The Universe and Me

comments on the journey of life


Genealogy – Should I buy a subscription to..?

I am asked all the time what do I think of and should they buy a subscription. My answer is always the same it depends upon what you want to do with it. If you think you can sign up and get some leaves and do your family tree in one afternoon. No. Do not buy a subscription to anything. To get your leaf in Ancestry you first must have a family tree and upload or direct input it into Ancestry. The better detailed and the more people in your family tree, the better and more leaves you will receive. If you receive a hint and it has nothing to do with your family tree it will just keep coming back. If it is not your line be sure to click ignore leaf, so can better use their algorithms to search for your ancestor.

Their are plenty of free ways to search your family tree. Local History sites, Roots Web, just typing the name into a search engine and seeing what is out there, or use the best of the free sites I like free, free makes me happy. What I really hate is a site that misleads you, that says search your ancestors and then does not allow you to read anything.

I use anything and everything I can get my hands on and yes I do have a subscription to Ancestry. When I first bought a subscription I thought it was a waste of money. My family was first generation American on my Father’s side and from Canada on my Mother’s side, a few generations back. Ancestry was all about American ancestors and I did not have any. I bought the subscription anyhow. I looked, I searched, I grumbled and then I bought the worldwide subscription, on the idea that it would help me more than the basic and guess what it did. It could be timing, it could be coincidence, it could be anything, but once I got that worldwide subscription I discovered that my Family was really American after all. That German side of my Mother’s, the ones that came from Canada, seems they were American after all. They arrived in 1710, cleared the frontier of New York Territory, fought Indians, pushed further and further West by the arriving British, fought in the American Revolutionary War (on both sides) and were more exciting than I could imagine.

Ancestry has now upgraded their database and the Worldwide Subscription does not access everything and you need to have An All Access subscription. I am still in the grumbling mode on that one. The additional $90 gets me access to Fold3 and to newspapers. I haven’t yet decided if it’s necessary. Newspapers can be accessed on a number of sites for pay and I haven’t found a large number of ancestor stories that I need to read on a newspaper, but then I keep thinking well maybe there is and it would be easier to find the whole story with out months of searching like I did for the missing family that turned out to be a murder mystery after all.

When starting your family search, always start with free and then decide how much of what you must read is on a pay site. Family Search has easy search engines and if you just use the easy search options, you can miss tons of stuff on their browse/non indexed databases and things you can find my clicking their map and seaching by states or countries. Believe it or not they are even starting to link to a fabulous Belgian website I’ve been using for years. When I am on Family Search I always pay attention to how much information wants me to go to a partner site and how badly I want that information, if it’s enough, then I decide on a subscription to that site.


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Genealogy 101D – What Do I use for my family tree?

I have everything and I am ready to put together my family tree. What do I use to do that?

The dilemma for everyone researching their family history is what program do I use to keep all the information and print out a pretty family tree. Face it we all want pretty family trees.  There are a number of programs to use. In my opinion the two largest or most frequently chosen are Family Tree Maker which is promoted by and Legacy Family Tree which is promoted by and has TempleReady Reports.

Family Tree Maker must be purchased, but Legacy Family Tree has a free standard downloadable version and more advanced versions for purchase. I use Legacy, not because it was free but because when I first started I found Family Tree Maker very confusing and hard to navigate. There are many people who would totally disagree. Legacy gave me the reports in the style I was looking for, and a variety of Family Trees I could print out.

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Genealogy 101C Sources and why you need them

I am sure as you have been looking at Family Trees online, you have notices sources in footnotes and links. What is a source and why do you need them?

Every professional genealogist will tell you that you must have sources, notes that identify where you took your information from and that verify your information is accurate. You are probably going why should I tell you. Honestly it’s not for anyone else, it’s for you. I was very much the I did all this research I am certainly not going to tell the world where I found it so they can cut me out of the picture, when I started. I then realized that sources were more for me, so I could remember where I saw it, especially if it was a family line that I was slowly working on.

Sources should be the record that verifies your information and allows you to move back a generation. Sources should not be a family tree that you found on the internet. If you copy some information from a website and want to remind yourself what website, then site it as a source, but you should verify the information for yourself.

When you start your research, writing down what you know of yourself, your sibling, your parents and grandparents, your source is yourself. While it may seem silly when thinking of yourself or your siblings, you should verify your information with an actual record. Most likely you have seen your birth certificate, so therefore your source would be your birth certificate. The same would apply for your siblings and parents. On the assumption that your parents where married you would then source their marriage through their marriage record.

Moving back a generation to your parents, you may have a copy of their birth certificates, birth record or baptism records. These would be your source for their birth name and date. You may not have access to these records and wish to pursue them or you may have this information in a family bible or journal and that would become your source.

Depending upon the age of your parents and grandparents, census records become a vital source of information for sibling that you may not have known about. In my records I look for a birth, marriage and death record as well as all census records that may be available for a person. Census records are only currently available until 1940.

I originally did not look for death records and only looked for marriage records if I ran across them. Now while researching on my Canadian and Belgium sides I always look for birth, marriage and death records because they do not all list the parents and sometimes godparents can be found on birth records that led to more family members. The same can be said for witnesses on marriages and who recorded the death of a person. I also discovered when I sent for a copy of an ancestors (who had died as a child) death record that he had died from tuberculosis, something that no one had known, or remembered. Because of this I sent for a great uncle’s death record who seemed to disappear into thin air, he too had died of tuberculosis and so did his wife (a person I did not know about until seeing his death record). Obviously there had been an outbreak in the family as well as the community.

I have notes, family tree sketched out, my sources but what do I do I do with them? How to find a database next in Genelogy 101D

Genealogy -Sources -Help You

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Genealogy 102B Game of Names

I couldn’t decide between something bland, like how names keep changing, or Changing Names, or you get it, but do you have the right name?

Unlike my Grandmother who we didn’t know if she was Emma or Erma there are a lot of unique names in my family. Unique because they constantly change. On my mother’s side I call it the flipped name. It seems that a majority of her ancestors went by their middle name, not their given name. Her grandfathers name was William Edgar but most of the time he is listed in records as Edgar or Ed and he actually went by the name Banty. That is a story I would like to know, how he got his nickname.

There were a lot of arguments disagreements about his name. His brother was known as Arthur but his given name was George Arthur. All his sisters had names of flowers and didn’t seem to use their middle names except for one. Her name was Zena Alma (I always thought it was just a bad spelling of Zinnia. The name was found once in a record in it’s full form, the majority of the time she went by Alma. I have confirmed that the baptism records list William and George. Zena, as yet, has not been found on a birth or baptism record.

Their father was named Josephus and while on my fathers side, which is Catholic, all names tend to be in Latin his name was Josephus. I continue to run across it in some family tree as Joseph. It is not. He himself listed his name as Josephus and was called Josephus. My fathers father was Leonardus Julius and was called Jules, his name was normally stated Leonard Julius. I could jump ahead and tell you that I found his baptism record recently and he was listed as Julius Leonardus and I just groaned and decided I didn’t want to debate what his name was because everyone and every document says Leonard Julius.

The one thing that it did show is people weren’t so concerned with the birth name as we seem to be now. The other thing it teaches is that when looking for a person in your research try flipping first names and middle names and try variant spellings as in Zena and Zinnia or Edgar/Edward and Ed.

That brings us to last names. It seems everyone has a story about what their last name use to be. Those stories are important as you want to move backwards in your family research. On my mothers side one of the names was Schmidt, eventually changed to Smith (oh that is a fun one to research). While the name was Schmidt, it is also found as Schmitt, so when working on this line I try them all. I also use the first and middle name switch along with the Americanization of names. One child was named Cristele in their original Prussian I’m still not sure which of the children she is as all their birth dates change in various records.

Name variation did not all come about because some ancestor came through Ellis Island and they changed their name. Even in Ellis Island they didn’t always change their name, they simple could not understand the language and the accented style of English when they were being told a name. If the immigrant was illiterate it sometimes resulted in a different name on the immigration papers, and sometimes Emma just called herself Erma.

A number of name variations come about because as the centuries go by we spell this differently and first names, middle names and last names became more of the norm. Not everyone had a last name as we know it today. In the Dutch/Flemish/French languages a lot of surnames where proceeded by de or De or Van. They originally stood for Leonardus of Ghent written Leonardus de Ghent (English translation) Leonardus de Gant (Dutch translation) becoming over time Leonardus DeGant, Leonardus Gant and possibly Leonardus Ghant. You need to follow every variation when trying to research your family tree. In my research in Flanders (present day Belgium) I find that i’s and y’s are interchanged and that ÿ is sometimes written ij.

When researching a name always think of various spelling, pronunciations and sounds that your name can make.

Next – I love this but, how do I found it all? Do I need a subscription to something?

Subscriptions Genealogy – Should I buy a subscription to..?

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Genealogy 101B – The Next Step

I have written down what I know. I have talked to my family and made notes. I now have scraps of paper and multi notebooks. Now what do I do?

Step Three: Organization is your best friend. Organize your family research.

I started with one notebook and wrote all my records and notes in it. Seemed so simple, until I had a name and date but no  idea who the person was related to and what it meant. So organize yourself. I think I have tried every organizational tip I have ever seen and yet I still found myself writing on numerous scraps of paper and a number of notebooks. So I started again.

Color coding was the best, easiest and most efficient way to organize.

I picked four colors, one for each of my Grandparents. Blue for my Fathers Father. Green for my Fathers Mother. Pink for my Mothers Father and Yellow for my Mothers Mother. Back to school is your best friend when deciding to color code your family research. I went and got notebooks, folders, and index cards in each of the four colors. I then picked up purple, orange, red, and light blue to further colorize the family names, but to start it was just four colors.

I went through my original notebook and copied all the notes into the correct family colored notebook. The notes I couldn’t decide where they went I put in a plain folder. I will admit I did not throw out that original notebook. It somehow holds memories, but I do not reference it. I took all my scraps of paper and I put them in folders that matched the corresponding family. Each notebook and folder had the family name written on it, in case I forgot which color I picked for which family. Don’t laugh, when you get to those purple’s and orange’s you can get confused.

I also use the same colors in my genealogy database, so when I am roaming around in the 1700’s I know which line I am working on by looking at it’s color code. I also know than cool colors are my fathers side and warm colors are my mothers side.

I have 3 ring binders and accordion style or envelope style folders in each color also, to hold copies of birth, marriage, death certificates, census records, military records, or other information that confirms my family tree through sources.

Once you have accomplished these things:

    • Writing down what you know.
    • Talking to family.
    • Deciding on Ancestors, Decendants or Both.
    • Organizing your notes.

You will feel like you are on your way to creating your family history.

More on sources, what they mean and why you need them in Genealogy 101C.

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Genealogy 102: What’s in a name?

The family story went something like this, my paternal grandmother was a twin, they were named Emma Erma and Erma Emma, my Grandmother was Emma. Really imaginative was about the only thought I had about it. I knew nothing of my Grandmothers family except she had a twin sister and she was disowned for coming to America with my Grandfather.  I listened to this story and filed it away, in the category of wonderful family stories.

When I was in high school my mother and I made a trip back home and went to the court house to find some family records. There I found my grandparents marriage record. They had not married before they came to America, a fact I did not know and helped explain the disowned part that I had filed away in the back of my head. The amazing part was my Grandfather Leonard Julius was listed as Groom under Jules (everyone knew him by his nickname) but the Bride was listed as Irma, with the correct last name. I went hmm, isn’t that interesting why was she called Emma?

In college I went home for the funeral of my great Aunt and stayed with my father’s sister (my Godmother). I told her about finding the marriage record in the court house and Grandma was listed as Irma and asked her why. She walked me into her bedroom and showed me the immigration record she had for her mother, that is what her mother told her, but she could never understand why it said Irma. I looked at her and said who is my Grandmother. She goes my Ma was always called Emma, Irma is her sister. I left totally confused about the way people just use any old name.

Years later I found myself with my father and another of his sister’s talking family. I said ok, tell me about my Grandmother, what is her name. My Aunt repeats the family story of Emma Erma and Erma Emma. She then says, my mother’s name was Erma but when her sister died she started calling herself Emma. I said when was that? She said around 1940, I think. I now understood, as twins tend to be very close and I figured she missed her sister terribly and hadn’t seen her since she came to America in 1914. I filed it away in the family confusion resolved section of my brain.

Another visit home to a different sister of my father’s found her agreeing with the Erma and Emma story and then bringing out funeral cards of my Grandmother’s sisters. Wait, there was more than one? Seems there were two more sisters and right in front of me were their names (by the way my Grandmother’s funeral card said Emma), later I found out there were actually five sisters and her fifth sister had immigrated at the same time, lived in the same area for years and while my Aunts and Uncles knew she was related never seemed to think of her when I asked questions.

I found myself years later in Belgium, finally meeting relatives and seeing the town our family came from and longing to know more about them. They helped me compile a family history with research they had been doing and I felt I had hit the jackpot. I finally knew who my family was and I had someone to help me along. He went to the registry office after my visit and wrote to tell me, there were no children named Erma Emma and Emma Erma, that their names where actually Emma Marie and Erma Marie. Ok, I said who is my Grandmother. We decided my Grandmother was Erma Marie and the being called Emma after her sister died was correct. The name was finally resolved and we changed the family tree and went on to discovering more family history.

The moral was, everyone had a different story, I needed to talk to more of them before they were gone. I needed to keep digging and to learn everything that I could. The internet and access to records opened up a whole new world for me and I kept digging. I found her immigration from Ellis Island and she was listed as Emma. Again my brain said who is my Grandmother. She came to America listed as Emma on the ship registry and left Ellis Island as Irma on the immigration papers. Names being changed at Ellis Island is very common, but it bothered me. I thought perhaps they wanted to bring her sister over and she had some physical something that would have her turned away, so they came up with the Erma Emma/ Emma Erma thing as a way to fool customs and for my Grandfather go back to Belgium with my Grandmother’s papers and to bring her sister over. World War 1 broke out and it never happened, made sense to me, so again my brain filed it away, but I wasn’t satisfied until I really knew.

The breakthrough and the final answer came through the internet as more and more countries and states put vital records online. Weeks of looking through Flemish parish records in Latin, Dutch, and French found my Grandmothers birth record for myself. There she was Erma Marie, or Emma Marie, but I had to know who she was and there was no one left to help me. This had been a 40 year journey to actually see the record, but it couldn’t answer who she was, so I kept paging and there it was the death record a year later of Erma Marie. She had been dead the whole time. The woman in the picture we had discovered had never been her twin, but one of her other sisters. She had never meant to bring her to America. She had never changed her name after her sister died (though she did have a sister die around 1940). My Grandmother had been a twin through and through and had called herself Emma or Irma all her life.

I learned two things.

One: Never give up

Two: Write those stories down, because someday it might make sense.

More on how changing names keeps you digging in Genealogy 102B




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Genealogy 101 – For the beginner in all of us

I have seen the leaf commercial and I want to find my own leaf. Now what?

I consider myself a pretty good genealogist, but while I have done family histories for a fee, I do not call myself a professional. I have taken courses at a college, and have received a certificate as a certified genealogist, but I do not belong to any societies or have I been certified by the Board of Genealogists. I am perfectly happy to be an amateur and to help others along.

I waited a long time to start my family search or so it seems every time I read a blog that says to start talk to your grandparents. Two of mine were gone before I was born, the third died when I was one and a half and the last one didn’t know much for years and years and years. So for you, who may have waited to long too, I offer this.

Step One:
Write it down.
Write down your full name (including middle name), your birth date, marriage date (if applicable)
Write down your parents names, their birth dates, marriage date, death dates (if applicable)
Write down your siblings names and birth dates.
Write down their husbands, wives, partners, children and their information.
Write down your parents siblings and their children and their information.
Do you find yourself with blanks, when you are sure you knew it all?
Don’t worry we all do. This is where the fun comes in.

This is why you talk to people. Call your parents or sibling if you can and ask them to fill in the blanks. If you can not do that, then try family bibles, wills, letters anything with information. Gather them up you will need them now and forever. Write down the stories they tell you too, even if they don’t make sense now. Write it all down.

Step Two:
Do you want to know ancestors or descendants or both?
Most people want to know their ancestors, that’s what’s leaves are all about.

When I started I wanted to know my ancestors and I filled in my Aunts and Uncles and their children my first cousins. I left the rest, now years later I don’t have all the who they married, or their children or who their children married and honestly they don’t give it up very easily, because well they think that I have it all.

You are now on your way to researching your family history.
You have the basics and are going to work on filling in the blanks for your generation before jumping to the conclusion that you are related to Charlemagne. (The genealogist joke, is that everyone is related to Charlemagne, he was born in 747 and has millions of descendants) But you can’t just say it, you have to follow the lines backwards.

Gather your papers, write it down and review it before moving on to the next step.
You have the correct names right?
In Genealogy 102 we will discuss what is in a name.

Genealogy 101B the next step.