Genealogical Education

One of our assignments in the Professional Genealogy (ProGen) Study Group was to devise an educational plan. It may be daunting to figure out how to know what you don’t know. You can focus on a specific individual, a geographical area or topics you want to use in your research, and fill in the gaps of your knowledge in those areas. Examples: how to map property in land records or mapping tools. Picking a topic like DNA would be too large, so identify a facet of that field you want to learn. Examples would be what test(s) are available or how to triangulate matches.

Try some of the resources listed below. For maximum benefit, apply the knowledge and use the techniques you learn as soon as possible.

Where to find resources

There are a wide variety of resources to support your genealogical education. Below are some resources that I find useful when tackling a new area. This list does not include genealogical courses or conferences, but for in-depth coverage of topics you should consider them.

Articles. Useful information can be found in genealogical journals, society publications and popular publications. A membership subscription is usually required for journals and society publications. Use an internet search engine to find articles on the web, but you will want to take some time to assess the credibility of the source.   

Books. There are plenty of publications available. You can search for what is held in your local library using their catalog, or for a loner reach search in WorldCat. Be sure to check for reviews and timelessness of the information in them.

Learning Centers. All of the major record providers (e.g. Ancestry Academy, MyHeritage Knowledge Base and FindMyPast) have learning centers on their websites. These companies want to attract your business, so they provide useful information with subjects’ background and on how to use their websites.

Tourist information. Be sure to pick up tourist information about historic sites in an ancestor’s home area. Be of the lookout for useful maps that may be available, as these may have markers for regions and locations of interest that would not be available on driving maps. Look for this information when you visit, or order by mail, or download from a tourist website.

Webinars and Videos. Webinars are a great way to learn. The speakers can offer are more animated explanations than reading words. If you attend live, you may also have an opportunity to ask questions.

There are several places on the web to find webinars. There are many societies that are still having their meetings online and welcome guests. Registration is usually required. The GeneaWebinars page has a calendar of webinars . Conference Keeper contains a listing of genealogy events online. Societies and libraries often advertise their webinars on Facebook, so be sure to like and follow their pages.

The National Archives has a landing page with Resources for Genealogists. NARA hosts a family history conference each year. Since there was no 2020 NARA Family History Day, the National Archives Genealogy Series lectures were broadcast during May and June 2021.

Definitely search YouTube for topics of genealogical interest. For example, Ancestry has a YouTube channel and there are many other videos that could be helpful to you.

NARA’s past Family Genealogy Fairs presentations are also on YouTube, but it is easier to access them and their handouts on their Genealogy Fair Page.

Wikis. A wiki is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by members of the wiki community. With 96,217 articles as of this blog post, the FamilySearch Wiki is the first stop for many genealogists. The articles are educational and contain actionable information to help your research. When researching an ancestor in a new geographic location, consider using this wiki as your first stop to find out the history of the locale and what records are available.

Happy Learning!

“DNA Detectives”

“DNA Detectives” is a New Zealand genealogy program that presents the DNA stories of two celebrities per episode. Two seasons of the program were created, in 2015 and 2017.

Host Richard O’Brien introduces each celebrity, asks about the anticipated DNA results, then briefs the celebrity on the DNA testing results. Finally, he hands the celebrity a device to stay in communication with him. The mysterious device is a smart phone.

The celebrities are given cryptic and entertaining clues as they are sent on missions around the world based on their DNA results. On those missions, they travel all over the planet to meet people with whom they share DNA to explore the stories locked in that DNA. These people sharing DNA matches have information about their shared ancestors.

While not all the celebrities may be recognizable to US audiences, the host may seem a bit familiar. He wrote the musical stage show, “The Rocky Horror Show” and co-wrote the screenplay of the film adaptation, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” in which he appeared as Riff Raff. Additionally, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is featured on an episode in Season 2.

This program differs from other genealogy programs because of its focus on the personal connections with living people as well as the shared stories. Even when a celebrity visits an archive, personal connections are involved. Even though the majority of the celebrities may not be recognizable to US audiences, the stories are entertaining, interesting and at times very touching. Thinking about the connections we all share around the world can be inspiring. The forgotten stories are also thought provoking. I am not sure that I had heard the word “grancestors” (ancestors of grandparents) used on a genealogy program before.

Two seasons are available on Amazon Prime (2015, 2017), with Season 2 having commercials.

Book Review: “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists”

"The Sleuth Book for Genealogists"

For those who have been genealogists for many years, the name of Emily Anne Croom is recognizable. With books like “Unpuzzling Your Past” and “The Genealogist’s Companion & Sourcebook,” she has written several genealogical library fundamentals.

Although first published in 2000, this latest publishing of “The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” is as valuable to genealogists as it was when it was first published. The difference between the two versions is that the 2008 version is printed on thinner paper and has an errata notice about unavailability of the catalog and rental program of Heritage Quest.

While the book’s content has not changed, the concepts taught in the book are absolutely timeless; they do not rely on a current set of links to websites. In fact, taking a step back from clicking on links can encourage genealogists to develop skills and approaches used by detectives to locate and analyze data about their ancestors.

The hunt is on for the “missing persons” who are our ancestors, guided by quotes from famous literary detectives and real people. This is a full-strength guide to genealogical research, written in an approachable manner that even a beginning genealogist can appreciate. The book takes genealogists through important concepts in research, potentially brick wall-busting strategies and examples. It contains important topics, such as census research, but digs into deeds and the complications of dates. One appendix reviews the basics of genealogical studies, while the other appendix contains a guide to documentation that steers a genealogist through the important task of citing sources with extensive examples. Although the book is thorough, the information in it is not presented at the potentially intimidating depth of other comprehensive books about genealogical research.

From planning, through a variety of techniques including cluster research, to reporting results, this book walks you through the research process. An important part of meaningful research is asking questions, and throughout the process a genealogist is presented with sets of meaningful questions to ask at each stage of solving a mystery. The book also stimulates the critical thinking process by covering what a genealogist can do with what is found, no matter how it is found.

Three thorough case studies are presented in the book to illustrate the research methodology. Each begins with an inventory of what was known prior to beginning the research, then shows the questions that were asked, how they were answered and what was learned at each step. Genealogists can follow along with Ms. Croom investigating these cases to experience the process, think about the questions that should be asked and how to organize, interpret and analyze the results of each step. After studying this book, genealogists can take what they have learned and apply it to their own research problems.  

For all the useful content in this book, there is some matter that could benefit from being updated. The idea that a computer is only useful in genealogy for storage and presentation of results is outdated. The use of computers to support genealogical research has been transformed by valuable software programs written to organize and analyze data. In addition to family tree building computer programs, even common applications such as word processing and spreadsheets programs are useful to a researcher. Sadly, for newer genealogists, an anecdote about using Soundex codes to look up a census entry may not be meaningful in this age of online databases.

I was relatively new to genealogy when I read the first version of this book, and rereading it reminded me of the many good practices that I still follow in my own research. It was good to review those example questions to ask at each point of the research process. It would be great to have an automated system with this knowledge that would help me throughout my research activities, but until that happens, I am happy to have this book on a nearby shelf.

“The Sleuth Book for Genealogists” by Emily Anne Croom is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

Speaking at RootsTech Connect 2021!

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This year RootsTech is all virtual and free to register! Have you registered?

I hope you will have a chance to check out my lecture: “Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book” (Lecture Session 471160). 

For RootsTech Connect 2021, each lecture session will be 20 minutes long. My lecture will be split across two 20-minute sessions.  I hope you will join me!

Session ID: 471160
Session Title: Write Their Story: From Timeline to Young Readers’ Book
Session Type: Lecture Session

When more details are shared, I will post them on Facebook, too.

See you at RootsTech Connect!

Finding WWI U.S. Army Rosters

New Blog Post

Another great resource for researching soldiers in WWI that has come online are the Muster Rolls and Rosters at FamilySearch. Using these records, you can trace your a service member throughout his service in the U.S. Army in WWI.

US WWI Muster Roster Rolls on FamilySearch

These records are not indexed, so using them will take a little work. These are digital images of the filmstrips that you would be using at the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis, Missouri.

You will need a free account at FamilySearch to access these records, but if you are not using FamilySearch, you should be.

In order to use these records, you need to know the military organization(s) to which your ancestors belonged. A good start is using the VA Master Index to locating the first organization to which he was assigned. From there, following him in each roster, you might be able to trace his transfers between organizations.

This List of Authorized Abbreviations World War I Service Discharge Cards is a valuable reference for deciphering military abbreviations of the time.

Starting Place: The VA Master Index

I used the VA Master Index for Joseph F. McMahon, which showed his first military organization as Co B 51 Pion Inf. (In real words, this translates to Co B of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment.) To help, there is a Blog post about using the VA Master Index.

VA Master index card

Next Step: Search for the soldier’s first military organization

Searched the Muster Rolls and Rosters at FamilySearch for the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment, I learned the description was “Pioneer Inf.” Be flexible when searching. I would not have located the regiment searching for “51st” and there were many “51” on the page. Searching for “Pion” was fairly efficient.

51st Pioneer Infantry roster entry

When you see the little camera icon on the right, that means there are digital images of the record to view on the website! Click on the camera to go to the filmstrip.

Viewing the filmstrip on the website can be intimidating, but it is a lot easier than using an actual filmstrip. More than one frame at a time can be seen.

Digital Filmstrip

I can click on the Image with “51st Pioneer Inf Regt” and see that Image 12 is where the muster rolls begin. (You may wish to record that number in case you want to revisit the records.)

The Images marked “SPACER” are between the separate documents for the same organization. The images marked “NEW ORGN BEGINS” will be key to finding where the first muster rolls for Company B are.

New Organization Begins marker

The first group of Muster Rolls are for the Headquarters Company.  You can double-click on an Image to go it. From there you can use the arrows to move forward and backward through the filmstrip images. If you want to go back to seeing the browse multiple images, click on the button in the navigation menu on the left with all the small boxes.

Viewing an image on the filmstrip

Since the records are not indexed, checking the Image where a new organization begins, then browsing the multiple images will help location where Company B begins. Image 249 is where Company B’s records begin. On the Image, we can see that to go backward in time, we would have to look at rolls for the 10th New York Infantry Regiment (which was the predecessor of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment).

I need to know when Joseph F. McMahon Served with the 51st Pioneers to be able to locate him in a roster. He enlisted on 5/28/18, so I check for the new muster rolls after each SPACER to see the dates.

The first page of the organization's rosters

Image 265 is for 30 April to 30 June 1918.

The first roster for the organization

By using the arrows to scan the pages of the Muster Roll, I locate him. This record shows when he joined the organization.  

sample roster entry

At the end of the Muster Roll, soldiers lost are listed. This soldier was lost through transfer. If I were researching him, his date of transfer would be known so I could pick up the search for him in the next organization (Provisional Depot, shortened to Prov Dep).

sample roster lost by transfer entry

Through these records you should be able to track your soldier through the organizations in which he served. Of course, I recommend downloading the records you find, complete with citations. Another thing I recommend is building a timeline for his service, and add the organizations along with dates of his service in them.

The only time I have had a problem following a soldier through the rosters is when the military unit disbanded. In that case, some historical research would be in order to figure out if the soldiers were transferred en masse into another organization.

Did My Ancestor Serve in WWI?

New Blog Post

In the past, I answered that question by recommending searching for information at home, searching through the U.S. Army Transport Records that documented a veteran’s trip overseas, consulting state service abstracts or contacting the National Personnel Records Center.

Now, one of the most helpful sets of records to answer that question has come online. It is the U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index from NARA’s Records of the Veterans Administration [VA] (Record Group 15).

So, gather up the list of possible candidates. Having a residence and a birth date may help you narrow down the search for ancestors with common names.

You will need a free account on FamilySearch to access these records. If you do not already use FamilySearch, you will be glad to find out about what it has to offer. The link to search the collection is United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940.

Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index

Enter your ancestor’s name.

Searching example

Look through the search results to look for your ancestor. (Pay attention to the residence; the military service location (St. Louis) is related to where the records were stored.)

result for example search

The small document icon is used to “view the record details.”

The small camera icon on the right means that you can view an image of the record.

Search result

Clicking on “view the original document takes you to the image viewer, you can view and download it.

The image viewer screen

From this image, I know the first military organization in which Joseph F. McMahon served. An important piece of information is his military service number, which is helpful when the veteran has a common name.- His birth and death dates, as well as his enlistment and discharge dates.

C is the Claim Number assigned when an application was made for a service connected disability, pension, and education and training.

An “A” number shows that this veteran was eligible for the Adjusted Compensation paid to veterans based on their WWI service.

T Indicates that the veteran had War Risk Insurance during WWI.

CT  Shows the certificate number assigned by service departments with the World War I Bonus.

Learn more about these records at Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index.

Learn more about the letter codes at NARA’s Key to Codes & Prefixes.

When you find an ancestor who served in WWI, you can begin to research his service. Check out our other WWI blog posts by using the Search Box and entering WWI.

Learn more about our book on this website or at Amazon Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors.