Genealogy Basics

The Paperless Genealogist

Too many genealogists are addicted to paper. In this day and age, that’s sad. I have no statistics about the amount of paper, ink, and toner consumed by genealogists every year, but I am sure we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing printers, paper, and supplies. That’s a huge waste of money, in my opinion. I wonder how many filing cabinets are sold to genealogists for in-home use. I will suggest there is a better way to store personal copies of genealogy records and related information.

The “paperless office” was an early prediction made in the June 30, 1975, issue of BusinessWeek. The article quoted George E. Pake, then head of Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto (California) Research Center:

RSS Newsfeeds Explained

NOTE: This is an article I published five years ago. The subject recently arose again and I realized that many newsletter readers are unaware of the simple way to read this newsletter, other blogs, and many other web sites that publish new articles more-or-less daily. In addition, the RSS technology and business offerings have matured a bit in the past five years so there is now more information available than there was when this article was first written. I decided to make some additions to the original article and then republish it for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the advantages of RSS:

You may have noticed that this newsletter and several other genealogy Web sites are available via RSS news feeds. So are thousands of other Web news sites covering a wide variety of topics. This article will hopefully explain what RSS feeds are and what they can offer you. RSS is an abbreviation for “rich site summary” or “really simple syndication.” Most people don’t need to remember this definition any more than they would spell out “ATM.”

As to the word “feed,” this simply describes the way information gets to people: web servers “feed” information to those who ask for it.

The Popularity of Your Last Name

The U.S. Census Bureau counts the number of Americans every ten years. The same government agency also asks a lot of questions of those people, such as how many bathrooms are in their house and whether or not the family owns a computer. The Census Bureau even counts how many people have the same first or last names.

There were 6.3 million surnames documented in the 2010 census. The 15 most common surnames in America were:

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.

Churchyards become Lawns in Sweden as Tombstones are typically Removed after 25 Years

UPDATE: The article apparently was later moved to: https://www.norran.se/nyheter/kyrkogardar-toms-nar-manga-overger-gravstenar/.

Newsletter reader Annelie Jonsson (in Sweden) sent a link to an interesting article in a Swedish news web site. It seems that Swedish the tombstones don’t remain in place forever. In most cases, a Swedish tombstone remains in place for 25 years after being installed. After that, the owner of the cemetery plot can pay extra to extend the time but a lot of Swedes don’t do that any more. The online article explains the practice.

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.

Turn Your Friends and Family into Playing Cards

UPDATE: After publishing this article, Tim Crowley of OurCards extended an offer to all readers of the EOGN.com genealogy newsletter: “I hope it’s not too late to mention it, but your readers can use coupon code “EOGN20” to get 20% off their first deck (good until June 17). “

Thank you Tim!


I briefly wrote about this new company’s product a couple of weeks ago after meeting with the company’s owners at the New England Regional Genealogy Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire. (See http://bit.ly/2Dr50Ix for my earlier article.)

I wrote, “Make a game from your family tree! These are custom made playing cards, similar to any other deck of 52 playing cards, only with images and brief biographies of family members. When you order these cards, you also get to choose whose picture appears on which card. For instance, your grandmother could be the Queen of Hearts.”

This is a great method of teaching family members about the family tree even if they are not serious genealogists. It even seems to appeal to children, whether they are playing Go Fish or some other card game.

Genealogy’s Often-Misspelled Words

You might want to save this article someplace. I have no idea why, but many of the words used in researching your family tree are difficult to spell. I constantly see spelling errors in messages posted on various genealogy web sites. When someone misspells a word, it feels like they are shouting, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Here are a few words to memorize:

Genealogy – No, it is not spelled “geneology” nor is it spelled in the manner I often see: “geneaology.” That last word looks to me as if someone thought, “Just throw all the letters in there and hope that something sticks.” For some reason, many newspaper reporters and their editors do not know how to spell this word. Don’t they have spell checkers?

How to Download Entire Websites for Offline Use

Information on the World Wide Web may not remain online forever. However, it is easy to download and save information when you do see it. The information then remains available to you in case you ever want to go back and read it again in the future.

With today’s low prices for internal and external large capacity disk drives plus excellent software that can search through many gigabytes of saved data to find the specific thing(s) you are looking for, it often makes sense to save huge amounts of data in the hopes that you can find specific items of interest in the future.

In fact, you can download and save entire web sites.

Obama’s Presidential Library Is Already Largely Digital

NOTE: This is a continuation of several past articles in this newsletter about modern-day libraries gong digital. (See https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+digital+(library+OR+libraries)&t=h_&ia=web for my past articles on this topic.)

“The debate about the Obama library exhibits a fundamental confusion. Given its origins and composition, the Obama library is already largely digital. The vast majority of the record his presidency left behind consists NOT of evocative handwritten notes, printed cable transmissions, and black-and-white photographs, but email, Word documents, and JPEGs. The question now is how to leverage its digital nature to make it maximally useful and used.”

In short, it sounds like most other libraries, including most future genealogy libraries.

You can read more in an article by Dan Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration at Northeastern University and a co-founder of the Digital Public Library of America, in The Atlantic web site at: http://bit.ly/2WYdIVZ.

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.

How to Find Some of the More Obscure Collections of Genealogy Records

Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, and other search engines are great for finding online databases that are useful to genealogists. However, smaller collections and even obscure ones are not prominently listed in the big search engines. Yet there are a few online listings that can point the way to finding what you seek.

The Genealogy Roots Blog at https://genrootsblog.blogspot.com contains pointers to many online genealogy databases, records and resources. The focus is on vital records (birth, marriage and death records), obituaries, census records, naturalization records, military records and ship passenger lists. Although the blog is based in the USA, online European, Canadian, and other records sources are sometimes included. You may also occasionally see a fun post or genealogy news. Joe Beine does a great job of adding more and more links as time goes by.

Another huge resource is Cyndi’s List, available at: https://www.cyndislist.com. The site contains roughly 336,000 links to genealogy-related web pages in more than 200 categories. The various categories include many sources online records as well as pointers to newsletters, religious groups, historical information, geography, and much, much more.

Teaching Kids About Family History Reportedly Helps Increase Resilience

I wish I had read this article when my children were young and I was just beginning to research my family tree! According to an article in the (Utah) Daily Herald:

“Resilience, or the ability to overcome challenges in life, is a trait many parents hope their children will develop. Resilient children are more likely to have good emotional and mental health.

“Research has shown that children who know more about their families and family history are more resilient and tend to do better when facing challenges in life. This may be because seeing patterns of overcoming failures and surviving hard times can help children recognize that people can recover and triumph, despite hardships. One of the best things families can do is develop a strong family narrative.”

You can find this interesting article at: http://bit.ly/2T2Yv3F.

Where to Find Personal Papers in Genealogy Searches

Sometimes, the documents we seek as genealogists go beyond government-generated paperwork like vital records, federal and state censuses and military records. Sometimes, we need private documents — letters, business records and diaries or journals — to confirm dates or relationships. Those aren’t the kinds of things you usually find at the National Archives or your state’s archives.

Daniel Klein has published an interesting article in The Jersey Journal that offers suggestions for finding these personal documents, wherever they may be stored. The article may be found at: http://bit.ly/2Ja1FTy.

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.

The Cemetery Symbol of Eternal Love

Tombstones often contain art, especially those from the Victorian era. Did you ever wonder what is the meaning behind the various images engraved on tombstones. An article by Allison C. Meier in the Jstore Daily web site explains the meaning of clasped hands on tombstones.

The article may be found at: https://daily.jstor.org/the-cemetery-symbol-of-eternal-love.

Numerous explanations of other tombstone symbols may be found by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=tombstone+art&t=h_&ia=web.

Tracking Family History of Enslaved Ancestors in Louisiana? The Donaldsonville Museum can Help

According to an article by Ellyn Couvillion in The Advocate web site:

“Researching family history for African-Americans in Louisiana often means traveling to parish courthouses to pull old records of slavery, the conveyance documents that in jarringly neat handwriting detail the buying and selling of human beings.

“There’s an effort underway that would make the process far easier. The River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville has partnered with a genealogy website affiliated with the Mormon church for a pilot project that will use mostly volunteers to make slave conveyance records dating from 1777 to 1861 in Ascension Parish easier to find online.

Are You Recording Fairy Tales in Your Genealogy Records?

WARNING: This is a “soapbox article” in which I rant and rave a little.

A newsletter reader wrote to me recently expressing unhappiness with all the erroneous information found in online family trees. The bogus information is usually found in family tree information submitted by other users of whatever online family tree service is being used at the moment.

My belief is that this newsletter reader wasn’t spending much time looking at online images of census, birth, marriage, and death records or at other online documents of value to genealogists: old newspapers, military pension files, and such things.

I decided to share my response publicly in this newsletter so that others could either benefit from or reject my ideas and suggestions.

Attention French-Canadian Descendants: You Are Undoubtedly Related to Almost All Other French-Canadians

If you are new to French-Canadian genealogy, you may be surprised by the number of famous relatives you have. My own ancestry is 50% French-Canadian (thanks, Mom!) but I researched my father’s Yankee ancestry first. Sometime later I started on my mother’s side of the family and was soon amazed by the number of interconnected families. I also found French-Canadian family trees to be rather easy to research when visiting a major library dedicated to French-Canadian genealogy.

I have often jested, “I never met a French-Canadian that I am not related to.” That’s a bit of a joke, but it also seems to be true!

Almost all French-Canadian descendants can find family relations to Madonna, Justin Bieber, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, Ryan Gosling, Angelina Jolie, Camilla Parker-Bowles, and about half the players and coaches in the National Hockey League!

Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

NOTE: This is a slightly updated version of an article I published three years ago. I have added a new section about the restrictions recently added by the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Several newsletter readers have sent messages to me expressing dissatisfaction with records that were available online at one time but have since disappeared. I am offering this republished article as an explanation about why we should not be surprised when that happens. I will also offer a suggestion as to making sure you keep your own copies of online records that are valuable to you.

Two newsletter readers sent email messages to me recently expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from a popular genealogy site. Indeed, removal of any online records of genealogical value is sad, but not unusual. Changes such as these are quite common on FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry.com, Fold3, Findmypast, and many other genealogy sites that provide images of old records online. Removal of datasets has occurred dozens of times in the past, and I suspect such things will continue to happen in the future. I thought I would write a brief explanation.

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