We Hold Our Children’s Histories in Our Hands

Hello! I write a monthly article for the Scrapaneers Society website and I have been given permission to re-post some of these articles here on my blog. This particular one was originally shared on September 23, 2018 and it kicks off my series, “Family History Basics” which I will be sharing here as well. For a lot of people, family history research sounds way too complicated or for only those retired folks. Well… it is certainly for all ages and the payback that you get personally will certainly leave you with such  sense of where you fit in within this thing we call “life!”  Good hunting!

The Scrapaneers Society is a website that is free to join and offers subscription-based classes to everyone from those just learning Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to the more advanced. If you would like to learn more on how to digitally document your family stories, this is a great resource! To join is free and you have the option to purchase any classes that interest you. I write a monthly article which is free to everyone and it posts in the Topic of “Heritage Scrapbooking.”

Let’s get Started

I hear stories all the time that people are amazed at how deeply they have been affected once they learn about their family’s history. It never surprises me. In fact I’ve said quite a few times that researching your own genealogy is, “Better than any reality show out there.”  It turns out, though, that we have reason to be affected by knowing our family histories and I can’t wait to share with all of you!

More than a feeling

Since I began my own journey discovering my family’s past, I could never understand where that certain feeling of intense well-being came from until I listened to an opening session at the Midwestern Roots Conference several years ago. This feeling, which is hard to describe, stays with me all the time; it was and is a sense of very intense love and appreciation for not only my ancestors but also for my state and country. I’ve always loved history, and as the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, I have the wonderful opportunity to steep myself in the rich stories and history of the state where I was born and grew up — Indiana.

That “Aha!” moment

A speaker from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Section, Curt Witcher, gave the opening talk at the Midwestern Roots Conference several years ago and his title for this session was, “Your Story, Our History: The Power and Value of Story.”  He had me with that title and he began his session with the quote:

“If we don’t tell our [family’s] stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

He went on to explain in more detail about a research-based article that claimed children were more resilient if they had a firm knowledge of their family’s history.  This instantly resonated with me at so many levels — but mostly as a mother to four of my own children.

Just as I was letting the first quote sink in, he gave another one equally as important:

“Children that know about their family history deal with tragedy better, and are more accepting of diversity.”

To sum it up, our children are more emotionally stable and can handle the ups and downs of life much better. Wow… just wow… I felt so immensely warm and fuzzy when he stated that; I mean, there was actually research out there confirming what I had felt for so long and still feel very strongly about. But to hear that there was proof, a real study that had been completed, confirming that family history does indeed give you a foundation to live your life to its best, well, that was priceless. I could have left after that and been quite content knowing that my belief did indeed have proof to back it up. Ready for another quote?

“We hold our children’s histories in our hands.”

Now it is up to all of us to share this knowledge, our knowledge of our families and their stories, so that our children and grand-children will also know their stories and have a foundation to build their own lives upon. Think of all this as inspiration, because this isn’t meant to weigh anyone down. Quite the contrary, it gave me a sense of purpose to continue!

Here’s the proof

The article, “The Stories That Bind Us”, written by Bruce Feiler, March 15, 2013 for The New York Times, gives a more in-depth explanation of the study and the epiphany that Bruce, the author, had within his own family. It is inspiring and if it doesn’t convince you to start writing down your own memories, I’m not sure that anyone or anything could. In the article, the question is asked, “What would you want your great-grandchildren to know about you?” If you don’t start to write and narrate your own story and the stories of your parents and grandparents, then they will soon be lost. Remember,

“If we don’t tell our stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

Oh, it just gets better, believe me! Let me leave you with an excerpt from the article, The Stories that Bind Us:

“Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply “talking through problems,” as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

I’m in — let’s get started

So, what to do with this information? I think that we simply need to use it as a kick-starter to push this to the forefront of our to-do lists. After all, what would you give to have stories that your great-grandparents had written themselves, all pulled together into one place, for you to read and enjoy and pass on to your own family?

Here are a few concrete things that you can start right now:

  1. Begin with yourself. Start a notebook of your own stories – in no certain order. Just simply let the stories come as they may. Look at photo albums and think about what is going on in the background of a photo – the story behind it. Think about places, people, emotions. It’s okay to start with the basics and then branch out. Don’t be afraid to talk about current events as well. Even tough times that you have gone through, is certainly worth getting down in a written form. You can even post photos into an app like Day One or Prixm where you can talk about the picture and it will save by date. There is no time like the present. And while you are at it, pull your own generations’ vital records into one central place (birth, marriage and death.)
  2. Start to add your parents’ and grandparents’ information, or if they are still alive, think about getting them on video or audio explaining about their childhood, marriage, work, and family. Photos are great conversation starters. None of these things need to take more than just a few moments, but it is important to keep adding more and more so that one day, you will find yourself with a rich history that can be shared for generations. This is a good time to add their vital records to your research as well!
  3. And last, but not least, we need to start to share all this information in ways that our kids and grandchildren will be able to remember and take with them. And who better to do this then us as the documenters for our families! Don’t be limited by books; you can start your own family history blog and enter as you find information and add your own layouts.
  4. Decide what kind of tree you would like to build — they can be a paper tree, an online tree or a private tree held on your own personal computer. Which one is better? I’ll leave that up to your personal preferences. The most important part is just to get started!

Family documenters (and scrapbookers) are already their own family historians and I hope this article and the linked article, “The Stories That Bind Us,” gives you as many warm fuzzies as it did me and the incentive to continue several generations back! We have the most important reason in the world to continue doing what we do — our love for our families.

And the layout? That sweet little girl rolling her eyes upward is my grandmother at a young age.  Her grandfather is the gentleman with the long white beard and he was born aboard the ship his parents traveled on from England to America in the mid-1830’s. I went back in time to a kit titled, Magical Beginnings, by Becca Bonneville while at the Sweet Shoppe. (She currently sells products at The Lilypad) It has just the perfect amount of color to add to my black and white photo.

Some Not-So-Secret Lineage Society Insights

Lineage Society header


As I was looking through my Twitter feed, I came across an article written by Amy Johnson Crow about lineage society applications that caught my eye.  You can find her article HERE titled, “5 Things to Do When Applying to a Lineage Society.”

It got me thinking what I might be able to add from my point of view as the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers to compliment the great article that Amy Johnson Crow presented.

First Three Generations

Through the past nine years, I have seen a wide range of applications that have come in to our office in all shapes and sizes. Some are the just a few pages and others are literally 3 inches thick. From my point of view, I approach them all the same. The first three generations are always very straightforward:  birth, death, and marriage information that come from official documents. These documents are the best way to confirm dates, places and give ties between generations.

Play Detective

One thing I notice is that a lot of people take the official documents as the absolute truth; I’m suggesting that you need to look a little closer. As we work with these documents, keep in mind what information is first-person in each document; birth records are first-person for the mother and the child’s information.

For death certificates, the only first-person items are the death date and place of death of the deceased and that is confirmed by the physician. All the other information is being given by grief-stricken loved-ones or even possibly by an institution’s staff. If you have ever been present during this point, you will understand that no one in the family is truly thinking at their clearest due to the stress of losing a loved one.

I have seen wrong middle names, wrong spellings of the deceased names, wrong birth dates, and wrong parent’s information. I always like to think of these items as being a confirmation of whatever I do find that is first-person as well as important clues.

The Human factor

The other part that plays into all this is the person that recorded the information – either at the time of the event or later as it is actually inputted into a modern document. For example, when I request a death certificate here in Indiana, either in the county or state office, they are referring to a book that has the information handwritten or typed which they then type or handwrite into a modern form for us to keep as our record. Do you see how many places that an error might creep in? What you need to know is that all the information is initially recorded in a row-by-row format, so each person’s information is all contained within one line in the recorder’s book.

It’s all in the recording

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Oh, it has happened… I have seen where a very well-intentioned clerk literally started pulling information from the deceased person’s line of information and quite by accident, finished with someone else’s information. This error can be very evident if you are familiar with the person, but it can be very confusing when you don’t know that much about this particular person and suddenly you are now working with someone else’s information.  (Talk about heading down the wrong trail!)

And the point to all this? Let’s just say that it is a good thing to look at all your pieces of documentation for a certain event and where one document doesn’t line up, then you might want to ask some questions of the preparing agency.  At the very least, I would suggest you make a note of it for the society’s genealogist and acknowledge the item that doesn’t agree with the rest.

Power in numbers

When we get past those first 3 to 4 generations, things start to get trickier and that is where I start to look for multiple confirmations of a particular piece of information. For example, let’s look at birth records; most states won’t have official birth records prior to the late 1880’s, if that far back, so then we start to look at obituaries, tombstones, bible records, and yes, even biographies. When these things are added to census records, DNA results, and other documents that might not be official, you can put together enough circumstantial evidence for a good case within a particular generation.

Where a piece of documentation might not stand up well by itself, there is power in numbers.  It helps me when an applicant pulls together all the clues and lists them together in a cover letter for that particular generation. It is kind of a cheat sheet for me to know where the applicant is wanting me to look for the information.

Crystal Clear

Check with the society’s rules, and if it is all right, then underline each important name, date and place so that the genealogist can easily see the item that you want them to see. This helps to make sure that the person reviewing your application sees everything you want them to see. I have had faint copies submitted, which I can handle, but if I am supposed to be able to find the pertinent information, it benefits both of us to have to information clearly underlined.

Here’s another hint: if you have a hand-written document, you might want to try and transcribe it and insert it along with a copy of the original document. Again, it is all about making it very easy for the genealogist to review your application and be able to see and read exactly what you want them to see and read! I’m very proficient at reading old script hand-writing, but it certainly helps to have something easy to read (to compare.)


Here’s a tip that has helped me in the past: print out the application and work through your documentation like you are looking at it as the genealogist.  As you work through each generation, you can then check off the dates and places of the each required piece of information. This process makes it painfully clear when you have a spot that is not documented as clearly as you might like.

If you have any weak generations(as far as documentation) this is where you then might consider making up a list of items that you believe make a case for a particular generation. It is hard to do when you are so closely involved in the actual work of obtaining all the necessary documentation, but trying to take an objective look at it is important.

It’s in the details

Be skeptical as you go through your work and make sure that you have every last bit of evidence covered in your presentation. (Of course, as I say all of this, each lineage society’s genealogist or registrar has their own vision of what the requirements are for the society. Personally, I try to make sure that I turn over all possibilities in order to help the applicant, but with other larger societies, they don’t have the luxury of time to track down any further documentation so it is truly dependent on the applicant to have all the available documentation on hand.)


My best advice? Enjoy the process. Relish each generation. Once you are done with the application and have all your documentation, remember to go back and add stories and pictures to bring your research to life. It’s a Lifestory – your lifestory!


TurboScan step-by-step. Making your research so much easier!

Step-by-step title_72 dpi 400x200My background is in computers so when I see new things that catch my attention, I am all over it. After catching the livestream from RootsTech 2015, I got really excited because most of what I was seeing all pertained to getting the stories and finding creative ways to share the information.

As we all know, you can do the most impressive amount of research, but if no one looks at it except for the facts, then it kind of like having a sports car that never makes it out of the garage!

One of the problems that I have been dealing with since I started into genealogy some fourteen years ago is getting copies of documents. It used to be that when I would go to a library or courthouse, I would have to find the copier and make sure that I had enough change.  So, I am talking about a lot of quarters or dimes which would flow like water when I came across something that was really important!

Gradually, I figured out the I could take a digital camera and in a special mode, I could take a picture of the page and then download it onto my computer, edit it to make it lighter and easier to read and then crop and print. Compared to making all the copies, I thought I was on the cutting edge.

After I got my first iPhone, I gradually started to find myself without a camera and pulling my phone out to grab a picture.  I mean, who carries cash around anymore for the copiers let alone any quarters? Now, I realized that I am no longer carrying my camera and all my copies are being done on my iPhone. But still, all the pictures have to be downloaded, “fixed up” and then printed out.

Fast forward to the future of scanning and now we have apps like “TurboScan.”

So, here is the scoop.  We can now take pictures, crop them to the size of the page and link them all together to be saved as one PDF file. That alone is worth the price of admission in my mind ($2.99).

Turboscan logo

TurboScan by Piksoft Inc.


Got your attention? Wait a minute…

The one problem that I find is that there is a gap between those that are comfortable with all the new technology and those that are not quite as warm and fuzzy about it. If you land on the 2nd side, then here’s the step-by-step on how to TurboScan while documenting your family research:

  1. Obviously, you will need to first purchase the app from the iTunes store or grab it at the Google Store for Androids. Download it, then open the app and you have a perfectly blank screen with three options: Camera, SureScan-3x and Album.


Click on Camera and hover your phone’s camera over the page that you would like to copy.  If it looks good, go ahead and click on the large circle on the screen to take the picture.  Tips: find the best light in the room that you are in. If you have natural light, then get close enough to pick up the light without being in the sunbeam (My cat loves our front window’s bright sunlight but pictures don’t do as well!)

  1. Your picture will show up on the phone’s screen and is now covered up by a frame adjuster. Take your finger and move the corner circle tabs to fit the outside edges of the page you just copied. Once done, click on the Done button. This will make your copy nice and neat without getting a picture of the table in the background. IMG_6255 Now you have some decisions to make. Your picture shows up in black-and-white mode and by touching the different shaded boxes at the bottom of the screen, you will adjust the contrast. If you really want to keep the color, then it is a click away (bottom, right “photo” tab.) The arching arrows are there to rotate the picture. Once you have it to your liking, click on Done (top right.)IMG_6256
  2. Are we done yet? No way. Let’s do a 2nd page and because you know that you have to have the title page whenever you get a picture of a document. Go ahead , look for the little page on the bottom right with a plus-sign and click on it. You are now ready to take a 2nd scan of another page. [Tip: Always get that copy of the title page of the document you are copying. That piece of documentation is only good if you can re-create it when needed or prove that it once existed. If the year the book was published is not included on the title page, then you will want to get a scan of the page that includes the publishing information as well.]IMG_6257
  3. Yay! You now have two pages that will become one PDF document. Just follow the instructions above for cropping the picture and changing the contrast if needed. Once you take the picture, you will notice that your screen now shows two preview pages. The little red circles on the left are there for easy deleting. Just tap on one and it will allow you to click on Delete to quickly take away an unwanted photo.IMG_6262
  4. Once you are at the screen that shows the multiple photos, click on one and it will take you into a zoom mode. Take a second to zoom in really close to make sure that the text is clear. There is nothing worse than getting home and finding out that your scan is blurry! That is frustrating especially if you have traveled several hours to get to that repository. (Just in case you are not sure how to zoom in, go ahead and touch the screen in the middle with your thumb and forefinger and then open them while still touching the screen. Kind of like flicking something at your sibling!)
  5. For filing purposes, it’s all in the name. Go ahead and name your file while it is fresh in your mind. It’s that little pen at the bottom of the screen. You can add the name and change the size of the document if you want.IMG_6263
  6. Now, here’s where the magic takes place. At the bottom of the screen on the bottom left, you will see the little half box with an up-facing arrow. Click on that arrow and you get options!IMG_6264
  7. In order to “email to myself” you will need to set up yourself in the settings. At the original screen, there is a cog-wheel and that will take you to the settings area where you can add your email.
  8. Once you have your email added, you can now “email to yourself.” If you are copying pages of documents, then it emails the files as PDF’s to you.  Sending a picture? JPEG.
  9. Remember the beginning and one of the options is “SureScan 3x?” This allows you to take 3 pictures at differing settings and combining them to get the best image. I think that the regular picture is pretty good but this is something to experiment with. Don’t worry about getting the picture exactly the same; it seems to allow for movement of the camera and work with the information that it receives to bring you the best image.IMG_6265
  10. Of course you can save your file to your camera roll, but if you think about it, sending it to your email makes a lot of sense since it doesn’t take up important space on your phone and it can be retrieved later via any computer that you would like to open your email in. It can also be shared easily with other family members! Once you are satisfied that you have sent it to your email, then feel free to delete. If you touch the document file that you have just made and emailed to yourself, then you will see the little trash can that will take your image off to never-never land. Remember that this will save space on your phone for all those important photos of family and friends!

I’m hoping this helps. While I love all the new technology, it is moving as such a fast pace and can become very intimidating very fast. For some of you, this is making it way too basic but I know that there might be just a few that will appreciate these steps to be written down!

As always, feel free to contact me with any particular questions that you might have about genealogy research in general and I will try to work them into future posts!

You think you have heard it all?

Subject: Indiana State Library – Indiana Collection

The Indiana State Library is very near and dear to my heart.  As the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, we are fortunate enough to have our office located within the Genealogy Section of the ISL on the first floor. As I said last week, I am so lucky to be able to have access to all the books,  computer databases, family and county files whenever I need them.


In this article, I would like to cover some of the things that lure me up to the second floor of the State Library almost every time I go.

My top 5 reasons to visit just the Indiana Collections Section (2nd floor) of the Indiana State Library are:

  1. Newspapers on microfilm by county
  2. County Records (Marriage, Probate, and Land Records) on microfilm
  3. County Histories
  4. City Directories
  5. Biography Index


Newspapers on microfilm

Newspapers are the window into the world that our ancestors lived in and are an incredible resource to us as family history researchers. The first thing that I think all researchers think of when it comes to newspapers are the obituaries, death notices and marriage articles. This is a pretty strong enough reason, but as you look for those obituaries, take a minute to read some of the articles or sections on the township that your relative lived in and the headlines for the day to get a flavor for what was going on in the area!


Where do you get started? You need to know what county and hopefully what city your ancestor lived in so that you can check to see what is available. You can click on THIS (and scroll down) to go to the index of newspapers that the ISL has by each county. It is worth the time to look at the index since it will quickly tell you if the library has the date(s) that you need.  If there wasn’t a newspaper in your ancestor’s particular town, then I would go to the county newspaper or the newspaper where the county seat is located.


Here’s a tip: Always start with the day that your ancestor passed away if you know it. Some newspapers took information up until they printed the paper and might have added a death if it occurred early in the day. Then I keep checking for several days after the death date when looking for the obituary. There are times that it might take a week to show up. You will want to also look at the township “chatter” sections because they might give you some information concerning the death or family that came into town visiting, etc.


The microfilm readers are a little tricky to get used to so don’t hesitate to ask one of the very helpful librarians to get you started. I have my favorite ones to use which is pretty common! As far as retrieving a copy, you have several options as well. They do have local printers and you pay on the honor system to the librarian when you are done. You are allowed to bring USB drives and plug them into the computers to save your images to take home with you and they can also be emailed as well. Of course, you can also do like I do and take pics with my camera. I like the ease of being able to take the image back with me and not fuss with any of the computers at the library. Just the microfilm machine and me… Again, it all gets back to what you are comfortable with so don’t hesitate to try different things while you are there to see what fits best for you.

2County Records on Microfilm

My next favorite section is the County records on microfilm and I do spend a lot of time in this area. You can find an index of what all is available HERE. When I am looking for a document that ties generations together, I always head to the Wills, Probate  and Estate Records first. It helps to have a general idea of when your ancestor passed away so you can narrow down your research time-frame. As you can see by the picture, each county record is clearly labeled by county and then by section such as wills or marriages.


One tip: The drawers in these types of cabinets can be a bit finicky so you need to make sure that all the drawers are shut in order to open one up. There are times that I will find a drawer with just a little bit open and it will keep the rest of the file drawers from opening. Sounds silly but you wait until you are standing there desperately trying to get a drawer open and you’ll thank me for this tip!


Indexes are the key to microfilmed records. The WPA Marriage books by county can lead you to the Volume number and page to locate a marriage record. Just a reminder that these are not the fancy marriage records that you might find framed on a wall, but they are the records that are made at the county recorder’s office. Just the facts, thank you!


You will quickly see that there might be more than one volume (or copied book) listed on the microfilm. I find that if I need to go to the 2nd or 3rd volume that I can do a quick fast-forward and watch the screen for a black space to come up.  It doesn’t last long, so you definitely have to keep your eyes focused (or slightly unfocused but still gazing towards the screen.) I say unfocused since I get a little dizzy watching the screen whirl by me too fast – but that is just me! If I need to go to the third volume on a microfilm, then I will watch for the 3rd black space and quickly stop. It usually takes just a quick adjustment to check the label and make sure that I have reached the correct volume.


For the most part, you will find indexes in the front of the microfilm section but I have also found them at the back. There are also volumes that are simply indexes. Sometimes they cover many decades and you will have to just move through the microfilm until you reach the alphabet letter you are looking for. Each indexing system can be a little different and can range from simply all the “A’s” listed on one page, etc. to a more complicated system.


I might also suggest that you check down in the county section of the Genealogy Library on the first floor to see if there are any marriage, land or will indexes already printed. That is a huge help. I do recommend that you go ahead and get the a copy of the original though, because the transcribed or indexed information is only as good as the transcriber! As they used to say in my computer courses in college – “Garbage in, Garbage out!”


Indianapolis Newspaper Index

There is really so much to say about all the sections, that it would take a short booklet to cover it all. The Indianapolis Newspaper Index can be found in the “old-fashioned” catalog cabinets that is located right by the librarian’s desk near the microfilm. If you have any Indianapolis ancestors or ancestors that might have been written up in Indianapolis newspapers, it would be worth a look. You can find an online index HERE as well, but if you are in the library, I suggest actually letting your fingers do the walking! When I use these card files,  I think of dedicated librarians laboriously typing up each card noting a name and the newspaper information such as date, page, and brief description. Some of the cards were actually typed up by the WPA workers.  But the sheer dedication to the task at hand is quite unfathomable to me, someone used to using NewspaperArchive and OCR scanning. But as of this time, these particular Indinapolis newspapers have not all been digitized for OCR so this is a resource that I always hope that I can have an excuse to use!

Then you can simply head over to the Indianapolis newspapers on microfilm and easily locate the article you found. Oh, I love indexes!


Indiana Biographies

There are also indexed card files for Indiana Biographies located on the 1st floor on the east side of the library in the Grand Hall pretty much by itself. You will know you are in the right place because of the stained-glass. You can find them online HERE but it is fun to actually sift through the cards! Once you have located the book title, write down all the information and take it to the librarian at by the top of the 2nd floor stairs. They are located by the north facing windows and are more than happy to retrieve the book that you have located. These books are located in closed stacks so a librarian will need to retrieve them for you.


City Directories

And don’t forget the City Directories and County Histories that are also available on the 2nd floor. Being able to locate your ancestor in a city directory can help to zoom in on when an ancestor passed away or or where they lived and what their occupations were from year to year. You can find the listing by county HERE.


County Histories

The County histories are so very interesting once you understand that the biographies that they sometimes hold were given by family members that paid to have their own biography printed. So, when a lineage society suggests that you can’t always use a county history for proof, you really can’t fault them. Many times I have found that a family member gave faulty information either by mistake or on purpose to bolster their family’s history a bit! But, they are invaluable since sometimes the history was taken during the lifetime of the pioneer ancestor and this means that most, if not all of the information, is pretty close to the truth. Once you have a biography found in a county history, then backing it up with extra documentation to bolster it just might be enough to make a circumstantial case. Never give up! You can find a directory of available County Histories HERE.


Whew… I am exhausted from these two articles on the Indiana State Library. While you might not have ancestors that came from our state, it is good to know that if our state library carries information on other states, then most likely other state libraries will be very similar.  I haven’t even touched on the Manuscripts and Rare Books area along with so many more great places to do some family history hunting! Take some time and browse around the ISL website. Make yourself at home! I certainly hope that it makes you think that if you haven’t crossed the threshold of a library lately, either local or state, that it might be a good time for a roadtrip!

Good hunting!

Surprises in Unexpected Places

Subject: Indiana State Library Genealogy Section

The Indiana State Library Genealogy Section is located on the first floor of the library. Step on in and near the back you will find the Family History Books by sorted by surname.

The Indiana State Library Genealogy Section is located on the first floor of the library. Step on in and near the back you will find the Family History Books sorted by surname.

Oh, woe is the family history researcher that doesn’t check out all their local resources.

I know that I believe heavily in maximizing what is available through digital resources but hold your horses if you think that I would recommend not hitting our local and state libraries to supplement our research!

Many treasures can be found and it is well worth the trip from wherever you might live to visit your own state library. As an example, let’s take a look at my home state of Indiana to see what gems are available to me and you – all free!

The Indiana State Library (ISL ), which has been in existence since 1825, is one of those treasures that makes you scratch your head in amazement that it wasn’t at the top of your must-visit list.

Here are the top 10 reasons to visit just the Genealogy Section of  your Indiana State Library:

  1. County Records – books
  2. Family History Books
  3. Family Files (loose papers)
  4. County Files (loose papers)
  5. Maps
  6. Feeder State Books and more
  7. Lineage Society Books – DAR, SAR, etc.
  8. Military Books – Revolutionary, Civil War, etc.
  9. P.A. (Works Project Administration) Indexes for 68 of 92 Counties
  10. Database access – Ancestry Library Edition, NewspaperArchive, etc.

I am pretty sure that I have left out even more, but these are the top ones on my radar! Can I get most of these online? Some of these items can definitely be found online with a little digging.

And yes, this is just in the Genealogy Section of the ISL! I’m not even touching on the rest of the massive amount of materials that are available to all of us. Can I say free too many times? You can check out ALL the offerings here.

So, let’s take a look at what makes a few of the sections that I mention above so valuable.

Family History Books

This is the goal of everyone doing their family history research – to get to a point that you can put your own valuable documentation into a book form for others to look at and share. I’m certainly not the first person to gently nudge researchers to do this! And at the ISL Genealogy Section, they have been accumulating family history books for a long time.

As patrons or family members of Indiana families have their own family histories published, many are submitted to be added to the library’s genealogy collection. I have had several clients that have added their own books to the ISL collection for future generations and to be certain that their work will be maintained for many more generations to come. You never know what you might find in these books.

I have located several of my own family lines and it is amazing to read some of the stories that were passed down – but to a different side of the family. If I had not found that particular book, I might have never known about some of the stories that have brought my own family history to life!

3County Records – Books

Each county section is an area that is filled with books that pertain to that particular county (as you would expect, right?) These books can range from cemetery listings to newspaper extracts to will extracts and the list of items just keeps going. You can get a listing of each county and what books are available by going here.

Before hitting the microfilm to look for probate and land records, it is always a good thing to check to see if there are any books on those topics within the county. There have been quite a few hardy soles that have already gone through all the above-mentioned records (either in person or via microfilm) and possibly made indexes. Some probate record books include citations —think names listed in the wills.

If you have ever looked at county microfilm records, they contain filmed copies of the original documents. Some include indexes and some do not. Being able to look at an index that might span several microfilm containers would save you a lot of time. Yes! I’m all for that!


4Family and County Files

At the ISL, there are many filing cabinets filled with loose papers that have been submitted over the years by patrons that might not have published an entire book but wanted to leave a copy of some document that they have in their possession that they feel might help other researchers. This section is broke down into family surnames and counties. You can’t really read it well, but in my picture, I was looking for the Julian family folder. I could easily look at the Fulton County folder as well to see what might be available. Of course, you can let your fingers do some walking as well by searching the catalog. Anything that shows up as “uncat” will be found in these file cabinets.  This is a great reason to contact public and state libraries directly in the area you might be researching because they might have a family file on your ancestor!

Feeder State Books

Oh, this is where it gets really good! Before I became the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, I made many a trip up the Allen County Public Library (which is the largest genealogy public library in the U.S.)

I LOVE that library! In fact, it is hard to not sing their praises and those of Curt Witcher who is the voice of the library and Senior Manager of Special Collections. I forget how many books come into the genealogy section of the ACPL every day, but it is mind-blowing when you hear the number.

Once I took on the genealogist’s role within the Society of Indiana Pioneers, I quickly became aware of what was all available right there at the Indiana State Library. You see, our office is located within the Genealogy Section of the state library on the first floor.  So, don’t feel bad if you didn’t know what all was contained inside the state library. I didn’t either!

Ok, everyone would guess that the Indiana State Library Genealogy section would contain county records and books, which is does, but just think about all the feeder states that pioneers came from to get to Indiana in the earlier days of our state and country. The ISL has a reputable amount of books from these states as well. I really shouldn’t even say “reputable” since it gives the illusion that there are only a small amount of books from these feeder states. I have personally done research in New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio to name a few. I’m just saying… if you want a one-stop place for research, you need to make the trip to both public and state libraries!

2WPA Indexes

This is a wonderful example of public funds going to project that has lasted for almost 100 years and will continue to be valuable to researchers for many more to come.  A great articleby PBS on the Works Project Administration can be found here. For Indiana, it meant that each county was given  the ability to choose how their allotted funds would be spent.  Sixty-eight of the ninety-two counties in Indiana chose to use their funds for transcribing marriage, birth and death records within the county from 1882 – 1920. Marriage records date as far back as 1850.

The counties that did not use their funds for these indexed records include Blackford, Brown, Crawford, Dearborn, Decatur, DuBois, Fayette, Grant, Jefferson, Jennings, Lawrence, Marshall, Noble, Ohio, Porter, Randolph, Ripley, Rush, Scott, Steuben, Switzerland, Tipton, Union, Wabash, and Whitley.

What can you find in one of these books? Well, as an index, it gives name and/or sex of the child born and the parents listed as well as the birthdate. The book number and page can also be located. If you would like to request a birth certificate for a relative, you can give this information to help retrieve the document.  They are a great first place to look for any Indiana researcher lucky enough to have an index for the county they are researching. With the marriage record information, it is a quick hop upstairs to the microfilm section at the Indiana State Library where you can quickly locate the marriage record you have been looking for!


I covered a brief description of how to use the Ancestry Library Edition in my article titled, Genealogy Research ONLINE at your Public Library. What I didn’t cover is that each library has their own subscriptions to different databases. For example, at my local library, they have a subscription to Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, and Fold3. At the Indiana State Library, not only do they include those three databases, but there is a long list of others that you can access while at the library. Check them out here.

Oh, I know… this has been a long article, and the funny thing is that it is only about the Genealogy Section of the Indiana State Library. It doesn’t include all the other collections that are available. I’ll hit on those at another date.

Some might think that the entire Genealogy Section of the Indiana State Library could be found on some online genealogy site like Ancestry.com but you would be very short-sighted to make a statement like this!

I would love to hear stories of treasures that you have uncovered while at a local or state public library!

How do you like me now?

Beautiful printable for  family tree (Note: tree not included!)

Beautiful printable for family tree (Note: tree not included!)

I need your help — feedback!

My goal with this website it to take our standard family history projects and add some beauty to them. This printable is not earth-shattering but it is a tiny step in the right direction.

I have to say up front that I am in no way modifying any trees that print from Ancestry.com, but merely embellishing them so that they are easier on the eyes. If you notice, I leave the Ancestry title at the top all alone so that it is obvious where the tree has been printed from as well as the tree name in the upper-right.

Anyway, back to my lovely printable…

The way this works is pretty simple: If you have a family tree on Ancestry.com, you can print out your family tree (that is free) in a easy-to-read format like you see in the orange frame. Go to your family tree in Ancestry.com. If you haven’t tried this yet, you can click on the upper-left of your screen where the title of your family tree is found (you can do this at any point.) This takes you to a new screen that shows a sideways family tree starting with yourself or the first person in the tree at the left and branching out to the right.

Btw, if your tree goes farther than the generations that are showing, there are little arrows to the right of each line. Just choose which family line you would like to see more of and it will expand to as far as you have taken the line.

If this is the view that you would like to print, then look over at the far left control panel for a little printer symbol at the bottom of the size sliders. Click the printer icon and you are on a print screen view where you can click on the Print button again.

This should take you to the printer dialog box for your printer and I’m sure that you know what to do next!

Here’s where the magic happens

With my printable, you would take your freshly printed family tree (the first page) and insert it back into the printer upside down (depending on your printer) and heading in the right direction. You might have experiment with this a couple of times to see how your printer handles the paper.

But once you catch on to how the printer is sending your paper through, then it is really easy to add my beautiful cover to the top of your Ancestry.com family tree. You would simply print the PDF and it will send your original family tree back through the printer and voila! — instant loveliness.

Before I even think of making this available as a downloadable, I wanted to see if it is something that anyone other than myself is even remotely interested in! Share it around because the more – the merrier for me! I’d love to hear from others about one of my ideas.

I’d like to send it as a freebie when I get new email sign-ups. Any takers?

Genealogy Research ONLINE at your Public Library

Did you know that most public libraries have Ancestry Library Edition available to their library patrons?

Some databases can be accessed from both the library and your home computer. Others require that you log-in from inside the library on one of their desktop computers.

NOTE: If you try to type in Ancestry.com without going through the library’s database, you will need to either have a subscription to log in or have a family tree set up (which is free.)

Ancestry Library Edition is a database that requires you to access it from inside your local library.

Here’s directions for beginning your search:

From inside the library on an available computer

  1. If you find yourself looking at a blank screen, look for a Database Icon on the desktop. If your library doesn’t have a special icon, then find your way to their home screen and click “Online Database.” At my library’s website, it is located under the title “Research.”
  2. Look for a box (possibly on the left hand side) that might have selections on different subjects such as Business or Genealogy, which is what we are looking for. Click on Genealogy to select it.
  3. Look at your choices: At my library, it shows American Ancestors, Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3, and Heritage Quest. Note that American Ancestors and Ancestry Library Edition have to be accessed from within the library. Fold 3 and Heritage Quest can be accessed from the comfort of my home with entry of my library Patron ID – the number on my library card. Here’s a screenshot:
  1. Go ahead and click on Ancestry Library Edition and off you go!
  2. Can I make a suggestion? Before you head over to your local library, take some time and become familiar with Ancestry Library Edition. ProQuest is the partner to Ancestry for its library edition and they have put together some very good videos that describe what you will find on the library edition. Click here to view the playlist. Each one is only a couple minutes long but they will be very helpful to get you up to speed.
  3. See something that you want to add to your own file? I was able to email the document that I located to my home computer. I simply typed in my email address at the prompt.
  4. This is what was waiting for me when I got home from the library!
  5. It contains a link to your Discovery Page and all your images that you located are listed. You can then Click on the Download Image button and save it to your own computer.Ancestry Library Email_discovery
  1. What a “good thing” as Martha Stewart would say!
  2. Don’t hesitate to ask the Reference Desk librarian if you have any questions!

What is your most exciting find on Ancestry? I’d love to hear!

Tame the Family Data

Data_CanvaSo many papers, so little time.

Take a walk on the wild side! You know that you want to… Be the one to pull together a family history that would make the toughest person in your family break down into tears!  You are about to embark on one of the sweetest adventures of your life.

I can clearly remember the first time that I typed my family information into a computer and saw familiar names and dates pop up for them.  It literally felt like I had opened up a present and then found another one and then another one.  Some might say, “Michele, you need to get a life!”  I say right back at you, “Try it and then say that to me.”

So, where to begin?  Of course, you start with yourself.

Here is a small list to get you started:

  1. Grab a cheap binder that you can put some page protectors in for the paper documents that you will start to accumulate.
  2. Label that first page with “Gen 1” and your name.  (We will keep this first page empty for now.  As you start to add documents, put them in the following pages.)
  3. On your computer start a new folder or a new library, if you prefer, labeled Family History Research.
  4. Within that new folder or library, make your first folder and label it with your Surname (Maiden name if that applies.)
  5. OK… this might seem tedious but open that Surname folder and make another new folder with your Last Name(Maiden) [space] First name.
  6. As far as the binder, we will start to locate some important paper documents that will be finding their way into this caretaker of our family’s paper trail.  Go find your birth certificate and marriage record if married.  If you are married, then you might want to go ahead and add your spouse’s birth certificate at this point as well. Put these documents into that first section labeled Gen. 1.
  7. If you have a scanner, take a few minutes to scan these documents and upload them into your folder labeled with your name.
  8. Now would be a great time to add that timeline and stories into your section of the binder as well.  (Stick with me and even though you think you don’t have any stories that anyone would possibly want to read, I will gently guide you through the process — or journey as I like to think of it.)

Voila!  You have officially started your own family history project.

It might seem a little puny at this point, but doesn’t it feel good to be well on your way?  The really cool thing about birth certificates, other than the obvious fact that it notes your official name and birthdate, is that it also gives your parents’ names.  In the world of genealogy, this is golden.  It is the official tie back to the previous generation.  As you start to accumulate earlier and earlier birth and death records, you will start to appreciate these listings of parents’ information because there are times when it will be the only way to get back to a previous generation.

The next step will likely require you to do some type of sleuthing work on your own.  You will want to begin to fill in the outline of your parents’ information – the underpinnings of their lives.  Once we have that, then we can go back to those stories that you hopefully have started to accumulate as well and place those right along the official documents.

Have to Have Docs

Where do I begin? Do I need all these documents?

Let’s just say that each document that you can locate, will add very important pieces to your family history puzzle.

Is it necessary to get all the birth and death records in order to begin my journey?

Oh, no… not at all. You can do a whole lot of things without having the official documents but they can really give some important insights into your family member’s past and help to keep you on the right path. Not necessary, but invaluable.

Think of them as collecting little jewels along your journey into your family’s history!

For most people, the first three or four generations will all have official birth and death records that can be obtained. There comes a point where there will be no county or state birth/death records available for some states or counties. Then we have to get creative on how we verify important birth and death information. These vital records give us a peek into a happy time and sorrowful time within families. Birth records are the #1 document to have for each person since they are filled in by the people directly involved. The mother is giving her name and the father’s name as well as the child’s name that she has had the intimate pleasure to give birth.

While not issued on happy occasions like birth certificates, death certificates can be a wealth of information. Of course the deceased person’s name, date and time of death, and place/cause of death can be a primary source. It is important to remember that when you get to the birth date and name of parents and where they came from, this information becomes a secondary source.  Getting a bit technical here, but it’s good to know because some people take the names written down for parents or the birthdate as a fact.

What we have to remember is that the person that is giving the information is in a state of shock to some extent over the death of the your shared relative. They also might not be all that familiar with the deceased person’s family – especially if there wasn’t much talk about one’s parents! I say this because it is important to use these particular pieces of information as tentative until you can verify how factual they are. I know, that might seem confusing, but it helps to know up front instead of finding out later. It’s all a part of the expedition we are embarking on:  if all the puzzle pieces fit together immediately, then it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying, right?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  1. Ask parents and grandparents for copies of their birth certificates. At the same time, you might as well ask for copies of marriage records and death certificates.

[This can be pretty overwhelming to just show up & start asking for copies of our family members so do them a favor and try to give them several days notice.]


  1. If they don’t have a copier or scanner, you can take pics with your own camera/smartphone, personal scanner (flip-pal) or simply take everything over to an office supply store or shipping storefront and pay to use their self-serve copiers.

[Just make sure that you are very careful with birth certificates – especially of living people – since identity theft is something we want to protect our loved-ones from!]


  1. If you are at the point that no one in your family has the actual records you are hoping to obtain, then you will want to put some money out initially to get copies from official state/county offices. I always suggest that you search for the county health department where your relative was born.


  1. You can walk in to a health department or choose to make a request through the mail which takes longer. If you don’t live close or can’t get there during their office hours, then a mail-in request is a helpful alternative.


  1. In Indiana, county health departments began recording births around 1882. Every state is different so a quick online search will clarify what is available for your relatives. Even the dates that state health departments began to record vital records can be different from the county level.  For example, in Indiana, the state started recording births in October, 1907 and deaths in January, 1900. It pays to do a little research for each particular state!


[Just another note to remember: You might not find some records if the family didn’t report the birth or death. I had a relative that died in the early 1900’s in northern Indiana and I found an obituary but not a death certificate at any level.  When this happens, make sure to keep a record of your attempt to obtain the vital record so that you have proof!]


  1. If requesting via mail, you will need to print out a request form from either the county health department or the State health department directly from their website. Pay attention to their exact requirements so that your request doesn’t get delayed or returned unfilled. You will need a copy of your own driver’s license and a cashier’s check or money order instead of personal checks or cash. ($5 – $15) And last but not least, always include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) so that your documents gets mailed out sooner than later and with greater ease.

[It doesn’t hurt to contact the health department directly just to verify their requirements that are posted on their website.  Some offices are better than others at keeping their information up-to-date.]


Getting up to speed with Family Trees

What is the fuss about family trees other than they are concise places to help us see our family at a glance? Well, that one statement might be reason enough, but starting a family tree online also gives us a place to keep everything we are finding and be able to access it whenever we want.

There are great software packages available if you want to keep everything very private and self-contained on a single computer. But, if you want to really step up your searching capabilities, then putting your information into an online family tree is the way to go.

My two favorites, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, have been around for a long time. Both are FREE and encourage you to add your  family trees. As with any for-profit company, you will be courted by Ancestry to sign up for their subscription packages but don’t fret, it isn’t mandatory. FamilySearch, on the other hand,  is a completely free site that you can also use to search but can be a bit tricky to work in. I have had a subscription with Ancestry.com for years due to my profession, but with all the work that FamilySearch has done with their online information, it is quickly gaining speed.

While I am not affiliated with the Church of Latter Day Saints, I have become very appreciative of their mission to document and tie together every family.  Maybe I’m stretching what their mission is just a bit, but it is quite incredible to see what all they have accomplished. If you have never heard of the Mormans and their strong attachment to family history, then you might want to do a quick online search to check it out. They have been working for years and years putting federal,state and county records onto microfilm and storing all this wonderful history in their mountain vault in Utah as well as accumulating a massive amount of books in their library. For quite some time, they have been on another mission to digitize and index all of that wonderful goodness not just for the United States, but for all over the world. Truly a worthy mission in my mind!

Ancestry.com, on the other hand, has an extremely easy-to-use format. Yes, you did read my words correctly above, Ancestry.com family trees are FREE to enter online and you can upload pics, scanned documents and your own information.  If you want to use their searching capabilities, you have to have a subscription. The good news is that most libraries carry their own subscriptions to the Ancestry Library Edition so you can gain access to their online databases while working on your family tree at your local library.

Quick side story! I had a distant cousin contact me several years ago telling me that she had some pictures of my grandmother.  She uploaded them to her family tree on Ancestry.com and I was able to see my grandmother as a young woman. Plus the young gentleman sitting next to her was my grandfather that had passed away when I was about three years old. I’m not sure if my own mother had ever saw pictures of her mother when she was younger. I wished that I had been able to share these pics with my mother who died back in 2000 but it was certainly a treasure to have! Just the ability to make contact with distant family, is another huge reason to get your family tree online.

Now back to setting up these all-important family trees. I have my own family tree set up on both sites. Probably overkill on my part, but I like to see what is available. Entering information on both trees is as easy as starting with your own name and birthdate and because they are all password protected, your information will not be shared. Just keep in mind that anyone in your family that has passed away and has their death date entered, will become public and viewable. Well… (and you know there is always an exception to the rule, right?) on Ancestry.com, you can keep your information completely private. The basic data will show up in a search of public trees but no one can see what else you might have entered for anyone within that tree such as photos, stories or information you have collected. We’ll have to discuss the pro’s and con’s of keeping a tree private later.  I’m in the camp that thinks that everything that is entered should be viewable because some other relative might have information that would help me.

If you are really just starting out, you will quickly learn that the family history community can be extremely helpful and willing to go to great lengths to help a fellow researcher. I think they call this “paying it forward!” What are your thoughts?

So much more to say about setting up and working with family trees, but just getting started is a big step.  I think that going much further into the process would be like welcoming you to the first day of college and then unleashing all four years of learning onto you in the first day. Family history research is a journey. Enjoy it.