Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review of Advanced Research Tools: Land Records

Advanced Research Tools: Land Records

When working to solve brick walls in my own family tree, I have often come to find that if my ancestors left behind nothing else, they made a point to leave records of their land. Therefore, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to immerse myself in "Advanced Research Tools: Land Records" at the 2016 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Coordinated by instructors Richard Sayre and Pamela Boyer Sayre, with additional instruction provided by Judy G. Russell and Angela Packer McGhie, this five-day course was a stellar educational experience.

As a long-time lover of land records interested in delving deeper, I was particularly interested in learning more about state land states as well as the fine points of military bounty land warrants and homestead applications. With sessions ranging from the Federal Land Division and State Land States to Private Land Claims, Land Entry Papers, Land Ownership Maps, Deed Platting, and, yes, Homesteads and Military Bounty Lands, not to mention several others, this course more than delivered. A look at "the law of the land" with Judy G. Russell provided an excellent overview of the different land records and legal terminology we would encounter throughout the week, and I came away with new inspiration for my own research as well as a wealth of information about available resources both online and off.

One of the most unexpectedly rewarding sessions for me was an introduction to tract books by Angela Packer McGhie. Within a tract book can be found information about each section of land in the public domain, including the names of those who either purchased or claimed land, the dates of their transactions, and even, often the case for homesteads, information about claims that were canceled before patent. As a (hopeful) eventual BCG candidate, I am drawn to lesser-known resources such as these that offer a more complete look at an ancestor's life, and using the information gleaned from this session, within a matter of minutes I was able to locate a digitized tract book listing an ancestor's relinquished homestead. A later session with Richard Sayre answered my questions about obtaining this file, and in his discussion of homesteads, he drove home the point, "Reasonably exhaustive research in the public land states would include an examination of canceled claims."

What was also especially helpful to me was hands-on experience with DeedMapper in a computer lab session at the Family History Library. If you've ever wondered how to make sense of a state-land description involving rocks and trees as landmarks and measurements in poles, the deed platting capabilities of this software could be of great value. The opportunity to become acquainted with other mapping resources, including HistoryGeo, one of my personal favorites, was eye opening, as was exploring the capabilities of Google Earth and the ability to place historic maps onto a modern landscape in order to identify the precise location of an ancestor's land. The Sayres made an effort to ensure that their instruction in the lab was easy to follow.

Although individual homework was not assigned in "Advanced Research Tools: Land Records," group project assignments were made on Monday with short presentations following on Friday. In the interim, groups of about six could coordinate the division of labor as they saw fit and meet as frequently or infrequently as they liked in order to solve the assigned land-related research question. This was an effective way to piece together knowledge gained from different sessions throughout the week in order to thoroughly explore a variety of complex problems.

"Land genealogy is equally as important as people genealogy," said Pamela Boyer Sayre in her final session of the week, and after exploring the wide range of land records available and the diverse information contained within them, I wholeheartedly agree. In addition to the overall high-quality educational experience, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy offers numerous social and networking opportunities as well as the chance to spend time researching at the nearby Family History Library. It is an excellent choice for those who would like to immerse themselves in the study of a particular topic at a genealogical institute, and I look forward to attending again.

Melanie Frick, MLS, holds a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University and has attended the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is the editor of the APG eNews, volunteers as a proofreader of the NGS Magazine, and serves on the board of the NextGen Genealogy Network. She also writes at Homestead Genealogical Research. An Iowa native with deep roots in the Midwest, Melanie lives in Southern California

Friday, February 12, 2016

SLIG 2016 Review: Solving Problems Like A Professional

This is part of my ongoing series featuring guest authors who have agreed to review one of the courses offered at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I am excited to to have these friends share their perspective on the institute and the education they received. This one is written by Mike Bronner on the newest SLIG course offered in 2016. 

SLIG 2016 In Review: Solving Problems Like A Professional

Instructors: Michael G. Hait, CG; Catherine Becker Wiest Desmarais, CG; Paul K. Graham, AG, CG; Melanie D. Holtz, CG.

                                     Paul Graham, Michael Hait, Melanie Holtz, Catherine Desmarais

Initial Expectations

I think most of those attending Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) each year have a difficult task given to us. We are asked to choose only one of the many courses offered each year. SLIG 2016 was no different. When registration opened that Saturday morning last June I had 3 courses on the top of my list:
·         Beginning Genetic Genealogy (Blaine T. Bettinger, JD, PhD)
·         Solving Problems Like A Professional (Michael G. Hait, CG)
·         Writing A Quality Family Narrative (John Philip Colletta, PhD, FUGA)
As you can see, each course was scratching a different itch. My focus was on establishing a solid foundation for genealogical research built on methodology.
From the description it appeared geared to professionals, or those considering becoming one. Specifically, I was looking forward to learning more on being a self-employed genealogist:
·         research projects management strategies
·         workflow optimization
·         client research reporting
·         project planning
I felt this would compliment the other methodology courses I had already taken.
As always, it was a long 6 months between registration and class-time. But once SLIG started, it would go by all-to-fast.

Course Topics

The course topics actually read like a client report outline. (I hadn’t noticed this until going over the syllabus when I got back from SLIG. Recognizing class arrangement can tell a lot about a course.)
·         defining the research question
·         review previous research
·         planning first steps of research
·         research strategies
·         document analysis
·         indirect and negative evidence
·         information correlation
·         conflict resolution
·         reporting conclusions
·         planning next steps

Course Strengths

The Genealogy Standards (GS) provide a near-complete framework outlining requirements for producing quality research. Every class in this course re-iterated the underlying fundamentals that the GS provides.
Each of our instructors made a clear effort to allow for questions and discussion in each class. That alone makes any course worthwhile.
During the week-long course we received three homework assignments. Each walked us through steps in creating a research report of our own choosing. (Finally time to work on our own families!) These were due the following morning, on which we would get feedback at the end of the course. On Friday we split up into discussion groups with each of our instructors. There we had the opportunity to discuss our work before hearing the instructor’s feedback.
This was such a powerful and motivating tool. It gives insight into different thought processes and procedures, letting you draw on experiences from others. I look forward to other courses implementing this type of interaction. (This was the first time I experienced effective group work at SLIG. The key component was that each group had an instructor at its center.)

Course Weaknesses

There were some technical and organizational hiccups, but nothing that impacted the positive experience.
 For some reason they thought me certifiable.

Final Thoughts

Looking back on the experience now, I would like to thank and credit our instructors. Thoughtful and meticulous planning resulted in a great course experience. A lot of effort went into class organization, making sure the homework was relevant, and tying everything together at the end.
I could argue that it didn’t quite match up with my expectations. And perhaps that much of the material was not new to me, but I feel that is beside the point.
I came out of that class having learned valuable lessons that apply to my work. It provided an experience that I can draw on for future clients. That is what’s fundamentally important.
Yet, I realize now that my explicit focus on genealogical research methodology is coming to a close. If much of the content of a course is familiar, it reminds us that new horizons await discovery. (Law of diminishing returns, and all that.)
Should this course be offered in the future, I would recommend it to anyone who feels they need to hone their report-writing skills.
SLIG 2016 was my most enjoyable SLIG experience yet. I also met many new people, saw old SLIG-buddies from previous years, and made use of the Family History Library (FHL). Now that SLIG 2016 is behind us, we all await Registration Day.
See you next year, SLIG! I miss you already.
Mike Bronner (@mikebronner on Twitter) is a free-lance translator who runs GeneaLabs in Los Angeles with his wife Myelene. Besides German-English translation services specializing in old German print and handwriting, they also provide custom web development solutions.

@mikebronner should link to: 
GeneaLabs should link to:  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

$500 Scholarship Available for the Gen-Fed Institute

Are you interested in attending thGenealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed)? Are you an experienced researcher holding either a paid or volunteer position in the genealogical community? There is a $500 scholarship available and you may be the lucky person to win it. NIGRAA is still accepting applications, but time is short as the deadline is February 15th. The scholarship application can be found at

The Genealogical Institute on Federal Records is held at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and provides in-depth instruction on how to use federal records for genealogical research. This includes military, federal land, immigration, court and other federal records. For more information on the institute visit

The scholarship covers full tuition for the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records, ticket to the alumni dinner; and partial travel, hotel, and meal costs. The application will ask you to list the name of the organization you work or volunteer for, and explain how attending the Institute would benefit the work you do for the genealogical community. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Registration for GRIP Opens Wednesday

Registration will be opening for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh for the 2016 summer sessions on two separate dates:

Wednesday, February 10 at Noon EST for the six courses to be held June 26 – July 1, 2016.
Wednesday, March 2 at Noon EST for the seven courses to be held July 17-22, 2016.

More details can be found on the GRIP registration page.

Courses June 26 – July 1, 2016:

Mastering Genealogical Documentation 
Thomas W. Jones PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

German Research Resources
F. Warren Bittner, CG, and Baerbel Johnson, AG

Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age 
Denise May Levenick, MA

Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy for the 21st Century 
Catherine B. W. Desmarais, CG, Kelvin Meyers, Michael Ramage, J.D., CG

Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State 
Sharon Cook MacInnes, Ph.D. and Michael D. Lacopo, D.V.M.

Women and Children First! Research Methods for the Hidden Members of the Family
Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL

Courses held July 17-22, 2016:

Advanced Research Methods 
Thomas W Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

Advanced Genetic Genealogy 
CeCe Moore

From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write Proof Arguments 
Kimberly Powell & Harold Henderson, CG

Diving Deeper into New England: Advanced Strategies for Success 
D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS

Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper 
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA

Practical Genetic Genealogy 
Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL

Resources and Strategies for Researching Your Italian Ancestors 
Melanie D. Holtz, CG

Studying the Art of Citation

GPS Element #2 – Source Citations

This is part of my ongoing series on Educational Preparation for BCG Certification. It is not limited to those interested in certification, but provides ideas for any interested genealogist. There are links to the other posts in the series at the bottom of this article.

To understand the second element of the GPS, “complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item,” I recommend the following:

Informal Study Options

1If you only do one thing, it should be:

Read chapter 2 on “Fundamentals of Citation” in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).

This chapter explains that “citation is an art, not a science.” It also provides the purpose, format and common practices of creating citations for a wide variety of sources. It will help you understand source citation, and make the practice of crafting citations easier. 

This book is available from Genealogical Publishing Company or Amazon.

2. If you have finished #1 then you are ready to move on.

Elizabeth Shown Mills has provided many resources for helping us learn to craft citations. Now that you have read chapter 2 in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, you may as well browse the rest of the book. Notice that there are not only QuickCheck Models for many types of citations, but also background information on each type of source and details on what you would need to include in the citation.

3. One of the best resources available online is

Elizabeth Shown Mills shares a variety of resources on this website, including:

Evidence Explained Forums – a place for you to ask questions on citation issues, evidence analysis issues, and record usage and interpretation. You should read the archives for answers to many of your questions, or questions you did not know you had.

Evidence Explained QuickLessons -  brief lessons on a variety of source, analysis and citation topics. Here are a few that are relevant to studying source citation:

       QuickTips – the blog at Start with these posts:
            Citations: How Much Is Enough?

4. Read chapter 4 of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013). This chapter on source citations gives a five-part model for creating citations, and several figures with examples of citations created using the model. There are also fifteen exercises to pick apart and create citations for practice.

5. Review chapter 2 on “Standards for Documenting” in Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Nashville: Ancestry, 2014). This chapter contains eight standards for citations including purposes, scope, elements, and format. Standard five provides an easy to remember model of who, what, when, where and wherein as elements of a citation.

Formal Learning Activities:

6. If you are an auditory learner, you might like the following recorded presentations from the 2014 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) national conference:

     by Elizabeth Shown Mills
     Why should citing sources cause angst or obsession? Learning a few basic rules lets us apply a
     common-sense approach that avoids both frustration and overkill.

     by Thomas W. Jones
     Learn how to document a family history, five characteristics of complete and accurate citations, 
     and a simplified format for citing most sources, both physical and digital.

7. If you have completed all of the above, and still want more, then you might like a full week of “Mastering the Art of Genealogical Documentationwith Thomas W. Jones at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh in June 2016. 

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

SLIG: Intermediate U.S. Records and Research, Part II

Over the next few weeks I will be posting reviews of the courses offered at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I am excited to feature guest authors, as friends who attended each course share their perspective on the institute and the education they received.

SLIG: Intermediate U.S. Records and Research, Part II
by Anne Irvine Savo

As part of my ProGen study group, I created an education plan and set goals for myself to build my career as a professional genealogist. One of the goals was to attend at least one institute each year. After looking into SLIG, GRIP, and IGHR, I decided that SLIG was the best choice for me. SLIG offered several courses I was interested in, was held at a time of year that was convenient for me, and had the added benefit of being in Salt Lake City, close to the Family History Library. 

Since this was my first institute, I was unsure of my skill level and felt an intermediate level course would be a good place to start. I chose the U.S. Records and Research course, hoping to expand my knowledge of resources in areas where I hadn’t done much work before. My personal research has been concentrated in Pennsylvania, Scotland, and Germany. As a researcher based in Connecticut, I have experience with New England records, but that still leaves an awful of country left to cover. While this course is the second part of a two-part course, either section can be taken first.

Our instructors were Paula Stuart-Warren, Josh Taylor, and Debbie Mieszala. Some of the topics we covered were: Clustering and Maximizing Online Searches; Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Research; Census Records–Beyond the Basics: Non-Population and Special Schedules; Passport Applications; Lessons and Hints from Public Directories; and Finding Family Gems in Manuscript Repositories and Special Collections. We spent time in the computer lab at the Family History Library exploring some of the online resources we learned about in our lectures. We also had opportunities to bring our own research problems and discuss them with our instructors in a one-on-one consultation.

But it we didn’t just learn from our instructors. When an unusual record was used as an example, a classmate gave the class an introduction to the history of Eclectic Medicine. In addition to our lectures, the class divided up for a group project, which gave us a good chance to get know our classmates and learn from them as well as our instructors. Each of us brought a different skill set and approach to the task. Each group was allowed to choose the direction of their project, and on our last day, we regrouped to discuss our findings.

SLIG also offers several evening events. Sunday night there was a welcome reception with door prizes and light refreshments. On Monday, David McDonald gave an excellent plenary talk and had us all “Thinking Genealogically.” Wednesday was SLIG Night at the FHL. Participants could sign up for consultations or attend lectures, or just gather with other attendees for research and collaboration. All of these are included with your registration fee. Also included with your fee was the Friday night banquet, which featured a moving talk, “Suffer the Little Children,” by keynote speaker Judy Russell. I was excited to win one of the prizes at the banquet, a free course from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR). I’m looking forward to expanding my education plan with this unexpected opportunity. And, of course, another highlight on Friday is the announcement of the course lineup for the following year. Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to go back next year!
* * * * * * *

Anne Irvine Savo is a Connecticut-based genealogist and lineage society junkie. She holds an MA in history from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. She’s currently enrolled in ProGen 26, and is a member of the Association for Professional Genealogists. This was her first SLIG, but it won’t be her last!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

This is part of my ongoing series on Educational Preparation for BCG Certification. It is not limited to those interested in certification, but provides ideas for any interested genealogist. There are links to the other articles in this series at the bottom of this post.

GPS Element #1: Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

To understand “reasonably exhaustive research” you may want to study what that phrase means, and all the record types it includes.

Informal study options:

1. Study chapter 3 on “GPS Element 1: Thorough Research” in Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).  
  • Note that “six criteria help us temper the exhaustive search to make it reasonable.” (pages 23-26).
  • Don’t miss table 1 on page 25 that covers “Suggestions for Identifying Sources to Answer Genealogical Questions.”
2. Read and study The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000). You may have already done this early in your genealogy education, but it is an excellent textbook on the basic sources genealogists use. It deserves a fresh reading every year or two. If there are any records mentioned that you do not have personal experience researching, then get to a local repository or archive and spend some serious time with the records.

Another reason to study this book:
The Board for Certification of Genealogists uses rubrics to judge the seven elements of the application portfolio. The rubric RR2 on page 3 reads:

“Research covered commonly used sources relevant to the problem and extended to those that might illuminate or challenge other findings in the time allowed; and it proceeded in a logical sequence.2

            The footnote #2 states: “‘Commonly used sources’ are defined here as those addressed by
            chapter titles in part 2 of Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American 
            Genealogy, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).”

You will want to be familiar with, and have experience working with, all the record types that will be included in the evaluation process. Note that the rubric specifies "sources relevant to the problem." You will use your knowledge and experience to determine which sources are relevant to your specific research question. 

3. Read the following articles by Judy Kellar Fox on SpringBoard, the BCG blog:

            Are You Searching or Researching?
4. Read the following articles by Elizabeth Shown Mills on QuickTips, the blog at Evidence

            Reasonably Exhaustive Research: Quantity or Quality?

Formal study options:

5. Michael Hait, CG presented a webinar on “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search?” for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Since this presentation was given BCG has changed the first element of the GPS to be reasonably exhaustive “research” rather than “search.” The recorded version and handout are available to Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers at

6. To hear an example of reasonably exhaustive research in a case study, you may want to order a CD of the lecture Reasonably Exhaustive Research: An Immigrant Case Study by F. Warren Bittner, CG, given at the FGS national conference in 2012.  

7. In the past many students took the NGS American Genealogy course (home-study or on CD) to gain experience working with a wide range of genealogical sources. This course is being replaced by a new series of online courses, American Genealogical Studies. This series looks good, but is not yet complete and so does not cover all the records types necessary for reasonably exhaustive research.

There are other courses available, and I would recommend evaluating courses by the thoroughness in the types of records they cover, and if they have assignments to work with records in repositories and archives. Hands-on experience with the records is a better teacher than just reading about each type of record.

8. If you enjoy in-person instruction then I would recommend an intermediate genealogy course at a genealogy institute. These courses generally cover all the records needed to conduct reasonably exhaustive research, and also include some sessions on methodology. Here are some options available in 2016:
  • Intermediate Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) 2016 -- Paula Stuart Warren, CG (coordinator)                               

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option.