Friday, October 10, 2014

Off the blog for a bit

I am in the middle of a big project at Legacy and I need some time to get everything over there organized and underway so I am going to be off the blog for a bit.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Elements of Genealogical Analysis and Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History

I just finished reading two books published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS),  Elements of Genealogical Analysis by Robert Charles Anderson and Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History (3rd Ed.) by Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff.

Elements of Genealogical AnalysisThere has been a lot of discussion about this book on Facebook and various email lists because the author does not use the terms associated with the Genealogical Proof Standard.  True, the terms are different but the content is good and I like this book.  My favorite chapter is Chapter 3, Linkage Analysis.  When you have ten documents referring to John Doe how do you know they all refer to the same John Doe?  Distinguishing between people with the same name and attributing the correct documents to each one is an important skill.  Chapter 3 discusses this.

Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History – I had a hard time putting this book down.  It is easy to read because of how the information is organized and laid out.  I would trust the authors’ opinion on how to write a book because they did so well with this one.  The book addresses all of the different types of genealogical writing you might do.

Two thumbs up for both books.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Legacy announcement



Legacy’s Research Guidance will now be updated with every update to Legacy starting with the next update which is due out soon.

I am very excited about this especially since I am the one that will be doing the updates.  Access to new sources is exploding and many things that were only available via in-person visits to repositories are now available online. 

I happen to really like the Research Guidance feature. Legacy tailors the list of suggested sources based on what you have already entered and what your research goal is.  As you go through the list you can mark the suggestions as being “Done” after you have consulted them.  You can also add them to your To-Do List by clicking the “Plan to Search” button.  The To-Do task will be filled out for you.  If you know that a source isn’t applicable for this particular person you can mark it as “Ignore.”   Query-type websites will be date stamped when you mark them as done so that you can periodically go back and post a new query if needed. 

Each entry will tell you what the source is and where you can find it.  You are able to see at a glance if the source is online and if it is, you will know if it is a free site, a subscription site or a fee per document site.  Each online source has a clickable link.   If it isn’t online you will see which repositories have it along with full contact info.  There are also notes and tips attached to the specific sources as well as to the repositories if there is anything specific you need to know.  The Research Guidance is an instant research log. 

One thing that I have found to be especially helpful in my research is the Local Histories tab.  I think that I am very well acquainted with the counties in southern Mississippi but the Research Guidance listed several books that I had never heard of.  The link to WorldCat showed me exactly where the books were located.  (You can read about how wonderful WorldCat is HERE).  When you put the Research Guidance feature together with Legacy’s To-Do List and Legacy’s SourceWriter templates you will have all of your genealogical documentation ducks in a row.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ellis Island

The Ellis Island website has undergone a major facelift and they are adding more records (1925-1957) so a lot of genealogists have been talking about the Ellis Island website lately.  If you don’t know, the Ellis Island website has a searchable index and linked digital images to the passenger lists of the ships that came through the Port of New York.  It is a great resource but there are a couple of things you need to know before you get discouraged when you can’t find your immigrant ancestor in the Ellis Island records.

  • Ellis Island was only open for 62 years, 1892-1954.  It was the receiving station for the Port of New York.
  • Even if your ancestor immigrated during the above time span the Port of New York was only ONE port of entry.   Some of the other big ones were Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Savannah but there were also several more smaller ports where immigrants entered.

In a nutshell, not everyone came through Ellis Island.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 6, 2014

We’re All Relative–well worth your time to read

I was recently introduced to a storytelling-style blog by Cynthia Berryman called We’re All Relative.  This blog is well worth your time.  Her writing style reminds me of John Colletta.  This blog gives you a good example of how to put your ancestors into context and make their lives interesting to read about.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, October 3, 2014

A bad day in the DNA world

If you had yDNA or mtDNA testing done through, you might want to read this article:

Ancestry Destroys Irreplaceable DNA Database


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Something nifty from has new State Research Guides that are nice.  Each one contains a short history, a timeline and then links to specific databases at and to other pertinent websites.  You do not have to be an subscriber to access these. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Native Americans in the CSRA

This was the last session I attended. Ed Mann did a great job telling us about the history of indigenous Native Americans in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). He brought a lot of cool artifacts for us to look at. I learned a lot but two things stood out.

  • It is illegal to pick up arrowheads at Clark’s Hill/Thurmond Lake. I did not know this.  Ed said that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will take your car, your boat, your everything if you get caught. We are at Clark’s Hill all the time. I wouldn’t have thought anything about picking up an arrowhead. I personally don’t agree with this but the government and I are rarely in agreement. 
  • Bows and arrows were introduced to the North American Native Americans by the Spanish. Before that they used spears. 

This series of posts is over. I hope I have shown you how much you can get out of attending genealogy conferences. Not only is it a great continuing education opportunity, you also get to meet researchers from all over and you get to catch up with old friends.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Overcoming the Roadblocks in African-American Genealogy

10483116_365909383557707_7393336667736540925_nCopyright © 2014 Elvin Thompson, used with permission

Here I am hanging out in Elvin Thompson’s class.  Nice shot of Elvin’s bottle of Sprite.  I have heard Elvin Thompson speak several times and I always learn something.  The class is actually a lot bigger than you see.  Most of the people are to the out of view over to the right.  The cool people are up front Smile  Elvin is a funny guy and if you ever meet him in person make sure you ask him about the name “Blake.”  I’ve heard that story three times and it still cracks me up.

Brick walls are brick walls whether you are doing black research, white research or any other type of research so the techniques Elvin talked about work for everyone.  Black researchers know the value of oral histories but I think white researchers don’t put as much emphasis on this.  You need to interview every person you can in your family (the older the better).  Elvin makes it clear that these oral histories will probably not be 100% accurate but they give you the clues you need to go out and find the documents.

Elvin also warns that everything is not online.  He uses church records as an example and talks about spending time in the basements of churches looking though documents that have never seen the light of day let alone been digitized and indexed.  He found some real jewels in these documents.  One thing that black researchers need to know is that slaves often attended church alongside their white owners and these white churches kept records of the slaves that attended.  It wasn’t until after the emancipation that the black churches were established.  Elvin showed that paying attention to how the slaves were listed in the attendance rolls can help you figure out the family relationships. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 29, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Abbeville Court Records

Dr. Connie McNeill outlined what is and what isn’t available for Abbeville County and the old Ninety-Six District (South Carolina).  Connie introduced us to the book, Abstracts of Old Ninety-Six and Abbeville District Wills and Bonds by Pauline Young.  It was published in 1950 and is out of print.   WorldCat is your friend.  There are three copies within 20 miles of me.  This book is invaluable because it will tell you the box and package number of the documents you are looking for.  The images of the documents are on FamilySearch but they are not indexed.  Knowing the box and package number will save you a whole lot of time.  To see what I mean, take a look HERE.  Do you want to try and find a probate file in there? 

Knowing that Abbeville County holds the old Ninety-Six records is also pretty important considering Ninety-Six doesn’t exist anymore.  It just so happens that I am working on a big South Carolina brick wall and I will need to consult Pauline Young’s book.  I am meeting two other genealogists at the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society’s Library tomorrow (Tuesday).  If you will be in the area stop by and say hello.  We will be right there at 9:00 am when they open.  I will be using the things I learned in Connie’s presentation to help me with this case.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 26, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Robeson County, NC: Lessons from the Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color

John Smith, past editor of the Burke Journal, was the presenter for this session.  I happen to have several direct lines in Robeson County and I wanted to hear anything and everything John had to say even though my lines are white.

John told us something about the State Archives of North Carolina that is very important to know.  The Archives has filed all slave records and records of free persons of color under the Misc. section of each county.  I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have thought to specifically look there.  I probably would have checked the Misc. category anyway just to see what was there but I wouldn’t have expected that it is the routine filing location for the records specific to blacks and free persons of color.

The second thing John told us is that even if you are doing white research you will want to consult these records because the slave owners are mentioned.   I learned this when I started reading the Slave Narratives.  Even though these would be considered records that African-American researchers would be more interested in, slave owners, overseers and persons on neighboring plantations are not only mentioned but many times they are mentioned in detail.

Here is where it gets really good, at least for me.   John is transcribing all of the records in the Misc. file for Robeson County, many of which are court records.  He told us about several cases involving slaves to give us some idea of the type of information you might find.  He mentioned TWO of my ancestors!  He talked about Joseph Lee (brother to my 5th great-grandfather) and Sarah Slade (possible 5th great-grandmother from a completely different line).  I told him I want a copy of his book as soon as it is published and I have been prodding him to get it done quicker.  He has already done seven other counties.

I routinely look at court records but would I have read through the cases involving blacks?  Probably not especially considering that these records have been segregated out by the archives.  Now I know better. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-John Lewis Gervais’ Old Edgefield Plantation and How it Solved a Major Mystery from 1775

This was the second time I have heard Dr. Robert Scott Davis speak and I wasn’t disappointed. Dr. Davis solved a brick wall that no one else had been able to crack since 1775. 

In a nutshell, some anonymous letters were published in the book American Husbandry (also anonymous).  Researchers have been trying to figure out who wrote the book since it was published in 1775.  Dr. Davis first identified the writer of the letters which gave him the clue he needed to identify the writer of the book.  This was not so easy because the writer of the book altered the letters a bit to fit his purpose.  Dr. Davis is able to explain the reason why the author did this.  The process Dr. Davis went through to uncover the story is fascinating. 

John Lewis Gervais (the writer of the letters) and the man that wrote the book (I won’t tell you his name) were both important figures not only in the history of the Old Edgefield and Ninety-Six Districts but of all of South Carolina.  You can read Dr. Davis’ article, “Mystery Book and the Forgotten Founding Father” published in the Journal of the American Revolution HERE for a condensed version of the story. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Discovering Dave

Last year at the Southern Studies Showcase I attended the class, An Overview of Edgefield Pottery, presented by master potter Justin Guy.  It was fantastic.  Though the talk was more on the processes and techniques unique to Edgefield pottery Justin also talked a little bit about the slave Dave Drake, a master potter.  This year George Wingard, the program coordinator for the Savannah River Archeological Research Program, showed us a documentary film about Dave’s life that has already won several awards. 

Dave was born about 1801 into slavery and remained a slave until the emancipation.  Dave was unusual in that he was able to read and write.  His talents as a potter must have been respected by his owners because he was allowed to sign his name on his pots and he was even allowed to write short lines of poetry on them.  He had a special talent of being able to turn very large pieces of pottery (30+ gallons) which was not easy to do. There are no known photographs of Dave.  In 2010 one of Dave’s pots sold for $41,250 at auction.  I wonder what Dave would have thought about that.

If you would like to know more about Dave and see examples of his pots, you can read:

The Ceramic Works of Dave Drake, aka, Dave the Potter or Dave the Slave of Edgefield, South Carolina by Jill Beute Koverman of the University of South Carolina.

Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave by Leonard Todd.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Meet the Authors

Left to right, Ellen Butler, Harris Bailey, Ethel Dailey, me, Bernice Bennett, and Vincent Sheppard.

10653579_10202968759965335_7748921395120447211_nPhotograph copyright © 2014 The Memory Keepers, used with permission

I was privileged to be the moderator of the Meet the Authors event for the book, Our Ancestors, Our Stories by the Memory Keepers; Ellen Butler, Harris Bailey, Ethel Dailey, Bernice Bennett, and Vincent Sheppard.

This book focuses on four of the authors’ slave ancestors in the Old Edgefield District in South Carolina.  The fifth author, Harris Bailey, provided the needed background information about Edgefield.  This book is a great read even if you have no African-American ancestry nor anyone in Edgefield.  Reading about the process the writers went through to discover their heritage is well worth your time. 

When I read the book one of the things I learned was that during the Revolutionary War the British promised emancipation to any slaves that escaped their owners and joined up and fought with the British.  After the Meet the Authors event I got to talking with Harris Bailey about these slaves. I was curious to know what happened to them.  Harris explained that many of these now freed slaves fled north along with the Tories/Loyalists.  Those that did received land grants in Canada.  There was a group that fled to Nova Scotia specifically and these men were not given their promised land grants.  Harris was kind enough to give me a copy of his research notes right out of his notebook so that I could do some further research on my own.

Another thing I want to mention is something that one of the attendees said (sorry, I didn’t catch your name).  He said that he loved the format of the book.  Each author had a single chapter.  He made the point that a project like this is so much more doable than trying to author an entire book by yourself.  He was hoping that other writers would be encouraged by this book to write their own collaborations so that these family stories are preserved.  I thought he made a great point.  If anyone knows the name of the nice guy wearing the glasses let me know and I will give him credit.  The authors announced that book two is in the works which everyone was happy to hear.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 22, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase–Ask Granny

I had a great time in Edgefield at the Southern Studies Showcase as I knew I would.  I am going to do a post for each class I took and tell you what specifically I learned from that class (just a short synopsis).


Session One – Ask Granny

I had heard of Ask Granny and I am friends with Judy Russell, the co-creator of the Ask Granny project, on Facebook but I had no clue what great things this organization does.  Judy’s partner is Greg Crane and the two of them started the Ask Granny project in 2009.   In a nutshell, Judy and Greg go out to any place that caters to seniors and teaches a class on how to fill out a 4 generation pedigree chart.  The pedigree chart is a legacy left to the senior’s family.  The senior keeps the chart along with a letter explaining the purpose.

Not only do Judy and Greg travel and conduct these sessions themselves, they will equip YOU to lead these sessions.  They will give you the tools you need completely free of charge.  The only thing they ask is that you don’t charge the seniors anything for the session and you leave the completed letters and charts with the seniors themselves so that they can be passed down in their families.  Each senior receives a notebook with everything in it.  The cost to put these notebooks together is approximately $1.00.  This would be a great project for any genealogical or historical society.  Judy will send you the directions on how to put the notebooks together as well as the printable pdf files you will need.  She will also send you pdfs for promotional materials to draw people to your classes. 

In 2011 Ask Granny was the winner of the Georgia Genealogical Society’s “Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Genealogy” award and in July 2014, they received the national “Seton Shields Grant” from the Honoring our Ancestors Foundation of Megan Smolenyak.  They have personally presented this program more than 50 times to over 800 senior citizens and have sent the free materials to organization groups in 47 states, five Canadian provinces, four cities in Australia and four UK counties.

Can you imagine where your genealogy research would be if your grandparents or great-grandparents had completed one of these packets?   I encourage you to contact Judith (Judy) Friedman Russell at to get more information about how your genealogical or historical society can get involved in presenting this program to a seniors group in your community. 

Ask Granny logo copyright © 2014, Judith F. Russell and Greg Crane, used with permission


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase

I will be in Edgefield, South Carolina on Friday and Saturday (September 19th-20th) for the 3rd Annual Southern Studies Showcase.  It is sponsored by the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society.  On Friday I will be moderating a “Meet the Authors” event for the book,  Our Ancestors, Our Stories by Harris Bailey, Jr., Bernice Bennett, Ellen Butler, Ethel Dailey and Vincent Sheppard.  On Saturday I will be giving a presentation on Legacy 8.0.  I had a great time last year and I am really looking forward to it again this year.  Here is a recap from last year’s event.

Thank you, Edgefield!
Thank you, Edgefield!  Part II

I plan to do something similar this year with a few photos and synopsis of the sessions that I attend.   I will be back on the blog Monday the 22nd.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Update on the NIGS

National Institute for Genealogical Studies

I told you a while back that I would be taking the German courses that the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS) offers.  Even though I was born in Germany and I speak German I am not that familiar with doing in depth German research and that is why I am taking these specialized courses.   I am also blogging about the German courses on the NIGS Blog.  I wanted to give you a bit of an update of where I am at in the program.

I have completed two courses, Introduction to German Research for North Americans and Locating Places in Germany.  I have to say that I am amazed with how much information they pack in.  The texts for the courses are excellent.  I can honestly say that I have already learned a lot.

The course I am in right now is German – The Language.  The next course after that will be Church Records.  That will conclude all of the basic level courses and then I will be on to the intermediate level. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

If you do any African-American research you might want to take a look at this website.  The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is a database of the known slave ships along with all of the known stats for each voyage they made.  If the ship happened to have been captured, you might see the actual names of the slaves on board along with their gender and age.  Some of the stats you will find are the name of the ship, year the ship was built, name of the captain, country, of origin, number of gun mounts, departure port and arrival ports, numbers on board, number of deaths in the crew, numbers of death of the slaves and more.  Even if you don’t do any African-American research directly this database is a fascinating look into the slave trade.  The numbers are both staggering and sobering.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 15, 2014

New FamilySearch community groups on Facebook

The series on Getting the most out of FamilySearch is officially over but there is one more FamilySearch related thing I want to mention.

FamilySearch's State Genealogy Research pages on Facebook are going away and they are being replaced with regional community groups.  For example, the Mississippi Genealogy Research page will be deleted soon and you will be using the U.S. South Genealogy Research Community Page instead.  I think this will be much better.  Groups work better as a forum than regular pages do. This is another tool you can use to connect with other researchers.  Here are the links.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–Family Tree (part 5)

All screenshots taken from the FamilySearch website

There are a few more things I want to point out.



1 – The discussion area is where you can post things you want other researchers to see such as your theories.

2 – Notes is for whatever you need it for.  For example, sometimes you need to write something about one of the vital events you added.  In a genealogy program you have space for that but on he website you need to use the Notes section.

3 – The Records Hints is similar to’s “Shaky Leaves.” 

4 – FamilySearch will automatically populate the search fields with the data that has been entered on this person.

5 – For those people that use the website exclusively here is how you can print out reports and charts.

6 – Every addition, deletion and merge is recorded here.  You can see who did what and when they did it.

7 – This is where you can add a birth to death biography on a person.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis