To print or not to print?

questionmarkI admit it. I like to print out source documents I find online. When I see a census record for an ancestor, for example, I have an overwhelming desire to print it out and put it in that ancestor’s paper file. That system has worked well for me, though of course there’s potential for all those printed records to take up a lot of space.

Yesterday, I was listening to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast, specifically the Digitize, Organize, and Archive episode in which she interviews Denise May Levenick about organizing family memorabilia and genealogy records. Listening to that, I was inspired to take their advice and try to squash my compulsion to print and instead save these documents as pdfs.

I thought I’d do that today, but I’m realizing that I take some comfort in having paper records. I know my house could catch on fire and the records would vanish. But I think I have more faith in my house remaining unburned than I do in my hard drive not failing. As I’m typing this, though, I know that’s not the true reason. (I back up to an external hard drive and I have an online backup service.) I think the real reason is that my paper files are more organized than my electronic genealogy files.

Saving pdfs rather than printing would require me to clean up my electronic act. And that would be a good thing. As I see it, I’d need to come up with a good naming system and file hierarchy. I’m a Mac user and I typically rely on its excellent search functionality to help me find what I need on my hard drive. But I can imagine that pinpointing specific records in a search might be more difficult.

One advantage I can see to saving these documents on my hard drive is that sometimes I’m doing research in the absence of my paper files. I might be using my laptop upstairs, while my file cart resides downstairs. I might be at a library or a conference. I can certainly see advantages to saving, not printing.

So I’m going to continue printing, but only until I get my head around doing a better job with organizing my hard drive. (Step 1: Read Denise May Levenick’s book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, which offers information on file naming protocols.) Once I clean up my electronic genealogy files, I think I’ll try saving, rather than printing, and see if I can feel comfortable.


Like a dog with a bone

One of the reasons I frequently feel overwhelmed with my family history research is that there are so many different lines to explore and people to research. I’ll often jump from one to another in the course of a research session.

But for the last few days, I’ve been focusing on one person, my father’s paternal grandfather’s father, George Washington Adams. I can’t seem to verify his birth date and death dates and his name is common enough that there quite a few red herrings out there. I’ve been trying various online sources and scratching my head over this. I’ve made some assumptions along the way that I realize might not necessarily be right. I think I’ve found his Civil War records and if I’m right on that, then that’s him living in the National Home for Disabled Soldiers on the 1930 census.

Usually when I get frustrated, I move on to another ancestor. But this one has kept gnawing on my brain, like a dog gnawing on a bone. I haven’t been able to move on.

But I think I found him listed on an index of Illinois deaths from the Illinois Death Certificates Database. I have to write to the Vermilion County Clerk to request his death certificate, but the index included the death certificate number, which gives me hope. When it arrives I hope that it will confirm that this is my guy. We shall see.

Now I just have to wait for the death certificate. (I mailed the request this morning.) So I’m going to put George Washington Adams out of my mind and move on to another family member. I think giving my brain a break from this little frustration will do me good!

A great resource for subscribers

I’ve been a subscriber to for years but just this week learned about a resource there that I’m really excited about. In its Learning Center, Ancestry offers a Family History Wiki with some terrific information and links.

I learned about the Wiki while watching an archived Livestream lesson from Ancestry, on finding death records. I clicked on Vital Records at the top, then on the state I was interested in and simple as that, I got the information I need about the availability of vital records and how to go about getting them. In the past, my first choice in searching for vital records from a specific state has been Google. Now it’s going to be this Wiki. So far, I’ve used the Wiki only for vital records, but there are sections on census records, immigration records, military records, African American research, Jewish American research and more.

Much of the vital record information provided comes from the resource, Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. I’m so excited at how easily accessible the information is!

This is just one of the many reasons that I am happy to fork over $155 a year to Ancestry. I have found it to be an invaluable resource. I’m hopeful that their recent acquisition (as reported on Family Tree’s Genealogy Insider blog) by the European private equity firm Permira doesn’t affect the quality and accessibility of the content.

I clearly have not explored the learning opportunities available via Ancestry. Time to do more investigating of the Learning Center!

Those darn nicknames

My great great grandmother's death certificate

My GGGM’s death certificate

When you’re looking at names on a census record, or a family tree someone else has  compiled, it’s so easy to get fixated on the person’s formal name. But, in fact, even on formal documents, a nickname might be used. And if you’re using an index, that can make finding that person difficult.

Case in point: I was looking for the death certificate of my maternal grandfather’s mother. I understood her name to be Antoinette Brown. (I haven’t thoroughly researched her…I saw her name on her husband’s death certificate and thought I’d see if I can find hers, since Missouri makes it so easy.)

I figured it was a good guess that she died in the same county in which they lived and in which he died and I searched on “Antoinette Brown,” “Antonia Brown” and “A Brown.” I got nothing. So I searched county wide for all deaths of Browns between 1910 and 1961 (the date range for which images of the death certificates are instantly available as PDFs) and then searched within that page for 1922, the year that, according to an unverified public tree on, she had died. There were two 1922 deaths of Browns in Vernon County and one of them was a “Nettie Brown.” Ah ha! Nettie could be a nickname for Antoinette. So I clicked the image, and sure enough, her husband was listed as N.P. Brown. My great great grandfather was Newton Perry Brown. Furthermore, her parents’ names matched with the unsourced but reliable information my grandfather had received from a cousin, so I’m confident this is her.

Family Tree Magazine has a great list of nicknames for common female names. So if you’re having trouble finding a female ancestor, that link might help you find some nicknames to search for.It’s a terrific resource!