google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: June 2010

Tuesday's Tip - Three Important Qualities of a Genealogy Website

Every Tuesday the Armchair Genealogist will post a helpful tip for readers looking to improve their online research skills.

When stumbling across any genealogy website that may offer some insight into your family history research, there are a few characteristics you should always be aware of when deciding whether to use the website in question as a resource or guide.

1. Who created the website? – Most websites offer an ‘About Us’ or ‘Profile’ page that should outline very clearly the creator or creators of the website. Individuals to large corporations and everything in between, including libraries, governments, genealogy organizations, all look to extend you resources to help your online research through their websites. Be cautious of any website that is not forthcoming with who they are. Before using any website in your research, make yourself familiar with the creator. If this is not available, my advice is move on.

2. Is the content current? Let’s face it many have grand ideas of starting a website, unfortunately the internet is littered with abandon sites that are not updated regularly. In the genealogy world and more particularly in online genealogy, new records and information are released regularly. You want to focus your efforts on sites that are current and staying on top of the most recent information.

3. Where does the information come from? Never accept information published on a genealogy website that does not offer a source. Not every website has the ability to show you actual documents, some will offer information, others transcriptions, but if they do not site the source of their information then contact the author of the website and inquire about the source before accepting any information as valuable. This particularly includes the research of others found in family trees online. Many websites offer transcriptions, but you always, always want to see the original document for yourself. That may mean it isn’t available through digital records and you will have to leave your armchair and head to an archive. If a website cannot offer you the option of viewing the original, take them merely as a guide to seeking out the original document.

Always treat online genealogy information the same way you would treat any other published information as a guide to original documents, but never as evidence or conclusions to your research. The internet has become a wonderful resource for genealogy but not all websites are created equal. Keep these three tips top of mind and you won’t be lead astray.

Making the Leap from From Family Historian to Family Writer

 You have a hard drive full of documents and pictures, back-ups of your information on discs and jump sticks. You have paper files, photo albums and boxes of family history all of which you have been accumulating for years. But do you have a plan? ....... a plan to share your treasures, your knowledge, your family’s story......or is your plan to just keep accumulating this information only to be filed away....For what?
Genealogist love research, they love the mystery, the seeking out of facts. However, at some point, genealogists must confront what they plan to do with their acquired knowledge.

I believe most genealogists more than anyone else have learned the power of life stories, yet so few of us get around to organizing our information into a readable format to share with generations to come.

You have dearly missed the point of genealogy if your journey is only about the hunt. At some point, I believe most of us realize a lesson or two from our ancestors. This is where you need to take the leap from being the family historian to the family writer and convey your knowledge and lessons and write a book.

Yes, a book! I know many look at the idea of a book to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, an insurmountable task reserved only for the very few. Everyday books are being written and published; it is no longer an elitist adventure.

Often the task is met with many objections. I don’t know how to write. It is too expensive to produce a book. I don’t have time. I can tell you from personal experience that nothing will be more rewarding then taking your years of research and knowledge and assembling it into a format that will benefit your current family and generations to come.

Not to be morbid but should God forbid, you passed away tomorrow.....What would happen to your years of research?

Will it sit on a computer that will eventually crash and become obsolete. Will your computer be passed down only to be wiped clean?

Your boxes of documents and pictures, they will likely be given to a family member. Perhaps you have even willed them to someone. However, more than likely they will remain in the boxes on shelf in a basement for years to come. If you didn’t take the time to write your family’s story then what makes you think someone else will. Maybe someone will open them up years from now and discover your hard work, or perhaps not. Very few of us have even taken the time to draw up a proper will of our most valuable assets, for many of us our family history research is not even been on the radar.

Writing a family history book, taking all that research, knowledge, pictures and documents and putting it into a readable format for a wider audience to see and learn from and enjoy is your single best solution to leaving a legacy to your family.

One of the first things we learn as a genealogist is how important it is to record your family history. Oh how excited we would have been if our earliest ancestors had kept journals, recorded their travels to the new world, left us writings of their hardships, successes and failures. How much richer we would have been for having had the knowledge of this information. Yet, fully knowing the importance of this, many family historians, have become nothing more than collectors of information, facts and documents. I say this with the greatest respect, “what have we learned,” if we have failed to share our knowledge.

Next week I will be releasing our family history book, a 200-page book, accounting for 400 years of our family’s travels, spanning four countries and countless generations. Although I am nervous about its reception, (we pre-sold 75 copies) I also know, outside of my own marriage and children it is probably one of the single most important accomplishments in my life. Through my research and my words, I am bringing together my ancestors and my current family for the first time. My hope is that it will strengthen the foundation of this family even more than it already is, it will help us appreciate the sacrifices our ancestors have made, celebrate our history and move forward knowing that we can accomplish great things. Why should that lesson only be my lesson? Why shouldn’t my family down to its youngest member have the opportunity to learn from our ancestor’s story?

If you haven’t made the leap from family historian to family writer, I encourage stepping off and taking a risk and try your hand at writing your family history; it can be just as rewarding as the research.

Related Reading
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Family History

My Summer Reading List - Not Just For Genealogists

One of the greatest pleasures in life for me is a warm summer day, a cold drink, a comfortable chair and a good book. Summer time affords me the luxury of spending a little more time reading. As a writer and genealogist, reading is like breathing. This summer I have prepared a list to share with you.

Some of the books on my summer reading list, I have already read and recommend to you based on my personal opinion. Others I have sought out and are my own personal reads for this summer. Some may interest only family historians, while others appeal to a much wider audience.The books on my list usually fall into a couple of categories, first the non-fiction books on genealogy and writing. I am always looking to read another’s perspective and pick-up a few pointers to improve my skills. Secondly, in the fiction area, the genealogist in me looks for historical novels, I am also drawn to a novel that is a memoir or based around the life of a real person. You will find I am personally interested in reading about women with remarkable life stories and who have displayed great human spirit.

The Book of Negroes (Canadian Edition)My Recommended Summer Reading List

The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill published in Canada in 2007; it has since been released in the States under the title Someone Knows My Name. The Book of Negros is a historical document that listed every slave who came to Nova Scotia under British protection. Aminata Diallo abducted from her West African home at the age of 11, this book follows her remarkable journey. A female 'Roots' of sorts, but completely fictional makes this a great summer read. Someone Knows My Name is available in Kindle. Publisher Norton 2007

Elizabeth StreetElizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, is an immigrant story of how a first generation American outwits one of the most famous crime organizations of the 20th century. The story of Giovanna Costa begins in the small fishing village of Scilla. After facing the death of her first husband, Giovanna makes her way to New York City where she becomes a midwife, remarries and faces down the Italian-American Mafia. The story is based on the authors own great-grandmother. Available in Kindle Edition. Publisher AmazonEncore May 2010

My Name Is Mary Sutter: A NovelMy Name is Mary Sutter is a debut novel by Robin Olivieria. Mary, a 20-year-old midwife dreams of becoming a doctor of course against the better wishes of her mother and society. Set during the civil war, Mary makes her way to Washington where her good work becomes recognized and the reader is given a remarkable heroine to cheer on as well as a window into the medical hardships of the times. Available in Kindle Edition. Publisher Viking May 2010

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett is set in Jackson Mississippi during the civils rights movement, Eugenia Phelan is home from college, and is struggling to find her path in life. Eugenia (Skeeter) begins to collect the stories of the black women in her community– the maids. Eugenia’s book brings pride and hope to the black community, giving her the confidence to pursue her own dreams. DreamWorks has optioned to turn this book into a major motion picture. This book is available in Kindle. Publisher Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam Feb 2009

The Yellow House: A NovelThe Yellow House follows the story of a young Irishwoman in this debut novel by Patricia Falvey, set between World War I and the Irish War of Independence. Eileen O’Neill inherits war, disease, mental illness and greed while struggling with national pride, family loyalty, class division and her own spirit. This book is available in Kindle. Publisher Center Street Feb 2010

How to Do Everything GenealogyHow to Do Everything Genealogy by George G. Morgan, this second edition volume explores everything from the basic rules, research methods, web-based research, DNA, social networking sites, blogs, podcasts and the latest hardware and software. George G. Morgan an award-winning author with 7 genealogy books to his credit. The first edition of How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne was one of the best-selling genealogy "how-to" genealogy books published in the last 20 years! This book is available in Kindle.

You Can Write Your Family HistoryYou Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. If you’re struggling with how to take all that genealogy research and turn it into family history that will read like a novel then pick up Sharon’s book this summer. Even if you have never written a single page, this book will walk you through the process. Sharon is a certified genealogist. She specializes in Irish and Italian research and is a consultant in writing and editing services of non-fiction books particularly memoirs, biographies and family histories. Originally published by Betterway Books in 2003, it was reprinted by Genealogical Publishing in 2008.

How Will I Know Where I’m Going, If I Don’t Know Where I’ve Been? Elizabeth Ruderman Miller shares her genealogical accomplishments with others who understand the passion of tracing their ancestors. She shares her path of exploration, discoveries, methods and stories in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Elizabeth has brought us this book through self-publishing and it stands as an example to other genealogists looking to self-publish. AuthorHouse 2009.

Should you choose to read any of the above recommendations, feel free to drop me a line and offer up your thoughts on any of the books on the list.

Beginner Genealogists - Are You Educated in Google Genealogy?

Advice for new genealogists nearly always begins with talk to the living, followed quickly by tips on finding a software program and some links on the various online databases that are available to family historian. All of these are very, very important steps in beginning your genealogy. However, equally important is learning the ins and outs of Google and more specifically how Google can benefit your genealogy research.

As a family historian you will google till the cows come home. It will be a huge part of your research time. So it is equally important to be educated on the most efficient and productive way to Google. I would recommend to any new or beginner genealogist, to find a resource and get an education on Google. Google has become an important and necessary tool in family history research.

There are a few online articles and blogs that will help you out, but frankly they can only touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to polishing your google skills. They are fine for keeping your skills up to date, but if you’re starting from scratch you need to get a Google education.

I can’t begin to offer you a Google education in a 500 word blog, so I am not about to attempt that here. I may throw you a couple of tips, tell you about some new gadgets from time to time but if you really want confidence when researching your family tree online then an education is best. The very first thing I did when I decided to start genealogy online was buy myself a book.

While some basics of researching online stay the same, the internet is an ever-changing landscape. Therefore, I can only recommend that you seek out an up to date source. No sooner does an author publish a book about the internet then it becomes out of date. That is not to say they aren’t worth their money. Some things will not change, like the basics of googling.

There are a couple of avenues you can take to find that education. One is in books. Three books I can enthusiastically recommend are Google Your Family Tree by Daniel M. Lynch, Genealogy Online by Elizabeth Powell Crowe and The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy by Kimberley Powell. All three of these books were published in 2008; I suspect we will see shortly some updated editions, along with a few new ones.

If you would rather learn online then hurry over to Family Tree University, they are offering on June 21st a webinar in Mastering Google Search: Secrets to Smarter, Faster Online Research. This webinar is presented by Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems Podcast fame. It starts next week and runs for 4 weeks.

Once you have mastered the basics of Google research and are using to its full potential in your genealogy research then you can easily keep your skills up to date by staying abreast of Google’s latest changes and improvements. Keep on top of the blogs, genealogy articles and magazines; there are many great resources that look after making sure you have the newest information on how Google can help your genealogy research.

Wisdom Wednesday - Alex Haley's Roots

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." -- Alex Haley, Roots

Roots: The Saga of an American FamilyAlex Haley (August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992) was an African-American writer known the world over for his novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published in 1976.

I was but 13 years old when I watched the television miniseries with 130 million other viewers. It was my first introduction to genealogy, and it fired my interest in genealogy and reading historical novels based around real people.

After nearly 10 years of genealogy research, Haley declared he was the seventh descendant of Kunta Kinte. A young man kidnapped in The Gambia in 1767 and transported to the Province of Maryland where he was sold as a slave.

Alex Haley went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and which is still in existence, and listened to a tribal historian tell the story of Kinte's capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to America.

Roots was eventually published in 37 languages, and Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. However, Haley`s work would later come under scrutiny. Haley would make an out-of-court settlement with Harold Courlander, who sued him for plagiarism claiming passages from his own book The African had been directly used in Haley`s work.

In 1984 Genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills disputed Haley's research in the March issue of the National Genealogical Quarterly, ``The Genealogist`s Assessment of Alex Haley`s Roots.`` This article, is an analysis of the research and use of evidence provided by Haley for the basis of the book. It results in a discussion of oral history versus documentation. Genealogists have learned very quickly that oral history is a slippery slope without proper documentation.

In 2007,Roots: The Saga of an American Family celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Regardless of its later troubles, it cannot be denied it sparked an interest in genealogy for not only the African-American community but also the world. As a young teenager, I saw slavery for what it was outside of an emotionless paragraph in a history book. Roots also inspired my interest in genealogy that would fester until my adult years when I would finally act on it. As a genealogist and writer, Roots now represents for me everything rewarding and difficult when it comes to writing a family history.

Internet Genealogy - Uncovers websites and software to help your research!

The June /July issue of Internet Genealogy is on newsstands now and for armchair genealogists it continually offers an array of articles to help you migrate through the barrage of genealogy information online.

A few of my favourites articles in this issue include:

Family Tree Builder 4: A Review, written by Tony Brandy, this article breaks down the ins and outs of the newest version of this genealogy program. The magazine comes with a free CD of the program.

130 Best Genealogy Websites, of course subject to authors interpretation and your individual needs.  I am always on the lookout for a website I have yet to discover that may help tear down one of my brick walls. These lists can help newcomers and professionals alike find a site or two that can open a door.

Long Distance Research: Genlighten, written by Diane L. Richard, she takes a look at this website and how it can help you locate a professional genealogist.

Here are a few other  websites I learned about while reading this issue.

Irish Maps Online-


Eastern European city directories

You can read all about them in Internet Genealogy thanks to Diane L. Richard.

You can subscribe to Internet Genealogy here, if you wish to keep abreast of latest online tools and websites for armchair genealogists. Did I mention you can receive your copy in a digital download as well as in magazine format. Happy Reading!

The Family Historian: Improving Your Communication Skills

As family historians, we spend a great deal of our time finding the perfect software program, looking for the ideal database and creating a faultless organizational system. While all these things are important in our success as the resident genealogist, our communications skills are equally significant.

Family historians are on the frontlines in acquiring information from their living relatives. However, time and time again stories are lost, undiscovered and just plain ignored because family historians fail to use their communication skills to engage relatives. Family members can be difficult to communicate with; many of us would sooner talk to strangers in a cemetery then call up a living relative for information.

Whether, you are researching your family history or writing a family history book, your communication skills with your living relatives are critical. Often you will turn to family members for information, pictures, facts, dates. Many family members will be very cooperative while others...well let’s just face it will be a thorn in your side. It is in handling the difficult ones that we procrastinate and cower in the dark.

No family is complete without a few relatives destined to make your journey a little more challenging. There is the family member who “doesn’t know anything”, or the relative who claims,"I have never received that email”, and the standard “didn’t I send that to you already” and then those who are silent hoping you will go away and finally the relative who has no interest “in dead people I never met.”

The only way to engage the naysayers in your family is through excellent communication skills. In this day of technology, there are many avenues of communication available to you to acquire necessary information from your relatives. Email, family websites, facebook, phone calls and blogs, all can act as the vehicle for communicating with family members. Depending on the generation, you may have to enlist several of these avenues to solicit information. However, without engaging in some solid communication skills you may become the most disliked person in the family.

Motivating relatives to forego family information is not magic; it is all about effective communication. Anyone can achieve effective communication by using four simple steps; they are comprehension, connections, credibility and contagiousness.

You don’t have be a communications experts to achieve success, and regardless of whether you choose an email, a newsletter, a blog, or a family website to communicate with family members utilising these four steps will help pave a path of least resistance.

Is the message clear?

In the communication world, Step 1 is about the message. Does the audience get the main idea? In the genealogy world does your relative understand your message, the main idea of your project, what you are attempting to achieve. Do they comprehend it? In order for that to happen, your message must be clear and to the point, sometimes even to the point of repetition. Keep it simple, don’t go into too much detail and muddy the waters. If you make it complicated, they will quickly shut down and want nothing to do with your genealogy project.

Did you make a connection?

In advertising when you create a commercial, not only do you want the viewing audience to get it, you want the message to resonate with them. In genealogy, you want family members to understand the meaning and significance your project will have on them. It needs to elicit an emotional trigger, pull at the heartstrings and make them want to be counted among your confidants in this project.

Do you hold credibility?

The audience needs to believe you. Your relatives can completely understand your message but if they don’t believe you will actually pull this project off , they are not going to waste their time with you. In genealogy, it important to establish yourself as the family historian, get the word out, let it be known you are serious about genealogy, this is not a passing fad. Once you start knocking on doors asking for their support, they will have faith in your abilities.

Is your message contagious?

In communications, contagiousness is a good thing. You want your audience to “catch the message,” I saw this happen with my own family. Some members who were excited and enthusiastic about the family history book became contagious. They talked, and before I knew, it was spreading like a disease, a good disease. I no longer had to chase people (too much) and others who were not even relatives were interested in our family history book. Contagiousness will evoke a vivid emotional response, have “talk” potential, motivate relatives to do something, and elicit a demonstrable reaction.

Once you start using communication to solicit genealogy information from your relatives, or to create some interest in a family history book you will find the entire process will be more effective and a lot less challenging. Practice these communication skills; they may be the key to uncovering some of your families’ greatest stories.

Take the Communication Quiz at and find out what kind of a communicator you are?

Follow Friday - Family Reunion Planning 101

Summer is in the air and that generally brings with it family reunions. This year will prove to be a very exciting summer for myself, because on July 3rd and 4th, we will be celebrating another Kowalsky Family Reunion.

Our family reunions occur every 5 years, first because we are a very large crowd, there will be some 250 of us gathering this year. It spans two days and will include everything from a dinner and dance, to a BBQ, meet and greet, and opening ceremonies, that include two national anthems, a prayer and a few other surprises I can’t reveal here in case any families members are reading.

I am sitting on the committee this year, my career in years past has never afforded me the time to be involved before and I am enjoying the experience and hope I am bringing some ideas to the table.

I primarily decided to join the committee because my cousin and I have been working on a family history book for the last 3 years with the intention of its release at this family reunion.

We have been holding a formal family reunion every five years for the last 30 years. Before that we had gatherings but they were never quite so formal or organized. The family has always been large, and it has grown exponentially in the last 20 years, since I have 45 cousins who are all married with children and some with grandchildren.

The reunion committee currently meets about once a month to stay ahead of details and make sure everything gets booked in good time, the hall, caterer, portable toilets, DJ and entertainment.

We are a proud bunch, and we celebrate our Canadian heritage, Polish and German heritage and since some of my cousins were born and currently live in the United States, we are sensitive to having an American element at the reunion despite celebrating in Canada. Many will be interested to know when they get their history book this year that they are just as much Irish as Polish.

If you have yet to plan a family reunion or are in process of planning one, I’m sure you can join me in attesting to the fact that it can be an overwhelming and thankless job.

This Follow Friday I would like to direct your attention to a little magazine and website that can help take some of the stress out of planning a family reunion.

Reunions Magazine and provides and extensive list of tools to help you organize your reunion. The website and magazine consist of a variety of articles and podcasts all formulated around offering you ideas and how-tos for planning your reunion. Everything from choosing a date and place, to getting the word out, ideas on how to finance your reunion to suggestions for activities and games and icebreakers. They also offer up some ideas on how to include some family history and genealogy in your reunion.

Reunions Magazine
Reunions Magazine is published four times a year at a very affordable rate of $3.00 an issue. They also offer a reunion workbook to help keep you organized and on task for $9.95. The website provides a forum where you can post questions and discuss your reunion questions or offer up some fresh ideas to others who are overwhelmed by their project.

With my own family reunion only three short weeks away, I have turned to Reunions Magazine on several occasions to bring some ideas to our committee. Check them out and make your next family reunion an event to remember.

Wisdom Wednesday - Quote of the Week

I apologize my posting has been sporadic of late. We have put the family history book to bed ( I will share more about that in future posts) and anxiously await its arrival.

I have just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of my parents wedding and as chief cook and bottle washer I had my hands full. Now it is full steam ahead to reunion plans.(Look to Friday's post for some reunion ideas).

However, I am happy to get back to posting on a regular basis. Geneabloggers have recently started a new Wednesday theme and I am happy to join along. Previously Wordless Wednesday was never my thing, as a writer it went against every grain of my being. However, Wisdom Wednesday I can certainly get behind.

In writing our family history book we often turned to quotes in the writing of our book. I personally find them to be thought provoking, and help to enhance the book. 

If you are writing your family history book , I encourage you to look to quotes to enhance your book. They are easily found on the Internet, just make sure you give proper citation to the author.

To start this first Wisdom Wednesday, I wish to share a quote that eventually lead us to the title of our family history book. Our family book is entitled  The Waters of My Ancestors, The Kowalsky-Vogel Story.

We have taken our inspirations from the following quote.

"I have drunk deep of the waters of my ancestors" Larry Neal

Larry Neal or Lawerence Neal (September 5, 1937 – January 1981) was a scholar of African-American theatre. He is well known for his contributions to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Do you have a favourite quote genealogy, family related, feel free to share it here on Wisdom Wednesday.

Related Reading
 How Green Was My Valley