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 Newspapers.com 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.

Getting Ready for Christmas

Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve decided to do another family tree book for a family member in time for Christmas. I’m using Microsoft Word, which isn’t the greatest for page layout, but it’s quick, it does everything that I need and it’s easy to move things around and change the size or shape, if needed. This project is taking a lot of my time, so once again, I’m feeling the pressure.

If you think this is something you’d like to attempt, here are some things I’ve learned.

  • Be organized from the start. If you’re going to be working on a project that will require lots of images, be sure you have your folders set up from the very beginning. For this project, I printed out a couple of 5 Gen charts and numbered each couple. Pretty standard stuff. Each couple has a folder, so those are all already set up in my Google Drive. For example: 1 – Milholland and Little. Every time you find a document you’d like to use in the book, put it directly into the correct folder. If the document will end up on more than one page (parent and child on a census record) go ahead and add the document in both places.
    • Along with being organized with your files, be organized with your “to do” or “completed” list. If you’re going to have to go to the library, keep your list handy so you can add to it as you research. And if you start working on pages and you want to remember that you need to come back to add something later (a scan from microfilm at the library or a photo from the cemetery) be sure you have a running list and not a pile of post-it notes.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll do all of the research now and then put it all together at the end. There is no end. You have to have a definite plan and work the plan from the beginning. Have a “Must complete” plan (I must complete 4 generations) and a “If I have time” plan (out to 5 generations) and even a plan for what you’ll do if you find tons for one line and very little for another.
  • Make your first page or set of pages very early. I started with couple #1. I had a timeline format in mind, so I made the pages for them right away. This page/pages will help you see from the beginning what you’d like to collect and how your going to arrange your page. Things to think about:
    • What size paper will you use? I’m using legal size paper (8.5″ x 14″) so that I can have a nice wide canvas to work with.
    • If you’re going to use standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper, what orientation will you print? Landscape or portrait?
    • What will you ultimately put these pages in? If you’re printing yourself, you will probably use a binder. In my experience, legal sized binders are only available online, so order early! If you are having it printed, how soon do you have to get it in to receive your final product on time?
    • How detailed do you plan to be? Sometimes, I get so caught up in trying to find the details that we genealogists love and I lose time by chasing down the minutia. Will the gift receiver really care if you have every tax record? Probably not. But they might be interested to know when an ancestor arrived in a certain location.
    • Here’s a biggie. What are you going to do for the female ancestors? Let’s face it, there aren’t as many documents for the women. And if you’re just collecting census records, you’ve got duplicates through the husband and father. So do they get their own page? Do you include them with their father? With their husband? It will save you a ton of time to make that decision EARLY in your process.
    • What exactly would you like to be able to add to each couple? For me, I’m adding a cropped image for each census (names and ages only), marriage license/register and pictures of grave stones. I will also include a text box showing the birth of the next generation direct ancestor on the timeline. Everything else is a bonus. I know that every ancestor won’t have a civil war pension, but those that do will need extra space for that information.
    • Once you’ve found a document, download it immediately. Don’t kick yourself later for wishing you weren’t going back to find something you didn’t think you’d end up using. I always say, “Better to have it and not need it than to wish you had it!” I even take that one step further…once I’ve downloaded it, I go ahead and crop it. I crop away any extra black around the edges and straighten the image, if needed. Then I make a copy and crop it down to the specific area to make it easier to read on my timeline. All of the documents will be included on a flashdrive along with the book.
  • When you make your first set of pages, try to make it as duplicatable as possible. Think of it as the template you’ll use for the rest of the book. I spent an entire afternoon creating the timeline that will be at the bottom of every page. I had to think about who the oldest ancestors were to make sure their lifetime would fit on 1 two-page timeline. And what would I do if I needed more space for an event? How will I “fix” the timeline for an ancestor who didn’t live as long as the others? I don’t need a 100 year timeline on every page if some of the ancestors only lived 40-50 years. I would not want to have to re-create that timeline over and over, so I have a blank set of pages that contain the timeline only as well as a plan for “fixing” the timeline. I start with those pages for each set of ancestors and rename the file as soon as I’ve added specific information.
  • Having a list of nothing but documents can be boring. How are you going to make the ancestor come alive? Will you write a short bio? Write a sentence or two for each detail on the timeline? Add some images? Maybe you don’t have access to any family photos. What about images from the place that they lived or the occupation they had? Try to find the house they grew up in on Google street view, or a map of their hometown. My uncle LOVED to shoot marbles when he was a kid. Finding a picture of an old fashioned marble game would be a great image to add to fill in some blank space.
  • After you complete your first set of pages, print them out before doing any more pages. Something that looks great on your monitor may be pretty difficult to see once it’s printed out. I don’t plan on printing pages as I go because you never know if I’m going to decide to change the set up for the title or something like that, but printing out the first page or two is a must. Better to find out now that something isn’t going to work rather than at the end!
  • Finally, set up some type of timeline to complete the project. Do you just hate feeling stressed trying to get something finished before Christmas? After I made the 5 Gen charts (I’ll admit that I did quite a bit of research before starting the book to get these names down.) I set a goal of completing 6 couples per week. That’s about 1 a day. Some of those will go quickly, so if I get a little ahead, that’s great! If I stick to this time table, I’ll have everything on the “if I have time” list ready to print by December 15. If I realize that there’s no way I can accomplish 6 couples per week, then I can fall back to the 4 generation plan and that will take a ton of pressure off.

If you decide to work on a project like this for a 2019 Christmas gift, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to make it “easier” to accomplish? (We all know it isn’t EASY, but you know what I mean!) Here is one of the pages I’ve been working on. This is half of the timeline for this individual. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you enjoy the project!

The Battle of Binders vs. Folders

Recently, I have had issues with numbness and bruising in my hands, so I have had to limit the things that I can do with them. Typing, “mousing”, gardening and crochet are pretty much out of the question right now. Thanks to “Speech to Text” technology, I have been able to put a few thoughts in order for this post.

I’ve decided to get my filing cabinet organized instead. I’ve developed a habit of working intensively on a specific ancestor and then when something else comes up, like a family reunion or email from a cousin, I take the pile of papers and folders that are on my desk and put them into the cubby system where I keep all of my binders. Those are the papers I’m putting back into my filing cabinet now.

But it has raised a question. Do I need a filing cabinet AND binders? Both have advantages and disadvantages, so I’m trying to think through a better plan for my paper stuff.

At my library, if you are scanning microfilm, the printouts are free, so any time I have scanned something, I have gone ahead and printed it out because I do like to write notes in margins and such. I also have copies of pages from books and periodicals. Therefore, I have TONS of paper. And while I know that I COULD digitize and throw it all out, I find a lot of comfort in those paper copies. It’s difficult to flip through digital documents the way you can through paper.

So is there a reason to have both binders and file folders? I think so.

Maybe thinking through the purpose for different types of documents can help me figure out where to put things. Basically, I have copies of microfilmed documents, periodical and books or I have documents I’ve created to help me organize the information that I’ve found. Maybe I need to think of these things as “Analytical” and “Concrete”. Perhaps the binders should be “Analytical” – self-created documents – and the filing cabinet should be “Concrete” – copies of documents.

Using this plan, what would a binder look like? I’d like it to be something I can grab and take on the road and be helpful whether I have access to other records or not. For example, I’d want to read through it, take notes on the pages, compile a list of questions based on what’s in there and plan for my next research session. The binder would contain:

  • A section for my notes – I keep very detailed notes for each ancestor based on the date of every event or document that I’ve found. Often in these notes, I’ve also included various blog posts that I’ve written to help me remember my theories and thought processes. These notes can be pretty long, so I often include a table of contents at the front of the notes. Each set of notes also includes a linked object to the family group sheet. This “image” of the group sheet automatically updates to include any changes I’ve made to the actual group sheet. Using this method allows me to maintain 1 family group sheet and not have to worry about making the same changes on any other document that I’ve copied the group sheet into.
    • The notes include smaller images of the different documents I’ve found, so that is a reminder to me that I have these documents versus finding the information in a book or periodical. Before printing my notes, I need to include links to the digital documents so that I won’t be wasting time looking through folders to find something that is actually digitized and stored in my cloud account.
    • All of my notes include an automatic date in the bottom corner so that I will know how long it has been since I’ve printed them.
  • A section of Group Sheets for every family member as well as for FANs (friends, acquaintances and neighbors).
  • A section of Excel sheets I’ve put together. Land transactions and descriptions, tax records, cemetery lists and databases of births, deaths and marriages for the surname.
  • A section of maps – State maps for various time periods, county maps, land survey maps, etc. Even though these are “concrete” items, I think they would help me analyze information better.
  • A section for FANs – biographies, wills, deeds that show them as neighbors or witnesses – anything that connects them to my ancestor.
  • Theory records – anything that MIGHT be related to my ancestor that I haven’t found the connection for yet. Again, these would often be “concrete” items, but they will help me to look for clues and would be easily forgotten if there were filed in the filing cabinet.

Then what would go in the filing cabinet folders?

  • Every ancestral couple (and some key non-direct line families) has a hanging folder that contains a 3-prong folder. The 3-prong folder has 5 sheet protectors in it. These folders can be pulled and taken along with a binder, or by themselves for a road trip, if needed. The front pocket always contains a group sheet. The sheet protectors hold birth registers/certificates, marriage bonds/permissions/registers/certificates, death certificates, wills, military paperwork, etc. When I print a new document, I keep it in the back pocket to remind me that I need to process that document in some way – add it to my notes, scan it, transcribe it or write a citation on the back.
  • In the hanging folder, behind the 3-prong folder – land deeds, tax records, pension files, etc.
  • Research correspondence about a person/couple.

Non-family folders

  • Educational items – notes from webinars/conferences, “how to” articles, etc. If I find that a folder is becoming too full (German research, anyone?) then it will move to a binder.
  • Records that pertain to a specific county/region. Histories, periodicals, newsletters.

I have been known to print a great number of pages from a specific location even if I don’t have a connection, “just in case”. For example, I have printed every deed that contains a specific surname within a county. If these types of documents become too cumbersome to keep in a folder (consider if you have print outs of every deed with a grantee or grantor with the surname “Smith”), then I would create a binder for those documents. If I have a binder with copies of an entire marriage register, I might also include any printed index or copies from books or periodicals that contain the same information. It isn’t unusual for different books about the same records to include different details, so this way, it’s all together to compare and I won’t have to dig through a folder and risk getting things out of order.

That’s what I’m working toward. Getting all of these loose papers into a proper location. And as I’m organizing these folders and binders, it’s kind of got me thinking about prepping for a 52 ancestors type of project for 2020. Write a biography of some type for each couple, or something like that. Since using my hands is out for the next week or so, I suppose I should be using my brain for something other than just watching Netflix!

ThruLines Breakthrough? Not So Fast!

When I first heard about using DNA to help with genealogy, I wanted nothing to do with it. I felt like it would be “cheating” and would take all the fun out of the hunt! Well, times have changed!

For my first step into DNA, I asked my uncle if he would do a Y-DNA test to help me break through the brick wall of my ancestor, John M. Smith. Since the Y-DNA test shows your father’s father’s father’s, etc. line, I figured it would lead me directly to the pesky Smith who dared to name his son John! But no….it didn’t do that. That was several years ago. Since then, my mother and 2 aunts plus one of their cousins have all tested.

But I haven’t looked at much of anything related to DNA in quite a while. So this week, I decided to take a look to see if Ancestry ThurLines had any great hints for me.

I have a theory that John Smith, the son of John Schmidt is the father of my John M. Smith. Yes, that’s a lot of John Smiths! To keep my theory John Smith straight when looking at files, I think of him as “John Smith 1809” because that’s the year that he died. I have a copy of his will and within that, a list of his children. And yes, he had a son named John.

So I went to ThruLines for my mother’s kit and was thrilled to see several DNA matches that lead to John Smith 1809! Having multiple people connected to John 1809 must mean that my theory is correct, right?

To make sure, I wanted to see if any of these matches triangulated with the other matches. And they did not. Hmm. Since John 1809 was so many generations back, I thought that maybe we could all still be related to John 1809, but that we all got a different “piece” of his DNA. So I decided to write out the “path” from John Smith 1809 to each of the matches and then I would go back and prove each line for myself. And that’s when I noticed that none of the matches actually went back to any of John Smith 1809’s children.

Now if you look at the image, there is a solid line around John M. Smith, indicating that he is a “confirmed” son of John Smith in my tree. The 3 DNA matches coming through John M. Smith are my aunts and their cousin. But all of the rest are just dotted lines.

As I looked at the trees for these matches, they all showed that the person in the dotted boxes had last name of Smith, but few had a father named John Smith (most of them had no father listed at all), not to mention John Smith 1809. So what ThruLines has done is to look through all of my matches to see which people also have a Smith in their line that fit into the same approximate time period as John Smith 1809. They have taken information from all kinds of trees to try to piece together trees that might lead back to my John Smith 1809…whether these people know it or not.

Let me give you an example of how this is working. Notice the line on the far left for WE. Their line shows 5 generations between WE and Nancy Smith at the top. However, when I actually look at WE’s tree, they only have the 2 boxes above WE in their tree at all! The rest of the tree is hypothetical. After looking at other trees on Ancestry, ThruLines is saying that this MIGHT be a path to Nancy Smith who MIGHT be a child of John Smith 1809 based on the surname and date spread.

So is it a total waste of time? No, I wouldn’t say that. There are some interesting things to explore here. For example, Nancy Smith has 6 DNA matches to my mother in her line.

I will certainly be taking a look at these 6 matches. It’s easy to assume that THEY are all related – after all, Ancestry is showing me the tree and everything, right?

I’ve learned that I can’t make assumptions here, so I will be clicking on the “evaluate” button to see how “proven” each of these lines are, because to create this chart, Ancestry is looking at all kinds of trees to make connections. Not just trees of my DNA matches, but all trees. When you click on a button that says “evaluate”, you get several blocks of information. Here’s an example of a “proven” relationship in this chart.

I would need to click on each of these records to see if I agree that there’s enough proof for this relationship.

There are also boxes to tell me that there are 72 trees on Ancestry that also have this father/son relationship along with a link to each tree. Below each link, Ancestry tells me how many records each tree has attached to that individual, so I can decide if it’s worth clicking on or not. If there are zero records, I don’t even bother to click on it.

If I continue up the tree, I eventually get to Nancy Smith. When I click on her “Evaluate” button, I see this.

So what I think they are saying is that there is a DNA match who has a Smith connection at about the right time and that they MIGHT be a child of John Smith 1809, but that’s only based on the name Smith and only because I asked for matches that include a Smith. It would be interesting to see if any of these people show up in ThruLines for a different ancestor just because they also have THAT name in their tree.

So where do I go from here? I’ll definitely be following this group of 6 matches. Do they all triangulate? How far do I have to go back to “prove” that they are all connected to Nancy Smith? What other DNA matches do I have that might triangulate with any of these matches? Perhaps Nancy Smith WAS a daughter of John Smith 1809 and just wasn’t listed by name in the will, or perhaps she’s a niece of John Smith 1809, which would still be helpful to know.

Why doesn’t this ThruLine example have more concrete information for me? Because my target ancestor – John Smith 1809 is so many generations back. He would be my mothers 4th great-grandfather – 6 generations back. If DNA were passed down consistently to each new generation (which it isn’t) then my mother would only have about 1.5% of her DNA from John 1809. To find another DNA match would mean that they inherited the same small segment of DNA. Pretty low odds. And in this case, having the name John Smith certainly doesn’t help. But knowing that the odds are low doesn’t mean that I should stop looking! I’ll never find that match that I need if I don’t check out all of the possibilities! And Ancestry is trying to help me find that match!