google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: December 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing all my genealogy friends, readers and fellow bloggers a very Merry Christmas. Hoping your upcoming week is filled with family, friends and plenty of cherished memories. Lynn

Irish Family History Foundation- New Records added!

Two weeks ago on Follow Friday, I gave a  review on the Irish Family History Foundation website.
For those of you with Irish roots this site is becoming a very strong presence in Irish History research. I received in my inbox today this update with a list of  new records that have been added to the site. Here's what they had to say:

New Records Added to the Online Database

The Irish Family History Foundation is pleased to announce that some of its member centres are making further records available to search and purchase online. As part of its reinvestment in completing additional records by its county genealogy centres, various updates and corrections have been applied and a total of over 230,000 new records have been added, including:

• Co. Antrim

o 25,000 Church of Ireland birth records

• Co. Armagh

o almost 2,000 records from the 1821 census records

• Co. Down

o 3000 Church of Ireland birth records

• Co. Leitrim

o 18,000 birth records

o 7,000 marriage records

o 54,000 census records

• Co. Mayo

o 42,000 baptismal records,

o 25,000 marriages

o 3,500 deaths

o 28,000 census records

• Co. Cork

o 11,000 births

o 4,000 marriages

o 21,000 Gravestone inscriptions

o 9,000 census

New counties coming online in 2010

We are working towards making the records of Counties Laois, Offaly and Wexford available on the site in early 2010. You will be notified by email when these are available.

Web Site name change -
We have given the website a new domain name -
This will hopefully help people find us more easily. Note that the old name will continue to work, but will be phased out over time..

Happy Christmas

The Irish Family History Foundation would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We thank you for your continued support.

Please note that website will function as normal over the holiday period but there will be no support for e-mail from December 24th to January 3rd. All emails and queries will be answered in due course.

Key Principles to Journaling Your Christmas Memories- Start This Week

Writing your life story may seem to some egotistical. Many think, they live an ordinary life. However, some of the most interesting life stories can come from those people who are perceived to be ordinary. Remember to your children, your grandchildren, your spouse and future generations you are far from ordinary.

Most family historians would be over the moon to find a diary or journal of a past ancestor. Therefore, we should be the first to set the example in recording the events, memories and emotions of our lives. As you move through this next week, take the time to journal the days ahead, whether they are ordinary or extraordinary.

With Christmas only a few days away, this coming week will offer plenty of opportunity to enjoy your family events, journal your thoughts and gather details that you can later use for your life story. Remember life stories can many different formats. The autobiography of your life, a handful of heartfelt memories, it can encompass your entire life, a snippet such as one year, or one event or a collection of select memories. Accompanied with some wonderful snapshots you can create a very beautiful gift for your family. Nowhere is it written that a life story must take typical format. It’s your creation, your choice.

I have assembled a few key principles to keep in mind as you enjoy your Christmas week and prepare to journal your experience for your life story.

  •  Grab a notebook, your laptop, your method of choice for recording and begin to write down your memories. You can begin with this upcoming week. Don’t feel you have to start at the beginning. Don’t feel you have to recollect everything from your past. If today is your first day of journaling then start today, this week. Slowly, over time you can pull from past memories. If you put pressure on yourself to recall your last 50 years, you will be overwhelmed and never begin.

  • The most important resource you have for your story telling is your memory. Treat it like a database. What is the most important thing we must remember about databases? Back them up! Recording your memories immediately is you backing up your database. The longer you wait the more details begin to fade over time. Memories can be very fleeting, it is important to record them immediately, so they can be recalled, and cherished.

  • When writing your memories, be it for personal use, or to write a life story, you should consider using all five senses. The five physical senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste will bring a depth to your writing. Don’t just recall the meal as your family gathers for Christmas dinner. Instead, recall the taste of the food, the smell in the air, the sound of laughter, the conversations around the table, the Christmas music and most importantly the way this made you feel.

  • Jot down notes while they are fresh in your mind. You don’t have to write the perfect story immediately. If you try to do that, you will again be overwhelmed and frustrated but do journal your immediate thoughts and details. Later, when the time is right, you can revisit them and begin the story writing process. These notes will become the building blocks to creating your life stories.

  • No worries, if your memories are not entirely accurate. It doesn’t matter whether the tablecloth on the Christmas table was white or red, but rather the emotions you can convey to your readers of the experience of sitting at that Christmas dinner and making it real for them.

Remember these keys principles are not exclusive to recording this week’s Christmas memories but other family events or your everyday life.

Christmas Comes Early- Registration Now Open for OGS Conference

Ontario Genealogical Society Conference has opened registration. I received this message from the OGS this evening. Head over to  registration for all the details and give yourself an early Christmas gift. Or better yet send your love one over to sign you up, wrap up the registration and put it under the tree.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Online registration is now open for the most action-packed, star-studded OGS Conference ever.

Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, now’s the time to register for the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2010 to be held in Toronto May 14-16.

 Check out the content-rich program, packed with more sessions than ever before.

 See leading experts talk in Canada or at Conference for the very first time; or hear returning speakers with the very highest ratings received at Conference 2009.

 Consider one of the pre-Conference programs on Thursday, May 13—a Hands-on Research Excursion or “Libraries and Genealogy” presented in conjunction with the Ontario Library Association.

 Shop in the spacious 10,000-square-foot Marketplace just steps from the lecture rooms.

Convenient to airport, highways, GO and TTC, the Conference hotel offers an early-bird rate until January 8—and it’s the same rate as in 2004, the kind of comfort and joy we can really appreciate!

OGS Conference 2010
Essentials, Innovations & Delights
May 14-16, 2010
Doubletree by Hilton–Toronto Airport

Dear Gena-Santa

Dear Gena-Santa

I am writing you this year in hopes that you can help me with some of the greatest gifts, I could possibly imagine receiving for my genealogy research. If you could find it possible to bestow on me even one of these requests, I would be eternally grateful.

In exchange for anyone of these gifts, I promise to continue to explore and publish my genealogy history for the rest of my family to enjoy and for future generations to come.

My Christmas Wish List

1. To find a birth, marriage or death record of my GGGGrandfather James Stapleton, I’ll take anything at this point.

2. To find a distant living Kowalski cousin in Oscislowo, Poland who would join us in Canada in July of 2010 for our Kowalsky Family Reunion.

3. To Find a Wedding Picture of my in-laws Antonio and Josephine Palermo, they have passed and their sons have never seen a wedding picture of them.

As usual, I will leave cookies and milk out for you and a carrot for Rudolph. Please drive safely.

Always a believer.


Follow Friday - My Top Five, A Year In Review

Since this will most likely be the last Follow Friday I will be posting before Christmas and New Years, I wanted to take this opportunity to mention the top 5 blogs that I followed throughout this past year. They have contributed immensely to my personal development as a blogger as well as keeping me abreast on both blogging and genealogy news. I couldn’t have possibly chosen only one, as each blog has inspired me very different ways. I look forward to each one, and would miss them in my blog reader daily for their individual contributions to my continued growth.

Geneabloggers – Thank You Thomas, you are my go to site when I need anything answered on blogging. In addition, your expansive understanding of the genealogy industry makes your blog all that more valuable to a genealogy blogger. Thanks for being the genealogy ringmaster.

Genea-Musings – I always find Randy two steps ahead of everyone else. He has his pulse on the news of the day. I enjoy Randy’s amusing and entertaining style of writing.

Genealogy Gems Podcast- I enjoy Lisa’s down to earth approach to reporting the genealogy news. I especially enjoy her interviews with industry leaders. Watch for my review of Genealogy Gems Premium membership in a future post, January 2010.

Problogger- Darren Rowse offers up plenty of insights into managing a blog. I can always draw some helpful tips from his daily posts.

The Genealogy Insider-  Diane and the staff of Family Tree Magazine offer a continuous string of well written and informative articles that offer many helpful insights.

The above blogs are on the top of my reading list. I want to thank everyone for their entertaining, educating and helpful posts this past year, I look forward to reading more in 2010.

Top Ten Genealogy Software Programs

Genealogy software is a hot topic amongst family historians. Many have opinions and they are often based on personal experience. I am not going to pretend to know all the ins and outs of all the genealogy software on the market. However, if you are in the market for genealogy software and don’t know where to begin then may I suggest the website Top Ten Reviews. If you have narrowed it down to a few then this website maybe able to help you make that final decision.

Top Ten Reviews have done all the work for us. They offer the 10 top Genealogy software programs on the market. They offer an editors review, along with users reviews and ratings. A handy spreadsheets spells out all the options each program offers. Your choice will depend on what you want your software program to do for you. The spreadsheet offers all the programs features in a handy chart for comparsion so you can make an educated decision. You can also purchase these programs from Top Ten Reviews at competitive prices.

They have named Legacy Deluxe 7, Family TreeMaker 2010 and Rootsmagic 4 as the top three genealogy software programs. If you have already being working with one or more of these programs, feel free to share your experience. What were it strengths? Its weaknesses? What did you buy it to do and did it meet your expectations? Do you agree with their assessment of these programs. More specifically, if you have used your genealogy software program to create a family history book, I especially would like to hear from you. So share. All opinions welcomed.

A Lesson in Writing a Narrative Family History

If you are ready to start writing your family history book but not sure how to turn your research into an interesting life story then I have some tips to get you started. How do you write a descriptive, creative, narrative story about your relatives when all you have is a list of dry facts and documents to draw on? How do you turn your facts into a story about an individual you never met?

Believe or not before you begin writing your family history, I am going to suggest more research. However, this time, you may want to consider a few different sources. Up until now, you have sought out very specific documents that you can attach to your ancestors. Unfortunately, there will not always be a collection of documents to help identify your relative. Even with these documents in hand, you may need more if you want to write a narrative of your ancestor’s life. Below is a list of my favourite research sources for bringing to life the lives of an ancestor.

• Interview the living -the first time you interviewed them you may have been seeking mostly facts, dates, and names. Re-address your living relatives with a different approach, this time, seeking out stories around daily events, traditions, hobbies and specific interests. Get to the root of who they were not just when they lived.

• Turn to your digital library to find social histories and experiences of other people in the same given time and place.

• Look to town and city histories during the period of your ancestors to help paint a picture of the community in which they lived.

• Revisit the neighbourhood of your ancestors to appreciate the kind of community they came from, who their neighbours were, and the struggles and strengths of their community.

• Look to timelines of wars, natural disasters and epidemics to understand the world and local events your ancestors lived through.

• Read about cultural customs including foods, music, social events and traditions of their homeland.

• Fiction novels although to you may seem unconventional, can sometimes offer up a very detailed window into the lives of our ancestors. Many historical fictional novels were written with great care to insure historical accuracies. Writers invest a lot of time in painting a picture of the people of the time. These novels can be very useful in giving you a feel for the lives and perils of your ancestors through some major historical times and events.

Culling as much historical information as possible from all of these sources and weaving them with the biological facts of your relatives, will put you on your way to a creative narrative history that your family will want to read. Perhaps painting a picture of your ancestor where one may have never existed before.

Free Holiday Cookbook Offer

If your looking for some special holiday recipes then feel free to download the Free 2009 Geneabloggers Holiday Cookbook. This cookbook was brain child of  the ever energetic Thomas at Geneabloggers. He has compiled a 50 page cookbook with recipes contributed by members of the Geneabloggers community. You will find my famous Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies published amongst all the wonderful recipes from appetizers to candy and cookies. Download your copy today.

Advent Calendar-Holiday Birthdays

We all know that family members who have birthdays at this time of year can feel a little robbed. I try to take extra special care to make sure that isn’t so.

A special Happy Birthday to all my family who share a birthday at Christmas.

My husband Andy- Yesterday Dec 14th, poor guy spent the day with the flu

My sister Paula – Jan 18th, 1967, Centennial Baby! Born on the 100th Anniversary of Canada Confederation.

My baby sister Joanne- Tomorrow Dec 16th, 1967, Born the same year as sister Paula. Have a good one!

Great Grandmother Mary Ellen Stapleton Kowalsky- Born Jan 1887, Died Christmas Eve 1935

Great Great Grandfather George Vogel -Born Dec 22, 1844 , First Vogel born in Canada.

Happy Anniversary to My Paternal Grandparents - Ruth Vogel and Jerome Kowalsky married Dec 29th 1928.RIP.

Seven Tips on Making the Most of Your Genealogy at Christmas

 Families will be gathering next week for Christmas and this can be the greatest time to collect family information for your genealogy research and family history book. Most of us are so busy this time of year with shopping, parties and cooking, there is little time left for our family research. However, the hectic Christmas season does not have to put a stall to your research, or your 2010 family history book. Here are a few quick tips to keep the genealogy flowing at your holiday family events.
1. Have the camera ready and available for up to date headshots and family pictures. Most family will attend Christmas functions dressed and groomed in their holiday finest. This presents the perfect time to grab some up to date photos. These photos not only serve as great souvenirs of the day, they also provide useful in updating your tree or inserting them in the family history book.

2. If you are missing personal information on individuals in your tree, make a master list and keep it handy over the holidays. An opportunity may present itself to gather the missing information; a family member just may be able to answer some of your questions.

3. Pull out some old photos to spark conversation and encourage memories and stories. It is amazing when families gather and conversations begin, one individual’s memories can spark others to recall. A little holiday rum and eggnog may help draw out those stories, just remember too much eggnog may lead to exaggeration.

4. Keep the mood jovial and light. This is no time to inquire or discuss family secrets. Instead, stick to topics such as Christmas traditions, favourite recipes, best Christmas gift, funniest Christmas event or mishap.

5. Don’t make genealogy the topic of the day, unless your audience is as enthusiastic as you are. Too much focus on your family history may turn people off and shut down the conversation.

6. This is a great time to poll your family about their interest in having a family history book. Feel them out and then follow up in the New Year with more details. Maybe someone will even offer to help.

7. Remember to enjoy the day. Live in the present. Record it for the future.

Genealogy Websites with Canadian Content

 I would like to direct my readers to a couple of great posts by my fellow genealogists that I read today with my morning coffee. If you caught my post yesterday on Irish Genealogy and particularly arrivals to Canada, then you will appreciate yesterday's post at  Canada Gen Web, great post on Irish Immigration of 1839.  If you are looking for your family's arrival to Canada then Elizabeth's post on Ocean Arrivals at Genealogy Canada is very informative.

Follow Friday- The Irish Family History Foundation

It has really only been in the last year of my genealogy research that I have come to understand how much Irish history there actually is in my family tree. My Great Grandmother Ellen Stapleton was Irish, we knew her to be American born and in fact her father was Canadian born but they were Irish. They lived all their lives within an Irish community.

However, when I began investigating Irish Genealogy I had no idea how difficult it would be. My Stapleton family line begins with James Stapleton and Ellen Phalen, who arrived in Canada around 1823. Accessing records in Ireland seemed almost impossible. I was told on more than one occasion that I would not find the Stapletons of Kilkenny, that records were destroyed. I definitely had a learning curve ahead of me. Therefore, over the last year I began educating myself on Irish genealogy.

What I have come to learn is that not all records were destroyed. I discovered a site called The Irish Family History Foundation. The Irish Family History Foundation is the co-ordinating body for a network of government approved genealogical centres who have created an online database.  The Church leaders of the main denominations in Ireland have contributed the largest collection of Parish records for the island of Ireland that are searchable online. This database contains 40 million Irish records consisting of Church births, marriage and death records.

To enter the site you simply need to register. You can then access an index, inputting surnames, first names along with year and county. The index will pull up a list of records based on your search information. In order to view a detailed record you then need to purchase credits online, each record cost approximately 5.0 Euros. This works out to about $8.00 Canadian or $7.36 US.

Let me start by saying that this site has a vast collection of records. However, I cannot give it full marks based mainly on the method of payment strategy it has created. The problem is once you have assembled a list of possible matches, you could have numerous records to view. In theory, you need to start randomly paying for documents that once paid for may reveal not to be your ancestors. That can be hard on the budget.

I in fact came upon this site along time before I actually broke down and paid for a couple of documents. The method of payment, I believe is a deterrent to many. The first document I paid for, I chose well. I believe it shows the baptismal record of my GGG-Grandfather. However, when I paid for what I believe is the marriage document of his parents I got a whole lot of nothing. The document revealed no new information then what I could see before the purchase. I have a third document I wish to purchase but after searching, I have a list of 8 possible matches. Where do I start? I am a little hesitant at this point for fear I choose wrong or I open it to find that there are no details in this record.

Therefore, in theory if you don’t have a lot of preliminary information you may end up with a long list of possible matches. You could have a lot of preliminary info and still end up with a long list of possible matches. In which case, you may have to pay for many before finding the right one. If you narrow down the details, you may pay for nothing more, then what you can already see. I warn you to tread carefully.

I would much prefer to see The Irish History Foundation change to a membership style format that permits you to access to all documents for the price of a membership fee. Also, keep in mind you will not see the original document but a transcription.

I keep going back hoping the format will change, or trying to narrow down the possible matches. I certainly see the value in the documents, I just wish they could find a more reassuring method of selling these documents to the public.

Check it out, but with caution.

Advent Calendar- The Gingerbread House Tradition

My Grandmother was German. I wasn’t really in tune with the her culture while I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was older that I became aware that some of the things I loved about her home were traditions from her German heritage. Although, she was born third generation, there was a great deal of German influences in her home. She had some very unusual German sayings that I believe were probably disguised German curse words. I loved the coo-coo clock, and later the grandfather clock. However, at Christmas I had a soft spot for her gingerbread house.

As a child, I fondly remember my Grandmother making a magnificent gingerbread house. For me it was merely something amazing my grandmother did. I was memorized by the size of this house and the multitude of candies on it. The fact that she could create something so beautiful was magical to me. I wish I had learned to make it with her. Today, there are kits you can buy, but I wish I had helped her build it from scratch. Maybe I did, and I just don’t remember. My memory recalls going to visit her and there it would be in all its splendour displayed on the diningroom table.

It was the Crusaders, who first brought gingerbread to Europe. During the 1200’s, it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants where it was a custom to bake white cookies and paint them as window decorations. The first documented sales of gingerbread cookies dates back to the 1500’’s where they were sold in farmer’s markets.

In the 19th century, gingerbread houses were popularized when the Grimm brothers collected German fairy tales. One such fairy tale, called Hansel and Gretel, depicts two children who are abandoned by their parents in the woods; they discover a house of bread, cake and candies.

At Christmas, gingerbread houses have become front and centre. The German practice of making 'lebkuchen' houses became fashionable in North America with the arrival of German settlers bringing with them family recipes and customs.

If you would like to learn more about making and decorating gingerbread houses, checkout

By the way in the picture my paternal Grandmother, I'm the little girl beside her, my brother Jeff and my cousin Denice.

Great Jobs for Genealogists- 2010 Census

I came across this job posting and felt some of you may be interested. I thought this was a great way for the genealogy community to give back, to the many who recorded all those wonderful documents we value today in our research. Plus, here’s an opportunity for you to insure future genealogists get accurate information.
This is a US census so it only applies to my American friends.
You can apply at

Below is a brief description from their website about the positions, and a brief video clip is available from the above website to learn more about these positions.

As stated from the US Census Department website:

The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting temporary, part-time census takers for the 2010 Census. These short-term jobs offer good pay, flexible hours, paid training, and reimbursement for authorized work-related expenses, such as mileage incurred while conducting census work. Best of all, census takers work right in their own communities.

Census taker jobs are excellent for people who want to work part-time, those who are between jobs, or just about anyone who wants to earn extra money while performing an important service for their community.

Hundreds of thousands are needed for temporary jobs
Conducting the census is a huge undertaking. Hundreds of thousands of census takers are needed nationwide to help locate households and conduct brief personal interviews with residents. Most positions require a valid driver's license and use of a vehicle. However, use of public transportation may be authorized in certain areas.

Your community is counting on you
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau takes a snapshot of our population, determining how many people reside within the nation's borders, who they are, and where they live. The results help determine your representation in government, as well as how federal funds are spent in your community on things like roads, parks, housing, schools, and public safety. As a census taker, you'll play a vital role in making sure that everyone is counted.

Let me know if any of you land a job and how it works out for you.

How to Determine the Size and Scope of Your Family History Book

Last week I posted about getting your genealogy research organized so that you can get ready to start writing your family history book. By organizing your information, you should now have a better knowledge of what you have in your arsenal to create your book.

The size of your family history book can vary. It may be a small booklet of a dozen photocopied pages put together in project folder to a large 200-page full colour coffee table style book. Only you can decide which challenge you are up for. However, here are a few things to consider when making the decision on the size and scope of your family history book. Below are 5 questions to ask yourself before you dive into your project.

How many families and generations do you wish to cover?

Do you wish to create an all inclusive book with all your surname lines, or is the amount of information you have to large, or does that seem to overwhelming. You can consider a book based on one individual or follow on surname line, or one set of grandparents. Look at how much research you have to fill your book. Do you want to include the living in your book or only past ancestors?

What is your vision for your family history book?

Do you see your book as small and intimate, maybe a pedigree chart, some pictures and a few stories or are you envisioning a coffee table style book in full colour. Perhaps your ideal family history book falls somewhere in between, maybe your thinking of a scrapbook or maybe a dozen photocopied pages in a three ring binder. Knowing what your final goal is helps in laying out the process to making it happen. Some of this may be reflected in your budget, but if budget if you can’t afford that big coffee style book you may need to consider scaling down your project, to get the look you want. Perhaps having all lines in one book is your goal then you may have to rethink the vision that matches the budget.

Have you considered your audience before starting your book?

Whom are you creating this book for? Perhaps this book is mean’t just for you, maybe a handful of family will want a copy, and maybe you have a large family and will be selling into the hundreds? What will be the age range of your audience? Will your book need to be pretty and engaging, are you trying to interest a younger audience or are you creating merely a book with just the facts as a record for future generations. Do wish to give your books to libraries, archives or genealogical societies or maybe you wish to sell it online. Keep your audience in mind when considering your book.

Have you determined your budget?

A very serious element to determine the size and scope of your book is how much you plan to spend to create your family history book and who will be paying for it. Are you willing to cover the entire costs yourself or willing you looking for donations from key family members to help? You can also consider selling your book to family members. You must poll your audience and see how much interest there is in purchasing a family history book. Never assume you are going to print 100 books at a cost of $20.00 or $30.00 unless you are willing to dig into your own pocket when not all the books sell. The budget and printing of a family history book is a large topic and I will cover in more detail in future posts. In the meantime, you have determined your audience now understand how much and how many books this might materialize in to.

Have you considered your time and talent?

Too many individuals have ideas of grandeur of creating a family history book that far exceeds the time they are willing to invest. If you work full-time, have a family your time is precious don’t take on more than you can handle. You will become frustrated by the lack of progress and more likely, your dreams of a family history book will far exceed time restraints.

Also, consider your talent. By talents, I mean your creative talents in assembling a family history book. Certainly if you are considering this venture then you are bringing some talents to the table, whether you are a great researcher, or writer or perhaps graphic design is your strength. You do not need to be an expert in anyone of these fields to create a family history book; however, it will take some level of talent in all of these areas to create your book. Many software programs will help you with this. However, if you’re not familiar with them then there will be a learning curve. Don’t set your sites on something that exceeds your talents again unless you have the time to invest in learning along the way. Do consider creating a team of family members. Bringing several family members together and using each other’s talents will lighten the load and make for a much more enjoyable journey.

In the end keep it real, understand the time you have to dedicate to this project, the scope of your research, the size of your families, and the budget you have to work with before rushing into creating a your family history book. I assure you regardless of what path you choose, the journey will be rewarding.

Tombstone Tuesday- What You Can Find in a Cemetery....Besides Dead People

I don’t know too many genealogists who do not enjoy an excursion to a cemetery. Those who may be new to the hobby or for those who are not interested in genealogy may find it hard to understand what all the excitement is about.
The question I’m often asked is what can you possibly find in a cemetery besides the obvious. Therefore, here is my list of the kinds of information you can find when visiting a cemetery, that can help aid your genealogy research.

• Proper spellings of names

• Birth, death and possibly marriage dates

• Unknown family, such as infants or second wives

• A wife’s maiden name

• Epitaphs and ancestors last words

• Engravings on tombstones that reveal the ins and outs of a family relationships

• Engraving on tombstones that reveal an individual passions such as music, or cars or the affiliation with an organization or even a brief resume

• A tombstone can reveal a country of origin, or possibly a hometown

• Markers may reveal a military history, a unit and ranking

• A cemetery may reveal other family members buried side by side

• A cemetery may also reveal neighbours

Besides the tombstone, you may also want to inquire into the cemeteries records. These records may reveal who owns the plot, the cause of death of the individual and the last known address of the deceased.

If you can’t make it to cemetery in person there are many on line databases that you can search for your ancestors.  Find a Grave and Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid are two of my favourites. If you are new to cemetery research then a few tips for a successful cemetery outing may be in order. Doing a little research in advance to be sure you are in the right cemetery and knowing the format of that cemetery is important to a successful outing.

Once you arrive it will be clear, there is something to be said for the connection and the bond that occurs when you are physically standing at the tombstone of an ancestor.

Defining Today's Family

This week, I read an article in the latest issue of NGS Magazine entitled What is a Family? by Harold E. Hinds Jr. The subject of this article was based on his Grandmother’s two bibles. These two bibles outlined two very different concepts of his family. Like many families, there were sometimes aspects of our ancestor’s lives that were considered in appropriate and so some of our relatives took it upon themselves to rewrite their families’ history.

Today, we have a different situation. Our society is very welcoming to all varying degrees of blended families. We have traditional marriages with a husband and wife. We have gay marriages or relationships, as gay marriage is not yet legal everywhere. We have children conceived in test tubes, with unknown fathers. The list goes on; there are as many different styles of families today as there are people. I have no problem with any one of these styles of families. Love is love. However, my genealogy software certainly does.

My concern is that unless we give proper due diligence to recording our families’ histories, 100 years from now when our descendants take on the task of genealogy, they may be at a lost. For example, how will a gay relationship appear on a census? Will it appear as two men or two women living together, possibly with children in a family unit? Our censuses today do not define these non-traditional families. In many cases, marriage certificates for these relationships will not exist, one less document for the genealogist to find. If census records don’t record these family units properly, then they may not be identified in history as a family unit.

Many men and women have now multiple partners in their lifetime. This was quite uncommon in the past. Usually multiple spouses were a result of the death of a partner at a young age. Divorce was not an option. Today men and women have multiple partners and never marry. They may have children from many different relationships. Sometimes a father is listed on a birth certificate, sometimes not. Many times, there can be several relationships in a lifetime, with no marriage certificates for any. Let’s face it, there are many more variables today when defining a family then our ancestors could even imagine.

I am not here to pass judgement on any of these relationships. However, as a family historian, writing a family history book, I can attest to the fact that recording these relationships and noting their make-up is very important. Our genealogy programs today are limiting, and if we don’t take the time to record these families with truth, then future genealogists are surely going to be at a considerable disadvantage.

So as I read the article What is a Family? I am appreciative that society today is open to all families no matter what the make-up is. The fact that we can talk openly about the many blended families that make up our communities today is one advantage we have over the past. No longer are we so traditional, so strict in our thinking that families need to rewrite their stories, hide secrets and deny families’ members their identity.

However, we must also be responsible for recording these families properly. There will be a shortage of marriage certificates, proper censuses, completed birth certificates, that will define today’s families. They deserve to be recognized in history for the family unit that they are.

Eventually databases and software programs will catch up and give us the options to record them with accuracy. Quite possibly, even our census takers will record these records with truth, however until then, there will be a gap in our history and some families may get lost in the shuffle before our methods of recording catch up with the families of today. The next Canadian Census is in 2011 and there is a movement in place to insure that questions do not discriminate against same sex marriages. It will be interesting to see if our government, will rise to the challenge of ensuring today’s families are recorded and defined in history.

In the meantime, these special family units should look to their own resources, such as writing their own family history books, to insure that their family is recorded in history. Particularly those families of today and recent history, who have yet to be recorded in past censuses and have no marriage documents to define their relationships, they need to give serious thought to writing a family history book for their descendants.

Advent Calendar- I believe In Santa Claus!

It was Christmas morning 1981, I was 18 years old, and my younger brother Tim had turned 16 that summer. There was much teasing around the house in those months leading up to December. Tim was looking forward to a car for Christmas from Santa Claus. However, with 6 children in the house we all new this would truly be a Christmas miracle.

Christmas morning that year was much like the many before, steeped in tradition. We began by unloading our stockings from Santa. My mother was still honoring the magic of Santa Claus since my youngest sisters were just 12 at the time. (Actually I think they were 30 before my mother gave in and stopped filling stockings for us.) The morning proceeded with brunch and then we would undress the tree. My mother never liked us to rush the day. While she was preparing brunch, my brother began his banter about a car from Santa. He even went so far as to go to the front door to see if it was parked in the driveway. He opened the front door to find a parcel on the front porch, addressed to the Kowalsky family. A simple card was enclosed: signed Santa Claus.

What an exciting morning as the quest began to uncover the identity of our Santa. Phone calls to various family and friends were placed. However, everyone deigned any involvement. Believing this was a one-time gift we left it alone. No one was going to own up to it. When Christmas of 1982 came and another gift arrived we began the investigation all over again, but when Christmas 1983 arrived, I must admit we were all anxiously awaiting to see if Santa had done his job. As I reflect back now, there is irony in the fact that our mystery Santa came at a time in our lives when all six children were in their teens and 20’s.

We would continue each year for the next 28 years gathering together on Christmas day and the question would be: Did Santa come? What did he bring? You would have thought we were all 5 years old again. That small gift, the magic of it appearing out of nowhere, a simple card signed Santa Claus created in us a sense of wonder and excitement. The same feeling you cherish from the first Christmas you can recall of your childhood, the magic we all try to create each year for our own families.

For our family, Santa Claus is not something that is reserved for the young, nor is he a fictional character. I have been experiencing the spirit of Santa Claus along with the rest of my family for over 28 years. The gifts have arrived in various forms, some left on front door steps, some by taxi, some left at the back of the church on Christmas Eve, some delivered by a Santa for hire.

The gift was always an item that can be shared by the entire family. After the first couple of years, we began to accept our Santa, the questions and investigations stopped. We acknowledged and respected the gifts with the intentions with which they were given.

Each year when we gather on Christmas Day, my mother will hand us the card and show us the gift one at a time as we arrive. For those few moments we ponder this mystery Santa, appreciate his years of service to our family, his contribution to keeping the spirit of Christmas alive long after our childhood years have passed and teaching us the real spirit of giving.

In all these years, we have never been able to thank this Santa or return the kindness to him. We can do only one thing, pay it forward. He has made a great gesture without any expectation of reciprocation or recognition; this truly is the personification of Santa Claus. We need more Santa’s in this world.

My Famous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies- Geneabloggers Cookbook

My Famous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am making my famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The first batch is baking in the oven as I write this post. I wish you could smell them. When I was young, my mother would make these very cookies. My fondest memories were of coming home from school and smelling these freshly baked morsels, still warm, moist and tender waiting for us to consume. I began the same tradition for my own girls. Throughout their school days, they have often commented on how much they have enjoyed coming home to my freshly baked cookies. Their reactions when they arrived from school were reward enough. So although only one daughter will be here at 3:30pm today to enjoy them I am holding true to the tradition. Some will just have to go into the freezer for my college student.

Why are they famous you ask? Mostly, because whomever I have made them for over the last 30 years always loves them and wants the recipe. Secondly, no matter how many other cookie recipes I have made over the years this one is always the tried and true favourite. I originally got this recipe from my Mom. She does not know where it came from. I have lost it many times over the years but I have made it so often I can recreate it from memory. I have made some adjustments, each time I lost it, and had to rewrite it. I'm passing this recipe along this Christmas to my nephew's wife. She has requested it. I have written it in a recipe book for her and will be wrapping it with a cookie jar filled with a batch of these famous cookies. I hope you enjoy them too.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chips Cookies
1 1/2 cups of soften butter
2 cups of brown sugar
1 tbsp. of vanilla
1 tsp of baking soda
1 cup of boiling water
4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F
Cream together butter and brown sugar. Add vanilla. In a measuring cup add 1 tsp of baking soda, add one cup of boiling water. Add water mixture to butter mixture. Stir well. Add oats, mix well by hand. Then add flour, again mixing well by hand. Gently add chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until edges of cookies begin to brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then move to cooling racks. They are delicious warm right out of the oven, or once cooled package in an airtight container and freeze.

Step One in Creating Your Family History Book

Before entering into writing your family history book, one thing is key; organization. Hopefully, as you have been researching your ancestors leading up to writing your book, you have put an organizational system in place for your research. However, if you haven't, then it is still not too late to get organized. If your goal from the beginning has been to create a family history book then how you organize your research can aid in the writing of your book. If you haven't put a system in place prior to now, or your organization needs some revamping, then before you begin assembling and writing your book you first must start by organizing your information in a format that will serve your writing. Don't discount what purpose a little initial organization time can serve.

Organizing Your Information Serves Several Purposes

• It will enable you to review all your information to decide exactly what the scope of your book will contain.

• You will be empowered to make several important decisions during the process of what is in an out of your book.

• The process of organizing your research will reveal holes in your research that you may wish to address before you begin.

• Organizing your information will save you valuable time when you begin the writing process.

• Organizing your information will provide you with multiple copies of your research providing a valuable  back- up in case your files become corrupted.

• The organization of your documents and research serves to keep everything together for ease when writing your book.

The best system for organizing your work is one that works for you. Below are some helpful organizational points to consider if you are struggling to find that perfect system.

Creating Your Digital Files

  • Create files in word documents of all your notes. Start with a folder for each family surname, then create sub-folders in each file for each person, within those file folders keep notes and documents. 
  • Consider keeping a separate folder in My Pictures for each family surname and again create sub-folders for each person or family group within that surname, depending on how many pictures you have accumulated. Try not to let your files get to big or you will waste valuable time searching for your documents.
  • Microsoft One Note is a great tool for your family history research. In OneNote you can create a notebook for each family surname. Within these notebooks you can copy articles you find on the web, photographs or Images from the Web and any related documents. Perhaps you have accumulate some notes through your digital library. OneNote will insert a reference link on the page so you can always return to the source. Microsoft OneNote makes a great working notebook for your family history research.
  • Remember to back-up all this information on a regular basis. Choose the same day every month, so for instance the first day of the month back-up these files to a CD or an external hard drive. You do not want to spend months or years working on your book only to have your computer crash and lose a years worth of work.

Creating a Hard Copy Binder

  • Next you want to create a binder of hard copies of all your information. Establish a binder for each family surname. Within this binder create a section for every major player. At the beginning of the binder, insert a pedigree chart, this establishes a quick outline of who is included in this book.
  •  Behind each tab for each person  keep scanned copies of all their documents, copies of census documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates etc.
  • You can also keep a clear plastic sleeve in each section to keep original documents, pictures anything you don't wish to put a whole, staple or paper clip on. These original documents can be moved after the completion of your book to a more secure long term location.
  • On the first page of each sub-section keep a quick overview or timeline of the events of this person's life, including children, marriages, etc.
  • You can also print off any research notes from the internet that you have accumulated in your One Notes workbook and insert them into these sections.
Before you begin to make any major decisions about your family history book, I encourage you to organize your research so that you will have a much more enjoyable and productive experience.