5 Things to Tell New Genealogists

Have you ever helped a friend start a family tree? Starting out with a blank tree, and beginning to fill it, is always a joy. I have done this a few times and have come up with some hints to tell people who are completely new to all of it.



1) Start with yourself and work backwards.

When you work backward, you are sure to construct a solid trail to a family that you can be sure is yours.


2) No, really, start with yourself.

Collect and scan all the documents that prove you and your relationships. Think about what you would like to find for your ancestors, and collect that information for yourself. You could even include a brief autobiography.


3) Spelling, schmelling.

Do not get hung up on spelling. People in the past were not as hung up as we are on correctly spelling their names. The people who copied down the records often did so phonetically. So, don’t expect the spelling of your ancestor’s names to be the same in each record you find.


4) Keep track of your sources.

You will want to know the source of the information. Documenting your facts in your family tree software program is a great idea. It will be helpful when you come across conflicting evidence. It will also remind you where you have already looked, and keep you from ordering the same record multiple times.


5) Start a timeline.

When you make a timeline of an ancestor’s life, it makes you focus your search on the correct times and places. The timeline can make you think in terms of the events that were happening concurrently, to give context to your ancestor’s life.






World War I Dawn Patrol

While in the High Desert of California, I had a chance to catch up with an old friend, Steven Rainey from Ridgecrest, California. He has been involved in WWI reenactments for twenty years. Steven Rainey is shown here as an Army Air Corps Captain rank, working on the Flight Line as a Flight Safety Officer.



One of the reenactments Steven attends is the WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous held every two years at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, OH. The Dawn Patrol is an early morning reconnaissance mission intended to gather intelligence about the movements and positions of enemy troops. Capturing the spirit of those missions, the event features reenactors and vintage aircraft and cars.

Steven was featured on the Fall 2009 cover of the USAF Museum Friends Journal.



The camera used to take the picture was an authentic period Kodak Panorama (17 Model).

The WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous at the National Museum of the Air Force is held every two years. The next one is planned for 2018, which is during the centennial of U.S. troops in Europe.  The event promises vintage original and reproduction WWI aircraft, radio-controlled models, era automobiles, period reenactors, educational activities and a collector’s show

Steven recommends the event as a great amount of fun, with lots to see and do.






WWI in the Passenger Lists of the U.S. Army Transport Service (Part I)

In my lectures, I recommend searching for Ancestry.com’s military records from the Military Records Landing Page.



When you search from the regular search page, the results are from the most popular 10% of all their databases. Searching from the Military Landing Page, I came across records from: U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939. The record in this database give you the name of the person traveling on U.S. Army Transport plus the military organization, the military serial number and whom to notify in case of emergency and his/her relationship to the passenger. The people who would be notified were wives, mothers, father, grandmothers, cousins and friends and their addresses were listed in the record.

This is another possible path to find the military organization and service number of your WWI ancestor! When your ancestor has a common name, you can use the contact information and address to verify you have the correct person in the record.

In the records, you may find family members or foreign personnel that were transported by the Army. These are from the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group 92, held at NARA in College Park.


Searching the Database

It is always a good idea to read the information about the specific database to learn if there is a reason you cannot locate an individual. When you search an individual database on Ancestry.com, that information is available on its search page. Reading all that is the hardest thing to do when the empty search boxes beckon you, but at least you know where to find the information if you need it.

From the database page, you can search using a variety of fields, or browse starting with the List Type (Outgoing or Incoming).



From this page for one individual database page, you can search or browse through the collection. You can narrow down your search to one database, and alter your search terms to find your ancestor’s record.

In addition to a name and dates, there are useful fields to search this database.



Searching for my specific soldier’s name yielded multiple results, but using his military service number tuned right in to his record. This documented his return from France on the S. S. Wilhemina. I checked the box for “Exact” and only one record was returned.



The actual record is below.



Finding his way over to France proved a little more challenging. I had to uncheck the exact box for his service number.

One thing to try  is to use a space after a name beginning with “Mc” (or O’, Mac or Van), but that did not help. It was clear his name had been misrecorded or misindexed.

Since I knew it, I added the ship’s name, and added his military organization in the Keyword field: “51st Pioneer Infantry”.



This proved successful.



His name was indexed correctly; it was misspelled in the original record.



Always remember to select and copy the source citation information.



Reading through these records is interesting. There are notations about soldiers who were transferred between units, hospitalilzed, and those who were A.W.O.L. (Absent With Out Leave) before boarding the ship to Europe. The experience of training, then going off to war had to be overwhelming. For some immigrants, like my Grandfather, it must have seemed surreal to head back to the continent they had left behind a few, or many, years ago.

These records are a great resource for building a timeline of your WWI ancestor’s service. They are invaluable for connecting that ancestor to a family member and a place.

The next post will cover finding information about a specific military organization traveling in this set of  records.














Ancestry.com Landing Pages

Did you know that searching from the home page or the search page only includes the top 10% of the databases on Ancestry.com. To dig into the rest, you are going to need to find them!

One way is through a landing page. The landing pages have usually been created for special promotions, such as one during free access weekends. From the landing pages you can search the set of databases related to the topic.



In my lectures about ancestors in U.S. military, I recommend searching for military records from the Military Records Landing page. The results will contain records that cannot be found by doing a regular search, followed by narrowing down the results to categories. The records are in smaller databases that require you to do a search in a group of related databases through the Landing Page, or search in an individual database that you locate through the Card Catalog.

The Military Records Landing Page is one that I highly recommend. From there, you can search through all the military record databases. You can also narrow down your search to a specific conflict. The World War I page can be reached by going to the Military Records Landing Page, and selecting “World War I”.

Here are some Landing Pages to try:

U.S. Military Collection

U.S. Wills and Probate Records

Immigration records

New York State Records

Starting Your Family Tree

For those with international subscriptions, here are some International Landing Pages:

Canadian Census

Military Records in the U.K.


Good luck and let me know how you do with this.

Stay tuned for searching using the Card Catalog in an upcoming blog post.

Family History Outing: National Museum of the Marine Corps

Have you ever wondered what it was like to land on Iwo Jima? Maybe you have wanted to look at the larger, second flag to be raised by the Marines on Mt. Suribachi. Do you want to see a combat helicopter up close or exit from its inside into a combat area?

The National Museum of the Marine Corps http://www.usmcmuseum.com/ is located in Quantico, VA. The Museum is a terrific place to visit with your family whether or not you have Marines in your family history. But if you have ancestors or family members in the Marine Corps, this will be a special experience for you.

There are interactive experiences throughout the museum that give context to the experiences of the being a Marine and the Marines role in the history of the United States. You can receive a briefing before landing at Iwo Jima and experience the view from a landing craft. You can exit a helicopter in a war zone. You can learn what games Marines played in the Revolutionary War. You can examine the version of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor that your Marine wore.

Docents are located throughout the museum. Take time to ask them questions. They may even walk up to you, and offer to give you more information about the display or area. The docents are Marines, who may have been participants in what you are seeing. They are incredibly knowledgeable about the displays themselves; one shared with us how body casts were made from current Marines for the Sikorsky UH-34D helicopter display in the Leatherneck Gallery that depicting depicts the opening morning of Operation Starlite in Vietnam in August 1965.



Many aircraft flown by the Marines are displayed from the ceilings throughout the museum, allowing you to get a different perspective of them than you usually do in a static display. The bottom of an A-4E was used as a screen to project a video.



Timelines are an important tool, and the long wall with the Marine Corps timeline is no exception. When you check the timeline and mention who the Commandant was when your Marine joined, it opens the door to stories about the beginning of a military career. For those Marines who are not with you, the timeline gives context to the times they served.

The museum’s website warns that the depiction of battle scenes may be too intense for young children, so check out the website and decide for yourself.

We also made a stop at the Quantico National Cemetery. The flags on the graves were impressive and moving. Remember that you can locate veteran graves by searching the National Gravesite Locator  http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov.



Stay tuned for a post about Marines in WWI.



Take a Tour: NARA WWI Page

For the centennial of the U.S. entering WWI, NARA launched a new portal page for WWI Research.



The Genealogy Resources takes you to a page where you can start Researching Individuals in WWI Records. (Keep that in mind, and return to it after your tour of this page.)

Keep scrolling to find a section where you can choose from several World War I Topics.



Scroll even farther down for a World War I Timeline, and More Resources.

Explore the page and resources.

When you are ready to start your own research, a good place to start is NARA’s webpage Researching Individuals in WWI Records. A good resource is an article from NARA’s Prolog publication: An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service.