The Genealogy Journey

The newbie genealogist's resource for books, mags, databases, and -- of course -- any free research stuff to be found on the Internet.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ivy, Daffodils, and Wild Onions in January (Courtesy of a 164-Year-Old Cemetery)

When I was a little girl growing up in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, we frequently drove past a cemetery set against the slope of a hill off of Highway 61. My older brother and I would always hold our breath. Now I can’t remember why, what the superstition was.

In fact, today I walked all over a cemetery without holding my breath once! Neither did my older son, who is seven-and-a-half. He and his brother have never caught on to that superstition. But back to the story ...

We were there to help tear out and bag some ivy that had gotten out of hand in a neglected historic cemetery in DeKalb County, Georgia. (For more information on this hard-working organization and the stunning progress they’ve made over the past several years, visit the Historic Sylvester Cemetery Foundation on the Web.)

I had decided to volunteer today, on Martin Luther King’s Day, because for several years the Hands On Atlanta organization has orchestrated a massive volunteering day around Atlanta for MLK Day. On the spur of the moment, I volunteered myself and my son, and the Sylvester Cemetery project caught my eye because I had blogged on cemetery preservation before. It was time to put my money where my mouth is. Or is that put my muscle where my mouth is? (I also had the ulterior motive of setting an example of community service – the non-court-ordered kind, of course – for my son.)

So, for two-and-a-half hours, I pulled ivy. (My son did some pulling interspersed with heavy snacking from the bag of food I’d brought and a bit of exploring.) The 164-year-old cemetery was in great shape; more evidence of the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation’s hard work. I was amused to find daffodils in full bloom – in mid-January! – poking up between the graves. I also dug out handfuls of wild onions from under the layers of ivy. Although I hadn’t known what to expect when I volunteered for this project, just the sight of the daffodils alone was worth the trip. I only wish I had brought my camera.

Oh … my son found two snails (slugs?) and a quarter that looked 100 years old – but after cleaning proved to be only six years old. When I saw what exposure to the elements had done to that quarter, I was amazed the cemetery stones were still standing. Actually, many of them weren’t, and the Sylvester Cemetery Foundation is working on that, too. They have pictures of some of the gravestones they’ve repaired.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Glimpse of Family Link Tracker

I think it’s time to blog on what I’ve been working on the past six months. I started out thinking that it would be fun to write a genealogy ebook. But as I did research for the ebook, I realized that it was really annoying keeping track of all the links I was finding. Then I realized that since I was married to a software engineer (Aren’t you just green with jealousy?), I could solve that problem. Or rather, I could tell my husband how to solve my problem.

Thus the idea for Family Link Tracker was born. Right now we’re still in beta testing. In fact, if you want to be a beta tester, let me know. I’m looking for a few folks to install it on their computer (Windows 98 or NT only, please) and let me know what they think. You can contact me at info (at) Of course you’ll receive a free copy of the software, not to mention the genealogy ebook and articles I’m giving away as bonuses when it’s purchased.

Here are ten reasons why I think Family Link Tracker is a great thing if you do a lot of online genealogy research:

  1. You can save your links in one place.

  2. You can sort your links with one mouse click.

  3. You can categorize your links by subject matter (for example: Ireland, Database, Blogs, etc.).

  4. You can create your own categories to organize your links.

  5. If you come across an interesting link while doing online research, just a click of the mouse will copy and paste the link into Family Link Tracker for later research.

  6. You can set up an alarm to remind you to revisit a Web site. This is great for those genealogical sites that are constantly adding new databases.

  7. You can keep track of links you don’t want to revisit by rating them from 1 – 10. How annoying is it to keep revisiting lousy Web sites?

  8. Store additional information about the link (such as a description and other comments) with the link so you’ll never wonder what it is you’re clicking on.

  9. Keep track of the last time you visited a Web site; Family Link Tracker inserts the “Last Visit” date next to the link.

  10. You can export your links to HTML or a .txt file to send to other researchers.

So if you’re sick of keeping track of your links with the Favorites feature in Internet Explorer or the Bookmarks feature in Mozilla Firefox, you might want to give Family Link Tracker a try.

I’ll provide more information as I get closer to the official release.

~Mary Kaye

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Historic Family Papers and Photos: Store Them Right or Consider Donating Them

One of the genealogy forums I belong to recently talked about storing family papers. Someone stressed that you should not keep family papers in office-quality plastic sleeves. The ink will transfer to the plastic. In addition, the cheap plastic sleeves are not ph-balanced and will cause the paper to deteriorate faster.

You’ll need to spend a little bit more for archival quality plastic sleeves, but it’s worth it in the long run.

I was curious about other methods for storing family papers and photos, so I did a little searching on the ‘net:

Links for Storing Your Family Papers and Photos

Who knows better how to archive family papers and photos better than the U.S. National Archives?

Here’s a helpful article from The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies on preserving family papers:

This link has a list of companies that supply archival material, as well as additional links of interest:

Donating Your Family Papers

You can also donate your family papers to a repository (such as an archive, historical society, or special collections library). This article discussed the benefits of doing so:

From my online search, it looks like many states have their own archival group. To find one for your state or country, google this:

State/County donate historic family papers

...where “state/country” is the name of your state or country. The “site: .org” will only return results from non-profit groups – those most likely to store and preserve historic documents.

I hope this has been helpful!

~Mary Kaye

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saving Graves

When I die, I want to be cremated, and I certainly don’t want to be put into a jar on a mantel. (Must remember to tell husband this.) I prefer the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” route – so just scatter my remains someplace pretty. (But it must be my version of pretty. Must remember to tell husband that Las Vegas isn’t pretty.)

Although I wouldn’t like to rest in peace in a graveyard, I do find them to be interesting places. I like the variety of names and inscriptions, although there’s always a tinge of sadness to this exploration.

Graveyards are common on every street corner and church, and unfortunately we treat them that way. From what I’ve heard on genealogy forums, many historic graveyards are neglected as well. And although this is a generalization and I hate generalizations, I think the neglect is due to our transient society. The families simply aren’t there to tend the graves.

On the way to a networking event the other night, I passed through an area I haven’t seen in a couple of years and marveled at all the growth. (If you live in or around Atlanta, you know development is ever-present.) I also passed by a graveyard sandwiched between two small strips of stores. I wondered how long it would be there, and what argument would be used to relocate it since it was now on “valuable property.”

If you’re interested in preserving a graveyard, I suggest googling in your U.S. state or country and “saving graves.” Or, you can go to their main Web site at They also have an interesting-looking library at

~Mary Kaye

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Resources to Locate Black Sheep Ancestors

Black sheep ancestors can range from those who commit basic thievery to those who commit heinous murders. My own family has a black sheep ancestor – I suspect most families do. However, it can be difficult to trace these individuals because family members don’t want to talk about them. Furthermore, you need to consider whether including detailed information on a black sheep ancestor is:

- Based on fact.
- Going to hurt family members if included.

For example, you may have proof that a black sheep ancestor was part of your family (a birth certificate, for example). This is based on fact and can be included in the family tree. But including information on any crimes the ancestor committed serves no purpose to the family tree, might hurt others in your family, and should not be included. However, you can keep the information about the black sheep ancestor in your files; just refrain from publishing them until all involved are deceased.

For resources and information on black sheep ancestors, see the following Web sites:

Blacksheep Ancestors

What It Is: Prison records, insane asylum records, articles, and biographies of famous black sheep ancestors. Also has a link to a black sheep ancestor Yahoo mailing list.


Cyndi’s List on Prisons, Prisoners, and Outlaws

What It Is: Cyndi’s List has over 100 links, divided by country, that are related to black sheep ancestors.

International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists

What It Is: A mailing list to help locate black sheep ancestors.

~Mary Kaye

Friday, September 29, 2006

Family History Writing Contests: Are You Up to the Challenge? If Not, You Can Always Take a Class!

I was reading Megan Smolenyak’s blog on RootsWorld and she mentioned a writing contest for genealogists sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society. And no, you don’t have to be from Southern California to enter – anyone in the world can enter as long as they have a juicy story to tell. But hurry, because entries are accepted from Nov. 1 up to Dec. 31, 2006.

After checking that out, I did a search on Google for more such contests. I also found one on The National Genealogical Society (it’s only open to NGS members).

The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (try to say that in one breath!) also has an annual contest, but the deadline has already passed for 2006. Still, it's not too early to think about entering for 2007. And yes, you do have to be a member of ISFHWE to enter.

During the contest research, I stumbled across the Education category on Cyndi’s List and realized there were classes on how to write about your family history or genealogy:

- Fundamentals of Life Stories Writing

- Biography, Memoir, and Family History Writing

If you’re more interested in just getting the family history basics down on paper (not interested in the creative aspect of it) then check out this free email course.

I’ve taken a few online classes before and enjoyed them. Online classes are convenient and can give you something to look forward to besides the mindless Web surfing. However, you do have to do the assignments on time, or you’ll get behind and want to quit the whole thing. (And if my inner fuddy-duddy nerd spoke out too loudly just there -- well, tough!)

~Mary Kaye

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Label Digital Family Photos with New (Free!) FotoTagger Software

Before I begin, I’d like to offer the standard "lapsed blog" apology:

I can’t believe it’s been three months! When I started this blog I thought I’d write every day. I’m really sorry. I’ll try to do better.

Now that that’s over with, I can talk about a neat little software tool for annotating (attaching text tags to) photographs. Genealogists can use this to label:

- The names of people in an old family photo. (This is a great way to share old family pictures with relations in different parts of the country or world.)

- The location of landmarks in a landscape or overhead photo.

- The scanned-in image of a source document (Source documents text isn’t always readable because of quality or handwriting. You can interpret the document by annotating each entry on it.)

Even better … it’s free! I downloaded it myself today to make sure it was all on the up and up. Furthermore, you won’t be bothered by pop-ups or ads. The software developer is interested in making this software part of the open source code community. (As I understand it – or rather, don’t understand but a part of it – open source software is a whole different animal from the typical “build software – sell for massive profit margin” business model. But I won’t pretend to know any more about it than that. Suffice to say this software didn’t destroy my laptop.)

My dad tediously scanned in all of our old family photos, so I grabbed a couple of my favorites and played with them in FotoTagger. Here’s one result (click on it to open it in its own window):

My grandmother, Emma Jean Hunter, in the late 1930s. We don t know who this cute guy is! Look at his two-piece bathing suit! It s a posed picture, but they look pretty comfortable with each other!
FTMy grandmother, Emma Jean Hunter, in the late 1930s.
We don\'t know who this cute guy is!

If you upload your pictures to Blogger or Flickr (a place to store and share your pictures), others can hide/show the annotations you’ve added. But if you email or upload the FotoTagger image, you have to decide if you’re going to merge the annotations into the original digital photo. In that case, others would see the annotations, but they’d permanently be part of the image and they wouldn’t be able to use the hide/show feature.

It appears that if you save the image with the FotoTagger annotations and then open the image in software program that doesn’t support FotoTagger, the annotations just don’t appear and the photo looks like the original version. However, just to be safe, I would save your original photo under a different name *before* you start experimenting. Here’s another photograph from the same time period. Doesn’t it look like they’re having a great time?

Here s the mystery man again. Doesn t this picture seem so carefree? Same bathing suit. Different dress. Notice their reflection in the water.Is this a leaky canoe, or what?
FTHere\'s the mystery man again. Doesn\'t this picture seem so carefree?

Hope you have fun this Labor Day weekend. And if you end up downloading FotoTagger at, make sure to share your results with your family!

~Mary Kaye