Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Adoption rights

I was part of a lively debate on Facebook regarding the rights of adoptees.  The debate was friendly and many interesting points were brought up.  This is definitely an issue genealogists should be watching.

The conversation started with the news article, “Unsealed Birth Records Give Adoptees Peek at Past.”  There are 11 states with open adoption records and there is a push for the other states to follow suit.  To condense the debate that took place on the public Facebook page and in private messaging, here are the points that were brought out.  I am posting all the points.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.

  • Adoptees have the right to know their medical history and their familiar ties.
  • Just because an adoptee gets the information contained in their file doesn’t mean they have to contact the birth parents.
  • Just because an adoptee gets the information contained in the their file doesn’t mean the birth parents have to allow contact from the adoptee.
  • Birth parents have the right to the privacy they were guaranteed at the time of the adoption. 
  • If birth parents can’t count on their privacy being protected, more mothers will opt for abortion over adoption in which case everyone loses.
  • Some birth parents were not given the option of an open adoption and these birth parents want the records opened as much as the adoptees do.
  • A compromise would be that the adoptee would have access to his/her birth parents’ identities when both birth parents are dead.
  • A compromise would be that the adoptee would have access to his/her birth parents’ identities if the file is flagged that the birth parents wish to be identified/contacted.
  • Forcing a birth parent into the public eye will also affect that persons parents, spouse and children who may not have ever known that their loved one had given up a child for adoption.

Another interesting point was brought up.  What about all of the adoptees out there that have no idea that they are adopted.  Will they also draft a new law requiring that adoptees be told?  This was not an uncommon situation in the 1950s-1970s when military families were adopting overseas and then bringing the babies back home.  They could easily pass the baby off as their own and no one stateside would be any wiser.

You can see that this is a very complex issue that is going to get even more complicated now that DNA testing is becoming popular and more affordable.  This is one of the reasons it will affect genealogists because genealogists are getting their DNA tested as much adoptees are.  Adoptees are also turning to professional genealogists to help them in their quest to find their birth families which may put the progen in an ethical bind.  I will be watching this to see how it all plays out.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OneNote and Evernote

I mention OneNote and Evernote from time to time.  I use OneNote because it is set up to look like an old fashioned binder with tabs and pages which works out well for a dinosaur like me.  Evernote looks more like a bulletin board.  Cyndi Howell’s of Cyndi’s List has added two new pages to her wonderful website which are dedicated to OneNote and Evernote.  Either one of these programs will help you keep your stuff organized.  Some people even use both.  Click on the links below to learn how to use these programs.

Cyndi’s List of resources for OneNote
Cyndi’s List of resources for Evernote

OneNote is PC only, Evernote is for PC and Macs.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 29, 2013

Back to work


I am back from Florida and back to work.  On Thursday, August 1st, I will be lecturing on “Brick Wall Busters” at the Augusta [GA] Museum at 3:00 pm.  This lecture is sponsored by the Augusta Genealogical Society but it is open to the public and free of charge.  If you happen to be in the area come on by!

Directions to the Museum

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 18, 2013


beaches,nature,palm trees,plants,sands,Seychelles,shorelines,skies,tropics,tranquil,leaning,leisure,travel,vacations

Two of my children and I will be leaving for Florida tomorrow morning to visit family and friends.  I won’t be posting on the blog again until 29 Jul 2013.  I will have my laptop so if you have any questions you can still email me though it might take me a little longer.  I don’t plan on having the laptop on the beach with me.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Legacy 8

I am very excited that Legacy 8 is close to being released.  Geoff Rasmussen has been teasing us by telling us about some of the new features.  Here is what Geoff has told us so far.  The starred items are things that I had submitted as a suggestion.

  • A updated and streamlined look
  • A new top ribbon (toolbar) that collapses to allow more room on the screen
  • A new button so that you can toggle between 4 and 5 generations on the pedigree view
  • Expanded color customization options
  • All 9 tags will be visible*
  • You will be able to see how many people are tagged on each tag on the Advanced Tagging screen
  • Fully integrated with FamilySearch’s FamilyTree.  They will be releasing this feature to version 7 before version 8 actually comes out so that people can get started.  You still have access to NewFamilySearch but you can’t make any changes anymore
  • If you follow the color coding method for your 4 grandparent lines, you will be happy to know that you will be able to color code using TWO starting points (typically you and your spouse)
  • Enhanced migration mapping that will allow you an animated view in map mode, aerial mode, 3D and bird’s eye mode
  • Legacy will now map all of the addresses that you have entered (home addresses as well as cemeteries, churches, etc.)
  • Instant duplicate checking.  As soon as you add a new person Legacy will check to see if there are any possible matches in your database instead of having to go through the merge/find duplicates menu*
  • Shared events.  When you add an event you will no longer have to use the clipboard to add the event to other people one at a time.  You can enter the event and tell Legacy who all you want to also have this same event with a click.  Think about a census record with a husband, wife and 12 children and you will immediately understand how much time this will save you.  This one is a biggie*
  • They added a column/icon on the event list to indicate if that particular event is shared with anyone else.  If you hover over the icon it will tell you how many people share the event
  • An age column has been added to the list of events so you can see at a glance how old the person was at the time of each recorded event
  • The S symbol in the source column (on the event screen) has been replaced with the same symbol that is used on every other screen that shows sources, the books symbol.  Now it is consistent with the rest of the screens. 
  • Events are now automatically sorted by date when you add a new event*
  • There is a new button so that you can sort all of your events, marriages, and children by date with one fell swoop (for all of the events and such that were previously entered).  There are parameters that you can change regarding how to handle events with no dates*

Geoff is not done giving us previews of the new features so stay tuned.  You can follow the story on Legacy News.  If you buy Legacy 7 now, you will get the Legacy 8 upgrade for free.  I do not work for Legacy but this is the program that I use and I am very happy with it.  I don’t hesitate to recommend it to others.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Archival Supplies

J. F. asks:
”Which archival supply companies do you recommend?”

The only archival supplies I buy are sheet protectors and I buy those in bulk at Sam’s Club.  They are acid free and archival quality.  I use them to store documents and photos in binders.  I don’t have many artifacts to protect so I haven’t had a need to invest in real archival supplies.  I am going to open this up to the readers.  Which companies would you recommend to J. F. and why?

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 15, 2013

My grandfather the “Nazi”

I received an email yesterday after I posted the announcement about my latest blog post to Facebook and to Google+.  A reader wanted to know why I would put a photo of a Nazi soldier on my announcement and why I would even have it on my blog at all.  That “Nazi” (who wasn’t a Nazi at all) was my grandfather August Weichert.  Yes, he is wearing a German uniform and yes he did fight for the Germans during WWII but he was anything but a Nazi.  You can read a little bit about him on “A Story From My Own Files” but that isn’t the whole story.  I am going to give you a little more detail. 

My grandparents were fairly well off and were living quite comfortably before the war.  My grandfather worked at the Bayer corporation as a barrel marker and my grandmother was from a prominent family in Köln (Cologne) When my grandfather was drafted, he didn’t want to go into the army because he knew he would be fighting against Poland.  His parents, his grandparents and his great-grandparents were all German but they lived in the area that would eventually become present day Poland. That is where my grandfather was born, Janiszewice, Łask County, Łódź Voivodeship, Poland.   Just before WWI, tensions were running high between the ethnic Germans and the ethnic Poles so my grandfather and his family fled back to Germany.  My grandfather was about 11 years old.  On the way back his father was killed.  His mother and all of his brothers and sisters made it back and they settled in the Köln area.  When WWII broke out my grandfather said he didn’t want to join the army because he didn’t want to fight Poland.  He still considered them his people. The Nazis came and took him anyway and they also took away everything that the family owned, their house and all of their possessions.  My grandfather was a skilled woodworker and my mother remembers a beautiful dollhouse that her father had made for her which she never saw again.  By the way, she never saw her father again either.

August’s family endured the air raids and the constant fear.  During one air raid in the middle of the night my mother ran outside half asleep toward the bomb shelter and right into the gate knocking her front tooth out.  My Uncle Karl thought it was pretty funny (brothers!).  Eventually my mother and her brothers lost both their father and their mother to the war and to the Nazis.  They were placed in a orphanage in Northern Germany far from their home.  They literally lost everything except each other.

My mother and her brothers remember the liberation well.  My mother remembers the Americans parading down the street tossing candy to the children.  The German people were happy to see the Americans because of all of the horrid things that happened to them because of the Nazis. The German people themselves hated and feared the Nazis as much as anyone else did.   

When my mother and I came to the United States for the first time we were called Nazis.  I was too young to understand but my mother certainly understood.  When I went to school the other children made fun of me and would say Heil Hitler!  I quickly learned to not tell anyone where I was born.

So when someone looks at my grandfather in his German uniform and calls him a Nazi I get a little defensive.  It might surprise you to know that even if my grandfather had been a Nazi I certainly wouldn’t hide the fact and I would have still posted his photo.  Why?  Because genealogists neither hide nor change history. 

August Weichert (1905-1949)


                        1921, age 16                                                                1942, age 37

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Follow-up to “Two types of numbering systems”

I want to expand on a few things from yesterday.  I didn’t have enough room to write everything that I wanted to say and blog reader Debbe sent me a message via Facebook yesterday that mentioned something that I really do need to add. 

If you set up your filing system based on RINs or MRINs one thing you need to watch out for in your database program is the option to renumber your RINs and MRINs.  If you delete people in your file that leaves number gaps.  You can compact your file by telling the program that you want to renumber the RINs and MRINS.  If you use this filing system you will not be able to compact your file this way because if you do, you will mess up your system completely.  If you do renumber, the program will tell you the changes that were made (at least Legacy does) so you can renumber your documents if you find yourself in this situation.  This is the exact reason why I don’t use this system.  Also, if you switch from one database program to another via GEDCOM you may or may not get your same RIN and MRIN numbers back.  One other problem with this system is if you have a document with more than one person mentioned, do you just pick a person to file under or do you copy it and file it under everyone that is mentioned?  That is also an issue for me.  Even so, many people swear by this system. 

Merging people is a another problem with the RIN/MRIN systems but not near as bad as the one above.  If you have two people in your file that you discover are one and the same, just pay attention when you merge them.  If you have documents under both RIN numbers then you will need to renumber the documents from the second person so that they now belong to your merged individual.

Debbe also wanted me to mention that if you like the sequential numbering system (Birth 0001, Birth 0002, Birth 0003) there is another option you might want to consider.  Debbe doesn’t divide her documents up by type at all.  She simply numbers them in sequence,  00001, 00002, 00003, etc.  It doesn’t matter at all what type of document it is.  When she gets  a new document in, it is gets the next number in the sequence.  Legacy (and maybe the other programs) will tell you what the next number in the sequence should be.

So what do I do?  My current document filing system is binders divided up by document type and the documents inside are filed alphabetically by surname; however, I am redoing things because I need to go through all my documents anyway and get them scanned to the computer.  I am seriously thinking about using Debbe’s system of a simple sequential numbering system.  I plan on having the paper document and the digital scan with the same file number so that I can find anything I need.  I will be using the File ID section in Legacy to link to the document (I can also attach a scan).  Using the File ID eliminates the problem of multiple people on the same document.  If 12 people are mentioned then all 12 will be linked to document #00469.  This is where programs like Clooz and Evidentia can help you.  When I start scanning I plan to play around with these two programs just to see if they will be useful tools for me.

As far as what I use when writing reports, I almost always use the Modified Register (NGSQ) System.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two types of numbering systems

This past week I was involved in two separate conversations about numbering systems on Facebook and on a mailing list.  There was some confusion because there are two completely different types of numbering systems. 

The first type of numbering system is one that you use to keep your paper files and your digital files in order.  There are many ways to do this.  A very popular method is using the record identification number (RIN) or the marriage identification number (MRIN) that your genealogy database program automatically generates.  Karen Clifford, AG explains the MRIN method in her free tutorial, “Organize Your Paper Files” and she shows you how to do it in several different genealogy database programs.  You could easily modify this system to include your digital files by having digital file folders labeled with the MRINs and then file the individual documents inside.  Using RINs is very similar except each document is labeled with the individual’s RIN instead of grouping everything by married couple.  If I used one of these systems it would definitely be the RINs because then you don’t get confused with multiple marriages and having the children’s stuff in their parent’s folders until they get married and then you transfer them to their own MRIN.  That is way too confusing for me. 

Here is a little snippet of my list of RINs in Legacy:

Created using Legacy Family Tree

And here is a another snippet showing the list of my MRINs:

MRINCreated using Legacy Family Tree

Another popular method is to separate your documents by type (typically in binders) and then the documents within are numbered sequentially.  For example, you would have a binder for birth records.  You would number the documents Birth 00001, Birth 00002, Birth 00003, Birth 00004 etc.  You would also have a binder for death records and those documents would be labeled Death 00001, Death 00002, Death 00003, Death 00004 etc.  You can use whatever categories make sense to you. 

If you use this system (or any other type of numbering system) your genealogy database program will help you.  They all have a place for you to record a file ID number so that you can associate your source citation to a specific location in your filing system, paper or digital.  This next graphic shows you the File ID section of the citation detail screen. [Note:  If you are using RIN or MRIN numbers you wouldn’t need to use the File ID feature of your database program because the RIN or MRIN itself immediately tells you who the document is associated with].

NumberingCreated using Legacy Family Tree


The second type of numbering system has nothing to do with how you file your documents but rather it is one that you use in reports to identify how the persons in the report fit into the family in relation to the anchor person.  Again, there are many different systems out there.  The two most commonly used systems in publications are Register Style and Modified Register or NGSQ Style.  You can read more about these two systems in my Numbering Styles blog post from January. 

[NOTE:  In the below screen shots for the report numbering systems the footnote numbers and sources were removed so that you could see more of the actual numbering system]

Here is a screen shot of the Modified Register (NGSQ):

RegCreated using Legacy Family Tree

There are a couple of other systems that I will also mention.  The Ahnentafel (also known as the Sosa-Stradonitz) numbering system is the one that people are most familiar with.  This is the numbering system you will see on pedigree charts.  The anchor person is #1.  His/her father is #2 and his/her mother is #3.  A person’s father will be double his/her number and a person’s mother will be double plus 1.  For example, if  you are looking at #6 on a chart that person’s father will be #12 and their mother will be #13.  Here is a little piece of my pedigree chart.  My dad happens to be the anchor on this one. 

PedCreated using Legacy Family Tree

My dad (Tom) is #1.  Tom’s mother (Leora) would be twice his number plus 1 so she is #3.  Leora’s father (Walter) would be twice her number so he is #6. Walter’s mother (Francis) would be twice his number plus 1 so she is #13.  This system only works for direct lines.

Another interesting one is the Henry System. [The d’Aboville, Meurgey de Tupigny  and de Villiers/Pama systems are refinements of the Henry System.  I will let you look those up on your own].   In the Henry System the anchor person will be #1.  His children will be listed as 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 etc.  11’s children will be listed as 111, 112, 113 etc. and 12’s children will be 121, 122, 123 etc.  111’s children will be listed as 1111, 1112, 1113 etc. and 121s children will be 1211, 1212, 1213, etc.  It is kind of fun.  If a person had more than nine children then the 10th child will be X, the 11th child will be A, the 12th child will be B, etc.  I don’t use Henry numbers but Legacy Family Tree will generate them so I can give you a screen shot.  Look at these crazy numbers!

HenryCreated using Legacy Family Tree

There are more systems than I have listed.  I just wanted to show you some of the more common ones.  Don’t confuse numbering systems meant to help you organize your paper and digital files with the numbering systems used in reports to show the relationship of everyone in the report to the anchor person.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 12, 2013

Free webinars

Thomas MacEntee is offering a FREE webinar through the Utah Genealogical Association (Virtual Chapter) which I highly recommend. “Can I Use That in My Genealogy?  What You Should Know About Copyright.”  This will be 18 July 2013 at 7:00pm MDT (the registration page will tell you what time it will be for you).  This is a very hot topic right now so I would try and watch this one if you can.  Thomas has taken the time to really know his stuff on this topic.

The next FREE webinar through Legacy Family Tree is “Researching in the Old Line State: An Overview of Maryland Genealogy” by one of my personal favorites, Michael Hait, CG.  This one will be held 17 July 2013 at 2:00pm EST.   I don’t do much research in this area so I am looking forward to learning about the record sets that are available and any peculiars I need to know.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paper files

Public Service Announcement:  I have changed the font of the blog to 12 point Arial after reading discussions on the Transitional Genealogists Forum and on Facebook about the readability of certain fonts and font sizes.  Let me know how you like it.  I am hoping it will be easier on your eyes.  I might be changing the blog up a bit in the near future to make it look a little nicer all the way around.

A lady on the Organized Genealogist Facebook Group Page wanted some advice on  paper filing systems and organizing her research.  She does not use a genealogy database program and doesn’t keep anything on the computer.  I really hadn’t thought about it but I guess there are still people out there that have a computer and internet access but prefer to keep their research on paper only.   Although I think a database system is the way to go I will tell you about the paper filing system I used before I transferred everything over to the computer.

I set up my filing system like the Family History Library recommended.  You can see it here: Organizing Your Paper Files Using File Folders. I did it exactly like this except I used a filing cabinet instead of of boxes.  I did both the surname files and the locality files.  This system worked very well for me for many years.  Having said that, using a genealogy database program on the computer is much more efficient.  I spend a fraction of the time keeping everything in order than I did doing everything on paper. 

When you are working on paper only, all of your family group sheets (FGSs) and pedigree charts are in pencil because you are constantly changing and updating the information.  You do a lot of recopying as your pages start looking ragged.  You also have to hand write all of your source citations which is no fun at all. Each folder has its own research and correspondence logs which of course means more writing. This system works best if you are only researching your direct lines.  Once you get going on the collateral lines things get a bit complicated.  A computer handles collateral lines so much better.  

This is one of those “to each his own” situations.  If you prefer to keep everything on paper then this is the method I recommend.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I am helping my stepsister with a little research project.  I found a marriage in the Florida Marriages 1830-1993 Index and a divorce entry in the Florida Divorce Index 1927-2001 for her person of interest.  I won’t name the county but I called the __________ County Clerk’s Office to request the documents.  I gave the clerk all of the information from the index which was everything they needed to be able to find the records.  The clerk told me to call back in an hour.  When I called back she told me that she had found the marriage record but couldn’t find the divorce decree.  She told me to just go to FamilySearch (FS) and find it there.  I explained that the information I gave her came from FS and that it is only an index.  I need copies of the actual documents.  She told me that perhaps the couple had divorced in ___________ County (county in another state with the same name).  I told her that was highly unlikely since the divorce record was in the FLORIDA divorce index.  She then asked me for the case number that FS provided.  I explained that there was no case number just the volume and certificate number.  She said she would access FS herself and look at the information in the index. A minute later she said she couldn’t find the entry either by the man’s name or the woman’s.  I verified the spelling and she still couldn’t find it.  I asked for her email address and that I would just send her the direct links to the entries for both the husband and wife.  She told me to call her back in a hour.  When I called back the clerk stated that she was turning it over to another lady in the office because she still couldn’t find it and for me to call back in another hour.  In about 10 minutes I received an email stating that the other lady had found the record with no difficulty and for me call back so they could get my mailing information.

As totally aggravating as this was I am still very grateful that I could call this particular county and give my request over the phone.  The alternative would have been a letter in the mail and then a return letter stating they couldn’t find it and then me having to send another letter etc.  Many counties will not take requests over the phone so I usually do correspond by letter but I was told that this particular county would take phone requests.  My blood pressure went up several notches today but my documents are in the mail on the way to me. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A convert!

This past weekend my stepsister and two nieces were here for a visit.  We also happen to be 5th cousins twice removed.  I showed her how the two of us are blood connected (my 4th great-grandfather is her 6th great-grandfather).  I showed her some old photos and she was truly interested.  She named off a couple of her great-grandparents wanting to know a little something about them and I was able to show her some census records, documents and obituaries.  I found something that was a total surprise to her.  She immediately called her father and he didn’t know about it either.  She couldn’t believe what I had found.  She went home very excited and now wants to learn how to do some research on her own.  This just totally made my day.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 8, 2013

Time to name names

I have been avoiding this for quite some time now but I can’t let it go any longer.  I have to name names.  As a writer, copyright and plagiarism are important topics to me.   I have spoken several times about this problem within the genealogical community.   To get you up to speed you can read these blog posts.

General information about copyright, plagiarism and ethics:
Copyright ©

Here is the background information for what I am going to talk about today:
Cyndi Howell’s of Cyndi’s List

What I didn’t tell you in that blog post were the specifics.  I kept names out of it because you are “innocent until proven guilty” though at the time I was furious and felt that Cyndi had been done wrong.  Because of the events of the last couple of days I am not going to protect the guilty anymore.  In a nutshell, Cyndi Howell’s of Cyndi’s List sued Barry Ewell of MyGenShare in federal court for copyright infringement in December 2012.  You can see the court filing HERE.  Cyndi had tried to work it out with Barry without having to resort to legal action but that was not to be.  Just a few days ago it was announced that the lawsuit had been dismissed.  You can read the particulars on Dick Eastman’s Blog.  Myself and many of the other genealogists that had been following this story thought that the matter had been resolved to the satisfaction of Cyndi Howells though at the time we noticed that Barry had not removed Cyndi’s content from his page.  It was discussed and it was thought that maybe he had some sort of grace period to remove the stolen content.   One positive note is that the case brought the problem of copyright violation and plagiarism to light and many more genealogists are being educated which is a good thing.  Then Dear Myrtle posted this:

Is there such a thing as ethical plagiarism?
Follow up:  Is there such a thing as ethical plagiarism?

Evan after the lawsuit Barry Ewell is still up to his old tricks.  To say I couldn’t believe what I was reading would be an understatement.  Since the lawsuit apparently didn’t work, the genealogy bloggers have started getting all of this information out to their readers.  Hopefully pressure from the consumer will make Barry understand.  Barry’s website isn’t free like Cyndi’s List is.  I am giving you the information for his website because I want you to visit it and nose around.  I want you to know who Barry is and what he has been doing.  I want you to know what website NOT to subscribe to and what services NOT to hire. You also need to get the word out to your genealogy friends.

Before I wrote this blog I sent a private message to Barry Ewell.  I really don’t expect to receive an answer but I felt that I needed to say a few things to him in person before I asked my readership to boycott his website.  Barry Ewell is a good example of a bad genealogist.

  After posting this article today I read an EXCELLENT post by Michael Hait, CG.  He is another Barry Ewell victim.  Michael did a slide show comparison between his copyrighted work and what is posted on Barry’s site.  I think after seeing this you will understand why the people that have worked so hard to author materials to help other genealogists are upset.

Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources by Michael Hait, CG

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My inbox is empty


My Outlook e-mail inbox is empty as well as all of the folders I have on Outlook.  I can honestly say that this is the first time ever that has happened.  I finally decided I had to do something about hundreds (yes, hundreds) of emails that I had let pile up.  Some of them contained information that I wanted to hang onto, some had things I needed to do, and some were just trash emails that I never deleted.  I had to come up with some sort of system because just using Outlook was not working for me.  After crying the blues on The Organized Genealogist Facebook Group Page several of the members gave me some ideas.  Here is what I came up with and I am really liking it.

I save the emails to Microsoft OneNote.  This is really easy to do because there is a button for OneNote right on the toolbar of Outlook.  I made a notebook in OneNote titled “E-Mails.”  I then made tabs for “Genealogy Reference,” “Genealogy Action Required.” “Household Reference,” and “Household Action Required.”  I will probably expand these tabs as I work with the system more.  I did have to change a setting in OneNote itself so that when I hit the save button a box comes up with all of my notebooks and tabs so that I can choose where I want it to go.   One thing that makes it nice is that I can title the email whatever I want to.  I can give it a name that makes more sense to me so I know what exactly is in the email.  You can do pretty much the same thing in Evernote if you prefer that program.

When I was going through the emails, I was able to delete quite a few that I just didn’t need anymore.  Several more were things that I could do quickly like requests to update Find A Grave memorials or transferring memorials.  After all of that, I ended up only saving a total of 32 emails!  I really feel like I did something today.  

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Where to start

Michele [not me] asks:
”I was talking to my 13 year old son, trying to think of hobbies we could do together, and we are both interested in researching our family tree. Where do you suggest we start? My paternal grandmother did genealogy for years and years, kept records by hand (pre computers) and then ended up giving ALL her stuff away to some distant, very little known cousin. My grandmother is not with it mentally enough to give us tutorials, so I thought I'd ask you what a good, easy starting place might be.”
[I know Michele through a homeschooling group that we both belong to]

I wouldn’t be too upset about not having your grandmother’s research. If you are brand new to genealogy and you are in possession of someone else’s research, it is way too easy to accept it all as gospel and just copy everything down willy nilly.  You will be better off starting from scratch.  You can try and track down her notes later.  Here are some things that I suggest for the beginner.

  • FamilySearch will become your best friend.  This is the website for the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT which is the largest repository of genealogical holdings in the world.  Everything on this website is completely free of charge.  You might have to invest in paid subscription sites sometime in the future but I would definitely start here. You will need to make an account with them so that you will get the full benefits of the website.  The first place I would start would be their Learning Center.  Scroll down to the bottom and you will see videos especially for beginners.  These are excellent.  After watching these you can browse through their other videos for more in-depth information.  They have 112 videos just for beginners.
  • You have two options for recording your information.  You can use a stand alone database program or you can use “the cloud.”  The stand alone database program I recommend is Legacy Family Tree.  I also recommend that you start with their free standard version. You can always upgrade to the bells and whistles edition later once you get comfortable with the data entry. There are other programs out there that are also good but I have found Legacy to be the easiest for beginners to learn. 

    The other option is keeping your data online and working on it there (the cloud).  The top two websites for this are FamilySearch’s FamilyTree and’s Member Trees.  If you want to go this route then my choice would be FamilyTree.  Even though access to the Ancestry’s Member Trees is also free, will tempt you with “hints” that you will only be able to access with a paid subscription.  When you are first starting out, it is a good idea to stick to the free resources until you know if this hobby is something you want to invest more of your time and money in. 

    You can also use both of these methods at the same time.  Legacy directly interfaces with FamilyTree.  This means that as you are entering and updating information in Legacy, you can sync it to FamilyTree so that other people will also have access to your research.  You can also download people from FamilyTree directly into Legacy which I don’t recommend until you have more experience so that you will know the difference between good information and bad information.  If you like better, then you will need to use Family Tree Maker (FTM) as your database program if you want to interface (sync) directly with it.  Again, I don’t recommend this unless you are willing to pay for a subscription to so that you can get the full benefits of their website.  I have a subscription to but I still like Legacy and FamilyTree better.  FTM does not have a free version nor will it sync to FamilyTree.  I will mention two other programs that have free versions and can sync with FamilySearch. They are RootsMagic and AncestralQuest.  These are both good programs but again, I think Legacy is the easiest to learn for the beginner. 

  • Always start with yourself and then work your way backward in time.  Don’t make the mistake of getting too far ahead of yourself.  Take the time to really investigate each generation before going on to the next.  When you are working in a database program you will see what all things you are looking for (just fill in the blanks!).  You want to enter your information, your spouse’s information and the information for all of your children.  Then you can go backwards to your parents and then to your grandparents.

  • ALWAYS document WHERE you got EVERY piece of information that you record.  Failing to do this is the number one mistake that beginners make.  I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is.  Legacy and all of the other genealogy database programs as well as “the cloud” applications have a place for you to record this for every fact.  Get in the habit of this early on.  One really nice thing about FamilySearch is if you access any record on their site they will give you the proper citation.

  • Join a local genealogical society.  My local group, the Columbia County Genealogical Society (CCGS), has members from total beginner to very advanced.  It is a great mix.  We get together once a month and talk about our research.  We also have special presentations and field trips.  Networking is very important in genealogy as you will soon find out.  You will be emailing people all over the United States and probably the world.

  • If you stay with this hobby you will probably amass a large reference library but for now I recommend just one book, Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy (third edition).  This book was published in 2000 so it is a little behind the times when it comes to computer programs and the internet but it is excellent when it comes to teaching you the basics of doing research and showing you what you need to know about the basic records sets.

I warn you, genealogy is addicting.  I have been doing it for 22 years and I am not the least bit tired of it.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 5, 2013

The latest in my DNA saga

Here are the tests I have done so far:

  • yDNA with FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) on my maiden name Simmons (my uncle took the test)
  • yDNA with FTDNA on my Lewis line (my husband took the test)
  • atDNA with (I took the test) 
  • I transferred my atDNA results from to FTDNA.
  • mtDNA with FTDNA (I took the test and the results are pending)
  • atDNA with 23andMe (I took the test and the results are pending)

This will be it for me for awhile.  In case you are wondering, the reason I am doing a second atDNA test with 23andMe is because I can’t transfer my results to 23andMe and they have the largest database.  I am trying to solve a very specific genealogical dilemma so it is important for me to get the DNA out there in all three databases. 

I will be very interested to see my mtDNA results.  My mother, her mother, her mother etc. were all born in Germany (Prussia).  I should have very few matches which may turn out to be a good thing.  DNA testing isn’t as popular in Germany so the only people I should match are ancestors of children of the above that immigrated. 

So far I haven’t discovered anything earth shattering.  The two people that I thought were my parents really are (as evidenced by the people I show related to) which is always a good thing.  Now I know my research has been done on the right people.  Right now I am in a holding pattern.  I am waiting for more matches to appear in the databases as more people get tested and also waiting for the results of my last two tests.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

Declaration of Independence: July 4th 1776

N. Currier, circa 1835-1856, Library of Congress

On this date 237 years ago, 56 men signed the document that declared our freedom from Great Britain and the rest,  as they say, is history.  How many of these names do you recognize? 

                    GEORGIA,    { Button Gwinnett,
                                         { Lyman Hall,
                                         { Geo. Walton.

     NORTH-CAROLINA,    { Wm. Hooper,
                                         { Joseph Hewes,
                                         { John Penn.

     SOUTH-CAROLINA,    { Edward Rutledge,
                                         { Thos. Heyward, junr.
                                         { Thomas Lynch, junr.
                                         { Arthur Middleton

                MARYLAND,    { Samuel Chase,
                                         { Wm. Paca,
                                         { Thos. Stone,
                                         { Charles Carroll, of Car-

                    VIRGINIA,    { George Wythe,
                                        { Richard Henry Lee,
                                        { Ths. Jefferson,
                                        { Benja. Harrison,
                                        { Thos. Nelson, jr.
                                        { Francis Lightfoot Lee,
                                        { Carter Braxton.

        PENNSYLVANIA,    { Robt. Morris,
                                        { Benjamin Rush,
                                        { Benja. Franklin,
                                        { John Morton,
                                        { Geo. Clymer,
                                        { Jas. Smith,
                                        { Geo. Taylor,
                                        { James Wilson,
                                        { Geo. Ross.

              DELAWARE,     { Caesar Rodney,
                                       { Geo. Read.

             NEW-YORK,     { Wm. Floyd,
                                       { Phil. Livingston,
                                       { Frans. Lewis,
                                       { Lewis Morris.

          NEW-JERSEY,     { Richd. Stockton,
                                       { Jno. Witherspoon,
                                       { Fras. Hopkinson,
                                       { John Hart,
                                       { Abra. Clark.

   NEW-HAMPSHIRE,     { Josiah Bartlett,
                                       { Wm. Whipple,
                                       { Matthew Thornton.

MASSACHUSETTS-        { Saml. Adams,
             BAY,                   { John Adams,
                                        { Robt. Treat Paine,
                                        { Elbridge Gerry.

RHODE-ISLAND AND     { Step. Hopkins,
   PROVIDENCE, ETC.    { William Ellery.

      CONNECTICUT,       { Roger Sherman,
                                       { Saml. Huntington,
                                       { Wm. Williams,
                                       { Oliver Wolcott.

I tried to format the list as close to the original as I could within the confines of the blog’s limitations. There are four columns in the original document.  Did you notice the original names of the states?  The two word states were hyphenated and Massachusetts was originally Massachusetts-Bay.  I thought that was interesting.  To understand your ancestors better you need to know the history.  They made life decisions based on what was going on around them and knowing that will help you find any paper trail that they left. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Genealogy in 1735

I decided to do a newspaper search for the word “genealogy” from 1700-1750.  I actually got quite a few hits.  Here is one.

“By the Search her Catholick Majesty has made into her Genealogy, it seems she is convinc’d that her Descent was from the elder Daughter of the famous Don Henriques, whereas the House of Braganza sprung from the youngest, and consequently her own Right is Prior.” 1

Some things never charge.  Even back then they were trying to hook up with famous people.

1 “London, Extract of a Letter from the Hague,” May 17. N. S.” The Boston Weekly Post-Boy, 21 Jul 1735, p. 1, col. 1; digital images, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 02 July 2013).

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


My sister and two nieces are coming to visit me this weekend.  Next week I will be off to Florida with two of my children to see my mother, my daughter, son-in-law and grandson, as well as my other sister, her husband and my six nephews.  When you are researching one of your ancestors, remember he/she was part of a family too.  You really need to pay attention to relationships and how your ancestor interacted with others.  Very few of our ancestors were cave-dwelling hermits.

One of the most interesting father-daughter relationships I have in my tree is John Lewis and his daughter Mary (Lewis) Ashley.  The two of them were accused of burning down the Sardis Methodist Church (now known as Lewis Memorial United Methodist Church).  According to several descendants, John was upset because the church was allowing certain unsavory groups to use the Sunday School building for meetings.  Supposedly these patrons drank alcohol.  John and Mary were charged with the crime but the charges were dropped "for want of evidence."1  Did you notice that the church now has Lewis in its name?  Funny thing is, John’s son Ellis Lewis donated land and money to the church and they ended up changing the name in 1947.2  The whole area is now know as Lewiston and the church sits at the corner of Columbia and Lewiston Roads in Columbia County, Georgia.  A bit ironic I thought.  The family that commits arson together, stays together.

1 "The burnt church," The Augusta Chronicle, 09 Jul 1875, p. 4, col. 1; "The prosecution against John Lewis and Mrs. Ashley...," The Augusta Chronicle, 24 Jul 1875, p. 1, col. 3. 

2 “Evans church overcomes setbacks to begin building,” The Augusta Chronicle, 27 Oct 1984, p. 2B, col. 1-4.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 1, 2013



Here is a little hint for those of you that are researching German roots and need to be able to read the old German script.  You can download a free Sütterlin font and play around with it.  The more familiar you are with the letters, the easier it will be for you to recognize letter and words in old documents.  My mother is old enough that she learned to write this way in school so when I get stuck I just ask her.  I realize that is cheating but sometime you just have to do what you have to do.  If you do download the font, make sure you read the instruction page because there are some letters that change form when they are in a certain combination, like tz.  The instruction page will give you the keyboard shortcuts to make them correctly.  Of course this makes your writing look perfect like how a school child was taught.  In real life you will have messy writers but you will certainly be able to read it better if you practice with how the letters are supposed to look. By the way, the line above says, «Können Sie das lesen?» Which means, “Can you read this?”

Here is my grandmother’s birth certificate.  The writing is actually very neat and clear.

Glaentzer 5

Here is one word out of this document so you can see a comparison.  My grandmother’s first name was Theresia. 


And here is how it looks when I type it using the Sütterlin font.

Theresia 2

Not bad!

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis