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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


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’!


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!

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!

I know it’s Thursday but I finally found a minute to post my response to last weekend’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun! post from Genea-Musings. I love participating in these posts! You can find the original post here:

This week’s prompt is:

Tell us about your “genealogy life.”  How much genealogy and family history work do you do, on average, each week?  What tasks do you routinely perform every day, every month, every year?

It’s really hard for me to quantify my time spent on genealogy because I am so inconsistent with it. With a full time job that requires a lot of overtime I don’t have a lot of time to work on genealogy. I do most of my research on odd weekends or during the summer. There are some weeks I spend 12+ hours working and some weeks I spend no hours at all on  genealogy. I don’t have any consistent routines because I don’t have a regular schedule to work.

Well that was a lame answer. I hope I have a better one this time next year!

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.

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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