Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The last two blog posts covered the standards you should be measuring your research against.  Here are the links to those posts.

Benchmarks – Part I
Benchmarks – Part II

Now we are going to talk about how to get the education you need to get your research up to the above standards.  I am going to concentrate on educational opportunities available to you from the comfort of your own home.  There are also great programs out there at universities and at genealogical conferences but those are a lot harder for the average person to take advantage of. I will do a separate post detailing a few of these later on. We are also going to talk about the importance of joining genealogical societies that offer great educational opportunities as well as how to build a good reference library.

This first post is aimed at the absolute beginner. There are three things you need to think about:

  • Education
  • Building a reference library
  • Networking with other researchers via genealogy societies

We will talk about education first. My #1 favorite source for beginner material is FamilySearch. FamilySearch’s Learning Center has an entire section for beginners as well as sections for intermediates and advanced. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will see a special section for beginners—5 Minute Genealogy Episodes 1-21. These short videos break down the topics in easy to digest bites.  Once you have completed those you can click the Beginner link under Skill Level on the left.  There you will find 260 videos.  These lessons are taught by accredited genealogists, certified genealogist and professional genealogists. Many of them also have handouts.  All are 100% free and you can’t beat that.  Once you access the beginner section you will see that you can further filter the list by country and by subject.  I suggest you focus on the subject categories before you start looking at country-specific lessons.

Starting a reference library is essential but it can be a bit daunting because there is a lot of great books out there.  So what books to do you get first?

  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Third Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000.

This is an oldie but a goodie.  Greenwood discusses all of the major record groups you need to be familiar with in detail.  This is the first book I recommend to people. 


  • Eichholz, Alice, editor. RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources. Third Edition. Provo, UT: 2004.

  • The Handybook for Genealogists. Eleventh Edition. Draper, UT: Everton Publishers, 2006. (I have the 10th edition)

These two books are similar in format but different enough that if you owned both it wouldn’t be a bad thing. These books are divided by state and give you an overview of what records are available for that state as well as a concise history of the state and a listing of all of the counties/parishes and their formation information. 


  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 3rd Ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.

I was a little hesitant to recommend this one as a beginner book because this book is usually VERY daunting to beginners.  However, learning how to cite your sources properly is a foundational skill.  The best advice I have is to read the first two chapters before you start looking at the examples in the rest of the book.  The first two chapters explain evidence analysis and the why and how of citing your sources.  If you understand the basic principles the rest of the book won’t be quite as scary.


Since census records are probably the most popular record group that beginners work with then you might want to take a look at this book.

  • Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.


Networking with other genealogists is very important.  The best way to do that is to join societies.  There are all different kinds of genealogical societies but I think beginner’s should start by joining their local, state and national societies.  What additional societies you join will depend on the type of research you do and what special interests you have.  I wrote a blog post on Why should I join a genealogical society?  To give you an idea of what sorts of societies you can join here is the list of the groups I belong to.

One of the things genealogical societies do is provide quality learning opportunities. 

There is one more thing that beginners need to consider and that is how they are going to document their research.  This really doesn’t fall under education per se and I will probably do another blog post just about this but I thought I would at least mention it. 

  • You need to decide on a computer genealogy database program
  • You need to decide on how you are going to file your paper documents
  • You need to decide on how you are going to file your electronic documents

(Hint – your electronic and paper filing systems need to be set up using the same organizational structure so that everything is uniform.  If you set them both up the same way you will have no problem finding things).


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Benchmarks–Part II

Ethics Pic

On Monday we talked about Genealogy Standards and how you can use them to test the quality of your research. Before I tell you about the educational opportunities out there that will help you get to this level there is one other set of standards I think all genealogists should measure themselves against and that is a code of ethics. Here are three and they are all good. 

In a nutshell, I don’t want to work with any researcher who is not ethical.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 21, 2015

Benchmarks–Part I

Would you like to become a better genealogist/family historian? All you need to do is take advantage of all of the great learning opportunities out there and adhere to a set of research standards. 

Genealogy Standards: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

If your research adheres to the standards in this little book you can be very confident that your research is on par with professional genealogists, certified genealogists and accredited genealogists.  I will tell you that if you haven’t had sufficient education the standards will be a bit overwhelming.  The standards can help you assess where you are and then you can put together an education plan to fill in any gaps you may have. 

I will be doing a series on educational opportunities that will get you to the point where the above standards are fully integrated into your research process.  The recommendations will go from foundational to advanced so there will be something for everyone.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


Monday, September 14, 2015

Another brick in the wall

My son loves Pink Floyd and can play all of their guitar solos so I hear Pink Floyd all of the time.  I was singing my version of  Another Brick in the Wall today—Another brick in the Wall… crumbles.

I have told you before that I love federal land entry files because you never know what you might find.  I found a very important clue in one today.

In the very early days of the Mississippi Territory there were three groups of Simmons’.  There was a group in the Natchez area, a group in Marion County, and a group in Perry County (my brick wall Simmons is here).  Keeping these three groups separate is a bit of a challenge and of course the possibility exists that they are all related somehow.  To complicate things the name James Simmons (my brick wall) pops up in all three areas.

I have all of the land entry file for my James Simmons already.  There are land entry files for a James Simmons and a Ralph Simmons in Marion County as well so I went ahead and had them pulled.  I already have some stuff on Ralph.  He is pretty easy to follow because there is only one Ralph.  I already knew that this James Simmons wasn’t my guy but would there be a clue in his land entry file that might help me?  There was and it was a single sentence.


James Simmons bought land in Marion County but he was from Amite County.  That puts him closer to Natchez than to Perry County which is a big clue.  My James Simmons migrated from South Carolina around 1805ish?  The James Simmons of Natchez was in Natchez much earlier, before the Mississippi Territory was officially opened for settlement.  It is more likely that the Amite County James Simmons was from the Natchez group and that he was migrating eastward while my guy was migrating westward into Mississippi from South Carolina.

My next stop was the Amite County records.  FamilySearch has a lot of the Mississippi Department of Archives records online and it happens to be one of my favorite record groups.  I opened up the Amite County records and the earliest record is a 1810 tax roll.  I have never looked at the Amite County records before because I never had a Simmons there.  Well now I do.  In 1810 I found a Vincen Simmons.  This is a completely new name and it is a more uncommon name making him easier to trace.  There was also a Robert Simmons and a John Simmons and a Willis Simmons.  Willis Simmons?  Well, well, well, there’s a name I know. 


Willis was a known associate of Ralph’s in Marion County.  So it looks like James, Ralph and Willis were all closely related (I had suspected that Ralph and Willis were) and it is more likely they were related to the Natchez bunch.  I had never been able to make any connection between Ralph and Willis and my James in Perry County.

This may not seem like a lot but it is important for me to be able to place every Simmons that was in the Mississippi Territory during these early years into their correct family groups (a mini One-Name Study if you will) and now I have been led to several Simmons’ I didn’t even know about. Mississippi has a lot of burned counties so I am a bit limited in the records department.  Every little scrap if information can find is very important, even a tax roll that has nothing but 1 pole.

I am hoping that DNA will eventually play into this. With the DNA evidence I have so far it appears that my James’ family came from Virginia originally, at least one generation back from when James was born.  I would like to find a descendant from the Natchez bunch to see what their DNA looks like. If their DNA is a match I can say that all three groups in Mississippi were related somewhere, probably back at least a generation and most likely in Virginia.  If their DNA isn’t a match then I know I am working with two distinct groups. 


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More on land mapping at the Bureau of Land Management

Brad P. emailed me in response to I have a new toy!  to make sure that I knew about another great feature that the BLM offers.  I did know about this and I use it all the time but I didn’t mention it and I think that another blog post is in order.

The BLM will plot the piece of land onto a present day map. Go to the BLM Search Page and do your search like normal.  Now click on the Accession number for the parcel you are interested in.   Down at the bottom you will see a map.  Put a checkmark in the Map box at the top and then the map will zero in on the parcel.  You can zoom in and out as needed.  Now take a screenshot of this and you can attach the image in Legacy (or whatever genealogy database program you use) as a reference.  The big square is 5N11W, the next square is section 33 and the smallest square is the NW1/4.  You can’t do multiple parcels at one time on the same map (unless you are some sort of expert with one of the advanced photo editing programs which I am not) but this is a very useful tool.



Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 7, 2015

Legacy: The other clipboards

I wrote two blog posts about the Source Clipboard
Legacy: The Source Clipboard
Legacy: More about the Source Clipboard

But what about the other clipboards in Legacy?  The clipboards are there to save you time and to help you make your entries uniform.

Event Clipboard - After you have entered an event for someone you can copy and paste that event to other people.  This is different than “sharing” an event which will probably be the topic of a future blog post.  I prefer use the copy and paste method for census records instead of sharing the event (personal preference). Everything is copied including the source citation and the linked document.

Here is Ebenezer Grantham’s event for the 1850 United States Federal Census.  I am going to copy it to all of the family members that also appear on this census.  After I have entered the information, I click the Copy button.



I then go to his daughter Leucretia and click ADD to add an event.  The event comes up blank.  All I have to do is click the Paste button.



Now I have this.


Notice that the source was copied over (the source icon is colored in) and the image file of the actual census page was also copied over (you can see the thumbnail in the bottom right corner).  This will save you oodles of time and you will be sure that everything is consistent and uniform.


To-Do Clipboard – If you need to check a specific source for more than one person this clipboard is for you.  I ordered a Family History Library microfilm and I need to check this film for several people.  I create the To-Do task for the first person, Hannah Drake, and then click the Copy button.



I open Martha Stearns’ To-Do List and open a new task.  It opens blank (the Open Date defaults in).  Now I click the Paste button.



I get an exact copy tied to Martha Stearns.  If I needed to customize it for this person I could add what I needed.



The To-Do List also has the ability to save up to ten of your favorite To-Do’s so that you can recall them at any time.

Let’s say I create a To-Do task for Find A Grave. I know this will be one that I use often so I want to save it.  After I have entered the information I click the Save button.



You then get this.



Now it is there when I need it.  I open a new To-Do Task and click the Load button.



This is what pops up.



And then you get this.



So let’s go a little further and finish the task out.  If this were a real person you might see this on the Results tab.


Take advantage of the built-in features that save you time, time you could be using to do research instead of repetitive data entry.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis