Family Interview PacketWhen I was a middle school teacher a few years go, I ran a Family History Club for students. The club met once a week and had 5-10 enthusiastic students show up any given week. The first week of the club I introduced the process of family history research. We got to know each other with some pair share questions and I assigned them to interview a relative over the upcoming holiday break. Students also signed up for a Family Search account at home with parent permission.

We started by discussing why interviews were an important place to start, how to select an interviewee, and good interview techniques. At the end of the meeting students spent some time selecting interview questions from the packet I handed out. Following the break students shared what they learned from the interview and used the information they gathered to identify facts that could be supported with documentary evidence.

The interviews were the jumping off point for a year’s worth of research! I was happy to let the students research independently with me there for support. As a sponsor it was an easy club to manage, I was there as a guide while students worked. Beyond the first week I didn’t plan many activities or structure the time too much because my members were eager to have time for research. Over the next few months we would occasionally pause our work to talk about census records, newspapers, maps, etc.  The students helped each other with their work and together we celebrated our accomplishments. Many continued working at home with the help of parents and grandparents.

It is important to note that, due to the age of the students, my focus was on getting them interested in their family stories and excited about new discoveries. I want them to go to family gatherings and talk to their relatives, ask about family photos, and know that they can use documents to find new information. While we did talk briefly about citing sources and weighing evidence, I chose not to overwhelm students with this aspect of genealogy. I believe that if they truly take an interest in the subject beyond the few meetings of our club, they will arrive at this information on their own very quickly.

In preparing to lead this club, I was inspired by the A.B.G.S. Middle School Genealogy Club. I recommend checking out this article about the club if you want to lead one of your own!

Below you can download a PDF of the interview packet I handed out to students at the first meeting. Feel free to use and adapt the packet for your own needs. Please share the link to this post with others!

Download the Family Interview Packet


I try to keep up with the SNGF series from Genea-Musings. You can see the original post here

This week’s prompt is to tally the places you have visited and “score” the results.

For the purpose of this post I chose not to count layovers where I didn’t leave the airport.

From a visit to Tallinn, Estonia Summer 2016


Alabama X


Bahamas X
Belgium  X
British Virgin Islands X
California X
Castaway Island
Cayman Islands  X

Chicago X (why does Chicago get its own line?)
Colorado X
Connecticut X
Costa Rica

Czech Republic
Delaware X
Denmark X
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
England X

Estonia  X
Finland  X
Florida X
France  X
Georgia X
Germany X
Hong Kong
Illinois X
Indiana X
Iowa X
Jamaica  X
Kansas X
Kentucky X

Maine X
Maryland X
Massachusetts X
Mexico X
Michigan X
Minnesota X
Missouri X

Nevada X
New Hampshire X
New Jersey X
New Mexico
New York X
New Zealand 
North Carolina X
North Dakota
Norway  X
Ohio X
Pennsylvania X

Puerto Rico X
Rhode Island X

Russia  X
Saudi Arabia
Scotland  X
South Africa
South Carolina  X
South Dakota
South Korea
St Marten X
St Thomas X
Sweden  X
Tennessee X
The Netherlands
United Arab Emirates
US Virgin Islands X
Utah X
Vermont X
Virginia X
Washington DC X
West Virginia X
Wisconsin X
Wales X

My score:   56

And I’ll be checking off at least 3 more countries by the end of the year!

The home (white) is behind me and the funeral home is on the left.

I’m writing from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania! This is my grandmother’s hometown. I have been visiting her sister and seeing the town. My great-grandparents owned a funeral home, which we looked at today.
I like to participate in the SNGF series from Genea-Musings. You can see the original post here. This week’s prompt is:
1. What is your middle name? Do you know why your parents gave it to you?

My middle name is Ashley. I am a twin so my parents each chose the first name for one child and the middle name for the other child. My mom chose my first name, Ellen, and my dad chose my middle name.

2. Do you have ancestors with your middle name as part of their name?

I have not found any ancestors named Ashley, not surprising since it was only recently popularized for women.

I love participating in the weekly SNGF posts from Genea-Musings. You can view the original post here. This week’s prompt is:

Who is one of your relatives (ancestor or not) who behaved poorly during his or her life?   It can be any time period.”

I would say my most ‘badly behaved’ relative would be my great-grandfather, Walter Howard Bell. I have started but never finished several posts about him. He has been quite a mystery to me and I have worked a lot on him. There were no stories passed down about him because he died when my grandmother was very young. Everything I know about him came from research!

Walter was born in Illinois in 1881. His family moved around quite a bit during his childhood before settling in Helena, Montana, where Walter’s father Charles was awarded a contract as an architect for the Montana state capitol building. He spent his young adult years working as a bank clerk before moving to Minneapolis in 1906 where he worked as a sales agent for a local quarry.

This is when his “bad boy” days began.


From the Anaconda Standard (MT) 10 Jan 1907

I gather from city directories that Walter met his wife via her sister, who worked as a receptionist at the quarry. Although his fiance, Anna Hertel, was over the age of majority her parents disapproved of the match. Anna suffered from tuberculosis and spent long periods of time away from home in places that would ‘improve her health.’ Using this to their advantage Walter and Anna concocted a ruse. They convinced her doctor to recommend a visit to Montana. Walter and Anna left on separate trains and reunited in Great Falls, MT. The next day January 7, 1907 they married and returned home, accompanied by Walter’s brother who had been married the same day.

11 months later they welcomed a baby girl but the marriage deteriorated soon after that and 1909 is the last time he is listed in a Minneapolis city directory. Anna returned to live with her mother and her official status became “widow ” on all records. She wasn’t listed as “divorced” until her death while residing in a sanatorium 10 years later. Meanwhile Walter has moved to New York. He is living in a rooming house in New Jersey and working out of New York City as a traveling rep for an oil company. On the 1910 census it says he has been married to a woman named Genieve for 2 years (during which time he was still with his first wife) and that this is his first marriage. No other records of her have been located.

In 1911 he marries a woman named Leda Curtis from New York and they move to Chicago where he is working as a traveling rep for another oil company. On the marriage license he lists himself as never married. They have one son together and remain in Chicago for 10 years. In 1921 they move to Dayton, Ohio when Walter gets a job with Gerkin Oil and later with a gas pump company. Within a year Leda and Curtis have returned to Chicago and she, too, lists herself as “widowed” until she remarries.

Grace McKee & Marilynn Bell 1944

Grace and Marilynn, 1943

Walter then married my grandmother, Grace McKee, around 1923. Walter and Grace have one daughter, my grandmother, Marilynn Bell. They live together in Dayton for 10 years before Walter gets a job as a statewide manager for Ohio Oil and the family relocates to Findlay, Ohio. In 1934 Walter dies suddenly and his widow and daughter return home to Dayton.

A traveling salesman married at least 4 times with at least 3 children and possibly some of those marriages overlapping? I’d say that qualifies for ‘poorly behaved’!


2017-02-11-10-50-21How do I begin to summarize the incredible weekend that was RootsTech?? I had a wonderful time meeting new people, learning new research strategies, hearing fantastic speakers and enjoying the gorgeous city of Salt Lake. I am so appreciative of the RootsTech organizers for offering the student discount that made my trip feasible on a grad school budget. I haven’t even left for the airport yet, but I’m going to summarize my favorite parts of the weekend with The RootsTech Awards 2017!

trophyBest Keynote Speech

While all the speakers were fabulous and touching, I thought Drew and Jonathan Scott of The Property Brothers were the most entertaining. They had interesting stories, great visuals and the best stage presence. I loved hearing the story of how their parents met, their own childhoods and their careers. Of course, I could relate to their Scottish roots and their obsession with Scottish history! I am really looking forward to seeing what speakers RootsTech 2018 will have in store.

Honorable mention goes to LaVar Burton for bringing to life my childhood memories of Reading Rainbow, his touching stories about his mother and his joyful reaction to receiving his family tree.

trophyBest Session Speaker

I attended two of Judy G. Russell’s (aka The Legal Genealogist) presentations this weekend and she was wonderful, as always. I attended both “When Worlds Collide” about resolving conflicting evidence and “Copyright Law for Genealogists” about, well, copyright law obviously. Although both topics had the potential for dry, boring presentations, Judy was lively and entertaining. I came away from both feeling more knowledgeable about the subjects and familiar with new resources. I would highly recommend anyone take advantage of an opportunity to hear her speak in person or via webinar!

trophyBest Session

Of all the interesting sessions I attended, the one that stands out the most is a presentation that Dr. Bruce Durie gave about Scottish records. Several of my lines have ended at Scottish immigrants and I’ve been unsure how to proceed. Bruce provided some excellent explanations of the websites available for Scottish records and their contents. Now I feel confident moving forward with my research knowing I won’t be throwing away money on websites I don’t understand. I hope to see more presentations by him next year.

trophyBest Expo Hall Findimg_20170213_110928

Via a promoted tweet I learned a company was at RootsTech called Living Tags. The tweet said they were giving away their $100 product for FREE during the weekend, so of course I made a beeline for their booth not even knowing what they sold! The fantastic guys at the booth explained Living Tags makes metal QR codes that can be permanently attached to headstones (or anything else you can imagine) and when visitors scan the codes they will be taken to a memorial page you have created for the person buried there. You could also create a page for a building, monument, headstone…anything you can think of! We also got a sneak peek of a project they are working on where web pages could be linked to headstones via geotags rather than QR codes. That means you wouldn’t need to physically attach anything to the place for the memorial page to be located, just scanning the vicinity with the app would bring up the page! I think this is a really exciting concept and I’m eager to see where they take it. Please go check them out and give them your support!

trophyBest Purchase

Can you believe Ancestry was giving away DNA kits for only $49??? I was floored when I saw that! I was one of the first people in the expo hall because I left the opening session a little early. I hopped right to the front of the line and picked up the maximum 5 kits. I am so excited to use them for both my parents’ siblings! Throughout the weekend there was a constant line, sometimes of 50+ people waiting to buy DNA tests at the 2 registers they had. Of course since the limit was only 5 per transaction plenty of people got back in line and walked away with 20+ kits! Insanity!

trophy2017-02-09-19-01-28Best Extra-Curricular Event

I attended all the evening events (at least for a few minutes) as well as a sponsored lunch, lab session and a quick visit to the Family History Library. Without a doubt the best event was the concert, “Music: It Runs in the Family,” featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III. As someone who was a “theatre kid” in high school I was thrilled to hear an evening of show tunes from musicals I worked on or watched. Even better were the stories and videos that wove together the story of Andy’s ancestors and brought the entire event to life. It was truly a fantastic event in a gorgeous building.

All-in-all this was an unforgettable weekend. I am already eager to book my travel arrangements for next year’s conference, which will be held February 28th – March 3rd. I hope if you haven’t been able to attend RootsTech before you will find a way to attend next year’s event. It certainly will be hard to live up to this year, but I have no doubt the organizers will manage to exceed the new standard they have set.

See you next time Salt Lake City!

I often participate in the SNGF series from Genea-Musings! You can check out the original post here.

This week’s prompt is:

Using the Facebook “Learn About Each Other” meme being passed around this week, answer the 32 questions as listed below.

1. Who are you named after?  No one. I am a twin so my parents each chose a first name for one child and a middle name for the other child! My mom chose my first name and my dad chose my middle name.
2. Last time you cried? A moment of stress and frustration a few weeks ago.
3. Do you like your handwriting? Kind of. My hand cramps up really easily when writing which can make it look bad.
4. What is your favorite lunch meat?
 Ham, if we’re getting specific: Boar’s Head Pesto Parmesan Ham is the best.
6. Longest relationship?  5 months maybe? I don’t remember.
7. Do you still have your tonsils? yes
8. Would you bungee jump? no
9. What is your favorite kind of cereal? Captain Crunch has always been a guilty pleasure.
10. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? no
11. Do you think you’re strong? Fairly strong compared to the average female my age, I guess.
12. Favorite ice cream? I have been lactose intolerant for a few years but prior to that my favorite was cake batter or cinnamon.
13. What is the first thing you notice about a person? Face shape. I feel like that’s weird.
14. Football or baseball? HOCKEY!
15. What color pants are you wearing? Gray pjs.
16. Last thing you ate? Taquitos.
17. What are you listening to? My favorite band: SafetySuit.
18. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Cerulean
19. What is your Favorite Smell?  Smoked paprika
20. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone? My sister.
21. Hair color? Dark blonde.
22. Eye color? Blue/green
23. Favorite foods to eat? Popcorn, Chipotle burritos, caramels
24. Scary movies or happy endings? Happy endings.
25. Last movie you watched? LaLaLand
26. What color shirt are you wearing? White
29. What is your favorite holiday?  Christmas or Thanksgiving, anytime we get to cook a big family meal.
30. Beer or Wine? Neither. The only alcoholic beverage I can convince myself I like is pineapple rum in pineapple juice.
31. Night owl or morning person? Night owl.
32. Favorite day of the week? Saturday, especially if it’s a hockey weekend!

Next week I’m off to RootsTech2017! I’m looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things! I’ll try to take some pictures and remember to post an update when I return!

I love participating in the SNGF series from Genea-Musings. You can see the original post about this week’s topic here.

This week’s prompt is:

1) What was your best research achievement in 2016? Tell us – show us a document, or tell us a story, or display a photograph. Brag a bit! You’ve earned it!

My best research achievement this year was a breakthrough on the details of the life of my great-grandfather Walter Howard Bell (1881-1934). Walter has been a mysterious character. His ancestors were easy enough to trace back very far (thank you Quaker records) but his own life was murky. He was a traveling rep for an oil company and lived everywhere from Illinois to Montana to Minneapolis to New York to Ohio. I was aware from early in my research that Walter was married more than once. I had found a little information about his first wife but that was it. This year I really set out one weekend to follow Walter wherever he took me. After browsing 50+ city directories, using a free trial of and ordering some vital records I discovered a lot of new information about Walter’s life!

I already knew Walter was born in Illinois and moved with his family to Kansas then to Helena, Montana. Walter’s father was an architect who won a contest to design the state capitol building in Montana. As a young man Walter had worked as a clerk in a bank in town and in 1906 he ventured away from home to Minneapolis (not Chicago like the city directory said!)

  • Walter met his first wife, Anna Hertel, daughter of German immigrants, while working for a quarry ibell-1907-newspaper-walter-anna-hertel-10-jan-anaconda-standard-news-mt-th_an_st-1907_01_10-0011-copyn Minneapolis. From the city directories I learned that his wife’s sister was a secretary at the company and I’m assuming that is how they met. Walter and Anna eloped in Montana in 1907 with the help of a doctor who convinced Anna’s parents she needed some “fresh Montana air” for her health. Walter’s brother and fiance met them there, had a double wedding and returned to Minneapolis together the next day! I confirmed this by locating marriage licenses for both couples. Walter and Anna had a daughter, Claudia Margaret/Marguerite. I later learned that Anna suffered with tuberculosis most of her life. She and Walter separated/divorced in 1908 and about 10 years later she died in a tuberculosis hospital in Minneapolis. I also finally found her burial location thanks to her death certificate and within days a kind volunteer had shared a photo on FindAGrave.
  • In addition to learning about his first wife, I was able to track more of the rest of his life, including a possible second marriage to a woman in New Jersey, where he was living when later that year he married his third wife, Leda Curtis. Walter spent a few years living in New Jersey while he worked in New York City, which is where the oil company’s headquarters were. Together they moved to Chicago and had a son. Shortly thereafter they moved to Ohio and within a year they had separated. Interestingly the wife returned to Chicago after the separation and she remarried. I was able to find a photo of her and their son on Ancestry.

I already knew this information, but to end the story: Soon after the separation from his third wife Walter married my grandmother, Grace McKee. (I have yet to find a record of an actual marriage though.) They were married for 10 years and had just moved across the state for Walter’s new job as a regional manager for another oil company when he suddenly passed away in 1934.

2) We all have elusive ancestors. What research problem do you want to work on in 2017? Tell us where you want to research and what you hope to find.

After the discoveries above I’m still hoping to learn more about Walter H. Bell. I want to confirm Walter’s possible 2nd marriage and locate a record of his 4th marriage. I am also very interested in identifying and making contact with possible descendants of his other children in order to confirm the relationships with DNA. I would love to hear if any stories have been passed down from the other perspective, since there were certainly none from my family. My primary lead for this is a cousin who possibly has the information or knows where to find it. I have struggled to locate the daughter after her mother passed away and I cannot locate a marriage of the son but I hear he did get married.

I also can’t talk about research problems without hoping I’ll break through my brick wall and locate the birth date, birthplace, death date, death place and parents names of my ancestor John H. McKee! I mostly ignored him in 2016, but maybe 2017 will be the year I finally figure him out!

I can dream, anyway.

download-pdfA guide for people who might be interested in genealogy

A few days ago I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who mentioned that she bought an AncestryDNA on a whim and just received her results. She had never done any genealogical research and had no idea what she was doing. I offered to give her some pointers and help her get started on her genealogy research. I started typing out a document with the basic background information she would need to understand the test and how genealogy research works but it got out of control and I ended up with 5 pages of information! Oops!

I happened to mention this absurd document in the AncestryDNA Matching Facebook Group and several people suggested I share it so that’s what I have done here. Click the link at the bottom of the post that says “Download the PDF” to download the file. Enjoy!

Before you read this I want to warn you…I am NOT an expert in genetic genealogy. I am relatively new to the entire process myself, so if I’ve made a fatal error please let me know gently. The purpose of this document is to give a total beginner who has already invested in a DNA test enough basic information to decide if they are interested in pursuing genealogy further. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide and it does not provide specific sources of further information. If you read this and decide you want to learn more about genealogy or DNA you should pursue further resources on your own, I don’t have anything to recommend to you for further reading. And if it sounds like an infomercial for genealogy that is intentional because I think everyone should love genealogy as much as I do! 🙂

–> Download the PDF: So You’ve Taken an AncestryDNA Test

I love participating in Randy Seaver’s SNGF series! You can find a link to the original post here if you want to participate. This week’s prompt is:

What goals do you have for your genealogy research, education and writing during 2017?


  • Complete the entire 2017 Genealogy Do Over program from Thomas MacEntee. As I have indicated in a few posts I am participating in the do-over as a way to clean up my genealogical research and get back on the right track. I have already completed months 1 & 2, now I need to keep it up!
  • Visit the National Archives and scan a few pension files. I have a spring break trip planned in that direction to visit family and I really want to visit NARA while I’m there!
  • Administer more DNA tests. On the same trip I will be taking along 3 DNA kits to administer to family members. My mom, while not a genealogist, seems already eager to purchase even more kits for other family members to take the tests! I am hoping to get some relatives on my dad’s side to test as well but that will require getting in touch with people that haven’t been in contact in 30+ years.
  • Put DNA results to use! I had my parents and grandfather complete DNA tests in the last 18 months but I have not really pursued the matches. After joining the Central Indiana DNA Group I think I have gathered most of the necessary skills to follow up on the matches and learn from them. I have already begin doing so a little and I plan to do more this year.


  • Attend RootsTech 2017 in February to learn even more techniques I can apply to my research. I am so beyond excited and grateful that Roots Tech offered a student discount that made it feasible for me to attend the conference. I can’t wait to get on that plane in 3 weeks!
  • Stay up to date on podcasts and videos I subscribe to.
  • Pay attention to opportunities for free webinars.
  • Join #genchat on twitter! I have been so bad about remembering to log in for these. And if I don’t forget then I’m busy that night. I need to add these to my calendar so I remember to participate!
  • Attend as many local events as possible. In 2016 I was able to attend 2 one-day conferences at local societies and I hope to attend more this year. I have joined my local genealogy society and I’m trying to attend events as often as I can but most fall during the week when I have classes. I am also attending the local Central Indiana DNA Group when I am able.
  • For Christmas I received a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I look forward to familiarizing myself with citation formats so I can write better citations for my sources as I’m researching this year.


  • My goal this year is to publish at least one blog post a week. I didn’t do very well at that last year, but it’s a new year, time to start fresh!
  • I am really interested in learning how to write my ancestors’ stories this year. To that end I have signed up for a lab at Roots Tech and for Christmas I received a copy of Personal Historian 2. I hope to put these two opportunities to use this year. I have a few ancestors in mind that I would like to start with and I hope to accomplished at least one ancestor’s personal history this year.

I didn’t realize I had so many goals until I started typing them! Hopefully I am able to accomplish some of these. I don’t have a good track record with genealogy goals, but that might be a side effect of attending graduate school full time.

I hope you accomplish your goals in 2017!

I am participating in Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over 2017! I have purchased the workbook and I completed the first month’s task so I’m skipping ahead to month 2 a little early!

The second task is to prepare for research by establishing procedures and goals. I took the basic procedures described in the workbook and fleshed them out to a more complete and personalized list. Here is what I came up:

  1. Track all work.
    1. Keep a research log that includes all discoveries for a family group. I am using Thomas MacEntee’s free research log as the starting point. FILL IT OUT COMPLETELY. No skipping over things to save time!
    2. Keep research notes. I do not necessarily plan to keep a search log with every variation of every search term I enter into a website, this is just unrealistic knowing myself. But I will make it a goal to end every search session with a few notes in Evernote or Word discussing the general searches I conducted, where and results of the session, including lack of results.
    3. Keep RootsMagic tree current and complete. I have been slacking off here for a long time and just putting everything on Ancestry but I need to keep an updated and complete RootsMagic tree so I can take advantage of all it’s features.
    4. Keep an updated to-do list – be specific! I still need to figure out the best place to keep this list, maybe RootsMagic or Evernote? I haven’t decided yet.
  2. Cite all sources.
    1. I need to browse my (new!) copy of Evidence Explained to familiarize myself with various citation formats. Thomas’s research log offers tempates that should help with this.
    2. Create a citation in RootsMagic (and Ancestry) for every single source obtained for a person! No slacking here!
  3. Extract all information.
    1. Save the document in the correct location with the correct file name immediately.
    2. Transcribe the document into my research log and RootsMagic
    3. Link source and image to tree and tree events immediately!! (This goes with keeping an updated tree.)
    4. Attach that document to every necessary person at the same time! (I have a bad habit of not doing this with census records and it causes me problems later.)
    5. Indicate in notes where a document raises new questions or suggests new leads, don’t expect to just remember this.
    6. Consider investing in a software that facilitates analyzing evidence. I hear all the commercials for Evidentia and it intrigues me but in a recent webinar by Thomas he listed a few more options I’d like to investigate.

Whew! That’s a lot of rule, but mainly there are 3 rules and just a lot of notes for how to accomplish them, which isn’t so bad. I think I will print this list and keep it posted on my fridge as a reminder to myself. I don’t really have a workspace in my house right now so the fridge is probably my best place to ensure I see it often!

The next task was to set goals. Obviously goals need to be specific and based on known information so they will necessarily change frequently. My initial broad goal for this redo is to start by researching my direct paternal line as far back as possible. Once I have accomplished some work on this I will return to my mother’s side. In the past I have found my mother’s side of the tree to be a little more difficult and messy to research so hopefully solidifying good practices on my paternal lines will make for good habits once I get to trickier research. Beyond this I’ll start with some small goals and tasks:

  • Verify the birthplace/date for each of my parents
  • Verify the marriage place/date for my parents
  • Verify the birthplace/date for each of my grandparents
  • Verify the marriage place/date for each of my grandparents

I’ll start there and hopefully check the first two off by simply pulling some documents from my parents’ filing cabinets!

Month 2: check!


Anderson, Bell, McKee, Hartzell, Cather, Straughen/Straughn, Barbour, Coleman, Fisher, Leppert, Shimp

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