Genealogy Basics

Recommended Reading: Using and Compiling Indexes by Judy Webster

I don’t believe this is a new web site but it is new to me. Judy Webster, a keen family historian, has compiled and published many indexes. She has also been employed by Queensland, Australia, State Archives to help with guidelines and data entry/checking for their indexing projects. Judy has created a web site to share practical tips based on her own experience. If you are interested in using indexes, and especially if you are involved in creating indexes, you need to read Judy’s advice.

Topics on the web site include:

  • How to avoid the traps involved in using indexes.
  • How to compile a good index (advice for individuals, genealogical groups, family history societies, historical societies and local studies librarians who want to index various types of material).
  • How to publish and promote your index.

You can find Judy Webster’s genealogy tips and indexes at:

What Was Your Ancestor’s Property Worth?

Genealogists often find references to money in old deeds and other documents. Even census records frequently recorded estimates of a person’s real estate. The natural question is, “I wonder what that would equal in today’s dollars?” There is a web site that can answer this question.

S. Morgan Friedman’s Inflation Calculator can convert a U.S. dollar amount for any year from 1800 through 2015 into the equivalent amount, adjusted for inflation, in any other year of that range. In other words, if you find that your ancestor purchased land for $400 in 1805, the Inflation Calculator will tell you that the money he spent is equivalent to a purchase of $6371.39 in 2015.

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 Security of Your Mother’s Maiden Name

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

dunceI was driving down the road recently, listening to a local news station on the car radio. The newscaster was interviewing a so-called security “expert” about proposed legislation supposedly designed to prevent identity theft and credit card abuse. This “expert” claimed that we needed legislation to prevent access to birth records by “unauthorized” individuals. Sound familiar? Yes, we have heard and seen this song-and-dance act before. This guy wants to lock genealogists out of the records that we have used for the past century or so.

The so-called “expert” claimed that the Internet makes it too easy for someone to find your mother’s maiden name, and that, of course, is the foundation of all security systems, right?

Let me press the button for that obnoxious sounding buzzer. BZZZZZ! Wrong answer!

Talk to Your Family This Holiday Season

1943-03-06-saturday-evening-post-norman-rockwell-articleMany of us will be enjoying dinners and other festive occasions this month and next with our relatives. I would suggest this is a great time to compare notes with the relatives. Indeed, older members of the family may know a few tidbits of genealogy information that you have not yet found. However, there is another, more serious, reason for comparing notes with relatives: family health hazards.

Compiling a family tree can offer more benefits than discovering stories of war heroes or family dramas; science and preventive medicine are getting a look in, too. The skeleton in the cupboard could be a genetic predisposition towards disease that, once uncovered, might provide potentially life-saving indicators.

Do You Have Backups or are You Simply Synching?

“I don’t need backups. I’ve got my files synced.”


I have written many times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups I won’t repeat all that here. You can find my past articles by starting at

However, I have to ask one question: Do you have backups or are you simply syncing your files?

In fact, there is a huge difference.

Boolean Basics – Part #2

Last week’s article introduced the concept of Boolean search terms for use on Google. That article is still available at You might want to read that article again now to refresh it in your mind before proceeding with new topics. This week I will describe several advanced topics.

Quotation Marks

google_searchLast week’s article described the use of the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT (minus sign), and the concept of placing terms inside parenthesis. These search terms work well for single words, but you may find you need to include multiple words or phrases. For instance, you might be searching for an ancestor with an unusual name but perhaps not as unusual as you first thought. Perhaps there were two or more men of the same name who lived in different places at different times. For instance, as mentioned in last week’s article, I frequently search for the name of Washington Harvey Eastman. I have found two men of the same name. If one of them has many online references and the other has only a few, finding the person with fewer references can be problematic.

Let’s make a hypothetical assumption: two men of the same name are listed in Google’s indexes. We will assume that one man lived in Maine and is rarely mentioned on Google while the other lived in North Carolina and has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of references on the search engine. Of course, I am interested in the rarely-mentioned man, the one in Maine. I might be tempted to specify the following search:

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.

Genealogy Record Keeping in India

Hindi is one of the official languages of the Union of India. The Hindi word for genealogist is “panda.” While it is amusing that a Chinese word for the “big bear cat” is pronounced the same way (at least, when speaking English), the Hindi word is not related to the Chinese animal in any way. I first heard of Indian pandas during my visit to India a few years ago. I have since tried to learn more about these Indian genealogists, and now an Indian web site has given more details than I have ever found before.

Pandas are usually found in the holy city of Har Ki Pauri, jotting down recent births, deaths, and marriages. Brahmin Pandits (Priests) or “Pandas,” have maintained records of thousands of Hindu families from across India for centuries in records called Vahis (Bahi). Not all priests (pandits) are genealogists (pandas). Most of the pandas apparently reside and work at Har Ki Pauri, along the banks of the holy Ganges River.

A 300 years old scroll has handwritten data written in both Hindi and Urdu.

A 300 years old scroll has handwritten data written in both Hindi and Urdu.

The registers are handwritten, having been passed down to today’s pandas over generations by their Pandit ancestors, and are classified according to original districts and villages of one’s ancestors. In many places these records trace family history for more than twenty prior generations, stretching across many centuries.

Boolean Basics – Part #1

NOTE #1: This is part #1 of a 2-part article.

Probably all genealogists have used Google for genealogy searches. For many of us, we go to, enter the name of an ancestor, click on SEARCH and hope that a reference appears that points to the person we wish to find. Sometimes the name search works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, many genealogists give up and move on to something else. This is especially true with common names when a standard Google search may find hundreds of people with the same name. However, with just a little bit of effort, you may be able to quickly narrow the search to a single person or at least to a manageably small group of people. The trick here is to use some search terms defined more than 150 years ago.

George Boole

George Boole

150-year-old search terms? They didn’t have computers back then! True, but they did have mathematics, and computers are basically mathematical machines. Boolean algebra, as developed in 1854 by George Boole and described in his book, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, is a variant of ordinary elementary algebra differing in its values, operations, and laws. Instead of the usual algebra of numbers, Boolean algebra is the algebra of truth values 0 and 1. In the case of computers, we usually think in terms of the logic statements of true or false. A zero is false and a one is true, as in, “This search result is a TRUE match to the terms entered.” Whether we use one and zero or true and false, all search engines work on Boolean algebra.

By applying a bit of Boolean algebra to our searches, we can be much more specific about the information we seek. We can specify not only the words we seek, but also how those words relate to each other. For genealogists, the results can sometimes be amazing. By specifying Boolean search terms on Google or other search engines, we can sometimes find ancestors or other topics of interest that have eluded us previously.

Art of Transcription: A Practical Guide

Here is an interesting and educational article by Sarah Minegar, Archivist, for Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. She writes:

“You schedule a research appointment at your local library. When you arrive, you are handed a large packet of information about your topic, transcriptions of every manuscript you wish to research, and a full description of the potential resources you may want to study.


Are You Missing Most of the Available Genealogy Information?

I received a message a while ago 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 perhaps 90% of the information of interest to genealogists is not yet available on the Internet?

500 Years of English Slang in an Online Dictionary

dictionary-of-slangFind a word or phrase in an old document that you do not understand? If it is slang, you probably can find the meaning in the free, online Green’s Dictionary of Slang. For instance, did you know that a mickser is an Irishman who has emigrated to the UK?

Green’s Dictionary of Slang contains nearly 100,000 words supported by over 400,000 citations that go all the way back to the middle ages.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the largest historical dictionary of English slang available anywhere, either online or in print.

Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island

The New York Public Library is the latest organization to publish an article about the myth of “the family name was changed at Ellis Island” and then describes exactly one exception. Almost every genealogy writer in the US, including myself, has written about the myth before. It is nice to see someone with the authority and credentials of the New York Public Library write about it. Perhaps this fairy tale will now be put to rest.

The article by Philip Sutton says many things, including:

“There is a myth that persists in the field of genealogy, or more accurately, in family lore, that family names were changed there. They were not. Numerous blogs, essays, and books have proven this. Yet the myth persists; a story in a recent issue of The New Yorker suggests that it happened. This post will explore how and why names were not changed.”

Automatically Numbering Your Genealogy in Microsoft Word

If you use Microsoft Word, you may be interested in a free ebook by Rondina Muncy: Automatically Numbering Your Genealogy in Microsoft® Word. It tells the reader how to renumber genealogies using both the Register (created in 1870 for use in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society) and NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) styles without manually going back and correcting their numbers.


The 27-page booklet is full of screenshots that illustrate the methods described. The methods described work in Microsoft Word on Macintosh and Windows.

Why You Might Want a Personal Genealogy Blog on WordPress

blogYou probably can find dozens of reasons for creating a blog. In addition, you can probably find dozens of companies that will host a blog for you. Given the choices and the reasons available, trying to decide on the best blog hosting service for you can be an overwhelming decision. How do you find the best one for your use? I will suggest there is no easy answer, but I will suggest that WordPress should be one of the services you evaluate.

NOTE: I will quickly admit that I am biased. The words you are reading right now are hosted on a WordPress blog. I have used several different blogging services over the years to host this newsletter. I switched to WordPress several years ago and am very happy with the company’s services. I have no plans to switch to anything else.

Why would you want a blog?

There are a number of reasons why a genealogist might want to crate a blog. Here are a few ideas I can think of:

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 Quickly Scan Documents Using Android and Google Drive or an iPhone and Dropbox

Ben Stegner has written an article and created a video that will interest many genealogists. How to Quickly Scan Documents Using Android and Google Drive describes how to go paperless without the need any hardware other than your smartphone. You can actually scan documents with nothing more than your Android phone. You can read Ben Stegner’s article and watch the video at

You can also perform the same functions with an Android phone and Evernote. See for details.

You can also use the same techniques with an iPhone and with Dropbox. Assuming you have the Dropbox app installed on your iPhone, open the Dropbox app on your iPhone, tap the + (plus sign) button, and choose Scan Document. The iPhone takes a picture of the document being :”scanned.” After scanning the document, the next screen is the Edit view. The icons on the bottom of this view represent the actions you can take to edit your scan. Finish your editing and then tap Next to enter the Settings view. Name your file and decide on a file type and then decide where to save your document. Finally, touch SAVE.

Printable Family Trees and Genealogy Charts

The following is extracted from an announcement by

Blank_Family_TreeThe website has added two dozen new family tree templates and genealogy forms to download and print.

“These new family trees round out the site with crafty ‘do it yourself’ trees as well as traditional designs and an array of ancestry charts and form,” said Kevin Savetz, the site’s creator. “These are perfect for genealogy buffs as well as kids or anyone interested in recording their family history.”

What’s in a Name? Finding Your Identity in a Changing, Socially Connected America by Liz Pekler

I am delighted to introduce a new guest author for this newsletter. Liz Pekler describes herself as a “travel photographer and social advocate for equality and change.” Here is her first article for this newsletter:


Image Source: Pixabay

In a speech delivered at Cairo University a few months into his term, then newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama remarked: “Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president.”

Indeed, a vast majority of Americans likely thought the exact same thing in the decades prior to 2008. From the time of the Mayflower pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in the 1600s to the 19th century, families with traditional English, Scottish, or Welsh last names such as Smith, Johnson, Taylor, Miller, Jones, and Williams populated the early American landscape. Meanwhile, Western European migration in the late 19th to early 20th centuries further injected U.S. society with more varied bloodlines, adding names such as Anderson, Clark, Nelson, Martin, Rossi, and Murphy to the melting pot.