Sibling Research


Can brothers and sisters of your ancestor help you knock down those brick walls? Absolutely! We all have those brick walls where our direct ancestor has very little to tell in terms of leaving documents behind. They do not have a birth or death certificate, they left no will. We can only find them in the census or maybe only in one or two censuses. Maybe the timing of their birth is such that they only hit the 1900 census and they are married at this point. How do we go back further in our tree? Maybe siblings can help.

First, you have to find the siblings. Most of us go to the census first. Even if they are not listed in the family look around. They might be with their own family but living very near to your ancestor. It might even be a page or more before or after your ancestor. You might find siblings in court records and probates as well. They might have sued each other. Check the inventory of estates to see who is in charge or receiving items. Who are the witnesses in marriages? These could be siblings of your ancestors.

Once you have the sibling names you can begin to research them just as you have been researching your direct ancestor. Don’t get distracted by adding children and grandchildren at this point, it will only take you off track of the mission. Take a look at the sibling’s death certificates. They might mention the parents birth locations and maiden name of the mother. Check and see where they are buried as a possible burial site for your ancestor. See if they have a will, who is mentioned, look at every page even the inventory. You never know where a name will pop up. Not only might you find information on parents but also proof that these are indeed siblings.


Other places to look are birth certificates, delayed birth certificates, funeral records,  newspapers, guardianship papers, deeds, and other court records. You can always search for their children and grandchildren and make connections to see if these new cousins have any documents that might help in your research. Reach out and connect to your new family and you might just find a fellow family historian who can use your help as well.




Genealogy Research Trip Tips

Back in April Amy and I headed up to Columbus, Ohio in search of answers to some of our most confounding genealogical questions. In the course of five days, we hit 10 counties, discovered a winery, ate delicious food and ended up exhausted. We decided four days of hard research was probably the sweet spot, take note.

You can hear all about our trip on our latest podcast, Episode #29 so I won’t go into detail in this post but I will post a few things we learned (or I learned as Amy is a seasoned pro on these trips).

Start early! Get there when the repository opens. You might need all day or you might need time to travel to another repository to find exactly the document you need. If your ancestor lived on or near the border of two counties you never know where they might have filed.

Check out the parking situation. Is there street parking? Garage parking? What is the cost or time limits and make sure you have some change if it is metered?

Take time to do a little research on where your records might be located. Every state has different offices that hold records. Of course, check out vitals, deeds, land records, and probate but don’t overlook criminal records.

Take photos of the documents if allowed. After all documents in a book are photographed take a few photos of the book cover page and outside top and spine. Do this in the same order each time and it will be easier to transcribe when you are finished. If you need copies be sure and have change with you for small amounts and credit card or larger bills for more costly copies.

Take a lunch break! Some of the places you will be are basements and vaults. It is good to get out for a bit of fresh air and sustenance then head back inside.

Check out the local library while in town. If they have a genealogy department, great, if not they may have a local history section. Both worth looking at for more information.

Be a gracious guest. Clean up after yourself, put books away in their proper place, clean up the area around the microfilm reader and printer, and always say thank you.

We would encourage you to take a trip and do some on-site research for your ancestors. Not everything is out there in the digital world and you just might find the document you need to prove a relationship or solve a brick wall mystery. If you want some practice first, go to a local courthouse near you and do some searches. This will help give you an idea of how much time it might take and what the layout of the courthouse could be when you head to your county of research.









Timelines are an invaluable tool for genealogists and family historians. They help us solve problems and see what is missing in our research. There are quite a few webinars and blogs on timelines and how to create them so I am not going to do that here. I am going to share with you what I created.

I asked for some suggestions on our Facebook page and received some wonderful ideas and even some links to view a few timelines listeners created. They were all fantastic and each had something a little different. One included an age column which I thought was very effective and another included what was happening in the world at the same time and I loved that one too. I used some of their ideas and some I found in searching the web and came up with five different timelines that I think, at least for this purpose, worked out very well.

First up, Excel and Word. Everyone has used Excel for something in their research, I know I do for logs and data, so it was pretty easy to create a timeline in Excel. To create the timeline in Word I simply added a table and filled in the columns. These two are pretty similar and both can be adjusted.

Excel Timeline Table

Word Timeline

As much as I liked these two, I love a good visual graph. I set out to create one using Excel and I have to say that although I did complete the task, it took me WAY TOO LONG to learn how to do it and was ready to throw in the towel a few times and buy a program but I persevered and with the help of a website and youtube video created this:

Excel timeline

Ok, it’s good but not great and like I said before, it took way too long. The video shows how to put your data into a power point graph so I thought I would try that next. So much easier and much better looking too.

Power Point Burk Timeline jpg

The very last one I created was really just for fun and because it was out there begging me to create it. I went to and searched timeline, chose one and filled in the basic dates, voila!

Volleyball History Timeline Infographic


Am I Ready for My Research Trip?


That is my question for the month. Yes, I know it has been a while since I asked a question but truly I have been doing some research. As our most recent podcast is about getting ready for a research trip and since Amy and I have planned one, I thought I better do a recheck to see if I am actually ready for this trip.

Ticket? check! car rental? check! Hotel? check! preliminary research? meh…working on it. One thing I wanted to do was to have all my information on what I have already researched at my fingertips. Since I am a note taker (in the form of lots of little Post-it notes and scraps of paper all over) I wanted something I could take with me and have all in one place. I needed a journal of some sort. Something with organizational potential. Hello Google, whatcha got? Google hands me a bullet journal. I did a lot of research on the bullet journal and watched a ton of videos. Most people use it for daily journaling. They include monthly, weekly calendars and daily note pages which would be great as well but not my purpose here. However, I thought I could adapt it for what I need.


There are so many options out there but I ended up purchasing a Moleskin. I have to watch what pen I use as the pages are a bit thin and some ink ghosts through. Some other brands have thicker pages but I am not doodling or using color markers in this journal (at least not anymore) so I just wanted to be cost-effective and find something lightweight to carry with me.

At the beginning of a bullet journal, you want to create an index and you will want to number your pages so you can find your notes quickly. Mine is fairly simple, my index is the first four pages and then I am right into my notes.


My first note has the name of my ancestor at the top and what exactly I am trying to find out. What is my question? In this example, I am asking about John Burk(e), who is his father? The rest of the page or pages is devoted to what I find or don’t find. My first section is checking on a marriage record. I of course first checked Ancestry and Family Search, I even spent time in the browse images in the county marriage records to no avail. Then I hit the phone trail and called the county clerks of 6 counties (I have more to go yet). They were all helpful and did some checking but nothing turned up. Beginning to wonder how far they ran off to get married. In the bullet journal I noted everyplace I called and what the result was. In the index, I wrote “Burk, John search for father”. This way later in the year when I want to take up this search again, I can find it quickly in the index and see what has already been done without digging through a ton of Post-It notes. I can also make a copy of that page and add it to a research log.



I did not link any videos or websites with bullet journal possibilities as there are too many out there and you can easily find them on Google. There is even one Youtube video called Bullet Journaling for Genealogy (ok, that one I linked). A big difference between what I do and the others do is the calendar. I am not using a calendar in this journal. I will make note of the dates I did the research but no calendar. I just want the pages with the research and the index to find it quickly.

At this point, I think I am a more ready than I was before for this research trip.

French Photographs

Alma Florentz collection photos from France

While on a vacation to not so sunny California, my mother and I went through some photos she had from France. Many we knew the people but there were a few that we did not. This one above is one of those photos. We were lucky in the fact that someone had written information on the back pertaining to the photo, in French of course. We had it translated. As it turns out the photo location is just above the street where my grandmother lived. It is a large home that she often remembered.

map for blog 2

The woman on the far left looks just like the woman in another photo (see below). While we do not know who she is, yet, she looks just like other family members that immigrated to the United States. Looks like more research on this photo needs to be done to figure out who she might be and why my grandmother had her photo.

Alma Florentz collection photos from France

Down the Rabbit Hole and how a question was answered

This week I thought I would ask a question about someone in my SIL’s tree. Remember the advice to stay focused? Well, I had a difficult time following my own advice to stay on track and stay focused on the question at hand.

Step away from the research.

After a brief break to refocus I zoomed in on one of her distant relatives, Minnie Bell Snyder. I did not have parents listed for her and there were only a few “hints” from Ancestry so I thought this would be a good road to go down. Who were Minnie Bell Snyders parents? I started out with the marriage record. Minnie was married on 12 July 1891 to Berkley Anderson in Belmont, Ohio.  This information was found in the Ohio, Compiled Marriage Index, 1803-1900. As this was only the index there was no record to view and no parents listed. I also found a marriage notice at in the Belmont Chronicle on July 16.  Again, no parents listed.


The West Virginia Birth Index lists Minnie as being born on 8 April 1870 to John C. and Nancy L. Snider. Different spelling of the last name. As this was just an index on Ancestry I headed over to to see if there was a record there. There were eleven Minnie Sniders listed. Ten were all listed with birthdates too late to be the one I wanted so the only left was the 8 April 1870, and there was a document showing her birth in Grant, WV. with parents John and Nancy. Just in case I also checked Minnie Snyder, spelled with a y. They too were born too late to be the one I wanted so I felt pretty sure that the record listing John and Nancy was the correct one.

Now to prove that the Minnie that was married to Berkley Anderson was the same Minnie born to John and Nancy Snider. Some of the trees on Ancestry had John and Nancy listed as parents but no one had any source for this information. Going back over the census from 1870 through their marriage, I find that Minnie and Berkley are both from Ellsworth, Tyler Co., WV so it makes sense that this is, in fact, the family I am researching. I also check Find A Grave and voilá, there is a listing for Minnie Bell Snider. It has a photo of the headstone, matching birthdate, matching husband and a death date of 30 July 1948. The cemetery is located in Canton, Stark Co. Ohio which is where I expected it to be or thereabouts according to later census records for the family. The memorial on Find A Grave does not mention parents so really all this did was confirm the other information I had found. I needed an obituary or death certificate  (if it lists parents) although with the previously mentioned census records I feel comfortable saying that John and Nancy are indeed her parents but it does not give me her mother’s maiden name, still need confirming documents!

The search continues.

Since it costs $25 to order a death certificate in Ohio and I have other things I need to order before this one, I decided to go on an obit hunt. Finding nothing in or on My Heritage I just put the facts in a Google search and up popped an index that listed an obit in the newspaper The Repository from Canton, Ohio. I put in a request at the Stark County District Library for Minnie’s obit and they quickly responded with a digital copy. It did not mention Minnie’s parents but did mention two brothers. Oh, this is getting good!!!

One brother, Marshall, was listed as a sibling on the census forms and turns out to be George Marshall, but the other, Harvey, was not listed on the census. Delving a little further I find that her brother Thomas’ middle name was Harvey. Back to the site and I found not only Thomas Harvey Snider’s BC but his delayed BC which had both parents’ names and the mother’s maiden name! The certificate was signed by Minnie B. Anderson, sister. This is all the proof I need.

Minnie’s father’s full name is John Calvin Snider and her mother is Nancy Laura Gorrell. Question answered. From there it went pell-mell forward with the Gorrell family, but that is another post.



Make it Visual


Grace Curtiss

Here is a twist on getting the information you have on an ancestor out there and in print for others in your family to see. Most of us compile a report with our genealogy software, I use RootsMagic, and while we as family historians like all the details, most family members do not. Have you encountered eye-rolling when you bring up the genealogy subject? It happens. Not judging.

Well, as I like to scrapbook digitally, I made a few pages with basic information on some ancestors and included photos. These pages will give viewers facts and a good visual. Maybe it will prompt them to ask a few more questions or even help you in your research.

How do you share your information with your family? Inquiring minds want to know.

Frederick FREYTAGMary Ann FRETTINGER Jan 17 2017 post

A Hunting We Will Go, Cemetery Hunting that is

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(the above photo is not the cemetery in my story but how I imagine it too look if it had headstones)

Looking for the cemetery in Forks of Coal, WV where my great grandfather Millard Stephens is buried has been a fascinating journey. It started when I asked the question about his death certificate. While doing that research, I became interested in all the places he had lived and then died. My mother often spoke about making the trip up to her grandmother’s house and visiting the cemetery, so I knew the general area and by general, I mean the Alum Creek and Forks of Coal, Kanawha Co. area.

The first thing I did was pull out some old emails from back in 2001 from my aunt and a gentleman that grew up in that area. She had sent me these correspondences long ago and I had them in a Stephens file. In the emails, it mentioned some directions that probably could be followed if you lived there and a story about a man, Jack Workman, living on the property. Well, now I had two clues.

The directions mention a four-lane highway built in the 1980’s crossing the Big Coal River between the Girl Scout Camp and the Cemetery. It also mentions some Hill’s being buried in that cemetery. Then there are the directions of turning off onto Rocky Point Road (not on the map) parking your car and walking down the old dirt road, around a hill, through a creek and back up the other side and on and on. This must have been where one lived when walking to school uphill both ways in the snow.,-81.79776191711426&zoom=14&maptype=undefined

I pulled up mapquest and zoomed into the Alum Creek area and found the Coal River. Following it down it forked into the Big Coal and Little Coal Rivers. According to the directions and my mom, the property I was looking for was near the Big Coal River where 119 (the four-lane highway) crosses. A quick search of the girl scout camp did not turn anything up but a few blurbs in the paper. Nothing to help. So, the mapping just narrowed the location.

Next, it was plugging in Jack Workman’s name into google. A fabulous article popped up which detailed how he donated this property to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The article gave a good description of the property and I could easily find it on the map. The actual area is run by the Forks of Coal Foundation and on their site, I found a trail map. According to the trail map, only the area to the north of 119 is open to the public and the cemetery would be south of 119 according to the directions in the emails.


The girl scout camp was not noted on the trail map but on the Facebook Page for the park, a wonderful hiker posted a photo of a plaque indicating the camp (and kindly give permission to use the photo). I contacted the contributor and he said if you follow the trail to the far right of the parking lot the camp was about 50m. Remembering the notes from the email the cemetery should be on the other side of 119 from the camp. I now had a much more approximate location. I would still like to find someone who knows exactly where it is though so I kept searching.

I put a call into the Forks of Coal Foundation and they put me in touch with a gentleman working with the donation of land. He was able to give me the coordinates to the cemetery and old home as he had been to the property. He also had copies of a few old deeds to the land which helped define the borders. We also discussed other names such as Hill and Chandler that might be in that same cemetery but that is a question for another week.

Millard Stephens Grave

What a wild ride. It just takes asking some questions and it can lead you to the answer. Many thanks to all the individuals who answered my emails and phone calls and shared their knowledge.