Dayna’s Genealogy Toolkit

Dayna’s Genealogy Toolkit

Dayna Jacobs, AG®

toolkit piktochart

This toolkit is full of my go-to links that are (mostly) not record repositories, but rather are tools to help me find, interpret, and organize my research and records. I think you’ll want to keep them handy, too.

Abbreviations & Acronyms for Genealogy – What do they mean?

Animated Atlas – U.S. History Timeline

Archive Grid – Enter a zip code to identify nearby archives

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries – Identify county boundaries for any year

BLM-GLO Records – Find U.S. federal land patents and locate parcels on a map

Cheat Sheet – Boolean Genealogy Searches – Online searches made easy from OGT

Cheat Sheets – Family Tree Magazine – A variety of helps

Cheat Sheet – Table of Wars and Ages of Servicemen –  Determine which war your ancestor might have been involved with

Citation Creator – EasyBib – Help for source citations

David Rumsey Digital Map Collection – Excellent map resource

Earth Point township and range tools – Locate land in the public domain

Encyclopedia of Genealogy – by Dick Eastman

Evernote – Organize your research

Free Forms and Charts – Family Tree Magazine

Free Forms and Charts – Rootsweb

Genealogy Gophers – Searches in genealogy books digitized by FamilySearch

Geographic Names Info System (GNIS) – Supercharged online gazetteer

Historical Map Archive – A look back in time

Internet Archive – For digitized county and family histories

Learning Center – Free online courses at FamilySearch

Linkpendium – Links to genealogy resources organized by locality

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) – Order land entry files and pension files

Newspapers – Library of Congress: Chronicling America

Research Report Template – Download this editable template from OGT

Research Wiki – FamilySearch – Huge knowledge base for researchers

The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy – Online version of a classic

Timeline Template – Download this editable template from OGT

Town and County Database (Rootsweb) – Enter the name of a town to find the county

United States Digital Map Library – A great map resource

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer – Click on the timeline to find a map

Vital Records – Where to write

Worldcat – Find libraries and items for interlibrary loan

The ICAPGen ℠ service mark and the Accredited Genealogist® and AG® registered marks are the sole property of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.  All Rights Reserved.

Looking for military records? You are gonna like this!

military 1

Want to find your ancestor in military records? Here is an efficient way to identify all military records on FamilySearch, and to narrow your search by collection. It is then easy to search within a single collection.

On the FamilySearch home screen click “Search” and then “Records” in the dropdown menu.

FamilySearch Military 1

Do NOT enter a name to search, but instead click on “Browse All Published Collections.”FamilySearch Military 2

The filtering options will appear on the left of the screen.  Click on “Military,” which as you can see currently has 141 collections.
FamilySearch Military 3

On the filitered list of military collections you can see at a glance which records have images attached (the camera icon), which records have images viewable on a partner site (the camera with the web screen behind it), when the collection was last updated (date), which collections have been indexed (number), and which collections have not yet been indexed but can still be viewed by browsing the images (browse images).

Notice you can also check the box for “Only collections with images” if that is what you want.
FamilySearch Military 4

Don’t be put off by the browsing options. Many collections have indexes as part of their original make-up, and you can access these by looking at the first or last images of the rolls that have been digitized. You might find just what you need among these “Browse images” collections.  And don’t forget—as indexers busily make their way through FamilySearch collections you may find these records indexed someday.

Now that you see how easy it is to access military records, utilize the filters to access other kinds of record groups and narrow results by locality or time period.  Once you find a collection you want to search you will see that the fields available are customized according to the collection, increasing your chances for success.

There are some terrific databases here, especially for Western States researchers.  I am excited to see the War of 1812 records becoming available for my eastern ancestors, but there are some key collections for those that ventured Out West.

Here is a small collection that I originally accessed via microfilm many years ago: “United States Old War Pension Index, 1815-1926.”  “Old Wars” include the Mexican War and the Indian Wars, so if you had ancestors who moved Out West the odds are good they participated in some military conflict or skirmish with Native Americans.  They may have only served for 3-6 months in a local conflict, but a record would have been created and they would have been eligible for a U.S. pension.  They even could have been a part of the Civil War in the western states, and there are some good Civil War records for Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas (Confederate and Union), Oregon, and the Dakota Territory on FamilySearch.  For Utah there are also Territorial Militia Records and Indian War Service Affidavits.

FS Military 7

I found my great-great grandfather, Thomas Gooch in this very same Old War Pension Index before it was available digitally, and obtaining his pension file really launched my research.  I have posted images from that file elsewhere on this blog.  Here’s what a click on the database above and a search for Thomas Gooch will bring up:

FS Military 6

Notice the options to copy, print, add to source box, and share this record. There are also options to add it to your family tree, view the image, download the document, or copy and paste the source citation.  From this screen you can search the collection for other names, or access more detailed information about the collection, which I highly recommend. Try it and you will see why!

Clicking on “View the document” brings up this image:

Thomas Gooch pension index cardHere you will see application numbers and data that allowed me to order his pension file from the National Archives many moons ago.  But now I can do it all in my pajamas from home. I tried doing it in my pajamas at the Family History Library and they escorted me out. ;)

Elements of a Quality Research Report


I’m not going to lie…I have not always seen the benefits of writing research reports. Not that I didn’t know better!  Many years ago, my beginning genealogy teacher regularly required us to compose elements of reports for practice: Formulate a one-sentence research objective. Discuss the background information for this family, relevant to your research objective.  List the resources you used with full source citations.  Summarize today’s research session. Come up with a list of suggestions for further research.

Blah, blah, blah. You want me to stop in the middle of this research roll I’m on to summarize what I have found? You’re cramping my style! And by style I mean the tendancy to follow any notion that enters my head, pulling microfilm after microfilm, or book after book, off the shelf until I find something that causes me to head off in a different direction with a new notion. It was the 90s equivalent to clicking on every link that results from an search.

Where did it get me? Buried in a pile of file folders with hundreds of copies made from microfilm and books, with some not infrequent tail-chasing and retracing of footsteps.  I was doing the “two steps forward and one step back” dance.

Oh, I dutifully kept a research log with all the sources I checked, and those, too, made a nice little pile of their own.  But I was not much closer to finding out where Jonas Gooch came from! I did not know the difference between genealogy research and genealogy hoarding.

Fast forward twenty-five years.  Fifteen of those years were spent wandering aimlessly in the Genealogy Wilderness. I’m just glad it wasn’t forty! But after fifteen years I finally entered the Genealogy Promised Land. A new day dawned. I turned a corner. I saw the light. I woke up in a gutter under a pile of research logs and knew I needed help. Hello, I’m Dayna, and I don’t use research reports. I needed help. I really could not research another day like that.

Mixed metaphors aside, I finally learned the value of making report-writing an integral part of my routine, and I am a new woman.  A new researcher, anyway. I could still stand to lose a few more pounds…

In looking at various samples of research reports, I found that many of them overwhelmed me.  I knew I needed to design one that suited my needs.  I came up with one that has worked for me through the years, and I tweak it here and there depending on the project. It contains elements found in most quality research reports:

  • Descriptive title – mine always include a report number
  • Researcher’s name
  • Date of the report
  • Research objective – limit yourself to one objective per session (A “session” can be one hour, one day, one week, or longer. Many smaller sessions are more effective than one large one, however.)
  • Background information – research already done
  • Summary of findings – a condensed version of your session, addressing your objective and highlighting conclusions
  • Research steps taken – a detailed account of your thought process and analysis of discoveries, with document numbers inserted for reference
  • Resources used – including repository and call number, source citation, comments, and document number assigned by me
  • Nil or negative searches – negative evidence is just as important as positive
  • Recommendations for further research – where the evidence, or lack thereof, suggests you search next

Here is what my report template looks like:

Research Report Template part one On Grannys TrailResearch Report Template part two On Grannys Trail

You can download this editable template here and adjust it to suit you:

Research Report Template from On Grannys Trail

So, I hear you say, what is the deal with research reports? Will they really change my life? Well, they won’t make you the life of the party, if that’s what you mean, but they will make you a more successful researcher.  And that might make you the life of the party (if you hang out with other genealogists, anyway!)

Here are some of the benefits of research reports:

  1. Numbering your reports will help you track your research sessions, allowing you to document your thought process and see an orderly progression toward your objective.
  2. Stating a research objective will keep your research session focused
  3. Including background information will give you a foundation on which to begin a new session.
  4. As you summarize your findings, evidence falls together or holes appear. Sometimes both happens. You begin to understand your findings in the context of the bigger picture, and frequently this is when ideas for further research are formulated. A summary bundles up your research session and becomes the background information to build upon in your next session. It becomes a temporary stopping point which you can return to at any point in the future.
  5. By documenting the research steps taken, you record the thought process that led you to search each source, including an analysis of that source, and the conclusions made about it.  When the report is picked up weeks, months, or years later, the reasoning and thinking are all there, and there is no need to rethink or retrace this segment of the research process–the support for your conclusions are all right there. This is the real “meat” of the report, and it can consist of pages and pages, depending on how many sources were searched. Here I should also mention that you should always include source copies with reports, or should at least abstract or extract portions into the “Research Steps” portion of the report.
  6. Besides helping you record your thought process, documenting the research steps taken also benefits others with an interest in the same objective. Sharing a report gives others a “leg up” and moves the research along, instead of swirling around in an eddy, never moving downstream. There I go again, mixing my metaphors!
  7. A research report allows you to educate future readers, who might not be experienced, as you explain your findings.
  8. The “Resources Used” section of the report is an old-fashioned research log, but used in the context of a research objective it is now a relevant exercise.  Numbering each document searched allows you to insert a reference to the source within the narrative of the “Research Steps” portion of the report, much like a footnote. Thus, the reader of the report can easily see the basis for assertions and conclusions. Including a source citation here allows anyone to return to that source if needed. Many years down the road, when your descendants or cousins read the report, they will want to erect a special monument to your memory. This, alone, is worth your efforts in my estimation.
  9. A conscientious recording of nil or negative searches will pay dividends in time and effort saved later, but also might provide a basis for conclusions, as indirect, direct, and negative evidence is correlated.  Do not overlook this important aspect of documentation.
  10. A quality report will always include recommendations for further research, because no conclusion in genealogy is ever final. Even if our objective has been met, it will always lead to more questions and ideas for further research.  It is helpful to record these ideas at this point in the report.

In conclusion

Research reports are the key to quality genealogy research. If they are not part of your routine, you should seriously reconsider. You will find they do take time.  I allot about one third to half my research time for report-writing, so for three hours in the library I will only be looking at records for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and documenting the process for the balance of time. Most of it I do as I research, and I save the summary for the end of my session. I find it easier to track my thought process as it unfolds, rather than waiting until I am finished. Recording the research process as it happens also helps me to be methodical and deliberate in my record selections, rather than going off on tangents.

Additional help

The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) website has a helpful mentoring video called “Writing a Quality Research Report”, and report writing tips.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists has a “Skillbuilding” section that includes work samples and helpful articles on report writing and document analysis.

Download my editable Research Report Template here: Research Report Template from On Grannys Trail

Which record should I search first?: A Genealogy Record Selection Table for you

Every genealogist faces the same dilemma:  So many records, so little time.  When pursuing a research objective (i.e. What was the maiden name of Fredonia Victoria Gooch?) many genealogists are seized with panic, not knowing where to start first.  Nobody wants to waste precious research time chasing after records that will not yield the information they seek.

Genealogists just want to know their options. Which records are most likely to improve their chances for success?

On Granny’s Trail is providing a Genealogy Record Selection Table to give you a head start:

Cheatsheet- Record Selection Table

Record groups marked above are good places to start in searching for specific types of genealogical data, but the others can be full of surprises. Start with the suggestions in the table and then expand your search to other record groups.  Biographies and genealogies can include any or all of the data listed, and were not included in the table.

A Packing List for Genealogy Road Trips

Planning a genealogy research trip?  This packing list has items you won’t want to leave behind.  Oh, and don’t forget a change of clothes. And a toothbrush. :)
Packing List for Genealogy Road Trips

Your Own Genealogy Roadshow: Tips for Hitting the Trail

road trip

Genealogy newbies might think, “Everything’s online, isn’t it?”  (By the way, don’t ever say that out loud.  It’s kinda like saying you have traced your pedigree back to Adam.  You don’t want other genealogists rolling their eyes behind your back.)

Of course you will want to give online resources your best shot – digital collections are plentiful and and growing by the day – but the time will come when you actually have to walk into a library or archive in search of an ancestor’s records.  Before you hit the trail, some careful planning is advisable. It will save you time and money, and increase your likelihood of success. Continue reading

5 Ideas for Genealogists Using Evernote

Evernote 5 ideas for genealogists