Viewing Film Images on Familysearch.org

In 2017, Familysearch.org 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.

DNA and Dark Secrets – expanded comments

If your DNA results do not make sense, ask yourself these questions before you try to uncover the answers:

  • Do you need to know the answer?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a dark secret that may upset the family?
  • What will you do with the information once you know the answer?

Be prepared for bad news and dark secrets!

Finding answers to your DNA test results can change known relationships by uncovering the existence of previously unknown biological parents. You may immediately think of adoption as the cause for unknown parents, but researchers have also identified unwed mothers and infidelity as significant sources of DNA surprises. Another frequent reason for unknown parents would be the remarriage of a spouse after the other spouse dies young, leaving children. The new relationships may affect your parents, grandparents, or with earlier generations. Please remember, genealogists must respect the privacy of family members when uncovering “secrets” in documents and now DNA testing makes privacy issues even more critical because of the nature of the information revealed.

Suddenly finding out we have an unknown biological parent or grandparent in our family history will probably cause immediate emotional issues.

  • If they were not due to adoption, how did it occur?
  • How can I find the name of my unknown parent or ancestor?
  • Should I find out?

The search for the answers will be challenging if the problem was in an older generation because the documents probably do not exist, and people who knew may be dead.

Before you take a DNA test, try to understand the possible outcomes of a DNA test. After you submit your sample, be prepared for unexpected issues. Once you have your results, handle problematic information responsibly by responding discreetly.

Be sensitive to your family members. Please consider that some family members do not have to know, but some family members need to know. Everyone will react differently and be careful with who you tell and how you say it.

The only way to prevent the disclosure of problematic genealogical information is to avoid all genealogical research and DNA testing.

Lettin‘ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier ‘n puttin‘ it back in.

 

by Will Rogers

What about Dark Secrets?

If your DNA results do not make sense, ask yourself these questions before you try to uncover the answers:

  • Do you need to know the answer?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a dark secret that may upset the family?
  • What will you do with the information once you know the answer?

If you uncover a dark secret such as previously unknown illegitimate children, how will each family member react? How will telling your family members the details of a dark family secret affect your relationship with them? Do you need to reveal the secret? Can you tell some family members but not everyone?

Be sensitive to your family members. Everyone will react differently. Some people do not have to know. Some people need to know. Be careful with who you tell and how you say it.

Once the Cat Is Out of the Bag, the Cat will not want to get back into the Bag

 

Problems with Names

Finding the documents for your ancestors is thrilling. It may lead to an addiction to genealogy and family history. However, there is a challenge when their names are difficult to spell or pronounce. Another problem is interpreting the handwriting on the document.

The name on my grandfather’s manifest was correct but the indexer recorded with the wrong first four letters in the indexed record. Another set of grandparents dropped a few letters in their name once they arrived and this variation made the search very frustrating. I also had difficulty because first names were Americanized and I had to learn the Polish name that appeared on the manifest.

The myth of name changes

Many families believe immigration officials changed family names when the immigrants entered America. However, this is a myth. Officials usually recorded the names on passenger manifests based on official documents presented by the immigrant to the shipping line at the time of boarding. Changing their names would be illegal. Also, immigration stations were staffed with large numbers of translators to help ensure officials recorded accurately the information that was given by the immigrants. If families changed the spelling of their surnames, they did it after arrival, and this was usually to make it easier for the people around them to pronounce and write their name.

Name variations and spelling

Some instances of differences in names found on documents may have been caused when the recording person wrote the name phonetically. Immigrants may not have caught the misspelling of their name because the immigrant may have been illiterate. Also, the immigrant may have recognized their name written in the Cyrillic alphabet or Hebrew but did not know what the person wrote because he used the Latin alphabet.

Other problems were the given names found on documents. The immigrant may have preferred to use their middle name in their daily life, but official documents required their full Christian name. Another challenge we have is to identify the European spelling of the given names.

Searching

Remembering that documents may list your ancestor’s name as a variant should help you find your ancestor faster. Use the correct spelling first and if you cannot find them, use name variations and wildcards. First names are important in your search, and the record may list one of the variations of a given name. Sometimes it is best to use part of the given name with wildcards to reduce the problem with the given name variants. Research the spellings of given names for the countries of your ancestors and find books that provide surname variations

We are descendants of immigrants, and our ancestors contributed to the tremendous growth in America. The industrial growth in the 1900s could not have happened without the immigrants. Find the documents that add to their story to honor them and save for your future generations.

Be patient and remember to have fun looking for your family history.