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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Hello, O-HI-O! When You Return to Your Ancestral State, Is It Reverse Migration?

    Auklet flock Shumagins 1986

    Naaah. It’s probably just Family History Travel! But, watever it’s called, I am very excited to be attending the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Columbus, Ohio, April 9-11, most especially since discovering that I have at least three native Ohio ancestors from Athens County, Ohio. If their census reporting is accurate, they may even be among the “First Families of Ohio"!

    I’m looking forward to my first visit to the Buckeye State, and to presenting three sessions on preserving and digitizing family keepsakes. Be sure to say “Hello!” if you’re in Columbus for this great event, and please let me know if you have any tips on the Athens County Squires or Lampson families.

    Squires robert lindsay

    Robert Lindsay Squires, born 1836 Athens County, Ohio
    died 1911 Gardner, Johnson County, Kansas 

    I don’t know too much about the Squires-Lampson family, except that they moved to Johnson County, Kansas about 1864 settling in Gardner, Kansas where they raised their large family and lived the rest of their lives. R.L., as Robert was known, was the son of Robert Squires and Cecelia Dean, both born Ohio. R.L. outlived his wife Emma by 16 years, marrying for the second time at the young age of 63.

    Squires lampson

    Emma Lampson Squires with her youngest daughter, Emma, born 1884.

    Emma Frances Lampson Squires was born 1837 in Athens County, Ohio to Phillip W. Lampson, born Ohio, and Polly Tracy. She died in Gardner, Kansas at the age of 58, the mother of 12 children.


    More News from Past Student Genealogy Grant Recipients

    Last week, I was excited to share the latest news from three recipients of the Suzanne Winsor Freeman Student Genealogy Grant. Here’s what’s new from two more young genealogist grant awardees:

    Mike Savoca

    Mike Savoca is an expert in onsite Italian research and recipient of the 2013 Student Grant award. He is a recent graduate of Kean University where he majored in History, and is considering working toward an advanced degree in archival studies. Mike recently worked on an archeological dig in a town located in upstate New York where his grandmother’s family once lived (pictured above) and writes, “It was amazing to be able to be a small part in unearthing physical history first hand!"

    Elyse Doerflinger is a graduate of California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in Elementary Education and is currently a first grade teacher at a charter school in Inglewood, in Los Angeles. She is a popular blogger and speaker at genealogy events in the Southern California area and writes frequently for genealogy magazines and publications. Elyse received the Student Genealogy Grant in 2012 and used the funds toward genealogy research and archival supplies for her family photo and document collection.

    Read more about the Freeman Student Genealogy Grant here, and encourage young genealogists to apply for the 2015 Grant Award today. Application deadline is April 10, 2015.


    Where Are They Now? Past Genealogy Grant Recipients Check In

    Five young genealogists have received the Suzanne Winsor Freeman Student Genealogy Grant and SCGS Genealogy Jamboree Scholarship since the award’s launch in 2011. It’s not surprising that each grantee was bitten by the genealogy bug at an early age and the family history fever is still burning brightly in each young researcher. Here’s the latest news from Anthony, A.C., and Paul:

    photo of Anthony Ray

    Anthony Ray was the first Student Genealogy Grant recipient in 2011; at that time he was a music major at West Coast Baptist College (graduated 2013) and active in the Antelope Valley Genealogical Society. Today, Anthony continues advanced musical studies while teaching voice and instrumental music, and is a popular genealogy presenter specializing in church records and Mexican research.


    A.C. Ivory, 2012 grant recipient, attended Jamboree from his home in Salt Lake City, Utah where he attended the University of Utah (graduating 2015). A.C. has worked as a professional genealogist for ProGenealogists in Salt Lake City, and is now the Training Manager directing continuing education/development for current employees and training new members of the ProGen team. A.C. was a recent presenter at RootsTech 2015.

    Photo of Paul Woodbury

    Paul Woodbury, 2014 grant awardee, attended Brigham Young University and graduated with degrees in Genetics and Family History. He is currently working as a private contract researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, DNA Detectives, and private clients. Paul is a frequent presenter and instructional assistant at DNA and Genealogy Institutes.

    2015 Applications Now Open

    Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Student Genealogy Grant. See the Student Grant Page for more information. Don't delay, the deadline to recieve all materials is April 10, 2015.


    HoverCam Document Scanner Review: Fast, Easy, VERY Portable

    As part of the research for my new book How to Archive Family Photos, I've been testing and reviewing all kinds of scanners and digitizing devices hoping to find the perfect tool for working with fragile old documents and photos. It seems I've been looking for a very long time. I want something fast and simple that delivers high-quality digital images in a variety of file formats suitable for preservation, research, and archiving. I like my Epson flatbed scanner for many digitizing projects, but I want a solution for working with oversize albums and other fragile items.

    I thought my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i  might be the answer, and it IS a wonder workhorse for office paperwork, dis-bound books, and literature. But I'm not ready to put my grandmother's 1917 marriage certificate through the rollers.

    I thought the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner  might do it all, and it IS my portable scanner of choice for anything that fits on the 4 x 6-inch scanner bed. The included Scan and Stitch software is reliable and produces excellent results, but it's not a practical solution for digitizing hundreds of oversize photo album pages, newspapers, and documents.

    I was ready to set up a permanent copy-stand solution with a digital camera, tripod, and lights when I learned about the HoverCam Solo 8 Document Camera  from Pathway Innovations and Technologies, Inc. in San Diego, California. Document Cameras have been popular classroom tools for some time, but only lately have advances in technology made the device a scanner alternative.

    HoverCam kindly sent me the HoverCam Solo 5 model to preview, followed by the newestHoverCam Solo 8 Document Camera  model featuring an 8 megapixel document camera and integrated device software. At the InfoComm show in Las Vegas featuring nearly 1,000 exhibitors, the Solo 8 won Best New Document Camera of 2014.

    Document cameras are typically used as demonstration devices and aren't known for smooth video or pristine pixels. The HoverCam Solo 8 changes all that with:

    • 8 megapixel camera
    • 30 frames per second refresh rate
    • 3.0 USB connectivity

    HoverCam and the Family Historian

    I have a lot of family documents and photos to digitize. A LOT. I've used a digital camera with and without a tripod and remote setup. I've used my flatbed scanner. But both solutions require a home setup for best results. I keep thinking, "Wouldn't it be great to have a portable digitizing device that's as easy as a camera but doesn't need the tripod?"

    HoverCam document cameras are powered by a single USB cable connection to your computer. I set up the Solo 8 on my dining room table connected to my Apple MacBook Air, and then I tried the device connected to a Dell Windows Laptop. It runs on either Mac or PC. I used it at home to digitize large photo album pages and various photos and documents. I packed it in a small tote and tried it out at the SCGS Library with books off the shelf. It was easy to set up, and simple to use.

    The device has two connection ports on the back side: one installs the software on your computer, and after installation the other port connects the cable to your computer for scanning.

    The articulating arm provides support for the camera and integrated LED lights (low and high). The entire camera folds up to fit in a briefcase and weighs under 3 lbs.  

    Digitizing With the Solo 8

    Most portable digitizing options provide images in JPG or PDF only. The large file size required for archival TIFF images makes it an impractical file format for smartphones and devices that store digital images on an SD card or flash drive. Because the HoverCam is connected directly to your computer, the device software can take advantage of the computer's processing power and hard drive storage capacity. I was able to digitize TIFF file format images, as well as JPG and PDF.

    The camera design provides a sturdy support for the camera, eliminating the need to carry a tripod or copy stand. This is a great feature.

    The lights can be switched on and off, low or high, to add extra illumination. I achieved the best results, however, with good daylight coming in through large windows. The HoverCam lights were fine with most paper, but when copying photographs or glossy paper, the reflection caused a reflective "hot spot."

    Software Features

    I've used enough different scanners and digitizing devices to know that the software is as important as the hardware in achieving consistent high-quality scans efficiently and easily. The HoverCam Flex software is available for both Mac and PC, but I've found more features in the PC edition, particularly the auto-scanning motion and time activated feature. 

    Some of the software features I especially like, include:

    • Option for TIFF format
    • Cropping 
    • Ability to rotate, enlarge for detail, and adjust alignment 
    • Autofocus, and focus-lock
    • Auto-Scanning feature takes an image at a set interval, or by motion-detection

    The Automatic Scanning feature is unique among my current digitizing equipment. Currently, this works only with the PC version of the HoverCam Flex software. I set it to take a picture every 3 seconds and turned the pages of a photo album to quickly create images of each page. 

    My first attempts to use the HoverCam Solo 5 camera and software last summer were frustrating. I didn't know that the Mac software lacked many features (now included) and I was disappointed by the quality of the 5 megapixel images delivered with the Solo 5 model. The improved 8 megapixel Solo 8 model is a vast improvement for pure scanning, and the video quality is much better as well. New instructional videos at the HoverCam website provide a good introduction to the device features, and most functions are fairly intuitive if you've used scanning software before.

    Professional Genealogist Barry Kline recently reviewed the HoverCam Solo 8 in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly and commented, "The Solo 8 retails for $349, which is a mid-range price for document cameras currently on the market. However, the Solo 8 is no average document camera. It could easily become one of the most versatile tools a genealogist own."

    Digital Image Quality 

    The bottom line, of course, is image quality. How does the HoverCam Solo 8 compare to other digitizing methods typically used by genealogists? I made several sample images with my Epson Flatbed Perfection V500 Scanner and with both HoverCam models, the Solo 5 and Solo 8.

    Photograph Scan Sample

    Right Click to View Large Image Photo Comparison of HoverCam Solo 5, Solo 8, and Epson Scanner

    The color variation is the most noticeable difference between the images. A closer look will show more detail in the Epson scan, as compared with either of the other images, but overall I thought the HoverCam Solo 8 provided a very good digital image. 

    Document Scan Sample

    I have over 1,000 pages of handwritten letters yet to be digitized. I don't really need a pristine image for restoration and touchups, like I might want with a damaged photograph. Instead, I would like what I call a "research quality" digital image. This image needs to be sharp and clear so the handwriting can be easily read, and it needs to be in a print-quality resolution so I can later print out the document for reference. The best format would be archival TIFF, saving me the trouble of file conversion to archive the images for preservation.

    In these two scans, I compared the quality of the HoverCam Solo 5 (5 megapixel document camera) with the HoverCam Solo 8 (8 megapixel document camera). 

    Right Click Image to view full size Document Comparison of Hovercam Solo 8 vs. Solo 5

    Both images are clear and easy to read. The 8 megapixel image is sharper, but the color cast is definitely tinted. The original paper is actually closer to the Solo 5 image. This may be due to the available light. I spent an entire day testing the two cameras and natural daylight lessened throughout the day. The Solo 8 image was made with the integrated camera flash; the Solo 5 image was made with flash off using natural daylight. I think this makes a good test case because many times, we don't have the luxury of working near good natural light in a research facility and we will need to use a flash. For research purposes, both images are more than adequate. For archival purposes, however, I do prefer the more natural color achieved without using the camera flash. With the flash turned off, the Solo 8 produces an image with similar color to the Solo 5 image displayed above.

    Newspaper Scan Sample

    My final sample included a 1964 newspaper clipping. And yes, the newsprint is just about this color. I think the Solo 8 did a great job with this little clipping, providing a cropped, ready to print/archive/transcribe image. The HoverFlex software also offers OCR capability, which I tried with this news clipping, with limited success. The clipping just doesn't offer the clarity needed for a good OCR transcription.

    HoverCam Solo8 Samples 3

    The HoverCam and Genealogy

    A mobile document camera is really a great digitizing tool for the researcher or family historian seeking a solution that is:

    • fast
    • mobile
    • versatile
    • affordable

    The HoverCam Solo 8 is a useful device for:

    • The family historian who wants to scan individual pages in dozens of photo albums and scrapbooks to preserve the context and captions of photos and memorabilia.
    • A researcher needing a portable camera/tripod/remote shutter solution that will be permitted in institutions such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C. or other archives and libraries.
    • A genealogist digitizing fragile handwritten letters or documents.
    • The archivist who wants to quickly digitize entire books or other bound material.
    • A researcher looking to enlarge an item, signature, or detail for closer study.
    • Anyone moving toward a paperless office by converting a large amount of paperwork and books to digital images.

    For the genealogist who has few physical items to digitize and who primarily downloads digital images from the internet, any kind of scanner is probably unnecessary or seldom needed. The flatbed scanning capability of an All-in-One Printer-Scanner-Copier combined with the occasional use of a smartphone with scanner app may be very adequate for occasional digitizing needs.

    As new models of the HoverCam Solo series are introduced, older models drop in price. The HoverCam Solo 5, 5 megapixel document camera is under $300 at, the HoverCam Solo 8  model with an 8 megapixel camera runs about $349. The camera comes with integrated software, ready to start digitizing your next family history project. 

    Note: Pathway Innovations kindly sent their newest document cameras at my request, with no obligation for a positive review. All testing, comments, and evaluations are my own. If you decide to purchase a document camera using my Amazon link, The Family Curator receives a small percentage which helps defray website costs. Thank you for your support.


    Student Genealogists Invited to Apply for Genealogy Grant

    Levenick woodbury

    Paul Woodbury, recipient of the 2014 Freeman Student Genealogy Grant with Denise Levenick, Grant Committee Chair at the 45th Annual SCGS Jamboree Scholarship Breakfast. (Photo by Pieter Breitner)

    The Suzanne Winsor Freeman Memorial Student Genealogy Grant Committee is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Student Genealogy Grant. Student genealogists between the ages of 18 and 23 are eligible to apply for the $500 cash award.

    The 2015 Southern California Genealogy Jamboree sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society will provide a full conference registration to the SCGS Jamboree in June where the award will be presented. This is a unique opportunity for a young genealogist to attend a premiere regional conference and meet genealogists from throughout the nation.

    The Student Grant was established in 2010 by family and friends in memory of Suzanne Winsor Freeman, family historian and life-long volunteer, and an enthusiastic annual attendee at the SCGS Jamboree. Past recipients include Elyse Doerflinger (Lomita, California), A.C. Ivory (Salt Lake City, Utah), Anthony Ray (Palmdale, California), Michael Savoca (Toms River, New Jersey), and Paul Woodbury (Provo, Utah).

    “The Student Genealogy Grant pays tribute to Suzanne Freeman’s dedication to youth volunteerism and family history by awarding the annual cash grant to a young genealogist attending the SCGS Annual Genealogy Jamboree, Southern California’s premiere regional genealogy conference,” notes Denise Levenick, committee chair and Freeman’s daughter.

    We are especially grateful to Jamboree for providing a three-day conference registration to the grant recipient,” she adds. “SCGS is truly a leader in conference organizations by encouraging youth involvement in genealogy through the popular Kids’ Camp Interest Group and through the student grant project.

    Born in Olathe, Kansas, Suzanne Winsor (Brown) Freeman moved to Orange County, California with her family in the early 1930s where she attended school and lived most of her life. She developed a strong interest in family history sparked by the stories of her mother’s early life in Colorado and Kansas. After retirement Suzanne moved to Green Valley, Arizona where she was active in the local genealogy society. She enjoyed returning to Southern California each year in June to attend the SCGS Jamboree. Suzanne passed away after a brief illness in Tucson, Arizona August 28, 2010.

    The $500 cash award pays tribute to these interests by awarding the annual cash grant to a young genealogist attending the Jamboree. In addition, a complimentary three-day conference registration to the Annual Southern California Genealogy Jamboree will be provided by the Jamboree conference.

    Any genealogist who is between the ages of 18 and 23 and is a current student (full-time or part-time) is eligible to apply. The recipient must attend the 2015 SCGS Jamboree in Burbank, California to receive the award. 

    Funding for the cash award is provided by the family grant program; Jamboree registration is provided by the conference. Individual contributions to the grant program are welcome at the Student Grant Webpage.

    Application deadline is April 10, 2015 midnight Pacific Daylight Time.Application details and forms are available at the Student Grant Webpage

    Suzanne Winsor Freeman’s Obituary is available here.


    Looking for A Few New-to-You Genealogy Blogs?

    The Family Curator is delighted to be included in CrestLeaf's new list of 14 Genealogy Blogs You Might Not Be Reading. . . but Should! 

    From Ancestors in Apron Strings to Young and Savvy Genealogists, the alphabetical list of online family history reading offers a wide variety of topics and subject matter. Thanks, Crestleaf!


     Infographic Created by


    About Genealogy Conferences and Salt Lake City. . . One More Thing

    Before we wave farewell to February and the flurry of travel to and from Salt Lake City for RootsTech, the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference, and various other personal and/or sponsored research trips to Salt Lake City, I have to mention just few more highlights that can't be overlooked.

    It didn't happen in the Salt Palace Convention Center or in the classrooms at SLIG. It wasn't part of a gaggle of genealogists gathered for dinner or lunch. 

    Salt Lake City is the Genealogist's Disneyland because it is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Library, otherwise known as The FHL, a deep and rich resource of worldwide family history information open to anyone from anywhere in the world. Yes, open, free of charge, to researchers who are not church members, yet are encouraged and assisted by LDS volunteers and staff at this world-class facility.

    FHL Reflection

    Main door of the Family History Library reflecting a view of Temple Square across the street.

    Each time I walked through the doors of the FHL I was greeted by friendly smiles and welcoming voices. And the thousands of genealogists visiting during January and February were greeted the same way. Unlike some libraries, museums, and other research facilities, there are no donation boxes, admission fees, or user forms to complete. The operating hours are expansive and the library is clean, well-lit, and well staffed.

    The Family History Library truly is a special place. 

    • Thank you, FHL volunteers and staff for the many wonderful hours I was able to spend browsing in the stacks, at the film readers, and working at the library tables during the conference and institute weeks this winter. 
    • Thank you, young assistants in the ScanPro line worked so earnestly to make sure my scanned film was "picture perfect."
    • And, Thank You, LDS Church for your all-inclusive policy to open the Family History Library doors to all.
    Because the FHL doors are open to everyone, I was able to locate my Vermont ancestors' birth records, view land deeds from my great-grandfather's Kansas farm, and read the shaky handwriting of a 17th century Connecticut church record. I found enough raw data to keep me busy for months, or at least until my next visit.

    It can't be easy to be a gracious host to over 22,000 visitors in one February week, or hundreds of avid researchers during an intensive institute, but the FHL does it well. Thank you.


    Are You Doing the Genealogy Do-Over with GeneaBloggers Thomas MacEntee?

    Scan 2 images w guide

    Are you looking for a little help Digitizing Photos and Documents with the GeneaBloggers Genealogy Do-Over?. This week, GeneaBloggers Thomas MacEntee gives tips for eight best practices, including scanner settings, file formats, and duplicate copies for editing.

    You might be wondering why 300 or 600 dpi? Why TIFF? and Why create an archival TIFF copy? Good questions!

    Why Use a Standard Scanning Resolution?

    In researching standard best practices for archiving family history materials, I looked at the common practices of museums, libraries and archives nationwide where staff members and interns routinely digitize thousands and thousands of items. I learned that higher resolutions are used for film and for photo restoration projects, but for most items that will be viewed digitally or printed at the same size as the original, a standard scanning resolution is adequate and recommended.

    For institutions where volunteers and interns may be performing much of the digitizing and for family historians interested mostly in sharing and archiving photos and documents, standard scanner settings are efficient and easily understood. 

    Archives typically recommend scanning documents at 200 to 300 dpi and scanning photographs at 600 dpi. Images scanned at 300 dpi or more should print fine at the original size.

    Why TIFF?

    You may have heard recommendations to use the archival TIFF format when scanning your heirloom document and photos and been reluctant to devote computer storage to such large digital files. What could be so much better about a TIFF file?

    Thomas is right -- whenever possible, TIFF is the preferred file format for digitizing keepsake photos and documents. If you're going to the trouble to scan and save these items, scan only once with the optimal file format and resolution. Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is a non-lossy archival format. The plain English translation: TIFF files aren't compressed when saved, so your file retains all of the digital information. In contrast, JPG files are lossy files; the file is compressed each time a file is saved and some information is lost.

    Why Create a JPG Copy of a Digital Image?

    Yes, TIFF files are large, but TIFF is the best choice for archiving. Create a duplicate file in JPG format to use for editing, email, and photo projects. Archive the TIFF version as Digital Insurance to help you recreate a lost or damaged original in case of disaster. If your original is a JPG format image, create a copy in TIFF or JPG and designate it as your Digital Master.

    More Questions?

    Learn more best practices for working with digital images in my paperback or ebook edition of How to Archive Family Keepsakes including

    • easy scanning workflows
    • file naming
    • folder organization
    • recommended digitizing resolutions
    • backup strategies
    • scanner suggestions

    RootsTech 2015 Photo Album

    I hear some interesting and unusual questions when I talk about about preserving heirlooms and old photos, but the questions at RootsTech top them all. The best was a request from a lady who would like to have a swatch of her grandmother's hair fashioned into a period hair ornament. . . she's looking for a  Victorian hair artist. That's a new one~ I'm making inquiries (as Sherlock would say), but please leave a comment if you have a referral for this project!

    I loved the chance to introduce my new book How to Archive Family Photos, forthcoming this spring from Family Tree Books, and to share tips and ideas about organizing digital photos, scanning heritage prints, and sharing pictures with all kinds of projects. I also joined Family Tree Magazine publisher Allison Dolan, editor Diane Haddad, and online community editor Tyler Moss in the exhibit hall booth to answer questions and sign books, with the Out of the Box Sessions at the Family Tree booth.

    On Friday afternoon, Diane and I slipped into the Media Hub recording booth to chat about my new book and almost managed to complete the recording before the bagpipers paraded by for the evening music event. If you watch the video, see if you can catch the pipers toward the conclusion.

    Diane Haddad with Denise Levenick

    Diane Haddad, Editor FamilyTree Magazine and Denise Levenick
    talk about Denise's books at RootsTech 2015.

    Denise Randy

    Showing off my "Got Roots?" scarf to Randy Seaver, Genea-Musings blogger in the Media Hub. Fabric printing is one of the projects in my new book, How to Archive Family Photos. 

    It's hard to imagine the energy and noise generated by over 20,000 genealogists gathered for two national events under one roof. If it sounds like it might be LOUD, exciting, colorful, LOUD, and inspiring, you'd be right.

    Salt Palace Convention Center

    Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City 

    FGS Booth

    FGS Booth well staffed by Tonia Kendrick, Caroline Pointer
    and Paula Stuart Warren. . .

    IMG 0354

    . . . and Linda McCauley.



    With Janet Horvaka (ChartChick), Lisa Alzo, AC Ivory (back) and
    mom Monica Ivory waiting for Laura Bush keynote.


    Keynote presentation by former First Lady Laura Bush.

    Between sessions I enjoyed getting outside and meeting up with new and old genealogy friends for a meal. My grandmother Arline Kinsel lived in Salt Lake City for a time about 1918, so it was fun to look at the old buildings and imagine how they might have looked to her nearly one hundred years ago. I imagine that today's neon lights would have been quite the sensation then!


    Lood all the way down the street to the Rio Grande railroad station, now home of the Utah State Archives


    The Peery Hotel looks like it just stepped out of another time.


    Got Stuff? Heirloom Roadshow Comes Outside the Box at RootsTech 2015

    Outside the Box FlyerHeirloom Roadshow title slide

    Looking for something new at RootsTech? Mark your schedule for Outside the Box free mini-sessions Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the Vendor Hall Booth #1240. Each 30-minute presentation will feature tips and tricks to help you solve your genealogy puzzles, and I will be sharing favorite family heirlooms for the

    Heirloom Roadshow - Friday, Feb 13, 3:30 pm


    Genealogy Gems' Lisa Louise Cooke, Family ChartMasters' Janet Horvaka, and Maureen Taylor the Photo Detective debuted Outside the Box sessions at the 2014 National Genealogy Society conference, and it immediately become a favorite conference event. I'm excited to be representing FamilyTree Magazine for the RootsTech 2015 Edition of Outside the Box and hope you'll stop by to say "Hello" and join the fun for great prizes and mini-presentations.

    Outside the Box schedule


    Let It Go? Save or Toss Those Old Family Escrow Papers?

    Photo of paper falling from tall office buildings.

    Yesterday I went into my basement family archive looking for my aunt's wedding album (yes, the basement is temperature controlled). The album wasn't upstairs in the house carefully stored in an archival box. . . it had to be downstairs, somewhere in the Holding Zone. That's what I call the precarious tower of banker's boxes and bins containing all the stuff a genealogist can't throw away when clearing out a relative's estate.

    Our basement storage closets are full of outgrown toys, my yarn stash, seven years worth of tax records and other household leftovers. A bank of metal file cabinets holds haphazard bundles of family letters, photos, and other papers inherited along with the file cabinets. But that's where the storage ends. The middle of the room is filled with boxes of personal items yet to be "processed" -- evaluated, organized, and stored in real archival storage containers.

    Someone dies and the house or apartment needs to cleaned out FAST! You open a drawer and find an assortment of rubber bands, bank receipts, and old letters. There's no time to stop, read the letters, wonder why your destitute uncle has a receipt for a $25,000 bank deposit. So, you shove everything into a box and take it home to sort later. And five years later, you are still looking at that box.

    Too many estates in too few years!

    As I looked through boxes for Auntie's album I discovered an entire box filled with financial papers, which got me thinking: 

    Why am I saving this stuff?

    Truly, what would you do if someone mailed you the 20th century escrow papers for your grandparent's home? It would include pages and pages of legal boilerplate and multiple copies of the same. The actual Title Deed would probably be absent.

    What would a genealogist glean from all that paper:

    • the fact that your grandparents were able to own their home
    • address and location of property
    • your grandparents full legal names and signatures, with addresses
    • purchase price and terms of sale for the property
    • property seller
    • potential notes on property improvements, non-compliance
    • possibly tax rate, insurance costs, hazard liability

    If your family member bought and sold several homes or property parcels, you'll be able to build a picture of their movements, their relative financial situation, and maybe social status as well.

    Working with property records found in a relative's home after they pass away is no different than working with property records on microfilm in the Family History Library. You still have to pull out the useful information, analyze what you find, and use the data to build a profile of your ancestor. All this takes time, which begs another question. Why do it at all? Unlike early land records, these papers are unlikely to shed light on murky kinships. And as for understanding the community: I'll learn more about the area from local histories and maps than poring over modern escrow papers.

    On the other hand, this is just the kind of information that will add color and detail to a biography or sketch. My grandparents never owned a home and moved from house to house exchanging my grandfather's labor as a housepainter for rent. Auntie remembered living in more than two dozen different houses and apartments as a child, so it's not surprising that she bought a home with her teacher's salary as soon as possible. 

    Let It Go?

    But, I'm thinking it might be time to let some of this stuff go. To the shredder. I'll go through the box and extract dates, addresses, sale prices. I might save the cover sheet of sales, or at least scan the paper for a digital file. But I don't need to save all the paper to save the story. Instead, I'll use the space for an archival storage box to hold Auntie's wedding album and diary, there's not much boilerplate in those pages.

    P.S. -- This is not an easy decision. What do you think? Have you been there, done that? Regrets? Is there something I'm missing, a reason I should hang on to every scrap? 

    Photo: Paper Party by Jason Sussberg, Flickr CC 2.0


    Setting Genealogy Goals With Blogging Buddy Amy Coffin

    Amy denise 2014

    Almost every holiday season since 2009 blogging buddy Amy Coffin of the WeTree Blog and I have met up in the real world for a genealogy break. We set aside the gift returns, Christmas cleanup, and dirty dishes to review the last year and set out a few objectives for the months ahead. One year we even managed to sneak in a few memorable hours researching city directories at the Los Angeles Public Library. It's great fun to look back at 2010 and see what we accomplished.

    This year, we picked a rendezvous spot midway between Amy's family in Riverside and my home in Pasadena. We pretty much decided that we had done a fair job meeting our goals for the previous years, and should try it again in 2015. Amy came prepared with paper and pen, but I had to make do with the Notes app on my smartphone. Once again we each set goals in three areas. The only rule is that is has to be something actually doable, which eliminates "finishing" our genealogy by December. 

    My goals are:

    Organizational -- To move my blog to WordPress and create a reference archive of articles that is easy for readers to access. [Right now I'm a bit stuck on the tech part of this goal, but I'm working on it.]

    Research -- To finish my D.A.R. application at last! And, then, to work more on my Brown line.

    Writing -- To write a short e-book. I just finished a new print book due out in April, How to Archive Family Photos, and I'm looking for a shorter project that will let me learn the whole ebook process. Since Amy's Big Genealogy Blog Book grew out of our 2011 Genealogy Goals, I know I have a mentor when I run into a snag and need help. 

    Amy will be sharing her 2015 goals over at the WeTree Blog. I can hardly believe that we've been doing this for over five years, but if our progress is any indication, setting goals with a friend really works! I'm fortunate indeed to have met Amy a few years ago at the SCGS Jamboree, and have to echo her question:

    So genealogy friends, are you up to the challenge in 2015?


    Organize Your Genealogy NOW!

    Organize Your Genealogy In a Week

    Save 20% on Any Course at Family Tree University with Offer Code FTUCOURSE. Expires 03/10/2015.

    January is National Get Organized Month, and if you are looking for a boost to your genealogy organizing resolutions, check out Family Tree University's upcoming  Organize Your Genealogy in a Week online workshop where I will be on-hand to answer questions and share tips to help you be an organized genealogist in 2015. 

    A new year brings out the best of intentions in all of us -- I know that I'm looking at a pile of papers and a flash drive filled with digital images from my recent trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. And everything needs to be labeled, filed, and organized so I can use this great information in my family history research. My goal is to process this new batch of material before this Friday, when we'll be talking more about organizing your genealogy at the FTU workshop.

    You can access the Organize Your Genealogy in a Week workshop anytime, anywhere, from your computer, tablet, or smartphone January 23rd through January 31st, 2015. The course features:

    • Six 30 to 60 minute instructional videos, and two written lessons on organizing your digital and paper genealogy. 
    • Advice from expert Denise May Levenick, author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes, (that's me!) on how to organize your research, and share your quandaries with fellow participants.
    • Unlimited viewing: Your all-access pass gets you into all videos throughout the week—you can even download the videos to watch again later or view ones you missed.
    • Make your own schedule: Because the classes are pre-recorded, you don’t have to show up at a specific time to catch the ones you want—or choose between sessions you’re interested in.
    • Message board discussions: Ask questions and share ideas to apply the research strategies you learn.
    • Convenience: Log in anywhere you can connect to the internet, at whatever times work for you.

    If you've been struggling with an avalanche papers, digital files, photos, memorabilia, and research notes, you'll find practical strategies to help you conquer the mess and find more time for your research.

    Sign up today for this one-week organizing course and Save 20% with this special coupon code:

    Save 20% on Any Course at Family Tree University with Offer Code FTUCOURSE. Expires 03/10/2015.

    And, in the meantime, you can get ready for the workshop by checking out the latest issue of the Genealogy Insider where Editor Diane Haddad offers Tips from the Pros: Baby Steps to Organize Your Genealogy from my article in Family Tree Magazine May/June 2014 issue.


    Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Photo Album

    New England Experts

    Course coordinator Josh Taylor and instructors Cathi Desmarais and
    Diane Gravel presented five days filled with inside tips for learning more about
    New England ancestors in “Digging Deeper: Advanced New England Research.”


    I’m home from a great week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) and already thinking about “next steps” for research uncovered in the Family History library collections with help from the instructors and course lessons. l  As a native Californian, I especially appreciated the compact New England history timelines, migration lore, and repository background. 

    In class, I learned what you need to research Connecticut records (a state genealogy society membership card), where to look for early printed sermons (Worcester, Mass.), and why it’s worth making friends with the Town Clerk (insider tips!). At the library, I narrowed my searches and found new records full of surprises.  

    The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) holds a unique place among genealogy courses and institutes — it’s held in Salt Lake City near the extensive collections of the Family History Library and in recent years has been scheduled immediately following the Association of Professional Genealogists’ Professional Management Conference. The result is a busy two-weeks of genealogy meetings and meet-ups for researchers at all levels of experience.

    Sunday Brunch Bunch at SLIG 2015

    Genealogists have to eat too! Here’s a bunch at 
    Sunday Brunch at the Marriott Hotel. 

    Dinner at the Blue Iguana

    Blogger meet-up at the Blue Iguana in Salt Lake City with (from left)
    Shelley Bishop, me, Susan Clark, and Michelle Goodrum.

    The week-long Institute concluded Friday evening with the traditional Completion Banquet, featuring speaker David Rencher who shared the story of a small bundle of family letters that held the key to a decades-long family struggle with an Arizona land claim. At one suspenseful point, the slide changed to show a name and photo and a voice shouted from the back of the room: “That’s my third times great-grandfather!” It was Josh Taylor discovering something new about his ancestors, and a new connection to David Rencher. Only at a genealogy event!

    The evening continued with the Utah Genealogical Association annual awards presentations: Pamela Boyer Sayers and Rick Sayers were named as UGA Fellows, and Judy G. Russell was awarded the Silver Plate Award for excellence in publications. It’s a wonderful acknowledgement of their outstanding contributions to genealogy excellence and education. I feel fortunate to have attended lectures and courses presented by each one.

    UGA President Bret Petersen also announced the new courses for SLIG 2016 and introduced the new director Peg Ivanyo as Christy Davies Fillerup retires after four years as SLIG director. Christy was presented with the UGA Presidental Award, and will continue as Managing Editor of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.

    Judy Russell with Paula Williams

    Paula Williams congratulating cousin Judy Russell (right),
    recipient of the  UGA Silver Plate Award.

    SLIG Banquet 2015

    At the Completion Banquet with (from left) Michelle Goodrum, 
    Jamie Mayhew, Susan Clark and Paul Woodbury.




    This Just Looks Like Salt Lake City

    Sharon Church

    My family thinks I’m in Salt Lake City this week attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, fondly known as SLIG, but I’m actually in New England (virtually) tramping through churchyards and property boundaries in pursuit of my elusive ancestors. Tour guides Josh Taylor, with New Hampshire expert Diane Gravel and Vermont expert Cathi Desmarais, have planned a great schedule for “Diving Deeper into New England” and I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to channel my deepest northeastern roots.

    Sharon VT

    Sponsored each year by the Utah Genealogical Association, SLIG offers five days of intensive genealogy instruction in eleven tracks, including classes in DNA analysis, U.S. and German research, genealogy writing, and methodology. The institute follows the Association of Professional Genealogists annual Professional Management Conference, and many researchers have taken an extended sabbatical to attend both events. I’m enjoying catching up with old friends and meeting virtual friends face-to-face. 

    I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be this week than in New England, but with the recent Eastern winter storms I’m one happy genealogist in Salt Lake City.

    FHL 2014

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