my half 1st cousins, 5 times removed. Every Glaentzer is related to me somehow which is another perk when working with a rare surname. Franz was known to have immigrated to Ancona, Italy and his line is still there today. I am in contact with his living descendants. I was able to show that the UK George is one and the same as the German Georg in my file. I didn't have death information on German Georg nor did I know that he had immigrated to England like his brother had immigrated to France. I ordered and received Georg's probate file from the website Kirsty led me to. I also signed up for a free trial to The British Newspaper Archive and found Georg's obituary.

So what did I learn? I learned some vital statistics and immigration information about Georg as well as where he fits into my family and into my One-Name Study. However, the most interesting thing I learned is that he was a "mad hatter" and had committed suicide. You can read more about what that is here.

I also learned that I can text message people in England and that the Windows shortcut for £ is ALT-0163.


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.


Resolving Conflicts

Resolving Conflicts

I don’t work on my husband’s side of the family all that much because he has absolutely no interest in genealogy whatsoever but he does tolerate my obsession with it so I guess that’s something. I decided to work on his family a bit and he told me that his great-uncle Jimmy died in a car wreck. He said he remembers it clearly. I found Jimmy’s obituary and this is what it says:

James W. Young
APPLING, Ga. - James William Young, 69, died in an Augusta hospital Sunday after an extended illness
[emphasis mine]. Funeral services will be conducted at Lewis Memorial Methodist Church in Columbia County Wednesday at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Robert Boyd officiating assisted by the Rev. W.L. Buffington. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. Young was a native of Columbia County. He was retired and a member of the Hollow Creek Baptist Church in Aiken, S.C. Survivors include one sister, Mrs. G. S. Lewis, Martinez and a number of nieces and nephews.[1]

Well that posed a bit of a problem. There is a big difference between dying in a car wreck and dying after an extended illness. My husband was a kid at the time so maybe he remembered it wrong. I ordered Jimmy’s death certificate to find out.

Caraccident
James William Young Death Certificate [2]

Well there you go. My non-genealogist husband did remember the events correctly. No clue why the paper got it wrong. This is why we do exhaustive (re)search and we resolve conflicts. I knew that Jimmy Young would have death certificate so there was no reason for me not to obtain it. It would have been a mistake for me to automatically believe the newspaper over my husband just because the newspaper is more "official." 

[1] "James W. Young," The Augusta Chronicle, 06 December 1966, p. 5, col. 2. 

[2] Georgia Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 37828 (1966), James William Young; State Vital Records, Atlanta.  


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.


Don't Rely on Indexes

Indexes

I was searching for George Patton in the 1820 census and I found him in an index which made me happy. Here is an image of what was listed in the index as George Patton.

1820 Census Lydia Patton entry
(click image to enlarge)

On this very same page there was another person by the name of George.  You can clearly see what the name George should look like as written by this enumerator. The first image, showing the man indexed as "George" Patton, clearly isn't the name George based on the second entry.

1820 Census George Tilley entry
(click image to enlarge)

1820 U.S. census, Wilkes County, Georgia, p. 162, lines 4, 20, Lydia Patton and Georgia Tilley; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 December 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 9.

 
Luckily I know who the first entry is. It is George’s stepmother Lydia (Orr) Patton. So here is the problem. Lydia and George are very different words so no matter how fuzzy you make this search these two will not be picked up as a possibility for the other unless I searched for the name Patton only. Let’s say I did search just for the name Patton. If you were looking for a Lydia Patton would you click on the name George in the index? Or, if you were looking for someone named George would you click on Lydia? This is just an example. Lydia wasn’t in the index at all since she was indexed as George.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I know that the handwriting is hard to read and it is always easier for someone who is familiar with the names to spot them. My point is, don’t rely on indexes. The indexers are human and they make mistakes. Sometimes you need to hand search the images.
 
All of the online repositories have this indexed incorrectly and I have sent corrections to all of them. This is how you can make the index better. If you see something like this let them know.
 
So where is George? No clue. I haven't found him yet.
 
 

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.


The Abstract Trap

The Abstract Trap

A derivative source is defined as:

"materials that offer alternate versions of the original—typically transcripts, translations, abstracts, extracts, nutshells, indexes, and database entries. The best derivatives will preserve all the essential details of the original. Still, errors are frequent." (emphasis mine) [1]

Some of the common derivative works are cemetery surveys, marriage abstracts, deed abstracts and will abstracts. These can be in book form, published in a periodical, or in some sort of online database. I want to alert you to a specific trap that I don't want to you fall into when working with these types of sources. This trap usually involves books. It is easier to explain by giving an example.

One of the books I have in my private library is Marion County, Mississippi Miscellaneous Records. I like this book because it has all kinds of court abstracts. I especially like it because each entry has the book and page number of the court book it was abstracted out of. For example, on page 53 of this book you will see a will abstract for John Barnes, Sr. The compiler (E. Russ Williams) also documented that this will is in Marion County Will Book A, page 70-71. This will gives me all kinds of goodies; the name of his wife, his children, his grandchildren as well as "It is not the desire of John Barnes for Edmund Lowe to get any of his estate." (Ouch!)

So what is my source for the evidence contained in this will? Some researchers will cite Marion County, Mississippi Will Book A, page 70-71 and that is the trap. Your source is not the original will book but rather it is the book of abstracts, Marion County, Mississippi Miscellaneous Records. You can't cite the Will Book unless you actually viewed it yourself. The best-case scenario is to obtain a copy of the will from the will book so that you can analyze it yourself. If you do, you can then cite the will. If not, you need to cite the abstract book. This is what my citation would look like.

E. Russ Williams, compiler, Marion County Mississippi Miscellaneous Records (1986; reprint, Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 2002), 53; citing Marion County, Mississippi Will Book A:70-71, John Barnes, Sr. will, signed 11 August 1838.

Did you notice that I snuck in the information about the will book? I did this so that my readers can have the benefit of knowing exactly where to go to get a copy of the will for themselves. They can see that I didn't actually consult the will but I am using an abstract book. 

In tomorrow's Tuesday's Tip I am going to relate this to something you will see specifically in Legacy so stay tuned. 

 

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Quick Lesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map," Evidence Explained (https://www.evidenceexplained.com : accessed 12 December 2017).


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.


Writing a Biography

Writing a Biography

In my previous article, "Bringing an Ancestor to Life," I explained the importance of putting your ancestor in the context of his time and place in history and not relegating him to a simple laundry list of vital statistics. Now that you have gathered all of this interesting background information what do you do next?

At the minimum you should have biographies for your direct line ancestor couples. You can then expand out from there. You are bound to run across a relation that is so interesting you can't help but want to write about him. The black sheep of the family are my favorites.

Admittedly, writing a narrative is much harder than simply recording facts but once you get into the habit of writing them it gets much easier. As you do the research you will get to “know” your ancestor better and you will want to tell others about him or her. Here are my favorite books on the subject. They will teach you how to write a biography that is interesting, informative, and historically accurate:

Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. Tell it Short: A Guide to Writing Your Family History in Brief. Salt Lake City: Scattered Leaves Press, 2016.

Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. You Can Write Your Family History. 2003. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008.

Finley, Carmen J. Creating a Winning Family History. Revised edition. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2010.

If you ever get the chance to hear John Colletta lecture you won't want to miss that. John is a master storyteller and will give you many tips on how to find interesting background information. He is also quite funny. If you are a Legacy Webinar subscriber you can watch John's "The Germanic French - Researching Alsatian and Lorrainian Families" lecture.

When you are writing a narrative keep in mind that you are writing for others as much as you are writing for yourself. I will expand on that in just a bit. Here are a few tips.

Clear and concise writing is a must 
More words does not mean better content and punctuation and grammar are important. Now is the time to dust off your old English handbooks.  Here are my three favorite style guides:

Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works With Words. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1996.

Strunk, William Jr. and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. Fourth edition. New York: Longman, 2000.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Seventh edition. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.

And here are my favorite grammar/punctuation handbooks:

Chapman, James A. Handbook of Grammar and Composition. Third edition. Pensacola, Fla.: ABeka Book, 1996.

Rod and Staff English Handbook. Crockett, Ky.: Rod and Staff Publishers, 1983.

And here is my favorite thesaurus:

Urdang, Laurence, editor. The Synonym Finder. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1978.

Break up your narrative with photos 
Photos not only give interest but they allow your reader to pause during a long narrative. You may not have any actual photos of your ancestor but you can pull in photos that represent the time and place your ancestor lived. There are many copyright free photos available. In the previous article I mentioned my 3rd great-grandfather Mathew Patton who was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. He later died at Buckner Hospital in Gainesville, Alabama. There is a cemetery where Buckner Hospital once stood and Mathew was most assuredly buried there though his grave is unmarked. There are dozens of Confederate markers in this cemetery that just say "Unknown." I included one of these photos (with permission from the photographer) .

The Alabama State Archives has an original flag of Mathew's company in their possession and they had a photograph of it. I asked the Archives for permission to use the photograph which they gave. While Mathew was away, his wife and children were in poverty. Blount County, Alabama did a special inventory of families who were left behind to make sure they had enough provisions. Seeing what provisions his family had and didn't have was sobering. I included an image of that section of the court minute book page. Shortly after Mathew and his wife Charlotta married, they migrated from Madison County, Georgia to Cherokee County, Alabama. I had background documentation showing that the most likely reason was for better farming land. I included a map that I created using Google Earth Pro showing where the two places were relative to each other as well as the actual distance. These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are limitless.

You can also break up the narrative by using section headings 
There are many different ways you can go with this. You can break it up by time periods, seasons of a person's life, by places they lived if they migrated a lot, etc.

Write like you are talking to an audience
You want your writing to be engaging and have a good flow. Conversational style is good but avoid the first person. You don't want statements in your narrative such as, "I then went to the courthouse and found their marriage record." You want the narrative to be about your ancestors and not about you. 

Don't forget to cite your sources
Even though you are writing a narrative that doesn't mean you don't have to cite your sources. The last one I did had 165 footnotes. But it really depends on how much information you've acquired about your ancestor.

 Now that you have a beautifully written biography what do you do with it? You don't want your ancestors to be forgotten so you need to tell their stories to others. There are many ways you can "publish" your biographies. You can send them to relatives, start your own blog, or submit your writings to a local historical society journal. You might even think big and self-publish a book with the history of an entire family group. It is very easy to self-publish using on-demand printing. Two of the most popular companies are Lulu and Blurb.

I hope I have motivated you to dig a little deeper into the lives of your ancestors so that they aren't merely a list of names and dates in your genealogy file. 


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.

 


Bringing an Ancestor to Life

Bringing an Ancestor to Life

One of my pet peeves is when a researcher reduces a person to a laundry list of vital statistics. I realize that only people from the deep south will understand this analogy but “grits without salt is WORSE than bland.”  That is how I view family trees that don’t include biographical information. Our ancestors were real people who led interesting lives. It is the genealogist's job to tell their stories.

Researching the time period and the location is ESSENTIAL
You must take the time to research what was going on when your ancestor lived. It will help you understand why he did the things that he did. Local history books are a great resource, especially those that were written close to the time period you are working with. You will find these on Google BooksInternet ArchiveHathiTrust Digital Library, Project Gutenberg, and Family History Books (FamilySearch). Many are out of copyright and can be read in their entirety. The newspaper is one of your best resources even if you never find your ancestor's name in print. Not only can you learn about your ancestor's specific community but also what was going on in the country at that time that might have been a concern to him.

Research their personal experiences
If your ancestor was a Union or Confederate soldier, read about the Civil War from their point of view. If you ancestor was a planter or a farmer, read books about what farming was like during that time period. If your family migrated across country read books about what it was like on the trail. Did the family attend church? Religion was an important part of many people’s lives and you want to include that if you can. Read up on their particular denomination and its history. I needed background information about childbearing in the 19th century for a biography I was writing. I read Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950 by Judith Walzer Leavitt and Lyin-In: A History of Childbirth in America by Richard W. Wertz. I couldn't put these two books down and I have a newfound appreciation for what my female ancestors went through.

One of the best things I ever found was Memories: A Record of Personal Experience and Adventure During Four Years of War by Fannie A. Beers. Fannie was a nurse at Buckner Hospital in Gainesville, Alabama during the Civil War at the very same time my 3rd great-grandfather Mathew Patton was a patient there! She might have even taken care of him. She detailed the horrible conditions there and stated,

"Alas! alas! were these the brave men who had made forever glorious the name of Shiloh?"

My Mathew was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and later died of his injuries. This quote from the book gives me goosebumps.

Topography and the community setting can enlighten you even further
Did your ancestor live in a city? A small town? Out in the middle of nowhere? In a valley surrounded by mountains? Was there a river or lake nearby? Knowing more about the area can give you insight on the type of house they may have lived in. You can look for some copyright free photographs of the area and sample houses from that time that you can add to your biography which will add interest.

Go the extra mile
If you see that your ancestor was a farmer on the federal census, try finding him on the agricultural schedule. Here is where you will find information about acreage, types of crops grown, kinds of animals raised etc. That will tell you a lot about his daily life. Construct maps showing where everyone lived in relation to everyone else based on land descriptions. Put together a timeline of your ancestor to make his life easy to follow (but you still need to have a narrative). Look through records that you really don’t think would apply to your family. I was in the Columbia County, Georgia courthouse awhile back and noticed they had arrest records, logs of police encounters, and lunacy books. Just thumbing through I saw people’s names that I knew. I was searching coroner’s reports for a specific person and found another person I wasn’t expecting. These unusual record sets will definitely spice up your narrative.

Read between the lines
Did your person of interest have extended family living with him in the census records?  Elderly parents or newlywed children?  That gives you some insight on the family dynamics. How much property did he own? This can give you a sense of wealth. Always pay attention to who went to school and who didn’t and who is listed as illiterate. This can mean many things. Were there no schools in the area?  (check the other families living nearby). Was the family poor and needed the children to stay home to work?  Did your person of interest have some sort of disability?  Some families simply didn’t see the need for any formal education. When you have multiple possibilities you can discuss them in your narrative. One thing to look out for are children who didn’t go to school in earlier censuses but are listed as being able to read and write in the later ones. This can indicate children who were taught to read and write at home by their parents which was very common.

African-American specific research
If you are doing African-American research one of the best resources for background information are the Slave Narratives. The Federal Works Project (WPA) interviewed over 2300 former slaves in the 1930s. You will read firsthand knowledge which is eye-opening.


In the next article I will help you compile all of this great info into a narrative and then give you some ideas of where to go from there. Stay tuned!


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 Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

Using Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

When you start researching in a jurisdiction or a time period that is new to you, you will want to keep track of the little bits of helpful information that you find so that you don't have to look up that information again. You can do this is by maintaining Locality Files (now known as Locality Guides). The Family History Library detailed this strategy in their Research Guide on how to organize your paper files. You can see it HERE. These Research Guides are what we used before the FamilySearch Wiki. I think I had every Research Guide they ever published. 

Let's say I have an ancestor who lived in Perry County, Mississippi and I have never done research in Perry County before. I need to learn a lot of things about Perry County before I can even get started. These are the things I will add to my Locality Guide for Perry County. I need to know a basic history of the county such as when it was formed and what the parent counties were as well as a basic timeline of events for that county. I love to find old county history books that are in the public domain. Google Books, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and FamilySearch Books are my favorite websites to find these books. I also want to have contact info for the courthouse as well as anything special I need to know about accessing their records. What records do they have onsite? Did they have any record losses due to fire or flood? I would include contact info for the local genealogical and/or historical society, the local libraries, and any other possible repositories. I like to have a current map of the area (though I do use Google Maps a lot now) as well as any old maps I can find.

I keep all of my information electronically which means I can create hyperlinks to things on the internet such as online books, the available databases at the major online repositories, and the FamilySearch card catalog. I can link right to the Perry County page. I love newspapers and I use the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website to find what was in publication and when.  I only have to do the search once and then I can link to it. For example, HERE is the list for Perry County. It saves me a lot of time not having to go back to the website and do repeated searches. Don't forget that if you have never done research in the state of Mississippi you will also need to collect some general resources at the state level and not just at the county level. Besides my Locality Guides I also gather reference material on the major records groups (military, land, probate, etc.).

It may seem like a lot of work but this information is essential to be able to thoroughly research your ancestors. It will also save you time in the long run. The next time I have a person of interest in this same county I already have the needed resources. I can always update it if I find any new information. Today most genealogists keep these notes electronically in applications such as Evernote or OneNote instead of using paper files. You can also use a word processing program or a spreadsheet program. These are great because not only can you hyperlink to the resources you find on the internet, you can also scan anything you have that is on paper (pages out of the above referenced books for example) and have those pages readily available instead of having to lug out the books each time. You can even design a template so that all of your guides follow the same format.

I have included an example as a downloadable PDF. This example comes from my friend Eva Goodwin. We were in ProGen together and creating a Locality Guide was one of our assignments. I liked Eva's better than mine so I asked her if I could use hers an an example and she very graciously sent it to me. 

Download Halifax Locality Guide (Goodwin)

My real Locality Guides are not as fancy as what we did for our ProGen assignment but I wanted to give you an idea of the types of things you should include.  I will say that I am working on designing a template so that my guides are more uniform. 

The best way to get started is to create a locality guide for a jurisdiction that you are very familiar with. I'll bet that by the time you are done you will have found some resources that you didn't know about.

 An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
— Benjamin Franklin

 

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.