Creating a Family History Book

I mentioned that last summer, I worked on a family history book for my daughter-in-law Ericka. (Why is it so much easier to work on someone else’s project than it is to work on my own? I’m sure it’s because of the emotional connection and feeling like you’re never REALLY finished.)

I used the “MyCanvas” book option on Ancestry and it really did save me tons of time because I was collecting all records and images into a tree I created for her on Ancestry, so every image or document could be placed in the book all from one central location. But once I got going on the book, I quickly became overwhelmed. I soon realized that I needed some type of “template”… a list of things I was hoping to include for each person. Parts of the “template” were pre-designed by MyCanvas and others were things I decided to include.

Every person got 4 pages. This allowed me to plan for 2-page spreads. If something didn’t fit on one page, I could make sure it fit on the facing page. A few individuals got 6 pages (or even more) depending on the details I could find for that person. For example, Ericka has an ancestor who was hung as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. There were several newspaper articles detailing his adventures and I transcribed those and included them because the clippings were too difficult to read on the page due to size and resolution restrictions. To allow her to view these clippings and all other documents in better detail, I placed all digital images into folders and gave her a flash drive of all digital media to go along with the book.

The first page for each person was a pre-designed group sheet supplied by the software. At the top of the sheet, MyCanvas included the name, birth and death info, parents’ names and an image which it pulled from a person’s profile in Ancestry. It doesn’t take going too far back in a family’s history to find that you have no pictures of an individual, so if I didn’t have pictures of both individuals, I used a picture of what the American (or their country of origin) flag looked like the year they were born. The default template for this page also included a line with the marriage date and location followed by the family group sheet. Sometimes the group sheet took up the remainder of the page and other times, it was very short. If I was able, I included pictures and information for the US President at the time of the subject’s birth as well as the number of states in the US at that time.

The last item I always included, whether it was on this first page or the next page, was a “bread-crumb trail” of how my DIL was descended from the couple. With the setup I was using, I could only include 5 generations, so if I was able to get back further than that, the “trail” would begin with one of Ericka’s parents.

On the 2nd page, I wrote a short “biography” for the couple. I used the Ancestry LifeStory tab to give me a start. Soon, I realized that there was very little variation in how a biography began, so I came up with a list of about 8 different ways to say the same thing.

  • When William was born on September 7, 1850 in Columbus, Ohio, his father, Stephen, was 32 and his mother, Mary, was 30. (Ancestry’s version)
  • William was born on September 7, 1850 in Columbus, Ohio to Stephen, age 32 and Mary, age 30.
  • The oldest child of Stephen, age 32, and Mary, age 30, was William, who was born on September 7, 1850 in Columbus, Ohio.
  • On September 7, 1850, Stephen and Mary, aged 32 and 30, had their first son, William, who was born in Columbus, Ohio.
  • William was the oldest of 2 boys born to Stephen and Mary. He was born on September 7, 1850 in Columbus, Ohio shortly after the family moved to Ohio from New York.
  • You get the idea…

I broke the LifeStory paragraph into parts – birth, marriage and death – and combined the information for the husband and his wife into one “couple’s bio”. I then looked up the year of birth for each individual to see if there were any historical events that I could add for the year they were born or married. If there were any interesting life events – such as an occupation, military service, or moving to a new state – I added that information. I added images to this page as well. Sometimes, the images were family photos or documents for the couple, such as a marriage certificate. If I was looking for “filler” to get to the 4-page mark, I’d add images of items that were talked about in the biography. It might be an image of an item that had been invented during the year of their birth or a short section about the town of birth or a local landmark. Wikipedia was invaluable for this!

If the “bread-crumb trail” of descendancy had not fit on the 1st page, I made sure it fit on this page.

On the 3rd page, I’d include images of as many documents for the family as I could. It might be cropped census records, guardian bonds, marriage permissions, newspaper clippings – anything I could find. If appropriate, I would include information giving background on something that was on the page. For example, why there was a guardian bond if the mother was still alive.

The last page for each section was always for death information. Pictures of gravestones or cemeteries, obituaries, family photos, etc.

MyCanvas was a real lifesaver for this project. I could add or delete pages and the page numbering was automatically updated. Once I had designed a layout for a page, it was easy to copy and paste it into each person’s section so I didn’t have to design if over and over. There are many pre-designed pages with dozens of themes that can easily be added with a simple click and the information automatically added based on the information you’ve included in the traditional Ancestry pages.

  • 5 different versions for a 4 or 5 generation tree
  • A descendant list or descendant tree
  • A timeline prefilled with all events you’ve included on an ancestor’s profile page in Ancestry
  • The Family Group Sheet
  • Pages with pre-designed layouts for photos or documents
  • Section divider or Title pages
  • A Table of Contents

Due to the cost of have a 159 page book professionally printed and bound, I decided I was going to print the book myself – an option that is readily available on the MyCanvas site. But most of the decorative embellishments that are built into the book design software cannot be printed with the Higher Quality option. (If you ever decide to create a book using the MyCanvas site, do a preview of the page before you design too many pages to make sure it’s really going to look the way you think it will.) Instead, I added many images to the gallery of certain individuals to pull into a page if I needed filler. I even created a few fictitious people in the tree just to add images to their gallery. For example, I had one individual named “America” whose gallery contained all of the flags and Presidential portraits. I had another ancestor whose gallery contained decorative Bible verses, vines, flowers and corner embellishments to add throughout the book. When I added these people, I disconnected them from all parents so that even though they are there, they don’t appear to be part of the family.

Overall, I was thrilled with the process of putting the book together and it was a nice break from the research I’d been working on for so long. Because it really never ends, does it?


Stephens Family Research Restart

Quite awhile back, I wrote about getting organized digitally. I decided on a specific file naming convention and as I went through all of my many, many flashdrives and backup folders, I moved everything into my Google Drive account, making sure to rename each file appropriately (see this link to read my tips for an effective naming convention) and to put it into my newly organized file system.

The one family that I did nothing with was my Stephens line. I just had sooooooooooooo many documents and files, the thought of renaming each one and determining which folder it belonged to was overwhelming. So I did what every busy person does – I put it off. And now the chickens have come home to roost.

My Stephens family is quite a puzzle. I’ve written in the past about the 5 men named Andrew Stephens. Well, I’m willing to bet there are just as many Williams and Johns! So I have moved all of my digital files (well, those I’ve come across so far) into my Google Drive, but they aren’t in their specific folders yet. Every file name starts with the year, so they are already arranged chronologically – thank heavens! So when I have a little time, or need a break, I work on renaming the files. My file naming convention looks like this:

Year County State Source p# Subject’s name.  For example:

1806 Adair Co KY Court Orders Book A p197 William Stephens

My first project for my Stephens line is to update all of the group sheets. As I’m going through them, I’m adding missing citations and linking to other group sheets. The documents that I have to support the information in the group sheet are copied into the appropriate folder as soon as it is renamed.

In the bottom half of the group sheet, I’m either adding a short timeline to show where the family was for each census (or other helpful event) or the text for the will. With so many men with the same name, having the will right there is very helpful for keeping the men straight. If the will is short, I’ll be adding the timeline AND the will. Having the timeline so visible can help me eliminate a person if I’m looking at a land or tax record. If my record is in Kentucky, but the person had clearly moved to a new state, I can move on to other people with the same name who WERE in the correct area.


I have done one additional thing that is helping me tremendously as I work through these group sheets.

I don’t normally use any genealogy software. I keep everything in Ancestry and in Google Drive. So I downloaded my GEDCOM from Ancestry and then downloaded a free program – RootsMagic Essentials. I imported the GEDCOM into RootsMagic and then printed a Descendants List for my “root” ancestor, planning to use that to update my group sheets. After running the report, I was THRILLED to discover that it also included an Index of Names including every single person in the tree, including in-laws. Hallelujah! The Index is organized alphabetically by surname and tells the page number they can be found on in the Descendants List. This has been SO helpful! Whenever I run across a name and think “where have I seen that before?”, I go right to the Index to see if the person is listed in there, and 95% of the time, they are. That has helped me keep the correct Andrew, William or John with each family.


One final thing that I’m doing as I work through my group sheets is to assemble a detailed “to do” list. Many of the records I want to see are only available to view from a Family History Center or affiliated library – both of which I have here in town. So when I find a “record” on Ancestry or FamilySearch that gives me information, but can only be viewed from a specific location, I’m keeping that citation in red on my group sheet to indicate that I don’t have the record yet and adding the item to the “to do” list for the next visit to the appropriate location.

Lots of group sheets to get to yet….better get back at it!

Time to get back at it!

It’s been a little over a year since my last blog post. After I “paused” my blog, I decided to work on a family history book for my daughter-in-law. I worked on that book every spare moment I had until her birthday in July. And by then, I was pretty burnt out! So I took several months off completely, but I am back at my research now.

I have recently received emails from two “cousins” which got me back into 2 specific family lines. And, my husband and his cousin have volunteered to organize a family reunion this summer, so I’ll be doing research on their line as well. So I’ve got plenty to do!

Between those lines and spring gardening and a big crochet project that I work on in the evenings (oh yeah, plus my “real” job), I’ve determined that I need to be very purpose driven with whichever project I’m working on. So my goal for the blog is to post about once a week – most likely on my Russell County, Kentucky roots – to give a quick account of what I’m working on and how I’m organizing it. My husband’s line is 100% German, so I may occasionally post about German resources or surprises.

So please plan to stop by and see what I’m up to! If  you also have Russell County roots, drop me a line in the comments. I just might come across your family lines connected with mine!

Pausing the Blog

When I first decided to start a blog, I had 2 goals – to begin a conversation with people researching family in Russell County, Kentucky and specifically, to connect with “cousins” to collaborate with on research.

As I look at the amount of time I spend working on the blog, I find that I am spending less and less time working on my own research and more time writing for the blog, without a lot of feedback.

While I love being able to provide resources and “how to” information, that just wasn’t my original goal, so I’m going to hit the “pause” button for a bit and think about what I want to accomplish in my research and how much time I want to invest in the blog to accomplish that goal.

I don’t plan to ever take down the blog. I find myself using the links I’ve included for Russell County far more often than I thought I would. That may be the most organized part of my research process and I don’t want it to go away!

Continue to enjoy the free downloads and links to Russell County resources. And THANK YOU to those who stop by on a regular basis!


120 Years Ago Today – Mar. 30, 1898

A continuing feature on the blog for 2018 is be a series called “120 Years Ago Today”. I’m collecting newspaper clippings relevant to Russell County from The Adair County News in the year 1898. I hope you find some surprises to add to your family tree!

I’ll be doing a bit of digital cleanup on the files to remove streaks and scratches, but you can download the original file from the link. Right-click on my image to save the cleaned-up version. I also plan to include a list of names mentioned in the articles at the end of the blog post to make it possible to find with an internet search.

This week’s paper was pretty “splotchy” and difficult to clean up.

Here’s the link to this edition of the newspaper. Link

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-30, Creelsboro 1

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-30, Creelsboro 2

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-30, Font Hill

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-30, Jamestown

Abner Jones, Dr. A.M. Jackman, Dr. W.B. Armstrong, Pem Allen, Mrs. Spencer, Mrs. M.C. Barger, Chas. S. Harris, W.L. Bradshaw, Lewis Wilkerson, S.A. Simpson, Tiny Haynes, Dr. Baugh, Margaret Tucker, J. Shelby Rowe, A.H. Baugh, W.C. Adams, Mrs. Texas Rowe, Effie Falkenburg, W.E. Falkenburg, Mrs. Ollie Stone, James Clayton, Mrs. M. Scholl, N.H.W. Aaron, Dr. R.A. Jones, Creelsboro, Font Hill, Jamestown

Spring Gardening – Genealogy Style

March in Indiana is notorious to weather swings. Sunny and beautiful one day and snow storms the next. Today, for a few hours, I had the sunny and beautiful weather in front of 5 days of forecasted rain. So I took the opportunity to get outside for an hour to do a little garden clean-up and I couldn’t help but think about how my goals for that hour were analogous to my genealogy work.

#1 – Take a look at what’s popping up below the surface. 

The bed I chose to work in today is one of several iris beds. Two years ago, I dug up, split and transplanted hundred of iris bulbs. The bed I worked on today seemed to struggle last year and was very behind all of the other beds. So last fall, I decided to leave all of the foliage alone over the winter to allow the dying leaves to feed the bulbs to give them a little extra strength. Now that the weather is starting to warm up, I took a peek under these leaves and sure enough, lots of new plants popping up underneath!


This made me think about how often I open a page in Ancestry for an ancestor who I haven’t looked at in quite awhile and been pleasantly surprised to see new records available for that person. Haven’t worked on a specific line for awhile? It might be worth going back for a “peek underneath”.

#2 – Take care of issues early rather than waiting for a better time.

My neighbor has a large maple tree in their front yard. It is beautiful. But the seeds of a maple tree have wings and I’m pretty sure that ALL of the seeds from that tree land in my flower beds! As I cut out the old, dead leaves of my irises, I found dozens and dozens of those seeds in the dirt.


I know what would happen to those seeds if they were exposed to 5 days of rain plus warming temperatures. I needed to make sure that I was removing every single seed or I would be looking at a major headache this summer!

What is the seed that you need to remove from your research before it gets out of control? About a year ago, I noticed that someone on Ancestry had an image of my grandfather’s family in their tree. I have the same image and I may very well have shared the image with the person, but I couldn’t recall for sure. The only problem was that the image description had the wrong name for the parents. Instead of my great-grandparents names, the description listed my great-great-grandparents. Oops! But I didn’t say anything. I was amazed at how quickly (and how often) that image started popping up as a “hint” for my great-great-grandparents – and from more than one account. The mis-labeled image had been incorrectly attached to trees over and over and over. And some of those people had cropped the image to have individual headshots – which is fine – except that they were incorrectly labeled because of the first image description. I’ve commented on several of the images to try to spread the word, but I have a feeling that this image has already spread too far and that the comments won’t reach everyone. Perhaps if I had made my comment sooner?

Do you have a record in your online account that is mis-attributed? I’d say this happens most often when 2 different people have the same name. Take a closer look to “weed” these sources out of your research as quickly as you can.

#3 – Slow and steady makes the process much more enjoyable

It happens every spring. The weather turns nice and I go out to work in my beds. But there’s so much to do! I push myself to get as much done as possible. And the next day, the aches and pains remind me that I can’t do as much as I used to and still do a great job.

It’s the same way when I don’t work on my research for awhile. Or if I don’t work on a specific LINE for awhile. How painful is it to go back and figure out where I was? How much time do I waste finding the same things over and over because I didn’t stick to my organization system? Why didn’t I label that digital file with the date or the location or even the ancestor it applied to? Because I was rushed and figured I’d fix it later. We’ve got to know exactly where our files will be stored and what our naming template will be. We’ve got to have a plan in mind and stick with it!

#4 – You’ve got to do the prep work before you’ll see the flowers.

If I don’t start early to clean the dead stuff out of my beds, the flowers that come up later will be sickly and pale. And part of my “prep work” in my gardens has got to be making a plan so that everything gets done when it needs to be done.

Prep work in genealogy not only means having my supplies gathered and having a goal in mind for that research session, but it also means doing the “boring” stuff at the end of the session so that I can get a quicker start on my next research session.

It’s much easier when I make good use of my Research Plan and keep good notes to remember which record sets I’ve already looked for. But updating that plan is so BORING! I can be spending that time to RESEARCH, right? I need to remind myself that I don’t have to find every record in one setting. Much better to take my time, really analyse the record in front of me and to take good notes in my Research Plan so that my next steps won’t be painful.

#5 – All the work will be worth it when the results are blooming!

I think this one’s pretty self explanatory!

I hope you’re enjoying the spring season!




Genealogy Snack #11

Have you gone to a genealogy conference in the last year? Or watched a great genealogy webinar? Did you get excited about the information you were hearing? If you took notes, did you put your notes into practice when you got back to the “real world”?

I went to the Rootstech conference a few weeks ago and I took TONS of notes. I was most excited about the information I was collecting on doing German genealogy research for my husband’s line. But since I’ve come home, I have only gone back to look at 1 set of notes. (Couldn’t attend? You can still watch 38 presentations here!)

Maybe you can’t go to genealogy conferences. Have you ever searched for “Genealogy” on YouTube? How about watching the free webinars on  Legacy Family Tree Webinars?  They consistently put out 2-3 webinars every week and they are always free to watch for the first 7 days after they have been published. I have a subscription so that I can go back and binge watch whenever I like – and I have lots of notes on what I’m hearing!

But I don’t often go back to my notes to see what my action items were. So if you’ve ever taken notes at a conference or during a webinar, this week’s “Snack” is to find your notes and see what it was that made you so excited as you were taking those notes.

And here we are at the end of another month! Let’s take a look at the “Snacks” so far:

Snack #1 – Make a plan for Christmas Gifts 2018
Snack #2 – Download or Create a Research Plan
Snack #3 – Make an outline of your ideal Digital File System
Snack #4 – Create a “template” for naming your digital files
Snack #5 – Complete this PERSI search
Snack #6 – Fill out group sheets based on Find-a-grave
Snack #7 – Write an obituary
Snack #8 – What would you research if you could take a genealogy road trip?
Snack #9 – Create a name variation list
Snack #10 – Contribute to the Shared cM project
Snack #11 – Review your notes from a conference or webinar

120 Years Ago Today – Mar. 23, 1898

A continuing feature on the blog for 2018 is be a series called “120 Years Ago Today”. I’m collecting newspaper clippings relevant to Russell County from The Adair County News in the year 1898. I hope you find some surprises to add to your family tree!

I’ll be doing a bit of digital cleanup on the files to remove streaks and scratches, but you can download the original file from the link. Right-click on my image to save the cleaned-up version. I also plan to include a list of names mentioned in the articles at the end of the blog post to make it possible to find with an internet search.

Here’s the link to this edition of the newspaper. Link

Additional note: Kimble was the official name of Russell Springs between 1888 and 1901.

Adair County News, Page1, 1898-03-23, Creelsboro 1

Adair County News, Page1, 1898-03-23, Creelsboro 2

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Creelsboro

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Font Hill

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Jamestown 1

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Jamestown 2

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Kimble 1

Adair County News, Page2, 1898-03-23, Kimble 2

Rev. Flat, Viola Snow, Sallie Cheatham, Mis Bettie, R.A. Jones, Cameron Dunbar, Viola Carr, Syrena Cape, Claude Cape, Pink Campbell, J.W. Lapsley, Rev. Bell, Carlos Coffey, Maggie Jones, E. Campbell, J.D. Irvine, Bill Denney, C. Snow, C.H. Campbell, Bessie Baker, Mollie Coffey, W.B. Armstrong, William Kimbler, M. Sloan, C. Snow, Maggie Jones, Berry Buster, Ben F. Leach, Ella Payne, Willie Warren, Josie Bledsoe, W.L. Bradshaw, J.W. Humble, W.C. Shephard, E.D. Tartar, W.A. Wilson, Squire Shephard, C.H. Murrell, G.F. Jones, Allene Marcum, Olga Gann, W.S. Knight, W.F. Rowe, Mrs. Texas Rowe, J.E. Hays, Mrs. Barnes, O.B. Vaughan, Sallie Barnes, W.E. Frazer, Creelsboro, Font Hill, Jamestown, Kimble


Genealogy Snack #10

Blaine Bettinger is a well-know genetic genealogist. He has done a fantastic job of collecting data to help us understand our DNA matches better. Yesterday, I posted about the Shared cM project in which Blaine has collected DNA information from thousands of participants in order to create a chart showing the range of shared cM numbers for each relationship.


One of the ways that he collects this data is through a Google form that is open to anyone who has completed dna testing. You can help further this project by adding your own data for KNOWN RELATIONSHIP MATCHES to the project. Blaine updates this chart whenever he has a significant amount of new data.

Today’s snack: look up the number of shared cMs you have for at least 1 known ancestor and contribute that number to the project. You can fill in the form for as many known matches as you have.

Before you go to the form, you’ll need the following information:

  • The relationship between the two matched individuals (brother/sister, aunt/nephew, 1C1R, etc.)
  • Total shared cM
  • Number of shared segments
  • Any known endogamy or known cousin marriages? (yes/no)
  • Source of the dna test

Optional information includes:

  • Number of cM in the longest block (this data is not available through AncestryDNA)
  • Any notes you’d like to include about a special relationship
  • Your email so that he can contact you if you have questions.

Click on the link below to contribute to the project!

Shared cM Project

Shared cM Project

Are you using DNA testing in your genealogy research? If so, you have probably seen this chart from the Shared cM Project.


You take a look at the number of cMs you share with your match and then you can use the chart from the Shared cM Project to find the most likely relationship between you and your match.

The way to find the number of cMs you share with a match is different for each DNA site. I currently have DNA kits on 3 different sites, so I can show you how to find the cMs on those 3.

To see the number of cMs you share with a match on Ancestry:

Click the “View Match” button. Note: your match does not have to have a tree in order to see how much DNA you share.


Once you are on their page, click on the small letter I below the Predicted relationship. A pop-up box will tell you how much DNA you share.


To see the number of cMs you share with a match on FTDNA:

Navigate to your list of matches and look in the column that says “Shared Centimorgans”.


To see the number of cMs you share with a match on MyHeritage:



The number is included along with the information for each match.



Once you have this number, you can use the chart to see all of the possible relationships you might have with your match.

If you find the chart confusing, there is another tool that will help you out. Jonny Perl has a fantastic web tool if you like the idea of “mapping” each segment of a dna kit to the ancestor(s) who passed it along. I am slowly using this tool to get a better idea of how I am connected to some of my DNA matches. But he also has an interactive version of the Shared cM Project chart that I love.

Go to and click on “Tools” at the top of the screen.  (You do not have to be registered to use the tool.)


Click on the option for the most recent version of the tool. The creator of the chart, Blaine Bettinger, continues to collect data and updates the chart on a regular basis, so you will always want to look for the most recent version.


In the box at the top of the page, enter the number of cMs you share with your match.


Notice that the chart at the bottom has changed to show you the most likely relationships you and your match might have based on the number of cMs. But just below where you entered your number, he also gives a table showing you the probability for every possible relationship based on the number of cMs. If you know the age of your match, you can use a little common sense to eliminate some of those highlight boxes in the chart. For example, a 40 year old person is pretty certainly NOT your great-great aunt or uncle!

I love working with my DNA matches, but I do find that once I get going with it, I can’t tear myself away! I have to drag myself away to get back to my “traditional” research, but I’m hoping that it won’t be long till I’m breaking through my brick walls by using my DNA info! And PLEASE, if you discover one of my kits in your list of matches, let me know!!!

(And just to be thorough – here are my GEDmatch numbers)

My mother: A326218
Her sister #1: A961251
Her sister #2: A569139
Her brother: T850404
Her 1st cousin: A476875

All of the above have deep Russell County roots!

My husband: A045548
My MIL: A660940

My husband and mother-in-law have deep GERMAN roots!