23 March 2017

Declutter Your Genealogy

Recently I posted on "The Lunchtime Genealogist" series about decluttering your genealogy. I found this an intriguing idea and wanted to encourage others to consider it during a short session of genealogy (their lunch break).

Aside from the obvious pile of papers, the concept of genealogical "clutter" needs more explanation.
Declutter your genealogy to be more productive and more efficient. Both essential for Occasional Genealogists.


I don't have all the answers about decluttering your genealogy but I think I've made a good start. My recently used genealogy files are essentially clutter-free. There is lots of clutter in other parts of my life but I've done a decent job of preventing it in my recent genealogy.

That is the first thing you should start doing.

17 March 2017

Are You Stuck in Your Research?

Are you stuck in your research? Try this solution.
Have you been doing genealogy for a while but feel stuck and out of ideas? Maybe you've been trying to learn more but you keep hearing the same information over and over.

Do you simply lack the time to find and read new educational material (whether books, blog posts, or articles)?

Occasional Genealogists (OGs) need education as much, if not more, than often genealogists. Your genealogy knowledge grows a lot from experience. If you don't get to research a lot, you can really be hampered by a lack of education. To make the most of your limited research time, you should try and get as much education as possible.

At some point, you've going to need to go beyond basic genealogy education and learn some more advanced techniques. But you're an Occasional Genealogist, how will you find the time?

A great resource for bite-sized, but more advanced education, are the webinars from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). These webinars are for any genealogists, whether they are certified, want to be certified, are just trying to improve their skills, are professionals, want to be professionals, or are just avid hobbyists. That's right, these are webinars for hobbyists, too.

If you feel like you keep learning the same thing over and over again from magazines, online lectures, and even blog posts, give the BCG webinars a try.

The webinars are free when they're live. A few remain free as recordings. Previously the webinars were only accessible through the BCG website but now you can register (for free) for the live webinars and purchase recordings from Family Tree Webinars.

Family Tree Webinars offers many other webinars. The BCG Webinars are most likely the most advanced. If you find them too advanced, try and find another webinar on a similar topic to help you fill in the gap between your current education and the BCG webinar.

One of the great things about genealogy is it doesn't require formal schooling. If you don't want to find yourself permanently stuck, you need to self-educate, though.

You probably need some "formal" education in the sense you should learn from a teacher/instructor, not just by reading. Reading is the primary way genealogists have always improved their knowledge. With the Internet, now we can conveniently learn from an instructor via live and recorded webinars, classes, and even on-going education.

If you're ready to move to another level but need some quicker options or a one-stop-shop for more advanced material, the BCG webinars are a great place to start.
Don't forget toto get free access to the Resource Library.
08 March 2017

Finding Female Ancestors: The Importance of Siblings

This post has been migrated from my original blog for J.P. Dondero Genealogy.
This post contains affiliate links.

The importance of siblings is a topic that can be discussed for any genealogical problem but sometimes it may be the best or only way to research a difficult female ancestor.
Finding Female Ancestors: Researching women is consistenly a challenge. If your mystery woman didn't create records, you may have to rely on alternative research avenues.


A Grayscale of Social Interaction

There are lots of suggestions for identifying records about your female ancestor but sometimes she just didn't create records.

Your female ancestor may not have participated in society in a way that created lasting records. Women at the extremes of society have some of the best records available.

Women very involved in social activities or social work may appear in records of those groups or in local histories. Women who defied female norms were likely to appear in court for breaking some law (this could be suffragettes or prostitutes or anything in-between, don't forget there are differences in norms and laws at different points in history).

This also applies to a certain degree if her husband was at one end of the social spectrum. A wife may be a paragon of female virtues (for the time) but she may need to apply to civil or religious authorities for help if her husband doesn't provide for the family.

This could be applying for money for food or schooling. It could also be taking advantage of a law that prevents all the family's assets (think not just a house but kitchen utensils, bedding, etc.) from being seized if the husband is in debt or owes taxes.
27 February 2017

Cemetery Photography Kit: List and Links

This post contains affiliate links.

Note: I have not used every product linked. These give you an idea what I'm recommending in general, in case you've never heard of the item. I do look for products on Amazon that are Prime eligible and have good ratings. I've said in the description if I've used the actual product linked. Otherwise, it is an example (but I believe a good one). Some of the links are similar items where you need to choose what will work for you (for example, the lids, you only need one, I've linked to three different styles).

Supplies for an Awesome Cemetery Photography Kit

Get your cemetery photography kit together for genealogy spring break!


5-gallon Bucket

This is a container, seat, stand, table, etc. I know I can get them locally at our home improvement store and Firehouse Subs. I know my father owned a "hunting" version with a padded swivel seat. I don't advise buying the bucket on Amazon unless you are buying something more than just a plain bucket, they cost too much. You will need a lid for many of the uses beyond "container."

What goes in a cemetery photography kit?
The bucket is only half full with all these items, which includes the bucket apron which goes on the outside when in use.

5-gallon bucket accessories

I had no idea there were so many accessories made for a 5-gallon bucket. We used to use the buckets for camping in Girl Scouts which is why I knew they were perfect for storage/seat but I'm thinking I might organize a bunch of things in buckets, now! Here are a few lid-seat options: stool, padded swivel lid, organizer seat (the video illustrates how four different products from this company work if you want to see them "in-action"). This is one of the in-bucket organizers from the video for the organizer seat. I've linked to it specifically because it fits all the way inside the bucket. I see products that look the same but sit on the rim which won't be good when you put your kit in your car and it falls over! It also won't be a seat or table which is a major advantage for a cemetery photography kit.

Travel Tripod

Note that I was given my tripod and have no idea what brand it is. The link is to a similar style with good reviews. You may be happy with a mini-tripod but I like having the option of something taller without the extra space to store it.

Smart phone photography options

Smart phone adapter for tripod or consider a selfie stick instead of the tripod, your hands won't be free but you will do much less bending to get to the level of many tombstones.

Bucket apron


There are a million options for this. Once again, I was given the one you see pictured. The clips on it prevent the lid from being attached so I'll be buying a different one. However, the pocket size is perfect for a photography kit. When choosing this for a cemetery photography kit, you probably want large pockets. Many have smaller pockets than what I own.

a bucket apron makes your photo kit easy to access in the cemetery

Gardening shears and other gardening tools

The linked shears are my got to shears in my garden for soft and hard materials (thick grass or brambles). They should be able to handle anything that isn't excessively overgrown.

Billion Graves app 

(free version is fine)
This will geotag your photos and allow someone else to transcribe the information. It's easier for the photographer than Find-A-Grave but both are valid choices (you don't need anything extra at the cemetery for Find-A-Grave).

Photo Reflector/Diffuser Set

This is the exact product I own and it is great. Why do you need it in the cemetery? The same reason any photographer uses it, it lets you control the natural light.

A reflector is the most useful part of this kit in the cemetery (it has two, silver and gold, plus the white also works to a lesser extent). I was taught this technique with a mirror, which will work much better. However, you need a mirror the size of the inscription you're trying to bring out. That's not usually something you can bring with you (and use) if you're on your own or if you have to fly...
This set folds up (easily) and is small enough to fit in your bucket. The diffuser can help you remove strange shadows if the stone is in direct sunlight.

Your cemetery photo kit needs a photo reflector!!!


Note that the set contains the diffuser (with the foldable edging, i.e. that is the stiffened piece) and one reversible zip on cover (i.e. soft, no stiffening edge on its own). You can NOT use the diffuser and the reflector at the same time unless you have something else to go inside the reflector cover. A piece of foam core from the dollar store will fit but not fully stiffen the reflector. The foam core can be trimmed to fit and even cut in half and duck taped to "fold" if you want a cheap fix. Foam core won't fit in your bucket AND do a good job stiffening, though.
This set is small enough and lightweight enough to carry two (you could also buy a smaller one to be your diffuser). This is worth every penny if you're serious about your cemetery photographs and can't bring a mirror.

This is worth every penny if you're serious about your cemetery photographs and can't bring a mirror.
Your bucket can prop up this reflector if you're working alone. (Reflector placed close to stone for illustration, only.)
This fake headstone doesn't have details that illustrate why reflected light is needed. It does show how much additional light the silver reflector can provide, even late in the day.  

Index cards and sharpie

For making notes that need to be in a photograph.

Hardback notebook and pens/pencils

Since you have a seat or table (the bucket), you could also use a small device with a keyboard if you prefer electronic to paper. I don't want to photograph on my phone and try to take notes there, too, but you can. If you use Evernote, this Moleskine notebook is the perfect way to write and then digitize notes from the cemetery.

Water bottles

For you, to stay hydrated, if you're going in the summer, I recommend an insulated bottle. I am less likely to drink water that has gotten warm and if it's hot... not happening. My family recently found my daughter's bottle does a great job insulating. They make the same bottle in a larger size without kids characters on it which is what I've linked to.
One reason I am recommending this bottle, is the cover will keep the lid completely clean, even if you knock it over into the dirt while working. We have discovered this bottle comes with or
without a handle. For kids, the handle is the difference in carrying it one-handed or two-handed. For adults, this isn't as big a deal but consider if you need the convenience of a handle. We can't find the handled version locally, right now. We bought the handled bottle locally, though, at a back-to-school sale.
If you need water to clean the stone or matte dirt that keeps flying up, insulated bottles don't really hold much. Make sure to bring a second bottle for your non-drinking water so you don't end up dehydrated.

Hat, protective clothing

Any protection from sun, bugs, poison ivy, dirt---anything.

Measuring tape, clipboard, pencils, graph paper, ruler, etc.

If you will be sketching a layout.

Tombstone rubbing kit

I don't do rubbings, too many issues with possibly damaging the stone, but a kit should fit in your bucket if that's your choice.

Permission slips

Print a copy of local laws that give you permission to be in a cemetery or correspondence giving you permission to be on private property. You are not guaranteed to have permission to be in every cemetery and even if you can be there, photography (or rubbings, etc.) may not be allowed.
This is a good post from The Legal Genealogist about this issue. In particular, read the comments to learn about the many variations people have come across and also the issues you should consider from an ethical stand point, not just a legal stand point.


A printable checklist of all these items is available in the Resource Library.

Don't forget toto get free access.

Do you have any additional suggestions for items for a cemetery photography kit? I tend to work in rural cemeteries but they aren't hard to access. Do you need different supplies for an urban or remote cemetery? Have you found something that helps with mobility issues or comfort? Leave a comment and tell us what additional items help you!

16 February 2017

Recipe for Elephant ala Genealogy


a bite-sized approach to research planning
Today I'm going to give you a recipe for Elephant ala Genealogy. If you don't get it, it's that old joke about "how do you eat an elephant?" The answer is "one bite at a time." It's the same way you plan genealogy research.

This is a bit-sized approach to doing genealogy planning, followed by research, and then the extremely important "reporting" step. This is not a recipe a professional genealogist would use for a client (it's for Occasional Genealogists) so I've adjusted the reporting step to make it easier to get started.

I've laid out this recipe for 15-minute sessions because it's likely you can squeeze that amount of time in somewhere. Research planning of this type is easier if you do it frequently.

You can also do this once a week for a longer time, just try and avoid redoing work each week because you don't remember where you left off. Figure out what you need to do so you know what to do next. That is a super valuable skill to learn so make it part of your process.

Why a Recipe?


This is a "recipe" because it is very specific. I've imagined it for a lunch break where you're not at home. Obviously, it'll be simpler if you are doing this at home. You need to have a set-up if you want to accomplish something in just 15 minutes, though.

Create Your Own Set-up


Your set-up is the way you access your notes and create new ones. For paper, this is where you keep everything (if you're not at home), whether a file folder, or binder, etc. If you're going digital, your set-up needs to be equally organized. Be able to quickly access what you need.

I described an idea I'm working on for my personal research that is a "set-up" I'll use at home. You can read that post here to see what I included.

Also, you do need to be able to do research. In 15 minutes, that will have to be online and is probably a look-up. If what you need to do is more involved, you will need to adjust so you don't miss out on any clues or repeat work because of the short sessions.

If you can fit in a research trip (of any type---local or major travel) but just need to prepare a plan to justify it, it's simple to use this recipe until the research stage, make your trip, and then come back to complete the rest of the recipe.

Doing your planning and reporting frequently, in little bits of time, and your research in a chunk is a great idea. Just don't put off the reporting!!!!

The Recipe

If you will record your results on paper, you'll need to do the prep-day work, first. If you'll be fully digital, start with day one. I'm assuming you have access to the files you'll need if you know you'll work digitally, otherwise, prep before day one.

Prep-day (at home for paper prep)

Print any forms you need or have your papers ready. This includes forms for your...

  • plan, 
  • log, 
  • and notes. 
You can handle the "report" later or turn your plan into a report (this is recommended so you don't have as much to rewrite, you're obviously short on time if you're using 15-minutes sessions).

If you are only using paper because you have to (for example, because you are on your lunch break at work), bring your goal home after day one and put it on your digital forms and then print them to save yourself the writing. You'll be doing "print on demand" with this latter scenario.

Day one: 


  • Define your goal. 

This needs to be very specific, a "research question" not a broad goal.

  • Write it down somewhere you can access it every time you do research. 
Electronically, it can be anywhere so you can cut and paste it into different places, On paper, write it on your plan. You'll need your goal on your notes and log (cut and paste for digital, use a clear, concise summary if using paper).

Day two: 


  • Begin your plan. 

You should be able to get it half finished if you have multiple items you can get in 15-minute sessions. If you think it will take a lot longer, simplify. Your goal may be too broad.

A good way to try and break it down to work with your schedule is aim for a plan you should be able to do in five 15-minute sessions (or three or four if that's the number of sessions in a week for you, two is too few).

An actionable research plan is very short. You may have a broader research plan with a handful of research questions. It's the plan for each research question that is actionable.

Day three: 


  • Finish your plan. 
  • If you have time, begin prepping your log and notes. 

That means copying the first source you want to look at to your log and onto your notes. This is where you'll save time on the day you do the lookup, without cheating the research process.

Day four: 


  • Prep your log and note forms. 

Only include sources you will definitely look at. You might not look at some things based on your previous findings, don't waste time prepping for those.

  • Get any citation parts you can, without doing the actual lookup.


Day five: 


  • Do your first lookup. 
  • Record the citation parts, 
  • take notes, 
  • summarize your findings in your log and 
  • enter any cross-reference information so you can find copies of the item and/or your notes.


Repeat day five for each record.

First day after you're done: 


  • Review all your notes and make summary notes. 

This is the start of your report so write on your report form if using paper.

Add'l days

Each successive day, review multiple notes (and even documents) related to this goal and write your thoughts. If you already know how to report, that's what you're doing. If you don't, just go over everything for this goal and record your thoughts, compare information from different documents, etc. Don't forget to note any ideas about new sources to check (this will become your next plan).

Working on the reporting step will make the biggest difference in your research success. Don't get hung up on writing a "report." If you're working in 15 minutes (or even an hour), just focus on reviewing the documents you found for this goal. You can review previous plans if you wish but don't do more research, make notes about the additional research to do.

Once you complete the report/review days, you should essentially have your next plan. You may need to compile it onto one form for easy access (or you may have the makings of several plans for related research questions).

If you only have one obvious research question to answer, next, you're probably ready to start back at day three. Regardless, prepare your next actionable plan. If you can't do the research in 15-minute sessions (either because it's too long or isn't online), prepare a plan for what you need to do.


If you have more than 15 minutes, you can obviously do more in a day but the order is essentially the same.

You can adjust by coming back to your plan after finding (or not finding) a few key documents. Don't add to it constantly, though. You need to do the reporting step (and it is sooooooo hard to come back to it, better to write many short reports than one long one).

Describing the process using paper makes me scream in my head "no wonder only retirees did genealogy before computers!" Oh my goodness! All the rewriting you have to do. Reduce the amount of recopying by hand as much as possible. Be careful not to cheat, though. I know this can be hard.

Finally, make sure you keep everything you create organized. This schedule will create an actionable plan that you perform, a report/review of what you did, and your next plan (which you may not be able to use immediately). You'll need to be able to find your research log, notes, report/review, and unused (or incomplete) plans in the future. You may or may not need to keep your used plan.

So that's the recipe for Elephant ala Genealogy (a genealogy project). Not all research can be done in short sessions. Doing all the prep work you can as well as the research that is possible will make the most of your longer research sessions. You'll also find you're more motivated to do research when everything is ready to do. For me, that means I will try harder to find make the time for that research.

This recipe really flew through the research process. What questions do you have or pitfalls do you foresee doing this process in short-sessions? Leave a comment.