Monday, November 23, 2015

When microfilm is better than the original

Here is what I have in my marriage notes for Eli Meredith and Martha McMichael:

Jane Doe* at the Pike County, AL Circuit Court Clerk's Office states that Eli and Martha show up in their marriage index but when she went to the marriage book itself to make a copy the page was missing. [*name changed]

FamilySearch now has the Alabama county marriage books online.  Look what I found.

Meredith, Eli and Martha McMichael marriage 1856

This marriage book was microfilmed in 1979.  Sometime after that pages from the book were torn out.  I have several missing marriages from this same book that are no longer missing. 


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery marker

Hickman, Katie 1982Copyright © 2009 Frances Kirkland, used with permission

This marker is in the Entrekin Family Cemetery in Forrest County, Mississippi. I couldn’t find Katie in my file which surprised me because I know every Simmons in a several county area. I assume she married a Simmons but which one? It took me about 30 minutes of frantic mouse clicking on the internet cross referenced with the information I already have my file to figure out that she was the daughter of George Hickman and Mary Catherine Elizabeth Entrekin. I was now able to place her in the family. Katie’s mother Mary was the sister to my great-aunt’s husband. My great-aunt also happens to be a Simmons. There are a lot of Simmons – Entrekin marriages so I am pretty familiar with the Entrekins too. I couldn’t find an obit for Katie which of course was the first place I looked. I then expanded my search a bit. I found her in a very unexpected index, the California Death Index on  California?  Really?  Here is the entry, it is definitely her. 


I just have to know who she was married to.  Two of my great-uncles are buried in this cemetery but I can rule out that she was married to either one of them.  They were the only two of the brothers that lived in this area along with one of their sisters (the one that married the Entrekin).  Knowing this family so well makes this really frustrating.  There were more brothers but they didn’t live in this area.  All but one would have been quite a bit younger than Katie. I am keeping this one other brother of the right age on my radar for now but this would have meant that he and Katie were divorced and that she never remarried which is a less likely scenario than if it was a different Simmons altogether.  There are plenty of Simmons cousins out there but not in this community.

So what is my next move?  I have a request for Katie’s California death certificate in the envelope which will be mailed today.

I did try searching on’s tree for a Hickman with a father named George and a mother with the maiden name of Entrekin that married a Simmons to no avail.  Even if I had found it, I would have still ordered the death certificate.  Stay tuned!


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Organizing your genetic genealogy by Diahan Southard

Organizing Your Genetic Genealogy by Diahan Southard has got to be one of the best Legacy webinars that I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of them. I happen to be big into DNA right now and I really needed some help with organizing all of the incoming information. I took tons of notes but I am going to have to watch this one again. She explains all of the tools that you can use and I am very excited about settings up her recommended systems.  I know this will help me with some of my brick wall ancestors.

This webinar will be FREE through 18 Nov 2015.  After that you will need to be a Webinar subscriber to access it.  If you are already a webinar subscriber you will also be able to download the handout that goes with the webinar as well as use the new tools on the website to keep your webinars organized (can you tell I am all about being organized?)

Click the graphic to be taken to the webinar.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 9, 2015

Yet another use for Excel

I LOVE MS Excel.  Actually, I love spreadsheets in general. It doesn’t have to be Excel specifically though I do think Excel is the best.

If you are on Facebook there is a group called Excel-ling Genealogists where you will see all kinds of great ideas on how to use spreadsheets to your advantage.  There are some sample files uploaded to this group that you will also have access to if you join.

I normally use spreadsheets to help me analysis data.  I can do multi-tiered sorts which helps me see patterns.  I also use a spreadsheet for my research log when I am working on a major case study/proof argument.  I recently came up with another spreadsheet idea that I thought I would pass on.

By now you should know that one of my priorities is being an ethical genealogist.  I love photos of grave markers so I love sites like Find A Grave.  When I see a photo of interest to me I ALWAYS ask permission from the photographer to download the photo.  For more info on that click HERE. When I send the email I ask about the specific photo but I also ask for blanket permission for any other photos that they took as well as permission to use any of the photos on the three blogs I write for if the need should arise.  I always assure them that I will give them full credit as the photographer.  I have never been turned out.  People are usually understanding and cooperative when you are respectful and acknowledge them.

I used to keep a simple list of these people in Evernote but I found that as the list got longer it was harder for me to see if I already had permission from someone when I found a photo I needed.  I decided that this would be the sort of thing that would be better in a spreadsheet.  I don’t want to screenshot my actual spreadsheet because it contains the names of living people (again, an ethics thing) so took a screenshot of a pretend one.  I keep the list sorted in alphabetical order so that it is easier for me to see people.  If the person operates under a nickname I can quickly change the sort.  My real list is quite a bit longer than this one because I have been snagging photos from Find A Grave for over six years.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 2, 2015

A very sobering document

I received my grandmother’s death certificate from the Archives in Leverkusen, Germany this morning. Theresia (Glaentzer) Weichert was shot and killed on 21 June 1945, 45 days after the war ended in Germany.  She was only 35 years old. She was walking home with a neighbor after dark and was accidentally shot by American soldiers who were looking for German soldiers that were still hiding.  At the time of her death her husband was still in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp so their three children were sent to an orphanage.  He died before he could get back home.  I received his death certificate from the Archives in Göttingen 3 days ago.  I have known this story my entire life but seeing it on an official document is very sobering and a bit surreal. Out of respect for my mother and her brothers I am not posting Theresia and Augusts’ death certificates.

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shameless plug

Legacy just released a new updated website that is just awesome! If you have been thinking about getting a webinar subscription now is the time. This new updated website is mobile friendly and it now has a playlist so that you can pull in the webinars you want to watch. If you start watching one and get interrupted you can pick up where you left off and Legacy will remember ALL of the webinars that you are in the middle of watching. That's my favorite feature so I am mentioning that one specifically but there are all kinds of cool new things on this website. The webinar subscription is on sale right now for $49.95 for a year.

Legacy’s new webinar website

Video tour of the website showcasing the new features


Click graphic to access the ordering page

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 26, 2015

Using FamilySearch’s Family Tree the right way

I happen to like FamilySearch’s Family Tree.  It is a collaborative tree which is very different than the Public and Private Member Trees on

Before you can use FamilySearch’s Family Tree to its full potential, you need to educate yourself on how it all works.  A lot of people who have no clue will connect and then start deleting people and merging people which messes things up big time for everyone else.  Using one of the programs that can directly sync can make it even easier for you to mess things up for others.

Before you even think about sharing any of your data with FamilySearch, you need to clean up your data.  Again, this is even more important (and easier!) if you are using one of the programs that can directly sync.  Cleanup means making sure all of your data is entered consistently using the genealogy standards accepted by FamilySearch (the formats for names, dates and locations).  If you use Legacy you will want to visit all of the Master Lists and check them for consistency as well as run the Potential Problems Report and the Find Duplicates routines.  Having nicely formatted sources for all of your data is a plus. Once your data is in the best shape that it can be, now you can think about uploading it.

Now that your data is ready to go, you can upload on the website via gedcom.  You can do that HERE.  If you upload via gedcom, FamilySearch is going to make you address possible duplicates right off the bat and that is why you need to know the right way to deal with duplicates.  You can also upload via one of FamilySearch approved software programs.

The Riverton Family History Center’s pdf instructions on how to use FamilySearch’s Family Tree are the best in my opinion.  These are the ones I pass out when I give a lecture on FamilySearch.  You can see them HERE. They are 11 pdfs listed under Family Tree that will teach you everything you need to know.

Once you are very familiar with the above tasks, you can then learn how the direct interface works in your FamilySearch approved software program.  If you are using Legacy, you can watch the Legacy and FamilySearch Family Tree Webinar (free) and download an informative pdf from HERE


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Creating a gedcom to go along with autosomal DNA

For those of you that want to create a gedcom to upload to one of the DNA websites to go along with your autosomal DNA, what's the best way to do this? You will want to include all of your blood relatives and exclude everyone that isn't related to you by blood.

The instructions below are for Legacy.  If you use a different genealogy database program you can read through the Legacy directions to help you figure out how to do this in your program.

1) Go to TOOLS > SET RELATIONSHIPS. Make sure that the person that provided the DNA sample is the person that is in the top box (many of us have DNA samples for several of our family members). Set the “Blood Relationships” to 999 and set the “Non-blood Relationships” to 0. Now SET RELATIONSHIPS.

2) Go to SEARCH > FIND. Click the DETAILED SEARCH tab. Here is the search criteria you need.

Individual > Relationship > Equal to > Related

Now tag everyone on this search list (OPTIONS > ADVANCED TAGGING > TAG #1 > EVERYONE IN SEARCH LIST)  Use any unused tag and then label that tag.

3) You are now going to export the gedcom but you don't want to show any living people except for yourself. Temporarily mark yourself as deceased. When you do the export (FILE > EXPORT > GEDCOM FILE) under PRIVACY OPTIONS select “Exclude living people totally as if they do not exist” (my choice) or “Suppress details for living people/Change name to "Living."

Under RECORD SELECTION choose to export only the tagged individuals. Don't check the boxes for spouses/children/parents because you already have everyone tagged that needs to be exported.

You will also want to strip the gedcom of events and notes. I only upload the vital events (birth, marriage, death) to include dates and locations. You can tell Legacy what NOT to export on the CUSTOMIZE screen.

Now SELECT FILE NAME AND START EXPORT. You now have a file of everyone you are blood related to. Living persons (except you) have been excluded to protect their privacy. You have stripped the gedcom of all of the fluff that doesn't need to be there. Perfect!


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 19, 2015


DNA.LAND is the new DNA kid on the block and it has taken off big time. CeCe Moore (expert genetic genealogist) endorses it and that is all I need to know. Here is CeCe Moore’s BLOG POST about it.

I uploaded my atDNA and I already have matches even thought the pool is still relatively small. 

Here is my ethnicity:


Wow.  I am pretty generic.

Here is one of my matches.  I had to cut off some of the information to protect the privacy of the person I match to.  This is a predicted 3rd cousin, my closest match right now.  I wanted you to see what their chromosome bowser looks like.


I figure the more DNA pools I have my genes in the more matches I will get.  I can also take advantage of the tools each website has to further refine my genetic research.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Something you need to know when researching in newspapers


This is a follow-up post to Thank you ACPL and PERSI.  My dilemma is finding a marriage record in South Carolina, a state that didn’t bother to record marriages at the county level until 1911.  The two best places to find marriages in South Carolina are church records (the last post) and newspapers (today’s post).

There some great online sources of newspapers, some are free, some are subscription:

If you limit your newspaper search to what is available on line you will probably miss something. There are a lot of newspapers out there that are on microfilm at the state archives and within the university and public library systems that are not online.  There are also many that are original papers that haven’t even been microfilmed.  How do you find these?  The Library of Congress has a wonderful tool:

Search U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present 

This site will tell you EVERY newspaper that was in print in a certain location and in a certain time period AND where you can find them. 

Here is an example.  I want to know what papers were in publication in Georgetown, Georgetown County, South Carolina between 1780 and 1790.

There is only one hit, The Georgetown Chronicle and South-Carolina Weekly Advertiser.  It was in publication from 179?-1797 (the exact starting date is unknown because as you will see below not many issues have survived time).  The search picked this paper up because I had entered 1790 and the first date could be 1790.

Now I can see a list of repositories that have this paper and not only that, it will tell me exactly what years/issues they have. 

American Antiquarian Soc, Newsp Proj, Worcester, MA
Dates: 1796:3:22 Original

Harvard Univ, Houghton Libr, Cambridge, MA
Dates 1797:1:19 Original

Univ of S Carolina, Columbia, SC
Dates: 1796: 3:22, 1797:1:19 Microfilm

You can see that only two papers have survived.  The American Antiquarian Society has one and Harvard has the other.  The University of South Carolina has microfilmed these two papers and they hold the microfilm.

This was a very limited example.  Now I will give you one that has a few more hits.  This time I will do the search for Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina for 1780 – 1790 (same 10 year span, different city).  Charleston was an important port city so I expect to see more hits and I do. There were TWENTY-SIX papers in publication during this time! Some of these are overlaps but still.

1. The South-Carolina & American general gazette [microform]. (Charlestown [S.C.]) 1764-1781
2. The Royal South-Carolina gazette [microform]. (Charles-Town, S.C.) 1780-1782
3. Charleston gazette. (Charleston, S.C.) 1778-1780
4. The South-Carolina gazette and general advertizer. (Charlestown [i.e. Charleston, S.C.]) 1783-1784
5. South Carolina state gazette and daily advertiser. (Charleston, S.C.) 1784-1785
6. The Columbian herald, or The Patriotic courier of North-America. (Charleston, S.C.) 1784-1785
7. The Charleston morning post, and daily advertiser. (Charleston) 1786-1787
8. The state gazette of South-Carolina. (Charleston [S.C.]) 1785-1793
9. The city gazette, and the daily advertiser. (Charleston) 1787-1803
10. The Columbian herald, or, The Independent courier of North-America. (Charleston, S.C.) 1785-1792
11. The Gazette of the state of South-Carolina. (Charles-town [S.C.]) 1777-1785
12. The South-Carolina weekly advertiser. (Charlestown [i.e. Charleston], S.C.) 1783-178?
13. Chronicle of liberty, or, The republican intelligencer. ([Charleston, S.C.]) 1783-178?
14. The royal gazette. ([Charleston] S.C.) 1781-1782
15. The South-Carolina & American general gazette. (Charlestown [S.C.]) 1764-1781
16. The Royal South-Carolina gazette. (Charles-Town, S.C.) 1780-1782
17. The Charlestown gazette. (Charlestown, S.C.) 1778-1780
18. South Carolina state gazette, and general advertiser. (Charleston [S.C.]) 1784-1784
19. The Charleston evening gazette. ([Charleston, S.C.]) 1785-178?
20. The South-Carolina weekly gazette. (Charlestown [i.e. Charleston, S.C.]) 1783-1784
21. The South-Carolina gazette, and public advertiser. (Charleston [S.C.]) 1784-1786
22. The South-Carolina gazette, and the general advertiser. (Charleston) 1786-1786
23. The South-Carolina weekly chronicle. (Charleston, S.C.) 1787-1787
24. The City gazette, and the daily advertiser [microform]. (Charleston [S.C.]) 1787-1803
25. The Charleston morning post and daily advertiser [microform]. (Charleston, S.C.) 1786-1787
26. The city gazette, and the daily advertiser [microform]. (Charleston [S.C.]) 1787-1803

Nice!  Each one of these has its own list of repositories.  I will only show you #3, the Charleston Gazette, 1778-1780.

There is only one place you can find this paper and that is at Wagner College on Staten Island, NY (why does NY have a SC paper?  I have no clue). Here are the issues they have:

1778: 11:3
1779: 1:26, 3:23, 11:23
1780: 1: 11, 18

These are on microfilm.  Since the original papers are not listed at any repository it is assumed they have been destroyed. 

I am sure that you can see from these very simple examples that there are a gazillion papers out there that you will never see if you only rely on online newspaper sites.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thank you ACPL and PERSI

The Allen County Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Indiana is the creator of the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) which has been of great use to me over the years.  I just received copies of five articles that appeared in the South Carolina Historical Magazine.

  • “South Carolina Episcopal Church Records” by Margaretta Childs and Isabella G. Leland, Oct 1983
  • “South Carolina Methodist Records” by Richard N. Côté, Jan 1984
  • “South Carolina Presbyterian Records” by Richard N. Côté, Apr 1984
  • “South Carolina Baptist Records” by J. Glen Clayton, Oct 1984
  • “South Carolina Religious Records: Other Denominations” by Richard N. Côté, Jan 1985

South Carolina, unlike everyone else, didn’t keep marriage records at the county level until 1911 which is very inconvenient.  There are a few scattered marriage records in the court records but there aren’t many.  One must turn to church records and newspapers.  I am going to address newspapers in the next post because there is something very important to know when you want to try and find something in a newspaper.

Before you start a search through church records you need to know what records actually exist and where they are housed.  That is why I ordered the above articles.  They are a gold mine of information and I am starting to put together a comprehensive research plan.  I am looking for a specific marriage and I am not 100% sure which church the couple belonged to (I suspect Episcopal) so I must look at all of the denominations.  It’s a needle in a haystack search and that it why it is doubly important to search methodically and keep records of everything that has been searched.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


















Friday, October 9, 2015


Previous posts in this series:
Benchmarks – Part I
Benchmarks – Part II
Education – Foundational
Education – Intermediate

The first two aren’t educational opportunities per se but going through the process will be the best education you will probably ever get.

Both the BCG and ICAPGen have all kinds of resources that you can use to help bring your research skills up to the advanced level even if you don’t plan on actually submitting anything to them.

My portfolio for the BCG is over half done BUT I am having to take an extended break from it because I have a grandbaby on the way.  Family is always first for me and when my daughter goes back to work I will be watching the baby for her in addition to my full time job at Legacy.  It just isn’t in the cards for me right now but going through the process taught me a lot.  To see what is required, you can look at the BCG’s Application Guide. I already told you about BCG’s Standards Manual but you can also take a look at BCG’s Rubrics which is used to judge the portfolios. 

Another great advanced learning opportunity is submitting an article to a peer-reviewed journal such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), The Register (published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society),  The Record (published by the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society), or The American Genealogist.  The editorial process can take up to a year depending on the article and the journal.  Each journal has its own style of what type of articles they accept and how they need to be submitted so your first step is to acquaint yourself with their submission guidelines. 

Here are two educational opportunities that are definitely on my bucket list. You can read descriptions of the courses on their websites.

Here are some new ones from Excelsior College that look VERY interesting. 

These have not been scheduled yet but I have put my name on the list.  It just so happens I received my bachelor’s degree in nursing from Excelsior so I am familiar with the school and they have an excellent reputation.  Since full descriptions of the courses aren’t available yet I don’t know what level these courses are but knowing the types of courses that Excelsior have these will be at the intermediate level at the very least.

There are A LOT of great webinars out there on specialized topics.  Cyndi’s List has a clearinghouse of Online Courses and Webinars you can take a look at.  Just make sure you vet the instructor so that you know the course is legit.

You can get CDs of presentations given at the national level by the top genealogists in the country/world.  This is a great way to take advantage of national conferences when you can’t travel.  My favorite source is JAMB Tapes, Inc.

I highly recommend that you keep track of your education.  I have a friend that designed a really cool form in MS Word that I use.  You could also use MS Excel or other spreadsheet program.  I would not only include the specifics of the course (name, date, location, description, cost) but also your personal evaluation of the course. 


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Previous posts in this series:
Benchmarks – Part I
Benchmarks – Part II
Education – Foundational

So now you have some education and experience under your belt and you want to kick it up a notch, where do you go from here?  We are still at the point where you need to get a general, well-rounded education but you can also start branching out into specialized areas. 

You can of course continue your education at the FamilySearch Learning Center by going through the courses that are labeled intermediate (and then advanced).  There are 351 at the intermediate level.  That should keep you busy for awhile.

Normally I would have said that the next step would be the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course but I now see that they have changed it to American Genealogical Studies. I am not sure if the original course is still available other than for students who are already enrolled. The NGS Home Study course was a comprehensive survey of the most common record sets that you will be working with. There are assignments for each module and you get personalized feedback from the instructor. This was a great precursor to ProGen.  The new American Genealogical Studies series is set up differently.  I haven’t seen it myself but I am pretty confident it is a good program since it is from the NGS. Here are the tracks:

Here are a couple more ideas for comprehensive programs.

I also highly recommend ProGen.  This is an 18 month study group.  You have to be willing to commit because there is a lot of work involved.  I am VERY glad I participated.  I was in ProGen 18 and all of us are still in touch.  As a matter of fact, we have our own secret Facebook Group page. 

Joining one of the NGSQ Study Groups is also a great idea.  Once a month you get together to discuss a NGSQ article.  You must be a member of the National Genealogical Society to take advantage of this one because you will need access to the articles archive.  The schedule of articles is sent out at the beginning of the year.  There are groups that meet on different days/times and using different platforms so you should be able to find a good fit.  If you are interested, you can send an email to Darcie Posz at for more information.

Another great intermediate group is the GenProof Study Groups which is based on the book, Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones. These groups are 8 or 16 weeks long, meet at different days/times and on different platforms so there is something for everyone. For more information you can contact Michelle Goodrum at I am one of the mentors for these groups and every time I take a group through I learn something. 

So what books do you need to add to your library?  This is a little tougher because now that you are at the intermediate level there are so many great books out there.  You really aren’t limited anymore.  Here is my Complete Book List.  There are a couple that I have that aren’t on the list but this is most of them.

This is also where you can start building resources for specific topics.  For example, since I do a lot of German research I have a bunch of books just for that though some people might consider German research an advanced skill.

Bentz, Edna M. If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records. San Diego, CA: privately published, 2001.

Beidler, James M. German: Chronological Considerations. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2014.

Gläntzer, Christina. Hundert Jahre im Leben Einer Familie, Die Familie Gläntzer. Bielefeld, Germany: privately published, n.d.

Langenscheidt’s New College German Dictionary. Revised Edition. New York: Langenscheidt,1995.

Meyerink, Kory and Kenneth Lee Smith. German: Church Records. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2003.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Civil Registration. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2005.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Emigration Records. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2004.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Introduction to Research for North Americans. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2002.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Locating Places in Germany. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2009.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Reading the Records. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2003.

Meyerink, Kory. German: Records Repositories. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2004.

Meyerink, Kory. German: The Language. N.p.: National Institute for Genealogical Studies, 2002.

Minert, Roger P. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents.  2nd Ed. Provo, UT: GRT Publications, 2013.

Minert, Roger P. Spelling Variations in German Names: Solving Family History Problems Through Applications of German and English Phonetics. Provo, UT: GRT Publications, 2000.

Reimer, Shirley J., et al. The German Research Companion. 3rd Ed. Sacramento, CA: Lorelei Press, 2010.

Smith, Kenneth L. German Names – A Practical Guide. Morgantown, PA: Mastof Press, 2007.

Strutz, Henry. 501 German Verbs. 3rd Ed. Alfred, NY: Barron’s, 1998.

Süß, Harold. Deutsche Screibschrift, Lesen und Schreiben Lernen. München, Germany: Augutus Verlag, 2000.

Thode, Ernest. German-English Genealogical Dictionary. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Urban, Thomas. Deutsche in Polen, Geschichte und Gegenwart einer Minderheirt. München, Germany: C. H. Beck, 2000.

Verdenhalven, Fritz. Die Deutsche Schrift-The German Script. Neustadt, Germany: Verlag Degener & Co., 1994.


Next time we will talk about some advanced learning opportunities.  Some of these will require travel.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The last two blog posts covered the standards you should be measuring your research against.  Here are the links to those posts.

Benchmarks – Part I
Benchmarks – Part II

Now we are going to talk about how to get the education you need to get your research up to the above standards.  I am going to concentrate on educational opportunities available to you from the comfort of your own home.  There are also great programs out there at universities and at genealogical conferences but those are a lot harder for the average person to take advantage of. I will do a separate post detailing a few of these later on. We are also going to talk about the importance of joining genealogical societies that offer great educational opportunities as well as how to build a good reference library.

This first post is aimed at the absolute beginner. There are three things you need to think about:

  • Education
  • Building a reference library
  • Networking with other researchers via genealogy societies

We will talk about education first. My #1 favorite source for beginner material is FamilySearch. FamilySearch’s Learning Center has an entire section for beginners as well as sections for intermediates and advanced. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will see a special section for beginners—5 Minute Genealogy Episodes 1-21. These short videos break down the topics in easy to digest bites.  Once you have completed those you can click the Beginner link under Skill Level on the left.  There you will find 260 videos.  These lessons are taught by accredited genealogists, certified genealogist and professional genealogists. Many of them also have handouts.  All are 100% free and you can’t beat that.  Once you access the beginner section you will see that you can further filter the list by country and by subject.  I suggest you focus on the subject categories before you start looking at country-specific lessons.

Starting a reference library is essential but it can be a bit daunting because there is a lot of great books out there.  So what books to do you get first?

  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Third Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000.

This is an oldie but a goodie.  Greenwood discusses all of the major record groups you need to be familiar with in detail.  This is the first book I recommend to people. 


  • Eichholz, Alice, editor. RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources. Third Edition. Provo, UT: 2004.

  • The Handybook for Genealogists. Eleventh Edition. Draper, UT: Everton Publishers, 2006. (I have the 10th edition)

These two books are similar in format but different enough that if you owned both it wouldn’t be a bad thing. These books are divided by state and give you an overview of what records are available for that state as well as a concise history of the state and a listing of all of the counties/parishes and their formation information. 


  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 3rd Ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.

I was a little hesitant to recommend this one as a beginner book because this book is usually VERY daunting to beginners.  However, learning how to cite your sources properly is a foundational skill.  The best advice I have is to read the first two chapters before you start looking at the examples in the rest of the book.  The first two chapters explain evidence analysis and the why and how of citing your sources.  If you understand the basic principles the rest of the book won’t be quite as scary.


Since census records are probably the most popular record group that beginners work with then you might want to take a look at this book.

  • Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.


Networking with other genealogists is very important.  The best way to do that is to join societies.  There are all different kinds of genealogical societies but I think beginner’s should start by joining their local, state and national societies.  What additional societies you join will depend on the type of research you do and what special interests you have.  I wrote a blog post on Why should I join a genealogical society?  To give you an idea of what sorts of societies you can join here is the list of the groups I belong to.

One of the things genealogical societies do is provide quality learning opportunities. 

There is one more thing that beginners need to consider and that is how they are going to document their research.  This really doesn’t fall under education per se and I will probably do another blog post just about this but I thought I would at least mention it. 

  • You need to decide on a computer genealogy database program
  • You need to decide on how you are going to file your paper documents
  • You need to decide on how you are going to file your electronic documents

(Hint – your electronic and paper filing systems need to be set up using the same organizational structure so that everything is uniform.  If you set them both up the same way you will have no problem finding things).


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Benchmarks–Part II

Ethics Pic

On Monday we talked about Genealogy Standards and how you can use them to test the quality of your research. Before I tell you about the educational opportunities out there that will help you get to this level there is one other set of standards I think all genealogists should measure themselves against and that is a code of ethics. Here are three and they are all good. 

In a nutshell, I don’t want to work with any researcher who is not ethical.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 21, 2015

Benchmarks–Part I

Would you like to become a better genealogist/family historian? All you need to do is take advantage of all of the great learning opportunities out there and adhere to a set of research standards. 

Genealogy Standards: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

If your research adheres to the standards in this little book you can be very confident that your research is on par with professional genealogists, certified genealogists and accredited genealogists.  I will tell you that if you haven’t had sufficient education the standards will be a bit overwhelming.  The standards can help you assess where you are and then you can put together an education plan to fill in any gaps you may have. 

I will be doing a series on educational opportunities that will get you to the point where the above standards are fully integrated into your research process.  The recommendations will go from foundational to advanced so there will be something for everyone.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


Monday, September 14, 2015

Another brick in the wall

My son loves Pink Floyd and can play all of their guitar solos so I hear Pink Floyd all of the time.  I was singing my version of  Another Brick in the Wall today—Another brick in the Wall… crumbles.

I have told you before that I love federal land entry files because you never know what you might find.  I found a very important clue in one today.

In the very early days of the Mississippi Territory there were three groups of Simmons’.  There was a group in the Natchez area, a group in Marion County, and a group in Perry County (my brick wall Simmons is here).  Keeping these three groups separate is a bit of a challenge and of course the possibility exists that they are all related somehow.  To complicate things the name James Simmons (my brick wall) pops up in all three areas.

I have all of the land entry file for my James Simmons already.  There are land entry files for a James Simmons and a Ralph Simmons in Marion County as well so I went ahead and had them pulled.  I already have some stuff on Ralph.  He is pretty easy to follow because there is only one Ralph.  I already knew that this James Simmons wasn’t my guy but would there be a clue in his land entry file that might help me?  There was and it was a single sentence.


James Simmons bought land in Marion County but he was from Amite County.  That puts him closer to Natchez than to Perry County which is a big clue.  My James Simmons migrated from South Carolina around 1805ish?  The James Simmons of Natchez was in Natchez much earlier, before the Mississippi Territory was officially opened for settlement.  It is more likely that the Amite County James Simmons was from the Natchez group and that he was migrating eastward while my guy was migrating westward into Mississippi from South Carolina.

My next stop was the Amite County records.  FamilySearch has a lot of the Mississippi Department of Archives records online and it happens to be one of my favorite record groups.  I opened up the Amite County records and the earliest record is a 1810 tax roll.  I have never looked at the Amite County records before because I never had a Simmons there.  Well now I do.  In 1810 I found a Vincen Simmons.  This is a completely new name and it is a more uncommon name making him easier to trace.  There was also a Robert Simmons and a John Simmons and a Willis Simmons.  Willis Simmons?  Well, well, well, there’s a name I know. 


Willis was a known associate of Ralph’s in Marion County.  So it looks like James, Ralph and Willis were all closely related (I had suspected that Ralph and Willis were) and it is more likely they were related to the Natchez bunch.  I had never been able to make any connection between Ralph and Willis and my James in Perry County.

This may not seem like a lot but it is important for me to be able to place every Simmons that was in the Mississippi Territory during these early years into their correct family groups (a mini One-Name Study if you will) and now I have been led to several Simmons’ I didn’t even know about. Mississippi has a lot of burned counties so I am a bit limited in the records department.  Every little scrap if information can find is very important, even a tax roll that has nothing but 1 pole.

I am hoping that DNA will eventually play into this. With the DNA evidence I have so far it appears that my James’ family came from Virginia originally, at least one generation back from when James was born.  I would like to find a descendant from the Natchez bunch to see what their DNA looks like. If their DNA is a match I can say that all three groups in Mississippi were related somewhere, probably back at least a generation and most likely in Virginia.  If their DNA isn’t a match then I know I am working with two distinct groups. 


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More on land mapping at the Bureau of Land Management

Brad P. emailed me in response to I have a new toy!  to make sure that I knew about another great feature that the BLM offers.  I did know about this and I use it all the time but I didn’t mention it and I think that another blog post is in order.

The BLM will plot the piece of land onto a present day map. Go to the BLM Search Page and do your search like normal.  Now click on the Accession number for the parcel you are interested in.   Down at the bottom you will see a map.  Put a checkmark in the Map box at the top and then the map will zero in on the parcel.  You can zoom in and out as needed.  Now take a screenshot of this and you can attach the image in Legacy (or whatever genealogy database program you use) as a reference.  The big square is 5N11W, the next square is section 33 and the smallest square is the NW1/4.  You can’t do multiple parcels at one time on the same map (unless you are some sort of expert with one of the advanced photo editing programs which I am not) but this is a very useful tool.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 7, 2015

Legacy: The other clipboards

I wrote two blog posts about the Source Clipboard
Legacy: The Source Clipboard
Legacy: More about the Source Clipboard

But what about the other clipboards in Legacy?  The clipboards are there to save you time and to help you make your entries uniform.

Event Clipboard - After you have entered an event for someone you can copy and paste that event to other people.  This is different than “sharing” an event which will probably be the topic of a future blog post.  I prefer use the copy and paste method for census records instead of sharing the event (personal preference). Everything is copied including the source citation and the linked document.

Here is Ebenezer Grantham’s event for the 1850 United States Federal Census.  I am going to copy it to all of the family members that also appear on this census.  After I have entered the information, I click the Copy button.



I then go to his daughter Leucretia and click ADD to add an event.  The event comes up blank.  All I have to do is click the Paste button.



Now I have this.


Notice that the source was copied over (the source icon is colored in) and the image file of the actual census page was also copied over (you can see the thumbnail in the bottom right corner).  This will save you oodles of time and you will be sure that everything is consistent and uniform.


To-Do Clipboard – If you need to check a specific source for more than one person this clipboard is for you.  I ordered a Family History Library microfilm and I need to check this film for several people.  I create the To-Do task for the first person, Hannah Drake, and then click the Copy button.



I open Martha Stearns’ To-Do List and open a new task.  It opens blank (the Open Date defaults in).  Now I click the Paste button.



I get an exact copy tied to Martha Stearns.  If I needed to customize it for this person I could add what I needed.



The To-Do List also has the ability to save up to ten of your favorite To-Do’s so that you can recall them at any time.

Let’s say I create a To-Do task for Find A Grave. I know this will be one that I use often so I want to save it.  After I have entered the information I click the Save button.



You then get this.



Now it is there when I need it.  I open a new To-Do Task and click the Load button.



This is what pops up.



And then you get this.



So let’s go a little further and finish the task out.  If this were a real person you might see this on the Results tab.


Take advantage of the built-in features that save you time, time you could be using to do research instead of repetitive data entry.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis



Monday, August 31, 2015

I have a new toy!

One of the things I am doing for my James Simmons brick wall is figuring out who his neighbors were when he first came to Mississippi.  Since I can’t follow James back to South Carolina (too many James Simmons’ there) I am going to try and follow his neighbors back in time to see if I can find where they came from.  Once I do that, I can cross check to see if any of the South Carolina James Simmons’ happened to be neighbors with these other families. People tended to migrate in groups.

Mississippi is a Public Lands state so plotting out land plats is super easy (unlike the evil Metes and Bounds system, don’t get me started on that).  The Public Land records are on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website.

The patents and warrants on this website show you the first/original owners.  They bought or received land directly from the federal government.  If the original owner then sold his piece that would be recorded in the county courthouse as a deed.  When you plot out the owners you find on this website that is an important thing to understand.  It just so happens that James came to the Mississippi Territory soon after it was opened for settlement so he does have several land patents. 

The way I have been plotting these is by using graph paper of sorts. Here is the template I use.


It works well but it is BORING!  My friend Jenny Lanctot (who has now been promoted to my best friend EVER) showed me a nifty little trick that I did not know about.  You can download the original township/range survey and then plot your parcels on that.  For example, you can see that the township/range I am working on is 5N11W.  Here is what it looks like if you download the map of this township/range from the BLM.



Using these maps to plot the parcels makes it look so much cooler.  The other advantage is that you can see the waterways!  This tells you so much more about your ancestor’s land.  It doesn’t have anything at all to do with the dilemma I am working on but it is still information that I want to know. 

To find the map do a search for your ancestor on the BLM website.  Click his Accession number in the search list.  Now go to the Related Documents tab and click Surveys.  You will see an icon that says “Plat Image” click that. If you have the QuickTime plugin you will see it on your screen, if not, click Basic Viewer to see it.  You will also see three ways to download, PDF, JP2 and SID.

I am going to download the township/ranges for James (he had property in four) and I am also going to download the surrounding township/ranges since James’ property was right on the border.  I am going to re-plot the parcels.  I don’t mind, it will be a double check that I didn’t make any mistakes.

You can easily do searches for individual sections as well as complete township/ranges on the BLM website.  I will download the names and land descriptions one section at a time. 

The grid is a little smaller which means I am going to have to write tinier.  Jenny told me to make sure I have a sharp pencil.

Public Land Survey System
Metes and Bounds


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis