Paul BDYesterday a friend ask me if she needed to keep her old negatives,
since she has the photos. I told her what I would do – that is what you get
when you ask me a question. I always scan my old negatives, and any that family are willing to let me scan, as tiff files. Tiff files are large files, but once scanned I know I have something that won’t lose data, like a jpg might, and I can always save a copy as a jpg to share with family and friends. Then I still save the negatives in a file, possibly to never be looked at again. But that is just what I do.

Think of a jpg file as a photocopy. You can make a photocopy of a photocopy, and if you continue to do that you will eventually end up with a distorted copy. A tiff file is a more stable file, that you can use, copy and edit and still have a something that will allow you to print a large photo if you chose to. I have even been given jpg files that I save as tiffs in order to stop the loss of data from the picture.

After I explained this to her, she looked at me like, “why did I ask” and then said “Well, these are just pictures of the kids birthdays.” My reply, “wouldn’t you love to have a picture of your great-grandmother when she was a child at a birthday party?” Think into the future of your yet unknown descendants and use the wonderful technologies we have been given. While we don’t print pictures as much as we use to, we certainly save, share, and document our photos like we have never been able to do. [The above picture is of my brother Paul Bliss at a birthday party].

google earthGoogle Earth is a free mapping program that lets you travel the world, the oceans, and even outer space, all from your home. It is more than Google Maps as it allows you to see and overlay layers such as adding roads, rivers, and railroads, and historic maps to your earth view. The program can be downloaded free and will work on both PC and Mac operating systems.

I always want to see the land where my ancestors lived, I like to find the distance between the town they lived in and the town where other family members lived. If they lived close to a county or state border, they may have created records in that different place. The Kinner’s of Whitehall Township, New York,  sometimes married in the bordering state of Vermont, and as they also lived nearly on the border of Ft. Ann Township, they also created records in Ft. Ann.

I often find old plat maps that show the division of land with the name of each owner labeled on their property, and I sometime find old historic maps that identiy, each land owner in the area on their property. I save the map as a jpg. and then overlay it on Google Earth to show where that property would be in today’s world. Images can be adjusted so the scale of both the map and Google Earth are the same.

There are websites that will automatically overlay images onto Google Earth. The BLM [Bureau of Land Management ]Website at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/ has early land records including bounty land, and has a Google Earth function built in. Historic Map Works, also has a built-in overlay function. If you set a free Google Earth sign-in you can save your searches, and revisit them without re-creating the search. From an old Missionary Journal, I was able to track the travels from town to town of an early missionary, and create a virtual tour of the towns he preached in, which was then sent to other family members. I recently found a KMZ  file online of the Scottish Clans showing where there Clan Lands were originally located. By overlaying it on Google Earth, I was able to find the areas of Scotland where my ancestors lived, and track their migration.

As a long time user and teacher of Google Earth, I was pleased to find that Google Earth Pro is also now free. While I can do most of what I want on Google Earth, Google Pro allows higher resolution printing, and has a spreadsheet that lets you  map multiple addresses at once. It also includes a movie maker which will allow you to create video presentations. You can also get an app to use Google Earth on your phone or tablet. Enjoy!

I love books. I love  genealogy, and I really love things that are free. These are some of my favorite
sites to locate free books. Maybe one of them  could possibly help your with your family history.free books

  1. Google Books -books.google.com If you find an old publication you may be able to download it as a pdf. Best time frame for these free books is before 1900.
  2. FamilySearch http://books.familysearch.org – or go to the  Search Tab and go to the Book Search. This currently contains mostly family surname books  so search your surname to see if your family  published a book, or if your surname has been included in one.  These are digitized and readable online, some are even free to download.
  3. Internet Archive at archive.org is a gold mine of  many things. One great search is in the ‘Text’ section. Among its many features is the American Libraries Collection which contains over 1000 family histories, and hundreds of city directories. These are free to search, view online or download.
  4. Cyndi’s List at http://www.cyndislist.com/books/ebooks also has hundreds of free eBooks which can be read online
  5. HathiTrust Digital Library at http://www.hathitrust.org has millions of books. While some are a limited search, others have a full view of the book. My search for Quaker’s of North Caroline returned 16 books, 6 were completely viewable volumes. It is definitely worth taking a look.
  6. HeritageQuest is online and available at most libraries. You access it  through your library site, using your  library card. Downloading is limited to 50 pages, however, I have then gone back in and downloaded the next 50 pages when I  had a larger book.
  7. OpenLibrary at openlibrary.org has over 1 million free eBooks available. Make sure you check’ eBooks only’, or you will find hard bound books for purchase.
  8. Don’t forget the Wiki at FmilySearch.org. Go to the State or Country you are researching and click on the link to their archives and libraries. This is where you will find, among many other things, the free digital collects that particular library offers online.

February is a great month to stay indoors and read a book. I hope you can locate a helpful one through one of these websites.

nara seal

I’m too busy watching the Free National Archives Online Genealogy Fair to Blog this week . You can use the following link then subscribe to their YouTube Channel and learn about the treasures you can find in the U.S. National Archives.. http://www.archives.gov/calendar/genealogy-fair/

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.25.28 PMWhile preparing to teach a class last week on Google Earth and Land, I revisited the BLM website  If you are searching for an ancestor in the US this site is worth a visit. See http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/

The site is free, [your tax dollars at work], and contains land patents, military bounty land warrants, and land grants as well as credit entries, mining and timber claims and homesteads, for the United States. Land patents give information about people who obtained the title to their land directly from the federal government.

Millions of land patents are available and include the years from 1788 to the 1960s. Patents show the name of the patentee, date, legal description of the land, patent number, and the land office that issued the patent. This information can be used to obtain land patent application papers. You can order the applications papers if you wish to get more information about an ancestor. The applications  may contain information about family members, where an ancestor resided previously, citizenship applications, Family Bible pages, marriage or death certificates, and affidavits.

I searched for Oliver Woodward in Ohio, whom I knew had received Bounty land for his Revolutionary War service. I found several records for land that he had  received, and when I opened the ‘related documents’  tab, I also found deeds for his sons Elihu and Oliver Jr., plus a deed for Mary Corner,  Oliver Jr.s  second wife. In addition, I found  two deeds  for William Corner, the father of Mary (Corner) (McGrath) Woodward.

Scroll down the page to reveal a map and the land description that includes, the Meridian, Section, Township and Range, with a map showing below. Check the land description box and your ancestor’s land will be placed on the map

I love land records for the wealth of information they can provide, and for their placement of a person on the earth in a specific place at a specific time. I recently helped index some early deeds from Rehoboth Massachusetts. I knew my family had lived in Rehoboth for nearly 200 years, but was delighted to find a deed signed by the town purchasers on the 28 June 1653. It was signed by 41 men and 8 of them were my direct ancestors.


In Family History we sometimes find ourselves unable to move our research back another generation. We often call this a ‘brick wall’. In order to deconstruct the wall, and achieve some success, we need to understand how the wall was built. Here are the most common reasons

  1. Not understanding there was probably at least one other person, if not more, with the same name as your ancestor, living in the same area. You need to understand the area your family came from and be familiar with why documents were created. [HINT: work with a timeline of your ancestor to help sort him from the others – they all had the same names.]
  2. Not having enough sources. You will need several sources to make valid conclusions – one or two is not usually sufficient. [HINT: Every event needs a date, a place and a source]
  3. You copied your family pedigree from another family member, and ‘assumed’ that it was correct. Copying means that dates, names and places can be transcribed in error, and if the people you copied from also copied their records from someone else, then the possible problems can duplicate quickly. Errors in previous research make a great brick wall.
  4. If the records don’t match what we already believe, we develop a theory of why they don’t, because we are unwilling to change our minds.
  5. Your family has told you that you come from a ‘famous historical figure’ so you try to make all of your research prove that point, and even jump a generation to get where you want to be.
  6. Relying on published genealogies. Forget for a moment that there were some early fraudulent genealogies published, from which many families have based their lineage. Just the fact that many online pedigrees are not sourced should make you suspicious.
  7. Failure to track your family through every possible census.
  8. Believing, without proving, the family legend.
  9. Failing to look at the people that surrounded your ancestor. If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, in this case your ancestor is the needle, to find him, you need to make the needle bigger. Look for siblings, children, in-laws- neighbors who were part of your ancestor’s circle.
  10. Failing to understand that your ancestor was probably normal, meaning they did the things that others in their area did. If the age for owning land was 21 – then your ancestor, most likely, didn’t own land until they were at least that age.
  11. Moving back in time too quickly. Our ancestor came from England so we start there. You need to start at your last FACT. That means an event that has been proven, and then locate where in England you need to look before upi leap across the pond.

I could add other reasons, but these are the most common. Use a timeline, make sure what you are finding fits into that timeline, and evaluate carefully if you want more success in your searches. Oh- I almost forgot, and yes I know I say this all the time– keep a research log.

cowboy sillouetFamily legends are fun to pass down, often they are true, sometime they have truth woven in them and then there are the other times.

My grandfather’s older sister was an early pioneer, who came across plains as a baby in 1848, or maybe not.

What we thought we knew: Norman Bliss and Elizabeth Ann [Betsey] (Bird) married in Nauvoo Illinois in 1846. They were driven out by mobs and fled with other Mormon Saints to Winter Quarters where their only child, a daughter Mary Ann Bliss was born. Norman and Elizabeth [Betsey] soon divorced. She married a man at Winter Quarters named George Bryant Gardner, with whom she had 3 more childre

The story goes that when Betsey divorced Norman in 1847-1848, she left Mary Ann, who was 18 months old for him to raise. As they crossed the plains, a lady by the name of Kalain took care of Mary Ann. When a rest was called Norman would go to the wagon and take Mary Ann in his arms and love on her and sing to her. When they camped for the night, he would take Mary Ann and his older son Orley with him until morning.” I always had a picture in my mind of my great-grandfather cradling his baby girl every evening as trekked west. It is a very sweet, sentimental tale with a problem. The documents don’t support the story. Mary Ann was not on that wagon train with Norman, and neither was anyone with a name that could possibly be the mysterious ‘Kalain’. See http://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/ for the wagon trains and passengers.

FACT: Norman and Orley came in 1848 with the second Brigham Young Company. Orley, who was around 7 or 8, drove a team and wagon, while his father drove a second team. There was no Mary Ann traveling with the company.

FACT: Mary Ann come west in 1850 with the Wilford Woodruff Company. Also in that Company was her mother Elizabeth [Betsey] Ann Gardner, her second husband George Bryant Gardner, and their daughter Emily. Mary Ann was 3 years old – quite young but not a baby.


FACT: Sometime after they arrived in Salt Lake, Betsey divorced George Bryant, married Kimball Hardy, and gave Mary Ann to her father Norman to raise.  Betsey then married a man named Kimball Hard. They lived in Salt Lake for a few years and then moved to California – not taking Mary Ann with them. See Salt Lake City 1856 Census.


Somehow the romance is gone from the story. No cowboy lovingly cradling and singing to his baby girl at the end of each day’s ride, and no woman on the wagon train taking caring of the baby, Mary Ann.


It is much more likely that after the divorce, since both Betsey and Norman were living in Winter Quarters, that he often saw his baby and held her and sang to her. However, it didn’t happen on the trail, and they did not come west together.


Many family stories have some truth in them. Unfortunately for this one the documents and reality don’t fit the tradition. Do your favorite family stories make sense? It doesn’t matter so much who is right, as it matters what is right.Try documenting them and find out, but be careful, I still have some family members that are not happy with what I found.





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