Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday

William Fritzley (1922-1998) and his grandaughter (me).
Tidioute, Pennsylvania, about 1988.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Genealogical Proof Standard - Simplified

I just received a wonderful link in my inbox. It's a sorely needed article on Ancestry, explaining in general the difference between original and derivative sources, as well as primary and secondary information. I have heard too many times something like "I traced my family tree back to the 1500s," while in the fact the person has taken all or most of their information from a family tree on Ancestry, with little or no source information.

I have used public member trees extensively on Ancestry, with great success - but, they are just a clue, to point you towards (possible) evidence of your ancestry. As the article says, "tying into a database doesn't suffice as proof."

A must-read: 

Have You Really Proved Your Ancestry? by Mary Harrell.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ancestry Expert Connect Success, School Stalling

Well, I haven't had much to write lately, because I've had to limit the number of classes I'm taking due to financial concerns. However, I am currently in the Analysis & Skills Mentoring Program (Part 1) at NIGS. It has been wonderful to get one-on-one feedback from the teachers there. You have at least two private consultations to discuss your overall progress as well as specific assignments related to the ASM class, and you can schedule more for a fee. There are also, as with the other classes, chats with other students and at least one teacher. The assignments are essentially simple case studies, as well as one which asks you to analyze a scholarly genealogy article (which you then discuss in one of the chat sessions). Overall, an excellent checkpoint after you've completed the first two methodology classes.

I have also been very busy with some small projects through Ancestry's Expert Connect. I have had much luck in obtaining interesting projects, and working with great clients. My one complaint is that I spend a great deal of time rejecting projects that are out of my area. I wish there were a way to help clients pick the right professionals to invite to their projects, to save their time and ours. I don't want to ignore these clients and not respond to them, but sometimes it is just too overwhelming to go through all of the invitations, only to find I can't help many of those clients at all.

Which brings me to my (second-to) last point: Any researchers out there in the Philadelphia area interested in trying out Expert Connect? I have to turn away a great deal of people who need records around Philadelphia, or elsewhere in eastern PA. While I have access to a limited number of these records through the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, these clients need someone who has easier access to more eastern PA records (and many, many people don't realize that it takes about 6 hours to get from one end of PA to the other).

A quick plug for a genealogy program I've been using a lot lately - RootsMagic 4. The interface isn't fancy, but it does have templates to help you cite your sources correctly (very important!!), and the GenSmarts plug-in has helped me kick-start some research with specific suggestions of collections to search. Very cool new toy (and GenSmarts works with some other genealogy programs as well). 

Hopefully I can get back into the habit of posting more often.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Map of Available Newspaper Collections for PA on

After I finished this, I thought others might find it helpful.

I went through Ancestry's card catalog for PA newspapers and listed the towns in which the newspapers were published. Towns may have more than one newspaper cataloged on Ancestry, and the papers vary by date.
My goal was to have a map I could reference when I know a the location of an event, and need to know what nearby newspapers Ancestry may have available.

The result is this map:

View Ancestry PA Newspapers in a larger map

EDIT 8/1/2010: I should mention that I don't work for Ancestry, and Ancestry isn't affiliated with this blog in any way.

Monday, July 12, 2010

U.S. Land Records Course

I recently completed the U.S. Land Records course at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. So far in my research, I have overlooked land records; mostly because I did not know how to find them, and how they could be useful. Of particular interest to me in this course were some unexpected pieces of information available in deeds, such as witnesses to the deed (which could lead to neighbors and/or previously unknown relatives), and deeds which required a release of dower, which meant that the landowner's wife would have to identify herself in the document - and we all know how hard female relatives can be to identify and place.

I'd like to find out more about how to locate land records in Pennsylvania in the last 100 years. The course gave some good resources for colonial land records in Pennsylvania , but few for more recent records. You can request a free lookup in an impressive collection of colonial Pennsylvania land records here, but I'm not yet sure of the speed and quality of the results. There are some scanned land records available here at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research, by Donna B. Munger, looks like a promising place to start Pennsylvania land record research. Has anyone used this resource? If you don't mind sharing, what kind of results have you gained from it?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Changing My Speciality and Learning about U.S. Census Records

One important note: I have decided to change my specialization from German Records to U.S. Records. Why?
-For my personal research, specializing in U.S. records is ideal. While many of my ancestors immigrated here in the late 19th century, I want to start with the latest in my family history and work backwards, learning as much as possible about each generation. This means that I'll be working mostly with U.S. records for some time.
-As a professional genealogist, I will want to know as much as possible about the records available to me in order to serve my clients' needs. The records that are most accessible to me are U.S. records.

That said, I am still very interested in learning about German, as well as Italian, records. I will continue to take classes in these areas (as well as many others) after I obtain my certificate in U.S. Records, for professional development.

On another note, the latest class I've taken at NIGS is U.S. Census Records. While I've worked with census records a great deal before, I feel like I have a much better understanding of them now. This course was particularly helpful in identifying the questions that were asked on each census, and determining what unique and useful information can be obtained from each census year. I also learned about some sources I would not have thought to look for, specifically non-population schedules, such as tax lists and veterans schedules. I think the latter will be especially useful in my research, since I believe that many of my ancestors served in the military or would have been receiving a pension around the time these schedules were taken.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Petition for Better Access to Pennsylvania Vital Records

I've recently heard about a group which is dedicated to a cause I believe in deeply: better access to vital records in Pennsylvania. This petition, created by a grassroots organization called People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access, calls for the creation of an online index of death records no less than 50 years old. This index would include only the name and death date, and would save both family historians and the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records valuable time and money when requesting death certificates. It takes into account privacy concerns, while still pointing out the fact that the process for obtaining death certificates in Pennsylvania is not at all friendly to family historians. As they point out on their website, "The information a requester is expected to supply is quite often the very information a requester is looking for and the very reason for wanting a death certificate.
Fellow researchers with interests in Pennsylvania records: if you feel as strongly about this as I do, please pass this information on. I know that if there were to be such an index, I would certainly volunteer to help create it, and I know that tons of other family historians would as well. So speak up and get involved! :)  


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ancestry Expert Connect

I have just started to participate in a great opportunity for beginning researchers and professional genealogists alike: Ancestry's Expert Connect.
You've probably heard the buzz about this new service, and it is well deserved. As with other freelance-type services, the fees that Ancestry takes from projects are somewhat steep - but, they do provide many, many leads that you would not be able to find elsewhere. Ancestry is continuing to develop this platform, and there are bound to be some problems for them to resolve. I can only speak to my first experience with the service.
Expert Connect only allows qualified professional genealogists to perform more advanced services like Record Lookup and Family Tree Outsourcing. However, I can perform Record Pickups and take local photos. While I also perform these on a volunteer basis, these services are handy for those who need their records quickly. Such was the case with my first client, who needed a death record from a local repository. I went down there, found the record (with some searching, and the help of very knowledgeable librarians, not to mention lots of luck), scanned it and sent it.
This repository also has many collections that I need to search for my own research, so this project afforded a much-needed opportunity to become more familiar with their library of materials. And it was fun! If you like searching through microfilm as much as I do, that is.
When asked to provide feedback to Ancestry on Expert Connect, this is I what said:


I received an email asking me to provide feedback on my first experience as a researcher on Expert Connect. It was a wonderful experience and it was very satisfying to be able to find and provide the record that my client needed.
I've worked with other freelance sites before, and if I had any suggestions as you develop Expert Connect further, they would relate to client/buyer education. Some other freelance platforms have become miserable and hostile places, because buyers do not know what to expect from professionals, especially what professional research entails, and why it costs what it does. This leads to some unprofessional behavior on behalf of client and provider, as clients have unrealistic expectations for cost and time-frame. I would suggest that Ancestry reviews the environment at some general freelance sites to avoid these kinds of pitfalls.
That said, I had an extremely positive experience with my client, and I look forward to working with [this client] more. Thank you for providing this service and the invaluable leads that result."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NIGS -Genealogy Class: Methodology Part 2 - Organization Tips

I'm taking two genealogy classes right now at NIGS. One is Methodology Part 2: Organization and Skillbuilding. Among many other things, I've learned many ways to make my genealogical life much, much easier. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for organizing your research:

Color-coded binders Keep your important paperwork in binders, in page protectors, and have different colored binders for each family line. I actually just use color-coded labels - it's cheaper than trying to find the right color binders.
Research log Keep one for each person that you research, recording both successful and unsuccessful searches. This prevents you from wasting time in a place that you've already searched. Since I started researching before I knew what I was looking for, I haven't kept tabs on this information as well as I could have.
Organize your correspondence I never realized how many information requests I would send and receive. Keeping a correspondence log of your information requests ensures that you don't ask for the same information twice. You'll also know what requests have not been answered - both incoming and outgoing - so that you can do the necessary follow-up.
Other forms Find or make the forms that will be most useful to you, and be consistent when you fill them out (always use the same name and date formats, abbreviations, etc.). Software programs can keep track of a lot of information for you, but recording your research problems on paper can help you organize your thoughts and have all the information you need handy, no matter where you are researching. I especially like the idea of having a form to sketch out difficult research problems, including all the information you already have, and specifying what you are trying to find out.

Cyndi's List has compiled a great list of free forms and charts designed to help you organize your research here.
I'm really enjoying my classes so far. The second class that I'm taking is Electronic Resources: Using the Internet. I'll be reflecting on them both a great deal in the near future.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday - All Saints Braddock Catholic Cemetery

After a long absence, I finally reappear :) The good news is that a) I finally made a trip to the cemetery and b) I've been working hard on my NIGS classes. There will be several posts about the latter in the coming days.

I have to make another trip to All Saints soon. I went to a funeral there a few years ago, but I didn't realize that the cemetery was so huge! I went last Friday afternoon, since it was the only day that weekend it was not supposed to rain all day. Turns out, it started raining earlier than I thought, cutting my trip short. Another factor was the fact that the groundskeepers had just cut the grass, and it seems that I've recently developed some allergies. Fun. On the upside, I found out that my new phone's GPS marks the location that a picture was taken, to the point that I know exactly where these graves are now in the cemetery. I am continually amazed by technology.

Logistics aside, I did get a few photos of my ancestor's graves, including this one:

When I made the Surname Saturday post about my branch of the DiBernardos, I wrote at length about Giovanni (John) DiBernardo, my great-grandfather. This is his grave, along with his second wife's (Raffeala's), my great-grandmother.

John has become what I recently learned is called a "pet ancestor." I feel a connection to him especially for some reason. I think it may be because he is the first of that family to immigrate to the United States, and he played a part in establishing an Italian immigrant community in Braddock. It's amazing to me, how hard it must have been to do that. To start over in a new place, to make a strange place seem familiar, all while working hard to support a family.

Edit, 5/26/2010: On top of Raffeala's grave, there's another. My grandmother's first child, Josephine, died the day she was born in 1955. She is buried here, with my grandmother's mother. I wish I could have known her.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Joseph L. Davies & Linda (?)

As usual, not so wordless. I have no idea who the little girl in this photo is, other than her first name. I do know that it was taken in Vanport, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, possibly on State Street. "Joe Boy" is Joseph Levern Davies, b. 25 Sep 1944 d. 15 Jan 1998. Hopefully I can find out who Linda is, because I'm sure there's someone out there who would like to see this.

Also, I'll hopefully be getting to cemetery (see previous post) within a few days. I hurt my leg and couldn't go walking around the cemetery yesterday (v. minor issue, but it's a rather large place). I will go down there very soon to get those photos.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Graveyard Trip - All Saints Braddock Catholic Cemetery in Braddock, PA - Need a photo?

I'll be heading down to this cemetery on Tuesday of next week (5/4), unless it stops raining around here by Monday. Many of my relatives with the DiBernardo surname are buried there. It's in Braddock, although its postal address is Pittsburgh. I noticed that there are many photo requests for graves in this cemetery on, so I'll be fulfilling those while I'm down there as well. I thought I'd post here to see if anyone has any other photo requests for that cemetery. You can ask me here, or submit a request through Find A Grave. Tom & Nancy McAdams have compiled an extremely helpful list of transcriptions from the headstones in the cemetery here, as well as a map (thank you thank you thank you to them for that). Hopefully, I'll get a good Wordless Wednesday post from that as well :) In the meantime, I'm working on tomorrow's Surname Saturday post, as well as a post about my progress in my NIGS classes.

All Saints Braddock Catholic Cemetery is here:

View Larger Map

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ancestor Approved Award

I was surprised and very honored to see that I was recently nominated for an Ancestor Approved Award from three fellow genealogy bloggers: Betty at Betty’s Boneyard Genealogy Blog, Leslie at Lost Family Treasures and Bonnie at Amore e Sapore di Famiglia. I apologize that it took me so long to respond!
There are two conditions to this award. First, I must list ten facts about my ancestors that surprised, humbled or enlightened me. Second, I must pass the award on to ten fellow bloggers who “do their ancestors proud.”
So here we go :)

I was:

1) Surprised to learn that my great-grandfather Everett Brenton was (allegedly) a bootlegger during Prohibition, and that he and my great-grandmother went through a very ugly divorce as a result.
2) Humbled to discover that, even though I thought I knew a lot about my extended family, I have many living relatives that I've never met.
3) Surprised that I have a few other relatives researching our family tree as well – all I had to do was reach out on Internet research sites, and there they were!
4) Humbled the power of the Internet to bring people together. I'm meeting more and more distant cousins all the time, and it's wonderful to bring our pieces of the puzzle together.
5) Surprised to find that I would have had another aunt on my father's side, but she was stillborn. For that matter, surprised and saddened by the number of children in my family tree who died young.
6) Enlightened by Ancestry's World Archives project as to how little I really know about paleography. I took a look at some of their “advanced” transcribing projects and went skittering back to the “easy” ones.
7) Humbled to be able to reveal to my boyfriend's family that they were in all likelihood descended from passengers on the Mayflower – and surprised by all that those two passengers and their ancestors had to go through just to get to the boat!
8) Surprised to receive a letter from William Fritzley's sweetheart (he was my maternal grandfather) from his days at an Army base in Kentucky. Even more surprised, and grateful, that she sent pictures of him from 1941!
9) Surprised by the number of helpful and earnest researchers I have met, who were willing to share important information with me about my family.
10) Humbled by just how much I don't know.

These ten bloggers surely make their ancestors proud:

1) Becky - Cemetery Explorers
2) Claudia - Claudia's Genealogy Blog
3) Tina - Gen Wish List
4) Monica - Digging In...To My Past
5) Diana - Random Relatives
6) Kirsten - Hearts And Bones
7) Tony - Across An Ocean
8) Kerry - Clue Wagon
9) Loujean - Family Trees R We
10) Mary - Mary Chrapliwy's Genealogy Blog

Thanks again to Betty, Leslie and Bonnie!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Surname Saturday – The DiBernardo Family of Western Pennsylvania

This name has been hard to trace. It’s an Italian patronymic name (literally “of Bernard”). My great-grandfather, Giovanni DiBernardo, came to Pennsylvania in 1910 from Caserta, Italy and settled in Rankin in Allegheny Country, PA. He lived most of his life in nearby Braddock, PA. His first wife, Maria died young in childbirth, and so did the infant. Another son died soon after, leaving one son, Guido “Guy” DiBernardo. He married my great-grandmother Raffeala a few years later.
Bisnonno Giovanni helped build the beautiful Madonna del Castello Church in Swissvale, PA. (Bisnonno is Italian for great-grandfather). You can see photos of the church as well as its history here. They have photos of the church from when it was built in 1933, which make me very proud. Grazie, bisnonno!
According to my relatives, though, Giovanni preferred to go by the English translation of his name: John. John was a laborer at Union Switch & Signal, a manufacturer of railway equipment. What's interesting is that I only have record of him working there up to 1917, when US&S became a subsidiary of Westinghouse Air Brake. Maybe he was a victim of some downsizing? I feel you, bisnonno. On the 1930 U.S. Census, he is recorded as a mixer in a glass factory. I could look at old census records all day. Most likely a good sign for my future career, I think :)
Back to the DiBernardo family; my information stops at my great-great-grandfather. All I know about Giovanni's father is that his name was Gaetano DiBernardo and that he lived in Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy when Giovanni came to the United States in 1910. Hoping to find more info on him soon, but as I'm sure many of you know, gaining access to some Italian records is quite a task.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finding Financial Aid for Online Courses...

The reason that I haven't blogged about my classes lately is that I have been searching for some kind of financial aid for my certificate program. I'm on a tight budget – and as I'm probably not the only one, I thought I'd share what I found out on my frustrating search for financial aid.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Surname Saturday - Brenton Family of Western Pennsylvania

I will have to break my promise to make my next post about my genealogy classes. The reason for this, along with my long gap in blogging, are school-related and will be explained in my next post. I'm waiting to hear back from a source at the moment.

On to the surname Brenton:
I do not know from what country my branch of the Brenton family immigrated to the United States. However, indicates that most people with that name immigrated from England or Ireland. Since my first ancestor that I know of with this name lived in Pennsylvania in the late 18th century, I believe it is more likely that they came from England.'s surname search indicates that the surname Brenton mostly likely originates from a settlement of that name near Exminster in southern Britain.

This is my ancestry as to the Brenton family:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Surname Saturday - The Fritzley Family of Germany and Pennsylvania

This Surname Saturday, I'm reaching out for some help with my family line. I've had a great deal of trouble finding information on the origin on the surname Fritzley. This is my maternal grandfather's last name. His father's last name was Fritzler, on the ship manifest from Germany, as well as some census records, but I'm not sure if this was his last name in Germany, or if it was shortened when he immigrated (a common situation among immigrants to the United States at the time). According to's surname search, Fritzler is “patronymic from a pet form of Fritz,” which in turn is a pet form of the name Friedrich. I have not yet found any other sources to verify that this is the origin of Fritzley. indicates that Friedrich comes from Germanic words for “peace” and “power” - a very interesting combination indeed. I haven't met a lot of other Fritzleys. My line of the Fritzley family has lived in Pennsylvania since they immigrated from Germany, as far as I can tell. If you have any other information about this surname that you would be willing to share, I would be very appreciative.

Here is my line of the Fritzley family:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Surname Saturday - The Boehm Family of Western Pennsylvania

I hope to keep up with this blogging theme every Saturday, because I have quite a few pieces missing from my family tree, and I'd love to see if anyone out there has any clues. I’ve used Blogger’s awesome new Pages feature to list the most common surnames in my family tree, as well as my boyfriend’s.
Ironically enough, one of the families which I know the least about is the one whose name I carry: Boehm. The history of my own last name is easy enough to trace, because it comes from a geographical area. According to's surname entry for Boehm, the name originally meant that a person was from Bohemia, a land which is now 2/3 of the Czech Republic. The spelling is close enough that Microsoft Word tries to correct my name to Bohemia every time I type it, lol. Ancestry also indicates that the greatest concentrations of people with that name were located in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio as of the 1920 census. Their surname search provides an interesting profile of your family name.
Here is my line of the Boehm family:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Course Review - Methodology Part 1

I have finally finished my review of the first course I took at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS). In this post, I share my experience with using the NIGS website as a learning platform, as well as my personal reflection on what I learned from the class.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Facial Recognition Software - A Helpful Genealogy Tool

Before I get to the second half of my course review from Sunday, I wanted to point out a couple of very helpful tools I've found in and Picasa 3. I recently started scanning in photos - some of people who I recognized; some, I didn't. Using facial recognition tools, I was able to identify quite a few people - to the delight of those related to people in the pictures :)

Here's how:

Wordless Wednesday - Well, Not Exactly

Some context: These are my boyfriend's grandparents, Joseph & Gertrude (Eller) Davies, taken around 1944. Joseph was a pilot for the USAAF. On June 4, 1944 (two days before D-Day), Joseph and a few other soldiers were killed when their plane malfunctioned and crashed. At the time she received news of her husband's death, Gertrude was 5 months pregnant with my boyfriend's father.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Before You Enroll in the National Institute of Genealogical Studies (Some Practical Information for Prospective Students)

I have already completed one course at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. In summarizing the helpful information I have learned, both about NIGS in general and about genealogy, I found that it would be best to split this information into two posts. In the future, I will be able to spread my posts out over the course of completing a class.

In this first post, I will describe some information that will be helpful to prospective students of the Institute, including some of the practical considerations that need to be addressed before a student can start his or her studies.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Newbie Musings

I'm a relative newbie, both to blogging and to genealogy. I thought it would be interesting to share my research so far with others, as well as my experiences as a genealogy student. I am studying at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, towards both a general certificate and a certificate in German Records. Most of my ancestors came to the United States from Germany, some from Italy, and many from various other parts of Europe.

I plan on trying to post about twice per week - one post about my own research progress, and one on a topic helpful to genealogy students - classes to take, websites to use, etc.

Hopefully, this will generate some discussion among my fellow students. It's difficult to underestimate the value of having other students around to support you, and this is sometimes difficult to find in an online class (although NIGS is very collaborative in many ways).

So, any other students out there, from NIGS or otherwise?