Saturday, September 24, 2011

Message Boards v. Mailing Lists

On my last post, Sept 19, I talked about my experience with GenForum, a message board provided by But until this week, I didn’t know that there was a difference between a message board and a mailing list.

And as happens often in genealogy, you learn something new when you have a question that you need answered and you ask for help. That’s where Kate Herron, my friend/mentor from Chicago, IL, and the mailing list come in.

The question that I needed answered came from a marriage license for my maternal great grandparents, Peter Fleseras and Louise Miller. I found the document at
 The document says the marriage was performed by the rector of St. Andrews in Chicago, IL in 1901. But I couldn’t read the name of the rector. Hard- to-read handwriting is one of the things that plague genealogists.

I know that Peter Fleseras was Greek and that Louis Miller’s father (Frederick Miller) was German and her mother (Catherine Norton) was Irish, from County Mayo. Which church would they probably have attended? Greek Orthodox? Catholic? Protestant?

I googled for St. Andrew in Chicago, IL and found both a Greek Orthodox and a Catholic.The Greek Orthodox St.Andrew opened in 1926 – after the 1901 marriage. The Catholic St. Andrew opened in 1895 – well in time for the 1901 event.

I tried some analysis on my own. Catholics don’t usually write “clergyman” on a document. They put “priest”. And “rector” didn’t seem to be the usual Catholic choice of words either.

I was stumped so I e-mailed Kate for help. Kate suggested that I post a message on the Cook County Mailing List, gave me the following web address, said to be sure I linked to my marriage document, and told me to be careful to use digest mode:

Well, this gave me plenty of challenges. I didn’t know that had a mailing list function although I had been using their WorldConnect section for years (see future post). Second, I didn’t know what “digest mode” meant. And third, I didn’t know how to “link” inside a mailing list post.

Here’s where I can offer a piece of advice: never abuse your community of friends and mentors by asking pesky questions that you can find the answers for yourself. Save them for the BIG questions. So I started educating myself about message boards and mailing lists.

I went to the wikipedia site on internet forums to find out exactly what these two forms of communication are and how they differ. To paraphrase wikipedia, a message board, or web forum, is an internet discussion site where people have conversations that take the form of back and forth message postings.

A mailing list (in the link scroll down to "Comparison with other Web applications")  is also an internet discussion site with posted messages. It differs from a message board mainly in how messages are retrieved. On a mailing list, new messages come directly to your e-mail inbox; whereas on a message board, you have to log-on to the site to see messages. Some message boards, like GenForum, will send you an e-mail notification that there are messages waiting for you at the forum site.

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My next self-education step was to find out what was “digest mode”. I returned to and went to the Help section.The difference this time comes in the way you receive messages from the list. In “mail mode”, you receive each single message at the time it is sent to the list. That could be a lot of messages in your inbox. In “digest mode” you receive a group of messages once a day or so. This latter way cuts way down on traffic to your inbox.

Armed with this information, I was ready to go. I subscribed to Cook-CO-IL-L by following the instructions at that site.  I received a message response from the administrator of the list that  included an address of the list that I should send my messages to.

I posted my message on Cook-CO-IL-L on Tuesday, Sept 20, 2011 and in two days received several answers. I hit the jackpot with the message suggesting that I check out the 1900 Lakeside Chicago City Directory at

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Now this is a funny thing about genealogy researching. Many times we know about a particular resource and may have even used it several times before. But then we may file it away in our minds and not think of it. This is what happened in this case. Well, I wasted no time going to the ChicagoAncestors site and in the front section of the directory, I struck gold. On p. 18 there was a list of churches in 1900 Chicago. Can you imagine how I felt when I saw:

St. Andrew’s Church – Washington boul(evard) Cor(ner) S. Robey. Rector, Rev. W.C. DeWitt.

This was it! As I looked back at the nearly indecipherable signature of the clergyman on the license, everything just fell into place.

You can be sure that I will make more use of the mailing list feature of in the future.  And by the way, also has a message board feature.

Categories: genealogy community, genealogy tool

Monday, September 19, 2011

Building a Community with GenForum

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Many people have heard the old expression: “Two heads (or more) are better than one”. In genealogy this axiom is especially true. But I didn’t find this out until years after I had been researching on my own.

Probably like you, I just started my family research by looking at the census and talking to relatives (of which I have only a few that are known to me).

 Soon I was sending away for records and finding many pieces. Sometimes the pieces just didn’t fit together.
When I moved to Augusta, GA in 2006, I met A.S., a very talented genealogist who has become a good friend. Not too soon after we met, I had an idea that if I could find some living relatives in the Kreis line, I might be able to make some of my pieces fit. But I wondered -- how best to do this?

A.S. suggested that I post a message on Well going public like that intimidated me back then. I was concerned about privacy issues. However, the drive to find out more family information overrode my initial reluctance. And I can truly say that posting on GenForum became one of the most valuable and rewarding things I have ever done in genealogy. And another benefit is that it is easy to do with a computer.

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Now back in the days before the internet, if you wanted to put out a query or question about an ancestor, you had to search for a place to post it. If you were lucky enough to live near a genealogy society, you could post it on a bulletin board there. Or you could search for a genealogy journal or magazine that covered the geographic area where your ancestor lived. Then you could leave your address and wait until someone who might know of your ancestor might look at the journal/magazine and might see your posting. Well you can see that the probability of success was not too great.

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But now we are in the Age of the Internet. And this is where comes in. If you go to the home page, you will see that GenForum uses what the company calls “forums” to guide people to groups of interest to them. These groups or forums are arranged around surnames and geographic place names. There are forums for US cities, counties and states and for countries all over the world. And if you can’t find a forum that fits your needs, you can start one!

Besides posting to a forum, you can also search archived messages in a forum. If you are looking for “Henry Kreis”, you can go to the Kreis forum and put “Henry Kreis” in the search box.

Next it’s time to post your own messages. Think of all the possible forums that might lead you to some new information on your family. In my case, I posted to my surnames and to the states where they lived in America. I haven’t yet been able to identify for many of my ancestors the county/city/town where they came from in Europe, so I haven’t posted to many international forums.

Both the opportunities and the power of this medium are incredible. I once put a general message on the Greek forum and received a response from a very kind genealogist in Athens who isn’t related to me at all but just likes to help Americans learn more about their Greek roots.
Posting on the Chicago forum in GenForum helped me find a wonderful genealogist who lives in Chicago and has helped me many times to think through a puzzle. If left to my own devices, I might slowly sink into one of many genealogical sand traps:
  • Tyring to force a “fit” when there isn’t one
  • Not being able to see the forest for the trees
  • Overlooking a clue that is right there crying out for you to see
  • Looking in the wrong place for a record and not knowing where the right place might be
And this is to name just a few.

In conclusion, two heads (and more) are needed to be successful at genealogy. Or to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “It takes a village to do family research successfully.” So start building your village with GenForum.

Categories: genealogy community, research terms

Monday, September 12, 2011

Get More Bang for Your Genealogical Buck – look at Groups

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So you want more bang for your genealogical buck? Well you can increase your chances of getting answers to questions about your ancestors by expanding your target from individuals to groups. 

Working with the census brings up a key research technique – looking at neighboring families for clues to your target family. I was first introduced to this technique by my good friend and fellow genealogist, A.S. She showed me how to make a linkage diagram listing extended family members and neighbors living near them as shown on the census and  other documents, such as land records . Then as you continue your research, you try to draw relationship links between these people.

When you find a family of interest on a census, be sure to check back three-four pages and forward three-four pages to search for related families.

I have come across the term “cohort” used in research studies to mean a group that shares a common characteristic such as age or gender. This commonality allows researchers to observe how the group reacts over time to different stimuli as compared to other groups.

From this clinical definition, the definition has become more general to mean, among other things:

“A group of people banded together or treated as a group.”  
Google Dictionary

I have found this idea of cohort group to be useful in genealogy to describe families that have been found living near each other over many years. These cohort families sometimes knew each other back in their countries of origin. They may have emigrated together. After they came to America, they moved together in search of better opportunities. Often they shared the same religion. They bought land next to each other. They intermarried.

A wonderful resource on this topic of cohort families is Emily Anne Croom’s book The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for more successful family history research. In Chapter Three “Broadening the Scope: Cluster Genealogy” pgs. 40-53, Ms. Croom explains why we should study our ancestors not in isolation but in “clusters”, which she defines as “…relatives, neighbors, friends, and associates.” (p. 40).

 I have experienced first hand the joy of finding answers to genealogical questions through cluster research many times. One recent example happened when I was searching for Irene Kreis' (my paternal grandmother), birth certificate. I was hoping to find my Henry Kreis' (my paternal great grandfather) birthplace listed. I had already seen his birthplace given in several census documents as “St. Louis”, but I have learned one golden rule of genealogy – always try to substantiate facts about your ancestor with several documents.

I knew Irene had siblings, including a brother named Lawrence, from her mother’s divorce record. I went to and found a birth record for Lawrence Kreis. I learned several good pieces of information: the exact birth date of Lawrence, the address of the family at that time, corroboration of Henry’s birth place, and even Henry’s occupation (Teamster), all of which I would have missed if I had stopped my search for birth records when I could not find Irene’s.

Categories: research terms

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Software Programs that Give You Access to the US Census

A great software program to use to work with census documents is Heritage Quest. It covers all the censuses from 1790 through 1920. And it’s free to use at home through your local library. All you have to do is get a library card. Then from your home computer, go to your library website, click on “Research” tab and scroll down to "Heritage Quest".

The Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, WV

 I found a great tutorial on how to use Heritage Quest that the Buffalo Library created.

Another good program that covers the census and so much more is And the 1930 US Census is also included here. You can access this program through your local library but you must pay a fee to use it at home. Here is a site that describes what you can find on Ancestry:

One of my favorite sites is Like Ancestry, FamilySearch offers much more than access to census documents. Here is a site that describes what you can find on FamilySearch.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Researching the US Census

After you make your four-generation ancestor chart, in my case I could only go back to my grandparents when I made my first chart, what do you do next? Many people will tell you to begin interviewing your family. But back in 1999 I hadn’t yet unearthed more long-lost relatives besides my aunt and uncle.

The next place to go is the US Census. In many genealogy resource books, including Ann Carter Fleming’s The Organized Family Historian, we learn that “Census research should be very high, if not first, on the genealogical job list.” (Fleming, p. 115) I mean where else can you find such wonderful records of people providing answers to personal questions about themselves?

A census taker interviews a woman for the 1930 census with family members looking on. Photo courtesy of

Census Bureau clerks record vital statistics data collected during the 1920 census.
Photo courtesy of US Census Bureau:

Now the first step in studying the census is to become familiar with the form for each of the years the census was administered (starting with 1790 and continuing every ten years [except for 1890 which was lost in a fire]) as the information asked for changed or was arranged differently for most of the census years. A good place to see each census form from 1790 to 1930 is Chapter 7 "Census: The Records Count" in Ann Carter Fleming's book cited above. The forms are available for download on the CD that accompanies Ms. Fleming's book.

Family Tree Magazine offers these forms free on their website:

I have also read in many reference books that the family researcher should start with the present and go backwards. In census study this means that we start with the 1930 Census as it is the most recent (at leasuntil April 2012) census to be released for public use.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Starting with My Family Tree

When I first started looking at the resources I might need to learn more about my family, I had a shock. All of the older generation (grandparents on both sides) was gone. I knew of no other people in my immediate family who were interested in genealogy. I had no idea where my cousins even lived anymore. Any of this sounds familiar?

But I was determined to find out all that I could about my family. From my background in teaching and grants management, I knew a lot about research. I started reading genealogy how-to books. I was looking for a research plan – where to begin. Some years down the line, I came across a wonderful book by Ann Carter Fleming called The Organized Family Historian. I wish that I had had this book from the beginning. The name of the first chapter “Where Do I Start?” tells you that you have come to the right place to get grounded in your search. The first step, according to Ms. Fleming and other professionals in the field, is to create a four-step ancestor chart, starting with you and going back to your great-grandparents (p. 12, Fleming). That’s what I did, using a free form from About Genealogy,