Genealogy and the 2020 U.S. Census

You have probably received, or are about to receive, your invitation to complete the 2020 U.S. Census online.

One thing I always recommend at census time is saving a paper (and electronic!) copy of the census after you fill it out. Since the censuses are closed for 72 years, how great would be researchers to have copies of our censuses for those years?

I’ve seen a lot of comments about how disappointing it is that you cannot print out all the responses when you are done completing the online forms.

With that in mind, here are two solutions:

1) Take screenshots as you fill out the forms on your computer. You can save them as images, or just cut-and-paste them into a word processing document.

– OR –

2) A better choice is probably to download and print a pdf file of the 2020 Census. Then you can fill it in and have all the answers together in one place. Of course, feel free to scan it and have it both on paper and electronically!

The 2020 Census Form can be downloaded here.

If you missed saving you previous census forms, you can find blank forms and instructions to enumerators here.

You can select the census year to locate links to blank forms. For 2000, you might want to reconstruct the long version of the form.  

The US Census Bureau website hosts a wealth of information and data, so explore it if have a chance. Educational material about the 2020 Census can be found here.

RootsTech 2020 Videos

Rootstech 2020 is over and if you did not make it, you can still be inspired by viewing some of the videos and all of the handouts at the link below. It is great that Rootstech lets us all be a part of it. The video archives is here.

To get right to the videos for some sessions go here.

Cemetery Research: Interview with Tina Simmons

We recently had a chance to catch up with researcher and author, Tina Simmons, about her work in cemetery research and in cemetery preservation.

How did you become involved with the field of cemetery research? 

Long before I understood genealogy terms I would attempt to determine connections between family members fueled by knowledge that her mother had a number of unknown relatives. I joined the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society to research my family history and took on a project working with cemetery records. I have been the Cemetery Chairman for over 30 years. Areas of continuing interest include documenting old and neglected cemeteries, photographing and transcribing tombstone inscriptions, and seeking out documentation from varied sources including death certificates, newspapers, land and church records, funeral programs, and interviewing community residents. I have focused much research on African American and institutional cemeteries that are the most elusive. I serve as a consultant with archeologists, government officials, church groups, and individuals. I give talks to various organizations.

What other hats do you wear?

I have also been a board member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites for the past three years and visited various sites throughout Maryland in that capacity as a consultant. For the past four years I have also volunteered at the Maryland State Archives with a Family Search project working to prepare probate records from various Maryland counties for scanning.

I have led public Cemetery Inscription Days since 1998. We invite people to come out and help transcribe information from tombstones two or three times during the year. With the advent of BillionGraves we started photographing tombstones instead of doing paper transcriptions which is faster but we have less control over the final project.

What should people consider when doing cemetery research?

Cemeteries often have no record of the burials. Other sources of information include Catholic and Episcopal churches records which sometimes list funerals held for local residents who were not members of that church. African American burials, in particular, typically give out a program at the funeral detailing the deceased’s life and listing many of their relatives. A family Bible, may list deaths as well as births and marriages in the center pages.  Funeral homes may allow family members access to their record for the deceased. Historical and genealogical societies as well as local libraries may offer local histories on family members or on particular surnames. If a person dies “intestate”, i.e. without a will; there will still be a distribution of their estate, both personal belongings and possibly of real estate.

Online sources for information on deaths and burials include: The Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites which lists various sources on their county pages, USGenWeb Tombstone Project,, FindAGrave, and BillionGraves.  Various online sources allow searches in old newspapers for obituaries, death notices, and notices by the court of estate settlements, guardianships, and various filings related to deaths. Older newspapers may have pages with notices from the towns where they lived, including local deaths.

When looking to do cemetery research, consider checking local resources, particularly at genealogical, historical, and public libraries. Knock on doors and ask older residents if they are aware of any cemeteries in the area. Ask permission before going on private, military, or institutional properties. Be aware that not all cemeteries are well-maintained or need to be cleaned up. Wear clothing suitable for “beating the brush”. Consider having a cemetery kit with a way to take photos, paper and pen, hand pruners, gloves, a spray bottle with water, a soft scrub brush, a trowel, something to kneel on if the ground is wet, and something to shine light on tombstones such as a mirror or car sun shield. A quick “rubbing” can be made with aluminum foil and a tennis ball.

What is your latest project?

This year I spoke at Anne Arundel County’s first Cemetery Symposium, working to bring together people interested in cemeteries with property owners who had cemeteries, professionals in archaeology, restoration professionals, and community groups. Anne Arundel County began a Citizen Preservation Stewardship Program to create an inventory of all their known cemeteries to access what condition they are in and who to contact with questions or issues using citizen participation. Information about the Citizen Preservation Stewardship Program for historic cemeteries, how you can join and what you can do is available at here.

How can people find out more about cemetery research in Anne Arundel County?

Some of the cemeteries in Anne Arundel County are listed on the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society website, as well as on the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites’ website. I am still looking for someone to add summaries of our cemeteries to the society’s website.

Tina joined the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society to research her family history and took on a project working with cemetery records. She has been the Cemetery Chairman for over 30 years. Her areas of continuing interest include documenting old and neglected cemeteries, photographing and transcribing tombstone inscriptions, and seeking out documentation from varied sources including death certificates, newspapers, land and church records, funeral programs, and interviewing community residents. She serves as a consultant with archaeologists, government officials, church groups, and gives talks to various organizations.

Tina has been a board member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites for the past three years and has visited various sites throughout Maryland in that capacity. For the past four years she has also volunteered at the Maryland State Archives with a Family Search project working with probate records from several Maryland counties.

She has published several books including several on African-American cemeteries, volumes of Grave Matters containing Anne Arundel County cemetery inscriptions, an index of early Anne Arundel County death certificates and a book of her father’s letters to her mother during World War II.

RootsTech London 2019 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech London 2019 is over, but we can still enjoy it.
You can download the syllabi from the presentation list here. Click on the arrow next to the name of the presentation to see the description and a link to the syllabus (if there is one).

There are links for RootsTech London 2019 Keynotes & General Sessions and some selected Sessions here. More videos from past RootsTech presentations can also be found on that page.

Civil War Pensions

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask us in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

In this blog post, we outline the process of requesting a Civil War Pension, and what to do if NARA replies that the Pension file is not available at NARA Archives 1 in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps you have found some evidence of your ancestor’s service in the Civil War on in family history, Fold3, Ancestry or FamilySearch. If that ancestor filed for a pension, or his widow or minor children did, you may find some useful and important genealogical data in that pension application.

(Note: The approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910 are available on Fold3 but are only 21% complete. Digitization has been halted due to concerns about handling these fragile files.

Pensions may contain a wealth of genealogical information. The veteran (or dependent) had to provide the story of the veteran’s service, and describe the wounds or ailments that had caused the veteran to be unable to support himself. Relationships had to be documented, so you might find marriage, birth and death dates of family members. There are often written statements from fellow veterans who served with him and witnessed his injuries. There could be doctor’s evaluations.

It is important to find the Pension Index Card (shown below) before ordering a pension. Be sure to save the image of the whole card when you find it. Pension Indexes can be found at Ancestry, Fold3 or on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free site for family historians, and the images for the pension can be found by searching the database: United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

In the card below, the multiple military organizations in which the veteran served are listed. The Certificate Number indicates that a pension was awarded.

If you cannot find a Pension Index Card, it is most likely because that the veteran did not apply a pension. In those days, the pensions were not automatically given to veterans. A veteran, or widow or minor, had to demonstrate that they could not work and did not have income to survive.

1. When you have obtained the Pension Index Card, you can submit a request to NARA online using:

SF 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records

Or NARA Form 85

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get a Civil War Pension File and some of the challenges you might face.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII the Korean War and more at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

Family History Outing: U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum tells the story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, whose unofficial motto is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves”. The Museum focuses on fielded and experimental equipment in: Aircraft, Rail, Vehicle, Watercraft Equipment.

Camp Eustis was established in 1918 as a training center for railway coast artillery. It became a Fort in 1923.

The Museum has a main building, a railroad pavilion, a vehicle pavilion, a marine park and an aviation pavilion.

Although the U.S. Transportation began in 1942 during WWII, the Army has needed to move troops, weapons and supplies since its beginning in the Revolutionary War. In the main building of the Museum, there is an exhibit gallery for every phase of the Army’s history. The exhibits have been put together carefully, paying attention to providing the details of an accurate representation.

Of course, I spent a lot of time in the WWI gallery. The Mexican Expeditions are also included in this gallery. There were vehicles from WWI, a mule with a pack and a model showing how the U.S. Army Transport Service berthed soldiers and transported supplies.

Army Transport Service (Sea)

In the 1950s, fueled by the Cold War, the Army saw a time of incredibly creativity in the invention of novel technology. So much about these novel technologies inspired science fiction movies. The Army’s Aerocycle single person helicopter is a novel alternative to a jet pack; the soldier stands above the rotor blades. Among the prototypes in the Aviation Pavilion are a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that was tested in 1958; the Cybernetic Walking Machine; the Air Car; and the Airgeep. The Airgeep could travel at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. and fly up to several thousands of feet in the air. The Air Car flew 10-12” off the ground, and was capable of speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It looks like the inspiration for Lady Penelope’s car in the “Thunderbirds” Supermarionation series. The Cybernetic Walker was an ancestor of the ATATs in “Star Wars”.

The Air Car

The full-sized artifacts in the pavilions show you so much more than the pictures in the museum ever could.

Although I found no mention of the Pioneer Infantry Regiments in the Museum, I did find one at the Mariner’s Museum.

This would be an interesting place to get children interested in their ancestors who served in the U.S. Army. They would be able to walk through a gallery filled with the vehicles, uniforms and other sights that their ancestors would have seen during their time in service. It could foster an interest in technology of the different eras and supplement what students learn in U.S. history classes. While the Museum is certainly filled with terrific life-sized artifacts, but it is not as interactive as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

I always recommend checking out a museum on a military installation. No matter how small, the artifacts give an insight into the history of the installation and the community around it.

The Museum asks for a $4 donation from each adult visiting.

Information about the Museum can be found here.