International Society of Family History Writers and Editors Bestows Prestigious Award

Myra Vanderpool Gormley and Loretto Dennis Szucs at the ISFHWE BanquetCHICAGO, ILLINOIS (June 8, 2006) The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE) announced at its annual Gala Awards Banquet held at the National Genealogical Society’s conference, its first recipient of its newly-established and prestigious Myra Vanderpool Gormley Award of Merit.

The first recipient of the award is Loretto “Lou” Dennis Szucs, the Vice President of Publishing at, the publishing arm of, Inc. She is highly respected and much loved in the genealogical community. She has written, edited, and published a number of the most important genealogy reference books for genealogists. These include They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins; Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research; Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records (with Matthew Wright); and the brand new third edition of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, which she co-edited with Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. In addition, Lou has mentored and encouraged hundreds of aspiring writers, editors, and publishers, kickstarting their careers and building friendships with them. Continue reading

APG Honors Gary Mokotoff for Outstanding Service

Gary Mokotoff is a top expert in Jewish genealogy, but he also is an innovator on the business side of family history.

For his outstanding service to the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the organization gave Mokotoff the Grahame T. Smallwood Jr. Award of Merit on June 9. APG President Sharon Moody presented the award to him in Chicago at the APG luncheon at the National Genealogical Society’s Conference in the States. Continue reading

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Weekly Planner: Investigate a Sibling or Cousin

 Pyburn family-Jack, Madelon, Margaret, Muriel, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., 1930

Too often we get tunnel vision in our quest to find our ancestors, and we overlook extended family members. Choose a sibling, cousin, in-law, stepparent, stepchild, or some other collateral relative and see how much you can learn about him or her. You’ll be surprised at how often the information you gather on seemingly distant family members aids in your direct-line research.

Natural Disasters and Your Family History, by Mary Penner

Eyewitness John Bradbury wrote, “The noise was inconceivably loud and terrific, I could distinctly hear the crash of falling trees, and the screaming of the wild fowl on the river . . . all nature was in a state of dissolution.” Louis Bringier, riding nearby on horseback, described the “horrible disorder of the trees . . . being blown up, cracking and splitting and falling by the thousands at a time. In the meantime, the surface was sinking, and a black liquid was rising up to the belly of my horse, who stood motionless, struck with terror.”

Can you identify this incredible natural disaster? Continue reading

Using Targeted Approach to Searches,

I think my favorite features of our house are the porches. We have a large covered porch in the back that is my favorite place to sit in the spring and summer, and we have another smaller porch in front that I love to wander during conference calls and sit on some evenings chatting with neighbors.

But it’s that time of year again–time to put a stain/water seal on the porches. This year won’t be as bad as last year. Those of you who read my column last year may remember me moaning about the love/hate relationship I had with a belt sander. (Actually that should be plural, as I killed the first one.) We had to strip off layers of paint before applying the stain, and it was quite the chore.

This year my big challenge will be the lattice under the back deck. When I first stained it, I was painstakingly painting each wooden strip with a small brush when my neighbor suggested I use a sprayer to do the lattice. While it saved a lot of time, it wasted a ton of stain and didn’t do the best job. (Of course some of the fault there may fall on the person wielding the sprayer!) This year, I think I’ll revert to a brush again and go back to a more targeted approach. While it will take longer, I like the results I get with a brush.

We face the choice of a targeted approach or a shotgun-type method often in life, and our family history searches are no exception. With huge collections of databases and mega-searches available online, it can be tempting to go for the time-saver and just search everything at once.

The shotgun approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, it may turn up ancestors in places you might not have thought to look or with spellings you might not have tried. The ranked search is kind of a shotgun approach, but you can narrow your sights by adding more search criteria (e.g., birth and death dates, and locations). Once the broad ranked search is done, it’s good to take a more methodical and targeted look at certain databases in which you think your ancestors may be lurking undetected. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Keep an Eye on eBay, from Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Are your family treasures being sold on eBay? It’s more common than you think. Make it a point to visit from time to time and search a variety of ways, including:

  • Family names
  • Place names (to find postcards, maps, yearbooks, etc.)
  • Ethnicity (to find cookbooks, music, postcards, etc.)
  • Particular items, such as “family bible”

Use the advanced search function to zero in on what really interests you. When I was interested in items pertaining to the Reynolds surname, I searched on Reynolds and family, but excluded Burt, so I wasn’t inundated with Burt Reynolds memorabilia. Up popped an 1809 Bible for a Reynolds family from Wales.

And try limiting your search by category. As of the moment I’m writing this, “family bible” turns up 457 hits, but restricting it to the antiques category takes that down to a manageable ten items–including family Bibles for the Rathbone, Southwell, and Schofield families.

Finally, try searching surnames of interest coupled with the word genealogy. This will often reveal assorted family histories, many of which are out of print.

Your Quick Tips

Looking at the Bigger Picture
Family members were cleaning out a seldom used closet and came across an old, much used quilt. Much of the fabric of the colored pieces had been worn away and I was asked if I saw any reason to keep it. As I was thinking whether we might want to “promote it to rags,” as my mother-in-law would say, I unfolded it to look for unworn areas. It was then that I realized the overall effect was quite beautiful. So now this quilt has a new life, hanging over a balcony railing.

I think there’s more than one lesson here. One applies to standing back and taking a broad look at an old quilt’s overall effect. The other applies to family history in general. We may have shreds of evidence that seem too sparse to be of any use. But sometimes, when we stand back and look at the bigger picture, patterns and relationships emerge from scattered details. For me, this has meant poking around for records of the siblings of ancestors, and finding time to read histories about some of the places where ancestral families lived.

Susan C. Hopkins
Urbana, IL Continue reading

The Year Was 1811

1712 Comet article, London Times, 02 November 1811The year was 1811 and there was unrest in the world. Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars and there was tension between the United States and Britain that would later lead to the War of 1812, with one of the major issues being the impressment of American sailors into the British Navy.

Here in the United States, William Henry Harrison led 1,000 men from Vincennes to an Indian village at the junction of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers to put a stop to Tecumseh’s plans for a confederation of Native American nations. The expedition led to the Battle of Tippecanoe, where despite heavy American losses, the troops manage to repel the natives led by Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa (known as The Prophet). The Indian village was decimated and though not the end of the war with Tecumseh, it was a devastating blow to Tecumseh’s dream of a confederation.

Mother Nature was also uneasy and the New Madrid earthquakes, estimated at around 8.0 on the Richter scale, jolted the Midwest and permanently altered the landscape, creating new lakes and even reversing the flow of the Mississippi River for a time.

This wasn’t the only unusual natural phenomena taking place in 1811. It was also the year of the Great Comet of 1811 which was visible to the naked eye for nearly nine months. Continue reading