google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: September 2014

Reality Check: Would Your Genealogy Research Survive This?

Today is genealogy back up day, a common practice in the family history community of protecting
our data by copying it to a portable hard drive or cloud service. Have you backed up your family history today? I certainly hope so.

However, I want you to look beyond your digital files.  I don’t want the act of backing up your genealogy data to give you a false sense of security. Ask yourself, have you really done everything you can to protect your research and family history treasures?

Consider for a moment --- Do you keep your years of hard-earned family history research in a cardboard box? Where do you keep your primary documents? In a file cabinet?  Do you store your photos in plastic totes; you know the ones you haven’t gotten around to scanning yet? And where do you store that portable hard drive when you’re done backing up your computer - on your desk, exposed and vulnerable? Here's a reality check ---you stand to lose all of it, should disaster strike.

I know you never think it’s going to happen to you but it’s crazy to think it won’t. Pipes burst, basements flood, and a catastrophe can wipe out your precious family history treasures, items that have been handed down through generations, primary documents, pictures, artifacts, all sitting in cardboard boxes and plastic totes completely unprotected from a household disaster like a fire or flood, not to mention something more ominous like a hurricane or tornado. 

Take a moment to watch this video, would your genealogy survive this? 

It’s time to consider more protection for your family history. I am thrilled to introduce you to the newest tool available in protecting your genealogy from disaster - The Guardian Storage Box from Sentry Safe.

A month ago, I received a Guardian storage box from Sentry Safe to help protect my family history research and treasures. I was completely impressed with the structure, the size and the quality workmanship of this product. In fact, a few days after receiving it, I was headed on vacation and I immediately filled it with my most precious family history items. The ones I couldn’t imagine loosing in a flood or fire. 

In my Guardian storage box I included my portable back up hard drive that contains all my family history research and photos from my computers as well as my writing projects on a flash drive. I also included some cds of pictures, my mother’s christening gown, jewellery handed down from my mother-in-law, and many primary genealogy documents that can’t be replaced.  The only problem with my Guardian storage box; deciding which items took priority placement in the box.  I clearly will need more.

Water Damage Protection
The Sentry Safe Guardian storage box is no ordinary box.  It is water –resistant. If that pipe breaks damage will be kept at bay, don’t take my word for it, check out this video.

Fire Protection
It also offers reliable fire protection that will secure your family history documents for up to 20 minutes at 1200F. (Verified by a third party)

When latched securely, The Guardian will keep your valuables safe from environmental damage. You can stack them up to 3 high for convenient storage when space is limited. It will accommodate letter and legal size paper, so you can fill it with all those family history files.  The storage box is 15.8 in x 12.6in x 19.8in in size and has a capacity of 29.4 litres. It comes with an inventory label so you can easily keep track of your research from the outside of the box.  Family historians love organizational tools and this storage box will not only keep your research organized, it’s going to offer the ultimate in disaster protection.

While I may not be able to save everything should disaster strike, the Guardian storage box does give me some piece of mind. I know that those one of kind items which are irreplaceable and an integral part my family history now have the best possible chance of surviving a fire or flood in my home.

Protect Your Genealogy Business 

I know some of you have filing cabinets full of family history and some of you have genealogy businesses. Would your business go up in smoke with your client’s research if a fire broke out in your home?  Perhaps, you’ll want to consider the FileGuard. The FileGuard fits easily into any standard vertical and lateral file cabinet or any desk drawer and offers fire protection for up to ½ hour at 1550F. Water resistant design ensures that the water from sprinklers and fire hoses will not damage the contents in case of a fire.  And the littlest details like the removable tray for easy access to flash drives, DVDs, CDs, and other critical items make it convenient for everyday use in your home office.

You can purchase The Guardian and the FileGuard in the Sentry Safe online store, but they are also available at a variety of stores such as Amazon, Staples, Lowes, Costco and Home Depot. Click here to check out where you can find Sentry Safe products near you.

With the incredible protection offered by the Guardian Storage box and the FileGuard, it only makes sense that family historians will want to start replacing their fragile cardboard and plastic storage boxes.

Let's ensure were guarding our family history treasures for future generations by protecting our research and artifacts in a manner that provides them with the greatest chance of survival.

I believe that Sentry Safe products are the newest tools family historians should be reaching for when it comes to protecting their personal archives. Please help me in welcoming Sentry Safe and their incredible line up of products to the genealogy community! 

Disclaimer: I was contacted by Sentry Safe to consider their products. I was impressed and believe their products will be of great value to the genealogy community. Sentry Safe provided me with a Guardian Storage Box to examine, use and review. 

Tools for Starting a Genealogy-Related Business

If you're interested in starting a genealogy-related business and not sure where to begin, you'll definitely want to take a look at the newest project from Thomas MacEntee. Thomas is creating a variety of guides to help you find your way through the business side of your genealogy business. Here is a recent press release from Thomas with all the details. 

Innovative solutions for genealogy-related businesses
GenBiz Solutions Guides Released
Chicago, Illinois: GenBiz Solutions Guides hit the marketplace today to meet the demands of the business owner with a genealogy-related business focus. Independent of developing genealogical research skills, today’s successful genealogy-related business owner must develop or enhance specific business skills. Each GenBiz Solutions Guide, geared towards the business side of genealogy, addresses a specific business topic. Initial guides released include:
·         Starting a Genealogy Business
·         Creating a Marketing Plan
·         Building a Business Blog
·         Building Media Relationships
·         Creating a Sales Process
Each guide is priced at $4.95. Now through September 30, 2014, use the promo code FALLSALE2014 to get 10% off on all purchases. In addition, purchase the All In Bundle – all five introductory guides – for only $19.95, a 20% savings. Visit for more information.
Filling a Need for Business Education Materials
“Genealogy-related business owners come to this industry from a variety of backgrounds and with a mix of experience. Because there are multiple aspects to running any business, as well as aspects uniquely applicable to a genealogy-related business, we saw a need to devise a way to allow each business owner to select educational materials specific to their situation,” said Thomas MacEntee, owner of High Definition Genealogy. “Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as hanging out your shingle and starting to perform research for clients. Today’s genealogy professional is faced with making decisions about business structure, what services to offer, how to attract clients and how to compete.”
Real Advice from Real Genealogy Business Owners
“Tapping into the real life experiences of current business owners, we’ve created GenBiz Solutions Guides. Guides are authored by a group of diverse professionals and each examines a relatively narrow topic. This approach allows the genealogy-related business owner to select a guide or multiple guides specific to their unique needs, for a very minimal investment.” continued MacEntee.
GenBiz Solutions Guides are delivered electronically in a digital format; they offer knowledge, practical advice and include specific tools and templates for the business owner to incorporate into their practice.
About GenBiz Solutions
GenBiz Solutions is an innovative series of guides for genealogists seeking to establish or enhance a successful genealogy-related business. GenBiz Solutions is a partnership of genealogy professionals, coordinated and led by Thomas MacEntee. To purchase GenBiz Solutions Guides or for more information, visit:

Expanding Your Genealogy Comfort Zone

We all live in a comfort zone; a place in our mind where we create limitations for ourselves, a
place in our mind that establishes what we believe about what we can or can’t do.

What is your genealogy comfort zone?

You’ve taken up the hobby of genealogy and you’ve garnered a certain amount of knowledge that has allowed you to arrive at this point in your research.  You feel most comfortable where you are and you continue to research and seek out answers within that comfort zone.  However, you soon find yourself at a standstill, you have too many brick walls, nothing is budging and your interest is waning because nothing new is happening.  Perhaps your brick walls and your weakening interest have more to do with your comfort zone than a lack of available resources. Your personal comfort zone can be changed and certainly you can change your genealogy comfort zone as well.  

Expanding your genealogy comfort zone means taking on new challenges, challenges that may make you a little uncomfortable but would expand your knowledge and therefore your ability to grow your family history tree. Those new challenges may come in the form of stepping out from behind your computer and seeking out relevant archives. Maybe your new challenge comes in the form of adapting to the new technology surrounding genealogy research. Perhaps it requires you to attend a class, either in person or online or attend a conference. Perhaps travelling to distant archives and ancestral hometowns would require you to step out of your comfort zone.  Or maybe writing your family history stories is a challenge that pushes beyond your current level of comfort. We all have a comfort zone where we are prepared to conduct our research.

We were all beginners once and to become great and knowledgeable about anything requires going beyond what others are prepared to do, setting new limits for yourself and discovering new territory.
I remember when all I knew about genealogy came from my early days on This is not a bad thing but it was my starting point and I soon realized I needed to expand my horizons. I learned to step away from my computer and head to conferences to expand my knowledge.  I felt completely out of my comfort zone when I visited my first archives and avoided it until I realized my research would not move any further.  Now I’m a volunteer researcher in my local archives. Writing about genealogy was equally a challenge, this was probably my biggest leap outside my comfort zone, but the experience and knowledge has been abundant and has brought me to a new career. The constant expansion of my comfort zone has aided my knowledge and depth of my genealogy research. For many newcomers, genealogy can be a very intimidating hobby. We are surrounded by experts and it can be difficult to ask those initial questions for fear of looking foolish. Do you feel sometimes like you are back in school, scared to raise your hand? You're not alone and this is may be a sign you are confined by your comfort zone.

How do you expand your genealogy comfort zone?

Rather than research from a comfort zone, find your 'genealogy growth zone,' where you are challenged beyond what you've previously done. Perhaps your family history began in your local archives and you’re not very familiar with internet genealogy. Maybe you’ve been to smaller archives but not to a larger national archive, that's just too intimidating.  Possibly, you never taken a genealogy class, gone to a genealogy conference or attended a webinar? These are all opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and embrace growth in your genealogy endeavors. If you don’t challenge yourself and only conduct research from within your comfort zone, you won’t grow, and if you don’t grow, your tree won’t grow.

Make a list of items that fall outside of your comfort zone and within your genealogy growth zone and begin to make plans to check them off. Once you start to tackle that list you will have greater opportunity to expand your boundaries, grow your confidence and your family tree. 

StoryCall offers Family History Interview Services

Are you intimidated by the idea of interviewing your family members? Are you struggling to
find the time to make those family history interviews happen? Perhaps you'll want to consider a lovely new service available for family historians who would like a little assistance with interviewing their relatives and capturing their memories and stories. 

StoryCall offers the services of trained professionals to interview and record your family history interviews. StoryCall captures your relatives stories over the telephone which are in turn saved on the app for other family members to listen to and enjoy.  

When you join StoryCall, you get a designated interviewer and a private website. Your interviewer will host 30-min calls, ask questions of your family members to capture their stories and memories and record everything. The website allows you to invite family members to the interview, schedule the call, send in the questions and listen to the recordings. 
StoryCall is currently in beta, so the service is presently free. I recommend jumping on board now! They're looking for your feedback.  

We all have good intentions of interviewing our relatives, but it can be time consuming and rarely happens. We've all been faced with the passing of a family member we wished we had interviewed. StoryCall will make sure those interviews happen. 

While checking out StoryCall subscribe to their newsletter and read my recent interview with StoryCall,  5 Questions with The Armchair Genealogist on the StoryCall blog.  

(I am not affiliated with StoryCall. Just think this is a great new product deserving of your attention.) 

Keys to the Asylum

Everytime we lose a celebrity or famous person to mental illness such as in the recent passing of
comedian and actor Robin Williams, depression and mental illness once again becomes a focus in the media and our lives. No family is immune to mental illness and with careful observation of your ancestor's records it will come as no surprize to find one or two cateorized as such. Today, guest author Ceris Aston from Scottish Indexes joins us and looks at the very difficult subject of mental illness and our ancestors.

Historically, Western society has a complicated relationship with mental illness, or psychopathology. To be considered mad, insane or crazy was too often to have been maligned, mistreated and subjected to social stigma – particularly if the individual was working class. Today in Scotland, only echoes remain of the village fool, the madwoman in the attic, the straightjacketed inmates of lunatic asylums - in literature, film and television, and in our collective consciousness. With the stories which have been woven around such characters, it’s hard to distinguish fact from reality. What, then, if you discover in your family tree a great-great uncle termed ‘idiot’ or ‘imbecile’, a grandmother’s cousin confined to an institution, pronounced of ‘unsound mind’? The blunt words can come as a shock, arousing pity and, inevitably, curiosity.

But where to find out more? In the past decade, increasing numbers of sources have been indexed by a number of organisations and volunteer networks. Indexes range from censuses through parish records to court, prison and – significantly – mental institution records. At Scottish Indexes, with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, we are currently indexing the "Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of Mental Institutions". These forms, which begin on the 1st of January 1858, were created each time someone was admitted to an asylum in Scotland. Thus far we have indexed 1009 such admission forms. The stories that they tell are fascinating – and often tragic.

On the 26th of December, 1861, one Elizabeth Allan or Wood was admitted as a patient to the Royal Edinburgh Asylum for the Insane. Following an examination on the 7th of January, the doctor John Moir LRCS pronounced: ‘with respect to her mental state, that it is unsound, and with respect to her bodily health and condition, that she is weakly.’ Forty-five-year-old Elizabeth was a married housewife, previously a servant, from the parish of Elgin. ‘Duration of existing attack’ is put down as six months – ‘supposed cause’, the death of her daughter. To the question, ‘whether suicidal’, the scrawled response reads ‘has attempted to drown’ – in a later note, we read that her attempts are repeated ones and that she cannot be left alone. The bereaved Elizabeth Allan or Wood is categorised as a ‘Lunatic, and a proper Person to be detained under Care and Treatment.’ Her loss is treated dispassionately, with one report listing as ‘Facts indicating Insanity’ Elizabeth’s feelings ‘that her God has deserted her and that her Soul is lost and her life a burden and can get no peace or rest’.

Elizabeth’s story makes for a heart-rending read – and there are so many more, with ‘supposed causes’ for lunacy including bereavement, financial loss and disappointment in love. Between the 1st of January 1858 and the 31st of December 1860, 3912 individuals were admitted to asylums across Scotland – an average of 1304 per year. Unfortunately, diagnoses and forms of treatment for mental illnesses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were startlingly inadequate. Institutionalisation was common and had become increasingly systematised by the time that Elizabeth was admitted, helped on its way by various acts of parliament.

Today it seems likely that Elizabeth would have been diagnosed with depression. Treatments and social attitudes have moved on a great deal since 1861, though there’s no denying we’ve still some way to go. The stigma of words relating to mental illness can be understood better by examining the social context of their origins and these also allow us to better understand our ancestors. These Mental Institution records offer an unparalleled glimpse into the reality of life as it was for a long-ago family member who suffered from mental illness. While often tragic, they are also intriguing, going far beyond mere names and dates. These records offer a real insight into the struggles that your ancestor faced. If you want to know whether a Scottish family member was admitted to an institution, you can search our indexed records here.

For more on Scottish ancestral research, like our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter or see our site Scottish Indexes