Friday, June 26, 2015

I’m not here

alligator-1395206976QHHPhotograph courtesy of Public Domain Pictures


I’m in Florida so no blog post.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recording internet database searches

I hope by now everyone knows the importance of keeping research logs.  However, many of the researchers that do use research logs don’t bother to record internet database searches.  I agree that recording every single search you do slows you down but I still think it is necessary. 

We will use Find A Grave as an example since it is constantly being updated.  I make an entry showing not only the date that I searched but also the parameters I used.  This is definitely a database I want to check periodically.  I do this for every single search that I do on every single person.  I record these as To-Do tasks in Legacy because they are very easy to enter and you can tell Legacy to remind you when you need to do a new search, say, every three months.  I don’t have to reenter it.  The reminder will show up on the Legacy Home tab.  On the Legacy Home tab if you go to OPTIONS > OPTIONS > REMINDER OPTIONS you can change the number of days notice you get for reminders. The default is 14 days.


Chocolate is a rare enough surname that I can just run a search using the surname and then go through the entries one by one.  I might even pick up a related Chocolate.  I also limited the search to the state of Mississippi since Ghirardelli was born there, married there and lived her entire life there so she is, most likely, buried there.  (You guys do know that Ghirardelli Chocolate is a fake person, right?)

I can also update my search criteria.  Let’s say I find out that Ghirardelli visited her sister Melted Chocolate over in Louisiana on a regular basis and that Melted was her only living relative.  I could make a note that I expanded my search to include Louisiana.  Maybe I find out that Ghirardelli married late in life and her new surname was Pistachio.  I would need to update my search criteria.  I take the time to record all of this information.

Notice that the first time I did this search was 15 Nov 2014.  The next scheduled search is on 15 Aug 2015.  Here is a shot of the Results tab:


Here you can see the negative searches I have already done. If on August 15th I search Find A Grave and I find Ghirardelli then I can close this task out.  I will put what I found on the results tab.  I can put a link the memorial and/or the information on the memorial. 

I can then add a new To-Do task if I need to request a photograph be taken (if there isn’t one). I will get reminders just to let me know the photo hasn’t been taken yet.  On those To-Do’s I also record whether or not I have permission to use the photo once the photo has been taken.  I don’t close the photo task out until I know one way or the other whether I have that permission.

I do this for every database I search.  For example, I don’t make a To-Do for but rather I do one for each specific database I accessed on  I know it sounds time consuming but once you get into a routine it is no big deal. 

You can also do this with broader searches not tied to a specific person.  This is great for One-Name Studies (ONS).  I am going to show you a real one from my ONS file. Internet databases are especially important to ONS and you have got to have a way to keep track of what you have done and when.  I make a General To-Do for each database that I search.  Here is one for Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 on FamilySearch:


I have the category as Online Databases so that I can sort them together when I use the filter. I have a couple of other General To-Do categories.  These are different than the categories I use for Individual To-Dos.

Here is the Results tab:


You can see how many name variations I searched and now many hits I got on each name.  An X means I have entered those hits into my database.  This database is a little different in that it is a stagnant one.  It probably won’t be updated though I will still check periodically just in case.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jazzing up Legacy reports

Someone on the Legacy Virtual Users' Group Community on Google+ said that they were trying to learn more about Legacy reports and how to make them more attractive and interesting to family and friends.  Many Legacy users miss a very powerful tool called “Edit Event Definitions.”

In a nutshell, Legacy uses simple codes to trigger how sentences read out in reports.  You can manipulate these codes to alter how the sentences will read.  You can get VERY creative with this to include conditional sentences (if… then…). 

In the Help File, type in the word "Sentence" (no quotes) and then click the word "Event" that appears underneath that entry.  This explains how to customize your sentences and it will list all of the codes and what they do. 

To get to the screen where you can do this, go to VIEW >  MASTER LISTS > EVENT DEFINITION.   When I am working with Events I like to purge my unused ones so that I can see what I really have.  OPTIONS > PURGE UNUSED.  Uncheck the box that will put the defaults back in.  You can put these back in later if you want to by doing the same thing only this time check marking the box.

Highlight the first event you want to work with and then click EDIT over on the right.  The first screenshot shows the screen where you can change the way the sentences will be worded.  This is actually a lot of fun.  This is the generic Residence event.  You can change the codes or you can change the text between the codes.  Here are two simple examples. In the first field I could change the sentence to:

[FirstName] lived [inPlace] at [Desc] [onDate].  You have A LOT of codes you can choose from and the possibilities are endless.

You can do something more complicated like:

[HeShe] <::lives::lived> at [Desc] [inPlace] [onDate].  Now the verb tense will change depending on whether or not the person is living or deceased.



You can also do this with shared event roles.  Here is the generic Occupant role.



After you take the time to customize these events you definitely want to tag them so know what you have already done.



On the first screenshot you will notice that there is a RESET button in the bottom right corner.  If you click this you have two options:


If you choose to Load default sentences, it will reset to the Legacy generic sentences.  This is useful if you aren’t happy with what you have done and you want to start over.  If you have crafted some really good sentences for another event that you think could give you a head start on a new event you are working on you can choose to Load sentences from another event.

Have fun!


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Friday, June 19, 2015

I was wrong (it happens)

Several people sent me a message telling me that Find A Grave wants you to put full names on the entries even if the information isn’t on the marker. I don’t agree with Find A Grave’s policy but my readers are correct. Here is what the Find A Grave FAQ says:

First Name
First name of the deceased. Put the entire first name (if known), even if the grave marker is only an initial. Do not include titles or other prefixes in the First Name field.

Middle Name
Middle name of deceased. Put the entire middle name (if known), even if the grave marker is only an initial.

A familiar name of the deceased, if known; the nickname is automatically placed in quotes. A nickname is different from the real name (first or middle).

Maiden Name
Maiden name of a married individual, if known (otherwise leave blank); the maiden name is automatically italicized and is only used if the individual was married and took the spouse's last name as their new last name. If the deceased was never married, then the last name is placed in the "Last Name" field, NOT in the "Maiden Name" field.

Last Name
Last Name as you would find it on the tombstone, if the interred had more than one marriage or other possible spellings please place this information in the bio and use the family links. Do not include honorary or other suffixes in the Last Name field.

I disagree with how Find A Grave handles this.  They want you to add information to the first, middle, nickname and maiden name but for the last name they want you to put what is on the marker and then any additional information in the bio.  That’s a bit inconsistent.

If they want you to add information that isn’t on the marker then they need a box you can check that states the information is NOT on the marker.  AGAIN, this is a moot point if there is a clear photo.  If there is a photograph everyone can see what is on the marker themselves so it doesn’t matter that you have added information.  I am talking about memorials that don’t have photographs. 

I think that people are confused about what the SOURCE of the information is.  If I go to a cemetery in person the source of my evidence is the GRAVE MARKER.  It is no different with Find A Grave.  The source of the information is the GRAVE MARKER.  If there is no grave marker photo then the evidence presented on the Find A Grave memorial is nothing more than an index/database which is a dubious source at best.

Indexes are FINDING AIDS.  They assist you in locating records.  For example, the information on a Find a Grave memorial that does not have a marker photograph can lead you to things like a actual photo of the marker (you put in a request for it), a death certificate (you order it based on the information on FAG) or an obituary (you search newspapers using the information provided).  Those things become your source. 

I will give you an example.  This isn’t a name example, it is more a date and additional information example:

John Lewis FAG Memorial

I have done A LOT of research on John Lewis and I can tell you that he isn’t buried at Grove First Baptist Church.  He doesn’t have marker at Grove Baptist and they have no record of his burial but that is not the only reason I believe that he is not there. He was a member of Lewis Memorial United Methodist Church (named after his son) which is several miles away. At the time it was Sardis Methodist Church.  His homeplace was near this church. Hard to believe that John would have not only been buried at a church he didn’t belong to but at a church of a different denomination not to mention this church was not near where he lived.

Where did the exact birth and death dates come from?  I have his exact birth and death dates and I have a source for them but there is no mention on this memorial where the dates (or the birth and death locations came from).

Husband of Mary C. Sims.  John had four known marriages which I have fully documented that span his life from age 22 until his death at age 79 none of them being Mary C. Sims.  I am not sure when he could have squeezed another marriage in but if he did I would like to see a source for this.

So, someone comes along and sees all this great information and they add it to their file.  They dutifully add Find A Grave as the source.  Can you see the problem with this?  People look at this memorial and assume that the information was taken from a marker or maybe from Sexton records. 

There needs to be a way to show that this information was not from a marker like a checkbox or something.  The way I handle it is that I use the bio section to write up any explanations that I need but not everyone does this.  Here is an example of one without a marker photograph.  This was from a cemetery survey I did in 2003 before I started taking photos of markers. I DID update the full name on this one and I will continue to do so now that I see that this is what Find A Grave wants but I will also continue to put an explanation in the bio section.

Mrs. Elizabeth McGlamery Montgomery Memorial


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Legacy Family Tree Announcement


Due to popular demand the official Legacy User Group Facebook Group has been formed. This group is set up just like our Legacy User Group Mailing List.  This is a place where users can share ideas and help each other.  Technical support will be monitoring the group BUT this isn't the place to get technical support help.  If you are having a technical problem with the program please send an email to Legacy Technical Support so that we can get your issue logged into our tracking system.   We would love for you to post about your favorite features, tips, tricks and shortcuts you have discovered.  You can post questions about how to do certain tasks in Legacy.   The Legacy staff will also be posting hints and videos for you.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I had to decline a Find A Grave edit today

Simmons, William 1978 and Docia Perry 1987
Copyright © 1994 Michele Simmons Lewis*

 For those of you that are familiar with the Edit tab on Find A Grave’s Contributor Tools page, I had to decline two edits today. This is the first time I have had to do this. The two markers in question were from a cemetery survey I did many years ago. At that time I wasn’t photographing markers, just surveying them. The person wanted me to add information to the person’s name and dates that isn’t on the marker. If there is a photograph I will update the information and then put a blurb that “FAG volunteer #999999 states that John Q. Doe’s full name is John Quincy Doe and his full date of birth is 15 June 1858. Please contact #999999 for more information and their sources.”  Since you can see what is actually written on the marker you can take any additional information with a grain of salt. I don’t mind adding it along with a disclaimer. However, if there is no photograph I don’t want to add any additional information that isn’t on the marker because then it is not clear what is on the marker and what isn’t.  I could add a transcription of the marker (there is a place to do that) but it is easily overlooked, especially by beginners who will just see all of that great complete information and they will snag it as is.  I did go in and update the bio section with the information the person gave along with his information but I did not change the name and date that was associated with the person.

A side note, when you use Find A Grave as a source it is the marker photo you are creating a citation for.  If there is no photograph, I don’t use Find A Grave as a source.  You can use the information the person typed into the Bio section as a clue but the evidence is on the marker.

*This is a photo I took of my grandparents’ grave. This isn’t the grave that is in question in the blog post.  I just wanted to jazz up the blog with a photo.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, June 15, 2015

Should I change my name?

One of the Legacy French translators always writes my name as Michèle with an accent mark because that is how it is written in French. I kind of like it. My dad always told me that he spelled my name with one L because that was the French way. Too bad he forgot to include the accent mark. Whenever I email this French translator (and now all of our French translators) I use this spelling.

So what are the implications? I wonder if a hundred years from now a genealogist will be entering this as an AKA for me.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Friday, June 12, 2015

Follow-up to Something so simple

Two people contacted me with some thoughts about my Something so simple post that I wanted to address.

From Kathy,

“And an even more accurate way of recording it would be to record it as Between June 1801 and May 1802 (change month as appropriate depending on which census it is (UK ones happened in different months in different years)”

The reason I didn't suggest this is then you get into the whole debate between looking at the official census date and the date the numerator put at the top of the page. These two dates are rarely the same.  However, whether the census official census date was 01 June vs. the actual enumeration date of 15 September, my method still works.


From Bob,

“This assumes the person's age was recorded accurately. You are right if the age is right, but I think that "about" is better on the basis that the age is not necessarily (and most probably not) accurate.”

Sometimes you have to make some base assumptions and then adjust as you get more information in. For example, I assume that children are born within the confines of their parents' marriage. I assume that the parents actually are the parents. I assume that the information on a census record is correct until I have conflicting evidence at which time I will reconcile the conflicting evidence.

With census records specifically I can adjust the date range to incorporate all of the census records I have. You do this all the time when you are working with the 1800-1840 census. (1790 doesn't give a tight date range so it isn't as helpful). When you correlate the date ranges you come up with across several census records you can narrow the date of birth quite a bit, again, you assume that the information is correct until other evidence comes in that conflicts and then you have to address it.

There are many variables to consider and you always have to keep these scenarios in the back of your mind but you have to start somewhere.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Something so simple

Let’s say you are looking at a census record, an obituary, or anything that might record someone’s age as opposed to their date of birth.  For example,

1850 US Federal Census, Columbia County, Georgia
Mortimer Snerd, male, age 48, farmer, born in Georgia

How would you record Mortimer’s date of birth?  Most people would simply put “About 1802” but is that the most accurate way to record it?

If Mortimer was born before the census date then he was born in 1802.  If he was born after the census date then he was born in 1801.  A more accurate way of recording his date of birth is 1801-1802. 

This is one of those OCD things.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, June 8, 2015

When an interview is your best evidence

In this case it isn’t an interview I conducted but rather one that was conducted in 1802. I am documenting the lives of three men, Rev. Daniel Marshall, his son Rev. Abraham Marshall, and Abraham’s son Rev. Jabez Marshall, three generations of Baptist preachers. The patriarch, Rev. Daniel Marshall, founded Kiokee Baptist Church in Columbia County, Georgia which is the oldest Baptist church in the state.  It happens to be four miles from my house.  I am not related to this family.  The reason I am interested, aside from the historic significance of this story, is that there is a lot of information out there about the Marshalls on the internet, in books, in magazines, and in church periodicals. The problem is that none of the published information (at least none that I could find) was sourced properly. I want to go back and reconstruct the family the right way.

The family starts in Connecticut.  I have all of the births and marriages I need from the wonderful town records they kept up there.  Once the family gets to Georgia I am good to go because the Richmond and Columbia County records are almost 100% intact (Columbia was formed from Richmond in 1790).  My problem is the time between when they left Connecticut and arrived in Georgia. 

The Marshalls were missionaries.  The preached to the Indians in remote locations.  No records were generated in these areas.  Some of Abrahams younger children were born on the trip down to the south.  Trying to piece together this time period, about 1744 to about 1770, is difficult. The family did make a stop in a populated area of Virginia and in South Carolina on the way down which does give me two more records reference points but I am still missing a lot of time and details.

The answer I needed was printed in the Georgia Analytical Register (a Baptist publication) in 1802.1 Rev. Abraham Marshall dictated a biographical sketch of his father Daniel to the editor of the GAR.  It is written in the first person.  Though it starts with Daniel’s birth in Connecticut much of the story is primary evidence as Abraham was an active participant.  I still consider his testimony of the events prior to him being old enough to have first hand knowledge as fairly accurate because he never left his father’s side until his father’s death.  This information is secondary but he would have heard the accounts over and over and over again from his father. The stories could certainly have been embellished a bit but the timeline is what I was more concerned with.

1 Henry Holcomb, editor, "Biography of the late Rev. Daniel Marshall, communicated to the editor by the Rev. Abraham Marshall," The Georgia Analytical Repository 1 (May-June 1802): 23-30; Georgia Regents University Library, microfilm 3578.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, June 5, 2015

My new digs

My daughter Kelly got married in May and moved out. I immediately took possession of her vacated room to turn it into my new office. I have never had a real office. I have always either been in a corner of my bedroom or in the family room. That’s what happens when you have a houseful of kids. 

You can see my old office space HERE. This was actually two spaces ago. This is when I was in the bedroom but I moved to the family room sometime after that. If you are on Facebook, you can see my space in the family room HERE. Even if you don’t have Facebook you can try the link. Who knows, you still might be able to see it.  

My new office has a fresh coat of paint, crown molding installed and a new ceiling fan. I moved my two big bookcases in and I bought a new, larger desk. I also brought in a little antique table I found at an estate sale about a year ago to hold my printer. The shredder sits underneath. I have a TV in here which is nice. I moved in three plants (love living in a jungle). The best part of moving is it forced me to go through everything I have and I got rid of a lot of junk. The not so best part is when I went through everything I ended up making a lengthy to-do list of things I need to tackle. 

I started working in here on Monday. I have a door that I can close which means I can use Dragon Naturally Speaking without my kids laughing hysterically. I can have the news on the TV going in the background too (I am a news junkie). 

So why no pictures of my new digs? The one thing I want to do before I let you see it is get some stuff on the walls. I can’t stand having bare walls. I also need to sew some curtains but I might let you see it before then. I am just having a hard time figuring out what I want to put on the walls and where. I have a large map of Germany, a couple of old pictures, and some of my daughter’s oil paintings that will make the cut. I want to get a wall clock.  Even though I have the time on my wristwatch, my telephone and my computer I still prefer just glancing up at the wall. I am also considering a bulletin board and maybe a white board. In the above two photos you can see that I was using the blinds as a bulletin board.  My desk isn’t under a window now so that is why I am thinking about a bulletin board in front of my desk.

I will be doing a lot of work in here this weekend.  I might try to get you a picture sometime next week.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Another cool Excel trick, well two

I stumbled on this one quite by accident.  I like to have my dates completely written out like this:  14 February 1862.  Excel does not allow you to format dates this way, well, it won’t let you if you happen to be in the United States. If you change your location to English (United Kingdom) you can format your dates this way.



Another thing I stumbled on.  If you have been using Excel for any length of time you will know that it doesn’t like pre 1901 dates.  You have to format the cells containing dates as Text instead of dates.  I noticed that when I imported a CSV file that I created in Legacy that my pre 1901 dates were intact, they were being treated like text because Excel didn’t recognize them as dates.  A further clue that Excel didn’t recognize them as dates is that they were justified left.  So far so good.  However, the post 1900 dates were imported with two digit years (because of the US setting) and they were justified right (made them easy to spot).  I was able to fix all the dates so that they were uniform and correct.  I want to thank my coworker Sherry from Legacy Family Tree for helping me test this and figure out the solution. 

1) Import the data (CSV file)
2) Change to the English (United Kingdom) date formats and choose DDMMYYYY format*
3) Justify the column to the left (or right) to line all the dates up

* You will need to change to whatever format your imported dates are in.  You will not be able to globally change these to another format because all of the pre 1901 dates are not being seen as dates.  I chose the format that was imported from a Legacy CSV file which is full dates.  If I had my dates entered in Legacy as 15 Jan 1900 then I would have to use that format.







NOTE: You will not be able to sort by the date column.  Excel will only see the post 1900 dates as dates so anything before 1901 will not sort.  If you need to sort by date you will have to split the year from the rest of the date and then sort by the year column, then by the rest of the date column.  These columns will be treated like simple numbers so they will sort properly.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, June 1, 2015

One big happy file

I could have titled this post, “To split or not to split, that is the question.”  A common question that comes in to Legacy is asking how to split a file.  Most people that want to split their file want to have their information in one file and their spouse’s family in another.

Why would you want to do that? It is much easier working with one file for three reasons.

  • You won’t have to switch back and forth between files when you are doing research.  This is especially inconvenient if you are looking at a records set that could contain both families.
  • You won’t have duplication between the files (your spouse and descendants).  If you update one file you will have to go in and update the other one.
  • If there is some sort of link between you and and your spouse sometime in the past it will be much easier for you to recognize that there is a link if everyone is in the same file.  If you find a connection it will take less than five seconds to actually create the link.  If you do find a link between the two families you will then have to put everyone in the same file anyway. Far fetched?  Not really.  There is a good chance that you will find a connection if you go far enough back.  If you look at your file in terms of your children your two families are already linked.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have more than one file.  I have my main file that has my personal family research in it.  I also have a file for my One-Name Study.  Technically these people are attached to my family tree but it is just easier to deal with this group of people separately because I use different research tactics and I have to look at all of this data in a different way.  I rarely take on clients anymore but when I do their information goes in separate files.  I have several test files because of my work with Legacy but most people won’t have that.

Unless you have one of these special cases you are better off keeping everything in one file.

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, May 29, 2015

Excel trick

I posted an Excel trick on the Organized Genealogist, Technology for Genealogy and the Excel-ling Genealogists Facebook Group pages.  I was completely overwhelmed with the response.  In less that 24 hours there are over 200 Likes and over 70 comments.

A little background…  I am doing a One-Name Study on the Glaentzer surname.  You can read about it HERE.  I have a distant cousin in Germany that is also working on this surname and we collaborate. She has two trees on  I wanted to compare what she has with what I have.  She could send me a gedcom but I don’t want to import a gedcom into my file because it would mean a lot of cleanup work because of the duplicates. Trying to look through her tree is also not a good option because she has a lot more information in these trees besides just the Glaentzers.  Here is what I did.

1) I went to the first tree.  How you get to the right screen depends a bit on whether or not you are using the beta version of Ancestry.  Here is where you want to be.  This screenshot is from my DNA tree.  You want to click LIST ALL PEOPLE from the dropdown menu.

2)  This is what you will see.  This too is from my DNA tree.


3) I needed to filter this list to only include Glaentzers and variations so I typed “Gl” in the Last Name field to filter the list.  If you want to put the entire tree in Excel then you will skip this step.  Here is the filtered list, this time from one of Christina’s trees.  This is the actual data I was working with.

4) Notice that the names are hot links to that person’s page in Christina’s tree. I copied this list and then pasted it into Excel.  The links transfer with no problem.  You can see in the above screenshot that there are two pages.  You have to copy and paste each page one at a time.

5) Once you have the data in Excel, you will need to adjust the column widths and the row heights and add column headings.  I also froze the headings. 

6) Now is where it gets fun.  After I pasted all of the names I needed from both of her trees and cleaned up the spreadsheet, I did a custom sort.  I sorted by the Name column first, then by the Birth Date/Location column second.  Now I have the names in the exact order I want.  Here is what it looks like.

7) You can see that the names are still hyperlinks and you can see which ones I have already clicked.  As I check each entry, I can color code them showing which ones I have looked at.  The reason this is important is if I ever decide to sort the list in a different way the ones I have checked won’t necessarily be at the top anymore so this will show me which ones I have done.

This has been a real timesaver for me. 

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

So sad

I told you that when I am working on Legacy’s Research Guidance I have to access records in every database I add to see exactly what information they contain.  I was working on Nova Scotia Deaths, 1864-1877 and I randomly clicked on a page for Pictou County when I found three children (siblings) that had all died of Scarlet Fever.  John McIntosh age 1 year and 3 months died on 10 February 1876, Anne McIntosh age 5 years died on the 13th of February, and Daniel McIntosh age 7 died on March 2nd.  Their parents were Duncan and Bella McIntosh.  You can see the actual page HERE.  I can’t imagine losing one child let alone three children in a span of less than three weeks.

NOTE: Live Writer is no longer working with Blogger.  A Google search shows that a lot of people have been reporting this in the last 24 hours.  My blog posts might look at bit funny until this gets straightened out.

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two bits of advice

1) If you want to have your family tree online I highly suggest you keep your working file on your computer and then upload a gedcom to the website where you want your tree to be instead of doing all of your research online.  Why?  A resident genealogy program has a gazillion more options, tools, searching capabilities, error checking, reports, charts etc. than any online program will ever have.

2) Periodically take down the old gedcom and upload a new one as you update your file.  What you don’t want is several different versions of the same tree on the same website or even on different websites.  If I do a search on’s public member trees for Mortimer Snerd and I get 20 hits but 18 of them are from trees submitted by the same person it is a little frustrating. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, May 22, 2015

Terms of what?

The Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness Facebook group page is pretty popular. There are over 20,000 members. One of the things you will see on there all the time are questions like, “Can someone see if Mortimer Snerd has an obituary on and clip it for me?” If you happen to have a subscription to should you do the lookup? 

Before you do, you need to read’s Terms of Use. Doing lookups like this might be in violation of the agreement you signed with the company.

Here is a great article written by the Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, CG. 

Reprise: a terms of user primer

Most genealogists will bend over backwards to help out a fellow researcher but sometimes you just can’t.  It is always best to follow the rules.  You can tell them whether or not what they are looking for exists but for them to get a copy they will have to subscribe to the website just like you did.


 Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death certificates and informants

By now you should already know that I love death certificates.  They are loaded with evidence and many times that evidence is wrong which makes it all the more fun.  What some people don’t realize is that there is normally TWO informants on a death certificate, the physician that witnessed the death and the person that provided the background info.  I wanted to talk a little bit about the physician.

If you obtain a copy of a death certificate from the state health department the document is considered to be an ORIGINAL as long as you are confident it represents the original accurately and that it hasn’t been altered/tampered with in any way which is usually the case.

The date of death is DIRECT evidence because it directly answers the question, “When did Mortimer Snerd” die?

But is the information PRIMARY, SECONDARY or UNDETERMINED? It depends.  Was the physician actually present when the person died or was he going on information provided by someone else? You might think this is a bit nit picky but not really.  It can contribute to an error.

Fast forward to when I was a deputy sheriff.  When someone died at home a law enforcement officer would be dispatched to the house.  The LEO would observe the scene, observe the body and conduct interviews. If it appeared that the person had died of natural causes the LEO would call the family doctor and ask him if he was willing to sign the death certificate.  If he knew the patient well enough that he was comfortable with it, he would say yes.  The body would then go to the funeral home.  The doctor would never see the dead body but would sign the death certificate as the attending physician. 

When you are looking at a death certificate pay attention to when the physician states he attended the deceased as well as what date he states he last saw the deceased.  If you are really lucky, the doctor will make some sort of notation if he was not in attendance or if no one was in attendance when the person died.  Many times the blanks won’t be filled in at all and then you won’t even know for sure.  This is just something you need to think about if something doesn’t quite add up.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, May 18, 2015


wordle 6

I have recently discovered Wordle. On this website you can create really cool word-based graphics.  The above graphic is for my One-Name Study.  It has the names of the countries where the surname is found as well as all of the known variations.  The more common variations are larger than the lesser ones.  Great fun and it is free. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why I like the name Smith

One of the things I do at Legacy is update the Research Guidance feature.  Whenever I add a new database I have to look at the database very closely to see exactly what information can be gleaned.  If it is a simple index it is no problem but if there are images I have to look at several from different areas and different time periods so that I can get a good overview of what might be found in that particular record set.  Many of the databases that have images also have an index so I put in random names and then click on the link to see the page.  Guess what name I use?  Smith of course!  Every country has their Smiths and as long as I know what it is I am in good shape.  Here are just a few.

Poland – Nowak
Spain – García
Germany – Müller
Japan – Satō
Finland – Korhonen
Greece - Papadopoulos
Italy – Rossi
Peru - Quispe

When I am actually doing research I don’t like Smiths so much. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis