Blessing or Curse?

I’ve been doing a lot of work with Ancestry’s ThruLines. ThruLines takes a look at your DNA matches and their trees. It then looks at information in ALL of the Ancestry trees and attempts to map a path from the DNA match to a “common ancestor” in both trees.

How nice to have this all worked out for you!! But is it really? Is this helping us with our research, or is it multiplying incorrect information?

My 3x great-grandparents are Andrew Scott and Elizabeth Wade. Every tree I have ever seen for Elizabeth Wade has her parents as Joseph Wade and Henrietta Nelson.

When I put together my public tree that would be connected to my DNA results, I decided that I only wanted to add direct ancestors if I had a decent confidence level in the information. So in my private tree, I have Joseph Wade and Henrietta Nelson, but they are not in my public tree. In my private tree, I have 3 pre-1850 census records and 4 Land Grant records – all in the right part of Kentucky. But for Henrietta Nelson – zero. Of course, in this time period, it is difficult to find records for women, so maybe this is a lost cause.

So I decided to take a deeper look at other people’s trees. What do they have that shows that these people were ever a couple?

Looking at ThruLines, it tell me “ThruLines uses Ancestry trees to suggest that (kit name) may be related to 157 DNA matches through Henriette “Ritter” Nelson Callicut.” Wow! 157 DNA matches? That has GOT to make it true, doesn’t it? But I wanted to see what sources all these people have that I don’t have. In ThruLines, there is a dotted line around Henriette because she is not in my public tree. There is also a button that says “Evaluate”. When you click on the green button, you can see the different trees that have Henriette in them.

When I click that button, I can see that there are 27 trees that are linked to DNA matches who ThruLines has connected to Henriette. I believe all of these trees actually have Henriette in their tree. Then there are 13 additional trees that have Henriette, but these trees don’t have a DNA connection. If each of the DNA connected trees have 1 DNA match associated with them – or let’s even say 2 DNA matches, that would be 54 DNA matches. So where do the other 100 or so DNA matches come from? It’s Ancestry searching through the trees of my DNA matches and all other trees – including the 13 none DNA related trees – to find common surnames that MIGHT lead to a common Ancestor. That’s a lot of hypothesizing!

When I look at the list of trees that are revealed after clicking “evaluate”, each one in the list also tells how many records are attached to the common ancestor – in this case, Henriette. And every single tree says the same thing…

ZERO records! EVERY SINGLE ONE! That means that these 40 trees are all taking the name Henriette Nelson Callicut on faith – probably because they are seeing it in so many other trees.

I’m sure that this name comes from some older research and that someone had a reason for adding it to their tree. Maybe a family bible, or a tree that was written down generations ago from someone who actually knew Joseph and Henrietta. But is that the standard we are all taking for our family research now? That someone, somewhere, must have known that this was true?

So now, how many people will add Henrietta to their tree because of what they are seeing in ThruLines? That will increase the number of trees that I see when I click on “evaluate” which will seem to add weight to those trees being true. And maybe they are….but can this ever be proven?

If there ever comes a time when someone does find some relevant information that points to a different wife for Joseph Wade, will that name even appear as a potential name in ThruLines? If 40 trees say Henrietta and 1 tree says something else – even if it has records attached – will that tree even show up? I don’t know.

Looks like I have lots of research ahead!

The Treasure of 2nd cousins

I am now 2 weeks into the “21 Day Extreme DNA Challenge” that Scott Fisher of “Extreme Genes” is hosting on Facebook. I have a rudimentary understanding of how DNA works, but I don’t think I’ve spent very much time really thinking through what it all means and how it can help my research.

If you are new to using DNA to help you figure out your family tree, there are very few relationships that are more helpful than 2nd cousins. According to the Genetic Genealogist (2016), there has NEVER been a single demonstrated case of 2nd cousins or closer who fail to share DNA. It IS possible for 3rd cousins and even 2nd cousins twice removed to share no common DNA with the test taker.

Most people who are not searching for birth parents know who their grandparents are/were. But unless you have been doing family history research, you may not know who your great-grandparents are. You and your 2nd cousin share the same great-grandparents!

But not all 2nd cousin relationships are the same. Second cousins once removed (1 generation before or after the DNA tester) MIGHT share the same great-grandparents. This is the case for all children of full 2nd cousins. But if a 2nd cousin once removed is one generation older than the test taker, then THEY are part of your family through a SIBLING of your great-grandparents. THESE matches can help you find your 2x great-grandparents. These great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents should have census entries that can help you find dates and locations to keep you moving in the right direction for your research. Or if you already have information for your great and great-great-grandparents, finding DNA matches will help to confirm the information. This can be a HUGE help if you have ancestors with common names or if there’s more than 1 person with the same name in the location you are researching.

FamilySearch has a nice chart that you can download for free here.

But what if you don’t KNOW how a cousin is related to you? Then you need to look at the number of centimorgans (cM) you share plus do a little detective work. There are MANY possibilities for relationships based on centimorgans alone, but to keep this simple, let’s just think about 2nd cousins and 2nd cousins once removed.

2nd cousins will share between 41-592 cM with the test taker with the average amount being 229.
2nd cousins once removed will share between 14-353 with an average amount of 122.

You can take a look at this interactive chart showing all of the centimorgan amounts for many, many, MANY relationships on A REALLY cool feature of this interactive chart is that you can enter the number of cMs shared with a match in the box at the top and they will give you percentages for how likely the potential relationships are. Give it a try with 300 cM to get a feel for the information you can get with this tool.

Most of the websites that have DNA information will give you an estimate of a relationship, but don’t take those as gospel. For example, Ancestry never gives you an estimate of a half-relationship or a “removed” relationship.

If you are trying to figure out who a test taker’s great-grandparents are, begin looking at matches that have between 14-592 cM. This should find all of the 2nd cousins and 2nd cousins once removed. But be aware that it will also find other relationships as well. If you have many matches in that range, begin with the matches that are closest to the average amount of 122-229 cM. Focus on the matches that have trees attached to their results and look for surnames that you recognize. Keep good notes – whether it’s online or on paper. Sooner or later you’re going to be saying, “Now where did I see that name?” and you’ll be happy that you took those notes.

So how does it help you to know which of your matches are 2nd cousins?

  1. It can confirm the research that you have been working so hard to collect.
  2. They may have branches of your tree that you have not discovered yet. (Never accept someone else’s information without good documentation! But DO use all information as clues to be followed up on!)
  3. You might find photos or documents in a cousin’s public tree that you’ve never seen before.
  4. If you can communicate with your cousin, you might find that they have more information or photos, etc. that they haven’t put online in their tree.
  5. They may want to work together on researching your family – and it’s pretty fun to have someone to share the highs and lows of family research!

Take a look at your matches now and good luck with your search!

DNA Takeover!

I’ve been absent from the blog for a little while. Part of that is due to the current situation with the virus. You’d think that being in “lock-down” for a few weeks would have given me extra genealogy time, but a great deal of the work for our business has fallen on me while my husband took a 2nd job because business slowed down quite a bit at the beginning of the year. The other (and much happier) reason is that I now have a 3 week old grand-daughter who joyfully occupies a lot of my free time! Her mommy never has to ask twice if she’s looking for a babysitter for an hour or two! Add in some gardening now that the weather has finally straightened up and you can see why I haven’t been thinking about the blog!

But about a week ago, I began working with a group on Facebook for a 21 day “Extreme DNA Challenge”. The group was put together by Scott Fisher of the radio program/podcast “Extreme Genes”. I have enjoyed every minute of what we have done so far and I can’t imagine what is yet to come over the next 2 weeks! My favorite aspect of the group is receiving a video tutorial and then small task to complete each day. Some of the tasks are things we all will be working on for a long time to come, but little bites every day will bring that elephant down! Since everyone in the group is working on the same tasks, I know that questions will be answered quickly and success stories are celebrated by everyone!

And once again, my genealogy ADD has kicked in to take me away from my biographies project and now I’m knee deep in my DNA. And THAT has taken me back to my obsessive focus on John M. Smith. The WONDERFUL news is that I have been able to use the DNA matches for my mother, 2 aunts and 1 of their cousins to confirm my theory that his wife was Elizabeth Arbuckle! I have changed her Ancestry tag from “Theory” to “DNA Connection”. Whew! Which places my John smack in the middle of Mercer County, Kentucky, just as the tiny hint I found years ago had led me.

Elizabeth’s line is pretty “easy” (ok, even I had an eye roll there) to follow back. She explains at least part of the Scottish DNA I see in the kits I manage. So my next task is to focus what I’ve learned and have yet to learn about my DNA matches on John M. Smith’s parents. Again, I have a pretty good lead for him, but I need some DNA connections to help me feel more confident. As we all know, you can find a Smith family on just about every corner!

I hope you all are well and staying safe wherever you are!

DNA Matches in my Excel Research Workbook

I’ve been working on keeping a Research Notebook based on a single surname. For example, I have an Excel Workbook with worksheets for 4 generations of my Smith line starting with my great-grandfather. Each family has a worksheet for their Research Plan and Inventory. I have a single worksheet to keep track of all Land Transactions for the Smith surname in the counties I am researching including siblings of my direct line ancestors.

Recently, I was asked about a way to keep track of DNA matches in my notebooks. This could be an additional worksheet within my workbook. My family is quite a tangled mess due to lots of intermarrying, so if I decide that I want to attempt this in my Smith notebook, I’ll probably have to come up with a 2 color system to show if a match is related in more than one way to explain why the cM numbers are so high. For this post, I thought I’d show an example of what I did for my son-in-law’s DNA matches.

What I’m doing is creating a “tree” of sorts. The top line shows the common ancestor that a group of matches has. The row below that has all of the children for that couple. I decided to go ahead and include all of the children instead of just the ones that have matches to save me a little time later on as more matches become available. (Although I do have some families that have more than a dozen kids and I might rethink how many to include for those lines!) Once children are entered, I merge all of the cells above into one wide cell to show that Oscar and Louise are the parents of all the cells in the next row.

When entering the 3rd generation, I insert columns to have enough for those kids and after entering the names, I merge the cells above those children into 1 parent cell. (I usually have more information in the cells like full names, relevant dates, etc. but I switched to initials for this example because some of these people are still living.)

I have also done with with 4 generations with even more DNA matches, but the chart becomes quite wide at that point, so I didn’t want to use that as my example.

When I find a DNA match, I include the number of centimorgans and I add color to a cell to see the matches quickly.

In my son-in-law’s case, we don’t know how he is related to this family. If we did, I would include his direct line all the way back to the common ancestor to help determine if a match is a 2nd cousin once removed, etc. I’d then confirm the relationship makes sense by using the free Shared cM tool found on the DNA Painter website.

I do like the idea of having everything possible about a surname available in one master workbook, so this may be something for me to consider as well!

Russell County Land Record Links Updated

Hello fellow Russell County researchers! Yesterday, I updated the links for land records, which you can find in the “Russell County Resources” tab at the top of the page. But I thought I’d post them here as well to give you a quick look. Everything below Deed Book S is a new link.

Russell County, Kentucky Deeds:

Family Search:

The left pages list Grantor (seller) to Grantee (buyer) and the right pages list Grantee from Grantor. Because of the tight binding in V. 1, it is sometimes difficult to read the information in the center of 2 pages. In cases where you cannot read a complete page number on the left page, it can be helpful to look for the same entry for the Grantee, which will be on a page on the right side.

These indexes are arranged loosely alphabetically. All the A’s (although not alphabetical within the A’s) then all of the B’s etc. Within each letter, records are listed in order by book. All of the A’s in book A in order, then all of the A’s in book B in order, etc.

I have found instances where the General Index is incorrect. The index with each book, when available, will be the most accurate. Each book’s index lists Grantor to Grantee, but not Grantee from Grantor. If you are looking for a deed where your ancestor is purchasing land, you may have better luck looking in the General Index.

General Index to Deeds V. 1 – 1825 – 1881 – Books A-M

General Index to Deeds V. 2 – 1880 – 1922 – Books N-Z and 1-7

General Index to Deeds V. 3 – 1920 – 1937 – Books 8-16

General Index to Deeds V. 4 – 1937 – 1948 – Books 17-26

General Index to Deeds V. 5 – 1948 – 1957 – Books 26-35

Deed Book A – 1825 – 1829 – no index

Deed Book B – 1828 – 1835 – no index

Deed Book C – 1835 – 1840 – includes an index

Deed Book D – 1840 – 1847 – includes an index which appears to begin with the letter C. Skip to image 8 and you will find the entire index.

Deed Book E – 1848 – 1853 – includes an index

Deed Book F – 1853 – 1857 – includes an index

Deed Book G – 1856 – 1862 – includes an index

Deed Book H – 1861 – 1866 – includes an index

(There is no Deed Book I)

Deed Book J – 1866 – 1871 – includes an index

Deed Book K – 1869 – 1875 – includes an index

Deed Book L – 1875 – 1878 – includes an index

Deed Book M – 1877 – 1881 – includes an index of both Grantor to Grantee and Grantee from Grantor

Deed Book N – 1881 – 1886 – includes an index of both Grantor to Grantee and Grantee from Grantor

Deed Book O – 1884 – 1889 – includes an index of both Grantor to Grantee and Grantee from Grantor

Deed Book P – 1889 – 1892 – includes an index

Deed Book Q – 1892 – 1897 – includes an index of both Grantor to Grantee and Grantee from Grantor

Deed Book R – 1896 – 1900 – includes an index of both Grantor to Grantee and Grantee from Grantor

Deed Book S – 1900 – 1903 – includes an index

This is all of the Deed Books listed as of March 23, 2020. Additional records listed:

Commissioners deeds, 1875 – 1909 – includes an index (nothing for letter A)

Commissioner’s deed books 1-4, 1877 – 1945
– Book 1 – 1877 – 1888 – includes an index (nothing for letter A)
– Book 2 – 1887 – 1912 – includes an index
– Book 3 – 1912 – 1928 – includes an index
– Book 4 – 1928 – 1945 – includes an index

Report of commissioners of division of land, 1876 – 1955 – includes an index

Non-residents land register, 1875 – 1899 – no index, but appears to be in alphabetical order. Only about 34 pages, many empty pages.

Research while quarantined

I will have to be honest with you here. My life under quarantine is not THAT different from a typical day. I work from home anyway and work has dramatically slowed down, so I’ve got nothing but time to do research (and to disinfect, LOL!) The biggest difference is that I can’t visit with my kids here in town. Even that isn’t so different when it comes to my sons, who I don’t see quite as often, but I am used to seeing my daughter a couple of times a week. But she is 33 weeks pregnant, so we are taking no chances.

But what I’m finding is that my Genealogy ADD is worse than ever! Unless it’s a very hands-on task, like scanning negatives, I just cannot seem to keep myself from flying from project to project.

Early last week, when we started seeing all of the notices for archives and libraries closing down, I realized that it was only a matter of time before my local library would also close. There was 1 specific county whose records on FamilySearch could only be viewed from the library, so I took a day (and hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and my own wireless mouse and keyboard) and I went to the library and downloaded everything I could find for a specific surname. I didn’t read anything, I just downloaded.

Yesterday, I was transcribing some of the deed records. Some deeds gave me relationships, so I was adding my own notes at the end of a transcription to help me remember how people were related. After a couple of those, I decided that I needed to start a new group sheet for that family, which lead me to FamilySearch to give me a head start on information.

I was using Excel, so I decided that I not only needed a group sheet for the head of the family, but then I also needed to create a workbook of group sheets for each of his descendants so I would recognize children’s and grand-children’s names as the land passed from person to person. But that lead me to some probate records which I has downloaded – and oh, wasn’t there a new webinar I wanted to take a look at? But wait, I’ve got this stack of negatives and envelopes and work project stuff all over my desk, so I’d better straighten some stuff up. But first, I’d better get some meat out of my freezer so it will be ready for dinner tonight. And while I’m downstairs, I’ll start a load of laundry. But hey! Aren’t I supposed to be working on those biographies? …it goes on and on.

Now I know that this is a result of “stress” of not being able to leave the house. (Why is it that knowing that you’d CAN’T do something makes you want to do it even more???) We are quite lucky with the work situation that we are in and I am not a social butterfly, by any means, so I’m not bothered by staying home. So I’m not complaining, but I feel like I’m not taking good advantage of this time. I’ve decided to try making a list of 3 specific things I’d like to accomplish. How many negatives to scan? How many documents to transcribe? What is my ultimate research question? I HOPE that this will help my mind to settle and to begin to see that I really AM getting stuff accomplished. And I will tape this list to my monitor and any time I feel a need to zoom off to something else, I will look at my note and try to have some self control!

I hope you all are staying safe and healthy AND getting lots of extra research done! Who knows, maybe I’ll break through my brick wall before normal activities resume again!

My Smith Research Workbook

It’s no secret that when it comes to organizing or keep track of genealogical information, my first thought is to use Excel. Each Excel worksheet has a different purpose. But for my latest project, I wanted all of the various worksheets to be easily and quickly located.

I’ve decided to try to collect information and write biographies for my “top 12” ancestral couples in preparation for a printed book to give to my children. I decided to begin with my Smith line because that line has been the focus of my research more than any other. When I began about 6 weeks ago, I was focusing on 1 ancestral couple at a time, beginning with my great-grandfather and working backward. But as I go through all of the records that I have and compare with what is now available online, I’ve decided that as long as I’m looking at indexes or going through a section, it will save me time in the long run to be on the lookout for all of my ancestors in the same line. Honestly, I keep getting pulled into the records for other members of this line anyway, so I feel like if I at least keep track of what I’m seeing as I go through these records, I can do a little better job of trying to focus on analyzing documents for one person at a time!

To be most efficient with this research plan, I’ve decided to consolidate all of my tracking forms for ancestors from a specific line into one “Smith” workbook. That meant starting with worksheets for 4 different families – Oliver, Elias, George, and John M. Smith. I have a Research Plan, Inventory Page 1, Inventory Page 2 and Land Sheet for each family. Four pages each for 4 ancestors led to a lot of tabs at the bottom of the screen once they were all combined into one workbook! And while it is nice to have them all in the same workbook, I need to have the smallest number of tabs possible to make it easier to find the relevant tab. So I began consolidating worksheets.

The first worksheet for a family is the Research Plan. I created these plans to be printed out, so when I look at them on my widescreen monitor, I have lots of extra space to the right of the Plan.

Lots of empty space on the right

I decided that because the Plan is the place that I write my questions and steps I plan to take to find the answers to those question, this would also be a good place to keep my 15-minute biography. Excel doesn’t handle large amount of text easily, so I highlighted a huge chunk of cells on the right side of the Plan and merged them all and then copied the biography into that mega-cell. This didn’t help me with consolidating tabs, but it did help me with having all of the information that I’m using for this project into one research notebook. And rather than adding research questions in my biography each time I read it, I can add them directly to the Research Plan. I will probably be tweaking this as the biographies get longer, so this will be an interesting experiment.

After adding the biography

I had two tabs per family for the Inventory. Just like the Research Plan, these sheets were created to be printed, so I had plenty of room on my computer screen on the right side of each inventory sheet, so I simply copied page 2 of the Inventory to be right next to page 1 of the Inventory.

Inventory Page 1

I did have to do a couple of simple layout edits to make this work, but I actually ended up liking it better because I don’t have to click back and forth between tabs to see all of the information I’ve been collecting in these inventory sheets.

2 Inventory Pages side by side

I can also customize these Inventories to help me collect as much information as possible in this one location. For example, because I now have the Research Plan in the same workbook as the Inventory, I don’t need a “To Do” section in the Inventory. Instead, I changed this section to be a list of Siblings and their spouses to help me notice possible relationships in Deeds and Tax Records. I also “compacted” my column for census records because no ancestor has an entry in every census year, although I created the sheet to have space for every census as well as state census records and non-population schedules, if desired. Once I was able to adjust the census section, that gave me room to include birth and death sections for the wife.

My final tab for each couple was to be the Land Record worksheet. I decided that it would be most helpful to have all of the land records for this surname together in one worksheet. This allows me to follow along when land is passed from father to son or when it is sold between siblings. I’ve decided to use colors in the cells to quickly distinguish between the generations because I do have multiple generations that used the same names for their sons.

After making these adjustments, I have gone from 16 total tabs in my workbook to 9 tabs. I have more information in the workbook now than I originally did, making it more useful while researching. I’m sure that as the project continues, I will continue to customize these sheets so that I am able to track all of the information of have found as well as keeping track of all of the locations that I have searched. Which hopefully saves me time and helps me to find every possible record that I can.

The last thing that I have started doing is to add a link to every document that I find so that if I have a question, I can quickly find the document with a single click.

If you’d like to download blank versions of these worksheets, you can find them all in the “Downloads” menu at the top of the page.

Biography Phase 2

It’s been almost a month since I wrote the 15-minute biography for Oliver and Mintie Smith – my great-grandparents. Since then, I came across a large bag of negatives which I was given years ago and that became a new scanning project which became the newest distraction to pull me away from my biography work. Sigh…

I spent the day yesterday trying to get this project back on track and I worked on updating the Ancestor Inventory for Oliver. Then I spent a little time looking at records available on FamilySearch that pertained to Oliver and his wife, Mintie. I find researching “recent” ancestors like this to be a little frustrating because of the lack of resources that are available online. I live a considerable distance from Russell County, so I can’t get there to do on-site research, even if I know that a document exists. But I did find a couple of new items, so I’m glad I took the time for that.

Now I’m trying to think of other things to use to “beef up” the biography. Today, I have read through the original 15-minute biography and added questions and ideas for other things I might be able to gather to add to what I started with. I have tried to look for opportunities to add photographs or illustrations as well as ways to incorporate census information into an interesting look at life for the family through the years. These thoughts I’ve added to my document in red so that the new thoughts will stand out to me.

So now, I will begin to go through these new ideas. I will add what I can find and add updates to things that I can’t find. But I do think that I’m getting close to the point where I’m just going to have to say that it’s time to move on to the next ancestor, so write a “final” biography with what I have, knowing that this is the first of many biographies. If any additional things come to light, I can always go back and add more. But I can’t keep putting this off because I’ll always be thinking that there is more to research.

The 15 Minute Biography

Today, I’m determined to start the process of writing the first biography for my family history book and I thought I’d share that process with you as well as the first draft result.

To begin with, I will show you my computer monitor setup – which I believe helps me do my writing better and faster. I have my laptop in the center, my wide screen monitor on the right and a portrait orientation monitor on the left. (You might also notice that I am a huge Harry Potter fan and it is not unusual for an HP movie to be playing on the monitor on the wall as I research!)

To work on this biography, I will use my laptop for Ancestry – opened to the ancestor I’m working with. (I think the images in my blog used to become full screen if you clicked on them, but I don’t think that’s the case any longer) You might notice that the “Notes” panel is open on the right side of his page. This is where I plan to work on this first draft. You can see that I have a bit of a start on this already…but then I fell into the research trap that I described in my last post while trying to figure out where Oliver was born. Within Ancestry, the Notes panel can only be seen by you and anyone that you have made an “editor” in your tree.

On my large monitor, I have the notes that I have compiled over the years. These are written as a timeline instead of a narrative because I always thought I’d get to that “some day”. If I have a document for an event, I have included an image of it and clicking on it takes me directly to the document if I decide that I want to see more details.

On my left monitor, I have an Excel file for my Research Plan. If I think of a question while I’m writing my 15 minute draft, then I will add it to my research plan rather than trying to find the answer right away. I promise….I really will… At this time, I don’t have a research plan for Oliver, so I will fill in the basic information at the top and then I will begin to write.

Setting my timer…..begin (copied from my Ancestry Notes panel)

On February 4, 1872, Oliver Houston Smith was born in the Eli or Font Hill area of Russell County, Kentucky, to Victoria I. Coffey, age 23, and Elias Smith, age 27. He was the 4th child born to the farming couple. In the 1870 census, Elias and Victoria were living in Hammond Store in the eastern tip of the NE quadrant of Russell County on the boundary with Casey County.

Mintie Scott was born on November 27, 1875, in Font Hill, Kentucky, to Nancy Jain Gilpin, age 34, and Joseph Scott, age 43, who were also farmers.

On December 31, 1891, Mintie married Oscar Roe Popplewell in the home of her father, Joseph. Oscar’s bondsman was his brother-in-law, John Arthur. No record of divorce has been found, but Oscar married a 2nd time on May 9, 1895. Frozie Bell Crockett was his bride. Frozie was the daughter of James Crockett and Caroline Stephens. Caroline was the daughter of William Stephens and Dorothy Wigginton, my 4th-great-grandparents. That marriage did not seem to last long either, as he married a 3rd and final time to Mary Coomer in 1898. It does not appear that he ever had children.

Oliver and Mintie were married on September 27, 1896 in the “Clear Fork Meeting House” which I believe was also called the Clear Fork Baptist Church. (Add the church info.)

Their first child, Clint, was born in 1897 was followed by 7 additional children by 1914. My grandfather, Herman Clyde Smith, was the 6th child.

Oliver and Mintie lived in Russell County until about 1946, when they moved to Franklin, Indiana. There, they owned a farm which was called the “Vandivier Camp” two miles west of Franklin. My mother has memories of living in the house for a short time and many memories of visiting there and playing in the barn with her siblings. Occasionally, she would “help” on the farm as a very young child, and her mother would insist that she be paid, just like her older siblings.

Oliver passed away at his home on May 4, 1950. He is buried at First Mount Pleasant Baptist church, just a short distance from his former home. Mintie died 5 years later on December 20, 1955 at the home of her son, Lester. She is buried by Oliver’s side.

A couple of things that helped me to move along a bit faster. I did use Ancestry’s LifeStory birth entries to get me started. I copied and pasted those and I will probably re-write or re-arrange the wording on those later. But it helps me get over the blank page syndrome that I often have. If I were stuck while writing, I would also copy the marriage and death entries and I might go back to take a look at those now to see if Ancestry added information that I didn’t think of for this draft.

Obviously, at times I wanted to switch over to another Ancestry page to check on some fact. As long as you have the Notes panel open for an ancestor, the Notes panel will also be open for any ancestor that you move to. So when I moved from Oliver’s page to Mintie’s page, I typed her paragraph in her Notes panel. When I went to look at the Oscar Popplewell page, I typed his information in HIS notes panel. Then I copied those paragraphs and pasted them into Oliver’s Notes panel to have it all in one place. Every time I update a draft, I will copy it into his Notes panel in case I have a computer crash or somehow lose track of these biographies.

Mintie’s Notes Panel

There were times as I was writing this that I knew that I had some information that wasn’t currently in my memory. For example, the name of Oliver’s farm or my exact relationship to William and Dorothy Stephens. When I came to those parts, I added a blank line and after I finished the paragraphs about Oliver and Mintie passing away, I still had 3 minutes left, so I went back and filled those in.

As I was writing this draft, questions kept popping into my mind, but I didn’t enter anything into my Research Log during this 15 minute writing time. I could really feel that deadline looming and for me, I think that helps! I will go back and re-read what I have written, make corrections and enter those questions now. Also, as I was writing, I thought of pictures that I will want to add to the book, so I will go back make notes of those to add later, during the fleshing out time.

So now I will go back into “research mode”. I will take a more thorough look at my notes to see what details I can add. What insights can I find from the census records? Skimming through my notes right now, I see that in the 1910 census, Mintie indicated that she had given birth to 6 children, 5 of whom were still living. Who had passed away and do I know the circumstances? What records are available now that weren’t available when I last researched this couple. I did not have a subscription to at that time, so perhaps there are more tidbits to be discovered there. FamilySearch has changed significantly since I began researching this family, so have I taken a good look at records available there? These are my mother’s grandparents, so I will spend some more time asking her about her memories of them to add to the biography. There have been long car rides when Mom and I talked about her memories and I have those recordings that I can go back and listen to.

And while I’m in this research phase, I will remain faithful to entering information into my Research Plan to keep track of where I’ve searched in order to find the answers to my question. Cross my heart!

Time for a book of my own!

Now that I have a few family history books under my belt, I’ve started thinking that I really should be working on my own family history book. I’m planning to think through what I’ve done for the other books and combine the parts that I like the most.

Parts to Include


When I worked on updating the book for my husband’s family reunion, I loved the biographies that everyone included for their section. I’d have to write the biographies for my family members myself, but I’ve been researching these people for years, so that shouldn’t be as hard as the ones I wrote for people I’d only researched for a couple of weeks like I did for my daughter-in-law, right? The current notes that I’ve worked on over the years for each couple are in Word format. The notes are organized like a timeline for every document that I have for a person. I would use these notes as the foundation for writing a biography. To enhance the biographies, I’d like to add images, whether it’s actual photos or images of objects to illustrate their lives – carpenter tools from the period, old farm equipment, maps, etc.

One thing I know for sure, whenever I write about a person, I usually find myself down some rabbit hole trying to find the answer to some question that writing has brought to mind. Here’s how that usually goes…

Let’s see how Ancestry has started the LifeStory section for this ancestor and I’ll build on that. “Oliver Houston Smith was born on February 4, 1872, in Russell County, Kentucky, to Victoria I. Coffey, age 23, and Elias Smith, age 27.” OK, that’s good, but I wonder if I actually have the TOWN he was born in. No? Well, maybe I can figure out where his family was living in the 1870 census. (Off to take a look.) Hmmm…it gives a Precinct within the county, but not a town name. Seems like I’ve seen a map showing the voting districts. Can I find that? (Off to take a look.) Maybe I have a deed that will give a description of where the land is. No? Well, does that mean there isn’t one or that I haven’t looked yet? (Off to take a look)

You can see where this is going to lead and I’m only on the first sentence! I need to have a plan in place for this. Something like forcing myself to write with only the information that I currently have and using my research log to track questions that come to mind, but not allow myself to look for answers until I have entered a specific research time. The types of things I enjoy looking for while watching tv in the evenings. Then I would allow myself to update the biography I will have already written. This is a problem that I face EVERY TIME I do research and I just can hardly stick to a goal. “Genealogy ADD”. GADD – as in “Egads, why can’t I ever complete a project!?!

As a former teacher, I’m thinking that I’ll have to treat this as an assignment that I must complete before a certain TIME. What if I had to have it done in 15 minutes? Then and only then make a list of things I’d like to find to add more details. And the list must be in my research log so I can quite wondering if/where I’ve looked for things.

Family Group Sheet

I loved the family group sheet that was put together in the Canvas program on Ancestry for my daughter-in-law’s book. I liked that I added in the current US flag for the year her ancestors were born in place of their portraits. I don’t have many photos of my ancestors, so I think that the flags would add a nice touch of color as well as a bit of history. I also liked adding the current president for the birth years as well. They bring specific history events to mind when you see their portraits. And for those with smaller families, these images and information helped to fill in the bottom part of the page. This part would be fairly easy since I have already collected all the images of flags and presidents and would just need to find the correct ones. Part of this plan would be to have Canvas create the group sheet for me and then “fix” my Ancestry tree for any consistency issues that I see and then create the group sheet again. Consistency issues would include things like: Am I spelling out “County” or using “Co.”? Full state names or abbreviations? Are all of the dates formatted the same? I know when I first started researching, I used Month Day, Year, but now I use Day Month Year. As I’ve researched over the years, I’ve tried to update dates whenever I’ve come across them, but I’m sure there will be some old format dates in any collateral names that might show up in the FGS.


If I were only able to complete all of the group sheets and biographies, I’d be pretty happy! I can see using those for books I’d print and give to my children. But for my own, I might also include a timeline, but modified from what I had for my son-in-law.

I have to admit, it was the part of the book that I really had to force myself to work on after completing 3 or 4 of them. Having a timeline is interesting to me, but perhaps not as much to my descendants. On the other hand, you can glance at a timeline and some might not like to read a lengthy biography. I think that if I do include the timeline, I’d like to include more historical items as well. But the real purpose of the timeline for me would be to have thumbnails of all of the documents that I have for a couple. These would all be clickable to allow me to quickly find the documents.

One of the things that was most difficult for the timelines I made for my son-in-law was that events weren’t evenly distributed in nice 10-year gaps. Obviously, there’s a census every 10 years, but some decades had WAY more events than others. So trying to figure out how to organize things into the “traditional” timeline running across the top or bottom of the screen, I could save myself so much more time by formatting the notes that I already have to match the FGS and Biography portions and then adding in the historical events that I think would be interesting.


Would it make sense to also try to include the information that I’ve collected on the DNA matches for my family? How long before the information would feel out of date? I’d have to spend more time thinking about what this might look like. I can see how it would helpful to me for my research, but does that need to be in a book? Something to think about.

Who to Include?

I’d like to think about exactly who would be included and how much time each person would receive in my workflow. And a plan like that almost always gets knocked off the rails at some point. I have a new granddaughter arriving this spring and I plan to spend lots of time loving on her! Not to mention gardening season and holidays. Can I allow myself some grace on my timeline for completion?

I’ve done a little thinking about a potential plan. My first thought is that if I want to complete my book by this time next year, then 12 months = 12 ancestors. There are 52 weeks in a year, so if I give 4 weeks to each ancestor, that would be 48 weeks, giving me a few of weeks “off” around the holidays. Twelve ancestors could be 4 great-grandparents plus 8 great-great-grandparents. But do I want to give the females their own sections? Probably not. I’d rather include them with their husbands as I don’t have many records specifically for females in my line – especially if they only married once. So just like my file organization system, I will probably try to think of 12 couples instead of individuals. Who would those couples be?


  • Herman Smith and Vesper Bennett


  • Oliver Smith and Mintie Scott
  • Enos Bennett and Lelar George

2x great-grandparents:

  • Elias Smith and Victoria Coffey
  • Joseph Scott and Nancy Jane Gilpin
  • Silas Bennett and Mary Elizabeth Rumbo
  • William George and Mary Elizabeth Stephens

3x great-grandparents:

  • George Smith and Talitha Ellis
  • Fielding Coffey and Sarah Jane Hughes*
  • Andrew Scott and Elizabeth Wade
  • Eli Gilpin and Rebecca Conn
  • Green C. Bennett and Emeline Dunbar*
  • Jehu Rumbo and Susan Holt
  • Henry C. George and Jane LNU*
  • Andrew Stephens and Lucy Stephens

That gives me 15 couples. Can I remove 3 of the couples and count them as “bonus” couples if I end up with extra time? (OK, had to stop myself from laughing out loud that I might have time for bonuses!) I added * next to the couples that I think I’ve done the least amount of research on, meaning that I would likely want more than 4 weeks in order to do additional research.

The last thing I want to make a decision on would be how I want to “arrange” my time for each couple. Do I want to complete 1 ancestral couple before moving on to the next couple? I feel like those at the end of the list would most likely be short changed by the end of the year. Perhaps it would be best to plan to do all of the group sheets first and then spend time writing all of the biographies. Then see how much time is left and divide up the remaining time equally. One helpful thing will be that almost all of these couples lived in the same county. If I’m spending time in a specific resource, I can keep my eyes open for the other couples at the same time. But does that fall into my GADD trap? Probably best to immerse myself in one couple at a time.

Staying Organized

For a project of this size, I want to stay organized. I have lots of forms that I use, but I haven’t done research for some of these couples for years. I’m sure there are lots of sources available now that I haven’t searched. So even if I’ve created a form, it will probably need to be updated. I’m thinking that all forms should be put into Excel format, if they aren’t already. And rather than keeping 12 different Excel Workbooks, I should think about a way to keep 1 master workbook for this project. Which forms would I like to include?

  • No need for a group sheet since I’m going to have Canvas generate those for me
    • On the other hand, I do have many of these already created in Excel, so if I already have them, why not include those?
  • Ancestor Inventory sheets
  • Land Worksheet
  • Research Log

To have this number of worksheets per couple, I think I would need to also have some type of clickable TOC in the front of the workbook to be able to navigate quickly to a specific sheet.

I already have some of these worksheets filled in for my ancestors, so some of the work will simply be combining them into the Master Workbook. For those that I haven’t researched in a while, I’ll be able to fill in the forms as I research.

Now I have the beginnings of a plan. How serious am I about this project? I enjoy the research process so much – the thrill of the hunt – but doesn’t there need to be something to tie it all together? And shouldn’t that “something” be in a form that increases the likelihood that one of my descendants will want to pick up my research after I’m gone?

I think it’s time to stop making plans and just start.