Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Get Started: One Family At a Time

( In the middle of the night I realized I'd forgotten to include how to start using the file system! So I've added it in italics! )

What would your expectations be of a young child given a puzzle of one thousand pieces? Try it as an experiment someday. I'm pretty sure we'll all come to similar conclusions.

 Here's what I found.

At first there's excitement. The good news is that there's a reference point: the picture on the box. Bad news: when you open the box you have to make a few decisions like, what do I do first, and what do I do if I get stuck and can't go any further? And, won't anyone help me? The challenge and the promise are alluring when early on a random success is had matching two pieces together. But when the hunt doesn't result in success often enough, frustration and defeat inevitably set in. 

Give the same child some experience with a simple puzzle of very few pieces and sit with them as they put it together over and over again, learning and mastering basic principles and you'll see other traits develop, ones that encourage overcoming frustration. Isn't it wonderful to see a child taking baby steps to independence in anything?

That's what drives me to teach people why we start small with genealogical research. It's as important as learning to crawl in the brain development of human beings. I know there are differing opinions on the research, but the analogy of the development of the left brain / right brain balance to family history research is fun. Left brain fact-finding and analysis marrying the right brain's love of the big picture and story-telling is what I'm after when working with someone on finding their roots. One compliments and drives the other.

The basics of putting together puzzles are the same for family history research. Here are some analogies I found:

1. Identify the edge pieces ( parents) and put them to the side.

2. Group together similar colors and patterns ( put in file folders those who are in the same generation and then separate them into family groups).

3. Start with the edges and work on putting together the puzzle as you have time, making sure that your piles are undisturbed!

Note: Here's a little bit of a shift from the big picture to a smaller one. Each puzzle equals one family group. Finish it! The knowledge and experience gained by sticking to it 'til it's done will take you to the next group better equipped to succeed.

So, let's say you're starting from square one. Where do you begin? After you've done what I outlined as homework in my previous post Getting Started: Gather Your Tools,  it's best to start at the logical place: with yourself and your family.

1. Get your worksheet and the file box you made.

2. Take out file #1 and fill out the family group and pedigree forms that you put in the file. Use all of the collected documents that you placed in there with names dates and places.

3. If you don't remember birth dates and places, write a letter, get on the phone, or use email or Facebook for a quick conversation to get the information you need. Ask for copies of documents to support the birth, marriage or death of a person. Remember to put those copies in the corresponding file folder.

4. Transfer this information to box #1 on the worksheet. File the folder away!

5. Repeat the process for #1's parents ( #2/3). At this point you can look to or to get copies of original documents. Do as much as possible to get the family information complete. It's hard to explain why, but if you take the time and make an effort to work on completing a whole family, the next generation's research is easier.

Now, whenever you have a few minutes you can pull out a file folder, fill in some information, transfer it to the worksheet, file the folder away and do a little research on that family group, adding new facts to the worksheet and adding newly-found documents to the corresponding file folder, updating the pedigree / family group forms as well.

Sometimes during a conversation you'll get a random tidbit of information that's relevant to another family group. Add it in pencil immediately to the worksheet. You may be excited to follow a new path made available to you, and that's fun. Just don't let it distract you for too long from your objective of completing and connecting family groups one generation at a time.

If you ever get stuck and can't get through a virtual impasse, stop! Take a look at your tools. Is there one that you could revisit? Just like going through the available, unused puzzle pieces. Sometimes it's best to look at things a second and third time to see them differently.Sometimes starting a new family group in the next generation will give you a clue to missing information in a previous generation.

Just remember, like a puzzle, we're connected on many levels. One level is as families. We are responsible to find, organize, teach, nurture and cherish them no matter how diverse our beliefs, traditions or values have become. We are all richer spiritually and emotionally when we discover our connectivity on the many levels that this human experience offers.

Again, email me with comments, suggestions or needs at Thanks for reading!

( Any grammatical, spelling or other kinds of errors are due to my talent of being intensely focused being momentarily overpowered by my fondness for very adorable distractions that time their need with my writing, and proceed to tell me how worried they are about missing cats and lost homework and how the world just might end if I don't listen to them completely RIGHT NOW!) 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How To Use the Pedigree/Family Group Worksheet

This chart is unique because it allows you to see all four generations of #1 (the person's line you are working on) all at once. And it emphasizes the importance of whole families, not just the parents.

So, let's begin.

If #1 is John Smith, then #1's wife is to his right. Put all the info in the square labeled #1, including name, date of birth, and marriage, and birth / marriage / death place. Add the children below them, in the same square. You need to put at least their name, DOB, and place.

Next, find the square labeled #2/3. This is #1's parents. Father is left, mother is right, children go in the square below parent's info.

#4/5 is up from #2/3. That's for #2's parents.

#6/7 is for #3's parents.

Can you see the pattern?

From here on out the chart will be divided into two distinct lines: #1's father's line will occupy the top half of the chart, and #1's mother's line will occupy the bottom half.

Questions? Email me at

How To Fill Out the Art Charts

These art charts were created to display the collected information of your ancestors. The center rectangle is the family closest to the present. The next rectangle out is of their parents, the next of their grandparents. Their great grandparents are in the border.

So, the center has two blank rectangles. Left is for husband. Right is for wife. Since this chart is for display only, the information is limited to names, places and dates. The center generation may still be living. You'll have to leave room for date and place of death.

The next rectangle out has four spaces for information. The husband's parents from the center rectangle are left, the wife's are right.

Continue with the next generations, always placing the parents of the previous generation in the spaces closest to their child's. Stay consistent with men (husbands, fathers) left of their wife. You can reverse left and right. But do it throughout the whole chart.
Each space should eventually look like this:

John Smith 1/1/ 1961- (add death date)
Portland, Maine / (add death place)
Married 7/12/1986
Cataumet, Ma.

Problem? My children always ask, "Where am I?" OK. Where do the children go? This is where you can be creative! Put them near the parents. Actually, between them is logical. That's my advice! Makes sense to me. I just like to keep the rectangles free of clutter...for parent's info.alone. But the family info isn't complete without the child's name and date of birth at least!

The beauty of these charts is that they cost $1.99 to copy at Staples from your flash drive, and they make great reunion, Christmas, birthday or anniversary gifts. The paper isn't the best, but when framed it's hard to tell!  

Any questions? email me at

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Getting Started: Gather Your Tools.

In the 20 years I've been compiling my family history I've stopped and started from scratch many times. I've called my mother numerous times for the same addresses and phone numbers to contact the same people for the same information. It was getting embarrassing!

About four years ago I had a vision for a way to display a four-generation pedigree within some artwork. That was fun because I love to draw and to paint. All of a sudden I wanted to do other people's genealogy so I could put it in the artwork. But everyone I met was having trouble getting their stuff organized and keeping it in order so that they could get their four generations completed.

 That led me to create a system to help others because I was motivated to have a finished product to hang on the wall. So, for two years I've been working out the kinks of My Family Files, a filing system in a box, and the accompanying My Family Files Worksheet.
My Family Files stands for:

My Family Find them
                             Investigate them
                   Link them
                     Enjoy them
                     Share them

I've learned that the most important thing in family history research is to start right. Begin with the right tools and you'll be able to work at your own pace whenever the mood or need strikes and to do so without the typical frustration that accompanies chaos. Take a few days to complete the following list. Use what you have around the house to make your own system, or follow links to download my printable charts ( from your flash drive at Staples for $1.99), get instructions to make your own box, or email me to make a My Family Files box for you.

The List

1. Get a box. Put copies of all the documents you can find pertaining to your ancestors. Originals should go in a safety deposit box or a fire proof box in your house.

2. Get a box for 6 hanging files and 16 manila files labeled 1, 2/3, 4/5, 6/7, etc. to 30/31. One hanging folder for each generation, one manila folder for each family group. Center tabs for 1st and 2nd generation, right tabs for mother's side, left tabs for father's (see the pictures in the link of instructions if you're confused).

3. Purchase a small address book just for names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of your living relative. Get some notepaper, envelopes and stamps. A lot of older people would rather correspond by mail. Include self-addressed stamped envelopes to ensure responses.

4. Choose an online genealogy website that allows you to build a tree, research and order original documents or view and print copies of them. You can use my for a month for free if you are curious.

5. Gather pedigree and family group worksheets (free at

My Stuff


4. 4-Generation Wall Art ("Morning Glories")
( this is a $1.99 copy of an 18x24" original which you can download for free with the Worksheet.
There are 3 to choose from. See the Free Downloads.
Take your flash drive to Staples and the'll print them on large white architectural-type paper.
I do originals to order. The price depends on the time and detail work involved.

Please do whatever it takes to start right! Don't skip any steps. Keep everything in one place. Email me with any questions or leave a suggestion in the comment box. If you want to talk on the phone email me at and I'll give you my telephone number. 

Coming soon:

Let's Get Started: One Family At a Time

My Family Files Box Instructions

Supply List
( the quantity and prices are from Walmart products)

Hanging file box with a lid ($12.)
5 Hanging files ( one box of 25 for under $5)
16 manila folders ( box of 50 for under $4)
self-adhesive tabs:
(5 generation markers for hanging files, and 16 family group markers for the finished binder)
family group sheets (one per folder), (free)
pedigree charts (one per folder), (free)

2"binder (about $4)
Card stock w/tabs to separate each generation (ream $5.)
sheet protectors (you decide how many you'll need) (50/$3.67)

Large pedigree/family group chart My Family Files ($1.99/copy @ Staples) (free download from blog)


1. Attach self-adhesive tabs to top of hanging files.Label them and put corresponding manila folders with blank group sheet and pedigree chart in each.
First hanging file: "Self"
Manila folder #1 inside
Second hanging file: "Parents"
Manila folder #2/3 inside

Third hanging file: "Grandparents"
Manila folders # 4/5, 6/7

Fourth hanging file: "Great Grandparents"
Manila folders (2 left): #'s 8/9, 10/11; (2 right): #'s 12/13. 14/15 
Fifth hanging file: "Great Great Grandparents
Manila folders (4 left): #'s 16/17, 18/19, 20/21, 22/23,
(4 right): #'s 24/25, 26/27, 28/29, 30/31

 So Who Is Who?
Men are Evens Women Are Odds!

Self:                                                 Me, my spouse, and my children                                                           
Parents:                                            2= my father 3=my mother
Grandparents:                                   4/5 =2's parents,  #6/7 =3's parents
Great Grandparents:                          8/9 = 4's parents, 10/11=5's parents 
                                                        12/13=6's parents, 14/15=7's parents
Great Great Grandparents:                16/17=8's parents, 18/19=9's parents
                                                        20/21=10's parents, 22/23 =11's parents
                                                        24/25 =12's parents, 26/27 =13's parents
                                                        28/29 =14's parents, 30/31 =15's parents

2. Put it all together! Take out one file (one family group) at a time to research. When you're done put it back!

This box comes in 4 colors!

3. Now you need to decide which documents go into which file. Remember you put them all in a box? Get them out and sort them by family groups. Email me if you get confused!

4. Assemble the binder

A. 3-hole punch 16 pieces of card stock and load into binder.

B. Label them with the family group names. 

Let's say we're putting together the binder for John Jones

I'd put John and Mary Jones on the first piece of card stock with another self-adhesive tab on the right side labeled "1".

On the next piece of card stock w/ tab#2/3 I'd put the names of John's parents.

On the next (3/4) I'd write the names of his dad's parents; on 4/5 his mother's parents, etc. If you get lost just refer to the chart "Who's Who", above! Remember: men = even / women = odd!

C. Now load the sheet protectors (for birth certificates, stories, pictures etc. when you're finished using them for research) and the 3-hole punched pedigree and family group charts (one per family).

Be creative! If you love scrapbooking ( I don't! ) you could make this a work of art with your own personal style. When you get to this point email a picture and we can show it off here!

Got questions? Everybody does! Email me at:

Coming soon: Let's Get Started: One Family At a Time



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning How To Talk To Dead People: Start With the Living

My sister Kathy

Take a minute to think about how you get to know someone. We mentally assess someone as soon as we meet them. The way they choose to dress, wear their hair, their skin tone, etc. tells a story. That story might not be correct, but it's a start.

Then, if we are feeling particularly social, we might ask them their name. Some first or last names are so unusual you might feel like asking how they got it. Was it a family name or memorable event for their parents that gave it to them? I always ask.

Which usually leads me to where their ancestry originated. One country? Many? I'm always surprised at how willing complete strangers are to offer their story.

I then wonder why they're doing what they're doing right then and there. Usually I meet people who are at work and I'm the person they're servicing at the moment. I might find out that they have two jobs and are working themselves through school. Or they miss their children at home because they recently had a setback and had to get a job, leaving them with a sitter. Often I meet people from other countries who come to the States to live and work for years, leaving family behind until they have the money to send for them.

Eventually I get a pretty good picture of the "skeleton" of their life. I always go away more appreciative of my life and motivated to apply the strengths I've witnessed.
Let's apply that to your family history research. Why? Because when your ancestors become real people they will become a part of your present. You will feel like you have people who understand you because they came before you. They've been where you are! I can promise you that you'll feel a unique kind of connection and love for them as soon as you start. And you may even find answers to questions you've asked for years.

Original documents like a census record or a birth certificate is where I usually start to figure someone out. I can googlemap their hometown, and start mapping their journey through their life as they move for work, get married, or go to war.

Old photographs tell a lot about a person. The house they're standing in front of, the clothes they're wearing, who's in the picture with them, even the vegetation or lack of it, add to the story.

I love photos of people. I try to discern their mood by their posture and facial expressions. I look for shared family traits like big eyes, a hooked nose, or a special way that they smile that I've seen on other in the family.

 There are a lot of records online now that are loaded with information like that. And a lot of it is free. There are other websites that require a minimal monthly fee ( about the same or less than a monthly cable bill. I have cheap cable!) where you can get access to military, immigration, emigration, census, birth, death, and marriage records. When you have a subscription to those websites you can help others who need access to those records but can't afford it themselves.

Lastly, share what you've learned. There are so many people connected generations back who are looking for someone who you may have in one of your lines. When you share what you have via,, or one of your favorite research sites others immediately benefit. Because I started a family tree on I connected with distant relatives in Australia, Utah, and Arizona, Seattle, and California. I've reconnected with other closer living relatives whose work linked to mine and gave me five generations of families that I'd been searching for for years with no success.

Starting your research experience right is vital. It's easy for me to get lost in a family tree and wonder how to navigate my way back or around. And I've been at it for years. Since I started getting serious about my personal family research I've worked through the typical problems that we all face and have come up with a system that really works. You can see it at My Family Files Box and Free Download 18x24# Pedigree/Family Group Worksheet.

You can create the system for yourself . The materials can be simple or elaborate, but the system is pretty basic and easy.

This much I've learned: it takes time to get to know someone, living or dead. Keep a file on each family group and periodically review them. The more time you spend with them the closer you'll feel and the more accurate your story will become.

Good luck. Email me if I can help!

Coming soon:

Getting Started / Gather Your Tools

Why Family History?

 Do you have a sense of purpose and fulfillment?  

I believe that a connection to our ancestors is vital to our personal growth. The same phenomenon that occurs when you unclutter, clean, or rearrange a room to function better , shows up when you put your
ancestors in order and focus on the hidden gifts they left for you.

Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami Waves March 11, 2011
In the wake of natural and personal disaster I automatically think about families and how they are affected. What are the stories of the individuals who were lost? How much do the surviving loved ones know about the lives that were lived? Can we find some motivation to stay connected with the living and use our time better today to learn more about our past? And can we find a way and a reason to leave a more complete record of our lives for future generations?

"Wisdom Tree Grey Old"
People start doing family history research for many reasons. Maybe you want to know where you came from for medical reasons. Some of you need a better sense of who you are because you were adopted. Perhaps you don't know why you're drawn to search for your roots. But something has been pulling you back to the past with all of its mysteries. No matter the reason, once you start a whole new world will open. Literally!

I caught the family history bug one day back in the 90's when I was wondering where my grandfather was. I was married with three children and hadn't seen nor heard from him in about 20 years.

The last I knew he was still living in San Louis Obispo where my sister and I had met up with him and his 3rd wife to travel up and down the West Coast one summer. I wanted to find him to tell him how sorry I was that we'd been ungrateful teen aged girls, and that I loved him.

Carl Kenneth Carlson "Grandpa Ken"
But I didn't know where to start looking for him. The very next day my mother called. It blew me away! She had a pair of my brother's cowboy boots from Grandpa Ken and wanted to know if I wanted them for my children. Yes, I said, but I really wanted to find Grandpa Ken. She gave me some ideas, and within two weeks I received a letter from my uncle in Seattle, Washington.

Ken was in a nursing home. I'd found him, but he had Alzheimer's and I was on the East Coast anyways. I never got to say sorry or I love you. But it was enough that I'd tried. So many families have a similar story. We lose touch with living relatives for one reason or another. Family history research has reconnected me with so many relatives who are excited to send pictures and information and just to email or talk on the phone for fun!

There are two things I believe that drive me in my passion for family history research:

1. Everyone has a place .

2. Everyone has a story.

First, everyone has a place. No matter how we feel about someone, they are one piece of the puzzle we call a family. We can't delete them or unfriend them or ignore them into oblivion. They've existed and deserve to be named and studied. No matter how anyone lived his or her life, it was a life that affected the whole, for the good or bad.

Skeletons in your closet, too?
Someone told me once while we were just starting out with her research that there was no desire to learn about one side of her family. She believed that their influence would be just as bad in death as it was while they were living. And their legacy was one that she didn't want her children to inherit. It took a while for the light bulb to go on. But she eventually acknowledged that she couldn't rewrite history, and her family could learn a lot from it.

I'm not threatened at all by the skeletons in my family's closet. I respect and honor every life lived. There are reasons for every one's choices. I just ask myself what I can learn from the past. But first I have to find someone and put him in the right place with as many facts as I can find about him that will make him come "alive" to me.

Which brings me to the second part of my passion, every one's story. When I start talking to someone about family history there is either fire in the eyes or there is boredom.

Why dead people, some ask? Many people feel no desire or

 see no need for a connection to their ancestors.

But when I start creating a real life from details found on documents and photographs or family stories the excitement builds. Gradually an emotional connection is made. Physical, emotional, psychological, and occupational similarities are found. Every time, without exception, someone will say that so-and-so reminds them so much of one of their living relatives, a son or daughter, or sometimes of themselves. And another heart is turned. I love it!

All of us walking this planet are significant and unique. No one has our story to tell. And all of us were born, will live a life, and will die. Each of us will leave a legacy of faith to later generations. Our posterity will learn more about themselves by knowing about us and how we moved forward through success and failure.  And likewise our lives are enriched with the knowledge we gain from our ancestors.

There may be a million other reasons to connect to your past. Those are mine. In the twenty plus years that I've been working out the kinks of my family history research I've created a simple system that will get you started and keep you and your paperwork organized. So if you work on your research for 15 minutes or 15 hours a week you'll be able to use your time finding and recording data instead of trying to figure out where you want to start or if you have the energy to start again!

Click here to get My Family Files Box Instructions
4-Generation Pedigree/Family Group Worksheet
I love what I do. I have a passion for organizing data and REALLY want you to have fun and get all the knowledge and joy waiting for you as you delve into your family history.

  The key is desire. Begin with what you know. Then begin taking steps into the unknown. It will all start to fall into place bit by bit. Obstacles taught me the most. Frustration combined with desire is a great teacher if you are open!

The next few posts I will write will be helping you to begin. Here's a sampling you can look forward to reading and using in the next few weeks: