Genealogy Basics

Ahnentafel Explained

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Ahnentafel is a word commonly used in genealogy although it probably confuses most newcomers. Ahnentafel is a German word that literally translates as “ancestor table”. It is a list of all known ancestors of an individual and includes the full name of each ancestor as well as dates and places of birth, marriage, and death whenever possible. It also has a strict numbering scheme.

Once the reader is accustomed to ahnentafels, it becomes very easy to read these lists, to move up and down from parent to child and back again, and to understand the relationships of the listed people. Ahnentafels are very good at presenting a lot of information in a compact format. However, the numbering system is the key to understanding ahnentafels.

To visualize the numbers, first consider this typical pedigree chart:

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

“Second Cousins,” “Once Removed”, and More Explained in Chart Form

It’s simple: “Figure out the common ancestor between two relatives. Then select the relationship of the first relative to the common ancestor in the top row. Move down to the row that corresponds to the relationship of the second person to the common ancestor. The result is the relationship of the second person to the first.”

OK, so maybe that isn’t so simple after all. I am not sure if a chart is worth a thousand words or not but a cousin relationship chart at does save a lot of words. It is easier to understand than the above explanation.

See you yourself at

Irish Artifacts Infographic Summary

Ireland has an incredibly vibrant history that is rich in history and culture. Particularly symbolic for the Irish is the many Celtic symbols and emblems used across many traditional Irish Artifacts and crafts.

Paul Murphy, Managing Director of Murphy of Ireland, has created an infographic that explores the most prevalent and perhaps most popular artifacts along with an overview of Celtic design. These Artifacts range for the Aran Jumper to the Claddagh Ring, and the Tin Whistle to the Tweed Waistcoat and Cap. It takes an in depth view of the origins of these Artifacts, how they were made, and the many alluring and interesting facts that surround them.

Did you know for example that the hands on a Claddagh ring symbolise friendship? Or that Irish children would gather flowers, berries and even turf to dye the cloth that was woven into tweed waistcoats and cap? You might be surprised to know that the typical Aran Jumper has 100,000 carefully constructed stitches taking upwards of 2 month to complete.

Click here to view the full-sized infographic.

NOTE: Your web browser may try to compress the image to make it fit into the browser’s window although that is not true of all web browsers. If the image is too small to read, you can enlarge the window by “zooming in” on it. To do so, display the image on our screen. Windows users then can hold the CONTROL key down and press “+” several times to make the image appear larger. Macintosh users may do the same by holding don the COMMAND key and and pressing “+” several times to make the image appear larger.

To “zoom out” to normal size, hold the CONTROL (or COMMAND) key down and press the minus key (“-“) several times.

You can also learn more about Murphy of Ireland at Murphy of Ireland has been selling high quality Irish clothing for over 75 years. Irish tweed jackets, vests and caps have been a staple part Irish culture for generations.

How to Find a Revolutionary War Patriot

After earlier skirmishes, the American Revolutionary War started with the battle between British troops and local Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775. It ended eight years later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. If you have been able to trace your ancestry in America back to those years, you have an excellent chance of finding at least one ancestor who had some type of service related to the Revolutionary War effort.

In fact, your ancestor may have been a Patriot or a Loyalist. We don’t celebrate the efforts of Loyalists very much in the United States, but go north to Canada and you will find that Loyalists are well documented and honored as heroes. They are especially honored for their contribution to the development of Canada. Perhaps one Canadian in ten has a Loyalist ancestor, and many people with English blood who live elsewhere – in the United States, in commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand, or in nearly any other country round the world – are also of Loyalist descent. Visit the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada web site at for more information.

If you have already documented your U.S. ancestry to 1760 or earlier, you already have an excellent chance of finding either a Patriot or a Loyalist in the family tree. Boys as young as 16 were allowed to serve, so any male ancestors born in 1760 or earlier are possible veterans. You can even find a few younger boys who served as drummers or assistants in the Revolutionary War and later were credited as veterans, even though they were not considered soldiers during the war itself.

A Little-Known Government Genealogy Service

A little-known program of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides genealogy information that may be difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere. The records include naturalization files, visa applications, and citizenship tests, and may reveal family secrets and mysteries. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.

Under the USCIS Genealogy Program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. The government will run a search of the name, as long as the person is deceased. If there are records available, the government charges additional fees for the files. The fee for a record copy from microfilm identified as (M) is $20 per request. The fee for a copy of a hard copy file identified as (HC) is $35 per request. More information about the fees associated with each file series may be found at

How I Organize Evernote: A Peek Inside My Personal System

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Plus Edition article entitled (+) My Method of Filing Digital Images and Documents. It is still available at In the article, I described the system I use for organizing digital photographs and all sorts of other documents on my computer’s hard drive and in online backups.

I was planning to write a similar article about organizing all sorts of information within Evernote, one of the handiest programs available for genealogists and for millions of other computer users as well. However, when researching the article on the World Wide Web, I found that Michael Hyatt had already written an article about that and his methods are similar to my own. He doesn’t write about genealogy uses of Evernote but most of what he writes applies to genealogy as well as to thousands of other topics.

Convert an Address to Latitude and Longitude

You can pinpoint any place on Earth using a single set of coordinates: latitude and longitude. These coordinates look like a string of numbers. Once you have those numbers, you’ll be able to plug them into a web map, GPS, or other mapping device and find what you’re looking for in an instant — no matter where on the planet it is.

Using latitude and longitude information makes it easy to find your ancestors’ homestead, your own house, the county courthouse in a distant city, or any other location of genealogical interest.

The coordinates are similar to the Xs and Ys you used to plot in algebra class. Imagine if the surface of the Earth could be stretched flat. Then suppose you place a grid on top of the flattened world. You could pinpoint any location by finding the spot where the horizontal and vertical grid lines intersect. The horizontal x-axis is the equator, while the vertical y-axis is the Prime Meridian, which runs through the Greenwich Observatory in England.

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

What’s Your Tartan?

If you have Scottish ancestry, do you know the tartan worn by your clan?

Well, first of all, there are no official rules. According to the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms:

“There are no strict rules on who has the right to wear a particular tartan… Wearing a particular clan tartan indicates that the wearer bears an allegiance to the chief of that clan… There is no official register of tartan. Records of designs are maintained by the Scottish Tartans Authority, Fraser House, 25 Commissioner Street, Crieff, Perthshire, PH7 3A Y. The Lord Lyon has no jurisdiction over tartan…”

Official or not, many customs have been developed over the centuries about the wearing of various tartans.

Are You Missing Most of the Available Genealogy Information?

I recently received a message from a newsletter reader that disturbed me a bit. He wrote, “I have been doing genealogy research for 10-15 years but only through the Internet.” He then went on to describe some of the frustrations he has encountered trying to find information. In short, he was disappointed at how little information he has found online.

I read the entire message, but my eyes kept jumping back to the words in his first sentence: “… but only through the Internet.”

Doesn’t he realize that 95% of the information of interest to genealogists is not yet available on the Internet?

Create a Family Tree Chart in Excel

Microsoft has created a free template to create a five-generation family tree chart. It has space for each family member’s name and title. There’s very few “bells and whistles” in this template. There is no automatic importing of data or anything else. Simply download the template and manually enter the data. You can then print a very nice-looking five generation chart.

It is free and is available at

Citing Sources

One thing that genealogists need to do is to always cite their sources. I well remember my early days of family tree searches. I would record new information into three-ring notebooks. (This was long before the invention of the personal computer.) I would write down names, dates, places, and perhaps a bit more information that I was lucky enough to find.

Unfortunately, in those early days I did not write down where I obtained the information. Nobody told me that I needed to do this, and I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out for myself. I simply assumed that everything I found was accurate. After all, it was printed in a book, wasn’t it?

As time passed, I frequently found new information that contradicted what I found earlier. When I discovered these discrepancies, I needed to determine which piece of information was more accurate. The question that arose time and again was, “Where did I find that information?” Sadly, I often did not know.

Finding Genealogy Records and Books on eBay

I purchased two genealogy books this morning. The books are both about my family name, although not about my direct ancestors. I have seen both books previously in libraries and am quite familiar with the contents. Today, I purchased my own copies on CD-ROM disks to keep on my computer as well as in my own private area “in the cloud.” Both books provide background information which interests me as well as may provide answers when other people contact me about their Eastman ancestry. Since I will copy both disks to my own password-protected area in the cloud, I will have them with me at all times. I can access them from home, from a laptop at the gate at an airport, from the iPad from most anyplace, and even from my “smartphone” when at the grocery store. Admittedly, reading books on a tiny cell phone screen does offer a few challenges but reading them on a laptop, tablet, or other ebook reader is often more convenient than reading similar content on paper.

Best of all: I am delighted with the price: $10.95 for one and $7.95 for the other. Those prices are much, much cheaper than purchasing reprinted books on paper (typically $35 to $200 and occasionally even more).

These books also will be easier to store, easier to access, and much more convenient to read wherever I am.

June is Backup Awareness Month

I don’t know who proclaimed this month as “Backup Awareness Month” but it certainly is a good idea. Backblaze is an online backup provider that is promoting the idea of backup awareness rather heavily. The company ran a survey last year that claims senior citizens perform more backups than do the 18-44 year old crowd. In short, the older generation is kicking the collective youthful butts when it comes to regularly backing up computer data.

Free Family Record Forms from the Library of Congress Web Site

Long before the invention of home computers that could generate forms, many families recorded their important family events within their Bibles. Whether printed as part of the Bible or printed on separate paper forms that could be stored alongside the family Bible, these forms often were ornate with beautiful artwork. The Library of Congress has collected many of these forms and made them available online. Some are simple “fill in the blank” forms while others have space to manually paste in pictures. All of the forms are available free of charge.

Forensic Genealogy Explained

Several newsletter readers have recently asked, “What is Forensic Genealogy?”

The word “forensic” means “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence.” In this case, forensic would mean to use science or technology in addition to traditional records. In short, Forensic Genealogy is the use of something OTHER THAN standard records to add to your family history.

This is not to say that forensic genealogists ignore the records. Quite the contrary. Forensic genealogists always start with the available records. If those records are insufficient to prove a relationship, the forensic genealogist then looks for other clues. In other words, forensic genealogists think differently.

The Death of Microfilm

Genealogists love microfilm. Visit any genealogy library anywhere, and you will see genealogists in darkened rooms, hunched over microfilm viewers, trying to solve the puzzles of their family trees. I have taken several pictures of genealogists sitting at rows of microfilm readers. However, I suspect that within ten years those pictures will become collectors’ items, recalling an era that exists only as distant memories in the minds of “the old-timers.” You see, microfilm and microfiche are about to disappear.

Many of the manufacturers of microfilm and microfiche equipment have already disappeared or else have switched their production lines to other products.

Ancestors from the West Indies – A Historical and Genealogical Overview of Afro-Caribbean Immigration, 1900–1930s

Damani Davis has written an excellent introduction to researching ancestors from the West Indies. The article has been published by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and is now available to everyone on the NARA web site at no charge.

Davis writes:

“The ancestors of most Americans either immigrated to the United States, served in the military (or married a veteran who served), or were at least counted in one of the decennial censuses. Consequently, the most relevant federal records for genealogical research are those that document these three activities.

“This generality, however, does not always apply to the ancestors of African Americans. Immigration records, in particular, have no immediate relevance for researching enslaved ancestors who were transported to America via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Since enslaved persons were considered “chattel,” or property, they were not recorded as immigrants.

GEDCOM Explained

I frequently mention the acronym “GEDCOM” in this newsletter. This week a reader wrote to me with an excellent question: “What is GEDCOM?” I realized that I haven’t explained this buzzword in a long, long time. So, here is a brief, non-technical explanation of the term for the newer subscribers to this publication.

GEDCOM is an abbreviation that stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. In short, GEDCOM is the language by which different genealogy software programs talk to one another. The purpose is to exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard.

To illustrate the importance of GEDCOM, step back in time with me for a moment.

Decoding the Long S in Old Documents

The “long s” of eighteenth-century (and earlier) typography seems strange to us today but was common at one time. It is not a lower-case “f” as many think. Instead, it is “a long s,” which is represented by the similar-but-different character, “.” See the word “Congrefs” in the image below for one well-known example:

Andrew West at Babelstone has created a comprehensive guide to the use of the long s in English as well as in French, Italian, and Spanish He also gives a brief description of its use in other languages as well.

Here are West’s simple rules for English:


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