Do you have any genealogy documents hiding in your home?

birth certificate Dave Adams cropped2In an extreme example of the perils of letting household filing pile up, I found my grandfather’s birth record over the weekend.

Over the last few years, I’d put some effort into figuring where he was born. It was mysterious to me because the census records said he was born in Oregon, yet his residence was always Washington. My father, his son, had no recollection of any family history in Oregon. Two years ago, I blogged about it when I discovered a birth announcement in a Portland paper. At that time I said I had written away to the state archives for a copy of the birth certificate. Alas, I received a letter from the Oregon Health Authority saying that no birth record was found.

Fast forward to October 2015. I decided to stop ignoring a pile of household filing that had been sitting on top of the file cabinet for a long time. They were mostly paid bills, some records of home repairs, things like that. I file pretty consistently, I had just let this pile happen slowly over time when I had items that would take a little extra effort to file. I’d gone without touching it for some time. It had become part of the landscape.

I set my timer for ten minutes and filed. Some of the items had aged out, so I could just throw them away. It took four or five ten-minute sessions over a couple of days before I reached the bottom and, to my embarrassment (I’m a professional organizer!), I realized that the items at the bottom of the pile were set there in 2007.

Among them was a file marked with my parents’ address. In it were some documents I had snagged when cleaning out their file cabinet in 2007. I remember that epic file-cabinet clearing. My parents had saved decades’ worth of certain paid bills. There were home purchase documents and some fun records, like the hospital bill for my birth in 1962 ($261.30), which was also in the file in my filing pile. But the real gem was a certified copy of my grandfather’s birth record, issued in 1944. Apparently there was never an actual birth certificate, since this copy was based on “affidavit and documentary evidence.”

In 2007, when I saved that document from being shredded with the rest of my parents’ old records, I was interested in genealogy. But wasn’t working on it properly or seriously. I knew enough to save that birth record, but I wasn’t interested enough to file it away properly or even remember ever having seen it.

Needless to say, I was delighted, if a little chagrined, to find it. I’ve added it to the source list in my family tree software. I’ve scanned it and filed it electronically and filed the copy among my paper files. It’s now safe and sound where it belongs.

Are there any piles or files in your home that might reveal some genealogical treasures? It might be worthwhile to catch up on your filing!

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!