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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


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.

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 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!

This year I am planning to participate in Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over! I have purchased the fantastic workbook and I am starting with Month 1!

do-over-folderMonth 1 is all about setting aside research and preparing for a do-over. Since 95% of my genealogy is digital, this is an easy task for me. I have created a new folder in my genealogy files for all my do-over research. Since my paper files are already scattered among boxes and not organized there’s nothing really to do there.

Month 1: check!

I’m going to skip ahead to month 2 since I’ve got a few more days before classes start.


My grandfather who started it all, Milton Hartzell Anderson.

I’m a few days late but I love participating in the SNGF series from Genea-Musings when I have an opportunity. Genealogy has taken kind of a back burner this summer and fall thanks to a travel-heavy summer and beginning graduate school in August. Here is a link to the original post:

The prompt for this week is: What was the “trigger,” that started you actively researching your family history and genealogy?

This week’s prompt really spoke to me because I have a very vivid memory of what got me started in genealogy. To preface this story, my maternal grandmother spent 25+ years working on her genealogy. In the end of her life she began working on my father’s genealogy in order to establish my and my sibings’ eligibility to join the First Families of Warren County and the Daughters of the American Revolution. At the time I had no appreciation for the amount of work that went into this. I was barely surviving my American history course in high school and I had no desire to spend any more time on history. I declined official membership in the DAR, which I now regret because I do not have all the documents assembled and described anymore. My grandmother passed away in 2008, shortly before I left for college, and I never developed an interest in genealogy while she was alive. I was impressed with the tidbits she threw out like the evolution of last names in our family or countries of origin but the nitty-gritty work of genealogy was repellent to me.

Fast forward 6 years. I have graduated college and I’m teaching middle school French. One day, out of the blue, I’m sitting in my living room in my hand-me-down Lay-Z-Boy and a thought suddenly occurs to me. “I have no idea what my [paternal] grandfather did during his WWII service.” This was distressing to me because we were about to take a trip to Normandy and I had no idea if he was there or what he did. My father wasn’t entirely sure either because he didn’t talk about it much. I never had an opportunity to ask because my grandfather died the year before I was born. This led to my next thought: “I bet I can find it online.” I was a self-proclaimed internet search guru. I was one of those people that used to enjoy that game Google developed around searching. I also love a challenge. I set out on a quest to determine where I could find information about his service.

It turns out it would take me three months to find his enlistment information and even longer to learn that his would have been one of thousands of records that burned in St. Louis in the 1970’s. In the mean time I found information about his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather and it before I knew what had happened I was hooked. This genealogy fever lead to my mother digging out the boxes and boxes of research my grandmother did in her lifetime. Records she drove across the country to retrieve but were already sitting on my hard drive thanks to digitization projects. My father dug out boxes of his father’s things which contained artifacts from his war experience that allowed me to piece together a basic understanding of his service. Countless family photos I had never seen leading to memories and stories I had never heard. A tour of my dad’s hometown where my paternal line lived for almost 150 years. All of this was fascinating to me. Not only was it drawing artifacts out of the woodwork of my own house, it was an endless internet search mystery and the prize was the story of the people I am related to.

It was so fascinating that I’m writing this post from the Indiana University library while I am waiting for my Archives and Records Management class to start so I can be part of the next generation of genealogists!

2016-05-12 14.58.28My family may not have any Italian roots (I should know, I just got our AncestryDNA results), but nothing describes my dad quite like a big pan of lasagna. It probably wasn’t passed down generation to generation but my dad’s lasagna recipe is carefully written on a stained index card in my dad’s block letters. It’s a hearty but simple meal that takes patience and love to bring together. Lasagna is a dish that gets made once a year or less in our house, so you know when the sheet noodles and Italian sausage come out it’s a special day. These days with fewer people in my parents’ household, one on a diet and two who are lactose intolerant, lasagna is an endangered species.

I wasn’t planning to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad until Monday when the restaurant traffic would die down and we could go enjoy a meal together without anyone stressing over the stove. My dad isn’t the kind of person you can buy a tool or a tie for. The most valuable things you can give him are time together and homemade food. We already had the time part in mind with dinner out but when I woke up this I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something. Still in bed, I browsed Pinterest for inspiration when I remembered my dad’s lasagna. So I quickly texted my mother for the recipe…and continued texting her all day for advice, as I usually do when I’m cooking something new. It turned out great, you can find the recipe below.

A few hours later I ended up with 3 small pans of lasagna to freeze for whenever dad wants it. I also picked up a bag of his favorite local potato chips and this afternoon I received a message from my mother warning me that my dad saw the picture of homemade cupcakes I shared on social media. I can’t wait to see him tomorrow to give him his bag of goodies! I hope you had the chance to make special memories with a father figure in your life this Father’s Day!



Dad’s Lasagna
Serves 12

1-1.5 lbs Italian sausage
10 oz lasagna noodles (not the “no-boil” variety)
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2T dried parsley flakes
2 beaten eggs
2t salt
1/2t ground pepper
1lb sliced mozzarella

For sauce: (or you can buy 40-60 oz your favorite sauce)
1 clove garlic
1T chopped fresh basil
1/2 t salt
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
2 6-oz cans tomato paste

Begin by putting a stock pot of water on to boil. While the water is coming to a boil brown the sausage in a skillet and spoon off the excess fat.

Add either the sauce or the sauce ingredients to the pan to simmer for 30 minutes. Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions while the sauce is simmering.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine 2c ricotta and the next 5 ingredients in a bowl.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool. Prepare a 9×13 baking pan for the lasagna. It can help to spray the pan to avoid stray cheese sticking.

Layer the elements in the baking sheet beginning with a thin layer of sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking. Then add a layer of noodles, overlapping slightly and going all the way to the edge of the pan. You can always cut and tear noodles to make everything fit snugly. Next add a layer of 1/2 the ricotta mixture, an offset spatula can really help with this. Then comes  a layer of mozzarella.

Repeat with a second layer of each ingredient. If you have any extra sauce add it before the last layer of mozzarella. You will probably have some lasagna noodles leftover but you should use all the ricotta and sauce.

Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes. If the top layer of mozzarella begins to brown too much cover the pan with foil until it is finished baking. Another option is to wait and add the last layer of mozzarella in the last 15 minutes of baking. Allow it to stand 10 minutes before serving.

If you plan to freeze the lasagna, freeze it before you bake it. If you can’t eat the whole pan of lasagna within a couple of days then use smaller pans and freeze the rest uncooked.

Anderson 1940c Lumber MillI tried new technique that Lisa Louise Cooke talked about on her Genealogy Gems YouTube channel recently! I used the website Animoto to create a video about the history of the Anderson Lumber Company, which was in my family for almost 90 years! I only did the free version so the quality is lower and there’s a watermark on the video, but it’s still a fun tool!

The company was founded in 1876 by my 3x great-grandfather L. G. Anderson in Franklin, Ohio. He passed the company down through three more generations before my grandfather Milton Anderson sold the company in 1963 and moved to Ohio to manage a hardware store. Today the only memory of the company, aside from the photographs, is a street named Anderson Street where the business was located. Watch the video below to find out more:

Check out Animoto to make your own or visit the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel to hear more of her suggestions.

I love participating in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun from Genea-Musings! Today is not Saturday, it’s Sunday, and I’ll admit 90% of the reason I’m writing this post is to procrastinate work I have to do at 9:30pm on a Sunday.

Today’s prompt is a relaxed one that is easy for me to answer! You can see the original post here:

Tell us about your “other” hobbies or interests outside of genealogy and family history research, writing, speaking, etc.

  1. Travel: I loooove to travel. And I love to plan trips almost as much as taking the trips. My favorite trips have been the times where I’ve been given a large block of time with complete freedom to determine how my family will spend it. I’ve been to England/Scotland (sadly this was pre-genealogy for me) and France. Currently working on a trip to Scandinavia this summer!
  2. Hockey: I am a huge hockey fan, especially college hockey. I drive 2.5 hours southeast every weekend to watch my alma mater’s hockey team.
  3. Cooking: I enjoy cooking, but I especially enjoy selecting what I feel are the best and most authentic recipes for interesting foods. I love making things completely from scratch and knowing that it’s good because I used good quality ingredients and gave it plenty of time to develop good flavors.
  4. Concerts: I like pop and punk pop music and I go to a LOT of concerts by myself during tour season.
  5. TV: As a single person I watch way too much TV. Mostly crime shows like Criminal Minds and anything “Chicago” and comedies like Big Bang Theory and Young and Hungry.
  6. Other things: I like to play video games, watch IndyCar racing, watch makeup videos on YouTube (and buy way too much makeup), go to garage sales and read romance novels.

That’s it about me! 🙂

Recently while browsing my files I noticed a list I made in Word titled “Genealogy Goals 2015” so I thought I should take a look back at the progress I’ve made towards these goals since I made this list back in December 2014.

  1. Solidify sources for grandparents & great-grandparents, then continue back through generations. Funny enough, I was just thinking about this today. I’ve learned a lot about improving source citations, etc. over the last year and a half. Of course I made rookie mistakes early in my tree and I don’t think I’ve done a very good job going back and cleaning it up! FAIL
  2. Attach media to family members in Roots Magic. I had every intention of being one of those enviable genealogists who duplicates every entry from to their software program….but I haven’t been able to keep up with it. I have satisfied myself by periodically downloading my GEDCOM file from my tree on and importing it to a new tree in RootsMagic but until they finally release the update that will allow syncing between the trees I’ll never be able to replicate my trees properly. FAIL
  3. Explore new tools available online. Finally something I’ve actually done! I think I’ve done a great job of this over the last year and a half. I’ve been watching a lot of videos from on YouTube to learn about strategies for using the website and searching the records. I’ve explored a lot of websites I had never tried before like Fold3 and various local repositories like an obituary request service from my local library, etc. SUCCESS
  4. Attach information about ancestors to I have been a FindAGrave fiend this year. I have taken a lot of volunteer photos, linked relatives, added photos, transcribed obituaries, etc. into the website. I love using it so I love making it more useful to other people. As of today I manage 55 memorials and I’ve added 133 photos. Woohoo! SUCCESS
  5. Visit more cemeteries. Hmmm I’ve visited a lot of cemeteries but I can’t remember if any of these were new and relevant to my family. I definitely have some on my list few, like a few north of Dayton and some in the Dayton area other than Woodland. MAYBE?
  6. Develop paper files? HAHAHA! even 2014 me knew how far-fetched this was and added the “?” to the end. I’m a mess enough in my everyday life. I don’t need paper files to make me even more of a mess. I’m pretty proud of how I’ve organized my digital files and I think keeping that in order is enough work for me. FAIL

Well looks like I didn’t achieve many of my goals but I think the ones I did achieve were some of the most important! I don’t think this post could be complete without setting some new goals for myself. I’ve listed 5 of them below:

  1. Purchase materials to begin the process of preserving my family photos and documents. I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time but cost has kept these resources out of reach. It’s still one of my top priorities for the future.
  2. Clean up my “rookie mistakes”. Like I said above, I need to comb the tangles out of my tree and fix any citation errors.
  3. Join and attend a local genealogical society. I struggle with this because my local county chapter folded and the nearest one is far away from me. But I’d like to motivate myself to attend!
  4. Learn more about records specific to Montgomery County. I have a brick wall ancestor who lived in Montgomery County, Ohio prior to 1850 and I have struggled to locate records pertaining to his birth and death.
  5. Work on my own digitization project! I have a ledger book from my ancestor’s business that lists the purchase history and account balance of various people in town. I really want to scan/photograph and digitize this book with a searchable index. It doesn’t have any genealogical information but it’s a fun enriching detail to a tree!


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

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