It happens to all of us at some point in our research. Somebody isn't in the location we thought they lived in; there's no record of them being born or their death. Grandpa always told us we have Navajo ancestors. Interesting as I can't find them in southern Ontario. It's terribly inconvenient and horribly frustrating! It also becomes the most important thing we could ever hope to find. For some reason, the fact that we can't find what we believed we knew means there's likely something very interesting to learn, right?!
There are ways to try and find the information you're looking for. Sometimes it requires a lot of creative thinking and even more digging. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that you'll find what you're looking for. There is joy in continuing to try, though.
Remember, whatever you do, keep track of where you look and the results. You do NOT want to revisit the same thing over and over. You probably also don't want to call the same person over and over and take up their time. Suggestions for attacking the brick wall
- Go back and check your records again. It is surprising how often you can look at a document and still not glean every bit of information that it offers. If you've got everything on a software program, look at the piece of paper. It could be that there wasn't anywhere to type in some of information on the document.
- Look at family members. Maybe you can't find your great-great grandmother but you know more about her brother. Finding out about his life can lead you to information about the family - and maybe even your gr-gr-grandma.
- Spelling variations. It is truly wonderful how many people volunteer their time to transcribe records. Those wonderful people are not always good at reading crappy and/or old-style handwriting. Don't trust derivative records. Every step away from an original or primary source is another opportunity for error. That's one reason for spelling variations. The other is that, the further you go back in history, the less important consistent spelling was. Also, you never know who was chosen to (for example) gather the census records. He may not have been such a good speller and maybe whomever he was interviewing wasn't so great at it, either.
- Study the region in which they lived and find out about its history. See if that area has any local history resources that you can access. Look at libraries and archives, for example. Find out what brought people to that area and what changes have occurred over the years. Boundaries may have changed over the years, and you could be looking in the wrong county, for example.
- Genealogy associations/societies I know, I already listed it, but they are such great resources that it's worth its own spot in the list. The benefits to contacting a society or association are listed below.
- Local histories
- Local knowledge from people who have lived in the area
- People who are generally delighted to help
- Family studies
- Cemetery records
- Vital Statistics records (birth/christening, marriage, death/burial)
- Queries. Most societies allow a certain number of queries to be included in their publications.
- Photographs. This is not something I'm personally good at, but I know you can sometimes get a lot from a photo. Maybe there's a street sign or the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. This gives you concrete proof about when and where someone was.
- Jobs. Finding out about what your ancestor did for a living can provide a lot of information about their lives. If you're lucky, the company s/he worked for may have had their own publication. My Mom has a neighbour who used to work with my Dad's father. She had an Eatons journal with an article in it that included a reference to my grandfather. Weird but hurray, right?!?!
A Google search for 'genealogy brick walls' yields a lot of useful sites, blogs and articles. A very few of them are listed below. 
Derivative records are created from other things. You might have a list of individuals in the cemetery or a list of obituaries found in a publication. These lists are derived from other sources of information.
I've been diving in to my own family tree again. Something I don't always have time for when I'm busy doing client work! It's been quite fascinating and I managed to gather quite a few details about Dad's family.
I feel very fortunate that my family is interested in the research results. Although not everyone wants to do it themselves, at least there are many people with whom I can share my findings!
This leads me to wonder how to disseminate the information to lots of people. Dad's family is quite extensive. I just need to find a good, safe way to get it out there. I used Facebook to post one of the stories I found, but that just isn't a reliable storage and it certainly isn't long-term.
In a recent conversation, one of the other members of the Alberta Family Histories Society was telling me about on-line storage that can be used for posthumous storage of our collections. All it requires is other family members having access to the login name and password.
I did a bit of exploring and so far most of what I'm finding relates to uploading family trees for public and/or private access. I like this for a start. There's a decent article on About.com by Kimberly Powell that provides descriptions and links to 10 possibilities. Here is a link to the article, http://genealogy.about.com/od/publishing/tp/web_sites.htm
My decision on which one to use will be based on which one will protect our privacy IF we decide to share photos and details about living family members; cost; and protection of the data (i.e. can anyone change it). Regarding the latter, the longer I do research, the more I realize the importance of sources and citations. I don't want the reliability of the collection to be lost by well-intentioned family members. As I'm writing this last sentence, I realize it sounds harsh and kind of uppity, but in my own defence, I've spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on my family tree and I definitely am protective!
Today I read somewhere that it is two months until Christmas. This weekend we are expecting our first snowfall. The nights are chilly and I confess I've begun to think about Christmas cards and shopping for my nieces and nephews. That got me to thinking about sending the Christmas package to my siblings' families and a very special Christmas tradition between my sister and I.
Bless This House - Grandma's Tin
After our grandmother died and all the dust settled, there were a few mementoes that we kids were able to choose from. They weren’t the expensive pieces and they could easily have gone into a donation bin but we sifted through them and selected items that brought back
memories. Oddly enough, there was no overlap between what each of us selected until we got to one of Grandma’s cookie tins. It was the only thing that two of us really wanted.
My sister, Christine, and I both have wonderful memories of that tin –and the treats that Grandma made to go in it! We thought about what could make us both happy and found a way to share the tin. Each year at Christmas, we take turns sending it to each other in the Christmas package. Whichever of us receives it gets to keep it for the next year. We are
happy with our decision because we both get to enjoy Grandma’s tin and we have an additional benefit of carrying on a family tradition that spans five generations.
When Mom was growing up, her grandparents moved to the coast. Because they’d moved so far away, they sent a Christmas package every year and Mom still recalls the delight they felt when it arrived. We always send presents back and forth to the kids but Chris and I figured we’d add Grandma’s tin into the mix. It’s something for us to share every year, which is nice, but it’s also a way to encourage the continuation of our tradition and have an opportunity to share our family stories, too.
I believe it’s also a way to bring to life a woman we both loved very much. None of the kids were alive when she passed so they didn’t get to meet her in person. This tin, as beat up as it’s
getting, is a tangible connection they have to our Grandma, Mom, Grandma’s parents and my sister & I.
This year it’s my turn to send Grandma’s tin to my sister. As it is every year, it’ll be filled with treats both traditional and experimental. As I’m packing and as they are opening, we’ll also
be remembering the huge painted pine-cones and hand-sewn aprons that great-Grandma sent every year in the Christmas package that Mom and her siblings opened every year, too.
Side Views of Grandma's Tin
There are so many ways for us to share our photographs. The problem with photos is that there are never enough to go to everyone who wants them (or who may want them in the future!) and they can cost a lot to print. Here are 5 ways my family has used to share our image
collections electronically.1. Picasa Web Albums www.picasaweb.google.com
I’ve got a variety of my own albums on Picasa. It’s like having an electronic photo album that can be shared with whomever I want. My best friend, Patty, and I took a trip to England a number of years ago and we each took about a billion photos with our cameras. When we got back to our respective homes we both wanted a complete set. What I really appreciate about Picasa is that I can upload and organize my photos and add in descriptions or titles. The
album can be shared by a url address that I can email, or I can just keep them for myself. An added benefit is that I have a backup of my photos just in case something happened to my computer.2. A family web site
This is a new one for me. A friend and colleague told me that she’s created a web site for her family. I love the idea and have started one for my own family. In case you’re my family and you’re reading this, it isn’t live yet! We will be able to communicate with each other, share family stories and photographs. The site is password protected so no-one without a
password will be able to access it. I am using www.Weebly.com
to create the site. The
domain name (URL) cost me about ten bucks for the year. The downside is that, as
easy as I find Weebly to use, there is still a learning curve and it’s taking a while to upload the photo albums. The reason I’m using this instead of Picasa or Tumblr is that I want to encourage dialogue and photo sharing between families. As we have about 4 generations of computer-savvy aunts, uncles and cousins, this seems like the way to go.
My sister-in-law uses www.tumblr.com and it’s a great way to share stories and images. She sent us the link and told us the password for the site. We are spread out over Canada and the U.S. and with busy lives, it isn’t always easy to keep in touch by phone. This lets us check in to see what the family is up to.
| || |4. eBooks
Our family has a variety of personal books that we’ve created to share photos, recipes and family stories. Although I love this option, it is limiting in that you still only have a finite number of copies. I did a recipe book last year and printed a copy for each family. Each family has growing children who will hopefully someday want a copy. Rather than print another copy of the book, the program I used provided me with a pdf version of the book that I can share as many times as I want. The one I used was available from www.Blurb.com
On a bit of different note, www.DropBox.com
is more of a file-sharing option using cloud storage. Unlike the other options, this one doesn’t have an option for creating albums and such. On the other hand, I love it for just sharing photos between friends and family. You create a folder and then invite others to join. You are not required to share folders, but you can. I’ve used this to scan and share with family members some of the photos I’ve got from
Grandma. You should be careful, though, when copying files to DropBox folders. Because it sets up like a folder on your hard drive, you need to make sure to copy
and not move
the files. Once they are in the folder and you’ve invited others to it, they have equal access and could delete or move your images, too. On the positive side, when my last laptop started dying, I was able to back it up to DropBox and subsequently move all my files to the new one.
You will note that I have not included Facebook. While I do sometimes share photos and I certainly like to look at them, I have not reached a comfort level with FaceBook’s policies. That may be because they do seem to change with some regularity. I’ve also heard rumours that once an image is posted on FB, they then have the right to use the photos as they deem fit. I don’t know if it’s true but the possibility gives me pause for thought. Also, unless you are pretty comfortable updating the settings, you may be sharing your photos with the global community and not just your family!
Frances Amos (nee Delderfield).
I love to share the stories about our family with my nieces and nephews. The challenge I’ve found is that they don’t always believe they’ll find anything interesting. This year, I was able to visit my brother in California and my other brother in central Manitoba. During both Wilfrid George and Adeline May White (nee Edmondson)
visits, I was able to share family stories but I was surprised at how the opportunities arose. My sister’s kids had a school assignment about family trees, so there was another chance.
One of my nephews is very young and I got the chance to babysit one night while I was there. That meant I got to tell a bedtime story. As both of my brothers are extraordinary story-tellers, they don’t always use books so I was feeling quite a bit of pressure! Then I realized I didn’t need to make up a story, I could just use part of our family history. I told him about Jabez and his family, including his daughter Frances (pictured above), and how they used to live in England which was far, far away and then they came to Canada on a big ship that took a long time to sail. I went on about the people but you get the point.
The other opportunity came when one of my nieces, now in college, asked me about the people in the photographs they had in their living room. These photos were the ones from our grandparents’ home so they have a bit of age to them. On one hand, it’s fantastic that we all know the images but sometimes that makes it easy to forget to tell the stories about the people in them.
It just so happened that I’d done a bit more research about that family earlier in the year and there were some pretty interesting details to share. As my niece is older, she was interested in more details than had been my 4 year old nephew at story-time. When my niece asked the question, the other kids were also around and we ended up having a really good discussion about these ancestors.
The photos are of the kids’ great-great-grandparents, Wilfrid George White and his wife, Adeline May Edmondson. They appear to be in their 30’s which would put the date of the
photos sometime in the first decade of the 20thcentury. I was able to tie in stories about their lives by referencing places and events that the kids recognize. It seemed like a good idea to relate the people back to something known (in the hopes that the stories would stick!).
When my sister called me a few weeks ago, the kids wanted to know if we’re related to anyone famous. I wracked my brain and then recalled a letter that my grandmother had in her collection from an uncle. He had written a little bit about the history of the family and indicated that we were somehow descended from Bloody Queen Mary. I’ve always found that interesting because if Mary, then why wouldn’t you say Henry VIII? Unfortunately, the writer did not cite any of his sources. A vivid reminder to us all to keep track of our sources!
These days, I think it is much easier to record conversations. Whereas in the past we had letters and tape recorders, today we have recorders in the form of pens that record audio – some of them write AND record. Because I seem to be having more and more conversations about the family history, I picked up the LiveScribe pen so I can record them. That way I’ll have the information, as well as a recording of the people’s voices.
If you want to check out LiveScribe or other recording pens, search for Smart Pens and see if one might be right for you. Here is a link to a review of a variety of Smart Pens, http://digital-pen-review.toptenreviews.com/
I'll admit it. My memory for dates is terrible. Tell me a story about your life and I'll probably remember it for decades but do not ask me to remember your birthday or anniversary.
One tool I use is a perpetual calendar. It's hanging on my office wall so I see it every day. The only slight snag is I still have to turn the page at the beginning of the month.
I like this option because I just use the same calendar year after year. I plan on creating one for family members that references all of our birthdates and anniversaries, including the year of the event. This will be a gift (so everyone act surprised when you open your Christmas presents!)
There are all kinds of options for making your own calendar if you want something specific to the current (or next) calendar year. I have not yet found a template for a perpetual calendar but it should be simple enough to create in Word or in Excel and then take it in to an office supply store to get it printed and bound.
I really like the practice of creating calendars for specific years, too. They provide a snapshot in time. My sister has created them in past years and I've kept them as pseud0-photo albums showing the growth of the family and where they live.
Another example of an annual calendar is in the form of fund-raisers. Below is an example of a hockey fund-raiser calendar. There is a lot of information that you could infer from it, including where the family lived, as well as an indication of an important element of the childs' lives.
You can create your own perpetual calendar to include whichever special occasions you want. They don't usually have a whole lot of writing room, but I suppose if you were keeping track of dates relating to ancestors then you could have one for births, baptisms, anniversaries and/or death. An alternative would also be to have one for different lineages.
If you'd like to create your own annual calendar, you have many, many options. Family Tree Maker has a publication option for calendars and you can specify the year, as well as who and what data is included. Check your local photo and camera supply store web sites (Blacks.ca and Walmartphotocentre.ca for example) as they often have on-line programs for creating the calendars.
Stanley and Stanley Herbert Daines during WWI.
My husband’s family has a long line of military service. As a surprise Christmas present, I created a shadow box
commemorating his grandfather, Stanley Herbert Daines.
A shadow box is an opportunity to tell a
bit of a story about someone’s life. It’s also one way to display memorabilia that isn’t just photographs. I still recall the images of ancestors from around the house when I was growing up but it didn’t engage me or give me any ideas about the person in the photo.
5 Tips for creating your shadow box
- Before you purchase the shadow box, gather everything together and try different layouts on your table. This way you'll get a good idea of the dimensions that will best suit your project.
- Decide how you will set the items into your display. Consider glue, thread, adhesive tape, or dimensional adhesives (3-D effect). Whichever you choose, use archival quality materials so the items won't get damaged. In the case of photographs, you could use a copy.
- Set items at different depths within the shadow box add to add more visual interest. If some items have a backing (pins or buttons, for example), insert Styrofoam behind the fabric or paper. Make small slices in the fabric to allow the backing through so the fabric doesn't pull.
- Before you put it all together on the back board, MAKE SURE it is facing up! I made this mistake and it was a pain to re-set everything.
- Carefully clean the frame and glass to remove dust and debris and make sure it's dry before you put it all together.
In the shadow box I created, I used a heavy fabric over slim Styrofoam and a combination of dimensional adhesives, thread and glue to hold everything together. The photo is set onto contrasting colours of card stock paper that is raised from the background fabric using dimensional adhesive; the rope is threaded on in a co-ordinating colour of thread and I sewed all of the buttons on to the fabric, too, as well as setting them into the Styrofoam. The pins were probably the easiest because they got pinned to the fabric. That said, it was a bit fussy to get everything aligned!
This was my first layout attempt with one fabric option. There is a spot where I was going to include the details of his military career.
A sample. This is from Pinterest, citing Bradley's Art and Frame.com
Finished project on a shelf in my husband's home office. His family's military service is something he's proud of.
Another sample. This is also from Pinterest, citing thingsorganizedneatly.tumblr.com
Why? Why would I need to do all that typing when I’ve got all this paper? That
might be the question you’re asking yourself. The answer is pretty simple when
you’re considering how to share your bounty with others. Having your information
stored electronically makes it so easy to share. There are other reasons, too,
not the least of which is ease of use and the organizational benefits, but I’m
concentrating on why it’s so handy for sharing.
Once your information is stored electronically, there is so much you can do with
it to share with others. I think the most common thing that people think of is
charts of family trees. Most of us have seen the tree that starts with a single
name at the top or bottom of the page and then branch out to the parents,
grandparents, etc, etc. While these can be really lovely compositions, the
amount of information included generally relates to how much room there is on
the page. Depending on the genealogy software you use, these can be created
right at your computer. From there, you can print the chart or send it out
electronically to your family. I created a 6’x4’ chart for a client here in
Calgary and took it to a local printing company. The cost was very reasonable
and we were all thrilled with how it turned out.
You can also include images in your databases which is truly amazing. If you An iPad showing a Heredis screen shot.
choose, you could include images of the people on your tree. If you’re not
printing out a family tree, maybe you want to create a report about a person and
his or her descendants, including the details
of their lives and pictures
accrued during their lifetimes. Once this information is in your database, the
options for creating and sharing are profound.
Another way to share is using Apps available for your iPhone, iPad or tablet,
etc. I’ve tried 2 so far. GedView,
which costs about $5 ($3.99 US when I
last checked) and Heredis, which is free.
I like them
both. I love the fact that I can pop my iPad in my purse and be able to head
over to Mom’s to show here what I’ve found. A great side-benefit of the visit is
that quite often it jogs her memory and I hear all these stories. That leads me
into a whole new blog about LiveScribe, but I’ll save that for another day!
A final note... Once you have added your information into your database, it
can serve as a back-up for your paper
records. Of course, as with anything
stored electronically, remember to back up your work and store the back-up
One way to share our family history stories is to actually tell the story of a person's life. Sir Cecil Edward Denny, Baronet was the subject of a research project for a client of mine. His story really touched me and I try to share it when I can. While he isn't part of my family, he is part of someone's. Courtesy of the RCMP Museum and Archives in Regina, SK. 1981.58.2
I love this photo of Sir Cecil Edward Denny. It reminds me so much of my grandfather, Emerson James White who used to tell us the most amazing stories, some of which may actually have some truth to them!
A little further down the page is a copy of an article I wrote that describes Denny's life.
Denny's life is recorded in a variety of places. The details were gathered from a variety of resources including: the RCMP Museum (Regina); the Glenbow Archives (Calgary); Library and Archives Canada (Ottawa); and an online resource called Newspaperarchives.com.
The article below was written by me for the journal, The Chinook, of the Alberta Family Histories Society here in Calgary.
I worry about protecting the documents and photographs in my collection. At any given point in time, we hear about natural disasters that wipe out people’s homes and belongings. We all put a lot of effort into our family histories and want to avoid the pain of losing it! Digitizing is an excellent back-up tool and is also a great option for sharing.
I’m thinking about this today because of a comment I read on-line this morning wondering about the value of digitizing records. In the back of my mind is the flooding we experienced here in southern Alberta last month - the worst in our recorded history. Downtown Calgary, an oil and gas city of well over a million people was shut down for over a week because the water threaded its way through the streets and buildings. Basements, where, let’s face it, many of us store our items, were flooded to the ceilings. If it isn’t water, maybe it’s a twister or a hurricane. So what can we do to protect our precious records and documents?
Digitizing is one very clear option. It is easily accessible and can be relatively inexpensive and anyone can do it. Scanning documents and images is a pretty straightforward process. All you need is a computer and a scanner. Sometimes, all you need is the scanner! There are companies who will do it for you if you don’t want or are unable to scan it yourself.
Once you’ve got your digital collection, there are quite a few options for sharing it. Cloud storage has become increasingly popular and ranges from free to nominal fees depending on how much space you need. You can store the media on CDs or DVDs burned from your
computer. If this is your preferred method, then remember to store it somewhere else! An option I’ve just started hearing about gives clients the option to store their records on-line in Cloud Storage and include an option for heirs to inherit access to it.
Future Access to Your Records
Something to consider when relying on electronic storage options is will you be able to access the materials in future years or decades? Paper has a proven track record of lasting for millennia. On the other hand, if you use a computer you know that the technology changes every couple of years and pretty soon something you stored 15 years ago is gone because there is no software and/or hardware to retrieve the information stored. 3½” disks are still around but do you see any drives to read them?
The other side of this coin is the information stored on the media. The software changes pretty regularly, too. I’ve got files stored in QuattroPro from 15 years ago that I just can’t open.
The contents are essentially gone. What I have noticed though, is that some file formats that are read by many software programs do seem to remain accessible for decades. I am thinking of txt, pdf, tif, jpg, bmp as specific examples. I think because these formats are generic, they tend to stick around longer. Text (txt) files don’t have any formatting so are readable by many programs. Used by a variety of programs, pdf files, too, are (Adobe and NitroPro, for example) and are usually like snapshots of text. The rest are image files like those that you get from a digital camera or your phone.
For genealogists, there is a very important file type, GEDCom. This is like a .txt file for genealogy software and it allows us to store our genealogy data from one software program into a format that can be opened up by other genealogy programs. If you’re using an iPad or
tablet, then you can download Apps to read GEDComs from your computer. This is a great tool if you’re out with family and want to show them your work!