5 TV Shows That Teach Us About Genealogy

We’ve all watched and enjoyed specific television shows dedicated to genealogical audiences, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Genealogy Roadshow”. But are you learning about genealogy from other TV shows?



The investigation phase of each episode is filled with techniques to search the internet and social media for a person’s real identity and location. You may have had an ancestor who used aliases or whose images might be clues.


“The Curse of Oak Island”

Family stories can turn into treasure hunts.

There is always a grain of truth in the stories that are handed down. It may take a lot of digging to find the truth. As a metaphor for the search for ancestors, the number of pits promise riches but yield conflicting clues.


“The Big Bang Theory”

No ancestor was an island. Each person is surrounded by family, neighbors, and a community.

Neighbors like Penny remind us that sometimes our ancestors did not travel far to find spouses. Coworkers can become part of a family of choice. Those non-blood relatives may have pictures you have never seen and stories about your ancestors you have never heard.


“Myth Busters”

Make a hypothesis! Assemble all possible information you can. Then test it, to see if it is: busted, confirmed, or plausible. Modify your hypothesis as necessary.


“The Lone Ranger” and reruns of other favorite shows

Are any of the shows that you enjoyed as a child rerun on television? Watching them may be a pleasant enough experience on its own. When you watch them, they may trigger memories of times and places. Those memories are great to capture. But a deep memory may also be the key you that unlocks a clue to solve one a pesky family mystery.

Digital Maryland

If you are researching Maryland ancestors, Digital Maryland may be a destination on the web for you.

The mission of Digital Maryland is “to facilitate the digitization and digital exhibition of the historical and cultural documents, images, audio and video held by Maryland institutions.”

It’s like having a catalog to what is digitally available in Maryland. There are great treasures like maps, city directories, and photos. Clicking on the links will take you to the digitized collections, hosted on the institutions’ websites, or to information about the collection. Since this is database covers so many other databases, it can be a bit challenging.

You can search for topics you are researching or check out the list of digital collections,

I searched using the term:


returned a variety of maps from Maryland, and the surrounding area, draw in many years. There were also maps from around the world.

Fields on the left of the search results will let you fine tune your search.

Hover over the thumbnail image or the title to see a popup window with information about the item. Click on the thumbnail image or the title to navigate to the item itself.

After you search, make sure that you are starting a new search, selected from the dropdown menu for “within results”. Otherwise your search will be limited to results within the previous search results.

When you are on a page containing search results, the default mode for searching appears to be “within results”

From the Advanced Search page, you can specify that you are searching “All Collections”, or limit the search by selecting specific collections.

Take some time to try searching for places, names, and other genealogical important data in Digital Maryland.


Researching Missouri WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Missouri WWI Ancestors is to search the Missouri Digital Heritage website.


When you are ready to search, Click on “Search the Soldier’s Records Database”, Scroll down to the search boxes or click here.

There are records from many conflicts, from the War of 1812 to WWI. You can leave the selection at All.

Be sure to enter the name as: Last Name, First Name

PVT Acie Sparkman was from Missouri, he was with Ambulance Company 40 at Camp Wadsworth, SC, then served with the 51st Pioneer Infantry Co. L. He died overseas. I entered:

Sparkman, Acie

And selected “All Service Records”

There was only one record returned.

Click on “View Details”.

Researching Indiana WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Indiana WWI Ancestors is to check the Indiana United States Veterans of the Great War I.

It is worth reading the home page about Indiana in the Great War. (Beware of the links on the right side of the page; they take you to other websites.) The links on the left are to WWI topics, which include information gathered from oral interviews conducted with Indiana WWI veterans.

In addition to searching for the veteran’s service summary as described below, remember to search the website for your ancestor. There is a search box on the left menu, but I had better luck using Google. I searched for the ancestor name and used the site specifier, for example:

“Ernest Franklin Hess” site:www.wwvets.com

When you are ready to search for your Indiana WWI veteran, click on the search button on the home page, or go here.

You will need to use both a Last Name and a First Name for a search. I was not able to use a wildcard for the first name.

Searching for John Smith returned surnames that are Smith and begin with Smith

Clicking on the first result gave me a service summary.

I searched for a different name in the database:  McMahon, James. All three of the detailed results showed: “Listed in the Indiana War Memorials records having served in WWI”, which does not provide much help to a researcher.

The sources used to compile the database can be found here.



Researching Soldiers who died during World War I

By all means, search the ABMC Burials and Memorials to see if the soldier rests in Europe. But, you may not find his name is in the database, and there may be more to the story.

Individual Combat units were responsible for burying the deceased soldiers and marking the grave. Then the Graves Registration Unit was responsible for moving the deceased to U.S. cemetery graves. The 51st Pioneer Infantry History tells of GRU work.

But, even if the deceased soldier was buried overseas, his remains may have been returned to the U.S. in 1920 or 1921. The decision whether to leave a soldier at an overseas cemetery or bring him home was made by the next of kin. In October of 1919, the War Department contacted the next-of-kin of every deceased soldiers, and each was given the option to bury them in American military cemeteries in Europe, or have them shipped home for burial in a military or private cemetery. 46,000 of the soldiers’ remains were returned to the United States. It took over $30 million and two years to return the remains of 46,000 soldiers. 30,000 soldiers were buried in the cemeteries in Europe. The government also paid the travel expenses pilgrimages for Gold Star mothers, and widows, to visit these graves.

The Burial Files and Graves Registration records are part of the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). You can find the Individual Burial Files at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. These are also called the “Cemeterial Files” or “293 Files” and contain: Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications, and Other Papers Relating to Burials of Service Personnel. Check out The Sick and the Dead, Veterans Administration Claim Files and World War I Burial Files by Archivist Daria Labinsky.

There were many similarities between the Americans and the Australian soldiers, who fought so far from their homeland. Australia would not pay for mothers to visit the graves of their sons, as it was a dangerous and expensive proposition.

Let’s see what we can do to locate the final resting place of these fallen soldiers:

Search the American Battle Monuments Commision (ABMC) for an overseas grave.

If the soldier is not in the ABMC database, then it is worth searching in the United States for the soldier’s grave.

Searching the U.S. Army Transport Service records on Ancestry.com would confirm that the soldier’s body was returned to the U.S. These records contain the soldier’s serial number and the soldier’s military organization. If you do not have a subscription to Ancestry.com, remember that you may be able to  access Ancestry.com in may be available in your local library, or at a nearby Family History Center.

Even if you do not have access to Ancestry.com, you can still try to locate the grave.

First, search in National Gravesite Locator to see if the soldier was buried in a military cemetery.

If the soldier cannot be found in a military cemetery, try Findagrave.

Many of the fallen soldiers are documented in the three volumes of the Soldiers of the Great War:

Vol 1 Alabama – Maryland

Vol 2 Massachusetts – Ohio

Vol 3 Oklahoma – Wyoming  Volume 3 also contains an index by volume, by state and by first letter of the last name. The index to Vol 1 Begins on page 499, and the index to Vol 2 Begins on page 501.

The photos in the book are not in alphabetic order, and not every soldier has a picture.

Making A Findagrave Virtual Cemetery

Lately, many of my posts have been about WWI. So, I thought it might be time for a different topic. Building a virtual cemetery can be useful for collect information from a variety of cemeteries into one page. This is a great way to share information you have found about a family line (or even a WWI military organization).

In FindAGrave, use the link in the upper right to go to your Profile Page.

Scroll down until you see “My Virtual Cemeteries”.

Click on add. Then you will be able to enter a name for your Virtual Cemetery, a description and determine whether you want your list to be visible to the public or private.

Then Save your Virtual Cemetery.

Now, when you view any grave, you can use the tools on the right.

Select “Save to” and one of the options will be to save to a Virtual Cemetery.

And you will be presented with a list of your Virtual Cemeteries. Check the one or ones that you want to select, and save.  (At this point you can also create a new virtual cemetery.)

If you add someone by mistake, you can go to your Virtual Cemetery and select Remove next to the entry.

Give this a try!