Category Archives: Tips

Finding New Death Certificates on Seeking Michigan

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Yes, you read the headline correctly. I’m talking about Michigan death certificates. Just because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a great genealogical resource from that state up north. (Plus, my 3rd-great-grandmother Margaret McKitrick died there in 1924, so I was pretty excited to see this new collection!)

Seeking Michigan ( has had death certificates from 1897-1920 on the site for some time. This week, they added 1921-1939. (NOTE: The title of the collection currently reads “1921-1952.” The index from 1940-1952 will actually be added over the next few weeks, with images added as Michigan’s 76-year privacy restriction allows.)

To access these new certificates, go to and click “Advanced Search” at the top of the page:

Seeking Michigan website death certificates

You’ll get a search form and you can select which collection(s) you want to search:


Although you can search both sets of death certificates at once, I suggest you search them separately. My experience is that combining the two collections and doing a search for “Last Name” (rather than “All fields”) breaks the search. For example, I did a search for Behnke in “Last Name” and had both collections selected. I got zero results. However, when I did the search for Behnke in “Last Name” in just the 1897-1920 collection, I got 32 results. There is no “Last Name” option for the 1921-1952 collection. (I suspect this is the issue with getting no results when combined and doing a “Last Name” search. Hopefully the fine folks at Seeking Michigan will get the fields mapped so that “Last Name” will work as expected.)

(UPDATE: Kris Rzepczynski of the Archives of Michigan confirmed that there is a little bug with the new collection that isn’t allowing searches by “Last Name.” This should be fixed when the 1940-1952 certificates are added in a few weeks. In the meantime, either search the two collections separately or leave the search field as the default “All fields.”)

Searching for Margaret McKitrick

My 3rd-great-grandmother Margaret McKitrick died in Michigan in 1924. I did my searches only in the “1921-1952” collection. The first search I did was for McKitrick in all fields — and I got zero results. I did the search again for Mc Kitrick (with a space) in all fields and got this result:

Margaret McKitrick results in Seeking Michigan

Tip: When working with “Mc” or “Mac” surnames, always run your search twice — once with a space and once without.

This results looks like the one I’m looking for. Yay! To see the certificate, I clicked the little thumbnail image.

Seeking Michigan death certificate viewer

I can click and drag the image to see different parts of it, I can zoom in and out. I can also download the whole image to my computer and also share it to social media. (Because who doesn’t want to share their ancestors’ death certificates on Facebook?! Seriously. This would be great for sharing with your cousins!)

I was thrilled when I found Margaret’s death certificate. There has been conjecture among her descendants about her mother’s maiden name. I know that Margaret’s maiden name was Morrison and that her father’s name was John. I also suspect that her mother was Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Finally, a record that should tell me Margaret’s mother’s maiden name! I scrolled down on the certificate, anxious to read the section about parents. There, I found…

Close-up of Margaret McKitrick's death certificate

Close-up of Margaret McKitrick’s death certificate

Father: John “Marson”

Mother: Unk.

Apparently Margaret’s son Elmer, the informant on her death certificate, didn’t know the name of his grandmother. Sigh. All Seeking Michigan can do is provide the certificate. They can’t do anything about uninformed informants 😉

How and Why to Use Genealogy Gophers

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There’s a problem with OCR (optical character recognition). Yes, it helps us find text that is buried deep in the pages of an unindexed book or newspaper. The problem is that OCR is literal. Search for “William” and it will look for “William,” but not “Wm.” (Did you just think of how many references to your “Wm.” you’ve missed over the years? Kinda scary, isn’t it?)

That’s where Genealogy Gophers ( comes in.


What Is Genealogy Gophers?

Genealogy Gophers is a new (FREE!) site developed by Dallan Quass, the mastermind behind Dallan is one of the sharpest, smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. So when I saw that he had a new site, I had to check it out.

The site searches 40,000 genealogy books that have been digitized by FamilySearch. Most are books that were published prior to 1923. They range from county histories to city directories to family histories. There’s a little bit of everything.

Using Genealogy Gophers

It is super easy to use — just type in a name.

Genealogy Gophers search box.

Genealogy Gophers search box.

There are two ways to search: Texts and Titles. If you want to look for references to your ancestors, start with the Texts search. You’ll need to enter either a first name or a last name. You can narrow your search by entering a place, time period, and the names of relatives (great for helping you narrow down your search for those ancestors with common names.)

Here’s the cool part: It’s smart about how it searches. I did a search for George Debolt. With other full-text searching, if I searched for George Debolt, it would give me just that — pages with “George” on the same page as “Debolt.” Genealogy Gophers does that, but also finds “Geo” and “G.”

genealogy-gophers-geoOther full-text searching would have missed this entry because it isn’t exactly “George.” I cannot stress how super cool this is!

Searching by Title

This is kind of a misnomer. Yes, when you search by title, it includes the title, but it also includes the description. You can find some real hidden gems this way!

I did a title search for Sherrick family. Here’s one of the results:


The title is History of the Stemen Family, but there are enough Sherricks in the book that they were added as a subject. If the Sherricks I’m researching had ties to the Stemens, this is a book I want to look at!

Looking at the Books

You found something you want to look at (chances are that you will!) Click the title of the book or the thumbnail image. You’ll be taken to a page like this:


Genealogy Gophers uses Google Surveys to generate revenue. (They have to pay the bills somehow!) For each survey completed, they get a nickel. You should get a survey once a day; if you get one every time you try to read a book, check out their FAQ page for steps to fix it. (Also, they are considering an optional annual fee for those who don’t want to answer surveys.)

After you fill out the survey, you’ll see the image. If you had done a text search, it would take you to the specific page you found. If you had done a title search (like with the Sherrick family), it would take you to the title page.

While you’re looking at a book, you can do a search just within that title, using the search box above the image. You can also download the entire book as a PDF.


The top of the image page allows you do do a search just within that book. You can also download a PDF of the entire book.

My Review

Genealogy Gophers is easy to use and gives great results. They already have 40,000 books and are planning on adding another 60,000 in the coming months. Its intelligent approach to full-text searching will help researchers find things that have previously been hidden by traditional OCR. For the price of filling out an occasional survey, Genealogy Gophers is well worth your time. Go dig in!

I used to be an admin on WeRelate and I know Dallan personally. However, he did not ask me to do this review, nor have I been compensated in any way for doing so.

5 Misspelled, Misused Genealogy Words… and How to Get Them Right

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Our ancestors tended to be…. shall we say…. “creative” spellers. When we’re indexing or transcribing, we need to preserve that. But when it comes to our own words, we’re supposed to get it right.

There are some words in genealogy that trip up everyone. Here are three words that I often see misspelled, along with two pairs of words that are often mixed up — and how I keep them straight in my mind. (Note: I’m not claiming that my methods are particularly witty or poetic, just that they help me remember!)

5 Misspelled, Misused Genealogy Words and How to Get Them RightWant to use this on your blog? Click here to download it. Just make sure the bottom part of the graphic is visible. Having a link back to here would be great, too 😉

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Instead of Failing, Read the Instructions

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“When all else fails, read the instructions.”

How often have we heard that adage? How about reading the instructions before — and instead of — failing? It’s a strategy we should use in our genealogy.

It’s easy to be lured into searching a new website or a new database because its title seems to include everything. When we don’t find what we’re looking for, we go away thinking that our ancestor wasn’t <fill in the blank> — wasn’t born in that place during that time, wasn’t married in that state, wasn’t buried in that cemetery.

The problem with that conclusion is that it could be totally and completely wrong. Fortunately, there is a way to get around this.

read-instructionsRead the instructions.

A friend of mine on Facebook shared that FamilySearch has updated its collection of Ohio death records: Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001. Death records for Ohio through 2001?! Awesome!

There’s just one drawback. It doesn’t cover every county for all of those years. From the description of this database:

Index and images of death records from county courthouses. In some instances we did not have rights to publish images of records included in the index. Most of the records in this collection are death registers created before statewide death certificates in 1908. Death certificates issued by the state are published in the collection called Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953.1)FamilySearch, Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001. Accessed 13 January 2015.

This is our clue that this doesn’t have all of the death records for the entire state of Ohio from 1840-2001. Unfortunately, there’s no direct link to tell what is included. For that, we can browse the collection and look at what is included for individual counties. Belmont County has death certificates ranging from 1940 through 1982 (for some letters). Athens County has Death Records, 1867-1908 and Soldiers burial records, 1898-1912. Delaware County only has Death Records, 1867-1907.

Let’s say I’m looking for someone who I think died in Ohio in 1960. If he died in Belmont County, I might find them in this collection. If he died in Delaware County, I won’t. It isn’t that he didn’t die in Ohio. He just died in a county in a time that isn’t included in this collection. That’s a big difference than “he didn’t die in Ohio.”

It’s Everywhere

My example is from FamilySearch, but it could be any website – commercial or non-profit. Ideally, there’s a page (or at least a paragraph!) describing what is in that database and where it came from. Look for links that say “Learn more” or “About this collection.”

Archives have followed this pattern for years. It’s common practice to name a collection with the date of the earliest record and the date of the newest record that it contains. “Smith family papers, 1830-1912.” Sometimes they will add to the title “[bulk 1861-1895]” to indicate that most of the records are in this time span. (Yes, the Smith family papers has something dated 1830 and 1912, but most of the papers are from 1861-1895.) However, sometimes it’s in the collection’s description and not the title.

Yes, Even Books

You would think that a book that’s titled Franklin County, Ohio, cemeteries, vol. 2 Madison Township2)Franklin County Genealogical Society. Franklin County, Ohio, cemeteries, vol. 2 Madison Township. Columbus: by the society, 1980. would contain readings from all of the legible tombstones in those cemeteries. So you turn to the back of the book for the index, look for your ancestor and don’t find them. Well, they must not be buried in Madison Township (or maybe they have an illegible stone); either way, there’s no tombstone to find. Right? Wrong.

In the section for Union Grove Cemetery is this notice:

“Stones with death dates through 1920 were included in this reading.”

If your ancestor might be buried in Union Grove. But if he died after 1920, he’s not in this book.

Explore Before You Search

So often, we see a website or a new database whose title tantalizes us and brings visions of finding that Brick Wall Ancestor. We dive right in, doing search after search. Sometimes we find what we’re looking for, but often we walk away without any new information. What’s worse is that we leave thinking that our ancestor wasn’t part of whatever that collection was about.

It’s normal to be excited about a new database or a new book. But don’t set yourself up for failure. Take a minute or two and explore what that database or book is all about. You’ll have much more success this way.

References   [ + ]

1. FamilySearch, Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001. Accessed 13 January 2015.
2. Franklin County Genealogical Society. Franklin County, Ohio, cemeteries, vol. 2 Madison Township. Columbus: by the society, 1980.

How to Link to a Specific Blog Post and Why You Should

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This isn’t about doing genealogy, but it could help you share those stories about your ancestors. If you’re blogging about your ancestors, you need to know the different types of links to your blog and when (and how) to use them.

How Blogs are Structured

By default, most blogs are set up so that the main page  shows the most recent posts, starting with the last one that was posted. As more posts are added, the older ones get pushed down the page. Eventually, they go off of the main page. Those posts are still accessible — they’re just not on the blog’s main page anymore.

Two Basic Types of Links

A link to your blog (in general) will point people to your blog’s main page. The URL would be something like or When you want people to take a look at your blog, but you don’t care which post they see, send them this link. They will see whatever the most recent posts are.

A link to a specific blog post will take visitors to that post. The URLs are much longer. For example, the URL for my post about finding the origins of my great-great-grandmother is . This is the kind of URL what you want to use when you want to point people to something specific.

How to Get the Link for a Specific Blog Post

Blogs on Blogger and WordPress (and most other platforms) are designed by default so that when you click on the post’s title, it will take you to the URL with just that specific post.

If I want someone to see my post on 2015 being my “year of collaterals,” I can click on the post’s title:

specific-linkWhen I do that, it will take me to the URL for that specific post:

I can now copy/paste this URL when I want to point someone to just that post.

Why You Should Use the Right Link

Sending people the link to your blog (in general) is fine when you’re introducing them to your blog. Maybe you want to send an email to your cousins. “Hey, everyone! I’m blogging about our ancestors! Here’s the link:”

But, let’s say you’ve been researching with Cousin Joe and you’ve written a post about how you just broke down your shared brick wall. “Hey, Joe! I finally broke down that brick wall! I just wrote about it on my blog. Here’s the link: ” That’s all well and good right now…  But Cousin Joe is wintering in Florida and he doesn’t get around to reading your email and doing anything with it for about 2 months. When he clicks that link, he’s going to see the most recent posts. And if you’ve been blogging regularly, that post you wanted him to see isn’t going to be on the main page.

So Cousin Joe gets confused when he doesn’t see what you’re talking about. The golf course is beckoning, so he says, “The heck with this” and he never bothers to look for the awesome article you wrote.

Don’t do that to your Cousin Joe. Send him a link to that specific post.

Margaret Priscilla Kingery: A Lesson in Names (52 Ancestors #21)

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Last week, I talked about my great-grandfather Linton Alfred Johnson. This week, I’d like to introduce you to his wife, my great-grandmother Margaret Priscilla Kingery.

There’s a lot I could say about Margaret (or Maggie, as she was called). But because it’s late on Tuesday night and I don’t want to break my streak of posting to the 52 Ancestors challenge in a somewhat timely manner, I’ll share just the basics.

Maggie was born 19 December 1871 in Lawrence County, Ohio to John Peter and Elizabeth Jane (Murnahan) Kingery. She and Linton married 11 June 1893, also in Lawrence County.

The 1940 census shows her living in Ross County, Ohio with her daughter and son-in-law, Rufus and Orpha Turner. (Warning: Genealogy tip coming up!) When you’re working with a common name — like “Margaret Johnson” — you need to be careful that you’re not combining two people of the same name. You do this by (1) connecting your person with others and (2) looking at all of the records you can.

Let’s say that when I found this Margaret Johnson in the 1940 census, I didn’t know she had a daughter named Orpha. How could I be sure that this Margaret was my Margaret? I could look for her with Linton and see who their children are. For example, the 1920 census lists Margaret with husband Linton and daughter Orpha. Looking at other records, I find Margaret listed in the 1940 Chillicothe, Ohio directory. (Chillicothe is in Ross County, which is where she was in the 1940 census.) This record leaves no doubt that this is the right one:

1940 Chillicothe, Ohio City Directory.

1940 Chillicothe, Ohio City Directory.

Translating from “directory-ese”: Margaret P. Johnson, widow of Linton A., residing with Rufus M. Turner.

Maggie died 6 December 1948 in Columbus, Ohio and is buried in Locust Grove Cemetery in Lawrence County.

Linton and Margaret Priscilla (Kingery) Johnson.

Linton and Margaret Priscilla (Kingery) Johnson.

Keeping Busy With My Writing

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Though my 52 Ancestors post last week was really short, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing lately. I haven’t shared much of my work-related writing here, so I thought you might like to see what I’ve been up to with my day job.

Breaking Down Marriage Records” was for the blog. Ever get confused about all of the names and dates on a marriage record? Don’t worry — you’re not alone. This post takes a marriage record from Grayson County, Texas and explains each part.

Women of the West” was for the blog. It highlights a gem of a book with short biographies of more than 1,100 women in western states. It’s a cool resource that makes me wish I had a relative out there!

Ohio map by Anthony Finley, 1827.

Ohio map by Anthony Finley, 1827.

The piece I enjoyed writing the most was “Ohio Resources: Family History Sources in the Buckeye State.” That should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me! I love opportunities to talk about Ohio research. Hmm… maybe I’ll start sharing a bit more Ohio-based information here on No Story Too Small.

Personalizing WordPress: The Missing CSS Code

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In my syllabus for my session “Personalizing WordPress” at RootsTech 2014, I inadvertently left out a section that is required at the top of the CSS file (style.css) when you’re using a child theme. Oops.

At the very top of style.css for your child theme needs to be these lines:

Theme Name: name you want it to display in the dashboard
Description: basic description
Author: your name
Version: anything you choose
Template: name of the parent theme as listed in wp-content/themes (ex.: twentytwelve, twentyfourteen, coraline, etc.)

For example:

Theme Name: My Awesome Genealogy Blog
Description: This is the theme for My Awesome Genealogy Blog, based on the Twenty Twelve theme
Author: John Smith
Version: 0.1
Template: twentytwelve

Put that code at the very top of the style.css file for your child theme. Upload it to the child theme’s folder in wp-content/themes. The child theme will then appear on your dashboard and you’ll be able to activate it.

Following Your Favorite Blogs Using Feedly

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NOTE: updated 27 February 2015.

Let’s say you have some favorite blogs. Maybe some tech blogs, some that focus on a state you’re researching, a few from your favorite libraries, and one that thinks that no story is too small. (Yes, that was a shameless bit of self-promotion.) Now let’s say that you want easy access to all of their latest and greatest posts. How can you keep up with all of them? Answer: a blog reader

A blog reader, sometimes called an RSS reader, lets you add your favorite blogs and then pulls in their articles as they’re published. All of that content is pulled into one place. Some readers use your browser; others are stand-alone applications. Most will let you categorize the blogs you follow. You could put your favorite genealogy blogs in one list and your favorite photography blogs in another. Blog readers are invaluable for following multiple blogs. It’s how I keep track of the 270+ blogs that have said they’re taking the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.

My favorite blog reader used to be Google Reader. Sadly, and inexplicably, Google decided to kill it off. My current reader of choice is Feedly, which is free and runs in your browser. (There are also apps for Android and iOS.)

When someone tells me that they’re taking the 52 Ancestors Challenge, I enter their blog into Feedly and put it in the “52 Ancestors Challenge” category. Whenever there’s a new article on that blog, it automatically shows up in my list on Feedly.

Here is a screenshot of part of my feed from earlier today. There are many display options. I currently have it set to show just the posts that I haven’t read. You can also have it display in a more graphical mode. I like the list view. It gives me the name of the blog (on the left), the post’s title (shown in bold), and the first few words of the post. It makes it easy to scan for the posts I’m looking for.

feedly-feed If there’s an article I want to read, I can click the post’s title and read it within Feedly or click an icon and have it take me straight to that blog.

Adding a Blog to Your Feedly Reader

First, create an account on Feedly (it’s free). When you find a blog that you want to follow, copy its URL. Go to Feedly and paste it into the search box in the upper right. Feedly will give you a list of possibilities; if you use the URL, there should be only one. Click on that name. Feedly will show you a list of recent posts from that blog. If that’s the blog you want to follow, click the green “+Feedly” button and add it to the list of your choice.

Let’s say you want to follow Amy Coffin’s We Tree Genealogy Blog. (You really do.) Copy and paste the URL ( into Feedly. Click the site’s name when it appears and you’ll get a list of recent posts. Here’s a screenshot from this morning:

we-tree-feedlyClick that green “+Feedly” button and add it to the list you want it in. Ta da! You’ve now added that blog to your Feedly reader!

Some blogs (like this one) have added a button that will take you directly to that blog on Feedly, allowing you to skip the search step.

If you have several blogs you enjoy following, give a reader like Feedly a try. It will make finding all of their new posts a lot easier!

Cousin Bait and the 52 Ancestors Challenge

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Bait by Laura Gilmore on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

There are tons of reasons to blog about your ancestors. You want to remember them, sort out a research problem, share a cool find. But let’s be honest. We all hope that our post will lead us to finding new cousins. It’s what’s known as cousin bait.

Unlike the kind that you get at the local bait shop, cousin bait is a way to attract others who are researching the same lines. It’s all about getting names and information out there so that you can make those all-important cousin connections. I’m a big proponent in collaborating in genealogy. The more people working on the same research, the better off everyone is. You never know when that cousin who finds you is the one who has the family Bible or the treasure trove of photos.

Within a couple of hours of the Week 1 recap being published, two participants in the 52 Ancestors challenge found a connection with each other. Beverly Harrison at The Hopeless Hooked Genealogist saw the link to Schalene Dagutis’s article “#1 Nathaniel Tucker, Poet.” Turns out that Beverly is a descendent of this Tucker line (from one of Nathaniel’s ancestors, rather than Nathaniel himself). Schalene has more details of this connection on her blog.

Bill West’s post on Edward Colbourne netted him a new 8th cousin, once removed. Gary Scott of the “Looking Through the Lens of a Millennial Genealogist” Facebook page spotted Bill’s post and made the connection.

Not to brag, but yours truly made two connections. While going through the blogs of the participants so that I could add them to my list on Feedly, I looked at Karen Seeman’s blog “Ancestor Soup” and noticed a familiar surname – Debolt. My long-time brick wall has been my 3rd-great grandmother Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillen. (Yes, she will be one of my 52 ancestors!) I contacted Karen and it turns out that we are 6th cousins, once removed. (Hi, cousin Karen!)

My other connection wasn’t a cousin, but more of an “it’s a small world” thing. I knew that my friend Shelley Ballenger Bishop of A Sense of Family is from my old stomping grounds of the east side of Columbus and that her family had Reeb’s Restaurant at the corner of Livingston Avenue and Champion Avenue. It wasn’t until I read her 52 Ancestors post “Lloyd Ballenger and Reeb’s Restaurant” that I asked my dad if he remembered any of the Ballengers. Turns out he knows Shelley’s dad Ed and remembers her grandpa Lloyd. Small world.

Dad and one of his numerous northern Pikes. You know it's a good size catch when it's bigger than one of your children.

Dad and one of his numerous northern pikes. You know it’s a good size catch when it’s bigger than one of your children.

Cousin bait. Try casting some out and see what you catch!  (And if one of your 52 Ancestors posts lands you a new cousin, let me know!)