Friday, March 20, 2015

Projects, projects and more projects

I have several things going on right now with approaching deadlines so I will be off the blog for a bit.  I received a lot of data this week and I need to get everything processed and analyzed.

On April 6th a new MPG Study Group will be starting which I will be mentoring.  I am very excited about it.  Leading a group helps me keep my GPS skills sharp.  Hopefully there will be some blog readers in the group.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The olden days–Part II

We used to do everything on paper so you had to be VERY organized.  I followed the system recommended by the Family History Library.  You can still read the instructions HERE.  This is exactly how I had my files set up.  This system worked very well if you concentrated on your direct lines.  Once you went off on tangents (collateral lines) you had a problem.  I ended up going with a 5th color, purple, for any collateral lines I was researching.  It worked.  I kept my purple files completely separate from my four main lines.

Each folder had a Family Group Sheet, Research Calendar, and a Correspondence Log, all filled out by hand and in pencil.  Behind that you would keep all of the documents you found.  You would also have your research notes in here (the stuff that didn’t fit on the research calendar) as well as composed biographical information.  Your pedigree chart would be in the very front of each surname section, also filled in by hand and in pencil.   The original instructions did not include any mention of computers.  In this 2001 revision it does say you can print Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts using a computer.

I remember when I first got Family Tree Maker in about 1996.  At that time it was owned by Brøderbund.  It was hard for me to let go of my very organized paper files.  It took me several years before I gave them up completely. In 2005 I switched to Legacy Family Tree and as they say, the rest is history. 

I have a friend who still does everything on paper.  She is the most organized person I know.  When I see her penciled-in charts I get a little nostalgic.  it does bring back some good memories.

If you look at the FamilySearch Guide – Organizing Your Paper Files Using File Folders again,  scroll down to Tip 7 – Locality Files.  I LOVED these.  My locality files were the last thing to go.  I finally got them switched over to the computer about 2 years ago.  I now have all of that information in Evernote.  It is much easier to keep the information current.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The olden days

Kerry Scott (Clue Wagon) posted this photo on Facebook and boy did it open up a great conversation!

Copyright © 2015 Kerry Sandberg Scott, used with permission


I remember how excited I was when the 1880 census was released on CD by the Family History Library. It was actually a binder containing 56 CDs!   Before that I had to go to the library in downtown Tampa and look at the census index books and then pull the microfilm and then try and find my family.  These CDs were a godsend because they were also indexed.  For the first time ever I could sit at home and look at census records at my leisure, at least for this one census year.  I also bought various other record sets on CD from Family Tree Maker and before that, Broderbund.  Almost all of these were simple indexes or abstracts. I was THRILLED to get these indexes and abstracts on CD. Getting original records wasn’t nearly as easy to do back then.  This was before anything was available online. 

I was able to order microfilm at my local Family History Center.  In the picture you will see the way we used to access the card catalog.  You would order an index film, wait four weeks for it, find your family on the index, order the actual film you needed, wait another four weeks, and then finally you would have a single marriage license. You would repeat that process for every single document you needed. If you found multiple documents for your family on a single microfilm you would throw a party. 

You haven’t lived until you have hand cranked microfilm for 4-6 hours at a time.  I used to leave the library with a splitting headache. Back in those days there were no microfilm readers with automatic anything and you certainly couldn’t hook your computer or a flash drive up to it.  If you were lucky enough to score the one microfilm reader that could do copies you could print pages, if not, you did it the hard way, you hand wrote everything into a notebook.  Oh yes, this was before digital cameras.

You could also write to repositories to get record.  This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds.  You would have to type up a nice letter, guess on how much money you should enclose, and then wait, and wait, and wait.  You had to keep close track on the letters you had sent out and if you didn’t get a response back you would have to send a second request.  Today we pick up the telephone and many times the transaction can be handled right on the phone thanks to debit cards. 

The only other way to get information was to travel.  With five children at home that was impossible both moneywise and logistically.  That is why indexes and abstracts on CD were so important.

So many things have changed.  Let’s just say I am happy to pay my subscriptions for online access.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, March 13, 2015

I wonder what our ancestors would think

I wonder what our ancestors would think about us poking around in their private lives.   Someone living in the 18th century might be taken aback if they knew we were digging through their land and tax records learning how wealthy or poor they were.  We might uncover private letters penned in confidence and handwritten notes scrawled in their personal Bible.  What about little secrets we find that they thought would never be known.  Then again, if my ancestors were anything like me they would have purposely left intriguing clues and then stood back and laughed as we hit brick wall after brick wall.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Genealogy Gophers

Genealogy Gophers is a searchable collection of genealogy-specific, public domain books. This website is new and still in beta but I like it a lot.  The advantage over Google Books and Internet Archive is that you don’t have to weed through all of the non genealogy stuff.  The advantage over FamilySearch Books is that it has a better search engine.

I did several searches related to my current project.  I had already done searches at the other sites.  The list of hits was much more meaningful and easier to sort through.  Right now they have 40,000 books online and they are planning to add 60,000 more.

When you click on one of the hits to see the actual page from the book a short survey thing will pop up.  You can skip the survey to get to the page.  A bit annoying but tolerable.  Don’t forget it’s free.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


In the last few days there have been several posts on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness Facebook Page about the word Miss. There are people that don’t recognize this word because in older documents it is written with an old style double S. You will commonly see this on marriage records and it gives you a clue that the woman was not previously married. Here are some examples from my files.






When I have a woman specifically referred to as Miss or Mrs. I record that name as an AKA.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Start interviewing

This past week was a rough one.  Several elderly people that I know died and another one is close to death.  You need to interview your elderly relatives before it is too late.  Once they are gone their stories are lost forever.

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, March 9, 2015


Find My Past had a free weekend so I played in their records a bit. It amazes me that there are documents this old that are still in good shape. Here is page from a 1547 Westminster church book. Look at that old English writing!


I don’t have a subscription to Find My Past because their focus is on UK records and my personal focus is Central Europe. There is one thing that Find My Past has that IS of interest to me and that is PERSI (Periodical Source Index). The Allen County Public Library has the largest collection of genealogical periodicals in the world. If you find an article of interest in PERSI you can then order the full article from the library. used to have PERSI but they took it down. Heritage Quest still has it and that is what I use because I can access Heritage Quest free though Galileo but it isn’t being updated. Find My Past is not only updating PERSI they plan to put the actual images of the articles online so that you don’t have to order them any more. This is a major undertaking and I am guessing it will take several to many years to accomplish. I would probably get a limited subscription once they accomplish this.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, March 6, 2015

New England Historic Genealogical Society

I broke down and joined the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).  Most of my research is in the south but occasionally I stray up to New England like I am in my current project.  I am trying to broaden my knowledge and belonging to a society like this will help me.  Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post explaining Why should I join a Genealogical Society.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A interesting find in an unexpected place

A friend of mine asked me about the availability of records for Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I have only done asylum research in Mississippi, South Carolina and Arizona so I wasn’t familiar with the laws governing the records (privacy) in Georgia nor if there are any records still in existence for Central State from that time period.  I told her that even if there are strict privacy laws normally the admission and discharge records are public record and if they exist the Georgia Archives should have them.  One of my favorite Georgia genealogists, Paul K. Graham, saw the question and piped up.  It just so happens that the admission registers do exist.  They are available at the Georgia State Archives from 1842 through 1924. Paul extracted the first 20 years and published them.  Paul is the author of several great Georgia genealogy books so I knew I would have to add this one to my collection.

Admission Register of Central State Hospital, Milledgeville, Georgia, 1842-1861

As far as I knew, I had no one in my file that had been admitted to this hospital but I had to have the book anyway.  I got it in the mail and guess what I found, a name I recognized.  This book is great.  Paul included the entire paragraph of why the person was admitted.  Such interesting information.  He not only included a name index but a location index.  It was easy to look up everyone that was admitted from Columbia County.  I was surprised to see the number of people that were admitted from out of state.  Some of your missing relatives might have ended up in Georgia. I am hoping Paul does a sequel for 1862-1924.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Research in New England

I have to admit I am a little jealous of genealogists that get to do most of their research in New England because the records there are amazing.  You just don’t have this sort of thing in the south.  Here is a birth register entry from 1724.


MarthaTolland, Connecticut, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1: 37, Mary Starnes birth, 1724; FHL microfilm 1,376,026 Item 1.


I could get addicted to New England town records but alas, sweet Martha migrated with her husband Daniel to Georgia.  Daniel was born in 1706 in Windsor, Connecticut and I have his birth register entry as well. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Something I found in German records

I update Legacy’s Research Guidance with new record sets and as I am adding them I sometimes find records sets I had no idea existed or sets that surprise me in some way.  Today I added

Germany, Brandenburg, Bernau bei Berlin, Jewish Records, 1688-1872

Did you know that Germany has been keeping separate Jewish records since at least 1688?  I certainly didn’t.  Here is a page from 1757.



Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, March 2, 2015

Public trees vs. private trees

If you are a member of any genealogy Facebook group you are bound to have heard the public vs. private tree debate.  Every couple of weeks it will get started again.  Here is my short and sweet response.

  • A person has the right to make their tree public or private.  He/she is under no obligation to hand over their research to you on a silver platter.
  • The person has the right to ignore your pleas for more information if they want to.  It might be a tad rude but certainly not illegal.  There are a lot worse things going on in the world.
  • Bottom line, you shouldn’t be relying on online trees for your research.  Sure, I look at online trees but I don’t get whacked out when there are no sources, the data is totally wrong, the tree is private, or the person doesn’t answer my emails.  I used to get a little peeved but not any more.  It just isn’t worth the aggravation.  It is what it is.  Instead, do your own research.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, February 27, 2015

My process

I have had several people ask me what my process is when I get a new document.  I follow this sequence of events for every document I receive.  Since I do it the same way every time I don’t miss anything.

1) I scan the document and save it to my hard drive.  I put a complete source citation in the metadata of the image.  I have a consistent file naming system than I use so I can find any document I need very quickly.

2) If this is a document that I found online I do not make a paper copy.  If this is a document that I had to get from a repository/courthouse I put it in a sheet protector and I label both the document and the sheet protector with a complete source citation.

3) I transcribe and abstract the document.  I don’t do this for every document (yes, I know I should).  I use Transcript to make it a bit easier.

4) I extract the information into Legacy and attach a source citation to each entry.  This is a little more involved than it sounds because if there are any conflicts I have to address those conflicts. 

5) I then link the document to the appropriate place in Legacy. Where I link it depends on what sort of document it is. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Good news bad news

The bad news is, Kiokee Baptist Church’s earliest records from 1790-1832 no longer exist.  The good news is, they were microfilmed before they were destroyed.  The bad news is, there are only two copies of the microfilm in existence.  The good news is, one of the copies is at Mercer University in Macon.  The bad news is, these records have not been transcribed, abstracted or indexed and they need to be.  The good news is, Mercer will release the film via interlibrary loan and the Columbia County, Library has a microfilm reader with a flash drive so I can download the images.  The bad news is, it will probably take me quite some time to abstract everything. The good news is I will have the images at home so I can do them a little at a time.

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Original wills

When you see a will recorded in a county will book do you also check the loose probate packets?  After the person died the executor brings the original will to the courthouse to be proved.  The original witnesses (if still able) sign affidavits swearing to the validity of the will.  The copy that the executor has is the one the deceased actually wrote (or his agent wrote for him).  This will is filed with the loose papers and is separate from the Will Book where the clerk made a handwritten copy of the will.

My person of interest’s will was recorded in the county will book.  Some time after that the will book was damaged and an inch or so of the right side of the paper is missing.  I found the original will in the loose probate packets, intact. Another thing the original has that the clerk’s copy doesn’t are the original signatures.

I have another example where there wasn’t a will in the will book and it appeared as though the person died intestate.  I found the will in the loose probate packets.  Apparently the will was never recorded in the will book by the probate clerk but was presented after the person died for probate.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One clue leads you to another

I found the book Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers written in 1859 by James B. Taylor ONLINE.  Inside this book there was a reference to an article written in the Georgia Analytical Repository in 1802.  A quick check on World Cat let me know that the Georgia Analytical Repository 1800-1850 is on microfilm and that the Reese Library (Georgia Regents University) has it.  The Reese Library is one of my favorite repositories and it is a mere 25 minutes from my house. 

Why is this such a great find?  The guy am researching was born in 1706 and died in 1784. Needless to say, there are records but not a boatload. The article in the Georgia Analytical Repository was written by my guy’s son.  This may not be an official document from a courthouse but this is a son that grew up in his dad's household, migrated with his dad through 4 states, worked with his dad (both were pastors at the same church), was a grown man when his dad died (36 years old) and wrote the bio with plenty of first hand knowledge.  I am sure it is embellished a bit when he talks about how great his dad was but still, not bad!

Special Collections is open Monday 9-5. Oh yeah!


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, February 23, 2015


I am very frustrated right now.  I ordered five microfilms from the Family History Library (FHL) and all five are on backorder.  How is that even possible?  I have been ordering microfilm for the last 20 years and this is the first time that a film has been backordered. 

There is a lady that pulls documents for me at the FHL but I wanted to look at these films myself because I am looking not only for specific documents but for some clues to lead me to other documents. It is easier for me to do this than her since I know the background info. I might have to go ahead and ask her to pull the documents for me so that I can at least get a start on this.

Grumble, grumble…

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis


Friday, February 20, 2015

First trip to the courthouse


I made my first trip to the courthouse for my new project. When I walked into the Columbia County Probate Court records vault I knew it was going to be a good trip.  On the counter was the very book I needed to start with.

I found 28 deeds of interest.  This only includes two of my three main people and none of the collateral relations.  This was a prominent family that had a lot of land and a lot of money so finding them in records is no problem.  The family arrived in what would become Columbia County in 1771.  Columbia County wasn’t formed until 1790 so I will have to go to the Richmond County courthouse to find the rest of the deeds I need.  My patriarch died in 1784 so all of his deeds will be in Richmond County.

I will be spending a lot of time in the Columbia and Richmond County Probate Courts because deeds are just one of the record sets that they hold.  I will also be looking at probate, actual land plats, marriage records, tax records and inferior and superior court records.  Some of the court records are actually indexed (quite unusual) so I am not as intimidated by them as I normally would be.

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Local stuff

Map of Columbia County, Georgia 1796, courtesy of the Digital Library of Georgia

I am very excited about a new project I am working on because almost everything is local. I usually write up family histories that take place somewhere other than where I live but this time I am working on a prominent local family, three generations, 1706-1832. I have two courthouses at my disposal that both have minimal records loss, I have a local newspaper that has been in print since 1785 and digital images are available, and the church they were members of  has intact records from 1790 onward  (on microfilm). Oh happy day! 

The story actually starts in Connecticut which is unfamiliar territory for me but once I get out of Connecticut and into Columbia County, Georgia I will be home free. I had to order microfilms for Connecticut church records and town vitals records.  You might see a blog post on this because I have never done research in Connecticut before so it will be interesting. 


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis