Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Family History Guide

Take a look at this new website, The Family History Guide.

A friend recommended The Family History Guide because I teach classes on FamilySearch's Family Tree. There are a lot of resources on the website for teachers/trainers/lecturers but if you click around a bit you will find there is a lot of information for users too.

For example, scroll down to the Sudent Guides on the Training Modules page. Nice!

Also, look at Projects. There are 14 goals related to Family Tree to make it better for you and for everyone else. Hint: You can use Legacy to help accomplish these goals since Legacy can directly sync to the Family Tree.

This website is not owned or operated by FamilySearch or the LDS Church but this looks like it is going to be a great resource.

The Family History Guide is in the running for the 2016 RootsTech Innovator Showdown  Make sure you watch their promo video.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, February 6, 2016

All it took was a little persistence Part II

You can read the original post HERE.

My grandfather’s complete medical file from 1948-1949, 75 pages worth, arrived yesterday from Germany on a CD.  I am not going to give any specifics about what I found in these papers.  I will only say that they were loaded with information, information that made me very sad and made me want to investigate his life even more.  I have requested his German military records.  The process to obtain them can take up to one year. 

I am also heading into another direction, Poland.  My grandfather was an ethnic German but was born in what would become Poland. His mother and father were also born in this area (Łódź Voivodeship) and both of their ancestral lines were in this same area for several generations.  I have this information from a 2nd cousin in German who did the leg work.  However, the research is not complete and I want more information about my grandfather’s childhood and the family’s journey to Germany proper before World War I broke out.  Tensions were high in the area against the Germans so the family was forced to flee.  My grandfather would have been about eight years old.  When he was 16, his mother and rest of the remaining family had to swear their citizenship to Prussia/Germany since they were known to have come from what was now being controlled by the Polish.  These citizenship papers were found in the effects of one of my grandfather’s brothers.  Supposedly my grandfather’s father was killed on the journey back but I have no proof of this, only that his wife was listed as a widow on her citizenship papers.

My grandfather’s life is something you would read in a book.  He has a real story to tell and I hope that one day I will be able to tell it for him.

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Update to Mystery Marker

Here is the original Mystery Marker blog post.

Now the update: I received Katie’s death certificate in the mail.  She was already widowed when she died so her husband is not named.  I was able to confirm her parents.

The informant on the death certificate was J. W. Warden and he was listed as a “son.”  So was Katie married twice?  I checked the Mississippi marriage index and found Katie Hickman and Harry Warden who married on 16 Jan 1917 in Forrest County. 

Katie would have been 17 years old so this would probably be her first marriage.  This would explain why I didn’t find a Hickman – Simmons marriage in the index (I did check).  It is a moot point because I can’t find a Warden – Simmons marriage either.

However, I still have a lot more info on Katie than I had.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fun with math!

I happen to love algebra so today I am going to give you a cute little equation.

2n = x

So what can you do with this?  You can figure out how many direct line ancestors you have in a given generation.  All you do is plug in the generation number for n.  x will be the total number of direct line ancestors.  You are generation 0, your parents are 1, grandparents 2, great-grandparents 3, etc.

For example, how many direct line ancestors are there in generation 6 (4th great-grandparents)?
26 = 64

How about generation 10 (8th great-grandparents)?

How about generation 30 (28th great-grandparents)?
230 = 1,073,741,825 (that’s over a billion)

When you factor in normal/expected inbreeding you will have some overlap so these numbers will be a bit inflated.

For a bonus you can figure out how far back in time this is by giving each generation an average age. This is highly variable but let’s just say that everyone in your direct line had your direct line ancestor at age 25.

I was born in 1962 (don’t tell anyone).  30 generations will put me at the year 1212.  (30 generations x 25 years per generation subtracted from my starting year of 1962).

So how many generations is it for me to be at the time of Jesus?  Scholars put Jesus’ birth at around 4 BC.  That means I need 1966 years to get to Jesus.  That puts me at 78.64 or 79 generations.

If you have your family tree back this far I want to see the paper trail.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dear Ancestry.com Part II

You can read Part I HERE.

I wanted to give you an update of where I am thus far.  I have received many responses and all but one have been very nice.  EVERY one has told me they copied from another tree but I was able to do a little gentle teaching that was well-received.  I had one person who told me I was wrong because there were over 100 trees that say that Samuel was the son of James so that was correct.  I might have messaged him back a little more forcefully than I did the others. 

I have only found one person this is actually a direct line descendant of Samuel and he is very interested in taking a yDNA test after I explained to him what a DNA test could tell us.  My uncle took a yDNA test for me and he is in the direct line of a known son of James so I have something to compare to. Maybe I will luck up. 


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dear Ancestry.com

blog 1

Dear Ancestry.com,
There are 77 public member trees that show Samuel Simmons, born 1800, as the son of James Simmons and Ellenor Lee.  There are also an additional 20 private member trees where I can’t see enough of the information to tell what they have as the parent-child link so I am not bothering with them for now.  All 77 of the public member trees either have no source or their source is another Ancestry tree.  How is this research?  If Samuel were the son of James Simmons and Ellenor Lee this would be a critical piece of information.  James and Ellenor had three known sons (proven with indirect evidence case studies) but they also had other children who are not yet identified.

I realize of course that you have no control over the quality of research that gets uploaded.  However, there are a couple of things you do have control over.

After you have brought up a list of possible matches it takes three mouse clicks to get where you can send the person a message.  There is no way to bulk send a message to all of the hits so after clicking 3 times, defaulting in the subject line (there is autofil), and then pasting the message, you have to back click to the list and start the process over.  Contacting 77 people is a very time consuming endeavour.

Then there is the problem of people uploading duplicate trees.  They make updates to their tree and then upload a new copy without taking the old tree down.  I might have messaged the same person a dozen times for all I know. Surely you could put some sort of warning message when someone uploads asking the person not to upload duplicate trees.  Another problem is that when you click on a tree link in the list the link color does not change making it very easy to lose your place in the list.  And most importantly, I don’t think you should allow people to link to another tree as their source.  All it does is cause an endless loop and utter frustratation.

I am pretty sure that all of this was for nought considering no one has a source.  However, I still have to do it because of that pesky GPS step, "conduct a reasonably exhaustive search."  On the 0.000001% chance someone has proof of this relationship I have to investigate it.  You could make that task a little easier.


Michele Simmons Lewis


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, January 2, 2016


I have threatened to join the DAR for quite some time but I finally did it.  My lineage is on its way to Washington for final approval. I have several Patriot ancestors but I decided to use the one that I only recently discovered. I was so excited about finding the parents and then grandparents of my 4th great-grandmother (her grandfather being the Patriot) that I went ahead and wrote it all up.  The local DAR registrar is happy with it so off to Washington it goes.  So here is my lineage.Lineage from Patriot Reuben Radford to Michele Simmons

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear Myrtle's, “FINALLY Get Organized! 2016 Weekly Checklists”

Dear Myrtle’s FINALLY Get Organized! 2016 Weekly Checklists

I am really looking forward to this!  I love checklists and breaking down organizational challenges into weekly bites sounds like a great idea to me.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Father and two sons

Battle of Shiloh, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

I was working on my Patton line this morning.  I already had my 3rd great-grandfather Mathew Robert Pattons’ Civil War compiled service record.  He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh (Tennessee) on 06 April 1862 and he died in Gainesville, Alabama on 10 May 1862.  I am trying to get a photo of his CSA marker at the Old Cemetery in Gainesville, Sumter County.  I have had the request on Find A Grave since 2012 and no takers so if anyone happens to live near Gainesville let me know.

Anyway, Mathew had four sons.  His youngest son is my 2nd great-grandfather.  I was thinking that even his oldest son was too young to have served but my definition of too young and the CSA’s definition of too young are two different things.  You guessed it.  The two oldest, 17 year old Flemon and 15 year old James,  were both in the CSA. 

Flemon survived the war and died between 24 August 1867 and 01 July 1870 so he still died quite young.

James also survived and I have him through the 1880 census (still working on him).

I have an 18 year old son and I can’t even image this.  It about killed me when we got his Selective Service notice in the mail.   I think about Mathew’s wife Charlotte watching her husband and two teenage sons walk away to go to war.  It makes me want to know more about Charlotte.

Compiled service record, M. R. Patton, Private, Company D, 22nd Regiment, Alabama Infantry, CSA; Civil War Service Records; digital images, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 22 May 2014).

Compiled service record, Flemon Patton, Private, Company I, 10th Regiment, Alabama Infantry, CSA; Civil War Service Records; digital images, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 19 December 2015). 

Compiled service record, James R. Patton, Private, Company D, 22nd Regiment, Alabama Infantry, CSA; Civil War Service Records; digital images, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 19 December 2015).


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Never believe the index

I normally don’t post on Saturdays anymore but I was doing some personal research and found something that would make a good point.

I was looking for George Patton in the census and I found him in Ancestry’s index which made me happy.  Here is an image of what was indexed as George Patton.

On this very same page there was a George.  Here is what the word George looks like on the same page by the same enumerator.

Luckily I know who the first entry is, it is George’s stepmother Lydia (Orr) Patton.  So here is the problem.  Lydia and George are very different words so no matter how fuzzy you make this search these two will not be picked up as a possibility for the other unless I searched for the name Patton only.  Let’s say I did search just for the name Patton.  If you were looking for a Lydia Patton would you click on the name George in the index?  Or, if you were looking for someone named George would you click on Lydia?  This is just an example.  Lydia wasn’t in the index at all since she was indexed as George.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that the handwriting is hard to read and it is always easier for someone who is familiar with the names to spot them.  My point is, don’t rely on indexes.  The indexers are human and they make mistakes.  I am still looking for the real George…

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Ancestry.com has announced that they are discontinuing Family Tree Maker (FTM) as of 31 Dec 2015.  You can read their official announcement HERE.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting that.  No problem though.  You can easily switch to Legacy.  It happens to be on sale right now so that is even better.


You already know that I work for Legacy but did you know that I have been using Legacy since 2005 which is long before I ever went to work for them.  It just so happens I switched from FTM and I have never looked back.  

Getting your information from FTM to Legacy is a simple two-step process.  You export your FTM file as a gedcom file and then you import that gedcom into Legacy. That’s it. The number #1 question from FTM users is, “Will my media files transfer?” and the answer to that is yes if you are using one of the newer versions of FTM that links to media instead of embedding the images.  If you have a Ancestry.com tree you will want to make sure that your tree is completely sync’d to your computer and all of the media files have been downloaded.  When you create the gedcom the media links will be there and Legacy will “see” them.

If you have any other questions or need help switching from FTM to Legacy you can join our Legacy User Group Facebook page and ask there (close to 6000 people will be more than happy to help including tech support personnel and some of our top beta testers) or you can email us at support@legacyfamilytree.com.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


Monday, December 7, 2015

Degrees of consanguinity and DNA

For some background you can read two posts I did in 2012 on Recording kinship by the law and When is your great-uncle not really your great-uncle?

So what does this have to do with DNA?  If you are looking at a DNA site and they have predicted that your relationship to a certain person is a 3rd cousin you have to understand that what they are really telling you is that you and this person are predicted to be 8 steps apart.  It is the number of steps it takes to go up the chain to the common ancestor and back down the chain to the other person.  There are a lot of relationships that will give you 8 steps and all of these are possibilities.  The DNA website can’t list all of these so it lists the most direct relationship. 

To see this in action take a look at Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project Charts.  Blaine created these charts from actual data sent in to him from people that have had their DNA tested and know the exact relationship to other people that have had their DNA tested.  For example, I have my DNA, my mother’s DNA and a paternal uncle’s DNA.  I was able to send Blaine how many cMs I share with my known mother and my known uncle. I also sent more data on known cousins that I could map out on a pedigree. Blaine did a statistical analysis on shared cMs using known relationships so that you can predict what relationship two people have based on these numbers.

Here is a very simple example.  2nd cousins are 6 steps.  1st cousins twice removed are also 6 steps.  On Blaine’s chart the average 2nd cousin relationship is 245.98 cM.  1st cousins twice removed average 239.72.  That’s pretty darn close considering the limited pool. 

Nutshell version: If one of the DNA websites tells you that you and another person are predicted to be 2nd-3rd cousins that means you are predicated to be 6 to 8 steps apart.  If you look at the two pedigrees thinking that you must straight 2nd or 3rd cousins without investigating the other possibilities then you just might miss the connection/common ancestor.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Friday, December 4, 2015

All it took was a little persistence

I recently told you that I had obtained my grandfather’s death certificate.  The death certificate lists the address where he died, Rosdorferweg 70 in the town of Göttingen.



I plugged that address into Google Maps and this is what I found.  The address currently belongs to a hospital.



So was it a hospital in 1949?  I emailed them and asked. 



They told me that yes, they are the same hospital that was in operation in 1949.  I asked them if they had the medical records from then.  They told me that the old medical records had been turned over to the Stadtarchiv Göttingen. They were kind enough to provide me with a contact person there.



The Stadtarchiv told me that the records were now being housed at the Niedersächsischen Staatsarchiv in Wolfenbüttel.  I was again given a contact person.


I contacted the Landesarchiv and they advised that they would write back when they knew whether or not they have my grandfather’s records.  I got the answer today.

“Sie können von der Akte des Landeskrankenhauses Göttingen, die Ihren Großvater betrifft (NLA Hannover Hann. 155 Göttingen Acc. 2004/008 Nr. 01921), Kopien in Auftrag geben. Die Akte umfasst ca. 75 Seiten.”

They found my grandfather’s medical file, seventy-five pages worth. I have requested the file and they are mailing it to me.  These medical records will answer quite a few questions that I have.  When I first started the process I thought for sure that these medical records no longer existed and I would never see them. I am glad I plodded along anyway.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 30, 2015

How long does it take to do it right?

The answer is 22 minutes. I wanted to see how long it would me to find a census record, download and save the image, extract/analyze the data, and enter it into Legacy.  I chose the 1830 census because I knew that it would be harder to work with.

  • I found Jacob Perry’s household in Perry County, Mississippi on FamilySearch.
  • I brought up the image. This happens to be a two page census so I had to download, crop, cleanup and then save two images.  I used Picasa.
  • I created a Master Source for this census.
  • I entered a 1830 US Federal Census event for Jacob and entered the extracted data that I found into the event notes.
  • I attached both images to this event adding captions and dates.
  • I attached the master source to the event and then added the needed citation detail using the Source Clipboard making it easy for me to use this citation as many times as I need to.
  • I then copied and pasted the event to each of the people on the census using the Event Clipboard (I figured out who they were based on the ages).


22 minutes. Not bad.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 23, 2015

When microfilm is better than the original

Here is what I have in my marriage notes for Eli Meredith and Martha McMichael:

Jane Doe* at the Pike County, AL Circuit Court Clerk's Office states that Eli and Martha show up in their marriage index but when she went to the marriage book itself to make a copy the page was missing. [*name changed]

FamilySearch now has the Alabama county marriage books online.  Look what I found.

Meredith, Eli and Martha McMichael marriage 1856

This marriage book was microfilmed in 1979.  Sometime after that pages from the book were torn out.  I have several missing marriages from this same book that are no longer missing. 


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery marker

Hickman, Katie 1982Copyright © 2009 Frances Kirkland, used with permission

This marker is in the Entrekin Family Cemetery in Forrest County, Mississippi. I couldn’t find Katie in my file which surprised me because I know every Simmons in a several county area. I assume she married a Simmons but which one? It took me about 30 minutes of frantic mouse clicking on the internet cross referenced with the information I already have my file to figure out that she was the daughter of George Hickman and Mary Catherine Elizabeth Entrekin. I was now able to place her in the family. Katie’s mother Mary was the sister to my great-aunt’s husband. My great-aunt also happens to be a Simmons. There are a lot of Simmons – Entrekin marriages so I am pretty familiar with the Entrekins too. I couldn’t find an obit for Katie which of course was the first place I looked. I then expanded my search a bit. I found her in a very unexpected index, the California Death Index on Ancestry.com.  California?  Really?  Here is the entry, it is definitely her. 


I just have to know who she was married to.  Two of my great-uncles are buried in this cemetery but I can rule out that she was married to either one of them.  They were the only two of the brothers that lived in this area along with one of their sisters (the one that married the Entrekin).  Knowing this family so well makes this really frustrating.  There were more brothers but they didn’t live in this area.  All but one would have been quite a bit younger than Katie. I am keeping this one other brother of the right age on my radar for now but this would have meant that he and Katie were divorced and that she never remarried which is a less likely scenario than if it was a different Simmons altogether.  There are plenty of Simmons cousins out there but not in this community.

So what is my next move?  I have a request for Katie’s California death certificate in the envelope which will be mailed today.

I did try searching on Ancestry.com’s tree for a Hickman with a father named George and a mother with the maiden name of Entrekin that married a Simmons to no avail.  Even if I had found it, I would have still ordered the death certificate.  Stay tuned!


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Organizing your genetic genealogy by Diahan Southard

Organizing Your Genetic Genealogy by Diahan Southard has got to be one of the best Legacy webinars that I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of them. I happen to be big into DNA right now and I really needed some help with organizing all of the incoming information. I took tons of notes but I am going to have to watch this one again. She explains all of the tools that you can use and I am very excited about settings up her recommended systems.  I know this will help me with some of my brick wall ancestors.

This webinar will be FREE through 18 Nov 2015.  After that you will need to be a Webinar subscriber to access it.  If you are already a webinar subscriber you will also be able to download the handout that goes with the webinar as well as use the new tools on the website to keep your webinars organized (can you tell I am all about being organized?)

Click the graphic to be taken to the webinar.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 9, 2015

Yet another use for Excel

I LOVE MS Excel.  Actually, I love spreadsheets in general. It doesn’t have to be Excel specifically though I do think Excel is the best.

If you are on Facebook there is a group called Excel-ling Genealogists where you will see all kinds of great ideas on how to use spreadsheets to your advantage.  There are some sample files uploaded to this group that you will also have access to if you join.

I normally use spreadsheets to help me analysis data.  I can do multi-tiered sorts which helps me see patterns.  I also use a spreadsheet for my research log when I am working on a major case study/proof argument.  I recently came up with another spreadsheet idea that I thought I would pass on.

By now you should know that one of my priorities is being an ethical genealogist.  I love photos of grave markers so I love sites like Find A Grave.  When I see a photo of interest to me I ALWAYS ask permission from the photographer to download the photo.  For more info on that click HERE. When I send the email I ask about the specific photo but I also ask for blanket permission for any other photos that they took as well as permission to use any of the photos on the three blogs I write for if the need should arise.  I always assure them that I will give them full credit as the photographer.  I have never been turned out.  People are usually understanding and cooperative when you are respectful and acknowledge them.

I used to keep a simple list of these people in Evernote but I found that as the list got longer it was harder for me to see if I already had permission from someone when I found a photo I needed.  I decided that this would be the sort of thing that would be better in a spreadsheet.  I don’t want to screenshot my actual spreadsheet because it contains the names of living people (again, an ethics thing) so took a screenshot of a pretend one.  I keep the list sorted in alphabetical order so that it is easier for me to see people.  If the person operates under a nickname I can quickly change the sort.  My real list is quite a bit longer than this one because I have been snagging photos from Find A Grave for over six years.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 2, 2015

A very sobering document

I received my grandmother’s death certificate from the Archives in Leverkusen, Germany this morning. Theresia (Glaentzer) Weichert was shot and killed on 21 June 1945, 45 days after the war ended in Germany.  She was only 35 years old. She was walking home with a neighbor after dark and was accidentally shot by American soldiers who were looking for German soldiers that were still hiding.  At the time of her death her husband was still in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp so their three children were sent to an orphanage.  He died before he could get back home.  I received his death certificate from the Archives in Göttingen 3 days ago.  I have known this story my entire life but seeing it on an official document is very sobering and a bit surreal. Out of respect for my mother and her brothers I am not posting Theresia and Augusts’ death certificates.

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shameless plug

Legacy just released a new updated website that is just awesome! If you have been thinking about getting a webinar subscription now is the time. This new updated website is mobile friendly and it now has a playlist so that you can pull in the webinars you want to watch. If you start watching one and get interrupted you can pick up where you left off and Legacy will remember ALL of the webinars that you are in the middle of watching. That's my favorite feature so I am mentioning that one specifically but there are all kinds of cool new things on this website. The webinar subscription is on sale right now for $49.95 for a year.

Legacy’s new webinar website

Video tour of the website showcasing the new features


Click graphic to access the ordering page

Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis