Category Archives: Genealogy 101

1940’s Census Blog

Did you know that you can learn a lot of information about the 1940 Census from the 1940 Census Blog? The blog includes posts about famous people found in the census and how to find them, informative posts about the indexing project, and even great contests. You can keep up with news about the 1940 Census Community Project. The blog has an RSS feed that allows you to receive updates in your RSS feed reader, too.

I’ve been working on indexing the 1940 Census a little bit in my free time, and I even managed to find my great-grandparents, my grandfather, and the rest of their family in Lockney, TX—mainly because I knew exactly where the family would be in the 1940 Census. I don’t know where the rest of my family was (for certain, anyway) in 1940. The project needs volunteers willing to transcribe certain information on the census images so that a searchable database can be created to help us all find our relatives in 1940, even if we aren’t sure where they were.

I was really interested to discover the education level attained by my family members, and I was really intrigued to see my great-grandfather was still working for the WPA in 1940 and that my great-uncle Alvin was a shoe shine boy and shop cleaner at a barber shop. No one mentioned that job before to me, so likely the family didn’t consider it significant.

You can learn more about the project and how you can help at the 1940 Census Community Project.

As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for an iPad.

Why Kate Middleton’s Relation to Jane Austen is Not a Story

Catherine MiddletonIn recent weeks, a news story has been making the rounds of all my favorite Jane Austen blogs (I am a huge Jane Austen fan) about the Duchess of Cambridge’s distant relation to Jane Austen. They are eleventh cousins, six times removed. According to Anastasia Harman, a researcher at, their connection comes from a distant shared ancestor, Henry Percy, who died in 1455. Of the discovery, Harman says, “Given what Kate has done and what Jane wrote about and how those intertwine so much—to find a connection between them is very exciting.”

Not really. Most people are probably connected to Jane Austen about the same degree as Kate Middleton is, which is to say, hardly at all. users may know that has a feature that allows users to compare their data with that shared in the OneWorldTree to see their degree of relationship to certain famous individuals (I can’t figure out what algorithm they use, as I have actually been able to prove distant relationships to Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, and it never shows me as related to them).

In order to use this feature, click on the profile of the person you want to see, mouse over “More Options” on the right, and select “Find Famous Relatives.” The feature relies on the accurate reporting of the users who have contributed to OneWorldTree, hence it’s not very accurate and should not substitute for research. For example, the first famous relative listed on my own profile is Stephen Hopkins, Mayflower passenger. He is supposedly my 12th great-grandfather. The only problem is that the claim rests entirely on my supposed descent from his daughter Bethia. He had no such daughter. As one might imagine, Mayflower passengers and their descendants are fairly well documented, so this connection is easily disproved and yet can be found in OneWorldTree—or I should say could. Bethia “Hopkins” seems not exist in the tree anymore, but bizarrely is still used as a placeholder for the connection.

According the OneWorldTree data, I am actually more closely related to Aunt Jane than Kate Middleton, as they say we are fifth cousins, seven times removed. Do I believe it? Not really. Our connection supposedly comes from our mutual descent from William Howard and Mary Eure. I supposedly descend from Charles Howard, their son, while Jane descends from their daughter, Mary Howard. I imagine the connection, at least in my own family, involves some leaps, as I cannot trace the line back nearly as far as the OneWorldTree line seems to go.

My point in bringing all this up is that eleventh cousins, six times removed is not a close relationship. In fact, the Duchess’s in-laws, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, are more closely related to each other at seventh cousins, once removed. I found this interesting blog post that explains how the math works when determining probability of relationship between two individuals. The author closes his post: “The upshot of all this: If you discover that you share a common ancestor with somebody from the 17th century, or even the 18th, it is completely unremarkable. The only thing remarkable about it is that you happened to know the path.”

Essentially, the only story behind Kate Middleton’s connection to Jane Austen is that genealogists were able to trace the connection. That the connection exists is not a story.

For more information about distant relationships and how common these sorts of connections are, you might find these articles interesting:

Photo via The London Evening Standard.

Reunion for Mac

I downloaded Reunion for Mac, and I have been trying it out this afternoon.  It felt sad to put in the death details for my grandfather’s sister Eva Marie Gearhart Heier:

Eva M. Heier

Eva M. Heier, 93, of Yakima died Sunday.

Mrs. Heier was born in Spokane and lived in Yakima later in life. She had many occupations, including working as a clerk for the post office.

Survivors include a son, David Bunce of Yakima; and a sister, Marjorie Waters of Menan, Idaho.

No services are planned at this time.

Keith and Keith Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

From Yakima Herald-Republic, Aug. 30, 2007

We did not know she had died until about October or November of last year, when my mother asked me if I knew anything.  I looked up her obituary on  I sent her a letter, and now that I’m thinking about it, I may even have sent it after she died.  I wanted to find out what she could tell me about her family, which has such a tragic story.  I’m not sure who to ask at this point.  Our family was in touch with Aunt Eva, but I’m not sure whether I can still locate Aunt Marjorie Waters mentioned in the obituary as living in Idaho.

Reunion has an iPhone app, and I decided this application would be a great tool for genealogists who are using Reunion.  I love my iPhone and already use a lot of the other helpful apps available, and I can see that this particular app will be valuable when my computer isn’t handy to look up information or to input information.

I would like to do some family research this summer.  I haven’t had much time to work on the family research in some time, and it’s something I miss, particularly after exchanging some nice e-mails with a newly found cousin today.

Genealogy Software for Mac

Hi folks.  I bought a MacBook for grad school/work/play back in August.  I am thinking I’d like to go ahead and do genealogy on it, and I’m looking for a good software program.  I have been checking out Reunion, but I don’t know if I am missing something better.  Do any of you know anything about genealogy software for the Mac?

Me on the Census

Miriam started a meme, “Where Were You During the Censuses,” and I have decided to play. I have actually only appeared in three censuses (I think — we’ll see in about 50 years or so, won’t we?). I was born in 1971, so I should be on the 1980 Census as an eight-year-old living in Aurora, Arapahoe County, Colorado.

In 1990, I should be in Warner Robins, Houston County, Georgia as an eighteen-year-old resident in my parents’ home. I graduated from high school that June.

I remember the 2000 Census. I was excited because I was already into genealogy by that time, and I admit I wondered if anyone 100 years down the line would be reading my answers to the responses. I was living in Warner Robins, Houston County, Georgia with my then husband and my oldest daughter (who would have been six at the time), and would have been listed as a twenty-eight-year-old woman.

You know what? Despite the fact that I’ve moved a lot in my life, I don’t think I’ll be all that hard to find, should any descendants ever go looking.

Genealogy Blogging

More and more people are beginning to use blogs as a medium to deliver their genealogy research, and this is definitely a trend I want to encourage. Many genealogists who create blogs are new to Web 2.0 or Read/Write web technologies. The terms Web 2.0 and Read/Write web refer to tools that allow users to contribute content to the web, including video, photographs, blogs, wikis, and more. Lots of possibilities exist, and I decided that it might be helpful to genealogists to learn more about how Web 2.0 technologies can help them get their family history online. In this post, I will discuss several blogging platforms available to genealogists.


Blogger is arguably the most popular content management system, and not just among genealogy bloggers. Registration and blog creation is very easy. You can choose from a variety of attractive templates. Blogger allows users to upload images. Blogger’s images are actually stored in Picasa Web Albums, which have 1024 MB of storage space for images. I would imagine that is standard, but if you use Blogger and have a different amount, let me know. Blogger also offers spell check and auto save features. Auto save will prevent you from completely losing a post if your computer freezes or crashes while you’re writing.

Blogger is perfect for people who want to get started quickly. With Blogger’s new editor, you no longer have to know CSS and HTML in order to alter your template easily. You can select which elements you want to appear on your blog and customize their appearance, and you can change the colors and font on your blog in a snap.

As the largest blogging platform, Blogger is the target of comment spam. Blogger allows users to moderate comments before they post. In order to post comments on most Blogger blogs I’ve seen, commenters must successfully reproduce the characters in a CAPTCHA. I am going to go on record as stating I hate CAPTCHAs. Sometimes it is very difficult to determine what the characters are, and it takes me two or more tries to enter a comment. Even worse, spam comments have become such a problem on Blogger that some Blogger users will only accept comments from people who have registered with Blogger. I will step on my soapbox long enough to say that while I certainly have no problem with comment moderation, I think it is heinous to ask users to register with a service they may not want to use in any fashion just to leave a comment on your blog. Another problem I have with Blogger’s commenting system is that it isn’t customizable to look like your blog’s template. I think Blogger is a fairly good option aside from its commenting system. Many Blogger users actually go with outside commenting services such as HaloScan. Free HaloScan commenting systems allow users to customize the appearance to match their blog, but the service does include ads.

Another feature of Blogger that you might want to be wary of is the navigation bar. This bar allows users to search your blog posts, but it also contains a feature that allows users to surf to the next blog. Just like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates, the “Next Blog” feature offers a wide variety of mysterious options. You might click through to an entertaining, enlightening blog you never would have found another way. You might click through to a spam blog or a blog with content you find inappropriate. Will all of your family members understand that this feature is a link to a random blog and not a link you created? You can disable the navigation bar, but doing so will take search capability out of your blog, which is probably something genealogy bloggers in particular want to retain.


WordPress, like Blogger, has a quick set-up that will having you blogging in minutes. WordPress has a variety of attractive templates. You can also upload images. WordPress gives users 50 MB of space for file uploads. However, if you want more space you can either purchase it or use an image upload service like Picasa, Photobucket, or Flickr. Like Blogger, WordPress has spell check and auto save features.

One of WordPress’s best features is tagging. Tagging is important for helping others find your blog. It will enable search engines like Google Blog Search and Technorati to categorize your posts and make them easier to find.

By far, WordPress’s best feature is its commenting system. Rather than opening up comments in a new window or popup window, WordPress integrates comments within posts. WordPress users can moderate comments. WordPress users can also take advantage of WordPress’s excellent comment spam killer, Akismet. Akismet works with a variety of platforms, but was developed for WordPress. It does not work with Blogger.

Other Free Players

A wide variety of other options exist for bloggers who want to write about their family history, including LiveJournal, Xanga, and MSN Spaces. If you have a favorite, feel free to write about it in the comments. Also if you have any thoughts to add about the free blog hosts mentioned, feel free to contribute.

In my next post, I will discuss options for genealogists who own their own domains and want to put content management systems on their websites, rather than use hosted blogs.

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What’s a Genealogy Blog Good For?

I haven’t posted in some time, but this time of year is hectic for a teacher, and I have had little time to do any genealogy research. I usually reserve my most intensive research for summers, when I have more time.

However, I did want to mention one the reasons I started this blog was that I hoped distant family members might connect via Google. As wonderful as the genealogy forums are for helping fellow genealogists connect, I think a blog has a wider audience. I have had quite a few family members connect with me through this blog.

If you frequent genealogy forums, but don’t have a blog, consider starting one. Don’t feel compelled to write in each day; I think too many bloggers worry about posting daily too much. A blog might open you up to a wider audience; you never know what you might learn or share!

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Blogging Family History, Part 2

Computer GenealogyI have been thinking about how to respond to Jasia’s call for posts about writing the family history for the Carnival of Genealogy. In some ways, I do feel like I began a discussion of writing the family history in a recent post about blogging family history. However, I noticed that in that post, I mainly celebrated the fact that the Internet made it possible to access and share information so quickly and that I was enjoying other genealogy blogs.

Jasia asks genealogy bloggers whether they have tried to write the family history. I suppose I would argue that the purpose of this blog is just that. It isn’t linear, however, because I write about several families, and I basically post stories about people and events that interest me at the moment. Therefore, I don’t have a family history that starts out “The Huff family originated in Tennessee… blah, blah, blah.” Instead, I have a hodge podge of documents, letters, photographs, and accompanying stories.

It didn’t occur to me to use a blog to publish this sort of thing until April 2005, which was when this particular blog was born. When I started blogging about genealogy, I could find few other genealogy blogs. Now there are countless genealogy blogs. I think blogging is a great platform for publishing the family history because I can share it with a lot of people in a short period of time and it’s relatively inexpensive. In fact, there are many blogging sites that are free. I happen to own my own domain, but my fees are small. However, I think that sharing the family history this way — even in its non-linear fashion — has allowed me to make connections that would have been impossible otherwise.

When Jasia asked the question, it seemed clear to me that she meant publishing the family history in a book. Genealogy is something that’s fluid — it’s never done. I created a book with my genealogy software for my grandfather, but I imagine I have since discovered countless errors and learned many new things. His book is probably close to obsolete. With a blog, however, I can update and make changes easily, and the history can grow in an organic fashion. I think blogging is an exciting and powerful medium for sharing the family history. It allows me to quickly disseminate new information and expound on what I already knew. If readers want to, they can print and bind the posts I write so that they have a hard copy. I can also get immediate feedback about errors so that I can make corrections. As most genealogists know, once an error creeps its way in, sometimes it can take years to correct. One of the things I like about blogging the family history is that I am not pressured to make it complete. Instead, I can publish what and when I like, and others can read it instantly.

I think blogging also makes it easy to connect with distant relatives and others I might never meet. I have found reading about techniques others use and learning their family stories to be fascinating. My distant cousin Joe Bowling, whom I was only able to find in this age of computer genealogy, recently paraphrased Alex Haley in an e-mail that he sent me: when an older person dies it is just like a library burning. I have to say that the wealth of information I have learned about my family from others bears this out. I suppose that’s one reason why I feel the need to share what I learn here. Maybe others, like me, will find those stories interesting. But even if they didn’t, I would still write. I do this because I love learning about it, and I think I would still feel driven to share it if no one else but me read it.

Family Tree Maker Website

Before I began using Family Tree Legends software to manage my genealogical research, I used what is arguably the most popular software program, Family Tree Maker. One of the features I liked most about FTL is that it enables the user to automatically update his/her information via the Internet as long the user is connected to the Internet while running FTL. The user doesn’t have to do anything. All information changed or entered into the program will automatically show up on the user’s website. This is handy if one’s computer completely crashes and it is necessary to reconstruct data. I had this happen once, and starting over from scratch was hard.

Family Tree Maker also allows users to create websites, but they are more difficult to maintain, as the user must create a user name and password, upload the information from the program, and upload it again if any changes are made. I have a Family Tree Maker site, but I can’t remember my user name and password, and the e-mail address I had associated with it doesn’t work anymore. I don’t think it is likely that it has hurt any researchers out there not to be able to contact me because of the tree on that site, but it really bothers me that I can’t get in there and put up a redirect to this blog.


Family Reunion Letters

It seems a lot of people are stopping by here looking for advice on writing family reunion letters. I have not actually ever planned a family reunion or written a letter, so take my advice with that in mind.

It seems logical to me that the first step involved in planning a reunion is to scout out among your family members for interest. If no one is interested, it will be an exercise in frustration. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Large events like this don’t come together at the spur of the moment. My goal with this post is not to teach you how to put together a family reunion; however, but to help you with writing a letter.

First of all, use a word processing program like MS Word to create a mail merge file and send a letter to as many relatives as you can think of. I would create something like this:

The Huff family needs your help. We are organizing a family reunion for July 2007, and we want be sure as many family members attend as possible. Won’t you please help us? We sent a copy of this letter to the following individuals [don’t send addresses; it isn’t necessary]. If you know of someone else who needs to be included in our plans, please send their name and address to us.

Once you have collected as many addresses as possible, send copies of the family group sheet chart (look in the sidebar to the right if you need one) to each family. Ask that they send these back to you, so you will have accurate genealogical information. It would be a nice gesture to include as many family members as possible on some sort of descendent tree chart, like my grandfather’s cousin Lee did for a Cunningham family reunion in the 1990’s. However, be very careful not to include erroneous information, which can inadvertently lead to hurt feelings. A person in one branch of my family simply entered any unknown dates as January 1 of the year in which the event was believed to have occurred. An uninformed person taking that information as truth might decide to build their genealogy files upon that erroneous information, thereby introducing huge errors into the genealogical record.

If you do not receive replies from some families, you might need to contact them again. I personally would not become a pest. If someone made it very clear they didn’t want to cooperate, I would try to include his/her information as best as I could, but I would not invent dates or spellings, and I might indicate such doubts by question marks. Try to exhaust other alternatives — such as contacting other family members you think might have the information. If, for instance, I couldn’t remember my cousin’s daughter’s middle name, and she did not reply with a completed family group sheet, I could try my aunt, who would most likely know the middle name of her granddaughter and would probably reply to my letter.

Please feel free to add your comments if you have tips or advice on family reunion letters for readers of this site.

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