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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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    Entries in books (15)


    Summer Reading List for Genealogists 

    Part 2: Stretch Your Skills

    When I was teaching and had children in school, summer was a magical time to catch up on all the things I never seemed to have time to tackle during the other three seasons of the year. I dreamed of finishing all my Christmas shopping by September 1, but a trip to the library would send me on a new quest to master the art of canning fresh tomato sauce, or learn about stamp collecting with kids. 

    Genealogists with "other" lives might want to take on a challenging new research skill during a summer lull. It's a great time to be a family researcher, and these recent books are outstanding field books for any expedition.

    The family tree historical maps book 1

    The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: A State-by-State Atlas of US History, 1790-1900 (Family Tree Books, 2014).

    Genealogists use scores of maps, and this new large-format new book from Family Tree Magazine is an attractive and useful reference work for anyone researching American records. Full color United States maps show decade-by-decade changes in the nation's boundaries, and state maps provide milestone timelines to aid in understanding the images. Special maps illustrate average family sizes in 1900 and immigrant concentrations in 1880, among other subjects, and suggest possible themes to weave into your family history sketches.

    Hardcover, PDF eBook Available from ShopFamilyTree and Amazon.


    The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Germanic Ancestry in Europe, by James Beidler (Family Tree Books, 2014)

    Did you know that more Americans today "claim German ancestry than any other ethnicity"? It's not surprising that German traditions, foods, and names are found in all fifty United States. In this new guidebook, professional genealogist James Beidler shares strategies for researching German immigrant ancestors, deciphering German-language records, and understanding clues in German names. Extensive lists of German repositories,  sample research requests in German, and helpful handwriting "cheat sheets" make this an especially useful book for historians (like me) seeking German ancestors.

    Paperback; Kindle Available from ShopFamilyTree and Amazon


    Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques, by George G. Morgan and Drew Smith (McGraw-Hill Osborne, 2013)

    Paperback; Kindle

    Authors Morgan and Smith, hosts of the popular Genealogy Guys Podcast, hear a lot of brick-wall stories from their listeners and have a good idea of the kinds of research problems that can helped with careful strategy. Generously illustrated and filled with examples and anecdotes, Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques is a solid next-step for the genealogist who feels blocked by elusive records or confused by conflicting information. The chapter on using DNA as part of a research strategy is especially instructive and helpful for anyone looking to understand the basics of genetic genealogy.


    Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by Emily D. Aulicino (Author House, 2013)

    Paperback; Kindle

    The fast-moving technology of DNA testing and it's uses for genealogical research have made genetic genealogy a frequent topic in the daily news. Author, speaker, and genealogist Aulicino has written a DNA guidebook that clearly explains the different DNA tests and how each one can be be used to further genealogical research.  Topics such as choosing a testing company, convincing people to take a DNA test, and how to understand the results are among the book's fifteen chapters. 


    Mastering Genealogical Proof , by Thomas W. Jones

    Paperback, Kindle

    In this workbook-handbook, Dr. Jones lays out a practical method for working with genealogical information, from locating and citing the bits and pieces you uncover, to evaluating, analyzing, correlating, and assembling evidence into reasonable written conclusions. With self-checking exercises, ample illustrations, charts and examples, MGP is the perfect Summer Learning experience. For an even richer understanding of the concepts, sign up for one of the MGP Study Groups coordinated by Angela McGhie.


    For a detailed look at building a personal research library, see Michael Hait's recent blog post at Planting the Seeds, Building a solid genealogy library (part one).

    Save 10% at Shop Family Tree with Offer Code FAMILY10F.  Note: Affiliate links.


    More to the Story than Girl Meets Kilt: What Does Outlander Say About Marriage to a Genealogist?



    I missed Outlander  in my Summer Reading roundup of genealogy fiction, and Facebook Friends helpfully pointed me to an the all-consuming time-travel historical fiction series. HOW did I miss this series? Outlander series is not new, but with the upcoming debut of the new made-for-tv series, the books by Diana Gabaldon are sure to find a new audience that missed the books the first time around. And, it all starts with a genealogist!

    I've only just started the first stage setting first novel, Outlander, but the English teacher in me is already wondering about the subtext of the storyline. . .

    (No big spoilers here that aren't already in the reviews.)

    The heroine is married to a historian / genealogist and while touring Scotland falls into a time warp. She lands in the arms of her husband's British soldier ancestor, flees, and is rescued by a band of rival Scots, in particular the young, handsome, wounded Jamie. She learns that her husband's ancestor was cruel and ruthless, and appears to be more sympathetic with the Scots. Great conflict. Can't wait to read on.

    But, something about the plot seems so familiar. It reminds me a lot of the stories I've heard from probate attorneys and estate auctioneers about what can happen to a genealogist's legacy when the non-genealogist spouse is left to "dispose" of research, books, and heirlooms. I'm not saying that Claire is a jealous spouse; but, it does make one wonder just how "happily married" she really might be. There are no coincidences in well-crafted fiction. Frank's occupation as historian and genealogist is an integral part of the story, and Claire's ambivalence about Frank's British "hero" ancestor speaks loudly  about her feelings towards Frank and his preoccupation with the past. 

    There's more to this story than girl meets kilt.

    And, maybe it's time to add genealogy to an estate plan and think about What to Keep and What to Throw Away.


    The Annual "What Are You Reading This Summer?" Post

    Summer is here, and it's time for The Family Curator's Summer Reading List for Genealogists. You can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the book out of her hands.

    Each summer reading selection:

    1. is for or about genealogy and family history,
    2. is well-written, and
    3. is so enriching, engaging, or entertaining that you want to turn the page.

    Of course, we won't all agree on what makes a great, or even good, genealogy book, but I hope this list gives you a few new titles to try this summer. And do keep in mind something your English teacher probably never told you: If you don't like the book, it's okay to put it down and find another one. Books are a lot like vegetables; tastes change. Try it again later.

    The Summer Reading List for Genealogists will be presented in two parts with reading suggestions for assorted moods, whims, and needs.

    Part 1: R & R for Genealogists (or Relax and Read) offers fiction to lose yourself in, just in time for the long July Fourth Weekend. If you like series mysteries or historical fiction I hope you find something new to read here.

    Part 2: Stretch Your Skills, Learn Something New This Summer showcases recently published genealogy manuals and instructional titles. A thorough study of any titles from this list will lead to even more challenging works.

    The best part of this Summer Reading List, of course, is that there will be no grades. :>) I hope you find a new book that tempts you to charge up your e-Reader or visit your local library and settle in for a good summer read. And please, help this list grow by adding your favorites in the comments.

    Happy Summer Reading!

    Photo Op: That's our descendant in the photo holding a copy of my book How to Archive Family Keepsakes. He makes a good poster boy for reading any book any time of year.


    Orange County Summers ca. 1960

    What's Are You Doing for Summer Vacation?

    La habra library

    I remember when the big question during the final weeks of the school year was always the same, "So, whatareyoudoingforsummervacation?"


    My friends were carted off on exotic camping vacations to Yellowstone, or spent weeks visiting relatives in Omaha. Hardly anyone I knew went to summer school; it seemed mostly for kids who had to make up classes after they were out for weeks with mono, or for anyone who had the misfortune to flunk chemistry.

    Summer in Orange County, California was hot, smoggy, and wonderfully dull. My mom planned just enough activities to keep us out of trouble (so she thought), and the rest of our days were spent playing with friends, reading, and inventing stuff in the backyard. With four years between us, my sister may remembers those days differently, but I loved the gift of freedom and the challenge "Girls, go find something to do."

    B-O-R-E is a Four Letter Word

    Summers were never boring. We spent days building elaborate Barbie houses and then whined because we ran out of time to play with them. On hot afternoons, we kneeled in the dirt along the shady side of the house and collected iron filings. What do you do with iron filings? I don't know, but they're cool.

    As a pre-teen I babysat for neighbors, ironed hankies for pocket money, and was the driving force behind a variety of start-up businesses. We sold lemonade, lemons, and avocados. We printed out a newspaper using an office mimeograph master and a tray of Knox gelatin. We put on plays, talent shows, and musicals.

    The 60's were good years to keep teenagers busy. I have more memories of psychedelic sunsets at scout camp than I do of concerts and music. Our groovy skits provided campfire entertainment and the best camp crafts were candles and love-beads.

    The activities changed with the years, from iron filings to scout camp to camp counselor, but one annual event remained as popular when I was 15 as when I was 5 -- the public library summer reading program.

    Every June the public library promoted summer reading with a themed program filled with contests and activities. It was the best part of summer for a nerdy girl who loved to read. The only problem was the 10 book limit on how many titles you could check out. Ten books is hardly enough when you are whipping through the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, and Nancy Drew series.

    I haven't collected iron filings in a long time, but I still see summer as a time to try something new and to read my way through the heat. I mark the end of the school year with my own list of summertime goals, although goals is too business-like to suit the mood of summer. Dreams would be better. Summertime is dream-time. A time to master a new skill, discover a new talent, or read a new book.

    This summer I'm working my way through a stack of new books, learning to make my step-mom's Texas fried chicken, and working through Dr. Tom Jones' Mastering Genealogical Proof. Oh, and I'm going returning to the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), or Genealogy Camp as I've heard it called.

    "So, whatareyoudoingforsummervacation?"


    On the Road with Gena and Jean's Genealogy Tour

    Two ladies sitting in motor car museum of hartlepool flickr the commons

    Don't you love the theme photo at Gena and Jean's Genealogy Journey Blog?
    Museum of Hartlepool. Flickr the Commons

    Gena Philibert-Ortega and Jean Wilcox Hibben are on the road this month lecturing on genealogy and social history, and sharing their new books. This week Gena and Jean have appearances in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley before driving up the Pacific coast to stop off in Santa Barbara. Next week, the pair will be speaking in Sacramento. 

    The complete tour schedule is posted on their tour blog, Gena and Jean's Genealogy Journey. The concept of a genealogy book tour is a unique idea, and contributions from tour sponsors will  help to defray Gena and Jean's travel expenses.

    Gena is the author of From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes  and a popular speaker and prolific writer on women and social history topics. Gena blogs about cookbooks, recipes, and all kinds of cool stuff at her blogs Gena's Genealogy and Food. Family. Ephemera.

    Gena and Jean are long-time friends and are both active in the Association of Professional Genealogists and other national and local genealogy organizations

    Jean is a Board Certified genealogist with a special interest in folk music and a new historical novel chronicling the story of her great great grandmother, Elisabeth.  Jean writes about her projects and research at Circlemending.

    Jean is also the lead researcher for the upcoming PBS television program Genealogy Roadshow.Gena and Jean also plan to make a stop in San Francisco to be on-site for the Genealogy Roadshow filming in San Francisco.

    Everyone who attends their presentations is in for a treat. Check out the schedule and follow their adventures on their genealogy journey.


    Treasure Chest Thursday: Digitizing and Examining a 1909 German Songbook

    I love surprises from the Archives! Recently I pulled out several old German books that my father gave me after my grandmother passed away. As the only family member who spoke German (much better then than now) I was the logical recipient. I thought I remembered a Bible in the collection, but alas, the book was a German language hymnal.

    Making a Digital Copy

    First, I wanted to digitize the book so I could work with the images rather than the fragile old book. It's poor condition and thickness made it a good candidate for my digital camera. I set up my copy stand outdoors under natural light and used a remote shutter release to achieve the best photo. Then I tried both a white and a black background.

    May wg 1909 songbook 1May wg 1909 songbook 2

    May wg 1909 songbook 8May wg 1909 songbook 5

    I think the white works best for the cover and the black works best for the inside pages. the contrast makes the book itself stand out better. What do you think?


    The cover is made of inexpensive embossed cover-stock cardboard similar to the covers of popular photo albums and scrapbooks so many of us find in our family collections. Overall the book is 3 3/4-inches wide and 5 3/8-inches high. Someone (Grandma May?) added a strip of modern tape to keep the spine in place with the cover. The pages are edged in gilt. 

    The title page reads:

    Evangelische-Lutherische Gemeinden
    Augsburgischer Confession

    darin des sel. Dr. Martin Luthers und anderer geistreichen
    Lehrer gebräuchlichste Kirchen-lieder enthalten sind.

    St. Louis, Mo.
    Concordia Publishing House.

    The book is in fair to poor condition. The pages appear to be intact but the covers have started to pull away from the binding. There are scattered stains and blotches throughout. There is no handwriting other than a notation on the flyleaf in pencil on the flyleaf that looks like "Goldlock 1.20."

    Inside the front cover, I found a newspaper clipping from a German language newspaper of the hymn, "Hochzeitgefang," translation: Wedding Song. I also found a what looks like a trimmed decoration from a Christmas card between pages 242 and 243.


    Of course, to me the real treasure is the cover embossed with my grandfather's name and a date. The fact that the book is a German Lutheran songbook confirms his association with the German community and the Lutheran church in America. A quick Google search for the hymnal shows that it was a popular book at the turn of the century.

    Walter G. May was born in July 1894 in Bennet, Nebraska, so I wondered about the significance of the date on the cover of the book, 4 April 1909. The date fell on a Sunday in 1909, one week before Easter, or Palm Sunday. The Easter Season is traditionally a time for welcoming new members into the Catholic Church and I thought the Lutheran Church tradition might be similar. If so, Walter would have been 14 years old at the time, a common age for Confirmation.

    Through I had previously located the little Lutheran cemetery where Walter's parents were buried. It was associated with an adjacent church that has a very nice website and a "Contact the Pastor" page. Within 24 hours of my query, the Pastor had responded and kindly looked for a confirmation record for Walter G. May in the church records. Although he did not find a record, he agreed that the date indicated the hymnbook was probably a confirmation gift.

    This little book added quite a bit to the very little I know about my grandfather's early years --

    • It confirms his Lutheran religion
    • It strongly suggests his membership and confirmation in a local church
    • It suggests that he read and spoke German
    • It suggests he may have carried the book at his wedding

    With further research I might be able to learn more about the kind of congregation that used this particular hymnal and locate the church attended by Walter and his family.


    He's Back! More Great GeneaFiction with Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Sleuth

    Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Author of the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series

    When it comes to contemporary British mystery novels and genealogy, it doesn't get much better than author Steve Robinson's newest addition to the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series, The Last Queen of England . Brew a perfect pot of tea, set a scone on your grandmother's china, and settle down in front of the fire with American genealogist Jefferson Tayte, on the trail of the biggest mystery since the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

    Introduced to readers in Robinson's debut novel, In the Blood , Tayte, or J.T., is an slightly pudgy researcher from Washington, D.C. who arrives in London to visit an old friend and finds himself on a quest to find a murderer. More than one person wants to know what Tayte's genealogist friend had uncovered in his latest research, and J.T. soon realizes that it will take fast feet, a keen knowledge of British history, and the best genealogical minds in Britain to unravel the truth.

    With historian Professor Jean Summer acting as history coach and sympathetic companion, J.T. retraces his friend's project using clues from archive logs and a careful reconstruction of research. Author Robinson has obviously done more than a little of his own research, as evident by the key role played by the ahnentafel numbering system.

    This book, written before the popularity of Robinson's first published mystery, In the Blood, reads a lot like an action thriller made-for-tv plot. It was so hard to stop reading when I was jet-lagged and exhausted that I actually woke up at 5 am to finish the book. Now, that's suspense!

    The Last Queen of England is Robinson's third Kindle-published mystery novel. In the Blood  debuted in 2011 and was chosen by Kindle readers as one of the "Best Books of 2011." It was followed last summer by To the Grave  a historical mystery set in 1944 England, also published as a Kindle e-book. Both novels are now available in paperback editions, as well.

    With the publication of The Last Queen of England, Robinson has clearly established himself as more than a "one book wonder." Family historians with a penchant for mystery can expect more from Steve Robinson and J.T. Tayte in the months to come.

    A Chat With Steve Robinson About The Last Queen of England

    Family Curator: On your website you mention that after reading your debut novel In the Blood, potential publisher Harper Collins commented that they didn’t see the book as “a really ‘big’ novel” and declined to accept it for publication. This must have struck a note with you, because The Last Queen of England does seem somehow BIGGER than In the Blood and To the Grave. What do you think constitutes a “Big” novel, and how did you get there in The Last Queen of England?

    Steve: By the time that rejection came back from Harper Collins, I’d been an unpaid full time writer for three years, during which time I’d written my first two books and yet I still felt I was right where I’d started from as far as getting anything published was concerned. So, yes, that comment really hit home. It told me that if I wanted a publisher like Harper Collins to take me on then I’d have to write something that would get their attention. When I set out to find my ‘Big’ story, I thought that the Monarchy of Great Britain was about as big as I could get with a genealogical crime mystery set in the UK. When I found the conspiracy that’s revealed in The Last Queen of England, I couldn’t quite believe what I’d discovered and knew there and then that it would form the basis of the perfect genealogical puzzle for Jefferson Tayte to solve. Of course, no mainstream publisher got to see the book because I became an independently published author soon after I finished it.

    Family Curator: I started reading The Last Queen of England on my flight home after a trip to London, so taxis, traffic, and Tube stops were still alive in my mind. As I followed Tayte on his hunt through greater London, I could see his progress unfolding like an action film, and at times it was absolutely exhausting. Did you personally trace all those chase-scenes as part of your research? Is the Big City setting part of the Big Novel?

    Steve: I’m very familiar with many of the places in the book and those I’m not familiar with I either visit or find photographs of so I can get a feel for what they’re like. I’ve certainly walked the route of many of the chase scenes and even had the roast rib of beef at Rules restaurant a few times. I think setting definitely plays an important part in how big a story feels, and given the subject matter there was never any question in my mind about where to set it. I set the first book in Cornwall and the second in Leicestershire and it almost feels like I was saving London for The Last Queen of England simply because I think that big locations need, or at least benefit from, a big story to go with them. I also wanted to make the pace match the bustle of the city, so it had to be fast from start to finish, which is why I didn’t write an historical narrative this time as I felt it would have upset the pace of the present-day story. It’s also a very important book for Jefferson Tayte, so I wanted to stay focused on him as much as possible.

    Family Curator: The historical plot is intriguing, especially to an American who is more familiar with a line of Presidents than Monarchs. My British history is definitely rusty, but Tayte’s historian companion Jean did a great job filling in the blanks. How did you conceive of her character, and is she destined to be a permanent part of J.T.’s life?

    Steve: When I was plotting the book, I knew that it would have to be as much about the history of London and the British monarchy as it would be about genealogy, and as this was not JT’s forte I knew I would have to give him a partner - and so historian Professor Jean Summer arrived on the page. Technically, she began as a device like any other - a means to tell the story in a credible way - but through writing the book, as with most of my characters as I get to know them, Jean became as real to me as anyone I’ve met. Is she destined to be a permanent part of JT’s life? I’d like to think so because I like Jean and I think they’re a good match, but I don’t know. As with real life, JT’s is no more mapped out for him than mine or yours. I have a sense of where his life is going, as I have with my own, but you never know what life is going to throw at you and that’s how I like to keep things with my characters. It’s only through plotting the next book and then writing it that I’ll really get to find out what happens next myself, and once I have I’ll be sure to share it with you.

    Family Curator: Speaking of characters, Michel Levant is a piece of work. Without spoiling the story for readers, can you tell us if he was inspired by any real or historical figure? Could I be right in thinking we may not have seen the last of him?

    Steve: Ah, Michel Levant. No, he certainly wasn’t inspired by anyone real - past or present, thank goodness. As I’ve shown in the book though, he draws much of his own character from an historical figure, and while that idea seemed to land in my lap (as most ideas do) I think that connecting him with a real person helped to make him seem all the more real himself. I don’t think I fully understand Levant yet and I love it when that happens. Among many other things, he’s multi-layered, complex and clever. When I began his character profile, I thought of him as being to Jefferson Tayte what Moriarty is to Sherlock Holmes. Have we seen the last of him? I very much doubt it.

    Family Curator: I love how professional genealogists become super-heroes in this story. Everyone from the police to pastors admire and respect them and their work. In the United States, most genealogists have learned they get further if they play to the “historical” rather than “genealogical” aspect of their research requests. How do you see the genealogical profession in Great Britain? Do you see a difference between professionals and family historians?

    Steve: As I’m writing and researching most of the time, I don’t really get to see enough of the wider profession to be able to say. My own genealogical research and the research I carry out for my books has always been met with interest, but thankfully I’ve never been in the position of having to help the police with their enquiries. Where someone needs help, however - such as the police - I imagine that they are invariably respectful of whoever is there to help them, whatever their field of expertise.

    Family Curator: With The Last Queen of England, your American genealogist Jefferson Tayte appears to be coming to terms with some of his demons: fear of flying, shyness with women, unhealthy lifestyle. . . and the final chapters leave the door open for him to examine his personal past even more closely. Do you have a definite plan for the series, perhaps a set number of books, or will J.T. just keep chasing ancestors as long as he can?

    Steve: I think we all go through changes in life, and if we’re to see a character in a book as someone who at least seems real, it’s to be expected that they too will change as a result of their journey, although I try not to let that get in the way of the story. I have a loose plan as far as the series goes. Right now I hope to write three more books and by the time they’re written, JT will have found the answers he’s looking for. But is a six book series enough? Having no real sense of place or identity is really what drives JT to do what he does. Once he’s found those answers, I’ve always imagined that would be it - his story told. The end. But there is of course no limit to the past stories he can bring to life through his research, so maybe I’ll write a second series. Or maybe at the end of the first series he’ll be left with more questions to answer and he’ll have to keep going. As a very kind eighty-six-year-old lady from Maine (who has been studying her own genealogy for the last thirty-five years) said to me in a recent email, family history is like a big puzzle you can never finish.

    Your Turn to Chat with the Author

    Steve will be checking in on the comments to this review, so please feel free to ask questions or leave him a note. If you are looking for a reason to curl up on the couch or just take a break from the holiday bustle, I think you might find a Jefferson Tayte a good companion.

    Read my review of In the Blood here, or more about Steve Robinson at his website

    The Last Queen of England (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery) , Kindle, Paperback, Audio

    To the Grave (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery) , Kindle,  Paperback, Audio

    In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery), Kindle Ediiton, Paperback, Audio



    Book Review: Finding Inspiration in "Sweet Home" Cooking

    I buy cookbooks for many reasons. The last reason I buy a cookbook is because I want to cook the recipes.

    First, I am attracted by an interesting title and cover, even better with a photograph. Next, I'm interested in the story line or theme. Is this a book about foreign cuisine with amusing travel anecdotes? Will I learn something about food customs or preparation technique?

    I buy cookbooks because a well-written recipe can be almost as satisfying as a slice of decadent death--by-chocolate cake (note: almost). We aren't a big dessert family, saving sweet treats for holidays and Sundays, but I love flipping though a cookbook and tasting the deliciousness of home-made goodness.

    I also buy cookbooks because they inspire me to try something new -- a new dish, a new technique, or maybe a new way to preserve my own recipes.

    Sweet Home: Over 100 Heritage Desserts and Ideas for Preserving Family Recipes is one of those cookbooks I bought because of the very last reason. More than just a collection of recipes or a coffee-table book of mouth-watering photographs, Sweet Home is filled with ideas for any family historian who has wondered about preserving old recipes or sharing memories of family meals. That I can't wait to try out most of the recipes is an added bonus.

    Who wouldn't love to taste

    • Cloudberry Krumkaker Cones
    • Mom's Banana Cake
    • Spiced Cider Doughnuts
    • Pumpkin Snack Bread
    • Dad's Chocolate Mudslide Cookies

    Author Rebecca Miller Ffrench grew up in a family of dessert lovers where evening dessert "was a sacred bonding time." She talks about the sad passing of weeknight desserts in most homes and reconnecting with the past through food. In the same way that Gena Philibert Ortega notes the importance of food and meals in family tradition (From the Family Kitchen), French writes about how recipes and cooking have always been a central part of family life.

    More Than Recipes

    Sweet Home is filled with more than recipes. The four chapters -- Preserving, Celebrating, Giving, Creating -- are anchored by dozens of ideas for preserving and sharing family recipes and favorite foods.

    Preserving focuses on recording food stories and memories and sharing favorites with tips from interviewing cooks to making an accordion fold recipe album.

    Celebrating showcases "10 Ways to Make Small Moments Big." I like the fun idea to make photo cake cards on a stick to use in decorating future birthday cakes! 

    Giving features ideas for personalizing food gifts in clever and unique packaging.

    Creating is for the family food historian in many of us with ten possibilities for Creating Your Own Food Story with activities, writing, and new traditions.

    As I read Sweet Home and enjoyed the beautiful photographs, I was inspired to think about how I could preserve my own family's food memories before they slip away. Some of the recipes reminded me of dishes I had forgotten or hadn't made in years. Sweet Home is a more than a cookbook, it's an inspiration for why we need to save family food memories and  a simple guide on how to get started.

    Sweet Home: Over 100 Heritage Desserts and Ideas for Preserving Family Recipes , by Rebecca Miller Ffrench (Maryland: Kyle Books, 2012). Available from


    Book Review: My Genealogy Book Purchases at GRIP

    This week's Summer Reading series features two titles I purchased from genealogy bookseller Maia's Books at the recent Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh. I have been working with probate records recently and was pleased to find two books highly recommended during my Intermediate Course with Paula Stuart-Warren and Josh Taylor.

    Inheritance in America

    Inheritance in America: From colonial times to the present by Carole Shammas, Marylynn Salmon, and Michel Dahlin is the result of an academic grant "Inheritance, Family, and the Evolution of Capitalism in America." It touches broadly on the concept of inheritance (as stated in the title) from Colonial Times to the Present, with a focused look at the colonies or states at four points, each a century apart. The book also looks carefully at laws in Pennsylvania and California.

    Roughly half of the 320 page book is devoted to inheritance law before the mid-nineteenth century. Chapters in Parts One (Inheritance Under Family Capitalism) and Two (Family, Property, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism) focus on

    English Inheritance Law and the Colonies

    Colonial Testamentary Practice and Family Capitalism

    Changes and Attempted Changes in Postrevolutionary Inheritance Law

    Inheritance Law and the Rights of Women and Children in the Nineteenth Century

    Testamentary Behavior in the 1790s and 1890s

    Part Three features an analysis the the Federal Estate Tax and Inheritance in the 20th Century.

    Most of my present research is grounded in 18th and 19th century probate records, and I am finding the sections on colonial law to be a useful survey of the inheritance laws that would have been known by my ancestors. I wonder if they would have embraced Limited Family Partnerships, Family Trusts, and LLP arrangements in an effort to direct distribution of their assets after death?

    Estate Inventories: How to Use Them

    Estate Inventories: How to Use Them by Kenneth L. Smith is a short volume packed with  useful information for anyone working with probate and estate documents. Reading an old estate inventory is a bit like opening someone's medicine chest; it feels kinda sneaky in an interesting way.

    I didn't know just how poor my ancestor really was until I compared his inventory to those shared by Smith. A few pots and pans, minimal dishes, and a bit of furniture and bedding all tell the story of a family of very modest means.

    Smith's chapter on spelling variations, paleography (handwriting) and phonetics are useful reviews on how to decipher handwritten documents. His own personal experience in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia directs the examples with German phonetics, handwriting, and customs, but are useful for researchers working anywhere in the United States.

    The discussion of net value and worth is out-of-date, using a 1982 reference chart for converting money to current value, but the footnotes suggest that a newer version of the same table could be substituted. He also makes the good point that values are relative to wages, cost and scarcity of goods, and other economic factors. Sample inventories and discussion help understand the concepts more fully.

    Nearly half of the 137 page book comprises a Glossary of Uncommon Terms that are typically found in estate inventories. Some of the vocabulary is regional featuring  Pennsylvania Dutch words and nicknames for objects, but most words are not focused on any particular part of the country. 

    Both are useful volumes I am glad to add to my genealogy library.

    About Maia's Books -- Martha Mercer brought an extensive selection of titles to GRIP, with an especially good variety of books focused on Pennsylvania and German research. I also purchased two map books for the German research that is on my ToDo list.

    Inheritance in America is available from Maia's Books and

    Estate Inventories is available from Maia's Books and

    Please leave a comment if you can recommend other useful books or articles for working with probate and estate records.


    Book Review: More Genea-Fiction with Prof. Simon Shaw Mysteries

    In the mood for more mystery after last week's interview with genealogical crime author Steve Robinson? Jefferson Tayte's next adventure is slated for spring 2013, and in the meantime you might enjoy browsing through an engaging mystery series by Sarah R. Shaber featuring Professor Simon Shaw, a young history professor at a small college in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    In the debut title, Simon Said , a body is found on the archeological dig of a local historic home, but it's not as old as it should be. The unidentified remains appear to be from the 1920s instead of three centuries earlier. Shaw is called in as an expert consultant for his skill has a historical researcher and finds himself reluctantly drawn in to a mystery he can't resist.

    Like any genealogist, Shaw knows he has to flesh out the family tree to discover the roots of the story, and therein lies the puzzle.

    I enjoyed the well-developed characters in the novel, as much as the mystery. Simon and his faculty friends are interesting people who you grow to care about, and Simon's difficulty coping with his new divorced status is realistic in it's heartache. The mystery itself pulled me along through the pages and made it a quick, but enjoyable read.

    I was glad to find that the next book in the series, Snipe Hunt, was also available in the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library to borrow for free for Prime members.

    Snipe Hunt  is set on the North Carolina Outer Banks where Simon joins his friends for a beach house Thanksgiving holiday. When the body of a local man is found in the water with a cache of gold coins, local interest is revived in old tales of shipwrecks and booty. Simon is becoming more comfortable in his role as "forensic historian" with this experience, but he still manages to appear ready to go back to his quiet uneventful life at any time.

    Happily (for the readers), people just keep turning up dead and Shaw's adventures continue in three more mysteries. The series now numbers five books, and it's anyone's guess if Shraber will continue with more. Her latest publications have turned to historical fiction featuring Louise Pearlie, a young widow working in Washington, D.C. as a clerk in the OSS (to become the CIA). Louise's War and Louise's Gamble are in my list of Books to Read this Summer!


    The Professor Simon Shaw Mystery Series (in order)

    Available in Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Paperback editions

    Simon Said  (Book One) Amazon

    Snipe Hunt (Book Two) Amazon

    The Fugitive King  (Book Three) Amazon

    The Bug Funeral  (Book Four) Amazon

    Shell Game  (Book Five) Amazon

    Sarah Shaber's New Series

    Louise's War

    Louise's Gamble


    See Disclosure page for full statement.



    Book Review: In the Blood GeneaFiction

     Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Author of the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series

    It's warming up in Southern California, and if you're like me you're probably ready for a good beach/mountain/hammock/chaise lounge summer reading book. This week's book review highlights the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series by author Steve Robinson who was kind enough to answer a few genealogy specific questions via email.

    In the Blood  introduced readers to the affable Jefferson Tayte, an overweight American genealogist with a penchant for peanuts and a fear of flying. The latter places Tayte at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to onsite research "over the pond." He nearly loses his deep-pockets client over his reluctance to pursue the necessary research, but with grim determination he braves the air to beat out his genealogy competition and move the storyline from the U.S. to England.

    Tayte, or J.T. as he likes to be called, is a career genealogist drawn to the profession by the hollow spaces in his own past. At the death of his adoptive parents he discovers a photo of his birth mother and an apologetic note for not sharing the news sooner. Despite his expertise, Tayte has yet to uncover his own story and spends his time unraveling the past for his clients.

    When a wealthy Boson financier hires Tayte to uncover his wife's ancestry, neither expect to find a part of the family that literally disappears between Massachusetts and Cornwall. JT is puzzled by the lack of information, but it's the client who pushes for a resolution even if it will cost him a hefty amount, "…get over there and talk to those people. Confirm things. Half a job's no good to me."

    Tayte's journey to England expands as author Robinson develops a second plot revealing the eighteenth-century secret of what really happened to the Fairborne family. The two stories intersect as Tayte's investigation threatens the present with truths that will undermine generations and unsettle a legacy.

    In the Blood debuted as an author-published eBook last summer and I first heard about it via Twitter and Facebook. Within a few months, the novel had been named as a group read by the Goodreads UK Amazon Kindle Forum and selected by Amazon UK as one of the "Best Books of 2011" in the Kindle customer favorites category. The paperback edition was published in December 2011.

    British Steve Robinson worked in software and telecommunications until "redundancy" pushed him into a writing career. Like Jefferson Tayte, he has a nearby blank space on his family tree -- his maternal grandfather, an American GI who lived in England during WWII. I was curious about Robinson's own interest in genealogy and why he chose a professional genealogist as his main character detective, and contacted him via email. He's been kind enough to answer a few questions and confesses a weakness most family historians share -- a fondness for the "thrill of the hunt."

    A Chat With Steve Robinson

    Family Curator: How did you come up with the character of Jefferson Tayte, professional genealogist? Is he modeled after someone you know?

    Steve: The short answer is no, but I’ll try to explain where he did come from.  When I set out to write In the Blood all I had was a National Trust pamphlet that had a verse inside it, written by a farmer in 1803 about the ferrymen who operated the Helford ferry in Cornwall at the time.  The verse, reproduced in my first book, was quite damning and I asked myself, ‘What if the farmer was murdered the night he wrote it?’  I began to imagine the rest of the story from that.  Why was he murdered?  Who murdered him?  From there I knew I needed a way to get to that past story from the present and so the idea of genealogist was born.

    The character of Jefferson Tayte is based on no one in particular, although I had the image of a couple of actors in mind when I set about defining him.  I knew I didn’t want him to be a stereotype action hero with chiseled features and a six-pack.  He gets into plenty of action as other people try to stop him uncovering the past but I thought it would be good to cast him as a fish-out-of-water type - an everyman.  I define his actions in any given situation by asking myself what I would do, or what I think or hope I would do, if I was in that situation.  I gave him a light side to counter the deeper, psychological issues he’s had since learning that his mother abandoned him as a baby.  Not knowing who he is eats away at him and the upside of that is that it also drives him to be good at what he does.  I hope we’ll someday make that journey of discovery with him when it comes time for him to find his own answers.

    Family Curator: You say that you are not a genealogist, but it's obvious you know the basics of genealogical research. You even make a point through J.T. to acknowledge the difficulties  in family history research. How did you learn enough to feel confident using this profession in your books? 

    Steve:  All the research JT has worked through in my books, I have done myself or at least done to a point where I knew what was possible and what was not.  That was the only way I felt I could be accurate and fully appreciate what it’s like to be a genealogist, working through the problems real genealogists face in their research.  I’m sure that’s helped to make my character seem like a real genealogist even if I am not, which was always my goal.  I’ve learnt a great deal and if my writing career doesn’t work out then I may well go pro as a genealogist, lol, but writing about a genealogist gives me the best of both worlds.  I love the research and that’s something that writing and genealogy very much have in common.

    Family Curator: Your website mentions your search for your maternal grandfather through military records to Arkansas and San Francisco. Have you traced other family lines? Do  you have ancestors who might inspire other story lines or characters in your writing?

    I think this was partly why I turned to genealogy to tell the story of In the Blood.  My maternal grandfather has always been a mystery to me and I suppose that sense of wonder about who he is or was has been at the back of my mind for some time.  I went as far as I could go without too much difficulty and I was able to give my mother his military service number with which I knew she could unlock so much more.  As my mother and grandmother are still alive and I’m not direct next of kin I felt that it was up to them to take the next step if they wanted to.  It’s difficult isn’t it?  But I felt that it wasn’t something I should try to cajole them into and so for now at least the search has gone no further.  As for tracing other family lines, I find that my writing takes up all my time, although I have certainly been inspired by my recent ancestors who helped a great deal with the wartime narrative that is so much a part of my second book, To the Grave.

    Thanks very much for asking me along.  If any Family Curator website subscribers would like to chat further about anything just give me a shout.


    Questions & Comments Welcome

    Steve will be checking in on the comments of this review, so please feel free to ask questions or leave a note for him. Thanks, Steve, for sharing thoughts. I know I am already looking forward to J.T.'s next adventure.

    Robinson's novels are the kind of books that put the 'Summer' in reading to me. I thoroughly enjoyed In the Blood and the main character Jefferson Tayte. To the Grave, the second book in the series was released in June 2012, but I can't say much about it, yet. I've been saving it to take my mind of the flight on an upcoming trip! You can read about it on Robinson's website and on Steve Robinson's Amazon Page.

    In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)  Kindle, Paperback, Audio

    To the Grave (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)  Kindle, Paperback, Audio

    Visit Steve Robinson's Website for updated book news


    And the Book Giveaway Winner is. . .

    Congratulations, Pam, you've won a free copy of Nancy Hendrickson's genealogy guide, Discover Your Family History Online. Please send me your shipping information and I will get the book in the mail to you.

    Thank you, everyone, for leaving your comments on the review and on FaceBook for the Summer Reading Series book giveaway.

    Genealogical Mystery In the Blood Tomorrow's Summer Reading Review

    This week, the Summer Reading Review takes a turn toward fiction to feature an exclusive interview with Steve Robinson, author of the popular Genealogical Crime Mystery Series.

    In the Blood , Robinson's first eBook mystery was published in June 2011 and quickly became a popular "Must Read" in the Kindle UK forum. I first heard about the book on Twitter -- thanks, Midge Frazel -- and FaceBook. As a longtime mystery fan, I found it a great summer read and was glad to hear that further adventures of genealogist Jefferson Tayte were in the works.

    Book Two in the series, To the Grave , debuted last month as a Kindle eBook and will be published as a paperback edition soon.

    I hope you return to The Family Curator on Wednesday, July 18 for more on Steven Robinson and the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series.


    Book Review: Discover Your Family History Online

     See below to WIN a FREE COPY!

    I know (and you know) that "it's not ALL on the Internet," but anyone just getting started in genealogy today is going to browse the web first and hit the library in the distant future. Fortunately, Nancy Hendrickson's new book Discover Your Family History Online: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Genealogy Search (Family Tree Books, 2012) will give beginning genealogists a good foundation for research beyond their computer as well.

    Most beginning genealogy books I have encountered are heavy on organization and lists of resource groups, and light on quick results. Discover Your Family History Online is a game-changer that aims to help newcomers find their family roots without becoming overwhelmed by formal systems and rules.

    But that isn't to say the book skips over the importance of sound research, analysis, and source citation. Those topics are all introduced in the early chapters and reinforced by instruction in online searching and detailed case studies. Nancy guides readers from computer basics, through using search engines to online databases. Chapters on specific record groups like birth, marriage and death records, land records, census records, and military records show beginners the wealth of material available. Researchers interested in Native American, Jewish, and Slave records will find useful appendixes highlighting these special interest topics. Basic record-keeping forms included in the back of the book are also available online for download.

    And to make the book even more interactive, readers can view a series of nine free videos enhancing the material presented in print. The link to these programs is presented in Nancy's short Introduction at the beginning of the book.

    Nancy's experience as an instructor and coach comes through in her encouraging and easy-to-follow style. The book is filled with solid information presented in a straightforward, clear manner that leads you step-by-step.

    This is a terrific book for anyone new to online genealogy, as well as researchers looking for more effective and productive online search strategies. I think my mom would have enjoyed using the book to find new sites to explore on her computer, and I especially like Nancy's case studies and found several tips that paid off in my own research.

    Discover Your Family History Online: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Genealogy Search (Family Tree Books, 2012)

    1. Building Your Family Tree
    2. Computer Basics for the Online Genealogist
    3. Using Search Engines
    4. Online Databases
    5. Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
    6. Life During Your Ancestors' Era
    7. Google for Genealogists
    8. Land Records
    9. The Census
    10. Military Records
    11. Finding Local Resources Online
    12. Tracing Immigrant and American Indian Ancestors
    13. Share What You've Found
    14. Putting it All to Work
    • Appendix A: American Indian Resources by Geographic Region
    • Appendix B: Tracing Jewish Ancestors by Schelly Talalay Dardashti
    • Appendix C: Tracing Slave Ancestors by Kenyatta D. Berry

     About the Author:

    Nancy Hendrickson is an internet genealogy consultant and an instructor at Family Tree University, as well as the author of print and e-books, and hundreds of magazine articles. She also offers coaching services for aspiring family history authors through her website Ancestornews.

    WIN A FREE COPY of Discover Your Family History Online: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Genealogy Search courtesy of Family Tree Books.

    All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment after the review or Like the review on the Facebook post (one entry per name, please). I will include names from both places and one name will be randomly selected to win the book. Your name will stay in the hopper from week to week, so you will have more chances to win in the weeks to follow. The winner will be announced the following week on Facebook and on The Family Curator so you can send me your name and address to receive the book.

    If you've read the featured book, please add your thoughts or other recommendations.

    Available from

    Family Tree Books (paperback edition)

    Amazon (paperback edition)

    Amazon (Kindle edition)

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    Look Who Won the Book Giveaway. . .

    Once again Mr. Curator has drawn one name from the bowl as the winner for this week's summer book review giveaway at The Family Curator. Congratulations go to reader Peggy Lauritzen who will receive a free copy of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories by Sunny Morton, courtesy Family Tree Books

    Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway contest by posting a comment to the review on or at the Facebook review.

    In honor of the Fourth of July and The Family Curator's Blogiversary there will be no review this week. The Summer Reading Series will resume next week with a review of Nancy Hendrickson's guide, Discover Your Family History Online: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Genealogy Search .

    Have a Safe and Sane Fourth of July!

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    Turn the Page for The Family Curator's Summer Book Review Series

    It's Official -- Summer is Here!

    Children reading 1940

    Do you remember the public library summer reading club? For a nerdy girl who loved to read, it was the best part of summer vacation. My biggest problem was the ten book limit on how many books could be checked out at one time. Ten books is hardly enough when you are whipping through the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, and Nancy Drew series.

    This summer, The Family Curator blog is trying something new: weekly reviews to lure you off to the chaise, the hammock, or the beach blanket with a good book, many with a genealogical or family history twist.

    Weekly Book Review

    Every Wednesday, I'll be posting a short book review and often hosting a free book giveaway, beginning today, the First Day of Summer Wednesday 20 June, and running through the month of August.

    Win a Free Book

    All you have to do to enter the giveaway is either leave a comment after the review or Like the review on the Facebook post (one entry per name, please). I will pull names from both places and one name will be randomly selected to win the book.

    Your name will stay in the hopper from week to week, so you will have more chances to win in the weeks to follow. The winner will be announced on Facebook and on The Family Curator so you can send me your name and address to receive the book.

    If you've read the featured book, please add your thoughts or other recommendations.

    First Featured Book: From the Family Kitchen

    Gena Philibert-Ortega's new book on discovering your family food heritage will be the featured review, posting later today. Stay tuned!

    Image: Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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