Libraries are closed, what can we do?

Research is important but with most research facilities shutting down, it gives us some time to compile and organize our notes to begin writing our family history. Our research will never be done, so we should begin writing our family history as soon as possible. It does not have to be a finished narrative but summaries of what we have for each individual will organize our information. Putting my information in bullet points always helped me get started. The summaries will put our research in a better format that we can show to family members and doing this now will help us do better research later. If you are frustrated with research facilities closed, start your summaries and begin getting organized. Also, have fun putting life into your ancestors.

International Tracing Service (ITS) – Where can we find the stories for Post-WW II Displaced Persons?

Did your parents or grandparents immigrate to the United States shortly after WW II? If so, they probably told you stories of staying in one or more of the refugee camps at the end of the war. The Allied forces established these camps to handle the masses of displaced persons coming from the German work camps or death camps or who fled their homes to escape communist rule.

Did your ancestors tell you the details of their lives during and after the war, or were they reluctant to talk about their experiences? The International Tracing Service had the task of saving the documents of the refugees and gives us hope to complete their stories.

The work of ITS began in 1943 when the Headquarters of the Allied Forces asked the British Red Cross to set up a registration and tracing service for missing persons. ITS grew out of the Central Tracing Bureau, which was approved on February 15, 1944. The bureau initially worked out of London but was moved from there to Versailles, then to Frankfort am Main, and then to its current location in Bad Arolsen, Germany. On July 1, 1947, the International Refugee Organization (ICRC) took over administration of the bureau on July 1, 1947, and changed the name of the bureau to International Tracing Service on January 1, 1948.

ITS collects and controls the documents, information, and research on Nazi persecution, forced labor, and displaced persons. The archive in Bad Arolsen contains about 30 million records from concentration camps, details of forced labor, and files on displaced persons. The archives have been accessible to researchers since 2007. Requests for information from individuals or descendants can be made by mail or on the ITS website (Home Page – In 2015, ITS began adding records to an online database and today has over two million records in an online searchable collection of documents. Family historians should search the online archive at to confirm their ancestors are in the archive. However, the results will show one or two documents but not the complete file. Use the inquiry page ( to request the entire file. Be patient because the average delivery time for the files is about four months and can take as long as eleven months.

Just published my latest Book: “Czech and Slovak Immigration to America.”

When did your Czech or Slovak ancestors immigrate, where did they leave, why did they leave, how did they get here? This book is a wonderful resource. The author hopes you find the answer to some of these questions in this book. This book discusses the history of their homeland and gives some insights into possible answers to the questions about your ancestors’ immigration.

The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by your immigrants for departure from Europe and the ports where they arrived. Also covered are details of life in steerage during the voyage and the process of examination of the immigrants to gain admittance to the United States.

Available on

Viewing Film Images on

In 2017, changed our access to their film catalog that they have for genealogical records. They made digital images for the records on most of their films and allowed us to view them on computers from various locations.

We can determine where we can view the digital image by finding the film in the film catalog, and looking at the icon on the far right will tell us where to view the film. If there is a roll of film, we can view the film only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. If there is a small camera-shaped icon on the far right, we can view the film online. If there is a key over the camera, we cannot view the image at our present location. Clicking on the camera icon will tell us where to view the digital images of the records. If the key is missing above the camera, we can click on the key icon, and the digital images of the records will appear. If the key is above the icon, one of three error messages will appear when we click on the camera icon:

  1. To view these images, do one of the following: Access the site at a family history center or Affiliated Library.
  2. To view these images, do one of the following: Access the site at a family history center.
  3. You may be able to view this image by visiting one of our partners’ sites or the legal record custodian (fees may apply). Note this replaces an earlier error message that indicated that the image could be viewed at a Family History Center but only to Church Members. (Basically, this option means that you can view the images only on the films in Salt Lake City.)

My strategy is first to try to view the film from home. If available from home, my research will progress faster because this is the most convenient option.  If the key is above the camera icon, click on the icon to see where you need to go to view the digital images for the film and plan your trip.

I try to visit affiliated libraries because they usually have hours and locations that are more convenient. Before visiting a Family History Center, I review their hours and site instructions very carefully because some are open only by appointment. I also have the phone number for the Family Center with me, because entry to the building may be a challenge.

My New Book – DNA and Genealogy Research: Simplified

My new book, “DNA and Genealogy Research: Simplified,” is now available. If you want to unlock your DNA results, my book will be a great starting point.

Even though I am not a genetic scientist or an M.D., I felt I had to write about the method I used to solve some of the mysteries in my family tree. I am one of the many who find it challenging to educate myself with the science of DNA and just wanted to work on our family history. The book explains my methods using non-scientific terms and does not discuss Chromosome browsers, haplogroups, or SNPs.

I had a brick wall, and I used my genealogical skills and traditional sources with my DNA results to solve the mystery. DNA is a powerful tool, and I learned to combine it with other genealogical sources without becoming a genetic scientist.

I hated writing, but writing Family History is my Passion

In school, I hated writing, but I love writing about family history. It is one of my passions, but to be readable by my family, I have developed a method that seems to work.

I start by asking myself, What’s my topic? Why is it important? Then I write down the basic facts and stories that I have. Next, I go back to refine it which also usually leads to more research to fill in the missing details to answer my questions.

I try to have the first sentence or paragraph of the finished product reveal something important to the topic, so I grab the reader’s attention. I try to think about why my grandchildren or great-grandchildren would want to read my story. After my opening, the facts and other content need to flow to tell the story I want to tell. The information should flow in a logical order that slowly tells my story. At the end, I summarize my point or transition to the next topic.

The steps above are my method, but it is not from a writing course. If you are finding it hard to get started, you need just to start writing and do the best you can. Keep it simple and use your words and style. If you don’t write it down, who will?

Short Passage from one of my Family Histories – Peter Whittinghill

I write a lot about saving your family history in narratives. Below is an example from one of my families. The passage begins with “Sometime in 1795.” I added information at the beginning and end to give you some context for the sample portion of the total story.

Peter Whittinghill’s move to Kentucky

(Please note that the focus of this passage is about Peter Whittinghill’s migration from Virginia to Kentucky. Details of his life I included before and after his move to Kentucky are summaries of longer narratives)

 Peter Whittinghill was my 4th great-grandfather. He was born in 1752 in Germany and arrived in Virginia in 1770 as a redemptioner (German term similar to indentured servant). He paid for his passage by becoming an apprentice to a mill-wright and married his daughter Catherine Gabbert in 1775. He served in the Virginia militia during the American Revolution and in 1781, he purchased 59 acres along the North Fork of the James River (now called the Maury River) in Rockbridge County where he built a grist mill.

In 1783, the end of the Revolutionary War curtailed trade with Britain and led to a sharp decline in the economy in America immediately following the war. However, the vast lands west of the Appalachians were now available to settlers brave enough to relocate there. Some of the lands were given out in grants to Revolutionary War veterans in payment for their services, and more land was available for purchase at a low cost. These circumstances resulted in a massive movement of settlers to the western territories in the decades following the war.

Sometime in 1795 or early 1796, Peter decided he would move his family west of the Appalachian Mountains. On April 5, 1796, Peter sold his land in Rockbridge for fifty pounds current money of Virginia to Benjamin Hart, who was his brother-in-law. After the sale of his land in April of 1796, Peter and his family began the trek to Kentucky. Family tradition believes that Peter packed a set of grinding stones in the wagons along with some of their furniture, tools, stores, and other needed items. Oxen usually pulled the wagons, and the settlers also brought some livestock such as cattle and pigs. A few of the males rode horses, but most of the travelers walked the trail, herded the livestock, and helped by pushing or pulling the wagons when needed.

Peter probably traveled with members of the Gabbert family and other friends from Rockbridge County. The Gabberts and many surnames found in Rockbridge County records are also in records where Peter lived in Kentucky. The group had two paths they could take. One was directly west from Amherst County through the Appalachian Mountains to the New River near present-day Green Sulphur Springs. The second and most probable path started by going overland 110 miles south from Amherst to the New River near Blacksburg using the Great Valley Road.

At Blacksburg, they found the trail along the banks of the New River. They traveled north on the trace that earlier settlers had cut along its banks from the old Indian Trails. The New River is very shallow with many rapids and is not navigable so that is why rafts are not used. The New River eventually merges with the Kanawha River which flows into the Ohio River. Before the New River reaches the Kanawha, it winds through a narrow gorge for about twenty miles. At the gorge, the trace leaves the banks of the river and follows the bluffs above the river and then descends the slopes of Cotton Hill to rejoin the river below Kanawha Falls. The Kanawha River flows relatively flat to the Ohio River with the mountains above on both sides of its banks. The trip took 3-4 weeks and required setting up many campsites along the banks of the river. Children gathered firewood while the women set up the cooking fires and cooked the meals. The men hunted game during the day for their meals. If they encountered bad weather, they erected lean-tos to wait-out the rain.

At Gallipolis on the Ohio River, the travelers build rafts to float down the Ohio River 120 miles to Maysville, Kentucky. The family then trekked 70 miles overland south to Fayette County.

After traveling about 550 miles through the wilderness or on the Ohio River, they stopped for a short time in Fayette County, Kentucky, which is present-day Lexington. Peter and Catherine probably spent the fall of 1797 looking for land. They selected land in Mercer County, Kentucky which is about 15-20 miles west of Lexington. Peter and Catherine purchased their land in Mercer County, Kentucky on January 26, 1798, from John Stillwell. The deed lists that Stillwell sold the property to Peter Whittinghill of Fayette County, Kentucky. The purchase price was 100 pounds of Kentucky money. Peter ran his grist-mill and farmed in Mercer County for fifteen years before he sold his land and moved 130 miles west to Ohio County, Kentucky. Family tradition believes Peter also moved the grinding stones. His sons continued to use the millstones in their gristmills after Peter advanced to old-age. He died at age 92 in 1844.