Find A Grave and My smh Moment

For those who may not know all of the text and internet slang out there (honestly, I have to look most of it up  myself), the term “smh” typically means “shaking my head” and is used when someone finds something so stupid or ridiculous that words don’t do it justice.  Another popular term used for a moment like this is “facepalm” which is well illustrated by the image to the right.

Well, over the past couple of days I have been having what I can’t quite call just a single smh or facepalm moment, but perhaps an overall revelation that has made me feel pretty much exactly like Bill Cosby does in this picture.

I have been “using” Find A Grave off and on for a few years, but I have to admit that I have never used it very “religiously” because much of what I had found in the few searches I did really wasn’t anything of significance.  For most of my relatives, I was finding just basic memorials that had no real information, or only had information that I had already proven through pretty exhaustive research.  So I never spent much time on the site.  I created a profile a few months ago with the intention of trying to give back and fulfill some local requests here in Florida, but even that never really materialized.

That view of Find A Grave dramatically changed this week.

On a whim this week, I started to seriously use the website.  I requested the transfer of several family members’ memorials to me for management; I started uploading the gravestone pictures that I have in my picture library; I made numerous editing suggestions to memorials, and what really led to my facepalm was I did a few searches that I had never tried before.


All of a sudden, I started to stumble across information that I had not found anywhere else!  I was finding references to maiden names for female ancestors.  I found names of parents that had completely and totally eluded me up to this point on my lesser-researched lines.

Why had I not done this sooner?!?!?!

I find myself sitting here now looking at the 5 elements of the GPS, and I am staring at #1 (Reasonably exhaustive research).  I now realize that I have been overlooking what should have been a very basic research item!

If you haven’t used Find A Grave in a while, or you don’t contribute to it much, I sincerely urge you to go back to the site and dive in.  What you find may help you out, but probably more importantly, what you can contribute may help out someone like me who just hadn’t been looking closely until now.


Delayed Motivation Monday – July Goals

I know it isn’t Monday, but I forgot to post this yesterday, and I really didn’t want to wait until next Monday to put up my goals for July.  As I said in my last “goals” post, I truly feel like sharing these provides the accountability that I need to keep me focused on my genealogy goals each month.
First a wrap-up of June’s goals:

1)  Write two blog posts per week.  I managed to stay on track with this one.  I think that the quality of my posts have improved as a result of scaling back, and I know that the “anxiety” over trying to get out a higher volume of posts has disappeared.

2)  Finish reading Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof.  I finished this up while I was up in Indiana two weeks ago!

3)  Complete the organization of my paper files.  I hate to have a failure on any goal, but this one is going to have to be an ongoing goal since I didn’t get anywhere near completion on this one.

4)  Catch up on other genealogy reading.  Again…I’m shifting this one to an on-going goal.

5)  Evaluate the Evidentia software program. I had a chance to work with Evidentia and do some evaluation on it.  I definitely love the program and it is on my “to purchase” list!

Now, on to July’s Goals:

1) Continue working on the organization of my paper files. (Deadline: ongoing)

2) Read one white paper or article (non-blog post) per week. (Deadline: ongoing)

3) Finish sorting everything that came home with me from the Indiana trip.  This one is almost complete, so
I’m setting a deadline of July 15th for this one. (Deadline: July 15)

4) Scan at least half of the pictures and documents that came home with me from Indiana.  I don’t think that I can actually get all of it scanned by month’s end (yes, there was that much!) so I am setting a more realistic goal of half. (Deadline: July 31)

5) Participate in the MGP study group.  I’m  very excited about this one, since my group started yesterday!

6) Lay out personal genealogy education program.  Much of what I have been doing in the way of genealogy education for myself up to this point has been a little haphazard, so I want to lay out a plan so I can systematically work through it.  I think that the 10 point blueprint by Elizabeth Shown Mills will probably be my foundation. (Deadline: July 20)

Evolution of An Amateur Genealogist Part III – Speedy Gonzales Has Retired

This is the third part of what is becoming an on-going series of posts discussing my personal evolution as a genealogist and lessons I’m learning.  Here are the links so that you can read Part I and Part II.


How many of you remember the Looney Tunes cartoon character, Speedy Gonzales, from several years back?  He was the little “Mexican” mouse who was always rushing around getting into trouble and causing mischief.  (Admittedly, not very politically correct, but not many people knew what “PC” was back then.)  I have to admit that for much of the time I have been doing my genealogy/family history research, Speedy Gonzales would probably be a pretty good representation of how I worked.  (I actually considered calling this post the Retirement of Speed Racer, but I wasn’t much of a Speed Racer fan when I was younger – I was more partial to Looney Tunes.)  I was racing from one find to the next, always eager to make new finds and trace things back one more generation.  I somewhat blame and Family Tree Maker for this habit.  No, I don’t mean that it is a fault of the program or website.  What I mean is that one of the greatest strengths of Ancestry and the FTM program is that they make basic genealogy research very easy for the beginner and in my case, that contributed to my self-perceived need for speed.

Well, I can tell you without a doubt, that Speedy Gonzales has now retired from genealogy.
No, I don’t actually mean that I am retiring from genealogy!  (Even though I think my fiancee and a few others might welcome the relief from my passion/obsession!)

One of the things that I have learned over the past few months while educating myself on the more technical side of genealogy is the importance of slowing down.  I talked in my first post about how I had come to fully realized the importance of not just collecting names and dates, but actually documenting and citing all of that information, and then in my second post, I talked more about the education process and learning the methodologies and citation forms that lend legitimacy to our research.  Well, folks, I am here to tell you that my third lesson is that doing all of those things takes time!

I mentioned earlier in the month that one of my goals for June was to evaluate the Evidentia program.  While I haven’t fully explored all of it or completely decided whether or not I am going to continue using it, I have definitely discovered the biggest benefit of the program – it forces the researcher to slow down and truly examine their sources and what the individual source is telling you.  As I have worked with the program, I have discovered that even on a source that I thought I had fully examined and analyzed, I actually missed information, or misread information that the source contained.  Evidentia got me to take a second look and completely and thoroughly examine the source.

In addition, I have started to more carefully examine what sources I have checked for information to verify or disprove conclusions that I have reached.  This is element one of the genealogy proof standard – conduct a reasonably exhaustive search of available sources.  Adhering to this element has not only helped me ensure that my conclusions are correct, but it has also in a few cases, lead me to new information that unexpectedly helped me on other questions that I had not yet even asked.  A great example of this was when I went back to search land records for information on my paternal great great grandfather.  While I didn’t find any new information on his land holdings, what I did accidentally discover was information on my father’s maternal great grandfather’s landholdings.  This information not is not only going to help me advance my research on the Nicholls line, but it also provided me with proof that one of my ancestors qualifies me for a Pioneer Certificate in my home county of De Kalb County, Indiana.

As I have learned to slow down in doing my research, I have also learned to not be quite so obsessed with “advancing” my lineage.  I have begun to focus more and more on not just proving and documenting the lineage, but also on learning about the “why” behind the facts.  This has been a very personally enriching side effect of my slow down.  I have begun to take the time to stop and wonder why my ancestors did the things that they did and how they ended up where they were.  To genuinely learn about their stories and the lives that my ancestors lived has given me a much greater appreciation for who they were and who I am.

My advice to all of my fellow amateur genealogists – heed the old adage and slow down and take time to smell the roses.  It will benefit your research in ways that you can only begin to imagine!

Thankful Thursday – Mind Mapping for Genealogists by The Armchair Genealogist

I ran across an article on another blog yesterday that is the inspiration for today’s Thankful Thursday… “Mind Mapping for Genealogists” over at The Armchair Genealogist.  Lynn Palermo wrote the article about a year ago, but I just now found it. (Yes, I dig through other blogs looking for those hidden gems like this one!)  Her article was one of those inspirations that came at just the right time because it offered me a solution that I needed at just the right time.

In her article, Lynn discusses the basics of mind mapping and suggests several ways that the concept can be applied to genealogy projects.  I won’t go back over everything that she discussed because she did a tremendous job of it, and I want to give credit where credit is due.

What I will tell you is that after reading Lynn’s article, I went and downloaded a couple of the software programs that she mentions and began playing…and continued playing…and then very quickly got serious about using mind mapping in not only my genealogy, but in other areas of my work life. 

I have to say that the iMindMap program that Lynn mentioned is by far my favorite of the programs I’ve worked with since reading her article.  After about two minutes of having the program loaded on my computer, I created a quick mind map to start helping me “de-clutter” my thoughts on what I wanted to do in the area of genealogy.

As you can see, what I started with isn’t extremely fancy or in-depth, but that was what I came up with in less than three minutes of using a brand new program.  Since that picture, the mind map has exploded and also spawned three other maps with the potential for a few more.
At this point, my intention is to utilize the concept of mind mapping to help plan out my research projects, organize goals, organize writing projects, and develop a self-education plan.  And that is just in the area of genealogy!  I can see mind mapping software being useful in many, many other areas of my personal and professional life.
I highly recommend that you go take a look at the article that got me started with mind mapping and download the free trials of a few programs.  See what mind mapping can do for you, and you’ll understand why The Armchair Genealogist inspired my Thankful Thursday!  (Thanks, Lynn!)

Thrifty Thursday – Educate Yourself for Free!

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that many beginner and even intermediate genealogists make is to not educate themselves on how to  do genealogy.  It seems simple at first…go find records and record information on my ancestors, right?  Right now, any experienced genealogist is probably laughing at that statement because doing family history research entails so very much more than just “finding facts” and even finding those facts can actually be a bit complicated.  So how do you educate yourself without spending a fortune on online courses or books?  Enter the free resources available online!

I am currently saving to pay for my wedding this fall, so this year, my genealogy budget has been cut to…well…to pretty much zero.  That hasn’t stopped me from still doing my research utilizing a fantastic number of free resources available online, and it especially has not stopped me from continuing to educate myself using free online materials.  One of the best resources for educating yourself on various aspects of genealogy is

If you click on the “Learn” button on the FmailySearch header, it will take you to their Learning Center and its voluminous library of educational videos.  The videos and lessons are searchable by subject, location, level, even language!  In the beginner section alone, there are 91 free videos.  The intermediate level has nearly three hundred videos available!  Their Learning Center also has links to their Research Wiki and Discussion Forums.  If you poke around long enough, you will find almost everything you need to start educating yourself and improving your research skills.  Also don’t forget to check out the great printable research forms they have available.

If you are looking for other great free resources online, please come back in a few days and check out the “Resources” page here on the Digging Up Roots blog.  I am working on developing a list of links to free (and some paid) resources available.  You can also check out Cyndi’s List for the comprehensive list of online genealogy resources.

Tuesday’s Tip – Not "Just The Facts, Ma’am!"

In the 1950’s TV show, Dragnet, one of Sgt. Joe Friday’s catchphrases was “We just want the facts, Ma’am.”  Most beginning genealogists assume that is all they are searching for – just the facts.  But as most any “seasoned” family history researcher will tell you, sometimes writing down more than “just the facts” can be the key to breaking through a brick wall later.

When I first started reaching out past the recollection of my living relatives and into letters, Census data and other records, I made a habit of keeping two notepads with me.  One, I used to record the facts that I found in a particular record and the citation for the records – good genealogical research information.  The other pad was my “Thoughts” pad.  I used this notepad to record my on-the-fly thoughts about the record I was working with.  Most of the time, the notes were a simple connect the dots such as “Record confirms birth date for Great Grandpa Link.”  Every so often, I would jot down what I call a “huh?” note.  Those are the notes about things that just don’t make sense, don’t quite seem to fit, or they fit but open up other questions.

Many times, you will find that those hunches and assumptions that you write down on the fly prove to be correct once enough proof has been acquired.  Perhaps more importantly, the questions that you write down while you are recording the facts will often lead you down another avenue of research that yields unexpected and very valuable results.  Never assume that all you want from a document is “just the facts.”  Keep track of your thoughts and questions about documents because you never know when those random thoughts and questions may just end up helping you break through that impenetrable brick wall.

Mobile Monday – My mobile tools

As a technology professional, it’s almost ironic that when it comes to my genealogy research, I actually prefer the old-fashioned method of research…visits to courthouses, libraries and research centers digging through old volumes and documents searching for that illusive ancestor’s record that will blow down a brick wall.  With that being said, since most of my ancestors were from the Midwest and I now live in Florida, I do most of my research electronically for the time being.  To facilitate my electronic research, I’ve developed my own set of electronic resources and tools that I prefer to use.  Most of my tools are on my laptop computer, but over the past couple months, I have started to go truly mobile with my Kindle Fire and iPhone.

I have several pieces of software that I use on both mobile devices:  Ancestry, RootsMagic, ShoeBox, OneNote, Feedly, Google+, Blogger, and the list goes on.  I won’t try to cover all of these in one article, but I will highlight how I use tools differently between the two devices.

Evernote is probably the best example of an app that I use differently depending on the device that I’m on.  On my Kindle, I use Evernote much like I do on my laptop, making notes using the keyboard layout and typing them in; however, I’ve recently discovered Skitch which I see me using more and more to create notations and highlights on pictures and copies of documents to file into my research notebooks.  I also have Skitch for my iPhone, but to be honest, my fingers just don’t do as well trying to use it on the smaller screen of the phone. 

On the other hand, the voice note feature of Evernote is incredibly valuable to me on my iPhone because of all of my devices, it is the only one where I have a need for hands free note-taking.  There’s nothing worse than driving down the road and having a sudden thought that you can’t jot down and knowing that by the time you stop, the thought may be gone.  Enter Evernote on the iPhone!  I can get Evernote open, record a voice note and not have to worry about losing that thought.  I also tend to use the camera feature on Evernote a lot on my iPhone.  I absolutely love being able to take a picture of something and save it as a note for later reference!

My suggestion to those looking to go mobile with their research is to find the tools that you like to use, and then start figuring out how to fully adapt them to your mobility needs.  Realize that you will be using them differently in each individual situation and let your “work flow” with them be organic and adaptable.  In a later post, I’ll talk about one of the newest tools I’m working with and starting to love – ShoeBox.