Here at Genealogy Gems we believe that genealogy is FUN, and finding great sources of information is part of that fun. But citing those sources may not be so much! My guest in Elevenses with Lisa episode 60 is going to make the case why source citation is a vital part of great genealogy research and she’s going to give us the resources to help get the job done right.
Elevenses with Lisa episode 60
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Lisa: Genealogy is FUN, and finding great sources of information is part of that fun. But citing those sources may not be so much! My guest in Elevenses with Lisa episode 60 is going to make the case why source citation is a vital part of great genealogy research and she’s going to give us the resources to help get the job done right. Gail Schaefer, Blankenau is a history and genealogy research expert, author and speaker. She specializes in German genealogy, reading old German script in Midwestern and Nebraska roots, land records, as well as lineage research.
The Pain of Citing Sources for Genealogy
(01:31) Connie from Port Orchard, Washington wrote in recently to say, “I started researching my family about four years ago and your podcasts are very helpful. Thank you. Like many people, I started with the census where I discovered that a great great grandfather had fought in the Civil War. So, from then on, I was hooked. The reason I’m writing is to ask if you would consider doing an Elevenses episode on source citations. I wanted to do the right thing. So, I started researching for how to cite the digital newspaper articles I’d found. I was quickly bogged down in a quagmire of styles, punctuation, and metallics. That’s all well and good for academia. But I’m not writing a thesis. Thankfully, I have Rootsmagic to handle most of that. However, I still have problems when I want to cite my sources. Anywhere else like online trees, I stare at their form for a while wondering what to put there. And then I usually give up, I know I’m making it harder than it is. But I have an irrational fear that if I do something wrong, Elizabeth Shown Mills is going to find out and scold me. (Editor’s note: She won’t. She’s very, very nice!) You’ve done such a wonderful job of taking the mystery out of so many things. So please consider helping us conquer our fears, of citations.” Gail, I know that you’re the person who can help us with this. Do you hear this quite often from other genealogists?
Gail: I do. And I actually share her pain because even though I’m a published author in several genealogical journals, as well as genealogical magazines, I don’t always cite the way the editor wants. I just did a master’s thesis in history and I had to change some of my citing, and I was using genealogy citations. So, she’s right, there is a mix of citation styles. It sounds like she’s doing a good job at the main thing, which is to do good research. But when you want to share your research, people have to be able to check it. I have some ideas for her to maybe consider that we can talk in a little bit more depth today.
Lisa: Excellent. And I like your title, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gail: And I’ve seen it all. I kind of call it the wild, wild west of citation of evidence because we have different citation styles. We as genealogists really enjoy the detective work. I mean, I love detective stories! And I like to solve puzzles. I think most of us who really get into genealogy are like that. So, when we get to the point where we have to maybe write it up or share it with others, we really need to cite our sources, even for ourselves. But you know what citation can be a little boring. And if you feel that way, you’re not alone at all.
Doing source citations feels like interrupting something that we’re enjoying, to do something really not that much fun. But I want to encourage you to cite as you go. And when I say cite as you go, it doesn’t have to be a perfect citation. But it’s important to have all the elements that you’ll need to massage it later. It’s a lot better than going back and redoing what you just did.
Anthony Grafton Quote about Source Citations
(05:35) Historians feel the same way. Anthony Grafton was a historian for Princeton. And he says, “Footnotes seem to rank among the most colorless and uninteresting features of historical practice.” I feel like genealogy is a subset of good history. He does, though, write about citations and their importance, because they counter skepticism from people who feel like there’s nothing that’s true. And there’s nothing that can ever be proven about the past. And so, although it might seem a little bit boring, the fact is, the evidence behind (the source citation) is not. So, we need to be really careful about citing sources, because sometimes we don’t have evidence for our assertions, or we have it but we’re not convincing people that we do.
Definition of a Source Citation
(06:32) I’m going to quote Elizabeth shone Mills because she is considered the Citation Maven for all genealogy. “Citations are statements in which we identify our source or sources for a particular assertion.” (Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, p. 42.)
I would add that almost more important is that the sources for an assertion actually say what we say it does. We’re going to share some examples where they don’t do that.
Resources for Genealogy Source Citations
(07:08) So here are just a couple of three of the style manuals that I’ve used both as a historian as, as a genealogist:
(07:42) I should have asked ahead of time of my thesis advisor, “how do you want me to do it?” So that’s just a lesson we might have to learn. Some people find evidence explained citations to be too long, especially people who are going to do something in print. So, we do need to strike a balance.
Lisa: I think you’re making such a great point that part of the equation is what you’re going to be using the source citation for. Your thesis is a great example. It’s important to find out what’s required and what the guidelines are before you begin your project.
It’s also important to think about who your audience is. I know that Connie was saying that she’s not doing it for a thesis paper, she’s just doing it for her friends and family. Although, of course, it’s super important because her friends and family may want to pick up the genealogy down the road. If they can’t make sense of where any of her information came from, they’ll have to start all over. Right?
The Problem with Source Citations
Gail: Right. And you don’t want to have to recreate the wheel. There are two problems that can occur with citations. One, that it’s not a good enough citation for people to find it. We’ll cover the elements that a good citation should have in just a moment. I’m not one of those people that gets really mad at you if you use a comma instead of a semi colon. I also don’t think there’s any one right way. But once you choose your way, whether it’s Chicago style or Elizabeth Shown Mills, be consistent.
There was an earlier book by Elizabeth Shawn meals that’s much slimmer that a lot of people use because they find Evidence Explained too much. They use her earlier book. I like A Manual forWriters of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Ninth Edition by Kate Turabian. They’re all based on Chicago style. Turabian gets it done for me most of the time. When I have a question that’s very specific to genealogy I might go to Evidence Explained. There’s no one right way.
Consider the Reader in Citing Sources
I always think about the reader as well as the editor. I find out what the editor wants, but I also think about the reader. We’re all readers of genealogies. Think about what you experienced that didn’t go so well. When you were trying to figure out what someone was doing or saying in an article, or especially in the old genealogies that are not well referenced. Think about that. Pretend you’re that person who wants to find that source.
Let’s start with some ugly examples of source citations, and this should convince you why you need to have good citations. Whatever form you use, they need to be good, and they need to be complete.
Fraudulent Source Citations
There’s a man named Gustave Anjou. We should know something about him just by the fact that he changed his name. This is kind of a pen name that he used. He was a professional genealogist in the early 1900s. His real name was Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg.
He was hired by some wealthy families who had colonial American roots. They hired him to write their genealogies. The reason why I don’t want people to get so hung up on citations is that they lose track of doing good genealogy. He had lots of citations! And they were formatted well, and they were looked good. And most of them were good. Robert Charles Anderson, who is one of the more famous genealogists looked at some of these old genealogies and he said a lot of the citations were went to legitimate sources. And they were. They said what he said they said, but interwoven into all of these beautiful citations he basically put in false information. He told these people that maybe they were related to a nobleman or the signer of the Declaration of Independence, because really, back then a lot of people were doing it for reasons like feeling their roots were maybe a little bit more glorious than they were. The thing is, he was a fraud. But he did cite his work thoroughly, and they were well put together. People can make stuff up. And appearances can be deceiving, which is why I want us to always keep our eye on the main ball of citations that are informational. It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if they aren’t going to be published. Your viewer Connie doesn’t need to really please anybody but herself. But I do want her to pretend that she’s the reader that might want to track down that citation and see the original. That’s mainly what we want to do.
Robert Charles Anderson did write an article (Fraudulent Lineages and More Fraudulent Lineages) about fraudulent lineages. If you Google Anderson fraudulent lineages you’ll see some of the early genealogies that were bogus. I have some families in there. When I was a beginner, I went to the genealogy library and I looked at some of these genealogies. I put them in my pedigree chart. And then later on when I went back to really do my real research, I had a lot of correcting to do! So, you might as well do it right the first time and know that there are some bad genealogies out there.
Genealogy Source Citation is a Balancing Act
What we have to balance is the importance of citing your sources and getting it right. Source citations are so critical to our own research. We’re running across these kinds of things all the time. So, in a sense, we’re doing them for the benefit of others and making the case that to the best of our knowledge, this is accurate, and this is where I got it.
Source Citations Help When Family Tree Questions Arise
We all at some point probably hear from somebody who says, ‘I don’t know that that’s right.’ They see our online family tree or they want to question something we did. It’s nice to be able to go back and quickly be able to reorient yourself to where you got that information and be able to make that case. It doesn’t make you a bad genealogist to discover ‘Oh, gosh, he’s right, that person isn’t correct, or that document isn’t right.’ Or it may eventually turn out that the information has been disproven. So, we all want those trails leading back so we can make the fixes.
Use Prestigious Genealogy Journals as Sources
(17:19) I’m not saying don’t look at genealogies ever. You might you want to know what’s already been produced. But that literature search should also include the more prestigious genealogy journals.
One of my first major genealogy articles was in the New England genealogical historical register. And it was correcting the Mead genealogy. I think Spencer Mead did a good job on his direct line. But this was a comprehensive genealogy. My line was so wrong that I didn’t even know where he got it. And it wasn’t well referenced. I wrote a three part article, and that journal rarely does three parters. But there were so many errors that I corrected that it merited that large of an article.
Another time a person asked me, “well, where did you get that? Because the tombstone doesn’t say that.” If you have a good citation, then you’re OK. Your citation can even talk about discrepancies. I certainly don’t remember 10 years ago what my thought process was about that. I know I did the analysis.
I’m doing a book right now for the Nickerson Family Association. When I have something that I really feel needs discussion, such as there are two different birth dates or they’re two different death dates for this person, I talked about those sources and the comparison I did in the footnote.
Lisa: Wow, that’s a wonderful piece of information for those who will come after you later down the road. They will be able to see that discussion. I love that idea. What you’ve shown us so far as the ugly. You’ve got some BAD citations, too, right?
An Example of a Bad Genealogy Source Citation
(19:00) Gail: I do. This is going to be my True Confessions. I started when I was really a teenager, and then I really got into genealogy in my teens. When I was in college, I was working at an office at college and taking classes. I ducked into the genealogy library on my lunch break. I’m interested in my second great grandfather, William Nicholas Johnson, and he was a civil war veteran. I’m just pulling everything off the genealogies shelf. That was back when they actually let you into the stacks. They don’t do that anymore. I had a little notebook that I would write things down in and then think “I’ll get back to it later.” And this was a note I had.
Gail’s original note about the source.
And I just laugh at myself, but kind of with the idea that I don’t want to cry about it. It says, “W N Johnson, Life Sketch Civil War.” Well, Johnson is a common, so I don’t know if it’s my guy or not. And it’s Maryville Tribune. I know, he’s from Missouri, but I left out Missouri. It would have been nice for other people to know, but I knew it. And it says February 18. No year? What book did I get it from? I have no idea. (I wrote it down quickly and then went onto other family lines.) Now it’s many years later, and I run across this cryptic, and I mean, cryptic little intro. That’s why I say cite your sources as you go.
I don’t care if you get them in the right order, but at least write it all down. Because you don’t want to go back to the library and try to figure out what book it came from. I finally did come across it in the Missouri Historical Review. And you can see I circled, basically, I wrote down what I circled.
The source of the note.
The year was on the prior page, which I didn’t write down. Maybe I thought I’d get to it sooner, but I didn’t. I spent quite a bit of time in the library tracking down the Missouri Historical Review. What if I had done something more like this:
Example of a Proper Genealogy Source Citation
“Historical Articles in Missouri Newspapers, January-June 1925,” Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 21, no. 2 (January, 1927), 321, Nodaway County, Maryville Tribune, 18 Feb 1925, “Life Sketch of W N Johnson.”
It’s super easy for me to check now. So not only do you want to do it for other people, but you want to do it for yourself.
Lisa: It makes me realize that it’s important to know the pieces, the elements within the source citation. Like you said, even if you just jot it down, and you intend to put together the proper citation later back at home at your desk, you’ll have all the pieces that should be there.
Gail: I never would have been able to use that citation in an article. But now I have a proper citation. It also led me to find out whether this was really my guy. By the way, if you do have Missouri ancestors, the Missouri Historical Review is a really neat resource. It’s digitized online now.
That’s a bad citation but there’s another kind of bad citation. I had a Bennett Posey Family. I think he is my fourth great grandfather, maybe third. There are probably thousands of trees online because we’re very prolific. They all have his wife as Rhoda Hobart. As a professional looking back I’m saying this wasn’t really Rhoda Hobart. This Posey Genealogy had really good citations and it looked good. Now I don’t think he was like Gustav Anjou trying to fool anybody. But I took a look at the citation to his will (and wills sometimes do help you to figure out who married whom.) The will doesn’t say at all what he said it said. That’s the other kind of bad citation you can find. I didn’t have a problem finding it. But the citation didn’t support the assertion. I looked at another will and I thought, oh, this was the will he meant. Even though it was closer to supporting it, it turned out that Rhoda Posey was a guy, not a girl. So, I don’t think Bennett married Rhoda Posey the guy. I think he married some other woman that I saw. She’s still blank on my tree because these days I’m doing everybody else’s genealogy research except my own. But that’s an example of another bad citation that didn’t support the assertion.
The Cost of Bad Genealogy Source Citations
Lisa: That’s a great example. And it’s a lot easier to get help from other people, like a reference librarian, if you have a great source citation to offer them.
Gail: Yeah. I mean, they don’t even charge me which is nice. Other times they’ll charge five dollars. But a lot of times, they’ll say, “Well, unless you can give me a good citation I can’t help you.” Or you end up paying a professional to spend two hours chasing something down rather than just giving them where to look in the first place. They might be pulling a record for you that you don’t have access to online. There are a lot of things that can happen. So again, get all the elements, you can always massage it later, you can always check Turabian’s book or something later to get it right. So, source citations save us money! And time is money. No matter how you slice it, you really want to write as much down as possible and always think, “how am I going to find this again?”
Gail: I think I’ve convinced everyone not to get hung up completely on the format or wherever the comma goes. Just make sure you have all the elements that allow you and others to check it and make sure it really is saying what you think it says. I have a style guide for books that I use, so I copy and paste from there. Just be kind to yourself, but also be diligent. So, let’s talk about some good.
How to Create Good Genealogy Source Citations
(27:49) This is the best part! Number one, I want to talk about types.
Types of Source Citations:
Source list entry
Full reference note
Subsequent reference note
Sometimes I notice that people kind of get them confused. There’s a source list entry, which is kind of like the bibliographical reference. This is the actual source. You can have a full reference note, and that is for the first time you cite that particular source. These are usually longer. That’s the one that’s going to allow you to find it.
If you’re writing up your genealogy, then you have following or subsequent reference notes. This is out of Evidence Explained. But they say the same thing that The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
says, and the same thing that A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Ninth Edition by Kate Turabian. They all say the same thing.
Some of you might be MLA, some of you might be MPA. It doesn’t matter. We all have these three different types that we may be using. And here are the elements:
Elements of a Good Source Citation
Title or creator of the source
Author(s), editors, or compilers
Publisher (year published)
What it is
Record group name and #
URL for online source
Now, depending on what you’re looking at, the elements will differ. You’ll want the title of the source or the creator of the source, and sometimes both.
Author(s), editors, or compiles – If you’re citing a book, you will want all the editors, the authors or compilers and say whether it’s an edited work, or a compiled work. You’ll want the publisher if there is one. Some things are self-published, and then I just put in brackets [self published] and the year it was published.
What it is? Is it a marriage book? Is it a Bible? What is it?
Page Number – If it’s paginated, if it’s not page numbered you say unpaginated. Do tell people that it’s not. Don’t make people guess whether there’s a page number so that they don’t obsess about it.
Microfilm Number – If you’re using microfilm, you need to put the film number because that’s what you’re looking at.
Record group name and # – If you’re looking at primary sources include record groups if they’re pertinent. If I’m at the courthouse, I include the courthouse and where the courthouse is. Sometimes I’ll put such and such a county, because how many Washington counties are in the United States?! Make sure you’re sure you say the state. Say that it’s in Bellevue, Nebraska, not just Nebraska. There might be more than one place like that in a state, not necessarily the same named county, but there might be towns with the same name nearby.
URL for online source – Obviously, if the source is online, you need to give the URL.
Repository (sometimes) – And sometimes you will want to have the repository where it used to be located. If you look at a book, say what repository you found it. If I looked at a book, if it’s a famous book, you know, and every genealogy library has it, you don’t have to put the repository. But obviously, when I’m citing the fugitive slave warrant, that I found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, I need to say where it is because no one’s going to be able to find it unless they know where to look.
All of those elements mean there’s no one right way, but you do have to make sure all the elements are in it. Once you choose the style, be consistent. If you’re using A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, use it consistently. Don’t go off and do something else unless it really is an unusual thing that Turabian doesn’t seem to cover in her book and just try to do the best you can.
Lisa: I imagine it’s just like with naming your files on your hard drive. It’s probably more important to be consistent than to have it be somebody else’s view of perfection. You want it to include all the important pieces. So, that’s reassuring for folks to hear there isn’t just one right way. You’ve offered up some of the styles and things that we should be looking for. And I know you’ve got other resources as well that will help guide us in the right direction, right?
Gail: I do. The book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills is really good, but I don’t use it as much as I used to. And I do think it can be really daunting. There are people out there who will say your citation is wrong. They’ll say, “Well, if you want to stress the document, start with this, if you want to stress the person start with that.” I don’t know what they’re looking at. And I’m thinking “well, yes, it is actually that I wanted to stress the document, because this is a document and analysis. So, the purpose of what you’re using it for really, really matters. Just keep that in mind. Again, for your listener, she should stop stressing about it because she’s probably doing a good job.
(30:00) By the way of some of those reports – I don’t want to use names – but their databases that we use, I don’t always like the output that they do for their citations. But at least they’re there. But a lot of them are a little jumbled. And they don’t seem to adopt any particular style, though they have all the elements usually that you need. So that’s good. But I’m not into doing that.
I usually do my citations in a separate Word file. I always make my own style guide for every project. I have one source that was in what’s now Poland, but it was Pomerania. And I had my own style guide for that, because I was using an online Polish website that had digitized records. The records were in German, so I could read them. So for my citations for that I had the Polish name, I had the German, and then I have the English translation. I just decided I don’t want to rewrite every citation every time I cite this. So, for my reference, I had a style guide. And that’s a really good idea. Put the work in at the beginning, in a Word file and say, “Okay, I’m gonna spend some time maybe a whole day figuring how I want to cite it, but that’s what I’m going to use.”
Lisa: I like that idea. Using a template, it speeds things up, and it keeps it consistent.
(31:51) Gail: Exactly, exactly. And again, this was something that a lot of people weren’t citing, because they’re really daunted by the Polish website. It took me a while to learn how to navigate it. I don’t speak Polish, I speak German and English in French, and some Spanish but I learned it because I’m a genealogist and that’s what we do. Right? Genealogists are great learners. They will power through the most difficult things to get to where they want to go. So, we don’t want to let the daunting nature of citations continue to stop us from doing it at all. Better to do it, do it in your own style, your own template that you’ve come up with, hopefully, based on these resources that you’re providing, but at least doable rather than saying “Oh, I’ll do that later.”
Like I said, you can always rearrange some things or add an element later. But you need the main things, and you need to be consistent. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later on if you cite what you see. And this is also in Evidence Explained, but all the other style guides say the same thing.
If I’m holding the death certificate, I cite the death certificate. If I have a Bible, I cite the Bible and where it is who owns the Bible. Sometimes you have to say as of the year you referenced it. I may not know where it is this year, but at least you’ve got breadcrumbs.
(In the video Gail shared an example of a photocopied of vital records for James Arnold of Rhode Island.) I’m citing the book because I’m not looking at it online. I always check the original whenever I can. The reason I looked at the original is because there was a discrepancy in two sources. And then Cirilo said, oh, by the way, this is a copy too. And we don’t know where the originals are, we think they were destroyed when they were copied. He even gave me who copied it, and when. So that made it into my citation because this is as original as it gets. Sometimes when people transcribe, they don’t mean to, but they make an error. But that wasn’t the case here. But you have to do your due diligence. Whenever you see something that doesn’t make sense, or you have a discrepancy, you’re going to have to track down the original. And I still think it’s better to have the original anyway.
In another case, another Rhode Island one, I had a Samuel Reiss Smith within the vital records. But when I tracked down that original, it said Samuel Royal Smith, so it was my guy. I knew my guy was saying Royal because I had the Bible Arnold had, he just had a hard time reading the handwriting. So I went back and looked at the handwriting. Nope, this is Royal. So, you do want to get the original as much as possible. It made my case.
Citing Genealogical Image Sources
Which brings us to the very important subject of images. Most of us are using lot of images online. Remember, images might be enhanced. And that’s sometimes a good thing. It’s also sometimes a bad thing because there might be some things left out. The other thing is that there may be another one out there, but it may not be the same, kind of like the editions of books. And the series might have a gap.
In my thesis, I’m citing lots of censuses, and slave schedules, because I’m exploring some enslaved women who left enslavement in 1858 from Nebraska territory. I’m using the 1860 territorial census, and it’s online at Ancestry. It’s also online at FamilySearch. When I go to the Nebraska State Library and Archive, there’s a page at the front of the census for their county that lists all these slaves, all the enslavers and the number of people they have enslaved. And that is not online. But it’s critical if you’re looking for African American ancestors. So the census enumerator didn’t follow the rules. They were supposed to fill out a slave schedule separately, but they didn’t because it was a territory. So, they made it up. And there is a record, but it’s not online. So remember, if you’re looking for something and you’re thinking, Oh my gosh, it’s not there, you might have to kind of dig and look at the film and maybe even have someone go to an archive and say, “can you look at this?” Sometimes people don’t mean to but when they’re filming, they miss a page and, of course, it’s going to be the page that your ancestors on!
Lisa: Of course, that’s always the way it works. You know, Gail, you mentioned that images might be enhanced. Tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that.
Citing Enhanced Images
(39:22) Gail: They might be enhanced by changing the colors so that it’s a little bit better and sharper, which is good. But for instance, I did a lot of my initial German research off of microfilms now at Matricula. For the Catholic records, they’re in color, and they’ve enhanced it by coloring it and sharpening them so they’re easier to read. There’s a lot of underlining done in German records, and sometimes the underlines are in red, and they didn’t show up on the microfilm and they show up on the digital image. So you do need to go back and kind of look at original images and see what you’re not seeing online.
Lisa: Being able to make a notation about this in the source citation. I mean, these days, my goodness, any digital image could be altered.
Gail: Exactly, and people can add things to them. And I have an example of why it’s important to say, even when you’re looking at what you think is an image of an original, (which is generally in genealogical standards considered almost as good as the original) But sometimes it’s not. So, this is where Evidence Explained is right. You do need to be really thorough. Are we doing good work? That’s always the question you need to ask yourself. Does that source that I’m citing actually support my assertion or not?
So this the top one, as you can see, it’s white on black. Now of course, that’s the microfilm. But we’re pretty sure the original wasn’t black on white. But they were having trouble getting a good image. So they changed it. I cited the film St. Andrews Verdan Evangelical Church. It’s unindexed. And it’s a baptism, 1800, and I give the FHL microfilm. And I added, thank goodness, citing film from a manuscript in Berlin. Now, she may not like that, she might want me to say what manuscript in Berlin it was. But you know what I feel like – and my history thesis person said – I cited too much. So can you find it? Yes, you can. That’s the question. But the reason it was important for me to put the extra thing about where the film and the manuscript is, is because Ancestry digitized it years later. And you start with Ancestry, usually, with the name of the database. You say that it’s a digital image, so that you know that you’re actually looking at a scan of some original. And in truth, St. Andrews Verdan Evangelical Church, and this manuscript is in the Niedersachsen, or Lower Saxony archive. And do you see any differences in those two things? Because I do right away. Number one, it’s a better image. But there’s a 42 on the lower one, and there’s no 42 on the other one, and the other one has page numbers, and the other one does not. They’re the same record, same church. If you don’t do a lot of German genealogy, what you don’t know is German parishes make duplicate records by law. So one is the duplicate and one is the original. The original is probably added to later by the actual parish person. Or the duplicate, they went back later and said, “This is hard to use, because we don’t have any page numbers or entry numbers, so we’re going to add them.” I love looking at originals, because you can see that it’s different ink, you can see whether it’s a different color. And with imagery, you can always see that. So that’s two, same person say project. One is easier to find the record than the other because they added the 42. And you know, all those stamps on your digital image at the census record. Those weren’t there originally. That’s why we say page numbers stamp or page number written.
Knowing the Genealogy Records Makes for Better Source Citations
Lisa: Exactly which can get very confusing when people are trying to go back and find things. You’re really also making the case of how important it is to familiarize yourself with the records that you are going to be using. You can discover things like the fact that in Germany they legally had to make these copies and they distributed them and that would be different in a different country where you’re researching. I love reading the full descriptions of the records, whatever I can get my hands on. Genealogy websites can tells you more about the background of the record, how they acquired it, etc. All of that could help support them making an even better source citation.
(46:52) So the other thing, and I think I’ve kind of already alluded to it, is sources of sources. And this example is one from you know, the olden days. You can look at this in what they call the Massachusetts brown books. And this one is actually an image. So I’m going to add that I got it at AmericanAncestors.org.
Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016), https://www.americanancestors.org/DB190/i/7687/338/141204368, Danvers Births, Vol. 1:338, citing First Congregational Church (Salem Village), Danvers.
Notice at the very end I say citing First Congregational Church, Salem village, Danvers. So it’s in the Danvers VRs, but it doesn’t mean that they were in Danvers, proper. So a lot of people might stop with Danvers, but that CR1 means Congregational Church, Salem village.
How do we find that out? If you’re online, you go to the beginning of the book and look at the abbreviations. Always see what’s in here. Does it matter whether your ancestor was a Baptist, Unitarian, Universalist, Congregationalist or a Quaker? Absolutely! So do know that those little citation citing something else, you need to kind of run that down and put that in your citation. That’ll help you and other people to make sure you know which John Smith you’re talking about. How many John Smiths do I have in my background? Quite a few! Was my John Smith, a Quaker? Well then it may or may not be the person who was at Salem Village in Danvers. And look: there’s two congregational churches in Danvers, one is Salem village, and one is in Middle Precinct.
Discussing Discrepancies in Source Citations
(48:21) And again, talk about discrepancies. You know, my Bristol one? I had that said he was born 11th December, and one that said he was born ninth December. And both of them were copies of original records that can’t be found. So, I just say, I looked for the original records, did my due diligence can’t be found, here’s what may have happened, they’re two days apart, but it’s definitely the same guy, and here’s why. So always handle discrepancies in your source citations.
Most Commonly Used Source Citations
(48:42) Here are two source citations that are fine:
Williams-Schultz Marriage License and Certificate, Saunders County, Nebraska, Marriage Book 5:162, RG204, Film #3B, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.
Saunders County Clerk (Nebraska), Marriage Book 5:162, RG 204, Film 3B, Williams-Schultz Marriage License and certificate, NSHS, Lincoln.
Somebody might write to you later and say that I’m wrong about this. But I have looked in Evidence Explained, I’ve looked in The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition and either one of these is correct. But I wanted to show you why there’s no one right way.
I started with the first one William Shultz marriage license. And I like to use that format more where you say what it is, especially when you’re using end notes. I don’t know about you, but I really liked footnotes better because I could check right away. But a lot of editors and a lot of history books, you have to go to the end notes. So, if I want to check and there’s just tons and tons of footnotes, how much easier is it if you’re checking where I got the William Schultz marriage to start with a William Shultz marriage what it is? It’s easier to find for people, right? So, I always try to pretend I’m the reader who hasn’t been part of this big project that I know inside out.
Now, if it’s his license and certificate put that, because in some record sets the licenses are in separate books than the certificate. This one, the licenses is above and the certificate is below so it’s all one page. But I just let people know they’re both on here. But it’s not wrong for me to start with Saunders County Clerk who’s the creator, the marriage book, five 162, the record group because I’m looking at the archive. But I’m still looking at a film, I’m not at the courthouse. If I wanted to go to the Saunders County courthouse, then I would just say Saunders, county clerk marriage book five. And then I would say Wahoo, Nebraska, because that’s where Saunders county courthouse is. Now they know I went to the courthouse. You can do it either way. But make sure all the elements are there so people can check it.
Now I know some of your listeners might be wanting to publish an article or publish it for posterity, which is always good. I do encourage people, especially if you’ve done some really original research, that’s a breakthrough, I say get it published. Get credit for what you do, because people are going to take it from you, and they’re never going to cite you. I have a friend who’s done some incredible research. And I keep saying you got to write it up, you got to write it up! You are the expert witness. And it will actually help you to write it up, too. Because there’s where you see, “oh, maybe my train of thought was not as clean as I thought it was” or “Oh, I need to do a little bit more.”
The Right Way to Do Genealogy Source Citations
(51:45) You might be thinking, “just tell me the right way.” But when I’m writing, the right way is how the editor wants it. You have to study the publication. (In the case of writing it up for your family, you are the editor who gets to decide.)
For the footnotes for instance. 1790 census in this particular journal, which is peer reviewed by professional genealogists: 1790 U. S. Census, East Greenwich, Kent Co., R. I., p. 59.
Here’s a footnote that is a published footnote in there. It’s following footnote, but it’s a good footnote. Notice that they abbreviate County, they abbreviate Rhode Island. And as some people might not even put R. I., they might just do RI. That would be just as good, but that’s not how this editor wants it.
Here’s a very similar footnote for this journal, New England Historical Genealogical Register, another prestigious journal very well: 1790 U. S. Census, Norwalk and Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, roll 1, p. 326.
I mean, if you read it in there, it’s been well researched. It’s been well cited. That’s their footnote. Notice they spell county out.
Is one right, the other one wrong? No, they’re just different. And they’re both helpful. You can find them.
And here’s Evidence Explained: 1790 U. S. Census, Fairfield County, Norwalk and Stamford, digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : access date), entry for Smith Mead, p. 326 (written) line 22, citing NARA M637, Roll 1.
That very same one that I just showed you from New England. And you know, if you’re going to print it on a paper, paper is expensive. Ink is expensive. So they’re going to do the shorter one. It’s just how it is.
Access Dates in Genealogy Source Citations
(53:15) And now access date. There’s still a debate about that. There’s a debate about whether you have to do HTTPS www ancestry.com. Some people are just taking that out, because everybody’s so familiar with Ancestry.com now, we may not need that whole URL. We just put ancestry.com, and everybody knows that. Or familysearch.org, access date. I usually put the year at least, because I’m already noticing that Ancestry.com has re- titled some of their databases. Just handle explaining your decision in the beginning of your book or paper. Explain where you’re coming from.
What I’m asking for is balance. I feel like there’s been a pendulum swing, because genealogists used to be really looked down upon by professional historians. There was a lot of sloppy genealogy done in the old days. Now I feel like sometimes we swing too far, you know. I do not always put that it’s the NARA publication number, blah, blah, blah, I put that in the intro. And then I shorten it because it’s going to be printed up and we don’t have the paper to do it. We just can’t waste all that paper. I’m being an ecologist here. But most good editors do strike that balance. They understand that, you know, it’s all about sources. It’s all about supporting your assertions. And as long as you’re doing that, you’re doing well.
Lisa: I like that. That’s a wonderful note to end on, which is, as long as you’re keeping these your audience in mind, you’re being consistent. You’ve turned to really reliable source citation reference materials like you’ve given us here. And we know we’re going to do a good job.
Gail: I want you to focus on the evidence, and the citations are your help. They’re not an obstacle, they should be your help.
Lisa: I like that idea very, very much. And the evidence is really the fun part, isn’t it? And we have to make sure we’re not so stressed out about source citations that we aren’t thinking clearly and evaluating the evidence that we’re coming across.
Gail: Right, exactly. I mean, I do think there’s some people who get too hung up on that, and they’re spending time on it that they could be using to do a little bit more analysis.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s a great point. And it’s easy to want to hyper-focus on what you feel like you can control. And you know, a lot of times, you can’t control the evidence, you can’t control your access to things. But we want to keep that end goal in mind of just do the best research that we can do. And you’ve certainly helped us with that.
Gail, tell folks, if they want to learn more about what you do, if they want to talk to you about research, how do they find you online.
How to Find Early American Ancestors – New England Genealogy
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In this episode: In this episode we head back to 17th century New England with Lindsay Fulton of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. She’s going to share the best resources for finding your early American ancestors. Lindsay Fulton is with American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society where leads the Research and Library Services team as Vice President. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog and was featured in the Emmy-Winning Program: Finding your Roots: The Seedlings, a web series inspired by the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”
Genealogy Gems Premium Members Exclusive Download:
This interview topic comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisaepisode 33. You can find all the free Elevenses with Lisa videos and show notes here. Log into your Premium membership and then click here to download the handy PDF show notes that compliment this podcast episode.
To Listen click the media player below (AUDIO ONLY):
Cemeteries have some of the most intriguing stories to tell us about our ancestors. In Elevenses with Lisa episode 59 this week, Joy Neighbors (The Tombstone Tourist), author of the book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide joins me to discuss:
How to prepare for a successful cemetery research trip
The meaning behind symbols found on tombstones
The most surprising things she has discovered at cemeteries
Elevenses with Lisa episode 59 with Joy Neighbors
Live Premiere on YouTube: Thursday June 3 at 11:00 am CENTRAL.
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Show Notes for Episode 59
(Please note: This transcription of the interview has been minimally altered for ease of reading.)
Lisa: If you want to find out about your family history, one of the best places to go is the resting place of your ancestors, the cemetery. Today I’ve invited an expert on the subject that can help you plan your visit, help you figure out the meaning behind the things that you’re going to be seen while you’re there. And she’s also going to share with us some of the strangest things that she’s run into, on her own travels to various cemeteries across the country. My guest is Joy Neighbors. She’s the author of the book, TheFamily Tree Cemetery Field Guide, and the blog A Grave Interest. (Editor’s note: thank you for using our affiliate link if you decide to purchase the book. We will be financially compensated which helps make this show and article possible.)
Preparing for a Research Trip to the Cemetery
Cemeteries play such a big role in genealogy. What should we pack in preparation for a research trip to the cemetery?
Joy: I actually have a cemetery bag. Schedule an appointment with the Sexton or superintendent of the cemetery. I always want to stress that before you head out. Because if you give them a little heads up that you’re coming, they’ll be able to pull that information for the ancestors that you’re searching for. They may come up with some cool little tidbits you didn’t know along the way.
When you’re putting the bag together, you want to be sure you have some very soft brushes, like very soft paint brushes, a soft toothbrush, that you can clean the debris off that stone and clean out the lettering.
Take a water bottle – you never know when something’s caked on, and you need to kind of move it along a little.
Also a very, very soft plastic paint scraper (type of tool) to get some of that grass and that ivy off. They love to kind of cover over those graves and sometimes it’s tough to make out what that grave says or even get the exact shape of it. Some of (the tombstones) fall in and get covered over.
So go ahead and do a little bit of respectful cleaning, if you can, to see what it says.
Also my number one thing is to take a camera and batteries. Yes lots of batteries! If you have gone to the cemetery, you may have noticed that your batteries kind of drain, they kind of fade away on you quickly. I’ve been given several reasons for that. If it’s winter, it’s cold, so that’s pulling some of the energy out. Less current is going through for whatever reason, maybe you need to clean up the connections. LCD monitors soak up a lot of that energy also. And of course, spiritually draining the energy so that they can manifest. And I think had every one of those situations happen. And so, I carry a bag of AA batteries, because you can use your phone, and that’s great, but I’m old fashioned. So, I take the old-fashioned digital camera and take shots so that I can come back and kind of play with it in my iPhoto, and have some fun with them and read some of those letters that you can’t make out when you’re there.
Lisa: Well, it is tempting to use your phone, isn’t it? But I have a digital camera and it takes much higher resolution pictures than my phone. That’s great if I need to do some corrections to be able to read the stone.
Joy: And you also have, if you’re like me, on the desktop you have family folders everywhere where you can stash the photos that go with that person. And then you don’t have to go back and kind of go through trying to find them again. Also, I find it easier if you’re submitting to Find-a-Grave or Billion Graves, you’ve got it right there. And you can put it right on the website and enter the information you want from that folder.
Lisa: You were talking about some of the tools that you bring in this bag. It sounds like less is more when it comes to approaching the stone and trying to get it cleaned up so that you can look at it. Talk a little bit more that because I know for a while there, it was very popular to take a big piece of chalk and scrape all over it and try to read them, which is not the right thing to do. We’ve learned an awful lot in the last few years about what could damage the stones.
Joy: I just finished an article for family tree, it’ll come out in October 2021, talking about how to enhance those stones so that you can read them easier.
The water bottle is your best friend. Because a lot of times you can wet that stone which makes it a little darker. You can read more what that text says. Carry a small mirror. And you can take your phone and you can turn that flashlight on and shine some light on it. And or you can take the mirror and kind of catch some sunlight. This allows you to read a little bit better when it’s sharper, kind of like as you get older, you need a little more light in the restaurant to read the menu. It’s that way at the cemetery. And it really does help bring some of that lettering out. It makes it more distinctive.
Lisa: I even use a ring light that clips on my phone. I guess it’s a “selfie” light. So, that gives you got a little extra light.
Making an Appointment to Visit the Cemetery
Now you really quickly mentioned about making the appointment. And I want to talk a little bit about that. Because this is probably the part that gets a little intimidating. Because we don’t want to show up and get turned away, or find out that it’s not open. Or they just go, “Oh, no, no, no, we don’t help people who want to do genealogy.” Who is the person at the cemetery to ask for? You mentioned the Sexton. When we make a phone call, and we want to verify if they are open or what kinds of records they have, who should we be asking for in this phone call?
Joy: When you get the person at the cemetery, usually if it’s a larger cemetery, you’re going to be getting a secretary or say someone who knows basically where things are stored. If you’re looking at something that’s going to be a little more in depth, you can ask for the cemetery superintendent. Many times that person will not be available, especially if it’s a larger cemetery and they have a lot of funerals going on. But the people behind those desks are wonderful. And if you tell them that you’re looking for a great, great grandfather, and give them the name and the dates, those people usually go out of their way to help you.
When I was doing my book. I got hold of the cemetery superintendent at Oak Grove Oak Hill Cemetery, and I told him I’d like to shoot some of the different forms to put in the book. So, I went over and met him one morning, and it was this big, gorgeous, art deco building and old home. He said, “Well, I hope you work really close, because we’re going to go up in the attic.” And no one had been up there in years, there was dust everywhere. We cleaned up places to sit. And he brought out files and folders, boxes that were just (full of) scraps of paper!
Each cemetery Sexton or Superintendent keeps the records differently. Some use the forms, some just made notes. One gentleman made notes about every funeral he oversaw at the cemetery. He wrote down what the weather was, he took a note of who was attending…it was a small town. So, he knew that the daughter was here, the sister was here, the grandchildren attended. And he kept a nice little running commentary going in each note, and just wrote it on scraps of paper and put it in the drawer. I thought that was quite sweet that he cared that much about every time he had a funeral that he made those notes. And if you were someone who had someone buried at that time, you would be able to see those notes and see what he had written about the graveside service. But you had to know to ask. They may not say, well, we have these scraps of paper. But if you ask, “is there anything else you might have on my ancestor? Are there any extra books or notations?”, that may ring a bell (and help them) realize, “Oh, yeah, I think we might. I’ll look and see.” So, when you show up, they’ll have that info there for you.
Lisa: Oh, my gosh, you must just have been like, “I get to go in the attic!!” That would be me, you know, “Oh, I get to touch things!”
I remember going to a cemetery in the San Joaquin Valley in California. My grandparents are buried there, and grandma’s parents are buried there. Calling ahead really helped. It was such a small cemetery, and they were only there part-time so you can’t just show up normal eight to five. When I got there, it was really encouraging. The gentleman said, “Oh, no, honey, this is the best part of my job. This is the happy part of my job. I get to make people happy.” I think that it is kind of the fun, joyful part of their job that they’re going to make family members so happy being able to provide information. In this case, he went to a big old file cabinet, and they had a folder on every person. And when he opened it, they had clipped obituaries from the newspaper, handwritten stuff, and official documents. It was amazing, because I don’t think they were obligated to keep all of that. But every single cemetery is different, isn’t it?
Joy: Yes, some are very by the book. And some are just like you said, they’ve kept all kind of little extras, things that were in the paper and little notations, Memorial cards for the graveside service – I found those tucked in there, too.
Lisa: I think to one of the tips I would probably tell people is to allow a lot of time. I don’t know what you have encountered, but I have found that I need to take a big deep breath and just chill because they may be on a different schedule. So you don’t show up with only 10 minutes.
Joy: They do have stories to tell. There was one cemetery where I saw a stone that just said unknown. I asked “what’s the stone marked unknown?” Well, that was a gentleman in the early 20th century, who had come to town. He’d gotten off the riverboat there in the town and he had wandered around a few days and gotten sick. He stayed at the local hotel. And when they knew he was sick, they called the doctor in and the doctor tried to do what he could. The man died and they didn’t know who he was. They didn’t know where he came from. He shared no personal information at all. So, the town chipped in together, and they had him buried in the cemetery. And all they could put on the stone was unknown. He was just a vagabond, who passed through town and happened to die. And I thought that was such a heartwarming story, the town cared, and so they wanted him remembered in some fashion. When they buried him, they put up a very nice stone that simply said, unknown. So if you see things and you ask questions, they’re more than happy to tell you the stories. And they do know the stories!
Finding Your Ancestors at the Cemetery
Lisa: Exactly. So, when you arrive, I know some cemeteries will have a map, or they’ll be able to tell you the row and the plot number, that kind of thing. Do you have some sort of plan of attack in terms of beginning your search at the cemetery? Particularly to make sure you’ve covered everything and made the best use of your time in terms of trying to locate people in the cemetery. Any tips on that!
Joy: The first thing I will do, even if it’s a large cemetery, is make a drive around. Now stopping and getting the maps is always helpful if it’s large. But if it’s a small cemetery, you can make that drive pretty quickly – just kind of get an idea where you’re heading.
If you have called ahead, they may have been able to give you coordinates or the section and plot number (for your relative’s grave.)
So, my first stop is always the office and do a drive through and then make that visit.
There’s so much emotion when you find that grave! I was looking for my great grandmother, and it was difficult. She died when I was 10 and I remember a very long drive. I thought the name was “beetle” like “bugs” cemetery. And after a lot of research, we found out the real name and that it was in another county. When I was driving up that hill, I suddenly I knew where I was. I got out and just stood at the foot of her grave. It was so emotional for me because this was my person, and I had found her! And I also found her husband, which was my great grandfather. He passed about 20 years before I was born. But she always told me, I reminded her of him.
On the other side (of her grave) was a child I had never heard of my great grandmother had had seven children. My grandma had talked about them, but she had never mentioned a brother named Jesse. It was not until I had a cousin contact me from Michigan because of our DNA, and she had the story on Jesse (that I learned that) Jesse had been a special needs child. He had never gone to school. He had never worked on the farm. And she had, when he died, a letter that someone close to the family had written about him talking about his sweet personality, and how he was always there to greet people when they came, and how joyful he was. And I thought, ‘you know, I didn’t even know about this child.’ And now because someone took the time to make that letter, I now have some information about him and can put that whole family together more completely. It’s amazing when you go you never know what you’ll find.
Cluster research is something that we all kind of go “Okay, take some other photos around.” But when I stood up, and I looked catty corner from their graves, there were my paternal great grandparents. Now how my maternal great grandparents and my paternal great grandparents ended up buried in the same cemetery that has nothing to do with our family, I don’t know. But that’s one of those odd genealogy mysteries that you get to dig into when it’s winter and cold, and you don’t have other things calling. I mean, it’s just stunning how much history is there, and how much you can find out about your family or their in-laws. You can find the neighbors, you can find the folks they went to church with, and start building their life out, and getting more of a sense of who they really were just from that cemetery visit.
Lisa: And if you’re looking for somebody, and you’re not finding them right away, particularly in those larger cemeteries, I like that idea of cluster research. You stand there with the one you know, and then you walk all the way around and you realize that people were connected. They may not be buried right next door, but there’s going to be some kind of connection and rhyme and reason to where they are buried. And just working your way out from the known tombstone to those around it, you may find more people that you didn’t even realize were also buried there.
Cemetery Story: Genealogical Serendipity
That reminds me of the time that I was speaking at the FGS conference when it was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a couple years ago. We stopped because my mother’s side of the family was from Indiana and Ohio, Union City. I told my daughter and my husband when we had to go the cemetery, and they were like “hey, I thought we were just going to a conference!”
Well, of course, we went to cemetery. It wasn’t that big. It was out in the country in an agricultural area. I swear we looked at every stone. I have a video of my daughter looking at every stone and walking up and down. And it was starting to rain. We almost gave up. We got back to the car, and I remember just standing there. I’m just being very quiet, and I’m saying “I know you’re probably here and I know you’d like me to find you. Right?”
I then turned and I looked and right next to where we had parked on a little road that actually went into this very small cemetery, I see the tombstone of Henry Burkett. It was right there next to the wheel of my car!
We had looked everywhere else, because you know, your instinct is to run out of the car and go spread out. And there’s Henry, and then there’s Jane, and my gosh, I was just floored!
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s had those kinds of things where your ancestors were saying “Just quiet down, pay attention. I’ll tell you where I am.”
Joy: That is so true. It’s just like you said, if you will stand there and you’ll look around and you literally, for me, it’s like “okay, I can’t find you. Where are you?” And just follow the hunch, follow the instinct, the lead. And eventually you’re going to find somebody that you go, oh, oh, I know that name! Now it makes sense. And it’s a trail. And sometimes you get really lucky like you did and there they are.
Lisa: My ancestors continue to blow my socks off. That’s for sure. I love it!
Tombstone Symbols and Their Meaning
Let’s take a look at the tombstones because one of the things I know that you’ve written about quite a bit in your book, which I think is fascinating, are some of the symbols that we see on tombstones. We know we get names, we get information, but tell folks what will they perhaps be seeing. What are some of the most common symbols found on tombstones? What do they mean?
Joy: You will find a lot of religious symbols.
Of course there are all different kinds of crosses with different meanings:
the Greek cross (which just looks like a plus sign.)
the crucifix (which is the cross with Jesus which is Catholic.)
the IHS cross (which is Latin and that’s an abbreviation for Jesus Savior of Mankind.)
The Fleur de le iconic cross (which has the really beautiful fleur de le at the tips. It is usually put on the stone of a mother. So, you may find the matriarch of the family buried there.)
You also see angels which are said to intercede for mankind.
Archways are another one that are used to mark the graves of couples. Many are made of stone. I found one at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. You could open the gate. It was just amazing. You could walk through the archway. Many people have put thought into some of these designs that really, really should be appreciated.
There are a lot of animals in the cemetery. Mausoleums usually have the two lions or they may have a Sphynx cats that are guarding eternal rest. Dogs are very popular. Many times there may be a statue of a dog laying right there at the stone, and that’s showing the animal that is vigilant and loyal through death.
Cemetery Story: Stiffy Green the Dog
There is a Highland Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana, and there is a mausoleum to john Heinl. His dog, called Stiffy Green, actually went there when he died. He went everywhere with John. And when John passed at the turn of the century, in the 1900s, Stiffy literally sat there and mourned himself to death. The family was so touched, they called a taxidermist, and then they took Stiffy and put him inside the mausoleum, so that he could be with John and guard him forever.
After a while, the cemetery personnel looked in and checked on things, and Stiffy had moved! So, the rumor started that Stiffy was moving around in the mausoleum. Then people were hearing barking and it grew and grew until the 1970s. There was a college close by. It was a dare to run up to the Heinl cemetery at night and look in. Someone took a shotgun and shot out Stiffy’s eye.
Then they said, “okay, we’ve got to stop this. Stiffy has to go.” So, the Vigo County Historical Society and the Lions Club got together, and they repaired Stiffy. They gave him a new eye, and they put him in the Vigo County Historical Museum. They built a replica of John’s mausoleum and put him in there. And so that is where you can go today and see Stiffy in the replica patched up.
They still say at the cemetery late at night in the autumn, you can smell John’s pipe smoke, and you can see Stiffy and him wandering along the hills just at twilight, and you can hear Stiffy bark. I always love that story. That is vigilant and that is loyal! And that’s what our dogs are.
The Story of the Dove
The number one symbol you’re going to see is a dove. Birds basically represent the flight of the soul. Last Mother’s Day we lost my mother-in-law. She went with me (on my cemetery travels), she was at Rootstech with me, she went with me on all kinds of genealogy speaking trips and adventures. When she passed, my husband and I were sitting at the dining table on Saturday evening, and I looked out and there was a dove on a branch. And we talked about 10 minutes, and I looked out, and the dove is still sitting there. About 20 minutes later I said, “you know that dove is still out there. And your mom knows the story. And I’m kind of thinking that might be her.” How touching, you know, that she would know what a dove would represent. And we have never had that happen before or since. It’s kind of cool you when you lose someone you kind of look for signs. I think that was a sign from her was the dove. So that’s kind of taken on a special meaning for me in the cemetery.
There are so many other symbols. Lambs, especially the older cemeteries where you have the stones from the 1800s. You’ll see one lamb or you may see two lambs. There is a cemetery in Southern Illinois that has one stone, and it’s a square with four lambs. I took down the information, I came back and did some research on that. And the family lost all four children in one summer. It was due to a cholera epidemic that swept through that county.
So, when you find the symbols and you do a little more research, it puts even more of their history and their story together. That’s why I love the symbols. And I love finding something that I haven’t seen before so I can come back and kind of do that exploration and research and you get more of a story of who that person was, that really no one other than family would ever know.
Lisa: You kind of restore that story back to the world, and that’s what makes you a good genealogist and a researcher. I think that’s what brings a lot of people to genealogy is that curiosity. It got many of us in trouble as kids, but as now, genealogists it’s helpful.
Joy: Not everything is as haphazard as it looks. There is a stone in Sullivan County, Indiana. I found it years and years ago, maybe 8 or 10 years ago, and it looked like a knight on horseback. Okay, now, this is Indiana, and as you know, we didn’t have those. The woman’s name was Jane Todd Crawford and when she died in 1842 they had put up this huge stone. There was a little bit of a story about how she had died and why it was being memorialized.
I started doing research on this. The story was an 1809. Jane thought she was pregnant. But the baby wasn’t coming. She had reached past term, so she thought she had a stone baby, which meant that it had died inside of her. This doctor came from Danville, Kentucky, 60 miles on horseback in winter, he examined her and told her she had an ovarian tumor. He judged it to be about 20 pounds, it would literally crush her to death inside.
She asked if he could do anything. And he said, “Yes, I believe you can spay a woman like you do a farm animal. No one has ever done this. People are terrified of the thought. But if you’re willing to let me experiment, I think I can save your life.” Jane agreed. And she went with a person who was helping her over by horseback to the doctor’s home in Danville. It took them several days. He operated on Christmas morning.
There were people who found out and they have a noose hanging on a tree outside and they are shouting, you know, “Death to the doctor!” It was it was just horrible. Jane saw this, and she still went and she laid down on that board in the bedroom and let him make a nine inch incision, and literally break that tumor apart and take it out. And she survived! She lived to be 73. This happened when she was in her early 40s.
I found out the story and I wrote about it. And I realized this wasn’t really a part of Kentucky history. Nobody knew this story. I took a playwriting class and I literally wrote a full act play about Jane and what happened and how she lived through it.
It’s just what you said. These people get hold of you and hold of your imagination and you want to tell that story. And I still want to get her some recognition because she’s the reason we have abdominal surgery. She was willing to be that guinea pig even though the odds were not in her favor. And just because the doctor when he took out the entrails kept them warm in warm water was the reason she survived. It’s amazing. There’s a statue to Ephraim McDowell, the doctor in the hall of statuary in Washington, DC, but there’s nothing for Jane. So still fighting to get Jane acknowledged for what all she did.
Lisa: You’ve written for me over on the Genealogy Gems, blog about some of the unusual things that you’ve run into. And you’ve been so gracious and sharing some of those stories. I think some of the ones that are really interesting to me are the unusual places we would find cemeteries. The further back you go in time, you find that they could be in the back corner of somebody’s property on private property. You have found some unusual ones so tell the folks about the tombstone in the middle of the road.
Lisa: What other kind of unusual cemeteries Have you run into in your research?
Cemetery Story: Ask and Ye Shall Find
Joy: We were out one afternoon, and we ended up way out in the country in Illinois. We drove up this long lane to a farmhouse and I said “this should be Adams cemetery.” And my husband went and knocked on the door. They’re having fried chicken and it’s in the summer and they wanted us to come in and we’re like, “no, we’re fine. We’re looking for the cemetery.” And the guy said, “Well, if you let me finish, I’ll take you to it.” So we waited, and he came out about half an hour. And he said, “hop on the four-wheeler” and his wife came out. And we got on the four-wheeler and the dogs went with us. And it was a ride! I mean, we crossed ditches, and we went up hills and we went into the woods.
There were about eight tombstones, and they had taken it upon themselves to keep this area cleared. So they were bringing up the lawnmower and they were mowing and they were trimming the weeds around these stones, they had no relation to the Adams who were buried there. They hadn’t had anyone come and look for the cemetery in years. They were so gracious and so much fun! Just to take us up there and let us explore and see what we had found.
If you go and there’s a house or barn something there and somebody is still taking care of that property, ask them if they know where the cemetery is, if you can go see it or find out who owns that land and see if they can get you to where that cemetery is because a lot of times people are still caretaking it. Now there are some states that now require if you purchase land and a cemetery is on it (and a cemetery can be one stone) if there is someone buried there, in some states, you have to take care of it. In other states, you don’t.
I went looking for a cemetery one time, could not find it. Turned out that my mother-in-law happened to know where it was. We went early one morning and went in the back way of the cemetery. She showed me what was left. It had been purchased by a hog farmer. He did not care that it was a cemetery and had taken all the stones up, and laid them face-down in the mud and had made a path to his hog barn. So, if it’s a state where they don’t have to respect it, a lot of times people don’t. So we’ve lost a cemetery, and we’ve lost the history. All you can hope is that maybe some records made it to a genealogy society or historical organization. Otherwise, they’re gone. And we just have no way to retrace that because someone didn’t care enough to try to preserve that burial.
Lisa: It makes you realize it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with our local genealogical or historical society and see if we can help. They often organize volunteer groups who restore and caretake old cemeteries.
Joy: You don’t have to know a thing. They will show you what to do – how to clean a grave, how to tend a grave.
I remember being a very small child and going out with my grandmother to tend graves on “Decoration Day” (Memorial Day.) I can remember us having a picnic at the cemetery, which a lot of people find rather bizarre. But cemeteries are restful and beautiful. There’s so much artwork, and sculpture, by well known artists.
Louis Comfort Tiffany did stained glass in some of the mausoleums at cemeteries.
Frank Lloyd Wright, a well-known architect, did some of the mausoleums in Chicago.
There is really art-museum quality work in our cemeteries. You just have to take the time to go out and walk and look.
Joy: You can slip it in your cemetery bag, and it washes off. This is something you don’t have to treat carefully. There’s a place in the back for notes. You can list things as you’re seeing it. You can write down the symbols and then go back and research it.
Get Joy’s guide to cemetery research featuring detailed step-by-steps for using FindAGrave and BillionsGraves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings.
It goes into detail on what to do to get ready for your cemetery visit. What to do once you’re there. How to find records, and what to do with the information when you get back home. Put it on Find-A-Grave, Billion Graves, Ancestry, FamilySearch. Let other people know the information you found so that we can all continue to build our family trees together.
Being a genealogist is like being Nancy Drew, and you’ve got to investigate where the information is leading.
Download the ad-free show notes (Premium Member log in required. Not a Premium Member?Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member.) Includes a convenient cemetery visit checklist and meaning of the most popular cemetery symbols list on page one for convenient printing exclusively for Premium Members.
I used the British Newspaper Archive to make a shocking discovery in my husband’s family history was made with the help of these three powerful strategies. Read on to learn how to find more information on your ancestors in online historical newspapers. (This British Newspaper Archive link is an affiliate link and we will be financially compensated if you make a purchase. This helps support our free content like this. Thank you.)
The Research Question
Ever since I first started researching the family of my husband’s grandfather Raymond Harry Cooke, I have been aware that his mother, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke (maiden name Munns), died at a young age, around 40 years old.
What I didn’t know was how she died.
Mary Ann Susannah Cooke
In fact, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke has been one of the most elusive recent direct ancestors I’ve pursued. Up until about a decade ago we had never seen her face.
The image of Mary Ann (above) came to us through one of Bill’s first cousins. I had tracked her down in hopes of learning more about their shared grandfather, Raymond. Once we met I was thrilled to discover that Raymond had lived with her until his death at the age of 93 in 1987.
The cousin brought with her a dusty old box of his belongings. Inside we discovered the first and only known image of Mary Ann. (Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about this discovery and the methodology used to find the long-lost distant cousin in the Premium video class 9 Strategies You Need to Find Living Relatives.)
On the back of this cardstock image were notes written in Raymond’s own hand. The handwriting leads me to believe he may have added the notes later in life. This meant that I needed to be especially careful as I analyzed the information as it was likely from childhood memory.
As you can see on the back of the image, Raymond states that Mary Ann died about 1915, and that her birthday was September 3. The birthday was close but incorrect. The actual recorded birth date was September 6.
The date of death was much farther off. Death records from the county of Kent show that Maryann was buried August 20, 1908, a full seven years earlier than Raymond remembered.
It’s not a surprise that his dates were off the mark. Raymond was just 14 years old when Mary Ann died. But the question remained: how did she die?
About five years ago, after writing a blog post about the British Newspaper Archive, I decided to do some digging in historic newspapers to see if I could find anything about Mary Ann’s death in Tunbridge Wells, England in 1908. With a search of Mary Ann Cooke in the website’s powerful advanced search engine I located the answer within minutes. It was devastating.
The Courier, August 31, 1908:
“Tunbridge Wells Woman’s Sad Death: Drowned in a Water Tank. The Inquest.”
“Mr. Thos. Buss, district coroner, held an inquest at the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, on Saturday morning, touching the death of Mary Ann Cooke, aged 41 years, whose body was found in a tank at the roof of her house, 49 Kirkdale road, the previous day.”
Suffering from prolonged depression, Mary Ann had drowned herself upstairs in the family home’s water tank. The newspaper provided a blow-by-blow of the coroner’s inquest, and the heart-breaking testimony of her husband, Harry.
And then came the final shock: Harry and Mary Ann’s 14 year old son Raymond had discovered the body.
After absorbing the story of Mary Ann’s untimely death, I was keen to see if I could learn more about the family. This is where some very powerful search strategies came into play and helped me find MUCH more in the British Newspaper Archive.
3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips
1. Look for Search Clues in the Articles You Find
Finding an historic article on your ancestors can feel like the end of the research road. But actually, it’s just the beginning!
Go through the article with a fine tooth comb. Make note of every http://laparkan.com/buy-sildenafil/unique detail that could possibly be used in an additional newspaper database search. Here’s a list of what I found in the article about Mary Ann’s inquest. In the following steps I’ll show you how we put some of these into action.
Addresses – The Cooke’s address of 49 Kirkdale Road in Tunbridge Wells, was mentioned twice within the first two sentences of the article.
Name variations– I’m not talking about a variation in spelling, although those are certainly worth noting. In the case of newspaper research I’m referring to the varying ways that people are referred to in the newspaper. In the inquest article, Mary Ann Cooke was also referred to as “Mrs. Cooke.” This got me thinking about other ways that Mary Ann might be referred to, such as Mrs. Mary Ann Cooke, Mrs. M. A. Cooke, etc. In England, a boy Raymond’s age might be referred to as “Master Cooke.” Write down all variations you find, and then continue your list by adding the additional possibilities you can think of.
Neighbors– Mrs. Pout played a vital role on the day of Mary Ann’s death, and she served as a witness at the inquest. This was the first I had heard of her, and her name definitely made it onto my list of “searchables.”
Friends and Acquaintances – The names of Donald Thurkill (an employee of Mary Ann’s husband Harry), and the various doctors (Dr. Abbott, Dr. Grace, and Dr. Nield) were among the names I noted.
Occupations– Harry Cooke is described as a “coach builder.” Future searches of “coach builder” and “Cooke” together could prove fruitful in the future.
After assembling a comprehensive list of additional searchable words and phrases, I headed back to the British Newspaper Archive to search those leads.
2. Look Beyond Known Names
All of the naming variations I made note of in step number one could now be put to work. But before doing so, I realized that each option I came up with could actually be searched in two ways: Cooke with an “e” and Cook without an “e”. And I knew it was worth doing, because unfortunately my own name is misspelled in print on a regular basis.
Searching both “Mrs. Cooke” and “Mrs. Cook” resulted in even more articles. And in the article about “Mrs. Cooke,” Raymond was referred to as “Master Cooke.” Indeed, even more articles existed under that name as well. In the following example, I found Raymond’s name displayed three different ways!
3. Go Beyond People
While finding your ancestor’s name in print in the newspaper is exciting, don’t underestimate the power of searching for other bits of information. Searching for addresses where they lived can put you in the middle of a wealth of new information about your family.
It isn’t necessary to include the surname of your family. In fact, I highly recommend that you don’t. The property where they lived has a history of it’s own. Simply searching the address can give you a kind of “house history” set of search results. These articles can potentially reveal who lived there before your family, descriptions of the home and its contents, and who your family sold the property to. In both the buying and selling of the property there is the potential to learn more about your family and possible further connections to others in the transactions.
In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home by searching the address 49 Kirkdale Road.
In the search results I discovered an article about the home being put up for sale several years before the Cooke family owned it. It was interesting to note that the previous owner had also been a coach builder, so it was a logical purchase for Harry Cooke when he decided to start up a coach building and horseless carriage mechanic shop of his own.
The final article I found in the British newspapers was also found only by address. The Cooke name was never mentioned, but indeed it did provide the slightest mention of the family: “Owner going abroad.” This article advertised the family home being put up for sale in 1912 in anticipation of their emigration.
I admit I got a lump in my throat as I read of Mary Ann’s beloved pianofortes being sold. She was a skilled and talented musician who often played violin at the Tunbridge Wells Opera House and at garden parties around the countryside, and clearly she enjoyed playing the piano at home as she owned not one, but two “pianofortes.”
With the description of the inside of the home in the inquest article, the outside of the home in the “house for sale” newspaper advertisement that Harry first responded to, and now this article describing their possessions as they prepare to move to Canada, my newspaper research painted a much more complete picture of the Cooke’s life in Tunbridge Wells, England.
Pieces of your family history are on video on YouTube, and in this episode I’m showing you how to find them! Here’s what you’re going to learn:
Why you can almost be sure that there are videos on YouTube pertaining to your family’s history.
The best strategies for finding videos about your family history.
7 things to do when you find a video about some part of your family history.
How to find family history related videos on YouTube
Can you really find family history related videos on YouTube? You bet you can! Thanks to the tremendous growth in online video, your chances are better than ever. Here’s how much online video has grown in recent years:
YouTube is now the second most popular search engine next to Google.com.
Cisco reports: 2014 64% of all Internet traffic was video. The prediction for 2021 is 85%.
More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month to watch and upload video.
Digitizing video is easier and more affordable than ever.
So, what kind of videos can be found that have to do with your family history? Here are just a few examples:
Old home movies. Perhaps uploaded by a close or distance family member, or a friend of the family who happened to capture your family in their home movies.
Vintage news reels and TV news broadcasts.
Your family members don’t have to be famous to show up in local news reports.
Companies often create instructional and promotional films.
Video tours. Filmed at historical locations, churches, and other places where your ancestors may have lived.
These can provide great background information about the times and places where your ancestors lived.
How to start finding family history videos on YouTube
The easiest way to get started is by selecting a person in your family tree. If you’re looking for actual film footage of the person, you’ll want to focus on more recent people in your family. However, there’s a treasure trove of videos available on YouTube so don’t worry if you’re trying to learn more about an ancestor born in 1800. You can still find all kinds of videos that can shed more life on your ancestor’s world and the life they may have led.
Once you’ve selected an ancestor, make a list of things you know about them. Here are some examples of what you could look for:
Names of associate ancestors
Places where they lived
Where they went to school
Where they worked
Events they were involved in
Hobbies / Groups / Clubs
Friends / Associates
Search your ancestor’s name at YouTube
Start by searching for your ancestor’s name in the search field at YouTube. Example search: Will Ivy Baldwin
Review the results. Keep an eye out for film footage that looks older. Hover your mouse over the results to see if words appear that further explain why you received that video as result. You may see an indication that what you searched for appears in the text of the video description (found just below the video) or the captions. If they appear in the captions, that means that someone in the video said the name you searched for! Automated closed captions are fairly new so you will find that not all videos have captions.
Next add more keywords relevant to their life. Example: Will Ivy Baldwin tightrope
Use quotation marks to get exact matches on the important words. Example: Will Ivy “Baldwin” “tightrope”. (Learn more about search operators such as quotation marks in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)
Try variations and search multiple times. Examples:
Will Ivy “Baldwin” “tightrope”
Will “Ivy Baldwin” “tightrope”
“Will Ivy Baldwin” “tightrope”
Will Ivy “Baldwin” “Colorado”
You can also search for the phrase Home Movie and a family surname. Example search: “Home movie” “Burkett”
What to do when you find a family history video on YouTube
#1 Add to your “Watch Later” YouTube playlist.
Click the plus sign under the video and check the box for Watch Later.”
#2 Create a new playlist and add the video.
Click the plus sign and then Create New Playlist. Consider creating a playlist for each surname you research.
Click the plus sign to save to your Watch List or create a new genealogy playlist.
#3 Share to Social Media, your website, etc.
Click Share under the video.
#4 Comment to collaborate.
Comments can be found below the video description. You’ll need to be signed into YouTube with a free Google account.
#5 Subscribe to get new uploaded videos.
The red SUBSCRIBE button can be found on every video and channel. After clicking it, click the bell icon to receive notifications of new videos from that channel.
#6 Search the YouTube Channel for more related videos.
There’s a good chance if the channel has one relevant video it will have another! Click the name of the channel below the video and then on the channel page click the magnifying glass search icon.
#7 Read the video description to learn more.
The channel “Creator” who uploaded the video probably added some additional information to the video description. Click SHOW MORE to see everything. Look for recommended related videos and playlists. You may also see more details on the content of the video which you can then use to expand your search.
Expanding Your Search to Find More Family History Videos
Now it’s time to dig back into our list and continue the search. Here are some examples of how to find videos.
Search for Ancestral Locations
Search for locations associate with your family history such as cities, counties, regions, states, countries. Even if your ancestors is not in the video, it could be very enlightening to see film footage from a place they talked about or wrote about. Watching a video about the place can help bring your family history to life.
Review old newspapers, journals, family interviews and more to come up with a list of events your family was involved with. It doesn’t have to be a big event. It could be as simple as a school talent show. It’s possible that someone else who attended took home movies.
Try search for the names of business where your ancestors worked. Add in locations such as town names. Try adding the word history to help YouTube find older film footage.
In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa I shared the example of searching for Olyphant PA fire history and finding Andrew O’Hotnicky and his son in an old newsreel film about the fire stations amazing dog.
Andrew O’Hotnicky on film on YouTube.
Post Your Own Family History Videos Online
Another great way to find old videos and home movies on YouTube is to upload your own. That may sound funny at first, but the truth is that if you’re looking for family history other people are too. When you upload a video, whether it’s an old home movie or a short video you made to tell the story of one of your ancestors, it’s great “cousin bait.” When someone else searches for the same family, your video will appear. This opens the door to them posting a comment and potentially sharing information.
If you don’t have old home movies to post, don’t worry. It’s easier and more affordable than ever to make your own videos. I’ve created several instructional videos to help you create exactly the kind of video you want Both are available exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium Members (Learn more here about becoming a Premium Member):
Video Magic – a 3-part video series that walk you through crafting your story and getting it on video.
Elevenses with Lisa episode 16 How to Make a Family History Video with Adobe Spark walks you step-by-step through how to use a free app to make professionally looking videos.
Recording your own videos is faster, easier and less expensive than ever! You can have your own free YouTube channel with your free Google Account.
Get the book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 3rd ed., by Lisa Louise Cooke. Available exclusively at www.shopgenealogygems.com.