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Spending time in the cemetery (or research library!)

July 31st, 2015

Old-Cemetery-cemeteries-and-graveyards-722635_1024_769I’m planning a trip to Canada this year some of which will be spent doing genealogy research.  So, I’m collecting information about how to get organized and do “field” research.  The  following are five useful ideas I’ve discovered that you may find helpful:

1.  Know what you want – have a detailed research plan.  Identify where you have gaps in your research and what information will help you fill those gaps.  Make a list of what information you need and why for each location you will visit.  Being focused will mean that you don’t get overwhelmed by a sudden wealth of resources and that you don’t forget a key topic that you want to explore.  See Before Your Trip for more information – available at

2.  Confirm the basics.  Make sure you have directions to your location.  Call ahead to make sure it is open and to confirm hours of operation.  Confirm what equipment you can use – computers, cellphones, scanners, etc.  There is nothing worse than assuming you can visit an archives, planning your trip around that visit and then finding out it will be closed on the day you planned to visit!

3.  If you are planning cemetery visits, bring bug spray (critical!), a camera, a map of the cemetery if possible and tin foil.  Yes, tin foil.  Old stones can be very hard to read.  However, I’ve learned that tin foil can help with that problem even while not harming the tombstones (unlike some other methods).  Read the article Safe Solutions for more information.

4.  Check your technology twice.  Make sure batteries are working and cell phones are charged.  Make sure you have the files on your computer (and the paper files in your briefcase) that you think you have.  I would also suggest practicing taking pictures of documents with your camera, cellphone, or tablet.  It takes a bit of experience to take good, clear pictures of materials – make sure you aren’t practicing the day of your research.  See Documenting without Damage.

5.  Finally – don’t forget to talk to people.  Don’t get so involved in your research that you forget to talk to the people you see along the way.  It is amazing what you can learn from talking to volunteers at archives and groundskeepers at cemeteries.  Plus, it will just make your whole trip more fun.

Good luck and happy research!

Newspaper resources for genealogists

July 24th, 2015

Newspapers are an excellent source of information for genealogists. The following are a few resources that I’ve learned about from genealogy webinars and lectures and used myself. I hope you find them helpful.  Happy research!

elephind_widgetsThe elephind website provides digital access to thousands of historical newspapers from Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States, all for free. In addition to having a great name, the elephind site is useful and efficient because it has a federated search. That means that you only have to type in your search term once and the engine will go through all of the newspapers on the site versus requiring that you search each newspaper individual. This saves you a tremendous amount of time and energy. The site is most useful to genealogists searching information about Australian and American ancestors.

Paper of Record has an even larger database of historical newspapers from around the world. I was particularly happy to discover that they have a large number of early Canadian newspapers available. My major complaints about the site are that a) you have to purchase access and b) it does NOT have federated search, making the search process slow and somewhat clumsy. However, the large number and scope of newspapers available more than make up for my dislike of their search engine.

PORTHOOD WEBFinally, if you go to the Family Search wiki you will discover a detailed discussion about how to find digitized, historical newspapers from around the world. In addition to giving you links to collections, the wiki provides hints about how to search to find more options.

A new genealogy research tip

July 17th, 2015

Updates_FamilySearch1I learned a great genealogy research tip today from Lynne Holland, Curtis Library genealogy volunteer extraordinaire (available in the Curtis Genealogy Room on most Fridays).

I have been searching forever for information about my father’s Canadian relatives. In fact, I’ve been working on this for so long that I’ve run out of obvious places like to search.

Lynne showed me how to search on the LDS website for information related to the places my family lived in Canada.
• Go to
• Click on the “Search” tab at the top of the page and then click on “Catalog”.
• You can search by place, surnames, titles, author, subjects, or keywords.
• Click on “place” and start typing in the location of interest.
• The program will produce drop-down options with the correct heading – click on the one of interest (for example, I typed in “Lanark” and “Canada, Ontario, Lanark” was one of the options – I clicked on that).
• A list will come up that identifies all of the matches, by category, and how many in each category.
• You can open up each category and if you are interested, click on print list. This will save the information to a list that you can print later.

Many of the resources are still on microfilm so you can’t see them online. However, you can request the microfilm be mailed from the Salt Lake City Family History Center (there is a cost for doing so) and you can request that the films be sent to a local Family History Center where you can review them. There are Family History Centers in both Topsham and Augusta that can receive the microfilms for your research.  You’ll have to visit the center – the microfilms need to stay at that location.

I now have a long list of new research possibilities for my Canadian relatives. Who knows? I might break through that brick wall yet! Happy research and thank you, Lynne!

Genealogy Fair, Maine State Library, Saturday July 11

July 8th, 2015

genealogy_fair_250Just in case you hadn’t heard about this event, I wanted to pass on the information to local genealogists.

This Saturday (July 11) from 9-4 in the lobby of the State Library, Museum, and Archives in Augusta there will be a Genealogy Fair, held by the Maine State Library.  Attendees can visit with 16 historical and genealogical organizations, sit down with a professional genealogist to get help with the brick walls in their family history research, buy a t-shirt, see historical re-enactors and more.  Admission is free.  You can also check out the State Library and Archives and visit the State Museum for free. The Cross Café, across the parking lot, will also be open 9-2 for breakfast, snacks and lunch.

Find all the details at the Maine State Library website here.  It sounds like it will be a great event for local genealogists.  Happy research!

American Ancestors – free database for genealogists at Curtis

June 26th, 2015

American-Ancestors-SymbolIf you are new to genealogy and have started researching ancestors who lived in New England, don’t forget that Curtis Library has purchased a subscription to for its library patrons.  The following describes the database:

It provides family historians access to more than 400 million records spanning the U.S. and beyond, including one of the most extensive online collections of early American records, and the largest searchable collection of published genealogical research journals and magazines. Special strengths include English, New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia materials.

You can use this database for free at Curtis Library.  Simply log on to the library’s website ( anywhere inside the library .  Click on the “Research” tab at the top of the page, then click on the “Genealogy” box.  There is a box with a link on the right side of the Genealogy page or you can click on the link on the left side that says “New England Historic Genealogical Society”.

Happy research!


Trouble reading handwriting?

June 5th, 2015

d0f6993a5d77b0095a8030b0c7860b73If you do genealogy for any length of time it is guaranteed that at some point you will need to decipher a handwritten document that seems to have been written by a Martian.

I have thrown my hands up in despair more than once because I can’t read words or names in a document that I’m convinced has useful information for me.

I’ve learned a few simple tricks over the years that have helped a bit in all of this.
• Look for words that you recognize and see how the writer formed letters in that word. Then compare to the word that you are trying to decipher and see if there are any similarities.

• Try writing the word yourself that you are trying to understand. Sometimes the actual process of writing unlocks something in our brains, allowing us to suddenly “see” the word in question.

• Try saying a word out loud. Again, that will sometimes unlock your brain so that it can “see” the word in question. Think phonetically – spelling of both language and names was often done by sound versus by any standardized spelling process.

There are a lot of great resources available online to help decipher handwriting. FamilySearch provides tutorials for multiple languages here.

The UK National Archives has an entire section of its website focused on paleography (reading old handwriting). You can access it here.

Check out the book Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry available at Curtis Library (Literature & Writing 427.973.S781 1998).

Happy research and I hope these tips are helpful!

Give genealogy podcasts a try – you’ll be glad you did!

May 29th, 2015

Blog_PodcastsI don’t tend to listen to podcasts much. I’m not sure why other than it is not a habit I’ve ever acquired. For those of you who don’t jump on the technology bandwagon, podcasts are the equivalent of radio shows but they are available for free on the internet. They are pre-recorded so they can be listened to anytime. Anyone can easily produce a podcast so the quality of what you find can vary tremendously.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are a LOT of genealogy podcasts and many of them are very well done.   It seemed silly to not explore what might be a great source of information for my genealogy research so I jumped into doing some research about what is available.

In the spirit of sharing what I’m learning, following are two highly recommended (by expert genealogists) genealogy podcasts that you might want to check out:

The Genealogy Guys – “The longest running, regularly produced genealogy podcast in the world!” Go their website at and then click on the image by each entry that says POD and the podcast will start playing. I was particularly interested in their March 17, 2015 podcast about newspaper research.

Lisa Louise Cooke, a well-known genealogist, also has a podcast called “Genealogy Gems”. You can start listening to her podcasts by going to , reviewing the various episodes to find what interests you, and then clicking on the POD symbol.

If you are interested in exploring more options take a look at these lists of genealogy podcasts:

I think I’ve discovered something new to do while I’m walking on the treadmill getting my exercise. Happy research!

The National Archives as a Genealogy Resource

May 15th, 2015

250px-US_National_Archives_BuildingI taught a genealogy class last week at People Plus in Brunswick.  One of the participants asked me about what the National Archives provided in terms of genealogy resources.  I had no idea so I decided to do a bit of research.

Here is where I started.  On the first page of the Resources for Genealogists you can find a nice PowerPoint tutorial for beginning genealogists.  It walks you through what is available at the National Archives.  You can download the presentation here, assuming you have PowerPoint on your computer – National Archives beginning-research.

The website also has an interesting list of resources available to be searched online, most of which will be very helpful to genealogists.  You can find the list by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.  Included here are POW lists from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; passenger lists into the Port of New York from 1846-1851, including the “Famine Irish data files”; and Japanese-American Internee File, 1942-1946.

Finally, there is a useful page about how to care for your personal family archives.  You can see that information here.  I was particularly interested in this because I have huge quantities of old photographs that I’m trying to figure out how to preserve.

Happy research and I definitely recommend spending a bit of time researching the National Archives website!

New Irish Genealogy Resource

May 1st, 2015

diocese2Are you studying Irish genealogy as part of tracing your family history? If so, you’ll be interested in the following information.

The National Library of Ireland ( has announced that its Roman Catholic parish registers collection will go online, available for free, as of July 8, 2015.  You can read more information about this on the Irish Genealogy News website.

These records, which are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 census, consist primarily of baptism and marriage records and date from the 1740s to the 1880s.

ie--dublinIrish genealogy research can be intimidating because the majority of relevant records were destroyed during the Irish Civil War in 1922 when the Public Record Office of Ireland, a major repository of records, was hit by a shell which exploded and destroyed almost all of the records.

However, more and more Irish genealogy resources are being digitized and going online.  So, if Irish genealogy is on your to-do list, keep an eye out for this new resource and others to come. Happy research!

Map tool for U.S. genealogy research

April 13th, 2015

If your genealogy research is in the United States, the following is a useful (free!) tool to explore:  The Atlas of Historical County Borders (found on the website of The Newberry Library of Chicago – worth a visit on its own) can help you identify how changes in county borders may have an impact on where you seek out your genealogy records.

The website provides interactive maps for all states in the US. If you click on the state of particular interest, you can then select a time-frame. The county configuration from that time will then show up on the map, overlaid on the current county structure.

Several additional map layers are provided, including modern county seats, unsuccessful county proposals, modern county boundaries, and state boundaries. Each of these layers can be toggled on or off by the user.

This allows you to plug a date into the map of a state and immediately see in what county that community was located in that time-frame. Many genealogy records are located by county and given how often counties changed during the formative years of the United States, it can be very confusing to try to identify the right county without a tool like this one.

On a different not – if you are a user of the Curtis Genealogy Room, please feel free to participate in the 10 Days 100 Great Ideas Project going on right now at Curtis Library. We are collecting community input about the library and it would be great to get feedback from our local genealogists also. If you would like to participate, feel free to do so online on the library’s website – you’ll see the link to the 10 Days project there.Each day we post a specific question but feel free to ignore that and just tell us what resources would be helpful in the Genealogy Room.

Thanks and happy research!

April 3rd, 2015

sidebar-highlight-box-curtis-genealogy-room-volunteersJust a reminder for local Brunswick/Harpswell/Topsham genealogists that on most Fridays from 10:00am to 1:00pm (and sometimes later) you can find a genealogy volunteer at the Curtis Memorial Library Genealogy Room. These are very experienced genealogists who are happy to help teach you how to research your family tree. If you call ahead and check with our volunteer coordinator Jessica Flaherty (725-5242, x237) you can make sure that one of the volunteers will be available.

I have been working on various aspects of my family tree for about five years. I hit a brick wall several years ago on my dad’s side of the family and have never been able to break through that wall with the standard genealogy resources.

I decided to chat with Lynne Holland who was today’s genealogy volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room to see if she might have any ideas that would help. She immediately came up with a suggestion that I never considered which was to see if there were any poor house records where my great-grandfather lived that might clarify some of the conflicting information that I’ve discovered in my family’s records. I’m excited about trying out this new path of research since I’m very tired of banging my head against my brick wall!

I wanted to share Lynne’s suggestion for two reasons. First, I want to make sure local genealogists remember that there are wonderful volunteers just waiting to help on Fridays at Curtis Library. Second, I thought this story was a great way to reinforce a smart genealogy tactic: when you aren’t getting any results in your research, question all of your assumptions and be open to looking at new resources that you might never have considered.

Happy research!

Genetic Genealogy Help

March 20th, 2015

malepa4I continue to be fascinated by the potential of “genetic genealogy”. Just yesterday one of my first cousins emailed to let me know that he had the Ancestry DNA test done. The results indicated that on his mother’s side (his mother and my mother were sisters) that there were Irish connections.  Given that neither of our mothers ever mentioned anything that would have indicated this background, we are both highly intrigued and very interested in discovering more.

My problem with genetic genealogy is that I continue to find it more than a little confusing. To help I went searching for some (free) resources that might help clarify the topic with the goal of being able to continue the genealogy conversation with my cousin. The following are two of the most helpful articles:

Family Tree Magazine is offering a free e-book on the topic. All you have to do is give them your email address. You can find the link here.   I particularly liked this article because it provides a cheat-sheet that explains the commonly used terms in genetic genealogy. It has helped a lot as I read through other articles.

I also discovered a genetic genealogy blog that is I actually understand – the Genetic Genealogist.  You can find it here.  The author (Blaine Bettinger) also provides a free e-book article about how to interpret the results of your genetic testing. Simple to understand and not too detailed – just what I wanted!

I hope you find these resources helpful.  Happy research and good luck with your genetic genealogy!

Don’t give up!

March 6th, 2015

dont_give_upMost genealogists have a lot of tenacity as a basic part of their character.  They love to sink their teeth into a good research problem and find infinite satisfaction in finally discovering answers to long-standing questions.

However, most genealogists have also encountered research questions that just can’t be answered.  But, one of the most exciting parts of doing genealogy today is the fact that the “library” of genealogy records available online expands almost on a daily basis as more and more information is digitized and made available to the public.  What was hidden ten years ago (or even a year ago!) might be just a mouse click away today.

To that end FamilySearch just announced on February 27 that they have added more than 19.2 million INDEXED records and images to their Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and United States collections of digitized information, available for free at  Click here to read their press release.  I’m excited about this because it opens up new paths of opportunity to find more information about my ever elusive Canadian ancestors.

This leads to my point for the day – don’t ever give up on your research.  You may not find the information today (or even tomorrow) that you need.  However,  there is so much genealogy information being made available online that it is worth your time to review your “problem research” on a regular basis with an eye to newly available information that might provide solutions.

Happy research and here’s to never giving up!

Genealogy Blog – Turn Assumptions on Their Head

February 27th, 2015

Here is a great tip from from their February 15, 2015 posting:

If you’re stuck on a problem person, make a list of all the assumptions you have made about that person.

Don’t forget things like where you think they were born, married, and died; what types of job they had; how many times they were married; their educational level; their socioeconomic status; how many places they lived; when they moved; etc.

cross off assumption

Then cross one of those assumptions off.

How would your research change if that assumption were not true?

I love this idea.

As I mentioned before in this blog, I’ve been stuck on my great-great-grandfather for several years.

I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get through this brick wall but have had no luck so far.

This BWB (brick wall buster) appeals to me because it forces you to turn your assumptions on their heads and (as Apple Computer would say) “Think Different”.

Happy research and hopefully this idea may help you break through your research walls!

Free online recorded sessions from RootsTech 2015

February 19th, 2015

28759920c95da431e66b80800bdaf8a9 RootsTech is a global family history event, sponsored by FamilySearch, at which participants learn to discover, share and celebrate their genealogy through the lens of technology. RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City, Utah in February each year.

A trip to Utah is probably not in my immediate future so I was excited to discover that the key sessions at RootsTech each year are videotaped and provided on a free video archive online. This year’s sessions can be found here.

There is a tremendous diversity in content but all with some point that touches technology.  I’m particularly interested in “30 Pieces of Tech I Can’t Live Without” and “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy”. I’m not sure how long these sessions are provided free online, so if you have any interest check them out soon. Happy research!

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