The Keyboard Shortcuts I Couldn’t Live Without


Everyone loves a shortcut, right? Whether it’s a shorter way to get home from work, an easy way to pay bills, or just a simpler way to get a dreaded task accomplished, shortcuts are great. The same is true for using the computer. Anything that can be done quicker and with ease gives us more time to research our family history! 

A keyboard shortcut is a series of one or more keys that “invokes a command that would otherwise be accessible only through a menu, a mouse, or an aspect of the user interface.”[1] Keyboard shortcuts are available for software programs as well as your Internet browser. You could find dozens or more shortcuts that exist for all the programs you use. I don’t use every keyboard shortcut available but there are a few that I consistently use that make my life a little easier.

Here are a few of my favorites when using Microsoft Word but keep in mind that they may work with other software programs and the Internet as well:

CTRL and C , CTRL and V, and CTRL and X: These are the commands to copy, paste, and cut. Probably the more well-known of the keyboard  shortcuts, I use these three on a daily basis. Highlight the text you want to copy or cut and then use CTRL and V to paste it wherever you want it to go. For me, I use this often when I decide that a sentence or a paragraph I just wrote in Microsoft Word should either be deleted or moved elsewhere in the document. Or when I want to copy text and insert it into another program. A great time saver when you are searching the Internet.

Shift and F4: This is probably my biggest time saver when looking at a website or a document and I’m searching for a specific word or phrase. Hold the Shift key and then press the F4 key to open a Find box. This box, will appear at the top right of the website you’re searching and allows you to search on a specific word or phrase. It’s perfect when searching a web page for a specific surname. I find this function saves me a ton of time and effort. If that doesn't work try the alternativeto this,  CTRL key and F.

CTRL and S: Ok, who hasn’t been typing away happily and something goes wrong like the electricity unexpectedly goes out or the cat hits your keyboard and  everything you just worked on suddenly vanishes? Use CTRL and S to save periodically. Anytime I have to get up and interrupt what I’m doing I hit CTRL S just to be safe.

CTRL and P: There’s no easier way to print than hitting CTRL and P. Whether in Word or on the Internet, a printer dialogue box comes up and you are ready to print. I even use this command when I want to save something as a PDF since one of the choices in my print command box is to save a document as a PDF. Saving as a PDF is perfect when I run out of ink, paper, or am not quite ready to print out that document.

Wait There’s More!

There’s no way I could list every possible keyboard shortcut that exists for your favorite software, browser, or websites. Did you know that even Twitter has a list of keyboard shortcuts? To find them go to your Twitter account and in the top right side you will see your photo, click on that and a drop-down menu will appear with a link to  “Keyboard shortcuts.”

Twitter shortcuts 1

Twitter Shortcuts
Do you have some keyboard shortcuts you use? Seek out the shortcuts for the website, software, or browser you use the most and start using some of those shortcuts to make the most of your time on the computer.


[1] "Keyboard Shortcuts and System Commands for Popular Programs," TurboFuture ( accessed 9 September 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.


Tapping Into MyHeritage's Community To Advance Your Genealogy Research

Many think of genealogy research as a solitary activity. Often we are researching on our own, but sometimes we need  a bit of help.  We need help with transcribing or translating a record.  We need help locating resources or a quick look up in a repository we cannot visit. We need a community of researchers!

Whatever our need,  the genealogy community is a generous one! 

Tapping into the MyHeritage Community

Israel Lisson ( 1856 - 1917) and his wife Dora Lisson (1863 - 1930) have been on my genealogy to-do list for quite some time. Israel and Dora Lisson immigrated as Jewish immigrants from Russia in the late 1880's and early 1890's and settled in Rochester, New York. As a genealogy researcher, I have been able to document their lives here in America.

As happens to most (if not all!) genealogy researchers, I eventually hit a brick wall in my research of the couple. I was unable to determine the parents of either Israel or Dora. My research into the Lisson family stalled here for quite a while. 

Recently, I returned to my research and picked up the trail again when I found the photograph below on

Israel Lisson Tombstone

Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

This is great information for the researcher, but..... the back of the tombstone is where even more information was to be found. (You do check the back of your ancestors' tombstones, don't you?!)

Israel Lisson Tombstone - Back

(Back) Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

The back of the tombstone was engraved in Hebrew, and unfortunately, I do not speak or read Hebrew.  I needed help to translate the back of the tombstone.

I turned to the community section of MyHeritage. 


Source: MyHeritage

I uploaded the photograph of Israel and Dorothy's tombstone and inquired if anyone could translate the words on the stone. Within a few days, I had two  gracious genealogy researchers responded with the translation of the stone.

And here's the exciting part......

In the Jewish tradition on gravestones, the Hebrew side gave the names of Israel's father and Dora's father!


Reply to Translation Request at MyHeritage

The MyHeritage Community quickly and generously assisted me in the Lisson research. I can now pick up the trail and move forward in my research of  the Lisson ancestors.

Take Away For Your Research

Reach out to genealogy communities with your research questions as well as your genealogy answers to others' questions.

You can find active communities such as the MyHeritage Community on the major genealogy websites. Local genealogical societies often have active communities you can reach out to for help. Check locally where you live, and also, where your ancestors lived.

Note:  Photographs of the tombstones are used with permission of Sandi (Grimm) Enright, FindAGrave contributor.

Learn more about MyHeritage through the many free MyHeritage series webinars!


Lisa 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. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Finding & Using Maps in Your Genealogy Research

Finding & Using Maps in Your Genealogy Research

I recently had an interesting conversation with a long time genealogy researcher in the foothills of North Carolina. Her family has been in the area for generations, and she knows that area - its people and its history. By this, I mean she really knows the area.

At one point in our conversation she said, "Look at the map. Maps tell the story of a person." She was right.

Maps tell us where an ancestor lived.

Maps can show migration patterns.

Maps give us clues to an ancestor's occupation.

Historical maps can show locations of towns no longer in existence.

Maps help researchers view the world through an ancestor's eyes.

Type Of Maps

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with city street maps and land ownership maps, but a variety of maps are beneficial to the genealogy researcher. Maps were created for specific reasons, and as a researcher you must understand the purpose of the map you are researching. By understanding why a map was created and its purpose, you will not miss valuable clues for your research.

Consider exploring these types of maps:

  • City, county and state/province maps - Document roads, communities and/or neighborhoods indicated. 
  • Land ownership maps - Created to show who owned land in a specific area.
  • Fire Insurance maps - Created for insurance companies to assess the risk of fire liability of buildings in more urban areas.  
  • Topographical maps - Show natural and man-made structures in an area such as hills, rivers, lakes, mountains (and mountain passes). These features impacted how our ancestors traveled.
  • Railroad maps - Document railroad routes and showed preferred routes as they changed over time. 
  • Wagon trail maps - Wagon trail maps indicate western migration routes across the U.S.  One example is the Oregon Trail. Towns along the trail are listed and potential places your ancestors may have stayed or even settled. 
  • Military maps - Document an area before and/or during a war. Often include terrain, houses (sometimes homeowners may be listed!), roads, and bridges.  

Just where do you find maps to use in your genealogy research? A number of resources exist. These are 6 great places to start your map research and begin putting your ancestors, well...on the map.

6  Resources For Finding Historic Maps

1. The Dave Rumsey Map Collection - A large collection of historic maps from around the world. Especially helpful to genealogy researchers is the Georeferencer feature which allows you to overlay a historic map over a modern map to make comparisons.

2. Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records (U. S.) - General Land Office records encompass images of over 5 million land titles  including images of survey plats and field notes. 

3. Google Maps - Most everyone is familiar with Google Maps, but may not be using this resource for genealogy purposes. Use Google Maps to find modern day locations of your ancestors. The street view allows you to explore the area as it looks today.

4. University Libraries - Libraries at major colleges and universities are great places to explore for historic map collections. Many collections have maps outside of their area or location. One example is the University of Alabama Libraries Map Collection. While many maps are focused on Alabama, the collection contains maps from around the world as well as special topic maps. 

5. ArchiveGrid - ArchiveGrid is a finding aid for historical documents, family histories, personal papers and more stored in archival institutions. 


6. Fire Insurance Maps - Created to be used by insurance companies, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are detailed maps of residential, commercial and industrial areas of cities and towns in the United States. Other countries also created fire insurance maps as well. For example, find British fire insurance maps online at the British Library. Begin your search for fire insurance maps for other countries by conducting a search using search terms "fire insurance maps" + "[insert your country of research]". 

Sanborn-mapSanborn Map of Springfield, Missouri

Tips When Starting Your Map Research

  • Make note of the year the map was made and familiarize yourself with the description of the map. Understanding what the map shows and does not show first will save researcher time.
  • Check if an overlay feature is available. Being able to superimpose a historical map on top of a current day map provides perspective on an ancestor's location.

Now it's your turn!

Explore maps of the locations of your ancestors and see the world through your ancestor's eyes!

Learn even more about Maps from the Legacy library!


Lisa 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. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest

Vertical Files: Like a Box of Chocolates

Vertical Files: Like a Box of Chocolates

In the movie Forrest Gump, the main character, Forrest Gump, makes the statement “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” In the world of genealogy, vertical files are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Vertical files are a fantastic genealogical record source that no genealogist should overlook. This particular collection of records could contain just about anything.

The Society of American Archivist Glossary of Terms defines Vertical Files as: “Materials, often of an ephemeral nature, collected and arranged for ready reference.” Vertical files are sometimes called Subject Files or Morgue Files. These records can be located at a library, archive, historical society or genealogical society. Anywhere records are collected and preserved, there could be a collection of vertical files.

Knowing how vertical files are compiled will help you better understand this record set and how to use the records for your genealogy research. Most, if not all, items found in vertical files are donated by individuals or organizations. Records found in vertical files can range from original documents to photocopies, from unique and one-of-a-kind records to mass publications. Ephemera and newspaper clippings are some of the most popular types of records that can be found in vertical files.

Vertical Files
photo courtesy of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Vertical files are stored in file folders and then put into filing cabinets. They are labeled with either a surname or a subject name. Once the records are in the file folder and labeled, they are then placed in filing cabinets in alphabetical order. In most archives, there will be an index listing of what is contained in those particular archived vertical files. It is important that you ask the archivist for that index. The index could be in paper form or it could be located on an in-house computer. Keep in mind that a vertical file index will most likely not contain a listing of each and every document that is located in each file folder. So, if you see a surname or subject name that you think might help you, ask for that file to be retrieved so you can review the contents.

So what can be found in Vertical Files….

Newspapers Clippings

One of the most popular documents to be found in vertical files is newspaper clippings. In fact, some vertical file collections in some repositories are compiled of nothing but newspaper clippings. These clippings could be about anything that was found in the newspaper and cut out to be saved. The clippings could be of obituaries, birth announcements, engagement announcements, marriage announcements or anything of note that was published in the local newspaper. Newspaper clippings found in vertical files can be a true find for those of us that have found that some newspapers were not saved and microfilmed. If we're lucky someone clipped items from those missing issues and they are located in the vertical files collection.


If you are like me and have very few examples of letters or postcards for my ancestors, you might be lucky enough to find these types of records in vertical files. Correspondence of all kinds can be found in vertical files. When an archivist is presented with a donation of a handful of letters, they are usually processed and placed in vertical files. If the donation is larger, they are usually processed into the Manuscript Collections of the archives. Finding a handwritten letter, post card, Western Union Telegram or some other note in the vertical files from or to our ancestors can be a true find.

Family Group Sheets and Family Histories

Handwritten or typed family histories are a common find in vertical files. Many genealogists have documented their family history in a narrative form and then donated a copy to the local archives where their ancestors lived. Family Group Sheets could also be found in vertical files. These are also donated by genealogists in the hopes that other researchers coming through the facility will find their family history work and make a connection. I always encourage genealogists to donate copies of their family group sheets and family histories to local archives. Be sure to include your name and contact information so other researchers can contact you.


If you are like me, you are always looking for photographs for your ancestors. I have very few photographs dating back before 1930 of my ancestors. The vertical file collections may just be where they can be located. Many archives will place photographs in their vertical files and file them by family surname, place name or by the subject of the photograph. Not only could there be photos of your particular ancestors but there could be photos of the church they attended, the school they went to and even the home where they lived. However, be aware that many archives do not place their photographs in vertical files. Photographs can also be found in Manuscript Collections or in a larger Photograph Collection within the archive.

These are just a few of the numerous types of records that can be found in vertical files. When I visit any repository that has genealogical or historical records, at the top of my to-do list is to check the vertical files. I hope the next time you are at an archive you remember to check the vertical file collections because you never know what you might find.


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.


What Else Can You Do With Your Email? Two Tips for Gmail

What Else Can You Do With Your Email? Two Tips for Gmail


Sure, email is great for sending and receiving messages but did you know there’s much more you can do as a Gmail  user?  Google’s Gmail has features that can help the family history researcher plan and be productive. A whole webinar could explore Gmails many features but for now let’s focus on two.

1. Keep a To-Do List

Did you know that Gmail offers a multi-functional to-do list, called Tasks?  The instructions for using this feature differ depending on the version of Gmail you are using. In the classic version of Gmail, click on the word Gmail found in the upper left-hand column and a drop-down menu will appear. Click on Tasks.


Once you do that, a simple box will appear at the bottom of your screen. In that box you can add to-do items and they will appear with a check box. To-Do items can also be given a due date by clicking on the arrow to the right of the task. Once you have completed one of those items, you can check the box and it will remain there but show a strikethrough across that particular task until you delete it. This to-do list can contain tasks as well as subtasks.


You can email or print your tasks by clicking on the Actions link at the bottom left of the Tasks box. The Actions’ drop-down menu also has a Tips link to learn more about the service.



One last thing about Tasks: besides typing your to-do list in Tasks, you can also send an email to Tasks. This might be useful when someone emails you about your family history research and you want to remember to follow-up with their suggestions or reply to their email. To send an email to Tasks, open the email you want to send to Tasks and click on the More button at the top. A drop-down menu will provide you the option to Add to Tasks.

Please Note:

If you are using the new version of Gmail, you will notice on the right-hand side of your screen there are three icons. These icons represent Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Tasks. Click on the third icon (it looks like a circle with a pen). A panel will appear which will allow you to create Task lists and add to-do items.

New Gmail Tasks

Delegate Someone

I have a lot of emails saved in my Gmail account. Gmail gives users 15GB for free and I take advantage of that.  I save anything that has to do with genealogy or family. But one thing I do worry about is what happens to those important emails should I depart this life sooner than expected ? Who will have access to that part of my family history?

Gmail has an answer. With Gmail you can delegate someone to have control over your Gmail account. This can be beneficial for the genealogist in a variety of ways including if you want to share an account for a family history or genealogy society project  as well as planning for a digital afterlife. Gmail’s ability to delegate someone helps with that planning.

To access this feature, open Gmail and click on the gear icon at the top right of your screen. A drop-down menu will appear, click on Settings. In Settings, one of the headings is Accounts and Import, click on that. Now scroll down to the end of that page and you will see on the left-hand side “Grant access to your account.” Click on Add Another Account to add a delegate to your account. That person must be using a Google Account in order to be designated a delegate. If they aren't, encourage them to sign up for one, it's free.

What can your delegate do? According to Gmail Help, they can:

  • Send and Reply to emails. However, their email will show as the sender. So your email contact will know that someone sent the email on your behalf
  • Read your email messages
  • Delete your email messages
  • Manage your contacts

But don’t worry, the person you delegate  cannot change your Gmail password and you can revoke their access to your account should you decide to.

Gmail Does Much More

Those are just a few of the things Gmail can do besides sending and receiving emails. Explore your Gmail Settings for other features you might be interested in including vacation responders, the ability to unsend, and filter emails.


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.


Where to Find Genealogy Help on Facebook


Where to Find Genealogy Help on Facebook

In June 2015 we formed the Legacy User Group on Facebook. At the time we were a bit unsure if users would even be interested in something like this but the group has EXPLODED! We now have over 18,000 members. 

Because there are so many members the administrators and the moderators have to be strict with limiting the discussions to Legacy, any of the add-on programs that work with Legacy, and any of the websites Legacy can directly access or sync to but only in regard to how they work with Legacy. We can't allow general genealogy questions or tips. 

So the question is, what groups are there on Facebook for these other topics? Here are my top ten favorite Facebook genealogy groups (not in any particular order). I am adding the group descriptions as they appear on Facebook.

The Organized Genealogist
"Share your tips and tricks for organizing your genealogy. Links to products and services are acceptable. Let's all work together to get better organized!"

Technology for Genealogy 
"Discussion of technology used for genealogy purposes. Includes: software, apps, tablets, computers, gadgets, news, web sites. Topics must be related to technology and have applicability as a genealogy tool."

Genealogy! Just Ask! 
"This group is all about Genealogy/Family History. A place to ask question about these topics. To share what you have found. The purpose of this group is to assist members in research ancestors - to learn about resources and techniques that will enhance that research."

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness - RAOGK USA
[No official descriptions] This group is for general genealogy questions and research help

Ethics and the Genealogist
"Ethics and the Genealogist is a group with a diverse membership from the novice researcher to the advanced professional coming together to discuss ethical issues they encounter while researching."

Genealogy Translations
"This group provides assistance to others in the translation of their genealogical documents. Volunteers offer translation of genealogical documents including vital records, letters, obituaries, and more, in languages including – Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, plus others!"

Genealogy Do-Over: Are you ready to hit the restart button?
"Genealogy Do-Over - the educational initiative where you do get to go home again . . . and start over with your genealogy research." 

Genealogy Chit-Chat
"This group is for all of the Genealogy related stuff that is considered off topic in other groups. Feel free to share your feelings, opinions, victories, defeats, and even vent if you need to."

Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques
"Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques is a place to discuss topics in DNA ranging from beginner to advanced."

DNA Detectives
"Genetic genealogy group focused on using DNA to find biological family for adoptees, foundlings, donor-conceived individuals, unknown paternity and all other types of unknown parentage cases - recent and more distant."

There are also groups for every one of the different genealogy websites. Some are official groups sponsored by the companies themselves and there are some that are "unofficial" groups.  For example, There is a MyHeritage Users Group (unofficial). Even though it is unofficial MyHeritage employees do monitor it and also interact with the users.

Not enough options for you? Check out Katherine R. Willson's Genealogy on Facebook List. At the time of this article she had over 12,300 Genealogy Facebook groups listed. She updates it regularly. You can download it as a free PDF. There is a well-organized table of contents so it will be easy to find groups that will meet your specific research needs. All of the links are clickable. 

Keeping ALL of the Facebook groups on topic helps everyone.

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.


My 5 Favorite LibGuides

It’s no secret that I love LibGuides and as a family historian, you should too. LibGuides are research guides on topics and repositories that span a wide range of subjects including genealogy.

I’m certain that if you start searching on the LibGuides website you’ll find something to help you research  your genealogy. To get you started, here are 5 of my favorite LibGuides that I think you will want to take a look at and add to your own list of must-have resources.

1) Short History of Military Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Short History of Military Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

For those researching a war time nurse, this LibGuide on military nursing is a must. Spanning World War I to the Vietnam War, readers are provided with resources, books, and videos on historic nursing. Make sure to explore the drop-down menus found by hovering your mouse on each tab, to uncover additional books and videos for each conflict. In some cases these videos include interviews and historic footage such as World War II era training videos for US Navy nurses. On the US Cadet Nursing Corps page are links to records collection for the Nursing Corps and dissertations written about these nurses. These resources will undoubtedly help you bring your military nurses’ service to life.

2) Maps, Atlases and Gazetteers: General Info from the BYU Library

  Maps, Atlases and Gazetteers: General Info from the BYU Library

Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah includes genealogical relevant resources and their more than 400 LibGuides reflect that. The Maps, Atlases and Gazetteers: General Info guide includes map links for historical and modern-day maps and gazetteers. A tab labeled Genealogy Aids includes maps from the US, England, Scotland, Germany and Denmark some of which are housed in digitized books. The Most Popular tab reveals a link to the BYU Map Collection on Internet Archive with over 300 maps. While a few of the resources mentioned in this guide are only available to users of the BYU library, there’s more than enough free mapping resources here to help you with your genealogy. Do yourself a favor and spend some time perusing the other BYU Subject Guides including the Family History/Genealogy Subject Guide  for more resources.

3) Archives and Archival Resources from the University of Notre Dame

Archives and Archival Resources from the University of Notre Dame

This Archives and Archival Resources guide is HUGE! It is packed with all kinds of materials about researching archives, archival locations and more. The downside is that some pages were either not working or not complete when I last looked at it but, nevertheless, I wanted to turn your attention to the Paleography section of this guide. This section explains that “Paleography (or Paleography) is the study and analysis of handwriting in order to read old texts with accuracy and fluency. It focuses on studying letter forms and conventions used, such as abbreviations. In addition, paleography also involves dating manuscripts and identifying the location of, called ‘localizing’, the writing used.” Paleography tutorials are essential as you get further back in your family history research. Notice that the Online Tutorial and Resources section includes tutorials for reading English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish & Latin America texts. This is a great starting point for learning more about reading historical texts and documents you come across as you research.

4) History, U.S. & Canada: Primary Sources by Century from University of Southern California (USC)

History, U.S. & Canada: Primary Sources by Century from University of Southern California (USC)

This list of “primary sources” (genealogists use the term original sources) from the 17th to the 20th century in the United States and Canada is a section of the History, U.S. & Canada Research Guide. The downside of this wonderful list of sources is that many are found in subscription websites found only  at academic institutions (a good reason to plan a field trip!). When viewing this page, make sure to click on the Primary Sources tab to reveal a drop-down menu with lists of primary sources by century, events, topics & subject, and region. The Event & Era resources provide rich social history websites that explore the topics of  African American Pamphlets, Salem Witch Trial, and America in the 1930s. There is so much here to explore and add to the story of your ancestor’s life.

5) Genealogy by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Libraries

Genealogy by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Libraries

While this last LibGuide won’t be useful to everyone, I wanted to mention it to give you a sense of what genealogy information you might find in a LibGuide. For those with New England ancestors, this genealogy LibGuide from the University of Massachusetts is a must. Topics covered include Cemeteries, Church Records, City Directories, Cookbooks, Land Records, Marriage Records, Massachusetts Archives, Mayflower Records, US Newspapers, Probate Records, Photography, Tax Records, and Vital Records. While this LibGuide focuses on the collection of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library,  you may find similar titles available at other libraries or online including the University’s Internet Archive account with 14, 500 digitized titles.

What Will You Explore First?

LibGuides provide everything family history researchers need including resources, tips, and information. Enhance your research by searching for a LibGuide on the subject, place, or repository you'd like to visit. There's so much to explore!


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.

Using Name Standardization in Genealogy Research

Using Name Standardization in Genealogy Research

This is the last installment of a three-part series. So far we have covered Dates and Locations and now we will tackle documenting personal names.

I saved this one for last because dates and locations are pretty straightforward but names can get complicated. There is no way I can cover every name issue you will run across so I encourage you to followup with the listed resource at the bottom of the page or seek out additional articles. First some general rules:

  • If you don't know a person's given name, leave it blank
  • Descriptors don't go in a given name field (infant, baby girl, child)
  • If all you have are initials for the given name there is a space between them. You record B. J. not B.J. UNLESS the person's name is just B J then no periods. You would only do this if the person was named B J at birth with those letters not standing in for anything
  • If there is a single initial it is followed by a period UNLESS the initial is the person's full given name
  • If I don't know a person's surname I enter [—?—] because that is a standard in published genealogy articles (the dashes are em dashes that you can make using the Windows shortcut ALT 0151)
  • You always record a woman using her maiden name. If you don't know her maiden then then you will record [—?—]
  • Record surnames in mixed case (Simmons) and not in all caps (SIMMONS). All caps were the standard years ago when books did not have indexes. It allowed you to scan a page just for surnames. In formal reports using the Register or Modified Register (NGSQ) numbering systems you will see some names in small caps. It helps the names stand out from the text. In a genealogy database program you will just enter mixed case
  • You do not generate AKAs unless you actually have a document that records that name 
  • Nicknames can be recorded like this, William "Bill" Perry Simmons to alert people that he was known as Bill

There are four common issues you will see with surnames; Patronymics, French-Canadian "dit" names, Asian names that are recorded in reverse, and Spanish names where two surnames are recorded (a form of patronymics).


Patronymics is a naming system where the surname changes with each generation by adding a prefix/suffix meaning "son of" or "daughter of." Many countries used this naming pattern though the exact pattern is different from country to country. You will enter the names correctly even though it will look like the children have different surnames. For example, a Danish father named Niels Hansen will have sons with the surname Nielsen (son of Niels) and his daughters will have the surname Nielsdatter (daughter of Niels). The FamilySearch Wiki has separate pages for each country that uses a patronymic naming system. If you would like more information, search for the word "patronymic" to get a list. 

Dit Names

French-Canadian dit names were used to differentiate people in the same community that had the same surname. It is basically an AKA that the person went by. You will enter the full surname plus the dit name in the surname field. For example, Rémy Thibault dit Charlevoix. You would enter Thibault dit Charlevoix in the surname field. Here is more information about Dit Names.

Some Asian Names

Some Asian countries put the surname first. I would use the given name field for the surname and the surname field for the given name so that any time you print, their name will appear as it would be said. In this case I feel it is a matter of respect. I wouldn't like my name printed everywhere as Simmons Michele. This means all of your children will have the same "given" name on the screen and different "surnames" but as long as you understand what is going on it will be fine. Chen Kenichi is a famous "Iron Chef." His surname is Chen. His father's name was Chen Kenmin.

Spanish Language Countries

In many Spanish counties people have two surnames, one from their father and one from their mother. When a woman marries, she will drop one of her surnames and add one of the husband's, usually with the word "de" between them. This really isn't so strange when you consider in the US we have a naming system where the wife drops her maiden name and takes on the husband's surname. For more information, see Traditional Hispanic Last Names and Spanish Naming Customs. I do not change the wife's name of record but rather put it as an AKA. Children will pick up a surname from their father and one from their mother to create a new double surname. I do record the children's surname correctly (they will all have the same double surname). Both surnames will go in the surname field. For example, María Ivanna Hernández Peña. Hernández Peña would go in the surname field.  Hernández is María's father's first surname and Peña is her mother's first surname. Some Spanish/Hispanic countries also practiced true patronymics (son of and daughter of).  For an example of this, read the first entry under the surnames heading in this essay on names in Mexico. 

I tried to cover the most common things you will encounter but there are many other things to consider with names, such as prefixes, suffixes, titles and peerage, farm names, clan names, tribal names, etc. There is just too much for one article but I hope you have enough information to enter most of the names you will come across.



Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


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.

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

One of the most common genealogy questions I am asked involves how to find an ancestor's date of death. Typically, genealogy researchers first think of searching for a death certificate.

What if your ancestor pre-dates the beginning use of a formal death certificate?  Then what?  What other options as a researcher do you have to find your ancestor's date of death?

Fortunately, genealogy researchers do have options for determining a date of death or a death year. 

Resources To Use When Searching For An Ancestor's Date of Death

Death Certificates

Death certificates are in reality a "new" record. Before beginning a search for a death certificate, check with the vital records office for the state or country where you are researching to determine when death certificates began being issued.  If your ancestor's death preceded these records, do not spend time looking for a record that did not exist. Move on to one of the other options below.



Thomas Maddox (1870-1928) gravestone
Photo courtesty of Lisa Lisson

Your ancestor's gravestone will usually have the birth and death dates. The full date or just the year may be listed. Keep in mind, while these dates are generally correct, errors in the engraving did occur. If the date does not match up with other information you have, continue your research for more evidence of the death date.

Will & Probate Records

Probate-sample-illinoisIllinois Probate Records (Source:

Your ancestor's will does not (usually) provide his/her actual date of death, but will provide valuable information in narrowing down a death date. For the date your ancestor signed the will, you know he/she was still living. For instance, if your ancestor signed his/her will on 11 Mar 1871, then he/she was alive on that date. 

Note the date the will was entered into probate.  For our example, we see the will was entered into the court for probate 18 May 1871. This ancestor's death occurred between 11 Mar 1871 and 18 May 1871. 

Mortality Schedules

Example of an  1870 U.S. Mortality Schedule (Source:

For U. S. researchers, the mortality schedules of the 1850-1880 census records provide information on individuals who died in the preceding 12 months of the census date. While a specific date will not be specified usually, an ancestor's appearance on a mortality schedule will narrow down a death date.


Obituaries can be found in local newspapers.  If your ancestor was a prominent citizen or politician, regional and state newspapers may also print an obituary or longer article. 

Do not neglect to check religious publications for an obituary as well.

Church Records

Church records offer a variety of genealogical information including information the death of congregants.  Check to see if your ancestor's church recorded a death or burial date.  Church histories, church rolls and newsletters may hold clues to an individual's death date. 

City Directories

See the recent Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories post for using a city directory to narrow down an ancestor's death date.

Pension Records

1812-pension-david-hainesWar of 1812 Widow's Pension Application for widow of David Haines (Source:

Pension records are another potential source to find your ancestor's death date. If your ancestor received a pension for military service, a notation is usually made when he died. Additionally, if his widow applied for a widow's pension, she had to prove their marriage and also, that her spouse was indeed deceased.

Family Records

While last in the list, a family's own personal records should not be discounted. In fact, these should be some of the first records you seek out as a researcher. Family records include the Family Bible, funeral cards tucked into a favorite book or box of mementos, and funeral guest books. Check for obituaries and newspaper articles tucked away.  

Look at the family photo album and check the back of photographs for any notations of a death date (or birth and marriage dates!).

Tip: Reach out to more distant relatives and researchers of collateral ancestors. Information on your line in the family may well be in their closet!

If you are unsure where to find an ancestor's death date, explore one of the options mentioned above.  In addition to determining your ancestor's death date, learn about Four Steps to Analyzing your Ancestor's Gravesite.

Learn more about cemeteries and cemetery records from these webinar in the Legacy library.


Lisa 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. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest



Using Location Standardization in Genealogy Research


This is the second in a series of three articles on data entry standards for genealogy in the United States. The first article covered Dates and now we are going to look at Locations. Please see the list of caveats at the top of the Dates article which also applies here. There is one specific to locations: Always record the location as it was at the time of the event. You can always add a note explaining that the location is"now Perry County"

The standard for US locations is four jurisdictional levels; town/city, county/parish/borough, state, country. The four jurisdictional fields are also the FamilySearch standard.  

Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States

Legacy allows you to enter a "short location" for reports so that they don't sound so formal/wooden; for example,

Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi

If you are using a different software program you can check your options to see if you have something similar. When you export your data you should be exporting it in the longer form so that the receiving person/website will be able to interpret the data correctly. 

What you shouldn't do, even in reports, is to over abbreviate. I would never put Purvis, Lamar Co, MS. You lose a lot of readability and you really won't be saving much space. If someone from another country reads your data they could easily get confused. 

If you are dealing with locations in other countries, each country has their own standard of the number of jurisdictional levels. For example, I use three jurisdictional levels for Germany but I use six for France. The most important thing is to be consistent from country to country.

One thing that throws people off are the independent cities in the US that aren't part of a county. For data entry purposes it is best to enter these with a comma place marker for the county.

Fairfax, , Virginia, United States

This will ensure that the data is interpreted correctly when you do a gedcom export/upload to a website.  Again, if your genealogy program has short locations you can make this look better for reports, Fairfax, Virginia

Another thing to look at are townships. Townships are different than towns (how different depends on the state) so I do put the word township as part of the town/city name.

Cedar Grove Township, Essex, New Jersey, United States

I wrote a much longer article on location data entry that was specific to Legacy. One thing I want to point out from that article is that some people like to put an address in the location field.

Harlem City Cemetery, 310 South Bell Street, Harlem, Columbia, Georgia, United States

The reason some people like to do this is they like how it reads out in reports but if you create a gedcom to send to someone or to upload to a website you risk the receiving program/website not interpreting the data correctly. If you are uploading to FamilySearch this would be flagged as non standard.

Colonial Locations

The biggest issue you will have with locations are those locations before the United States was formed. Unfortunately, there is no real standard for this and there is quite a bit of variation with how you will see these locations recorded. It can get very complicated because not only were the place names and the jurisdictional lines in the "colonies" changing, England/Great Britain was having its own jurisdictional issues. Sometimes colonies were called colonies and sometimes they were called provinces. Depending on the date, the official name of the controlling "country" was England or Great Britain. Other countries also had control of areas certain areas. Here is a short list to give you an example. Don't think this information is set in stone because different resources will give you slightly different information. All of these areas were settled prior to these dates but these are their official formations and when they came under jurisdictional rule.

  • Delaware Colony (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Pennsylvania (England 04 Mar 1681 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Jersey (England 08 Sep 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Georgia (Great Britain 21 Apr 1732 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Connecticut Colony (England 03 Mar 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Massachusetts Bay (England 14 May 1692 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Maryland (England 20 Jun 1632 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of Carolina (England 30 Oct 1629 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 1712)
  • Province of South Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New Hampshire (England 1629 - 30 Apr 1707,Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Virginia (England 14 May 1607 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of New York (England 1664 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Province of North Carolina (Great Britain 1712 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (England 1636 - 30 Apr 1707, Great Britain 01 May 1707 - 04 Jul 1776)
  • New Netherland (Dutch Republic 1614-1674) contained the areas that would become New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and parts of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Prior to the establishment of English rule in those colonies they would have been referred to as New Netherland

Believe me, when you are dealing with these pre-US locations your head will be spinning. Another thing that will throw you off are Districts vs. Counties (South Carolina) and Parishes vs. Counties (Georgia). These jurisdictions are not the same as counties so I do use the word District and the word Parish in the location. 

  • Skidaway Island, Christ Church Parish, Province of Georgia, Great Britain
  • Edgefield, Ninety-Six District, Province of South Carolina, Great Britain 

 Again, you will definitely see some variation with pre-US locations because no clear standard has been established.

 Another interesting location dilemma is when you have someone who was born, or who died, at sea.  Normally I record it this way:

USS North Carolina, Pacific Ocean, At Sea

There is no way to get this one to fit into the 4 jurisdiction convention. 

There is one last location term I want to mention and that is the word "of." "Of" is a very powerful word and I use it all the time. It is a recognized standard but I think it is underutilized. Here is an example from my own genealogical research. I have no idea where my 4th great-grandparents James Simmons and Ellenor Lee were born. I do know that two of their known sons were born in South Carolina in 1794 and in 1797. That is the earliest record I have for James and Ellenor so I record their place of birth as: 

, , of South Carolina, United States (in reports this would be simply, "of South Carolina")



Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.


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.