Monday, October 16, 2017

TCGS 2017 Seminar - Understanding Your DNA

by Heather Murphy

We had a wonderful seminar on Saturday presented by Diahan Southard.  Diahan thoroughly explained to over ninety attendees how DNA results can help with genealogy research and also their limitations.  We learned the differences between the various testing companies, how to analyze DNA matches within and use them to help with specific questions in our family trees, and even had a hands-on workshop.  Thank you to the seminar committee for putting on an excellent event!  Diahan does on-line consulting and has several DNA quick guides available for purchase at

Seminar attendees

Heritage Books provided a wide selection of books for purchase

Diahan's booth was always busy

Thanks to Art Kelly for a wide selection of items for the silent auction

Friday, October 13, 2017

Share the Wealth

Have you read a blog post that you have found interesting or useful?  Now at the bottom of each blog post you can chose popular social media sites and share with your friends what you have learned.  Go ahead and help others to learn more about researching their family history.

Finding Place Names: Using GNIS and GNS Databases to Identify Places

by Heather Murphy

Have you ever come across a place name in your research you aren't sure still exists? What about a post office name given in a census that isn't the main town? A town in a country you know little about? Looking for cemeteries near your ancestral home? The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) and NGA GEOnet Names Server (GNS) can help with each of these.

"The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government." They have links to two main databases, one for domestic names, Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), and another for foreign names, NGA GEOnet Names Server (GNS).  Both databases also include historical places which no longer exist.

After going to their homepage, select "Search Domestic Names" to search for places within the United States. Search parameters include feature name, state, county, and feature class. You can enter as much or as little data depending on your goal. You can enter a feature name alone or narrow it by state and county. If you want to have a list of the cemeteries in a specific county, select the feature class as cemetery and specify the state and county.

Below are the results for cemeteries in Benton county, Washington.  In contrast, a search of cemeteries in Clay County, Indiana had fifty-seven results.

Clicking on one of the entries will bring up essentially the same data as the table, but on the right side of the screen there is box titled "Mapping Services". I have had the most success with ESRI Map or ACME Mapper, but you can look through all the options to find which one you like best.

This first image is from ESRI Map, looking at the location of Cottage Hill Cemetery, Clay county, Indiana. Both ESRI and ACME have similar options for map styles.   ACME's map gives you the ability to mark several locations, which is useful to compare different locations, but it also has an advertisement in the bottom corner of the map.

"Map" view using ESRI

"Map" view using ACME

"Topo" view using either

Notice how each map view provides different information and perspectives, so look through all the different map styles for your location.  I have found the topographical maps to provide interesting information about an area, though keep in mind these do not necessarily depict the area as it would have been when your ancestor lived there.  In this map I can see abandoned train lines, mines, water features, buildings, schools, cemeteries, and much more.

If you are interested in finding a place outside of the United States, select the "Search Foreign Names" option back on the main page or go directly to the NGA GEOnet Names Server (GNS) text based search page.

You can then select the country (or not if you don't know which country to select) and then enter your place name in the "Name:" field.  For this example I am searching for "Vysocina."  I believe it is in Bohemia or Czech Republic, but since I am not sure what country it is in I did not select a country.

I now have a list of four places, all within the Czech Republic (Czechia), that have "Vysocina" as the official place name or as a variant name.  The map options for Foreign Names is not as useful as the one for Domestic Names.  The only options here are for the latitude and longitude of the place in Google Maps or Mapquest.  This can be problematic if the name is for a region because often that boundary does not show up in the supported mapping programs, but at least it gives an idea of what part of the country that place exists.

The Foreign Names database may not have as many features as the the Domestic Names database, or even a general search engine, but it might come in useful if you are having difficultly locating a certain place and you aren't having luck elsewhere.  Also, it is useful to know if several areas within a country had at least a portion of the same name, as seen above, so you don't assume that the first place that comes up in search engine results is the only place by that name.

Knowing the places our ancestors lived is so vital to finding their records and these databases are a couple more tools that can help us better understand the places we need to know more about while doing our research.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Have I Been Here Before? How Research Logs Keep You From Going in Circles

by Heather Murphy

With shaking leaves and record hints showing up in many websites it is easy to hop from link to link looking for more records.  How often do you take a couple extra minutes to note the record collections you search so you don't find yourself looking at the same thing a few months later?  Research logs aren't one of the "fun" parts of research, but if you spend a small amount of time creating them you can save yourself time in the future.

Research logs don't need to be anything fancy.  They can be handwritten, in a spreadsheet, a word document, or part of your genealogy software program.  The main elements they should contain are the date you looked at the record, the name of the record, where you accessed the record, who you looked for, and what information you found, including negative results.

PDF file
The FamilySearch Wiki has a page for Genealogy Research Forms.  The forms are organized by the
provider and then subcategories.  The first section is by FamilySearch and after scrolling down a little there is a Research Log in .pdf format (that has type-able fields) and an Electronic Research Log in .doc format.  Down further on the page there are a few additional options for research logs from other providers, such as Ancestry or Family Tree Magazine, most of which are documents that can be printed and filled in by hand.

DOC file

As much of your research is probably done on the computer, having an electronic research log can reduce the amount of time you spend notating.  Simply copy and paste the identifying information from the website into the corresponding field in the log.  Another benefit of using an electronic log is the ability to use a search feature.  If you want to know if you have checked a particular source it is easy to have the program search for a particular word or phrase without needing to scan through all your entries.

Remember to include sources that did not have the information you needed, considered negative results.  Also make entries for record collections you considered checking, but decided they would not provide the needed information.  For example,  I want a death record in 1898 in Bartholomew county, Indiana.  When I look at Ancestry's Indiana sources I see "Indiana Deaths, 1882-1920."  However, by looking at the description of this database I see that it only "includes sixty-seven of the ninety-two counties," and does not include Bartholomew county.  I would make a note of that in my research log.

Sometimes the anticipation of finding what you are looking for leads you to move as fast as you can from source to source.  Try slowing down a little bit to make a record of where you have been and what you have done and it will pay off in the long run.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Research Plans: A Tool to Avoid a Muddled Head and Lost Time

by Heather Murphy

Have you ever gotten up from the computer after researching for a couple hours (or more!) with a muddled head, wondering where the time went...and not quite remembering where you went on your internet researching trip?  Or maybe you have taken a break from your research and can't remember what you were going to search next?  The first tool you can use to solve these problems is a research plan.

Identifying your specific goal, and creating a plan to reach that goal, will help you stay focused.  What is your specific research objective?  What small, manageable segment of your family are you trying to learn more about?  Then, what record types will most likely supply the information you need? The FamilySearch Wiki has several Record Selection Tables that can help you decide which record types to search for a particular piece of information.  In the search box of the Wiki type the country or state you need and "record selection table".  Below are two examples:

You can then further use the Wiki (see the sidebar to the right if you still have the record selection table open) to learn about what records are available for your desired locality, either online or on site.  Make a list of several sources you think would be of benefit, what you hope to find in them, and then proceed to look at the sources, following your outline.  You may come across links to other sources that look interesting, but carefully consider if you should add that item into your plan at that point, or make a note of the resource to look into later.  When you have consulted the sources you outlined, or in the middle of your list if you deem appropriate, consider if you have found suitable information to answer your objective, or if you need to add onto your plan.

Research plans do not have to be complex, but if you provide enough information they can provide an additional benefit of helping you to know where you need to continue your research after stepping away from your project, whether for a day or a month.  It can also be helpful to make notes to yourself along the way of ideas for additional research.


I want to learn more about Nancy, the wife of Zachariah Taylor Casteel.

A simple research plan could look something like this:

Research Objective: Nancy md. to Zachariah Taylor Casteel: obtain death, marriage, and birth dates and places for Nancy.


  1. Every U.S. Federal census possible during her lifetime - birth year and state, could provide an idea of the places she lived during  the time frames of marriage and death, 1900/1910 censuses tell me how many years she had been married, 1900 has month of birth
  2. Death record - death date and place, birth date and place, maiden name to help find birth record
  3. Marriage record - marriage date and place, age, maiden name to help find birth record
  4. Cemetery record - death date, possibly birth date
  5. Obituary - death date and place, possibly birth date and place, marriage information

(These records could provide more information regarding Nancy and her family than I have noted in my plan, but I am focusing on how they can provide the answers to my research objective.)

I would then proceed to learn if these records are available for the time and place I need and then find the specific record collections that will help me.

While it is entertaining to jump from source to source across the internet thinking that the information you seek is a click away, making a research plan can help keep you focused on your goals and help use your valuable time more wisely.

Tre-Citta Lodge of the Sons of Italy and Tombstone QR Codes

From Art Kelly:  

I came across an announcement in the Tri-City Herald Newspaper about a local organization called: The Tre-Citta Lodge of the Sons of Italy. Their organization is only 3 years old with 38 members and meet monthly.  This organization, which encourages people of Italian descent to participate, it is also open to anyone. For more information, call 509-735-2163. 

Grand Lodge of the Northwest, Order Sons of Italy in America

Order Sons of Italy in America  (DBA as the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America) 

Also from Art:

An interesting article by Dick Eastman on the topic of QR codes on tombstones.

Have you come across an interesting article or piece of information that you think would be of interest to other members of TCGS?  Feel free to send me the information to share.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

PERSI: A Key to Unlocking Periodicals

by Heather Murphy

For over a hundred years various genealogical and historical societies have published periodicals to share information.  Articles range a wide variety of topics such as family histories, cemetery transcripts, tax lists, school records, and many more.  The Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has compiled a subject index of more than 10,000 periodicals dating back to the mid 1800s, called the Periodical Source Index (PERSI).

PERSI is currently accessed through  Findmypast is working with the Federation of Genealogical Societies to improve the index to include links to digital images of all the periodicals.  Access to PERSI is free, though you do need to create a account, but viewing any digital images requires a subscription (or a visit to a local Family History Center).

On the home screen of, select the "Search" button and then choose "Newspapers & periodicals."  In this case I am looking for records in Clay county, Indiana.  I can search for "Indiana Clay" and see 911 records found.

On the left side of the screen are a number of filters which I can use to narrow my results, such as last name or subject, such as census, cemetery, etc.  Keep in mind that last names are only included in the index if they were the main subject of an article.  It will not find that last name appearing in a list within an article.  Clicking on the blue paper icon will bring up a source citation for the article; if there is a camera icon a digital image is available.

The citation shows which periodical volume and issue includes the article.  It also lists repositories that carry that issue, but the list is not exclusive.  Also indicated is the publisher of the periodical, in this case, Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society.

The next step is to find the article I have an interest in reading.  The Allen County Public Library has all of these periodicals in their collections and has a service to copy the articles upon request.  You can also see if the publisher has their periodicals available digitally or if they offer copy services.  Some periodicals can be found at  Another option is to search the Family History Library Catalog under the subsection of "Books."  I searched for "Illiana 1966", using the main words from the periodical title and the year of the issue I want.

Some records are available to view from anywhere, but some are only viewable at a Family History Center, which is the case for this particular periodical.

Yet another option is to check the TCGS holdings at the local Richland Family History Center.  The periodical catalog can be found here.  I was able to easily determine that they have the Illiana Genealogist Vols. 1-4, which includes the issue I want and I can pull it from the shelf to look at during my next visit.

Periodicals can be a great resource for finding small record collections or lists that are hard to find elsewhere.  The example I used here is for marriage records in Clay county, Indiana 1838-1853. and have a lot of marriage records for Indiana, but their collections begin in 1851-1853 for Clay county.  This periodical article could prove to be an important source for documenting marriages during that earlier time frame.

So the next time you have exhausted the more mainstream record collections and don't know where else to look for the information you need, give periodicals a try.