Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 255 – National Archives Catalog

The U.S. National Archives Online Catalog for Genealogy

In this episode Lisa Louise Cooke will answer important questions such as:

  • What kind of genealogy records can be found at the National Archives website?
  • Which genealogy records are not available at the National Archives?
  • How do I search for records at the National Archives online Catalog?
  • How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
  • How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
  • How do I download files from the National Archives Website?
  • What is the Record Group Explorer?

This audio comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisa episode 40.

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Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 40. Visit the show notes page here.

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

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Provenance: The Story Behind Your Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37 Show Notes

There’s a very important story behind each one of your genealogy records. In this video and article we discuss why it’s critically important to understand the provenance of each record. We also talk about specific things to look for as you analyze their meaning. Great genealogy research requires a great understanding of the story behind your genealogy records! Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

The story behind your records includes many important areas to be considered:

  • Provenance / History
  • The reason for the record
  • Information source (primary vs. secondary)
  • Motivating factors of the informants

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Provenance

In the art world,  knowing the provenance of a piece is crucial to understanding its value.

Provenance looks at an object’s origins, history, and ownership. Investigating and analyzing the provenance of a piece can shed light on:

  • whether the piece is authentic,
  • whether it truly was created by the attributed artist in the stated timeframe,
  • What the value of the item might be.
provenance definition

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37

The principle of provenance is true for genealogical sources, too.

The Story Behind the Records

Provenance is important because it helps us determine how much weight to give the information provided by the genealogical record.

We need to ask When and where was the record created? We are looking for:

  • Records created closest to the time of an event
  • Documents created in places associated with your relatives
  • Documents created by people who knew them or were authorities

Review the Record’s Source Information

It’s important to take the time to review the available source citation information for each record we use. Fortunately, many genealogy websites that provide access to the records of our ancestors also provide critical background information about that record. This can help us find the answers to our questions and help us evaluate how much credence to give the information.

Ancestry Record Source Information

Scroll down and click through to get the rest of the record’s story.

Sometimes it just takes a little digging to uncover the backstory on a record. For example, the census enumerators received detailed written instructions before being sent out into our ancestors’  neighborhoods to collect data. You can review digitized copies (or transcriptions) of those instructions at the United States Census Bureau website for all years of the decennial census except 1800 through 1840.

Enumerator Census Instructions

1860 Census Enumerator Instructions

Finding Aids

Whether you’re researching at home or in an archive, look for or ask for the finding aid or reference guide for the collection you are using.  

A finding aid may include the following sections:

  • provenance
  • how the materials were used
  • contents / physical characteristics
  • restrictions on use
  • scope and contents note, summary and evaluation
  • box or file list

Learn more about Finding Aids in Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 featuring the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. It includes a discussion of finding aids.

Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers: Learn more from a professional archivist about using finding aids in Premium Podcast episode #149. (Membership required. Learn more here.)

The same holds true for objects that are passed down through the family, whether it be a family Bible or a transcript of a reminiscence you find online.

Resource: Elevenses with Lisa episode 29.

Records as a Whole

Whenever possible, consider a source as a whole. It’s tempting to want to zero in on the paragraphs or photos that interest you most, but you may miss out on important information that changes what this source has to tell you.  For example, the specific placement of a photo in an album can be as significant as the printed photographic image. A photo’s position can indicate the relationship of the people in the photo to others on the same page, or the timeline of events.

Does the record appear complete?

Take note if any part of the source appears to be missing or illegible, especially if it appears that some of it has been deliberately removed, erased, or crossed out.

You may be able to make more sense of the partial information—or take a guess at why it was removed—as you learn more about the family. There may be a perfectly innocent reason for the change. But you may also be seeing evidence that someone who wanted to erase unpleasant memories or conceal a scandal.

Where has the item been over the years?

Where the source has been kept over time and who possessed it is an important part of provenance. Try as best you can to reconstruct and document the chain of custody of the item.

Resource: Heirloom Tracking Template
My Heirloom tracking page helps you document the complete story behind your precious family heirlooms. Premium Members can download the template from Elevenses with Lisa episode 6

Is the record the original?

Whenever possible, consult the original version of a genealogical record. Indexes, typed-up copies, or abstracts may not be as complete or accurate. Remember, handwritten or typed copies of older originals may have been made in the days before photocopying technology.

The Story Behind the Document: Motivating Factors

Another important question to ask about a record is Why was the record created? Understanding the motivation of the person, organization or governmental agency creating the document can help you anticipate their possible bias. It can also provide clues regarding information that you would expect or hope to find, but don’t. While the information may seem important, it may not have fallen within the scope of the original intent. Therefore, you may need to look for additional records that can help fill in the gaps.

Tax lists provide an excellent example of why we need to understand the motives and scope of the records we use. When reviewing a tax list, we need to determine if the government was taxing real or personal property and if it was including every head of household or just adult males.

Why was the information provided?

The original purpose of a source is highly relevant to how much faith you put in its contents. Here are a few examples of why the information provided might not be totally accurate:

  • A woman might have altered her testimony in divorce proceedings in an effort to minimize damage to her own reputation and future.
  • Newspaper articles may be filled with a variety of biases by the author, publisher, or those being interviewed.
  • A man may have lied about his age or citizenship on a draft card, either to avoid military service or in order to be included despite being underage.

Comparing the record with similar records can help reveal where the truth lies.

Who was the informant?

The information on a record is the person who supplied the information. Sometimes this is the same person who created the record, such as the writer of a diary. In the case of a U.S. census, the informant is the person in a household who told the census enumerator about the people who lived there. In many cases, it’s impossible to know who the informant was. Thankfully in 1940, census enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with a circled “X,” as shown in these two households. This is just another example of the value of doing 

Reliability of Informants

A source may have multiple informants. Each may have had unique knowledge of the situation. For example, on a death certificate a relative may provide the personal information while a physician provides the death-related information.

If the informant shares the deceased’s last name they:

  • likely are a relative
  • likely had first-hand knowledge of the deceased’s marital status, spouse’s name, and occupation.
  • (if father or brother) likely have provided primary information relating to the deceased’s birth, and parents’ names.

Even when a relative is close, we need to stop and think about whether they knew the information because they experienced it first-hand or were told about it. For example, if the informant was the deceased’s father, the  information about the deceased’s mother (his wife) such as birthplace would actually be secondary since he presumably wasn’t present when she was born! And that leads us to understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources and information.

Primary & Secondary Information

Historical evidence can either be considered primary or secondary information. Genealogical scholar Thomas W. Jones defines these terms in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:

  • “Primary information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.
  • Secondary information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay.”

Interestingly, the same document can include both primary and secondary information. It helps to think in terms of primary and secondary information instead of striving to designate the source document as primary and secondary. 

How do all these clues add up?

It’s clear that as genealogists our goal is not only to evaluate each family history source, but also each piece of information it provides. Asking the right questions helps us ultimately answer the all-important question: how much do you trust what this record is telling you?

Answers to Live Chat Questions 

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Debra L.: Is the book (A Cup of Christmas Tea) good to give to 12 year old tea lover?
From Lisa: It has a wonderful message for any age of caring for others in the family, especially older relatives. (It’s not really about the tea 😊)

From Mary P.: As custodian of my parents’ life memorabilia I need help with the 5ish address books. Can you suggest an attack plan to glean information, what to store/record\research online etc. ? I’m overwhelmed.
From Lisa: It’s really a matter of how much time you have. I would lean toward transcribing them into Excel spreadsheets that can then be searched and sorted, including a column to indicate the relationship (friend, co-worker, relative, etc.) Store the books in an archival-safe box like this one.

From Mary P.: ​I’m back, can you help with this project? My grandfather built two houses in Garwood, NJ about 1920. I’d like to find information on their construction and owners/renters over time.
From Lisa: Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 & episode 28 have everything you need!

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Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

Returning Orphaned Heirlooms to the Family

custom_text_present_14586Recently my Premium Podcast included a letter from Pat, who was looking for advice on how to return lost or orphaned heirlooms to a family. Ancestry.com had a few family trees posted. Pat didn’t know “whom to contact to get the materials to the most interested, closest family members.” This was my advice–and here’s the inspirational report back.

My advice:

I would first focus on the tree where the tree owner is most closely related to the folks mentioned in the memorabilia. I would probably make copies (depending on what the items are) and offer to all. If I didn’t get a confirmed answer from the first choice in a reasonable time I would offer to my second choice. I would ask the recipient to allow me to pass their contact info on to any others who get around to responding after the fact since it’s everyone’s “family”.

Pat’s response:

“I finally took up the challenge, determined to find a family and offer up the material I had recovered. This material contained old (labeled!) photos, school records, dance cards and letters home to Mom and Dad and seemed potentially quite precious.

It proved difficult to determine which family seemed to have the closest connection, so I decided to offer the material to the person whose Ancestry.com tree contained the most (valid) sources. Fortunately, the tree owner was quick to respond, eager to receive the materials I had to offer. I sent them off and the tree owner is delighted as she is the granddaughter to the original party and believes herself to be the only living descendant of that person!

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistIt feels just right to get those materials back “home”!  I encourage other listeners to do the same.  It produces a great sense of genealogical balance.  So many others have done blessedly wonderful things for me in my research, making it easy to pay it forward just a little bit.

Thank you for the encouragement and the advice. I have loved both podcasts for a number of years now–you are consistently wonderful!”

Thanks, Pat, both for the compliment and for the inspiring message! I love hearing these kinds of stories.

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