Family History at Home – Find it, identify it, share it!

Family history can, and should be found around our own homes. Your house is a great place to look for clues as well as the ideal place to display what you’ve already found! In this free genealogy live webinar Lisa Louise Cooke will show you how. 

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 65

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 65 Lisa Louise Cooke will:

  • explore our homes for family history
  • see if we can’t unlock some mysteries, and
  • look at some fun and creative ways to incorporate family history into our homes!

Episode 65 Show Notes

family history around your house

Watch episode 65

Home is where the heart is and it’s certainly where the family history is. If you’ve found an interesting piece of family history around your home tell us about in the Comments section below so we can all get more ideas of what to look for.

What To Do with the Family China Nobody Wants

Author Robbie Shell wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal called The Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don’t Want Lifelong possessions look very different when we start trying to pass them on.

She wrote about being retired and becoming a grandmother. “The new baby (my first grandchild) and new house ignited one of my long-awaited projects—excavating crawl spaces and basement corners on a hunt for possessions to pass on to the next two generations. It’s easy to predict how this played out. My son and his wife turned down many more items than they accepted. Much of what I had hoped to “upsize” to them stayed in my basement and attic. What wasn’t easy to predict, however, was how complicated this seemingly simple transaction could be. It involved multiple perspectives, across multiple generations. It showed how possessions, when held up to the light, often lose the very qualities that prompted us to set them aside. And, in my case, it offered a glimpse of a future that I’ve thought about—and looked forward to—for years.”

She proceeds to describe how she went through items in the house, offering them up to her son and daughter-in-law. She got replies like:

  • Too ornate
  • No Shelf space now, maybe later,

“They did give thumbs-up to desk lamps, guest sheets and towels, a few kitchen items and one folding chair, among other things—utilitarian items with no stories or expectations attached.”

It’s an interesting dilemma I hadn’t thought about when I was carefully collecting and saving things over the past few decades: that being attached to the story behind the item was key to valuing it. We’re attached. They aren’t.

Then of course if enough years and even generations go by, we develop an interest in family history and can’t believe our good fortune to unearth such a treasure.

“Then there was the collection of unrelated items I now saw in a different light—those whose stories matter only to me: the child’s battered wooden rocking chair from the porch of my grandparents’ summer house; a faded, inscribed photograph of my father as a young man standing next to his own father, whom I never met; and the small tarnished music box with a twirling ballerina on top that was a gift from my godfather when I was young enough to still dream about being a dancer.

These things will stay with me here in the home where I have lived for decades.

Unless…

One day a young girl visiting her grandparents comes upon the music box. She picks it up and turns the key that starts the music playing. “Grandma,” she says, “what’s this? Can I have it?” “It’s yours,” I say, my heart skipping a beat. “It always has been. You had only to ask.”

I’ve inherited a lot of sets of dishes, and I have three grown daughters, and so far there aren’t any takers. My friend Kim recently proposed the idea of taking a class to learn how to make mosaic stepping stones for the garden. I can’t think of a better way to downsize some of this china!

what to do with old china plates

making mosaic tile stepping stones with my besties

So during last week’s live show (and you’ll find the link to the video replay here on YouTube in the video description below or go to genealogygems.com and click Elevenses in the menu to go to episode 64) I asked if any of you have family china:

  • Ann Baker​: Inherited? No, but we have some wedding china from our wedding 52 years ago that our kids absolutely don’t want. I’m putting it in the will that they must keep them. Or I’ll haunt them.
  • Barbara Dawes: ​Wedding gift from my grandmother was my set of sterling silver – do I take it with me?
  • Anne Renwick​: And yes, I have LOADS of old china!
  • Karen de Bruyne: ​had to give lots of grandparents old china away earlier this year, I kept one cup and saucer
  • Louise Booth:  3 or 4 sets — I’ve lost track!
mosaic tile stepping stone

mosaic tile stepping stone

China Plate Mosaic Stepping Stone Supply List (the links below are affiliate links. We will be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you for using them and supporting this free show):

  • Concrete stepping stone from the local garden or hardware store
  • At least 2-3 large dinner plates or several smaller sizes. Strive for flatter plates.
  • Masonry cutters – ABN Glass & Ceramic Tile Nippers, Premium Carbide Cutting Wheels and Comfort Grip Handle 
  • Gryphon Gryphette Glass Grinder (optional)
  • Thin set
  • Tile Grout
  • Grout Sealer (about 1/3 cup applied to the grout with a small paintbrush.)
  • 2-3 popsicle sticks
  • Small cheap paint brush
  • Toothpick
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic gloves

China Plate Mosaic Stepping Stone Instructions:

  • Cut the plates up into piece 1-2” in size. Toss the pieces that aren’t fairly flat (like the raised rim that the plate sits on.)
  • Arrange them as desired on the concrete stepping stone. Place them as close as possible while leaving room for the grout. You don’t want large grout lines that might crack later.
  • Using the popsicle stick, apply a coat of mastic to the back of each piece. Cover the entire back evenly and press the piece back in place.
  • Clean up the grout lines so that no mastic sits higher than the plate pieces or clogs the grout line spaces.
  • Let drive 24 hours.
  • Mix the grout – use water sparingly and leave extra grout in case it gets too wet.
  • Let the grout stand or slake for 5 minutes.
  • Wearing the gloves and using a popsicle stick, fill all the grout lines completely and smoothly.
  • Follow package directions for set-up time and then buff it clean.
  • Allow to dry 24 hours.
  • With a small paintbrush apply the sealer to the grout lines and let dry.

Grandma’s Kitchen Utensils Wall Display

Do you remember spending time in your grandmother’s kitchen? I sure do. My maternal Grandma would take us out to the fields to pick fruits and vegetables and she canned a lot of it to preserve it for winter, keeping it in an old wooden pie safe in her garage.

I inherited many of her trusty kitchen utensils. I’ve hung on to them for years in a cardboard box, dragging them with me as we moved around the country. I’ve always wanted to display them but shelf and counter space is always so limited and precious. I needed a way to get them up on the wall and I finally found it.

When I was out shopping at an antique store I came across an old wire basket. It caught my eye because it wasn’t round. It’s rectangular shape turns into a hand display shelf when it’s turned on it’s side. Being wire, it’s not only easy to hand (place the bottom of the basket against the way and secure over a few good nails or hooks), but it’s the perfect canvas for displaying your utensils. Items can be placed on the “shelf” portion, and wired onto it from all directions. The nearly invisible wire means all you see is the beautiful patina of these old kitchen work horses – flour sifters, peelers, mashers, blenders, funnels and more!

Let’s hear from you: In the comments section tell us what your favorite family kitchen utensil is and who it originally belong to.

Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 27 on using Google Lens for genealogy. 

Music Box: Name that Tune!

Now we’re going to start off with a little family history mystery that Sharon emailed me about

She writes: “I’m a long time listener and I’m loving Elevenses with Lisa! After watching Beginning German Genealogy, I remembered that my friend, Tera Fey, had shared a unique music box with me, hoping I could identify the tune. Tera had been given the music box by her grandmother, Cora (Cornelia?) DeWein, who had been given the music box by her grandmother from Germany. Tera remembers that the top used to have a crest attached to it but doesn’t remember what it looked like. I was hoping you could share the tune with your many listeners and perhaps someone could “Name That Tune”. Many thanks for the work you do and that you share with us.”

How fun! OK we’ve had success playing Name that Tune before on my Genealogy Gems Podcast so you’ve come to the right place Sharon!

So, here’s my research plan on Tera’s music box. The first thing I did after receiving her email was to put it out on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page asking for help a few months ago.

While I waited for an answer I ran a Google search on the audio, and if you ever need to identify music you can do this too.

How to search for music using the Google search app:

  • Open the app and tap the microphone
  • Say “what’s this song?” or tap the “Search a song” button. 
  • Hum or sing the song for about 10-15 seconds.
  • This works in English on iOS, and in more than 20 languages on Android, as well as Google Assistant.
  • You’ll get suggested matching results or the response “Try Again”

In this case, we didn’t get a match.

Back on the Facebook post front, my daughter Lacey actually was the  one who identified it as a Thorens Music Box, which are Swiss made. She said “Looks like 30-36 note? There would have been a card attached to the inside with the list of tunes. Looking at others for sale on eBay show similar boxes with their songs listed. Could listen to those songs to see if they match?” This is a good strategy. 

A great place to listen to the songs available with a particular brand of music box is YouTube. I listened to several and although I didn’t hear a matching tune, there are many videos available naming the songs this box played, so it might be worth a more comprehensive search of Thorens Music Box. 

Now it’s your turn. Let’s see if anyone out there knows the name of this song.

If you do, and you’re here watching live, post the title in the Live Chat. If you’re watching the video replay, go down to the Comments section and leave a comment. Let’s see if we can help Sharon  and Tera out!

Help Send the Madden Family Tablecloth Back Home

I bought this tablecloth about 5 years ago on ebay.com. It’s covered in embroidered handprints with names and birthdates. Since it’s the “Madden Family Branch” I would guess that those listed without last names are Maddens. Associated surnames are Egge and Arrants. Although a color key to the generations sewn into the corner of the tablecloth, there were other colors in the embroidery, so the “generation” distinctions aren’t hard and fast. I’ve also grouped families together where they appear to be a unit.  If you think you know which family this is and have a contact for them today, email here. 

1st Generation (pink)

  • Bill Arrants June 6, 1899
  • Het Jan. 19, 1915
  • Aileen Sept 1, 1910

Possible Family Unit:

  • Jim Martin Sept. 26, 1934
  • Joanie (?) Martin May 17, 1934
  • Julie (?) Kay Martin March(?) 1969 (Yellow)
  • Orval July 14, 1919
  • Sig March 8, 1909
  • Melba Feb 26, 1905
  • Bob Sept 21, 1919
  • Tom July 27, 1910 or 1918
  • Edwin Egge May 5, 1910
  • Francie Sept 22, 1905

2nd Generation (blue)

  • Diann “Cookie” Aug 24, 1944
  • Dennis W. July 13, 1949
  • Jack August 12, 1925

Possible Family Unit:

  • Gene Oct. 23, 1936
  • Joann Egge (?) Jan. 22, 1938
  • Gerry Egge March 5, 1965
  • Bob (?) Suh 10, 1942
  • Jo March 15, 1925 (?)
  • Bobbie Sue March 26, 1949

Possible Family Unit:

  • Ed March 31, 1947
  • Marsha (?) Oct. 18, 1946
  • Sarah March 26, 1969
  • Edwin Egge May 5, 1910
  • Sheridan L Nov 4, 1943
  • Larry H May 12, 1956
  • Darin Egge Feb. 13, 1962
  • Bob Jr. July 22, 1953
  • Patty July 17, 1934
  • Harry March 20, 1928

3rd Generation (red)

Possible Family Unit:

  • Loretta K Sept 28, 1941
  • Bob K March 12, 1940
  • LeAnna K June 9, 1962
  • Johnny K. Sept. 24, 1959
  • Wayne Feb 11, 1907
  • Edward (?) Aug 13, 1903

4th Generation (Yellow)

Madden family tablecloth

Can you help find the family?

Learn more about how to find family history on ebay. Listen to Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 16 – Tips for Finding Family History Related Items on eBay

Resources

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3 Ways to Improve Your Genealogy Blog

Creating and maintaining a genealogy blog is a fun and rewarding way to share your family history. Blogging is also effective in finding cousin connections! If you are worried your blog isn’t pulling in the cousins you expected, elevate your ranking in search results by implementing these 3 ways to improve your genealogy blog.

improve your genealogy blog

I recently received this exciting email from Ruth:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! Several months ago, I attended one of your all-day seminars in Bossier City, Louisiana and I must thank you for motivating me!

I’ve been researching my family tree off and on for 25 years or so, and at times it has taken a back burner to whatever was going on in my life; only to be dusted off when I would get an inquiry or perhaps when someone in the family passed away. In the last 3 years, I have been attending these local seminars with a distant cousin. They were fun and I learned a few things, but none had generated the enthusiasm that I have at the moment!

The knowledge that you share and the easy manner in which you deliver your presentations are so down-to-earth and it inspires me to learn more. I left your seminar with a Premium Membership package and I have been listening to your podcast ever since.

You also encourage your readers to blog about their genealogy. I took your advice and I’ve done just that. Please take a look at my blog – any suggestions you might have would be welcomed. The title is My Family Tree: Hobby or Addiction? and I have dedicated it to my father who passed away in 2005! Here is the link: http://myfamilytreehobbyoraddiction.blogspot.com/

Thank you again for all you do that encourages us and for the new tools that you share with your listeners to help their journey along the way!

Many thanks,

Ruth Craig Estess”

Ruth, thank you and congratulations!

improve your genealogy blog ruth

I love hearing how you have put it into action what you learned at the seminar.

Tips for Improving Your Genealogy Blog

Ruth is doing a terrific job including family information on her genealogy blog that others might be Googling. That means they are very likely to find her. But there’s more that can be done. Here are 3 additional tips for Ruth and anyone who wants to get more traction with their genealogy blog:

“1. Add more images. Google looks postively upon websites that have images. It considers the website to be more of an authority on the subject covered in the blog. Images improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) In layman’s terms, SEO refers the ways in which you have made your blog easy to use, and easy for Google to understand what it is about. The better Google understands the subject, the better chance it has of delivering your blog as a result when people search on things you write about (like your family tree!) It’s important that your image files have names that accurately reflect what they and your blog post are about. Therefore, it’s a solid strategy to include relevant genealogical information such as names, places and dates in the image titles. If you don’t happen to personally have photos about the subject of your blog post, include images of documents or other related items.

2. Include a Call to Action. At the end of each post, invite your readers to comment and contact you if they are researching the same family. It’s amazing what a little invitation will do to prompt interaction. If you skip this step, your readers may just “lurk”, or in other words, quietly read and then go on to the next website. That’s a missed opportunity for connection and collaboration. Even though a reader may be researching the family you are writing about, they may not think to reach out to you or comment unless you prompt them to do so.

3. Make use of blog categories. Categories and Labels help organize you blog content. Create a category for each surname you discuss on your blog. The category can appear in the side column on your blog. That makes it easy for readers to click a surname they are interested in and jump directly to your posts that discuss that name.”

Surname labels in genealogy blog

Categories and Labels are great for SEO too. Google loves well-organized websites because they are easier to understand and deliver in search results.

More Gems on Creating Your Own Genealogy Blog

Ruth wrote to tell me she has already started putting these ideas into practice. She’s on her way to rising in the search results and hearing from distant cousins. How exciting! Click below to continue reading about rewarding and effective family history blogging.

Why Marketing Experts Would Agree That You Should Write a Family History Blog

Why and How to Start a Family History Blog

Genealogy Blogging, the Future of Genealogy and More

Tell Us About Your Genealogy Blog

Do you have a genealogy blog? Well, here’s my call to action! Please share your family history blog, SEO tips, and success stories in the comments area below.

And I would so appreciate it if you would share Genealogy Gems with your friends and blog readers by including a link to our website in your list of favorite genealogy help sites on your blog. Thanks!

Find Your Ancestors in the Scotland Census Now at FamilySearch

Is that the sound of bagpipes? It might be, because the Scotland 1901 Census is now available at FamilySearch! Learn more about what you’ll find in this collection and get top tips from a Scottish genealogy expert on how to find your ancestors is in Scottish records. Then we head over to Central and South America for exciting new and updated genealogy collections for the Bahamas, Panama, and Brazil.

new genealogy records Scottish Scotland Census

Scotland Census Now at FamilySearch

Does your family tree have roots in Scotland? You’re in luck! You can now search for your tartan-clad ancestors for free at FamilySearch! The Scotland Census, 1901 contains almost 4.5 million records for those living in Scotland on Sunday March 31, 1901.

“These records are comprised of Enumeration forms that were distributed to all households before the census night and the complete forms were collected the next day by the enumerators. Included in this series are returns from ships of the Royal Navy at sea and in ports abroad.

Click here to search these records at FamilySearch now.

This collection is also available on Findmypast. If you have a subscription to Findmypast, you can access the 1901 census that includes Scotland, England, and Wales. Click here to search at Findmypast.

UPDATE: The original FamilySearch press release contained incorrect information about the source of the 1901 census records. Visit the National Records of Scotland website here for more information about the 1901 census.

According to the National Records of Scotland website, they hold records of the census of the population of Scotland for 1841 and every tenth year thereafter (with the exception of the wartime year of 1941 when no census was taken) and of the sample census of 1966.  Census records are closed for 100 years under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.”

3 Strategies for Finding an Ancestor in Scottish Records

If your love of tartan, bagpipes, and kilts equals your love of family history research, you are likely hoping to find an ancestor who was born in Scotland. Or perhaps nothing would surprise you more than to find a Scottish ancestor. In either case, the next step is to find this ancestor in Scottish records.

As with all immigrants, the first step to finding them in their homeland is to research their lives extensively in America before searching for them in Scottish records. Scottish genealogy expert Amanda Epperson, PhD joins us here on Genealogy Gems to share some of her top strategies to help you find your ancestors in Scottish records. Click here to read more!

New Genealogy Records for the Bahamas

Findmypast has been making major strides in expanding its collection to include rare and underrepresented records. The newest addition is the Bahamas Birth Index 1850-1891. Discover your Bahamian ancestors in this online index of registered births from the British Crown Colony of The Bahamas.

Birth records are essential to expanding your family tree. There are tens of thousands of records in this collection, giving information not only about relatives born in the Bahamas but also their parents. Click to search the Bahamas Birth Index 1850-1891.

Panama Records Indexes

Three new indexes containing just under half a million vital records from the Republic of Panama have recently joined Findmypast’s growing collections of international records. There are now four collections for Panama:

These new additions consist of baptisms, marriages and deaths spanning the years 1750 to 1950 and will generate hints on Findmypast family trees. (Learn more about Findmypast’s new tree hinting feature by clicking here.)

Brazil Civil Registrations

FamilySearch has a new genealogy collection for South America: Brazil, São Paulo, Civil Registration, 1925-1995. Boasting nearly 2 million records, this data set includes births, marriages, deaths, and indexes created by various civil registration offices in the state of São Paulo. Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection. Additional images and indexed records will be published as they become available.

These records are in Portuguese so you may want to take a look at these resources for help with these records:

You can search the index or view the images or both. Before using this collection it is helpful to know your ancestor’s given name and surname, identifying information such as residence, and estimated marriage or birth year.

Bring genealogy records to life with Google Earth!

Genealogists love making discoveries in records, but the excitement of documents doesn’t exactly translate to the non-genealogists in your family. Capture your family’s imagination by telling their family history story with Google Earth. See how easy it is to turn the genealogical information you’ve collected into compelling multi-media stories. These tours will help everyone in your family appreciate your genealogical research and protect as a legacy for generations to come. Enjoy!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, and an international keynote speaker.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

The online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is a go-to resource for determining old U.S. county boundaries. 

atlas of historical county boundaries

The atlas of historical county boundaries

How to find county boundaries with the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries in three steps

1. From the Atlas home page, click on the state of interest from the national interactive map.

2. From the state page, click on View Index of Counties and Equivalents. This will show you all current and past county names. 

3. From this page, click on your targeted county. You’ll find a timeline of that county’s boundary changes.

Atlas_County_Boundaries_1

Use the timeline to discover what county your ancestors belonged to at any given time. Perhaps you’ll discover you should actually be looking for an ancestor’s marriage record or probate in a parent county, one that existed there before the current county, or in a successor county later carved out of this one.

Google Earth Bonus: The Atlas of Historical Boundary Changes state pages include downloadable maps compatible with Google Earth and Google Maps. If you are not using Google Earth for genealogy yet, watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video to see how and why you want to use this amazing 3D map of the world for your family history! You can learn more about downloading the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries files to Google Earth in Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. 

download files at Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Learn More about Using Interactive Maps for Genealogy

 

World War II Fallen and the Stories Behind the Stars

16 million Americans answered the call to serve their country during World War II and tragically over 400,000 never returned home. To honor them, each family of a fallen hero received a banner with a gold star to hang in their window. Now 80 years later, there’s another way to ensure they are honored and most importantly, not forgotten. Today the nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars focuses on researching and writing the stories of every one of the WWII fallen. In this special Veteran’s Day episode of Elevenses with Lisa, Don Milne, founder of  Stories Behind the Stars joins me to discuss the project, how to access the stories, and how you can help with the research that ensures that every single one of the World War II fallen are remembered.

Watch Live: Thursday, November 11, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Episode 78 Show Notes 

 (Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.) This article includes affiliate links. We will be compensated when you use our links at no additional charge to you. Thank you for supporting our free content!

16 million Americans answered the call to serve their country during World War II and tragically over 400,000 never returned home. To honor them, each family of a fallen hero received a banner with a gold star to hang in their window. Now 80 years later, there’s another way to ensure they are honored and most importantly, not forgotten.

Today the nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars focuses on researching and writing the stories of every one of the 421,000 US World War II fallen. I want to share with you how to find them, and how you can help with the research that ensures that every single one of the World War II fallen are remembered.

The Stories Behind the Stars founder Don Milne joins me in this video episode. He’s a lifelong history buff, and a few years ago he decided to write a daily story about one of the US World War II fallen for his blog called WW2 Fallen 100. His effort totaled more than 1,200 stories and has been read more than 1 ½ million times.

After his banking job was eliminated at the end of 2019, Don decided to devote his full time to create Stories Behind the Stars and find volunteers to write the stories of everyone of the 421,000 US World War II fallen.

The Story of a Fallen Hero of WWII

Lisa: I’d love to start by putting the fallen heroes of World War II front and center. Can you share with us one of the stories that has really touched you?

Don: Yes. It’s harder and harder to do that because so far we’ve already done about 13,000 stories. One of the more recent ones that we’ve done on our Pearl Harbor project was a fellow named Don Whitestone. He was on the USS Arizona, the battleship totally decimated at Pearl Harbor. More than 1000 people were killed on that ship, and he was one of those. If you go to the USS Arizona Memorial, you just see a name on the wall. And that’s basically all you know about him.

USS Arizona

USS Arizona (public domain)

So, for our project that we’re focusing on right now, is to tell the story of all the men lost at Pearl Harbor, all 2335 of them. We’ve already finished the one for Don Boydston.

Just to give you a little bit of information about him. We know he was from Fort Worth, Texas. He was the youngest of six children. Almost every one of his brothers also enrolled in the military during World War Two. His eldest brother survived the war. His second oldest brother, he was actually in Hawaii the same time as his younger brother. Don was there while he was on shore. So, he would have probably been looking for his brother right after the attack, and wouldn’t have found him because he didn’t survive and they never found his body. He ended up continuing in the military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. And he received the Silver Star for leading his men against the Germans in France in 1944. He died in 1945 while the war was still going on.

Another brother by the name of Robert served as a lieutenant. He was wounded, but he survived the war and lived to be age 90.

Another brother by the name of Ward, he joined the Army Air Forces. He was on a mission to Tripoli in 1943, in his B24 Liberator, and his plane went down.

So, here’s a family of five brothers. Two of them survived the war, and three of them didn’t. One of them died the very first day of the war, Pearl Harbor, and one of them died during the very last year of the war. It must have been devastating to have a family of five sons and lose three of them. But the father of the family, he did something really interesting. He decided that he was going to write stories, to write letters to the servicemen that may not be getting letters, because back then there wasn’t any social media. You couldn’t pick up a cell phone and talk to people. You had to write letters. And that was like, the thing that all of the servicemen looked forward to is they wanted to get letters from home. And so he made it a project in 1942. He was going to write stories to servicemen who didn’t have someone writing to them. He wasn’t going to be able to write to his son Don because he died at Pearl Harbor. But rather than feel sorry for himself and live with that loss, he decided to write the letters for a long period throughout the war.

He started with 137 different soldiers that he wrote to on a regular basis. So, I think that’s a wonderful thing that I didn’t know about. And all of these men and women who didn’t come home from World War II deserve to be remembered by more than just seeing a name on a memorial or gravesite. So, there’s a lot more Don Boydstuns out there. What we’re trying to do is find volunteers that can help us find those stories.

Lisa: That’s such a fitting story. That father was making sure that the soldiers weren’t being forgotten. You’re in a way, of course, carrying that on today, through your project. And, as you listen to that story, you realize that you think you’re hearing one person’s story. But I’m hearing the story of the parents. I’m thinking about the mom. I just can’t imagine all the sons going to war and losing one. And so really, you’re capturing the stories of many more than the 421,000 fallen.

Read Don Boydstun’s story at Fold 3.

The Mission of Stories Behind the Stars

Lisa: What’s the mission of the Stories Behind the Stars project?

Don: The name of the project kind of tells what we’re doing. It is what they still do today. During World War II when a family lost a serviceman or woman during the conflict, they were given a banner with a gold star on it that they could hang in the window. We want to tell the stories behind those stars.

We have the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Th Price of Freedom monument carries that same motif. It has more than 4,000 individual stars, each one representing 100 of the fallen.

Stories behind the stars, our mission is pretty ambitious. We want to make sure that all 421,000 servicemen and women Army, Air Force, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, every single one of them will have a story.

Part of the mission isn’t just to have it on some obscure website somewhere. But we want to have it available so anyone can read it at the memorial. It’s got to be super easy to find on a smartphone. That’s our mission. And the only way we can accomplish this is we need volunteers that are genealogy minded, that want to want to do this and do something more than just bring flowers to remember someone on Memorial Day. We’re looking for folks to create a permanent record that will go forward for decades to remember them.

WWII Fallen Resources

The National Archives hosts the following casualty lists on their website:

Keep in mind that these lists are incomplete.

MyHeritage: Stories Behind the Stars volunteers often use MyHeritage’s photo enhancement and colorization tools on the photos included in the stories, in addition to their genealogy records. Visit MyHeritage.

How to Access the Stories of the WWII Fallen

Visit Fold3

Up until June 2021, all of the stories our volunteers have been writing were saved directly to Fold3. In the case of the Pearl Harbor project, it was decided to first save these stories to the Together We Served platform because it allows for some extra features not part of using Fold3. However, all TWS content is also shared over to Fold3.

Fold3 recently updated its user interface and this change did not include the automatic transfer of the stories from Together We Serve to Fold3. This is scheduled to happen by December 1, 2021. Once the update is complete,  you will also be able to find stories like Don Boydstun’s story on Fold3.

The best place to search for all the completed Stories Behind the Stars stories is at the Stories Behind the Stars page at Fold3 Currently, the search only works for stories saved with the new Fold3 format. As previously mentioned, there are about 10,000 stories saved in the old format and Fold3 is converting those over.

The Pearl Harbor project webpage is still a work-in-progress, and writers are still working on the stories that have been researched. They have about 500 unassigned stories and anticipate a completion date of December 7. Until then, you can find stories at the D-Day page where there is a link that will take you to a page that separates the D-Day fallen by stateYou will then find links showing a list of all D-Day fallen from each state.

Volunteer for Stories Behind the Stars

You can help Stories Behind the Stars reach their goal of completing all the stories by the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII in September 2025 by writing one story a week. Visit Stories Behind the Stars and click the Volunteer button.

They occasionally share sample stories on their blog, as well as their podcast. This will help you get the idea of what these stories are like.

From Don: It does attract a lot of people with a genealogical background, but it’s not totally necessary. We’ve also got people with 40, 50 years of genealogy experience that they’re just wonderful at doing the research and stuff.

Basically, what we’re asking people to do is write a short story. We’re not writing a 40,000 word document. We’re basically writing short obituaries. Most obituaries are what 400 to 1000 words, and they just include basic information. And that’s what we’re basically trying to do.

The whole idea is we’re not creating stories that someone’s going to sit down and spend two hours reading. You’re going to go to a grave site, maybe you’re going to Normandy or Arlington, or your closest National Cemetery, where you see flags put out for all those that are in the military. The idea is you’re going to be able to take your smartphone and go up to that grave site and pull up a story and read it right there. Something that you can read in maybe five minutes or so. So pretty much everybody can write an obituary. Unfortunately, all of us probably will have to write an obituary sometime, right. That’s what we’re asking them to do.

We’ve created some training that gives people all the tools they need, so that they’ll feel really comfortable about writing these stories. And if they don’t consider themselves, writers, we have other ways that people can help. They can help with the database. Some people are better at editing than writing. So, we have people helping with that.

Top Tips for Researching WWII Fallen Soldiers and Sailors

When researching the stories of the World War II fallen, Don recommends the following:

  • Search Ancestry and MyHeritage. Look for all types, particularly the application for a headstone, muster rolls
  • Search Fold3 – search by name and dates such as birth and death.
  • Newspapers – Look for casualty lists and other articles. Try Chronicling America which is free. Other excellent newspaper collections can be found at GenealogyBank and Newspapers.

The Stats Behind Stories Behind the Stars

Organizations partnering with Stories Behind the Stars include Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Arlington National Cemetery, Friends of the National World War II Memorial, The National D-Day Memorial, JustServe.org, BillionGraves, and Together We Served. 

From Don Milne:

  • This project now involves more than 1,500 people from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries. Hundreds are people with a background or interest in genealogy.
  • We have completed more than 13,000 stories but we still have 408,000 to go.
  • We completed the stories of all the WWII fallen from one state (Utah).
  • We completed the stories of all the 2,502 Americans who died in Normandy on D-Day.
  • We are on pace to complete the stories of all 2,335 Pearl Harbor fallen by December 7.
  • Arlington National Cemetery gave us their list of WWII fallen buried there. Our plan is to do a story for each of these 7,700 by Memorial Day 2022.
  • By December 1 there will be an accompanying smartphone app people can use to read these stories at any gravesite or memorial.

Resources

Three ways to watch Elevenses with Lisa:

1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

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