Category: Genealogy

February 19th, 2013

5 Fantastic Resources for Finding Irish Ancestors

Close to ten million Irish have immigrated to other countries since the early eighteenth century, over half of them going toAmerica. Others moved toAustralia,New Zealand, theUnited Kingdom, andCanada. Some even ventured as far south toArgentina,Brazil,Mexico, andSouth Africa. This vast movement of the Irish has led to close to 80 million people globally claiming Irish ancestry. Following is a summary of the best resources for finding Irish ancestors.

Civil Registrations 

January 1, 1864 saw civil registration introduced to Ireland. Since then all births, deaths and marriages have been recorded, at least theoretically. Some events went unrecorded, especially in the early stages of civil registration and especially with country folk who might have needed to travel long distances to register. Many vital records do exist however, and they are a valuable source of genealogical information.

Irish birth, death, and marriage certificates can be obtained from the General Registers Office in Roscommon, while records for Northern Irelandthat were created after the separation can be found at the GRO Office in Belfast. has an extensive microfilm collection of Irish civil registers which can be ordered online.

Parish Records

Parish records generally contain information about baptisms and marriages. They can provide you with the date of a person’s baptism, the maiden name of their mother, and the names of sponsors or witnesses. Sometimes the family’s address is given, or at least the name of the area they came from, but not always. Marriage entries contain the names of the bride and groom, their witnesses and the marriage date.

Some parish records have been indexed and digitalized for the convenience of family historians. The National Library of Ireland has also microfilmed the majority and has made them available to the public at their location inDublin. InNorthern Ireland the Public Record Office has copies of the Catholic registers for its counties. Because they are not public records, Irish parish registers are not available online.

Land Commission Records

The Land Commission was developed to fix fair rents and settle disputes between landlords and tenants. An estimated six million documents are in its archives and they have been arranged by county and filed in volumes. The Commission was additionally entrusted with making loans to tenants who wished to purchase the farms on which they worked and lived. As you can imagine, this vast archive has the potential to yield a wealth of genealogical information.

The collection contains wills, deeds, mortgages, witness statements and sureties, as well as other documents containing information about the land involved. They date back to the 1600’s and can be found at the keeper of Records, Land Commission, Agriculture House, Kildare St, Dublin.

Poor Law Records

The Poor Law Act was passed in 1838 and wasIreland’s first statutory social service. It was incorporated to provide for the poorest and most destitute inIreland. Its workhouse records date back to the nineteenth century and are a rich source of information about both the poor and the wealthy middle class and gentry who “supported” them.

The main problem with workhouse records is that they haven’t been well maintained and are scattered throughout Irelandand kept in a variety of locations. The workhouse records of CountyMayoare housed at the National Library in Dublin, while those of the North and South Dublin Unions are kept in the national Archives. Those concerning Northern Irelandare better organised, all of them being centralised and deposited in the Public Record Office inBelfast. For other areas ofIreland check in the county libraries, while others are kept in county courthouses.

Griffith’s Valuation

Completed in 1865,Griffith’s Valuation is most likely the richest source of genealogical information regardingIrelandin the nineteenth century. The valuation is well documented, and contains incredibly detailed information.

Griffith’s Valuation can help you to find where your ancestor lived in nineteenth century Ireland, and also shed some light on their social status and economic standing. In Northern Irelandyou may find the valuation in the Public Record Office in Belfast, while in the Republicof Irelandit can be accessed in Dublin’s National Archives.

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January 11th, 2013

Nine Nifty New Years Resolutions for Genealogists

It’s 2013 and many of us have made our resolutions for the year and so far are sticking to them, right! This year I am making some genealogical resolutions, which you might want to consider as well. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the ancestor hunt that I forget about other important things. I have so many piles of notes strewn about, shoeboxes overflowing with photographs that aren’t labeled yet, and half finished courses that I haven’t seemed to be able to get quite through! And that’s just some of the stuff!

Yes, my genealogical life is a shambles, but I’ve made these nine New Years resolutions that I hope will take my genealogical research to the next level. I’m not suggesting that you need to do all nine; in fact you’re probably much more organized than I am! If there is an area you need to work on however, you’re more than likely to find it among my resolutions. Let’s make 2013 the year we get really serious about our genealogical research; get organized, focus, and improve our research skills!

Resolution #1 – Interview Relatives

Sometimes we spend too much time on the Internet or in other archives researching when the answer we seek is just an interview with a relative away. Some of our relatives are walking archives when it comes to information about our family. They are an often-overlooked resource that we should really consult more often. If you haven’t yet, get in touch with a relative (preferably an older one), and arrange an interview. Besides being informative, it might be fun as well. If you have interviewed most of your immediate family members, extend your search to include extended family, sometimes they have information we won’t find anywhere else.

Resolution #2 – Finish a Class (Or Take One if You Haven’t Yet)

I’m definitely going to finish one of the courses I started last year. I enjoyed learning new skills, and look forward to really knuckling down this year and learning as much as I can. No matter how long you’ve been practicing genealogy, there is always a new frontier emerging. If you haven’t taken a class yet, make this the year you do. Genealogical societies and libraries in your area will most likely have a variety available throughout the year. If you can’t find one in your area, there are many opportunities online, and many of them are free!

Resolution #3 – Interact More With Other Researchers

The old adage that two heads are better than one is especially true in genealogy. Team up with other people who are researching the same family name as you are. Historical and genealogical societies might even be able to introduce you to someone. Another way of becoming more involved with others is to help with transcriptions, there are never enough transcribers, and though it can be long tedious work, it is extremely rewarding. Besides the camaraderie you’ll share, you may also learn new skills, and imagine the pride you will have in helping to preserve vital historical documents.

Resolution #4 – Organize, Organize, Organize!

This is one I’m going to really concentrate on this year, as every good researcher should! Although many of us dread this aspect of our family history research, it really is of benefit in the long run. In fact, becoming better organized can help our research to become more focused and efficient. File those family group records in proper binders, and label those boxes! I know it can be overwhelming, but if you set aside just a little time each week, you’ll have it sorted in no time. And besides, there may always be the bonus of discovering new clues you hadn’t noticed or had overlooked before!

Resolution #5 – File Those Photos

This could fall under the previous resolution, but if you have as many pictures as I do you’ll understand it’s a separate project on its own! I have piles of family photos lying around or stored in boxes just waiting for me to label and file them. I’m going to digitize most of them, but I will still want to keep the originals in as good condition as possible. I may not have time to place all of them in scrapbooks, but I will definitely label and date them all before placing them in good quality plastic sleeves for storage.

Resolution #6 – Keep Up on Correspondence

Have you ever asked a question in a genealogy forum and then forgot to check back for an answer? I have, and it’s possible I missed out on some vital family data. I have also corresponded with other researchers by mail, but I rarely put my genealogical contacts in my address book. I rather have letters lying around with the addresses on the back of the envelope, some of which are illegible because they were torn when I opened the letter. This year I’m going to create a special address book with the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of all of my genealogical contacts along with a short description of what I am corresponding with them about. That way at a glance I’ll be able to determine whether I need to follow up or not.

Resolution # 7 – Get to Really Know My Ancestors

I’m going to learn more than names and dates this year; I’m going to study personalities. It is so easy to get caught up in the collection of data that we forget to enjoy the human aspect of genealogy. This is the real reward, getting to know our ancestors, what kind of people they were, who their friends were, what challenges they faced, and things like that. Take the time to digitally record any family stories you hear from relatives or discover during your research so that they are not lost forever. Getting to know our ancestors, really know them, is the reason we began our genealogical quest in the first place. Hold onto that passion and excitement you first felt when you discovered your first relative, but from now on take the time to treasure them and really get to know them.

Resolution# 8 – Share My Research More

Sharing what you find with others is one of the most rewarding aspects of genealogical research. People are always fascinated when I tell them what I’ve found, and always curious to know how I did. You might think you’re family are not so interested in your research, but you may just be surprised. Organize a portable, mini-family tree file that you can take with you when you visit relatives. Share old family photos with them and make copies if you can so they can keep one. Email is a great way to stay in touch with family members about your research, and you’d be surprised how many of your relatives will look forward to your latest update once you begin sharing your progress with them!

Resolution#9 – Help Others More

When I first began researching my family history so many genealogists were helpful to me. Sometimes I was completely lost and overwhelmed, but the patient, helping hands of many other researchers kept me going. Some of those who helped me were professional researchers, and when I told them I couldn’t afford to hire a pro I was met with a kind-hearted chuckle. This year I will return the favor as often as I can to as many budding genealogists as possible. One way to do this is to participate in forums, another to answer questions for mailing lists. By introducing newcomers to the kindness we received when we began, we encourage them to develop that same mindset for future generations.

So there you have it, my nine Genealogical New Years resolutions! I’m sure I could make more, but I have my work cut out with these. Hopefully you will get some ideas as to where you can improve your family history project. The point is to take this New Year and use it to develop skills and qualities that we haven’t yet. Don’t lose sight of why we do this however, and continue to enjoy the wonderful privilege we have of learning about our family’s heritage and sharing that fun with others. Happy New Year, and good luck in all of your genealogical endeavors for 2013!

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December 24th, 2012

Adding Aunts and Uncles to Your Family Tree Chart

Adding aunts and uncles to a Family Tree Chart can prove both difficult and confusing.  There is a simple solution however, and the key is to choose the correct type of Family Tree Chart.

Once you’ve collected all of the information on your family, it’s time to place your relatives in your family tree chart. Most people find it easy to begin, placing themselves, their parents, and grandparents in the chart, but get confused when it’s time to add aunt’s uncles, and cousin’s. Often they find there is no room to insert them and become frustrated. Many people give up at this stage, but there is no need to. Actually there is a very simple procedure for placing extended relatives in your family tree chart.

Use a Descendants Family Tree Chart

One problem many beginning genealogists have when it comes to adding aunts and uncles to a family tree is finding room for them in their already “completed” chart. The problem originates with using the wrong type of chart to begin with. Most people begin with what is known as a Pedigree chart, the most basic and well-known type of family tree format. The problem is that a pedigree chart provides no room for extended family, and is only useful for recording direct descendants of a single bloodline. This type of chart is also for a single person, beginning with them, their parents, grandparents, and so on. It extends outwards through the generations to gradually include ancestors.

The secret to placing extended relatives in your family tree is to use a Descendants chart. A Descendants family tree chart begins with the oldest known ancestor, and descends inwards towards the individual. The secret to successfully charting a Descendants family tree is to complete all of your research first, or at least as much as you can. There may always be one or two missing links, but this is easily overcome by leaving a space or two to add new descendants as you discover them. Once you’ve done as much research as you can and collected enough information for three or four generations or more, you can begin filling in your Descendants family tree.

How to Fill in Your Descendants Family Tree Chart

You begin your Descendants family tree with the oldest known relative you have. Place their name at the top of the page. If they have a spouse, place the name of the spouse to the right if it’s a female, to the left if it’s a male and connect the two with a horizontal line. Next you will add their children. This is done by extending a vertical line down from the center of the horizontal line connecting the couple above. At the end of the vertical line you then make another horizontal line extending outwards. From this horizontal line you will draw a vertical line downwards for each child. The eldest will be on the left, the youngest on the right.

If any of the children has a spouse, you place the spouse next to them, on the right if male, left if female, and connect them with a horizontal line. Don’t connect any spouse with the horizontal line connecting the siblings however, as this will give the impression that a brother and sister married. Next you will draw a vertical line downwards from any of the siblings and their spouses, and again at the end draw a horizontal line with vertical lines from that horizontal one to include any children they had. You will complete this procedure as you work downwards from your descendants family tree chart until you reach the last generation.

If you wish to try this out with some free online genealogy software, you can do so at Family Echo. You simply insert the names of parents, then their siblings and spouses if they have any. The software will then construct a family tree that will clearly demonstrate how yours should look. If you haven’t yet completed your ancestry research, use our free family tree resources to do so. If you have completed your research and are ready to begin composing your family tree chart, you can use one of our Free Printable Blank Family Tree Templates to get started now.

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December 17th, 2012

The Ongoing Importance of Ellis Island

Ellis Island officials estimate that approximately one in three Americans have ancestors who immigrated through the Ellis Islandsystem. There are however over two hundred million immigrants who arrived prior to and after Ellis island began operating or finally closed its doors. Because of this the Ellis Island Foundation is busily transforming itself into a more comprehensive National Museum of Immigration. Ellis Island falls under the authority of the National Park Service who is intent on publishing the fuller story of American immigration. The important family history research facility equips visitors with the latest multimedia and computer technology, printed matter, and professional help with investigating immigration histories and genealogical exploration and documentation.

The Foundation has dedicated twenty million dollars to the development of the museum, much of which is already open to the general public and those searching ancestors.  Over twenty thousand square feet of former office space is being utilized to house the new museum and its resources which tell the story of immigration intoAmerica dating from the sixteenth century to present day. The first phase opened in the fall of 2011, and covers the period from 1550 to the time whenEllis Island began its operation as an immigration center. The next phase will focus on the period beginning in 1924, and will hopefully open towards the end of 2012. This era represents a time when strict limitations were placed on foreign entry intoAmerica, and during this periodEllis Island served mainly as a detention center, especially during the immediate period after the Second World War. At that time the official opening of the museum will be celebrated with a formal ceremony.

What You’ll Find at the National Museum of Immigration

The exhibition space of the main building has been improved to include a digital database of immigrant photographs, searchable by name, which can be used to identify immigrant ancestors. The images are housed in an animated flag – red, white and blue – and as such the collection is entitled the Flag of Faces. The American Immigrant Wall of Honor is another popular attraction of the museum. Overlooking the New York Skyline and the statue if Liberty, it contains over seven hundred thousand names of immigrants, and as such is the longest wall of names in the world. The Family Immigration Center is designed specifically with genealogists in mind, and is where you can access the valuable passenger lists in which you might find your ancestor.

In the more than three decades thatEllis Islandoperated as an immigration center, around twelve million people passed through its gates. The arrival records of over twenty five million individuals have been digitized and are searchable online, making it an important genealogy resource that should never be taken for granted. The National Museum of Immigration is especially appreciated, as at some point during genealogical research one needs to understand a bit about the historical background of their ancestors. The museum makes this especially possible, and does so with aplomb and professionalism.

A Note on Searching Ellis Island Records Online

When you are searching passenger records at Ellis Islandthe following general concepts will help you to become familiar with using the index. If you understand how the index was created, it will be easier for you to search it. In the case of the Ellis Islandindex, records were transcribed from microfilm into the electronic database. This was all done by volunteers, and like any transcription process is prone to human error. The Ellis Island Foundation however has taken great steps to ensure the accuracy of their digital index. Keep in mind that misspelling may have also occurred in the original document, and even if spotted by a transcriber, instructions from the foundation were to preserve the integrity of the original document. Therefore, a misspelling on an original would be entered in the database the same way. Keep an eye out for misspellings such as Jhon for John or Willaim for William. They do occur, and the job of spotting such clues is left to individual researchers.

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December 3rd, 2012

Irish Directories to Enhance your Ancestor Hunt

So many of us have Irish ancestors, yet because of the many Irish records that have been lost or destroyed over the years, it can be difficult to trace our Irish family line. As such, those tracing their Irish ancestry must often look to secondary sources and alternative records to trace their ancestry. One such option is directories. When you have a general knowledge of where your Irish ancestors lived, city and county directories from the area may help. They can at least confirm if your ancestor lived in a place, and in some cases may provide more information than you might expect.

Like the telephone books of today, the city directories of our forefathers contained basic details about the people who lived in a particular area. These areas inIrelandare generally divided into towns, districts, cities and counties, and typically the directory from an area will at least identify a head of household and an address. Some directories included further information such as the names and ages of other occupants, along with the occupations of any who were employed.

Recently I came across some rare publications that I thought I would share with you. They are excellent resources for researchers of Irish ancestry, particularly those tracing relatives inCountyLouth, the area around Dundalk, and theDublinandLeinsterareas. Each is a valuable resource in its own right, and well worth investing in if you’re searching Irish ancestors. Below you’ll find a short review of each and a summary of what information you will find within.

Pigot’s Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1824, Leinster & Dublin Sections

This commercial directory is one of the earliest ever published in the Emerald Isle. It is quite comprehensive, and includes details of over 200 hundred urban hubs from around the country. It is organized first by province and then town, and contains details of individuals such as; every principal office holder, tradesmen, professionals, and gentry. It also lists every known establishment and organization in those areas at the time including; schools, churches, hotels, public institutions, and even local pubs. Accompanying that data is a description of every province and town in the directory, and is a very rare publication that would be well suited for any serious researcher’s personal armoury.

Tempest’s Jubilee Annual 1909

Directories of the Dundalkarea have been published by the Tempest group since the middle of the nineteenth century. Dundalk is the county town of CountyLouth, situated near the border with Northern Ireland. The Tempest’s Jubilee Annual was a once-off special edition of their regular directory which has been published every year since 1861. It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the companies operation, and as such includes a wealth of additional information that won’t be found anywhere else. As a highlight, it looks back on fifty years ofDundalk’s history, and captures the essence of the city in a series of articles that discuss religious issues and growth, educational developments, the establishment of rail services and local sports.

Of particular interest to family historians will be the biographies of over one hundred and twenty prominent citizens of Dundalk and other areas aroundCountyLouth, many of them accompanied by portraits of the person. There is also a comprehensive business and services directory covering all of Louth, as well as other towns such asDrogheda, Blackrock, Dunleer, and Newry in the north. The most detail is provided forDundalkthough, and provides detailed histories of both the town and surrounding county areas. If you’re a statistics person this directory won’t disappoint. There are over two thousand additional individuals listed with their personal information, making this an essential resource for researching the areas covered.

Bassett’s Louth Guide & Directory 1886

As you can see by the title, this is an even older publication, and is considered one of the most valuable resources for published for nineteenth century Louth. It is both a guide to the county and a directory, and includes details such as the names, addresses and occupations of over ten thousand residents of the area at that time. There is also a full colour map of 1886 Louth, a superb additional resource for genealogists.

As a guide the publication details the history, social structure, economy and geology of the area. The directory includes information on every town and village in the county, as well as the names and details of its prominent citizens such as those who held political office, professionals, merchants and tradesmen. Additionally there is an alphabetical listing of farmers and others who were not designated as having a particular trade.

Each village and town is described in detail, and a commentary is provided on its social structure, history, religion, and basic character of the area. Drogheda andDundalklife is especially illuminated, and additionally over fifty towns from outside the area are given a brief description. At the end of the book is an index containing place names, a list of county and local markets and fairs, and as a bonus there is a collection of historical commercial ads.

As I previously mentioned, these are rare and especially valuable resources of Irish ancestry. A Google search of any will however return a variety of places where they may be purchased online. You may also wish to check with a local historical or genealogical society or a local or national library where you may be able to access them for free. They are a great alternative to missing Irish records such as census records, and especially make a great gift for the researcher in your life. You may even wish to schedule a holiday in Ireland and search your ancestry for free in the County Louth Library!

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November 5th, 2012

Remember our Veterans – Canadian Veteran’s Week

Canadian Veteran’s Week begins every year on November 5th and runs to November 11th. This year there is a wealth of events being held across Canada to recognize the achievements and contributions our veterans have made over the years, and to honour those who gave their lives so that we could freely live our own. Veterans Affairs Canada is asking people to show appreciation for our military patriarchs with their actions rather than by their emotions this year. They have laid out what they call the “Remembrance Challenge”, and list a number of ways that we can demonstrate that appreciation. There are also a series of videos

One of the ways they suggest to show support and gratitude to our War vets is to listen to them talk about their experiences. This may not be possible for everyone, but it juggled my memory about several websites where you could listen to Canadian War Veterans speak of their experiences online. For those who may not be able to get to an event to listen to veterans speak in person, these sites are a great alternative. In fact there is a lot you can do online to meet the requirements of the remembrance challenge, and I will mention them as well in this Blog. First though, let me introduce you to some of the websites where you can hear our veterans speak of their wartime experiences, and then I’ll show you where you can show your appreciation online.

The first place is at Veterans Affairs Canada website itself, where over fifteen hundred hours of conversations with war vets have been recorded. On their Audio Archives page, you can listen to first hand accounts of individual soldier’s experiences in the First World War. Real life experiences of runners (messengers who kept communications with headquarters alive when signal lines were down), officers, medal winners, company clerks, even spies, can be heard and experienced. Listening to these accounts really drives home the sacrifices our veterans made, and the horrors and hardships they had to endure to preserve the freedom we enjoy today. There are also a series of videos available in their Multimedia Center entitled Heroes Remember, where you can listen to and watch veterans such as Mr. Marshall recount stories of loss and hardship, or the sadness veterans feel every Remembrance Day. In his own words;

“I enjoyed my stint in the army. I enjoyed it. It means everything to me. I sit there in that kitchen and I watch it and I think of all my friends who gave their lives and I think of all the other friends of mine who I soldiered with while I was over there, but mostly those. I lost a lot of friends over there. I lost a lot of friends over there. And I sit in the kitchen there by myself and I just, the tears just flow and I just can’t, I just can’t help it. And I’m sure that if they ever stop recognizing Remembrance Day, the populous would very soon forget about those fellows that lay in them cemeteries overseas there especially in France and Germany and Italy, Belgium, Holland, they’re all over there.”

It’s very moving stuff, but our veterans deserve our attention, and we all need to be reminded of just what they did for us during the World Wars. There is no doubt in my mind, that after hearing these touching stories, you will want to express your appreciation for their services. You can do so by visiting the Canada Remembers Facebook page and posting your sentiments on their wall. There is much more material on Veterans Affairs Canada website such as diaries and letters written by young soldiers. It is the very least we can do to honor their brave service and courageous sacrifice. We must never forget these honorable men who fought and gave their lives for our country, and for the world. However you choose to remember them, remind others of what this week represents, and help to keep the memories of one of our most treasured resources alive.

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October 29th, 2012

QR Codes – Shaping the Future of Genealogy

When I began this Blog I never dreamed I would one day be writing a technical piece on anything, let alone QR codes. In fact if you had asked me three months ago what a QR code, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I know Q&A and Q-tips, but QR codes? I hadn’t the foggiest – until I recently visited a local cemetery searching for tombstone inscriptions. I came across a particular headstone featuring what looked like some sort of encrypted Egyptian or alien coding. Coding it was, but neither anceient Egyptian nor alien. It was very modern, and obviously recently attached to the headstone. In fact I had seen something like this before, in the newspaper. You have probably seen one yourself without realizing it is called a QR code.

What is a QR code?

Besides appearing in newspaper ads, you may have also seen QR codes like the one pictured on movie posters, library shelves, or even restaurant windows. Now you can see them more and more on cemetery headstones; and it actually makes good genealogical sense to place them there. They are an excellent way to place a large amount of information in a tiny space.

QR stands for “quick response”, and they are designed to be read by modern cell phones. QR codes may contain text, geographical coordinates, links to urls and now genealogical data. They were originally designed for the automotive industry to track car parts, but are being constantly incorporated into many other industries and for storing personal information. QR codes are being used more and more on historical sites where it is not practical for instance to place a video screen. Instead the visitor can scan the code with their Smartphone, and access the video online from there. The downside is that if you don’t have a device equipped to read the code you can’t access the information.

Genealogical Uses for QR Codes 

Many genealogists are using QR codes to link to family trees by adding them to their websites, referring users to databases, and providing citations at the bottom of various documents. One of the most popular genealogical uses however is using them to provide additional information on headstones. Rather than have the entire family history displayed on a tombstone, families are providing a QR code with links to that family tree, website, or biographical information for the particular individual. The memorial information attached to the headstone might include pictures, obituaries, and even video clips of the person’s life.

The QR codes are placed on decorative plaques for the graves that they will adorn and are designed to make the memorial experience a richer one for families and friends. Although they are a useful way to share family histories, there are some limitations to using them. The obvious one is that not everybody will have the technology to access the information. But although your cell phone may not have internet access, you might still be able to take note of the website address where the information is held. That way you can visit the site from your own computer when you’re at home.

Are QR Codes Safe? 

Many people are sceptical of scanning QR codes as because they are coded, you can’t be sure where they will take you. There are of course risks of QR codes linking to malicious websites, though the risk of that happening in a cemetery or historical site is minimal. There are however malicious codes that can be attached over legitimate ones, and open up your sensitive data to unscrupulous criminals. They can be useful to genealogists, but like any digital technology, you should be aware that there is a risk when accessing them.

It is very likely that any headstones containing QR codes are safe. The case online may be different however, so make sure that any site you might scan them from is trusted by its other users. It is exciting that such technology can be used to enhance the genealogical experience however, and it can definitely protect tombstones from being damaged due to bad rubbing practices.

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October 15th, 2012

Formulating an Effective Family Timeline

Timelines are one of my favourite genealogy tools to create. They’re a great way to grasp your family history at a glance, and a convenient way to quickly share you family history with others. You may have seen timelines in your history books at school. They are usually used to show important historical dates in chronological order. In genealogy we use them to show important family events; births, deaths and marriages, even anniversaries and graduations from school, college or university. You can depict when a family member started a new job, or first opened the doors of your business. The options are endless, only dependant on your imagination and the type of events you wish to display.

Making a Genealogical Timeline

Genealogical timelines are a combination of the life events of your ancestors, local events, and historical events. Sometimes it’s possible to place our ancestors within world events such as the World Wars or natural disasters. Historical events could have also caused our ancestors to migrate as with the Great famine of Ireland. They can help us to put our family in historical context, as well as painting a complete picture of our family history. The following system can be used to create a family history timeline on your computer, or a handwritten one using our Free Downloadable Genealogy Timeline Template. It’s a simple two step process that will be both fun, and fulfilling; albeit a good bit of work!

Genealogy Timeline Step 1 – Gather Information

The first step to constructing your genealogy timeline is to gather as much information on your family as possible. You will want to locate where they lived on historical maps, and consider any important world events that took place in those areas. If you have trouble locating that information you can use surname databases to see geographical locations where your surname is concentrated. Census reports for that area may reveal much valuable information as to the identities of your ancestors, while local newspapers and obituaries may reveal even more.

Consult as many genealogical records as possible, and collect as much data on your family as possible. Church records, probate records, military records, BDM certificates and the like will provide you with more than enough events to include in your timeline. Especially of value are County Historical Records local Genealogical and Historical Societies. When consulting Historical or Genealogical Societies, you’ll get the best results if you have some knowledge of your ancestor. If not, they are more than happy to guide you as to where to look for that information.

Genealogy Timeline Step 2 – Putting it All Together

Once you’ve gathered as much data about your family as possible, you can begin filling in your timeline. A simple way is to begin with an A4 sized piece of blank paper. On the left side you will list the years, beginning with the date that is farthest back in time. In the middle of the page, create a column for the names of your ancestors. The farthest column to the right will list the local, world, or family event that your ancestor was involved in.

You can also use the same system to create a timeline for the life of specific ancestors. In this case you would list the year your relative was born in the far left column, and end with the date of their death. The middle column would depict the date of their life event, while the third column would list the event. If you choose, you can leave a bit of space in each line of the columns to add extra notes.

The Benefits of a Genealogical Timeline   

Your ancestors were affected by the events happening around them. World or local events could explain why they migrated, or chose to stay put. Be sure to add these important dates to your timeline, as they can explain at a glance certain decisions your ancestors might have made. There is no need to list events that didn’t affect them, but as you add the events that did, imagine that your ancestor was a part of a larger whole. This helps you to place your ancestor in both a historical context, and also illuminates their relationship with their community.

Elements of an Effective Timeline

To be sure you get the greatest benefit from your timeline, make sure it contains the following components:

  • The Date of the Event
  • The Name of the Event
  • The Location of the Event
  • Any Relevant Citations (Quotations or References)
  • Name of Your Ancestor
  • Age of Your Ancestor at the Time of the Event

Creating a timeline is an excellent way to get your feet wet with genealogical research You will become familiar with the different types of source that are available to genealogists, while learning the basic tricks and techniques of research. Always remember to verify any information you discover before placing it into your timeline, and most of all, remember to have fun while doing so. Good luck with your timeline, and Happy ancestor Hunting!

We have additional information on timelines Here.

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