Sunday, June 16, 2019

Focus on the Context Because Context Is Everything

I'm often approached at the end of a presentation at a meeting or conference and asked for advice for solving a research challenge. A person will launch in with something like, "I've been unable to find my 3x great-grandfather and he's a complete brick wall. Where should I look?"

I have to stop the person and ask, "Where do you think he lived? When do you think he was there? What are you trying to prove or disprove?" I need to understand the context first before I can even begin to offer any suggestions. It is imperative that I know the place and time period: that determines what geopolitical entity was in power, what records were being produced at the time, and makes me consider boundary changes and other events that might influence the research approach.

Sometimes the responses I get from a person make me wonder if he or she had really focused on the context of the ancestor's circumstances and/or developed a research plan. The research plan would need to concentrate on time, place, historical and personal events, records being produced, and later jurisdictional changes that influence where the records WERE produced and WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

It's easier these days, with the tsunami of new records being made available online all the time, to get pulled into a mode of reacting with rapid research. This can undermine the time we take to thoroughly analyze each record, and to relate it to others. That means we may miss apparent connections, we may not develop thoughtful hypotheses, and we probably don't prepare (or revise) a viable and potentially successful research plan. We may also rush to conclusions without considering the whole picture.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love talking to people at seminars and getting these questions. They make me think outside my own research box *and* to use my more than half-century of experience with thousands of research record types and content. And what I will always do is ask you to step back and ask yourself the questions that will help place your ancestor into temporal, geographical, and political context. I hope you will do that on a regular basis. Refer to Cyndi's List and to the FamilySearch Research Wiki for ideas and references to records and methodologies.

And take the time to read, analyze, and understand every record you encounter. Compare and relate it to other evidence you may have (or will) encountered. And develop a research plan, no matter how small, to focus yourself on success.

The Genealogy Squad: You Are Not Alone

The Genealogy Squad Facebook group launched on May 6, 2019, and was an immediate success. At this moment there are 14,376 members and the group is fast approaching what we believe will be 15,000 members this coming week.

The mission of the Genealogy Squad Facebook group is to provide a positive space for the sharing of appropriate and reliable methods and resources to assist genealogists at all levels. We focus on answering questions and solving problems, while demonstrating best practices in all aspects of genealogical research. Questions relating to the use of DNA testing are better suited for our sister group, Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques at

The founders and administrators of The Genealogy Squad are Blaine T. Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., Cyndi Ingle (of Cyndi's List), and Drew Smith and George G. Morgan of The Genealogy Guys Podcast. We have a combined total of more than 150 years of experience with genealogical research and want to provide high quality, helpful, and friendly assistance to our members.

Where Are Our Members?

A significant number of our members have asked about the make-up of our membership, primarily because there seems to be an assumption that The Genealogy Squad is only for and composed of U.S. members. That assumption is far from accurate. Our members are from all over the world, and there is a wonderful excitement to help one another. Here is an image from the FB statistics about our members as of this morning. The origins and numbers change as membership grows but it is important that you know more about your fellow members.

The Genealogy Squad members as of June 16, 2019
(Click the image to enlarge.)

The chart above doesn't include every place; we know there are members in other countries, such as Israel, Italy, France, South Africa, and elsewhere. However, this graphic gives you a little feel for larger clusters of members.

Think Globally!

You can help other people by being more precise about the places - including country and other geopolitical jurisdiction - in your posts here. Remember that there is more than one London and more than one Madison; there is an Essex County in New Jersey, one in Massachusetts, one in the UK, and one in Ontario, Canada. 

This may be a little change in your mindset, but it's really very helpful to begin thinking and researching with a more global perspective. You'll help yourself *and* you'll help other members in this great FB group!

Spread the Word

If you are not a member of The Genealogy Squad, go to the FB page at and request to be added. You have to answer two quick questions so that we know you're not a robot and so we can know a little more about you. We'll approve you pretty quickly. 

If you are already a member, tell your friends and genealogical society members about us. Give them the link, but don't use the FB Invite function. We decline invited people because we want everyone to join on their own volition. (After all, we all dislike being added to an email distribution list without our choice. The same thing holds true here.)

We look forward to having you join us. We know you will learn a lot, and you'll be able to share with and help people from all over the world. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Check U.S. Census Mortality Schedules

The U.S. federal census enumerations of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, and the partial census of 1885 for six states (Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota), also included separate mortality schedules. They are separate from the population schedules. The enumerator asked for information about every individual who had died between 1 June and 31 May, both white and black. The mortality schedule included: person’s name; age; sex; color (white, black, or mulatto); free or slave (in the 1850 and 1860 schedules); whether married or widowed; place of birth (state, territory, or country); month of death; their profession, occupation, or trade; disease or cause of death; and number of days ill.

These schedules may be the only record of death for individuals since many states did not require recording of deaths until the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. They should be one of the first records checked if a person appeared in a previous decennial census and cannot be found in the next. They can be especially useful when searching for enslaved individuals because the 1850 and 1860 census slave schedules usually did not list slaves’ names.

In addition, the mortality schedules of 1850 and 1860 include information about slaves who died in the preceding year. This can be a huge find when researching African-American ancestors prior to emancipation. 

Mortality schedules for 1850-1885 can be found online at; mortality schedules for 1850 can be found at FamilySearch and Findmypast.

1850 US federal census mortality schedule
Stewart County, Georgia

Monday, June 3, 2019

Unsung Heroes Award Presentation to MyHeritage

Here is a photo from Saturday, June 1, 2019, at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in Burbank, California, at which Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage accepted the Unsung Heroes Award. Left to right; Rick Voight of Vivid-Pix, Daniel Horowitz, and Drew Smith of The Genealogy Guys.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Special Unsung Heroes Award Made to at Jamboree

Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree
Burbank, CA
June 1, 2019

The Genealogy Guys Podcast and Vivid-Pix have today given MyHeritage Ltd. its highest Unsung Heroes Award for extraordinary service to the genealogy community.

Said Drew Smith in his presentation, "MyHeritage has been involved with numerous pro bono projects over the years. We are here today to recognize the completion of their unprecedented five-year project to digitize every cemetery in Israel. MyHeritage employees, friends, and volunteers systematically photographed and transcribed almost every grave. The company specifically recruited full-time employees to complete the work. They photographed 638 cemeteries throughout Israel. 2.1 million photos were taken of 1.5 million gravestones, and the company teamed with BillionGraves to make the results available online.

"MyHeritage embodies the true spirit of volunteerism, and this project is just one of its many mitzvahs or good deeds for the global community. We are therefore presenting this plaque to Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage today as part of our Unsung Heroes Awards. It reads:

In recognition of the completion of its landmark
project to digitize all of the cemeteries in Israel
and make the records available online, we hereby honor 

MyHeritage Ltd.

This award acknowledges the company’s continuous
commitment to the documentation of the past
and its dedication to preservation for future generations.

"Thank you, MyHeritage, for your great leadership and generosity!"

Plaque given to Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage
in recognition of its Israel Cemetery Project.

We Sing Your Praises!

Unsung Heroes Award - Individual - Stacy Ashmore Cole

Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree
Burbank, CA
June 1, 2019

The Genealogy Guys Podcast and Vivid-Pix have today given Stacy Ashmore Cole the Unsung Heroes Award for an Individual for the second quarter of 2019.

Stacy Ashmore Cole
Unsung Heroes Award Winner
The pre-Emancipation records of African-Americans in Liberty County, Georgia, are online at, but they are not indexed and online summaries normally omit their names. Stacy Ashmore Cole created at to remedy that gap. So far, more than 4,500 African-American names have been transcribed and added to a searchable database of wills, estate inventories, bills of sale, and other documents. From the pre-Emancipation probate and deed/mortgage records of the Liberty County courts digitized by FamilySearch, now has:

  • transcripts or summaries of 160 wills with more than 1,220 names of enslaved people;
  • more than 200 estate inventories with more than 1,900 names'
  • 30 deeds with more than 300 names; 
  • 1,151 names of African-American church-goers in 1846;
  • and more.
Individuals with African-American ancestry in Liberty County may now use the information in this site to trace their families back before the U.S. Civil War. Researchers and historians may also use it to shed light on the experiences of these people.

Stacey Ashmore Cole exemplifies the great qualities of a volunteer who sees something that needs to be done and does it. 

We Sing Your Praises!

Will of Benjamin B. King, one example of an original document
transcribed into 

Estate Inventory of Ann S. Chambers, Liberty County, Georgia
(Click to enlarge.)

Part of the page for Midway Church Records with links
to the original images at and transcriptions
at site.
(Click to enlarge.)