Browsing posts in: Family Tree

Musings on Next Christmas

Well, here it is January 25th already, only 11 more shopping months till Christmas! What will the economy be like by then, do you suppose? Will it be better than last Christmas which was just a month ago, or worse? I hope it’s not worse, but all the financial things I read don’t sound too promising.

Will the weather be better next Christmas? We went to Indiana for Christmas 2008, and I don’t think the weather could’ve been much worse, unless we’d had more snow. It would have covered up all the ice and we would really have fallen down then.

Will I still end up wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve? Probably. Actually I don’t really wait THAT long, it just seems like it. It was only the 23rd after all.

Will my husband’s brothers and their families be willing to go to the Golden Corral again for our Christmas gathering or insist that we have it at someone’s home? We went to the Golden Corral this year and there were good things as well as bad things about doing it that way. Good Stuff: No one had to clean house, do a lot of decorating and cooking, and clean up afterwards. No one had to spend a lot more money than the rest for food for everyone. We had a room all to ourselves and they didn’t charge extra for it. Everyone had something they liked to eat and plenty of it at a reasonable price. Bad Stuff: One brother and his wife especially didn’t like the idea but didn’t have room at their house so there wasn’t much they could do. It rained ice while we were at the restaurant but that could’ve happened while we were at someone’s home too.

The other brother and his wife liked the idea (probably because they were the ones who were going to have to host if we didn’t go to the buffet). They actually got stuck in an ice storm on their way home and had to spend the night in a motel!

Since we live in Florida and they’re all in Indiana, we offered to have it here but they don’t want to seem to drive that far just for some food. So I guess they’re probably stuck with the Golden Corral!

Grooming Gravesites from Afar


We live in Florida while the rest of our family either lives in Indiana or, if no longer living, are interred in Indiana. If you too have deceased loved ones who are buried far from where you live or if you find yourself no longer able to do the job of caring for family gravesites, you may want to look into having the work done by a new breed of entrepreneur, grave groomers.

While most cemeteries do mowing of graveyards and removal of dead flowers, they don’t clean tombstones or clip grass close to them, add flowers, trim bushes or do other things that you might do were you able or available. Here’s where the grave groomers can help.

Not only will they clean up the gravesite and add new flowers that the client has already selected, but many of them will even take a digital picture of the grave before and after they do their job and send it to their client via email along with weather conditions and cemetery conditions while they were at the graveyard.

One such groomer is but you can find others by simply Googling terms like “grooming gravesites” or “gravesite groomers”. If any of you Empty Nest readers have used this type of service, we’d all love to hear your comments, whether positive or negative.

Genealogy News

If you ever wondered how anyone can read those old gravestones you are not alone. Rubbings work to a point but when the stones are really, really old there is only one thing to do; call in Carnegie Mellon. Those rascals should be studying but instead they are applying their talents to a local church. It seems they have come across an interesting technique to scan gravestones in 3D and see through centuries of crusty build up. The results are quite astonishing. If you look at the picture below the left side is the gravestone as you would normally see it and the right is what Carnegie Mellon can see. Amazing!

Of course that is not really what they are studying. It is something to do with 3D reconstruction techniques. I have no clue what that means but it is interesting to see an application in the real world that might just be useful to me one day. Of course I don’t have a 3D scanner or the special software it takes but one day that will be a pocket scanner that every Genealogist must have.


This picture is courtesy of the BBC. If anyone has a problem with it just contact me and I will take it down. Pretty impressive though.

Scotland Genealogy — Part 2

In a recent post I talked about my experience with This is the official site for Scottish records. I was a little disparaging about being nickled and dimed. I have returned to the site since then and had a very pleasant experience. I tried to call the office in Edinburgh on Saturday morning without anyone picking up. I guess they don’t work on Saturdays anymore. I returned to the website to search some more. At my last session I had saved two successful searches and was able to review enough of the records to determine that I need a copy of one birth certificate and one marriage certificate. I noticed a button that had “order extract” on it. Not being certain what that meant I searched on the site to find the contents of an extract. The site had a complete list of the contents of all BMD extracts. From that I was able to determine that, yes, I did want to order the extracts. I ordered the two extracts I needed in a very short time on line. I couldn’t download the extracts but they would be mailed out to me in a certain amount of time. Of course I received e-mail confirmation within minutes. This was all very smooth and modern. Now I know why they aren’t open on Saturdays anymore. No more long distance calls for me. This is a really nice site.

Scotland Genealogy Web Site

Scotlands People is a web site designed by the Scottish government to enable online record searching. I tried it out this past weekend with mixed success. If you are interested in Scottish Ancestors and Scottish Genealogy this post may be useful to you.

If you want to check it out the website address is

It is a commercial site and you will need a credit card to do just about anything. The site works on a credit system meaning that you buy credits with a credit card and spend those credits by viewing records as you follow your research. Your credits down-count until they are zero, at which time the old credit card will be needed again.

The information seems to be as good as it gets but you will find yourself nickel-and-dimed to death. For example, there were many times that a search would provide 3 or 4 results. It would cost one credit to preview a bit more information about those results to try to determine which record was the one I really wanted to view. On several occasions that extra information was insufficient to enable a real determination. Several times I found myself paying to look at the details of each one in turn to find the one I wanted (or not find in several cases). Each “view” cost 5 credits. Before long I had burned through my first 30 credits and purchased another 60 credits. I burned through another 30 credits when I decided to start looking at the same information at The thing I like about Ancestry is the preview pane they have in the bottom left corner of the screen, which shows some of the information in the record before needing to download and view the original. That way you can sift through quite a few records in short order. There was no need to download each one in turn.

Scotlands People is a website that is far ahead of any government site I have experienced to date. I like the pay as you go approach but the implementation of the record preview is inadequate for filtering false leads. Money is wasted looking into dead ends. They need to rethink the preview approach to make it more efficient. This irritates me enough that I will use up my credits and probably not go back unless there is something unique that I can’t retrieve anywhere else.

Searching for Ancestors in the Aftermath of Culloden

My new years resolution for 2007 is to track my father’s ancestral line back to 1745. That is a very significant date in Scottish history and my personal ancestry. It is the year when Bonnie Prince Charley (Charles Stuart) and his Jacobite rebellion took on the English King’s army led by the Duke of Cumberland. The Prince was intent on placing himself on the throne of England after languishing in France for many years. He amassed a Scottish army that came oh-so-close to conquering England. In fact, he was turned back, not by the King’s army, but by an English spy who mislead him. The spy told him there was a massive English army between him and London. This piece of misinformation caused the Scots to turn and march back to Scotland. Little did they know there was no army defending London. In fact, London was wide open to them. Eventually, a real English army chased the Scots until they caught up at a place called Culloden Moor in Scotland. A collection of Scottish Clans were involved in this very famous battle in Scottish history. My ancestor’s clan fought under the banner of Clan Chattan. The historical significance of this battle is that it was the beginning of the end of the Clan system as the Scots new it. It is remembered as a moment when Scottish fighters were butchered as they lay on the ground. Officers were executed along with anyone even remotely connected to the battle, real or imagined. No longer protected by their clan leaders, Scots were turned out of their homes at will. Still remembered in Scotland to this day, it became known as “The Clearances”. Land was confiscated and homes burned. Many Scots dispersed during this time. Some left for Canada, others to Ireland and many to the coastal regions. The English took or destroyed whatever they wanted. This was a very brutal time and retribution was relentless. The bagpipes were among many symbols of Scotland that were banned. The personal significance of this battle was the destruction of my ancestral Clan and the dissipation of clan members. Either directly or indirectly, my ancestors were involved in this so it gives me a momentous moment in history to aim for. This is an extraordinarily difficult goal to achieve because of the massive movement of people from their roots.

Free Genealogy on the Web

There are many people who don’t like the notion that companies are making money off our ancestors. I couldn’t agree more. Also, what gives Governments the right to ask me to pay for my own family’s records? There is yet another grass roots movement on the web to undermine these corporations and I love it. Free databases are springing up through the tireless efforts of like-minded people. Praise goes to those volunteers who are working diligently to enter the data. The idea that individuals are working away like an ant colony is exactly in tune with modern developments on the web. There are millions of people independently working to take back what is their own. Following is a list of my favorites:


WorldGenWeb Project -The mother load


FreeBMD -UK Roots-web project

UK Census On Line -Census Roots-web project.

UK Parish Records -UK Roots-web Parish Records.

British Isles GenWeb Project -The UK mother load.

US & Canada

MyHeritage -You will find databases here that you don’t even know exist. The search is free. The search engine results will show a long list of databases, not all will be free and some will surprise you.

Ellis Island -Free search for immigrants.

The Olive Tree Genealogy -Very hit or miss and not totally free.

Genealinks -US marriages site.

Ancestor Search -More free stuff including passenger lists. This is a genealogy search engine and the results often seem to end up at Fine if it hits you.

GeneaBios -US site for historical biographies.

StumbleUpon -This is a social networking site with a genealogy group. People in the group like posting their favorite links. Not all free of course. You do have to join (free) to access the groups.

Personal Blog Sites

Personal sites with all sorts of information and great links:



The Genealogue


If you know of other sites I would really appreciate you letting me know.

Genealogy — Sometimes You Just Get lucky

I have said before that you really need to spend time on the more recent ancestors to make your data as solid as possible before moving on. Do not take anything for granted, not even your name. I was on various databases searching for my grandfather. I couldn’t find any trace of him other than what my father had told me. In the end I decided to call government offices in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the greatest experience. First, I had to leave my phone number because I went straight into their messaging system. “We will call you back,” the message said. I live in the USA so I’m thinking “yeah right”. Sure enough the phone rang about 30 minutes later. The Scottish records office had called me back. I was impressed. This was a Saturday morning and what followed was 30 minutes that would save me so much time, effort and frustration. Between us we were able to deduce that my great grandparents spelled their last name slightly different from the way I do. My grandfather, who somehow forgot the spelling of his own name, transposed two letters, which made him impossible to find by simple database interrogation. One of his two wives had corrected his marriage certificates and death certificate so that his name was aligned with his parents, but not to his children or me. The upside of all this is that in a 30-minute phone call I had unraveled the mystery of names and, for the first time, truly known which Scottish Clan I belonged to. That was a great moment. I often talk about hitting a brick wall with ancestors. This is a perfect example. If I hadn’t spent the time and the money I wouldn’t have even understood my own close ancestors, let alone be able to determine ancestors further back

The Best Genealogy Gift Ever

Digital Camera? Nope! Ancestry software? Nothing so trivial! Would you believe an old restaurant menu? Believe it. Our ancestry is almost entirely in the UK so we have been swapping information with relatives over the pond. Between relatives and online sources, like Ellis Island and, we have been able to piece together the comings and goings of my wife’s grandparents. They moved from England to Detroit back in the 1920’s trying to find work. He worked at the Studebaker factory for a few years but eventually returned to England where he became a chauffeur to Sir Alfred Dent. What I love about genealogy is personalizing history. There is nothing as cool as touching the past. We have pictures of my wife’s grandparents before they went to Detroit, while they were living in Detroit, where he worked in Detroit, a picture of the ship they came over on and a picture of him as a chauffeur when they returned to England. Pretty neat stuff, but the best was yet to come. One day we received an old photo album in the mail from England. There were various things inside, but what caught my attention was what looked like an old menu from a restaurant. Why on earth would anyone send me a menu? On closer scrutiny I noticed it had the following printed on it: “Cunard Lines” across the top, “R.M.S. Ausonia” below that, and the date, “Sunday, September 17, 1922”. Oh boy, this is a menu from that ship. How awesome is that. I now have a picture of the inside of the ship, including the dining area. Now I’m imagining them sitting down to dinner on that exact date, in that ship I have a picture of, and selecting between Roast Turkey and Salmon. I can almost see them. How cool to know they were holding and reading this piece of card back in 1922 trying to decide what to have for dinner. This is what excites me about Genealogy. It’s bringing history to life. It gives me goose bumps.

Click on these thumbnails to see the pictures:

RMS Ausonia, 1922 (coutersy Cunard Lines)

Inside RMS Ausonia (courtesy Cunard Lines)

The Menu from RMS Ausonia


Genealogy Software – How to get the most out of it

Along with millions of other people, I’m a user of Family Tree Maker and genealogy software. You can view genealogy software as a place to collect names and dates or you can really use the software to learn and capture history. The following is a list of my favorite features along with some useful tips and insights:

Family Tree Maker:

The main user interface is plain vanilla but simple to navigate. Like a car, it’s what’s under the hood that really counts. I rarely print out so I don’t find those features exciting. The following excite me:

  • Buried under the “edit” button is an area for capturing information about that person. Write down everything you learn about an individual on the “notes” page and, before you know it, that person’s life’s story takes shape. LUV this feature.
  • In the same area is a “medical” tab. If you enter the cause of death from their death certificate you can build a history of YOUR genetic tendencies. Want to know about your family medical history? Look at it there.
  • I absolutely love the merge feature. My daughter-in-law entered her known family tree while living in a different state from me. The file was transferred to me using the Messenger file transfer feature. (Good for large files). Once I had it on my computer I simply merged hers with mine. The process took a while, during which time Family Tree Maker asked me a couple of questions and presto it was done. Just like that. Awesome feature.
  • One day I found a relevant piece of a tree on someone else’s site, downloaded it and, because of standardized file types, was able to merge it.
  • The slide show feature is wonderful. Collect up all those pictures of a person and put them into the scrapbook in chronological order. Run the slide show and watch that person grow up and age. Personally I find this very moving when I watch my parent’s slideshow.
  • On the main page there is a “web search resource” button that can take you directly to relevant search records at This is powerful if your record matches’s records. If not, see my tips below.


    • The best single feature on the Ancestry site is the ability to download copies of census records. A census record provides the address, parents, siblings, jobs and place of birth. Priceless information! People would actually go door to door and sit down with the occupants to fill those out. To protect people’s privacy, census records are only released after 100 years.
    • The database search can be frustrating at times. I have found that many times it works best when less information is input. It sounds counter intuitive, but computers will search for exact matches in the data and, if yours is a little different from what the database contains, the results can get buried. Sometimes less is more. Unless you are very confident about your information, use a broader search to help narrow it down.

        I want to hear about your experience. Please use the comment box below to tell me about it.

        Another good site is Genealogy Blog Carnival