Saturday, July 23, 2011

Real Life Horror Connection to Family History

Old newspapers are a treasure trove of genealogy gems for the family historian.  The Chronicling America free online newspaper collection is one I turn to regularly.  Today I unearthed a 100 year old article that provided insight into one of my ancestors person passions.

My family history research has revealed that my Grandma Burkett adored the "picture shows." She meticulously documented all the moving pictures she went to see starting back in the Silent Film era.  Those pages outlining her visits to the now historic California Theater led me to give silent films a whirl and now I'm hooked!

Last week my husband Bill and I went to see a Buster Keaton double feature at the renovated Stanford Theater complete with the mighty Wurlitzer organ masterfully played by Dennis James. We were floored by the antics Keaton pulled off, some of them absolutely hair raising in their danger and split second timing.

100 years ago today on July 23, 1911 the New York Tribune ran a full page feature declaring "Sometimes It's a Real Horror That the Film Presents for Your Gaze." After reading this article I'll be taking a much closer look at the expressions that cross the faces of the silent stars as they race across the screen.

Old newspapers are an invaluable genealogy source for folks tracing their family tree, and this week the Library of Congress updated Chronicling America to include newspapers from 3 new states added to the program in 2010 and additional coverage for 1836-1859.

New Mexico, Tennessee, and Vermont are now included with 22 other states and the District of Columbia in Chronicling America's almost 4 million pages of historic newspaper pages, published between 1836 and 1922. 

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member and you'll get access to my 1 hour recorded webinar on Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors from Old Newspapers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Genealogy Serendipity Never Tasted So Good!

I gave a presentation on Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of the Non-Genealogists in Your Family at a local genealogical society, and I gave an example of some items I had found on Ebay from my husband’s Larson family.  Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners have heard me mention in the past that the Larsons hailed from Winthrop Minnesota, and owned a hardware store and lumber business there for many years.

While I was taking questions toward the end of the presentation a woman named Harriet in the front raised her hand and said she was sure that she had a cookbook from Winthrop Minnesota in her collection of books at home.
Now of course you have to keep in mind that Winthrop is a small town. I mean it's about 1 square mile and the population hovers somewhere around 1300.

So I was pretty surprised to have someone in Pleasanton, California telling me that she had a cookbook from this little town that dated back to the 1940s!

And sure enough Harriett followed up with me by email, asked for my address and told me that the book “looks a little worn but all of the pages are there. I hope it can be of some use to you. My sister taught either first grade or kindergarten there during WW2 “ and that’s how it came in to her possession."

And Harriett was a woman of her word because about a week later the cookbook was in my mailbox.

It’s amazing to me how just putting it out there and mentioning real people in my own research led to this book making it’s way to me.

But the genealogical serendipity didn’t end there. Not only did my husband’s ancestors contribute recipes to this little community cookbook, which of course I was thrilled to find – but there was a recipe in there that I had been in search of for over 25 years.

You see, when Bill and I got married, he shared his fond memories of a Sour Cream Cookie his grandmother used to make. 

I’m an avid baker, so I checked with his mom to see if she had the recipe. No luck. And over the years I have tried to find a recipe for sour cream cookies in an attempt to recreate them. Every time I found one I whipped up a batch, and Bill would take a bite and shake his head saying they’re good, but they aren’t like grandmas.

So the first thing I looked for when I received the Winthrop Cookbook, from the town where Bill’s grandma was born, was a recipe for sour cream cookies.  Sure enough, there it was!

The recipe wasn’t contributed by Bill’s grandma, but as you can imagine, particularly in a small town like Winthrop, recipes were swapped and handed down, so I wasn’t deterred that it was submitted by a Larson neighbor.

I immediately baked a batch, served them up to Bill, and his eyes lit up! He took a bite, and was ecstatic to once again be tasting Grandma’s Sour Cream Cookies!
A small victory but a thrilling one none the less!

I emailed Harriet and told her the good news and thanked her profusely. I got a reply from her husband George. He writes:

"I thought I would add a little amusement to the coincidence of the Sour Cream cookies. My father, George Anderson, Sr., was a salesman for American Steel and Wire, subsidiary of U. S. Steel, from the 1920s to the 1960s, traveling to every hardware store and lumber yard in southern Minnesota to sell fence, posts, nails etc. I don't have any record of it, but I'm sure he would have called on your family's hardware store in Winthrop. He knew all of his customers by first name, no doubt your in-laws included."

Genealogy Serendipty never tasted so good!
Oh, and in case anyone else out there is searching for the famous Sour Cream Cookie recipe, here it is.(image left)

Update: 1940 Census Enumeration District Maps Now Available

Hot off the press and on the heels of my post yesterday, Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub announce an update on the 1940 census:


The National Archives (NARA) has recently uploaded the 1940 Enumeration District (ED) maps to their website. These ED maps will be very useful for searching rural and small urban areas.

The maps can be located using NARA's Archival Research Catalog (ARC) at . The ARC search form isn't the easiest to use, so Steve Morse has produced a simpler search form for rapidly getting to these maps. The new utility entitled: "Viewing 1940 ED Maps in One Step" is at

We have revised our tutorial/quiz at to reflect this new locational resource for the upcoming 1940 census.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Genealogists Can Prep for the 1940 Census Release

Genealogy records are about to expand online.  It’s still about 9 months away, but in the time it takes to bring a new descendant into the world the National Archives will be delivering the 1940 US Population Schedules to the public. There are a couple of guys who have been on the forefront of this event: none other than Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub. (You'll remember hearing from Joel from his past appearance on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.)

Of course family historians are chomping at the bit to dig into the 1940 census even though there won’t be an index when it’s first released. However, the guys have put out a press release about what you can do now to get ready to search:

“It will not be name indexed, so it will be necessary to do an address search in order to find families. Address searching involves knowing the ED (enumeration district) in which the address is located.. The National Archives (NARA) earlier this year indicated they had plans to make available in 2011 the 1940 ED maps of cities and counties, and ED descriptions, but their recent move to consider having a 3rd party host all the images may have appreciably set back this timetable.

The only website that currently has location tools for the 1940 census is the Steve Morse One Step site. There are several such tools there, and it could be overwhelming to figure out which tool to use when. There is a tutorial that attempts to clarify it and an extensive FAQ.

We are announcing the opening of another educational utility to help people learn about the different 1940 locational search tools on the One Step site, and information about the 1940 census itself. It is in the form of a quiz, and should help many, many genealogists quickly learn how to search an unindexed census by location. The new utility is called "How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step". Not only is it informative, we hope it is entertaining.”

Entertaining it is – at least to those of us passionate about family history! Now you can get started preparing to get the most out of  the 1940 population schedules right away.

There's another way to prep for the big release. Learn more about the 1940 enumeration process by watching the National Archives YouTube channel's four short videos created by the US Census Bureau prior to 1940. These films were used to train enumerators on their general duties and responsibilities, as well as the correct procedures for filling out the 1940 census.

Though family historian tend to focus on the population schedule, there were several different schedules created and the films describe the main ones including the population, agriculture, and housing schedules. (Learn more about the various census schedules by listening to Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Episode 10 featuring Curt Witcher.)

You’ll also learn more about the background of the census and the reasons behind the questions that were asked. And it’s the reasons behind the questions that shed even more light on what the priorities were back at that time and clues as to what life was like.

The films also cover the duties of the enumerators, highlighting the three major principles they were instructed to follow: accuracy, complete coverage, and confidential answers.

You can watch the first film, The 1940 Census Introduction here and then check out the 1940 census playlist at the national Archives channel at Youtube.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Barriers Broken with Family Tree University's Summer 2011 Virtual Conference

I'm excited to be a part of this innovative new conference that really breaks down the barriers to conference attendance.  I'll be teaching a brand new presentation on searching for common surnames with Google (and surnames that double as common words in the English language - I've got solutions for you!) Here are all the details from Family Tree University...

CINCINNATI, July 5, 2011—For genealogists who find themselves too busy or too cash-strapped to travel for conferences this year—or who just want more learning opportunities—Family Tree University's first Virtual Conference will be August 19-21. Learn more and register at:

"We're creating a genealogy conference experience that's accessible to everyone," says Family Tree University publisher/editorial director Allison Stacy. "All you need to participate is a computer and web connection, so physical limitations, travel costs and scheduling conflicts don't have to get in the way."
Registrants who purchase a three-day pass to the conference will have access to:

• 15 half-hour video classes that can also be downloaded to watch later

• Bonus videos exclusive to the conference

• Live chats and message board discussions with experts

• A "swag bag" of freebies from

Session topics will include:

• Build Your Research Toolbox with Thomas MacEntee

• Digital Preservation for the 21st Century with Sunny Jane Morton

• Finding Your East European Ancestors' Village with Lisa A. Alzo

• German Newspapers in America with James M. Beidler

• Google Surname Search Secrets with Lisa Louise Cooke

• Making Sense of Pre-1850 Censuses with Maureen A. Taylor

• Twitter for Genealogists with Nancy Hendrickson
See the full program here