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.


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.

Where did Millard Stephens live?

A simple enough question and yet because I wanted to not only answer it but put it all on Google Earth Pro and make a quick movie out of it, it took waaaaayyyyy longer.

This is actually a fun project to do and you can do it for one person or for a family. It is fascinating to see where they lived and how they moved about. This movie is pretty basic but you can add photos of the homes you find and overlay old maps. You can really be creative. I do have one in the works with actual photos but that is not the question I am answering this week. Stay focused and on task!

In the case of my great-grandfather Millard, who lived his entire life in the Wayne, Boone and Kanawha Counties of West Virginia, I took all the census I could find and wrote down where he lived during those years. Nothing was very clear as either his father was a farmer or he was and there was no street location so I just picked an area close to the town noted or general area of the enumeration district. Next, I looked at the birth certificates or records of all his children, or those that had one online, so five out of eleven. I noted the locations and years and fit them between the census. I also looked at the marriage record which only stated Boone Co., not very helpful so when it came time to mark the map I put it somewhere near the birth of the children at that time.

Since I still do not have a death record I had to go by the obituary that said Millard died at home and after lots of digging I found where that home was located. I will detail that in my next post. After gathering all the dates I opened Google Earth Pro and in the My Places panel, I created a folder for Millard Stephens. I located the first place on my list and added a pin and made some notes (which do not show up in the movie). I added all the pins and created a tour. Next, I watched several Youtube videos to see how it was done and tried it out several times. I had to adjust a few places and move place markers etc till I got it where I wanted it. There is still one location that appears off to the left and I cannot figure that one out, not important though, you can still see it.

Here it is, my first ever Google Earth movie


Ask and you shall recieve…maybe

Stevens family at Millard's funeral


This year we are starting a challenge for ourselves and our followers. Ok, mostly for me so I can make some headway on my research in a timely fashion. The challenge is to answer a question a week or a month (depending on how much research it will take). My first question of the year is: Is there a document out there for my great grandfather’s death? The photo above is the family at his funeral.

First, let’s pull out the handy dandy research log so I do not duplicate any research I have already done. Ancestors name at the top, Millard Stephens or Stevens, objective – locate a death certificate, and location – West Virginia. The first thing I will put is what I know from family and that is that he died late 1930’s early 40’s. The next thing I do is look for an obituary that would give me a date. Huzzah! I found one, in my own files from years ago and Boo! I did not mark down what website I found it. This, of course, was back before I learned how to research correctly (do as I say not as I did).  However, I had marked down what newspaper it was from, the Charleston Daily Mail, September 29, 1939.

Oobit Millard Stevens Charleston Daily Mail Wednesday evening September 27, 1939 page 14

I pulled up a 1939 calendar and found that September 29 was a Friday and it says he died on Monday so that would make his death on September 25. There are also two clues here, one is the Dunbar Masonic Lodge having charge of the burial in the family plot which I am guessing is out in the sticks somewhere from what my family tells me and the Rev. L. J. Priestly officiating. Before running down those two clues I pop over to the most wonderful WV research site WVculture.org where you can find birth, marriage, and death certificates and records. However, nothing shows up for Millard and I tried all different spellings, locations, and more to no avail. The date is recent enough that there should have been a record, right?

Moving on, I called the Dunbar Masonic Lodge and they were very helpful in sending me a file, and by file, I mean a one-page record that had Millard listed as a member but no record of them assisting in any way with a funeral. Next up, call the Kanawha County clerks office. They also did not have anything but sent me back to the state archives and they sent me back to the WV Culture site where I could request a search in the archives on the chance that maybe his record was not transcribed onto the site. I wrote the letter, included the obit, as I do not need them to send that to me, and am waiting for a response with fingers crossed.

Next, I researched the good Rev. L. J. Priestly. By putting his name on Google, it sent me to several WV Baptist sites. Baptist, who knew? After scrolling through several Google entries I found one that mentions the good Rev. and Forks of Coal Baptist Church, ah ha! Remember the Forks of Coal location in the obit? Click on the link, call the number, no answer and no message. But there is a Facebook page that seems to be updated frequently so I put in a message to them there and wait patiently for a response.

In the meantime, I plug in Rev. Priestly’s name in the search box in Ancestry.com and the first thing that pops up is a city directory with Charleston, Dunbar, South Charleston, WV listed. Did ya see the Dunbar name? As in the Dunbar Masonic Lodge? Just helps to solidify that this is the right track. At this point, I went over all the places I could look and checked them off the list. You know the usual suspects, Ancestry, Family Search, Find My Past, Find a Grave. Nothing came up on any of them. Best hope at this point is a church record or the miracle of an actual death certificate from the state archives. Come on J. L. Priestly!

While waiting for a response from the church and the archives I called the Kanawha County Public Library and spoke to an awesome reference librarian who searched for an additional obituary for me. Sadly there was nothing. Just a few notes posted by the Masonic Lodge about the time and location of the funeral and one note in a social section about his son Herman and his wife returning from the funeral. The librarian did spend some time checking out the Rev. Priestly but not finding anything new or that I could use and directed me to a few other places to look such as the genweb site (which leads to Rootsweb which is currently down) and the Charleston WV Family History Center. The library had a handy-dandy donation tab so I could make a donation. Oh and nothing in the local histories at the History Center in case you were curious.

That is all I can do at this point until I hear back from the church and the state archives. I think my question for next week will be “Where did Millard live from birth to death?”. This will involve some Google Earth mapping (if I can remember how to do it). What is your question and did you get an answer? Curious minds want to know!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!


newspaper-1595773_1920Newspapers are a wonderful resource to use in your genealogical pursuits. They are filled with not only birth, marriage, and death notices but also social comings and goings as well as crimes committed. You might also find ads for your ancestors business or farm and agricultural reports. Our latest podcast, episode #26, goes into detail how to use newspapers are a research tool.

At this point, you wonder where you can find these newspapers and we recommend these four different locations. The first one is GenealogyBank.com with newspapers from 1690 to today. There is a cost to become a member but some libraries have memberships that you can use with your library number. Newspapers.com 1700-200’s and NewspaperArchive.com 1607-2000 are also paid sites and have extensive volumes of newspapers from different locations. The last one is Chronicling America it is free and has newspapers from 1789-1925.

Other places to search are your local libraries and libraries located in the area you are researching. Check out Universities as well. Many have extensive collections that might aid your research.

In doing some research on my father’s side of the family, I put in my grandfather’s name, DeWayne Burke, in the Newspapers.com search engine. Turns out there are two that pop up. My grandfather and another gentleman that lived in Florida. I isolated the articles to Ohio, as that is where DeWayne lived, and then narrowed down the years. An article popped up in regards to the local Kiwanis Club where he was in charge of inducting new members. There is one article from The Sandusky Register 24 December 1964 where he is honored for his outstanding work as inductor officer of the club. Being a member of a service club myself I was excited to see that he was involved in his community and held a leadership position.

The best course of action is to find out what newspapers were printed in or near your town. You can do this by contacting the local historical society or library they will know what was available during the time period you are searching. Next check which sites listed above cover those newspapers and be sure to check what years they have in their arsenal as they may or may not have your era. Check with the libraries and Universities to see what they have digitized or on microfilm. Finally, begin your search!


Researching Coast to Coast

In our most recent podcast, we talk about research in the different regions of the United States. Some states we love and others not so much based on what is available online and at the local level.


Here are a few places to use for your research in the different regions.

New England has a great resource in the New England Historical Genealogical Society. You do have to pay for membership, but if you have research to do in that area (and they also have records from across the country as well) it might be worth the investment. Records in the New England states can be found at the town level so be sure and contact the Sexton at the town clerk’s office. One thing to remember in this region, New York is a restricted access state and this makes research difficult.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, state libraries and archives house most county records but not all are digitized or online. Be sure and check at the county level for your ancestor’s information and independent cities without county affiliation. West Virginia has a great site, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Virginia has the Library of Virginia, Maryland has the Maryland State Archives and New Jersey offers the Department of State.

Mid West research uses County and Circut Court Clerks and the State Archives and Historical Societies are very good resources also. In Ohio, you can join the Ohio Genealogical Society where they have a multitude of resources and check out the Ohio History Connection. If you are researching in Michigan be sure to look at Seeking Michigan for death records and guides on other research in Michigan. Don’t forget the Allen County Library in Indiana and the Indiana State Archives. We also talk a little about the MOMS, the Minnesota Official Marriage System, the Minnesota Historical Society and lastly, the Midwest Genealogy Center.

Headin’ out West we find that records are kept by Couty Clerk or Clerk-Recorders and Probates will be at the District Courts. The state archives are also a great resource. Check out the California State Library and the Montana State Genealogical Society.

Finally, the South. If you are researching in the south you need to remember that there were quite a few fires and many records have been lost at the county and town levels. Records here are located in county or county circuit courts. Birth and Death records are at the state level. State archives in the south can be very helpful. Be sure and check for Confederate Pension files which are full on information. If you are researching in North Carolina, check out Helen Leary’s North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History and in South Carolina be sure and try the South Carolina Archives and the South Carolinainana Library.

These are just a few of the many places to research in the different states and will give you a great start and get you thinking of all the other possibilities there are out there for research. Happy ancestor hunting!


Ready for a research trip?

Summer is almost here and for most of us, it is the perfect time for a vacation and or travel. Why not include a little genealogy research while you are out and about? In our next lastest podcast, Amy and I will discuss how to plan and execute a research trip or in my case, how to find a family home in another country with little or no information at all.

On the left are my great grandparents, Paul and Marguerite Florentz and their two sons, Paul and Arthur and another family member. On the right, three generations, my mom, Marguerite and Paul’s granddaughter, me and my son. If you look closely, the lamp is still there in the background. Photos were taken in St. Marie Aux Mines, Alsace, France.


First, we chat a bit about our wine choice for the month which is a 2015 Gerard Bertrand Chardonnay Réserve Spéciale. We tried it at a wine tasting event and just loved it.

Gerard Bertrand chardonnay

We also discuss the lasted Nathan Dylan Goodwin novella, The Missing Man.  At last, we finally find out what happened to Morton Farrier’s father. Morton travels to Boston on his honeymoon (what an amazing new wife he has, eh?) and gets to spend most of it unraveling the family secrets to discover what happened to his father. We both loved it and cannot wait for the next adventure.

The Missing Man

Finally, we chat about preparing and executing a genealogy research trip. What you should do in terms of online research before you go? What kinds of things should you pack to take with you? Will you be visiting libraries, historical societies, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries? We will discuss what you need to do to prepare yourself for these visits to make it an effective trip. Write and tell us any tips you have learned as you have traveled the world to research your ancestors.

Join us for episode #23!

Over the Ocean Blue

This month’s podcast is all about immigration and ship records. Where did our ancestors come from? How did they get here? Who did they travel with and what do the records tell us?

We dive into where records are located, how to find them and what we can find about our ancestors in those records. We discuss what to do when you can’t find the record but you know your ancestor arrived here in a certain year. Or maybe you have the name of the ship from your grandparent’s memoirs but no date. All is not lost. It may take some time and lots of digging through non-indexed records but it can be done.


My Great Great Grandfather Adolph Henry Herman immigrated here from Silesia, Germany when he was 17 years old with a friend who’s last name started with a “Z” or so the story in the family goes. This would mean he immigrated in 1885. But we don’t know that for sure. What I do know is he was born in 1868 (unless he lied) in Germany and in April 1890 he married Mary Stimmel in Hoytville, Wood Co., Ohio (that I have the marriage certificate). I also know his first child with Mary was born in May 1890, one month after the wedding. So I would guess from these dates that he at least made it to Ohio by summer 1889 if not before.This gives me a parameter for looking for immigration records.

The trouble with Adolph Herman is that there are quite a few that fall within those time periods and match approximate age and location and there is no way for me to really know exactly which one is mine at this point without a little more research. One possible match from Castle Garden is from Russia. Could be Prussia after looking at the ship manifest and that would work but the age is about 5 years off. Could an 18-year-old pass for 23? Maybe. I just need a few more clues to narrow it down. The search continues. You never know where your next clue will come from but in the meantime I am learning so much about researching immigration records.

Search on family historians and may the wind be behind your sails.



Privacy Issues in Genealogy Research

December is usually such a busy month with no time for genealogy research but both Amy and I find we are knee deep in research. We are squeezing it into any spare moment and coming up with some great finds thanks to fellow researchers and librarians across the country. I have been able to go back another generation, sort of, with by Ohio Burk line and Amy has been working on cleaning up some misinformation in her tree. We discuss it all and more in this month’s podcast.


In Episode #20 we reviewed The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin and it brought up the privacy issue in that there were some unopened letters from a biological father to a living mother and should the son open the letters or not. Amy did some research on this and as it turns out it is up to the researcher. We both had some thoughts on this and discuss them in the podcast.


The privacy issue made us think about things that have popped up in our own research and whether or not things should be shared or kept private, destroyed or kept in hiding. Listen in and see what our thoughts are and some of the stories we share.



We also discuss our current research and of course the wine selection for this month. This episode is full of stories, thoughts, and information. Links to the wine and book are on the website. Thank you for listening and supporting!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Penny and Amy

Writing Your Genealogical Research

Episode #19

It was a dark and stormy night when a rider all in black approached the house. That is a grabber eh? How do the stories of your ancestors begin? Most start out like this, Grace Curtiss was born on December 27, 1874, at 6am on a rainy day. (I know that last fact from my Grandmother). What if we embellish it just a bit. What if it was a dark and stormy night when the doctor showed up on his horse and in the wee hours of the morning Grace was born with a loud cry ready to begin her extraordinary life.


Make your writing just a little bit more exciting and readable for future generations. If you don’t feel comfortable adding the extra, let your computer program do it for you. I personally use Roots Magic and it does this for you in paragraph form from the facts and notes you want to add. From there you can adjust it as you like to make it your own.

Don’t forget to cite your sources at the end of your tale. Nothing is worse than to have someone ask you how you know all this information and you can’t prove it. By using the book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, you will have no trouble creating those citations.


Give it a shot. Start with one fact and write a short story.



Genealogy Education Opportunities #17

Episode 17 is up! Furthering Your Genealogical Education- All the places you can go to learn more about Genealogy. Stay in your jammies at your computer and take a class or travel the country and take a course. There are so many options and so much to learn!

San Sebastian Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon 


Here are the links to the educational sites we mentioned in the podcast. Have fun exploring and learning.

Future Learn

BYU Free Courses

Legacy Webinars

Ancestry Academy

Family Tree University

Family Search Learning Center

National Archives UK podcasts

National Genealogical Society

University of Toronto Genealogy Studies

Boston University Genealogy Studies

Genealogical Institute on Federal Records

Salt Lake Institute on Genealogy

Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburg

Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research

Cyndi’s List