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A Handy Tool for Genealogists

One of my favorite things to do as a genealogist is to look at cemetery markers and death records. If I am lucky, I will find birth and death dates for the deceased here. Yet sometimes, especially in earlier records, I find the birth date omitted. The death record may give only the death date coupled with the age of the deceased.

I encountered this recently when I studied the church burial record for my Finnish ancestor Anders Abelsson Mattila. He had died on the 27th of April, 1882 at the age of 55 years, 5 months, and 23 days. The record did not provide a birth date for him.

In my early days of genealogy, I would have had to pursue a complicated formula to derive his birth date from the information on this record. No more. Now I can use a simple utility found on Search For Ancestors at to calculate this date. The Tombstone Birthday Calculator on this site allows me to plug in the death date and age information, and then it calculates the birth date for me.

Using this tool, I learned that Anders was born 4 November 1826. This information exactly matches the date given on all his subsequent records. The quick answer I received from the online calculator gave me another rewarding experience analyzing a death record. You can bet I have this Calculator bookmarked as part of my genealogical tool kit.

Locating A Medieval German Family Using Google Books

Recently my husband/tech advisor made an exciting find. Unfortunately, it was in German. Fortunately, modern technology offered a simple way to translate the information into English. Here is his story:

Isn’t modern research wonderful . . .

This morning I had 15 minutes.  I was researching an ancient possible ancestor – Tietze Von Rashke, born about 1450 in Germany (yes, I know – not relevant).  Google Search only turned up one find:

I went there, and sure enough, there was a page of a book printed in 1845 that Google had scanned – in old German:


That sure looks like my name, but the search engine would only show that one page – and it looks like it goes on.  And, of course, I can’t read it.


Enter the wonderful technology.  Of course, it already helped me find this, but WOW.


On the left side, it said this was an eBook and it was free.  I clicked on the red button and Google Play came up and I logged in and “bought” my free book.


Of course I clicked read.  And I knew I needed page 72, so scrolled right to it.

But it was in German – old German – and I don’t read it.  The book information had said that this was a scanned book and was stored as a set of pictures, so you couldn’t scroll like a regular book.

But – they had highlighted the name and found it, so I wondered.

I attempted to “select the paragraph I wanted – and WOW – technology magic exists!  Here’s what happened:


When I clicked on Translate, here’s what I got:


After working through the next couple of pages, I found confirmation – and new relatives – of four generations of descendants from Tietze Von Raschke as the book proceeded to describe how the land had been passed to the current – in 1845 – owners.

Boy, I sure couldn’t have ever done anything like this in a morning 5 years ago!

The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly Facts on Moving to the New Family Tree

Last week I wrote about my wish to enable a smooth transfer of data from the genealogical software I use, The Master Genealogist, to the cloud site offered by Family Search. Here is a guest post from someone who knows a whole lot more about this complex issue than I do, my husband/tech advisor:

Many of us are looking for a place to save our research in case none of our relatives wants it. Most of us use a Genealogy program of some sort but many have already “taken the plunge” and gone to online programs.


Those of us who haven’t gone to an online program, and even some of those that have, face the issue of what’s going to happen to our hard work when we can’t do it anymore. If we don’t migrate ourselves, our research is subject to the vagaries of a family member taking it over or performing the migration plan we might have left behind. Web sites we’ve built with our research will go away when the contract is up, causing the data to be lost.


The only solutions:


· to plan on a transfer to a repository and hope the heirs will do it and will be able to do it,


· to have a family member who will take it over,


· to identify a repository and synchronize to it,


· to identify a repository and switch to using their on-line software.


I can hope that a family member will continue the work – but unlikely at this point – or that enough peripheral people are working in my areas to take my work and run with it, but the reality is that it most likely will fade away as the paid web site expires or the software it’s based on becomes unusable unless I start ensuring continuity now.


Because I don’t like making other people pay someone else to see my hard-won research, I’ve chosen the LDS New Family Tree (NFT) as my repository and would like to synchronize to it. I currently use The Master Genealogist (TMG) version 8. Oops, based on both past experience and asking questions, I don’t think synchronization is coming soon.


Basically, I’d love to stay with TMG as I like the program and know how to use it. But if there aren’t plans to start doing what all the other major Genealogy programs are doing – synchronizing to NFT. Rather than enter more data into a dead end program, I’ll have to move to a program that is keeping up with the Joneses. And I have about 300 Norwegian and Danish relatives and over 500 sources to enter – a very productive summer.


Two programs are “certified” for synchronization with NFT – RootsMagic (RM) and Ancestral Quest (AQ). However, there are different levels of certification. You can also upload GEDCOMs to NFT regularly to synchronize – but I’m giving away the plot. I guess I’ll consider moving to RM or AQ.


There are several good web blogs about the pain and anguish and advantages of moving from TMG to each. The bottom line is that both do a decent job of importing from TMG via GEDCOM. But, from what the blogs say, RM, AQ, and – it turns out – NFT do not “nicely move sources from TMG. NFT requires sources and if no sources are attached to a person, that person is not considered to be a “good” record. When a GEDCOM from TMG is uploaded to NFT, the TMG sources are treated as notes rather than sources. When other major Genealogy programs use their “direct” link, sources remain attached – but according to bloggers, I can expect problems here.


I’ve done some investigation into what Synchronization really means. Say I have grandpa, and so does NFT. NFT doesn’t have grandma or grandpa’s parents. For grandpa, I have 4 sources and NFT has 2.



· If I use TMG and GEDCOM – each record is added to FamilySearch and none are put in my NFT Tree. When I add a person to my Tree, the sources come as details. The details can’t be converted to sources. No siblings, parents, spouses, or children come along – even if they are there in the Person Record – I have to manually find and attach each one – just because they are on the Person Record doesn’t mean I can attach them from there. Basically entirely manual after a painful process to upload the GEDCOM – requires matching checking and verification and adding the record to FamilySearch one by one.


· While on GEDCOM to NFT – most FAM tags seem to be ignored after the first generation.


· If I move from TMG to RM or AQ and do a Synchronize – the only difference is that once I have the person in my Tree, source and details placed in RM or AQ will then be placed into the Person Record which is available to NFT. New siblings, parents, spouses, or children are not attached – I must Find them and attach them.


Basically, to use NFT requires me to start over and completely re-enter my tree and all my sources.


Of course when asked about this, they tell me that should only take an hour or so. [Insert here Words that can’t be printed.] I’m looking at a minimum of ½ hour for every source. 95% of my sources are not in FamilySearch. My grandfather born in 1877 in Norway and who came to the US at 14 months has two census records that FamilySearch has. I have 26 sources, of which 6 are “governmental”. There’s 12 hours of data entry. An afternoon, my left foot.


One good reason not to use Family Tree directly is that they don’t really support PDFs, and they don’t like “active” PDFs. All of my Norwegian documents from Arkivverket are active PDFs – if you click anywhere on the PDF, it takes you to the real original image location. A nice touch and one that TMG handles very nicely. Too bad Arkivverket doesn’t advertise it so other archives will start doing this..


Basically, since I’ve spent the summer getting all these source documents, I have to make a choice – hope that there will be a way to get them in Family Tree, give up on TMG and use a program that will put them in Family Tree, or just use Family Tree directly.


But I’d rather stay on TMG.




Cemetery Marker Photos Posted At Last

At the beginning of the year, I stated my goal of getting all my photos of cemetery markers under control. After a huge segue trip to Norway this summer that took me away from my original task for weeks, I am finally working on the photos again. My project had four steps:

  • Design a process for filing, digitizing, and publishing my pictures. I attended a couple of informative sessions offered by the Computer Interest Group of the Colorado Genealogical Society to learn ways to do this.
  • Scan all my photos and place them in digital folders organized by state, cemetery, and name. Put the prints into an archival album.
  • Copy all the cemetery marker images and store them as exhibits in my genealogy database, The Master Genealogist.
  • Upload my images and build memorials on

This week I began the fourth step. I uploaded all my Colorado photos and built memorials for Ruth Anna Hansen Reed Brown and Ralph Willard Odom, both buried at Boulder’s Green Mountain Cemetery. Someone else had already built memorials for my other family members in that cemetery, Dean Reed and the Towers–Hazel, Walter, and Josephine. Memorials for family members at Ft. Logan (Robert Lloyd Reed) and Fountain (Robert H. Reed) had already been created as well. I had earlier put up a memorial for Thomas and Henrietta Reed, buried in Cañon City, right after I visited that cemetery a couple of years ago.

Now I am moving ahead to my Illinois photos. My father took these many years ago at Ashmore, Enon, and Reed cemeteries in Coles County. Our family pioneered in Illinois in the 1820’s, so there are a lot of these photos, and they will take some time.

I hope to finish uploading the photos and building memorials by the end of October. It feels good to know that whenever I visit another cemetery, I have a system in place for saving the images of the cemetery markers.

What is the Outlook for Genealogists?

People used to joke about when they would be “done” with their genealogy. The historical answer was “never” because you never run out of ancestors. Recently, though, I have found myself thinking about all the changes in the genealogy and family history world in recent years. Where will this technology-driven environment take us? Could genealogy be “done” in my lifetime?

I learned to do genealogy the old way. We joined local societies to learn how to do genealogical research. We kept voluminous notebooks of family group sheets and exhorted ourselves to write at least a letter per week soliciting information from relatives and vital records offices. We ordered microfilmed records from the Family History Center and occasionally drove over to Salt Lake City to use the huge genealogy library there. I felt blessed to live in the greater Denver area with its easy access to the wonderful Denver Public Library and branches of the BLM and the National Archives. Our goal was to produce a beautifully-bound book on our lineage. It took a lifetime to gather the information.

Nowadays, I keep my genealogical records electronically, and probably I will never write that book. I rarely visit the local repositories because I can find so much information online. The same goes for genealogy meetings. Instead of gleaning tips from speakers at the monthly meeting, I learn to do genealogy by attending seminars and conferences, or using the helpful materials on the LDS website

A huge genealogy industry has sprung up in recent years. Professional speakers traverse the country and vast websites offer valuable collections online. We even have genealogy television shows. Anyone willing to pay all the fees can reap a bonanza of records, educational materials and DNA results. Instead of compiling genealogy books, thousands of people use this largesse to add family lines to the collective world family tree.

So what happens when the world family tree is more or less done? What becomes of the genealogy hobby then? Will new genealogists spend most of their time verifying the work of others or collaborating to break down the remaining brick walls? Will people do genealogy at all if it means simply plugging oneself into the world tree developed by others?

Digitization of records and sharing of family information continues at breakneck speed. Most people can look at the compiled world tree and find some of their ancestors already listed. I think I will see the day when we have a complete database, at least for Americans. Will the world still need genealogists then?

Not What I Expected From an Obituary

Last week I wrote about a new source I had discovered, the Ohio obituary index published by the Rutherford B. Hayes library. I searched online for members of my Dunbar family who had lived in Ohio beginning in the early 1830’s. There I found a listing for my great-great grandmother’s sister, Rebecca Dunbar. The index referenced her 1874 obituary in the Akron Daily Beacon.

This week I contacted the Akron library via e-mail to secure a copy of this obituary. They responded the same day with an electronic copy of the article I wanted. I love this superb service available from libraries around the country.

Unfortunately, the article turned out to be simply a death notice, not an obituary. To me, an obituary contains some biographical information.

This article had no family information. It stated only that Miss Rebecca Dunbar had passed away on December 30, 1873 in Stow. Interestingly, it offered her cause of death as inflammation of the bowels. I already had most of this information from other secondary sources.

I believe that anyone using this source should know that calling it an “obituary index” is something of a misnomer. Particularly for 19th-century entries, the article likely will be a short death notice instead of an obituary detailing the person’s life and family. Valuable information, but not complete information.

A Breakthrough Via Twitter

Several months ago I created a Twitter account to use for following genealogy societies and other genealogists. I have enjoyed feeling connected to the genealogy community this way. Sometimes I get promising research ideas, too.

Yesterday I received a tweet that led me to a source that might provide some information on a sketchy family line. The Twitter message linked to the online Ohio obituary index at the Rutherford B. Hayes Library I did not know this index of 2,200,000 Ohio obituaries existed. I have Ohio ancestors, so I clicked on the link and pulled up the list of Dunbars, searching for any familiar names. They had lived in Summit County, Ohio from the 1830’s on. I do not know whether any Dunbar descendants live there today because my line moved on to Michigan about 1850.

Surprisingly, I found my great-great grandmother’s older sister, Rebecca Dunbar, on the list. She died in 1873 or 1874. I know very little about her, but I have a small mystery relating to her. In 1860, she headed a household that included her brother Benjamin and a little girl, Mahala Dunbar. I would love to know the nature of the relationship of Mahala to Rebecca and Benjamin. Unfortunately, the 1860 census does not tell us relationships of people to the head of the household. No other source I have consulted has told me anything more about these three people and how they are related.

Thanks to the tweet I received, I now know that an obituary for Rebecca exists. I can order it from the Akron-Summit County Public Library for one dollar. You can bet I will be ordering this document. I am hoping it will shed some light on this obscure branch of the Dunbar family tree. Thanks, Twitter!

Seriously, I Tried

This week my husband and I spent three days at the massive genealogy library in Salt Lake City. To prepare for this trip, I had scoured the online catalog for call numbers that might relate to the Finns I am studying this year. The LDS church has not yet digitized all of its Finnish collection, so I can either order microfilm and fiche to be sent to Denver (at $5+ per roll), or I could make this trip to look at as many rolls as physically possible in three days.

Upon arrival I sat down at a microfilm reader on the international floor of the library. Yet even though I thought I had devised a suitable research plan, I felt overwhelmed as I stared at the materials I had brought along. I scarcely knew where to look first.

Finally, I decided to begin with land, court, and guardian records because I cannot get those online at home. The first rolls of film I pulled were all in Finnish or Swedish (of course, but I cannot read either language). To boot, they were not indexed. Dead end for me at this point.

In growing frustration, I looked again at the lists I had brought. Maybe I could try looking at communion books. I had no idea what information they might contain, but at least they seemed to be organized by head of family.

Looking at these call numbers, I realized the communion books are on fiche, not microfilm, and I did not know where to find them in the library. A helpful staff member finally located the appropriate spot, but she told me, “No one ever uses these.” I sat down at the fiche reader anyway. When I asked where I could make copies of anything I found, she replied that she did not think I could.

I sighed and began searching the fiche. Slowly, I deciphered how these unfamiliar records were kept. I found them extremely difficult to read, not only because of the script used. Whenever someone left the family, through marriage or death, for example, the record keeper drew a line through the name. Still, I did locate my Mattilas in the two volumes kept from the 1870’s through the 1890’s. I also found numerous entries for Myllynens, but I do not know which of these might be mine. I copied down all the families onto the legal pad I carried.

While I worked, a group touring the library came by. Their tour guide told them, “Here is the microfiche, but no one ever uses it.” Except me. Still, late in the day, another library patron sat down to look at some of the fiche. As we bemoaned having to make all hand-written notes because we could not make copies of the records, another staff member wandered by. “Oh, but you can!” he informed us. It turns out that their snazzy little microfilm-copying machines have a fiche-printing feature.

By the end of the day, I felt exhausted from this research. I did not have much to show for the hours of work except for a list of people with my Myllynen surname and a slight familiarity with a new record set. Discouraged, I gave up on the Finns for the rest of my visit. Maybe their records will be indexed someday. In the meantime, give me the good old American stuff. At least I understand how our records are kept, and I can read them.

I spent the next two days happily working on the U.S. floors of the library.

We moved and you found us!

Welcome to to the new location.  Thanks for visiting.

Back To Work

Because of some travel and family commitments, I had little time for genealogy during the past week. Now I am home and ready to resume my Finnish research.

The Mattila family arrived in America mostly in the early 1900’s, and I have been working to locate them on the U.S. census. I do not have a complete census survey yet, but I have identified four (out of a reported nine) Mattila siblings who immigrated: Ida, Anna, Olga, and Alexander. This census work has been difficult because of recording errors made by the Minnesota census takers. I have not yet found Olga on the 1910 census nor have I located Ida in 1920 or 1930. The 1940 census will be available very soon so I will need to take a look at it, too.

What is the deal with Ida? Perhaps she died early although I have not found a burial record for her in Minnesota. I cannot recall much conversation about her other than vague references to “the aunt in Biwabik”. She was married a couple of times, so I should be able to locate a marriage record for her in the United States.

In fact, there remains much American research I can do on the this family before I can even begin with Finnish records. Time to get back to work!