Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lectures, lectures, lectures

I have 4 big lectures coming up and I need some time to work on them so I am off the blog for a bit.  I’ll be back soon Smile


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fun with census records

Do you ever search the census records to see if you can find famous people?  I love to do this.  I am way too lazy this morning to craft full citations so I am just linking to the images on FamilySearch.


Laura (Ingalls) Wilder, 1880 Federal Census, De Smet, Kingsbury, Dakota Territory



Abraham Lincoln, 1850 Federal Census, Springfield, Sangamon, Illinois



 Ernest Hemmingway, 1910 census, Oak Park, Cook, Illinois



Errol Flynn, 1940, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California



John Hancock, 1790, Malden, Middlesex, Massachusetts



And last, but not least, Lizzie Borden, 1880, Fall River, Bristol, Massachusetts
This one is interesting because you can see Lizzie’s father Andrew and her stepmother Abby, the two people Lizzie was accused of killing. 



I could do this all day Smile


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 25, 2014


I am guessing that many of you watch the show Who Do You Think You Are? on TLC.  I really like the show and have seen every episode.  The first episode this season with Cynthia Nixon was really interesting.  It actually left me wanting to know more about Martha (Curnutt) Casto.

My only complaint with the program is that most researchers can’t travel all over the globe to do their research.  Nixon’s story was confined to the US but even so, she travelled quite a bit.  I think this can be disheartening for beginning researchers that watch the show for inspiration. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The importance of borders

I have talked about borders before but always in the context of the United States.  This past week I learned how important it is to know about the border changes no matter which country you are working with.  I have a Prussian document dated 10 Jan 1922 that was a puzzle to me. It is a declaration of citizenship to Prussia for my great-grandmother Emilie (Fiege) Weichert. She was living in the Marienwerder District where she was born and had always lived. Why did she need citizenship? The Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I split the Marienwerder District between Prussia and Poland. I now know that this paper was necessary to show her allegiance to Germany instead of Poland. I never noticed that the document actually says “Auf Grund des Artikels 91 des Vertrages von Versailles…” (On the basis of Article 91 of the Treaty of Versailles…)  Now it all makes sense.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I gave you a list of the subscription sites I use and now I want to show you the freebie sites I frequent.  These are just the the websites that help me with my research and not those for continuing education.  I have them in alphabetical order because it would be hard for me to rank them.  I am also only listing those websites of a general nature.  There are many great state and county specific websites out there so it would depend on where your research is.  For example, many of the state archives have indexes and digital images of some of their holdings and some county clerks are also putting indexes and images on line.

My #1 freebie site is FamilySearch.  I am setting this one apart because of how important it is to me.  I am on FamilySearch everyday.  New records are being added all the time thanks to the wonderful indexing volunteers. 


If you have any other favorite websites of a general nature (not state or county specific) you can add them to the comments.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Final count 66,417


Congratulations to FamilySearch Indexing for breaking their old 24 hour indexing record.  The new record stands at 66,417.






Screenshot of announcement logo taken from the
FamilySearch Indexing Facebook Page


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Monday, July 21, 2014

To crop or not to crop, that is the question

Someone on the Organized Genealogist’s Facebook Page asked a great question.  Should you crop images to more clearly show the relevant sections?

I always scan the entire page (page in a book, newspaper page, census page etc.)  I want the entire page for several reasons.  I never like to take something completely out of context. The page may have important header information that further identifies the source. There may be clues on this page that aren’t readily apparent but will be once you do more research. 

Sometimes the entire page is a bit cumbersome and it is hard to see the pertinent information.  I extract the relevant information and put that in my notes or in an event in Legacy but I also attach the complete page so that anyone can come behind me and examine it.  You could also do a clipping of a portion of the page to make it more readable but I would still attach the entire page as well.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New website you might like

I was contacted by Garret Fractolin who wanted me to take a look at his website and maybe promote his site on the blog.  I always get a little skeptical when I get email messages like this but I pulled up the website to take a look. 


Garret has assembled the contact information for all of the county clerk offices in the US.  There are a lot of ads on this page which I assume Garret had to do to make all of his work worthwhile, other than that, the site looks pretty good.  I checked a few of the county clerks that I know by heart and the information is correct.

I did see some typos but I still think it is a good catch all website. One thing that he is missing is that many counties have separate courts for different types of records and those courts could have different addresses and phone numbers. At least if someone were to contact the listed clerk’s office they would in turn refer the person to the correct court. I have already sent Garret a list of possible improvements. Since this is a fairly new site I am sure he is still tweaking.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

It’s our Blogiversary!

Ancestoring has been online for two years!  I wouldn’t have even realized it was our blogiversary  if it hadn’t been for Thomas MacEntee posting a Happy Blogiversary post on Facebook from Geneabloggers.  Woo hoo!  Let the party begin!

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 18, 2014

Relative Finder

Brigham Young University (BYU) has a really nifty tool on their website called Relative Finder.  When you allow Relative Finder access to your Family Tree on FamilySearch it will then tell you which famous people you are related to.  They have different categories of famous people and you can select whichever groups you like.  I have to say that this is fun.  The best part is that they give you the exact path of how to get to that person.  I have 90 hits for the groups I chose.  Some are duplicates because Thomas Jefferson is in two different groups, he was a president and he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  By the way, he is my 7th cousin 6 times removed.  Knowing the exact path means you can then go back and do the research necessary to prove each connection.  Remember, most of what is on Family Tree is not sourced yet so you can’t just accept the information without further research.  There are some really cool people on my lists.  Here are the presidents I am related to:

Thomas Jefferson – 7th cousin, 6 times removed
Ulysses Grant – 12th cousin, twice removed
Zachary Taylor – 6th cousin, 8 times removed
Abraham Lincoln – 13th cousin, 6 times removed
Benjamin Harrison – 12th cousin 6 times removed
Franklin Pierce – 13th cousin, 7 times removed
Herbert Hoover – 8th cousin, 6 times removed
Millard Fillmore – 13th cousin, 3 times removed

Okay, so I am not closely related to any of them but still.  I am also related to 8 passengers of the Mayflower.

Edward Winslow – 11th cousin, 12 times removed
Francis Cook – 11th cousin, 16 times removed
Henry Sampson – 10th cousin, 11 times removed
John Alden – 8th cousin, 11 times removed
Richard Moore – 14th cousin, 8 times removed
Thomas Rogers – 9th cousin, 19 times removed
William Bradford – 12th cousin, 15 times removed
William Mullins – 7th cousin 13 times removed

Another cool category is famous writers (You knew I would be interested in this one).

Henry David Thoreau – 14th cousin 3 times removed
Samuel L. Clemens – 13th cousin, 5 times removed

Since this is put out by BYU many of the categories are LDS related.  I am not LDS but I was curious to see if I might be related to Brigham Young and I am (6th cousins, 7 times removed).  What is interesting about this one is that I have the line proved all the way up my side.  Assuming that the line back down to Brigham Young is also proved (and I am sure it is since his line has been studied extensively) I could put this one together in a flash.  I am also related to Lewis AND Clark which I thought was pretty neat.

I told you this was fun.  So who are my favorites?  The royals of course!  I have kings in my line from several countries.  I was hoping to see Henry VIII in my tree but no such luck.  I am a little disappointed with that. 

Here are two screenshots.  The first one shows just the two writers I am related to.  I picked this list because it was short enough that I could screenshot it with no problem.

RF1Screenshot taken from Relative Finder


The second screenshot is part of the chart that is generated when you click VIEW on the list.  I can’t get the entire chart on a screenshot.  I picked my relationship to Frances Lightfoot Lee (signer of the Declaration of Independence) because I have my line proved through Joshua Lee and Mary Woodard so I am pretty close. Our common ancestors are Richard Henry Lee and Anna Owen Constable. Frank (I can call him Frank because we are related) descends from Richard and Anna’s son Richard and I descend from their son John.  I am 9 more generations down on the right side.


rf2Screenshot taken from Relative Finder

I love new toys.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The FamilySearch Family Tree mobile app has arrived

Here is the complete story straight from the horse’s mouth:

They’re Here!  FamilySearch Introduces Two New Mobile Apps by Todd Powell of FamilySearch.

I downloaded the Family Tree app yesterday to my Android phone.  I really like it. Right now all you can do is view your tree but the app will be updated in the future to allow you to add data. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The genealogy programs I use

You guys are a curious bunch!  After I posted about Transcript I got FIVE emails in one day wanting to know what all genealogy programs I use.  I am just going to screenshot the contents of my genealogy programs folder that I have on my desktop which contains all of the shortcuts.  The only ones you won’t see on this list are MS Office, Evernote and Picasa which I also use for genealogy.  You will see that I have quite a few genealogy database programs on my computer even though I work for Legacy.   I use them for testing purposes and to help Legacy customers who are trying to switch over from another program.  The only one I don’t have that I want to get is The Master Genealogist but it is a little pricey and they don’t have a free version so I will be watching for some sort of mega sale.  Another program that I would like to have is DeedMapper (or something similar).  This one is also a bit pricey.  The one thing that I don’t like about DeepMapper is that even though it will handle the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is does it very awkwardly.  The program is set up specifically for metes and bounds.  I would like to find a program that I can use to map out an entire township/range instead of having to try and draw it out by hand on poster size paper.  If anyone knows of a program that can handle this let me know.  If you have other favorite programs you can post about them in the comments section.



















Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Transcript (the program)

Here is a program that you might like, Transcript 2.4 (current build) from Jacob G. Boerema.  This is nice piece of software that will help you with your document transcriptions.  You ARE transcribing everything, right? There is a free version as well as an upgraded Pro version which has some nice extra features.  The program allows you to type the transcription directly below the image which saves you from having to flip back and forth.  Even if you have two monitors as I do you can lose your place when you keep switching your eyes between the two screens.  One thing I really like is that the program automatically moves the image for you as you are typing.  Here is a screenshot.


You can change the zoom on the image and the type to get everything the perfect size to make it easy on your eyes.  This program is a real timesaver. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 14, 2014

Google is your friend

On Sunday I watched the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina.  German won which made me very happy.  While watching the match I remembered that my great-uncle Hermann Froitzheim played football (soccer) with 1 FC Köln back in the 1950s.  I wondered if maybe there was an old roster or something with his name on it so I did a Google search.  What I found was unexpected.  I actually got a Find A Grave hit.  Normally I wouldn’t think this odd but Hermann is buried in Germany and there are precious few cemeteries outside of the United States up on Find A Grave.  I never even thought to search for Hermann (or any of my other relatives for that matter) on Find A Grave.  Genealogy isn’t as big in Germany as it is here so you don’t have a slew of people running out to take grave photos.  Also, grave space is only rented in Germany.  After a period of time (20 years or so) the family must pay a fee to keep the space or the plot is reused.  Because of this it is very important that graves in Germany get recorded on Find A Grave or in some other way such as in a cemetery survey book.  I hope genealogy becomes more popular in Germany so that these graves get recorded before they are lost.

I never did find any old rosters from 1 FC Köln so I have emailed the team asking them if they have any old records of past team members.


Froitzheim, Hermann 1982Copyright © 2009 Adrienne Kiellor-Edwards, used with permission


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My subscriptions

I get quite a few emails asking me which paid genealogy sites I subscribe to.  People want to know which genealogy subscriptions are important before they invest any money.  I will give you my list but what is important to me and my research might not be as helpful to you and your research.   

Only four Smile  I would only have three but I need NewspaperArchive for one specific newspaper.  If GenealogyBank ever picks that one up I will drop Godfrey. 

I frequent a lot of freebie sites that are just as valuable to me.  Maybe I will do a list of my favorite freebies soon. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 11, 2014


Yesterday the head librarian of the Euchee Creek Library spoke to the Columbia County Genealogical Society about GalileoGalileo is Georgia’s “virtual library” and is part of the University System of Georgia.  Anyone can access it but if you happen to have a Georgia Library card (PINES) you will have access to a lot of additional databases.  I use Galileo all the time and I never thought about mentioning this resource on the blog since it is Georgia specific, however, many other states have something similar to this so I encourage you to check your own state.  To give you an idea here is a list of Galileo’s databases.  A few things on this list that is of interest to genealogists are the historical newspapers, historical books, ProQuest and HeritageQuest.  If you are in Georgia, you will log in through PINES or you can log in directly using a password that your local library will give you.  The password changes every quarter so I like to log in through PINES.  When you click the Galileo link at the bottom of the PINES page you will then log in using your regular library login information.  If you have never logged into PINES before you will need to contact your local library to get set up.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Legacy Family Tree–Virtual User’s Group Meeting

Tomorrow (Friday, 11 July 2014) at 2:00 pm EST we will be having our second Virtual User’s Group Meeting.  The first one was a hit so I am really looking forward to this one.  You must register but registration is free.  Make sure you log in early because there is only room for 1000 to watch it live and the webinars are usually packed.  If you can’t catch it live the webinar will be archived and available within a couple of hours after it closes.   Geoff will be speaking on searching and tagging while one of the other tech support people and I will be answering your behind the scenes questions.  Anyone that attends live will have a chance at a door prize.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I promised you a blog post on the storytelling aspect of writing your family history and here it is.  Dr. John Philip Colletta spoke several times during Dr. Jones’s class and he also lectured during the evening sessions.  Dr. Colletta is an excellent technical writer but the focus of his lectures was more on the creative side.  When I say creative I don’t mean fiction.  I mean putting your ancestor in context to the time period and to his surroundings.  Dr. Colletta is an expert in doing background research and then using that research to enhance the story.

Dr. Colletta told us about a nifty trick that I would have never thought to do.  Let’s say your ancestor got married on 01 Dec 1896.  You can look up the weather report for that day in the local newspaper and then weave that information into the narrative when talking about the marriage.  What a great idea!

If you do a little research of the marriage customs/dress of the time, place and culture you can then bring all of that information into the narrative.  Do you know for sure that the couple in question adhered to these social customs?  No, but you can easily qualify what you say:

“John and Mary married on a warm, sunny day, perhaps on the veranda of Mary’s parents’ house—the house where Mary had lived her entire life.  Mary was most likely wearing a new dress that her mother helped her sew for this special occasion.  John may have only owned two shirts but he could have spruced up his appearance by adding a pocket watch to his waist.”

By doing thorough background research and adding in a few qualifies you can craft an interesting story that is based on fact.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My favorite pre-1840 source

Probate!  Probate records are a great way to piece together a family pre-1840.  Probate/estate files include wills, codicils, administrations, administrator bonds, guardianship bonds, petitions, inventories, appraisals, accounts, receipts, distributions and more.  Many beginners will request a copy of a will not knowing that there may be many other associated documents.  If they are told there is no will they don’t know to look for an administration.  You want to get the entire probate/estate file.  Sometimes a probate/estate file will be all together in one packet but sometimes the different documents will be scattered in different recording books.  You need to know how that particular county handled probate.  A probate file can be hundreds of pages long and span many years.

There are a couple of things you need to know. If the person wrote a will and then died he was testate and the executor named in the would have handled everything. If the person died without a will then he was intestate. An administrator would have been appointed by the court instead of an executor. Their roles were basically the same. If you can’t find a will for a person don’t give up.  Start looking for an administration.  If a widow held property, and the disposal of that property was not already laid out in her husband’s will, then you need to look for a will or administration for her. A great clue that the person’s estate was under an administration is finding an announcement in the newspaper.The administrator would place the announcement in case there was anyone in the community that had a claim against the estate (money owed). Administrators usually were some sort of family member but could have also been a close associate. 

Wills and administrations can be a goldmine of information.  Usually the spouse and children are named as well as descriptions of any real property that is being passed down.  If there is an inventory you will get a sense of the person’s wealth.  You might even get the married names of the daughters which will then lead you to their marriage records.   I am working on a case like that now.  Between the husband’s will and the wife’s administration a pretty complete family picture emerges.  The couple had three daughters that had already died.  The grandchildren from these three were named in a way that was very helpful,   “…son of my deceased daughter…” with the full name of the daughter including married name.  Since this is pre-1840 I would have never found the names of these dead daughters on a census record.  The children of these dead daughters all died before death certificates so I could not have obtained the names that way.  It would not have mattered though because the daughters had married and had different surnames.  I would not have even known they were related if it had not been for the will and administration.  You might even find exact birth and death dates, a marriage date, or burial location for the deceased which is always a nice bonus. 

Of course you have to be careful with this because sometimes things aren’t exactly what they seem.  Listed heirs may not be the children of the decreased.  The wife listed may be the 3rd wife and not the only wife the man ever had.  The children listed may not belong to the listed wife.  The list of children may not be complete.  There might be children that are deceased, children that have already received their legacy so they aren’t listed, or there might be children that have been cut out of the will.  You still have to correlate what you find with all of the other evidence you have gathered to see the whole picture.

Here is an example of an inventory and appraisement from the estate file of Samuel Seegar of Madison County, Georgia, 1852.  Samuel owned land and he owned slaves which made him fairly wealthy.  He was only 42 when he died so he hadn’t made a will.  He died intestate so an administrator was appointed.

Seegar, Samuel inventory and appraisement 1852-01

Seegar, Samuel inventory and appraisement 1852-02


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 7, 2014

A hunting we will go

I love all things history not just genealogy.  I went to an estate sale on Saturday and came away with some treasures. The owner is a friend of mine from church and she allowed me to come take a look and make some offers before she officially puts everything up for sale.  The items were inside an old two-room, pre Civil War house.  The owner’s husband recently died.  The house was build by her husband’s 3rd great-grandparents and sits on 120 acres in a rural part of Warren County.  The old house has been sitting unused for many years now.  Because of the Georgia climate the things in this old wooden house weren’t in the best of shape but I still walked away with some nifty things. 

  • Two steamer trunks circa 1910s that will need quite a bit of work.  The hardware is intact though the leather handles are gone.
  • Seven quilts.  Best guess 1880s-1920s.  They are in decent shape though dirty.  I will have to make some minor repairs before trying to clean them.
  • Small hall table, probably 1910s-1920s, decent condition, will need some work.
  • Handmade chair, probably 1920s-1930s, decent condition, will need some work.  There was another chair that was really cool that had an animal skin seat but it was in poor condition and I wasn’t real keen in trying to tan my own leather to get it back authentic.  This one would easily date back to 1880-1890, possibly earlier.
  • Old kerosene lamp, plain farm style.  Glass is heavy and in good condition.  Brass needs to be cleaned up.  Difficult to date but I would guess 1890-1920.
  • Old blue ball jar with the bale intact though the bale is rusted.  The style of the logo on the jar puts it at 1910-1923.
  • A brownie camera circa 1920s, with film still in it!  This one was for one of my daughters.
  • A butter churn (stoneware) with the wood top and dasher intact.  This one is a bit of a mystery.  It looks authentic but I am not 100% sure.  I will need to have someone look at this one.  If it is authentic it is very old, early 1800s.  It is hard for me to believe that a reproduction would be in a mid 1800s house when there are plenty of antiques in the house.  If it is a reproduction it is the best one I have ever seen.  The only reason I hesitate is because this piece would be the oldest thing in the house and it predates the house by about 50 years. 

One thing I didn’t get that I really wanted was an old “slave bell.”  This is a large cast iron bell that was hung in the yard to call the slaves back in from the fields.  With the hanger/hardware (all intact) it weighs close to 80 pounds.  This one dates to the 1840s-1850s.  It is rusty but in decent shape.  The owner isn’t real keen on parting with it but we are still talking about it. 

An added bonus is that the owner allowed us to pick her blueberries, plums and apples.  We had fresh blueberry muffins this morning.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I finally just let it go

I admit it, I am one of those people that just couldn’t let go of the two spaces after a period when typing because that is how I learned to do it back in the dark ages. Dr. Jones finally convinced me that I needed to just get over it. I still slip up but luckily he told us how to fix our double spaces in MS Word so now I double check behind myself just to make sure.

The good news is that Dr. Jones approves of the “Oxford comma” which makes me very happy.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 5, 2014

FamilySearch’s worldwide indexing event

On July 20-21, 2014, FamilySearch will be having a worldwide indexing event.  The goal is for 50,000 indexers and arbitrators to submit at least one batch during this 24 hour period.  Piece of cake!  Since this is a worldwide event the times are a bit off.   The 24 hour period starts 6:00 pm (mountain time) on July 20th and ends 6:00 pm (mountain time) on July 21st.

If you aren’t already an indexer now is the time to sign up and get some practice under your belt before the event starts.  You can learn more about indexing HERE.  You will need to have a FamilySearch account, download the indexing program to your computer, and go through the tutorials.  They have projects for every skill level.  Not only will you be giving back to the genealogical community, you will be honing your skills.  After you have been indexing for awhile reading old documents will be no problem at all.  If reading handwriting scares you, there are some projects that are typewritten so no worries.  You can work your way up to the harder projects.

Afraid you will make some mistakes?   There are always TWO indexers for each batch.  After you finish a batch the two are compared.  If the documents match 100% between the two then the indexing is finished.   If the two indexers disagree on any item that batch will then go to an arbitrator who will make the final decisions.  You will also get feedback on how many times the arbitrator changed something.  As you gain more experience your percentage of agreement will go up.  It is a great way to monitor your progress. 

I am an arbitrator and I will tell you that most of the mistakes I see are not because someone read the handwriting incorrectly but rather because the indexer did not read the instructions for that particular project.  Each project has its own instructions and it is very important to read them.  These will be under the “project instructions” tab.  When you click on that tab you will get the basic into but you also want to click on the “click here for a summary of project updates.”  This is the most current information and if anyone has asked questions about this this particular project FamilySearch will address that here.  You will also find screenshots and examples.  Many people overlook this very helpful link.

If you pick up a batch and decide it is too difficult you can throw it back into the queue and pick up a different batch.  Even within a skill category (beginner, intermediate, advanced) there is some variation on the difficulty.  

Indexing can become quite addictive.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Since I happen to live in one of the original 13 colonies I thought I would honor the three men from Georgia that signed the Declaration of Independence.  These portraits were taken from an Erekson lithograph held at the Library of Congress.  To see the entire lithograph (and all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) click HERE.


Button Gwinnett (1735-1777)
Button Gwinnet


George Walton (1749-1804)
George Walton


Lyman Hall (1724-1790)
Lyman Hall


I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Find-A-Record – thanks, Randy Seaver

Find-A-Record is a new tool that you can use with FamilySearch.  I have only been playing with it a couple of days but I like what I see.  You must have a FamilySearch login and a tree associated with your account to be about to use it.  Randy Seaver has done a great job explaining how it works complete with screenshots so I am going to link to his blog to save myself a lot of work. 

Using Find-A-Record to Add Information to Your FamilySearch Family Tree

Randy is an excellent blogger and I encourage you to add his Genea-Musings blog to your list of required reading.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Too many words

Dr. Thomas W. Jones is the co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).  I am surprised this man doesn’t have the words “King of Conciseness” tattooed on his forehead.  One of our assignments was to bring in a 500 word writing sample.  We were to self-edit the sample and then send it to Dr. Jones.  He then edited it.  Oh my.  He is truly a master at what he does.  When I looked over the edited piece (which was now missing quite a few words) there was not one thing I could argue.  His edits made the piece more readable and clear. Before you ask, no, I am not going to post the before and after drafts.

When I got back from Birmingham it was time to submit the final draft of my last ProGen assignment.  I cheated because the introductory section of the ProGen paper was the 500 word sample that Dr. Jones edited and I felt no guilt whatsoever when I used the edited version in my final draft (I did tell everyone that I did this so don’t get too whacked out about it).  I went back through the rest of the paper and changed quite a bit using the principles Dr. Jones taught us.  I have to say it is actually fun going through a piece to see how many words you can take out without losing what you are trying to convey. 

Dr. Jones has 20 recommended reference books/articles listed in editing section.  I already have 6 out of the 20.  I am not going to list everything he recommends but I am going to tell you what the top 4 are on my wish list are.

  • Blake, Gary and Robert W. Bly.  The elements of Technical Writing, The Essential Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Proposals. Reports, Manuals, Letters, Memos, and Other Documents in Every Technical Field. New York: Longman, 1993.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1994.   Dr. Jones highly recommends a usage dictionary in addition to your regular one.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Genealogical Editing.” In Pennsylvania: Cradle of a Nation. 1997 Conference Syllabus, National Genealogical Society. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 1997.
  • Plotnik, Arthur.  The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists. New York: Macmillan, 1982.


Before you start picking my blog posts apart, I don’t do a lot of editing. I do try to proofread for any major spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors but the blog posts are informal.  Right now I am talking about TECHNICAL writing.  An example of technical writing would be an article published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) which is a scholarly journal.  This is very different than the writing style you would use if you were writing a narrative story or a book about a family geared toward “normal” people (or blog posts) though many of the same principles still apply.  I will address storyteller style soon.

Dr. Thomas W. Jones = technical writer
Dr. John Philip Colletta = storyteller

We heard both Dr. Jones and Dr. Colletta lecture at IGHR so both types of writing were presented.  These two men have totally different writing styles and it was nice to see the contrast.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If you are serious about writing…

There is a difference between gathering historical data and writing about it.  It is pretty easy to enter simple facts into a genealogy database program but writing a narrative about those facts isn’t easy at all.  You want to convey them in an interesting way but at the same time you want to make sure your writing is clear, concise and correct. 

This blog is an example of informal writing.  I live by my own rules.  I can write what I want, when I want, in whatever format I want.  When you cross over into the area of formal writing there are established standards you need to adhere to.   The Writing and Publishing for Genealogists class was all about these standards. Here are some things you need to think about when you are writing narratives that other people will be reading:

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • syntax
  • clarity
  • conciseness

These things have to do with the mechanics of your writing and not the content.  Having good content is imperative but you also need to be able to effectively communicate that content.

The first thing we learned was the importance of having good reference books in your personal library which will help you with the mechanics of good writing. I already have many of the books Dr. Jones recommends but there are still more that I need to get.  I am only going to list a few of my favorites.  Dr. Jones gave us pages and pages of reference materials with each section of the course which for a bookaholic like me is quite dangerous.  if you are serious about improving your genealogical writing skills you need to put these books on your wish list.

  • Board for Certification of Genealogists. Genealogy Standards. Nashville: Ancestry, 2014.
  • Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Curran, Joan Ferris, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray. Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2008.
  • Finley, Carmen J. Creating a Winning Family History. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2010.
  • Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013.
  • Kipfer, Barbara Ann and Robert L. Chapman, editors. Roget’s International Thesaurus, 6th ed. New York: Harper-Collins, 2010.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2012.
  • Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself : A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
  • Strunk, William and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

I will be talking about other things I learned in the class but I will also be interjecting blog posts about totally unrelated topics because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want Smile


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis