Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Gift of Yearbook Pages. Treasure Chest Thursday.

When you write about your family, good things happen.  You find flaws in your logic.  You find those wonderful “ah-ha” moments.  And on occasion, you find a genealogy angel.   Or they find you.

Martha Spencer saw a post I made years ago on an message board and responded.  I missed her original response (!) but she found me again and it turns out she went to high school with my father.  She sent me some of his yearbook pages as well as some newspaper clippings that pertained to my biggest brickwall, my g-g-g-grandfather Charlton Wallace.

This past week she sent me the relevant pages from my grandfather’s yearbook!  Gilbert McClung Gillespie graduated from Lexington High School in 1934.  My father attended Lexington High School until 1956 when he was a sophomore.

Gilbert McClung Gillespie from the 1934 Crystal, the yearbook of Lexington High School.  Senior Picture.

Gilbert McClung Gillespie from the 1934 Crystal, the yearbook of Lexington High School. Senior Picture.

His ambition is “To beat Thompson out of his job.” Thompson was Kenneth Thompson, whom according to Martha was a “cranky” math teacher who was still teaching when she and my father attended Lexington High.

Faculty at Lexington High School 1934, Lexington, Virginia

Faculty at Lexington High School 1934, Lexington, Virginia

One has to believe that there is more to the story than that, but I don’t think the yearbook reveals any more.  Also, I know that my grandfather was chosen as the Most Dependable.  At least he wasn’t in the No Brains, but… category!

Hall of Fame 1934 in the Lexington High School Crystal

Hall of Fame 1934 in the Lexington High School Crystal

My dad’s mentions in his yearbooks are not that different.  His nickname was also Gilly.  I knew he was called that in High School, never knew my grandfather was.  My dad, was selected as the male with the Prettiest Eyes.  My dad and his brother and two sisters all had the same beautiful blue eyes.   I’m glad to know he wasn’t chosen as Most Gullible.

Gil Gillespie in Lexington Crystal

Gil Gillespie in Lexington Crystal

And here are both Martha Spencer and my father who served on the Honor Court in 1954.  Both are in the back row.

Honor Court, Lexington High School 1954, Martha Spencer and Gil Gillespie, in the back row

Honor Court, Lexington High School 1954, Martha Spencer and Gil Gillespie, in the back row

These photos and the rest that were sent to me, mean so very much.  If you keep your family private and hidden away, you may miss out on some amazing stuff.

And to Martha, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Every time I look at these I get a little misty. 🙂

What Dog Shows Can Teach Us About Searching For Our Ancestors. Wisdom Wednesday.

Dog shows?  I know you are thinking that I’ve lost it.  Or maybe I’m looking for an excuse to post a picture of my dog. (Guilty!)

But I was watching the Westminster Dog Show a week or so back and it hit me.  The way a dog show is judged is pretty smart and efficient.  And it’s not a bad methodology for what we are trying to do when we hunt for records when we search.

Stay with me.

Let me introduce you to Coco.  This picture was taken when she was about 3 months old.  She is a beautiful little chocolate lab.

Coco, a 3 month old chocolate lab

Coco, a 3 month old chocolate lab

OK, now here is Frankie.  (He’s not mine.)  He’s a Leonberger puppy, about 4 months old.

Frankie, 4 month old leonburger and Augusta and adult in the background.

Frankie, 4 month old Leonberger and Augusta an adult in the background.

Raise your hand if you had a brief moment where you wanted a puppy.

Frankie and Coco are similar.  They are both crazy puppies.  And they both are going to grow up to be big dogs, although the Leonberger is twice as big as a Lab.  One has a fluffy coat, one has a double coat.  They have similarities and differences.

But what does this have to do with genealogy?

On to the Dog Show!

So the purpose of a Dog Show is to find the best dog.   But they don’t take the hundreds, thousands of dogs and throw them all into the ring and walk around and pick one, do they?  They do not.

First, they start with each individual breed, and find the best of breed.  So they throw all the Labs into the ring with a judge who knows Labs.  And this judge in his infinite wisdom says, this is the best Lab.  And he picks the winner based on the characteristics a perfect Lab should have.

Same thing in genealogy.  Let’s your ancestor, John Labrador, lived from 1837 to 1911 and that he served in the Civil War.  You know he should be in the US 1850 through 1910 censuses. And various Civil War records. And Vital Records.  Now you can do a big old massive search and hope you pull everything out of it that you need.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

But you are the expert on John Labrador.  Doesn’t it make more sense to methodically go through the known record types.  And because you are the expert, you can pick out the best record in each record type.  So you’ve got the best “Lab” for each record type, whether it be census, military pension, local history or whatever.  And because you’ve gone through each record type one at a time, you know you’ve looked at everything.

Now what question are we trying to answer?

Back to the dog show.  The next round pulls dogs of similar breeds together. Our Lab would be in the Sporting Group.  And the judge for this group, knows she has the best of each breed, so she can start comparing the dogs to each other and pick the one she thinks is the best.  She answers the question which dog is the best sporting dog.

Once you have all of your records together, you can then start to ask and answer questions.  When was John born?  Who were his parents? You know, the questions we always ask.  You look at your records, and you select the documents and other records that are going to help you find the answer.  You find more records if you need to.  But you aren’t looking for the best 1880 census.  You have it.  Now you can focus on finding the answer.

And the winner is….

Now all the best of groups gather.  And the judge puts them through their paces.  He pokes and prods and watches.  And then he picks!  He has the answer!  The best dog.

And that is where you are in your research.  You’ve found the best documents and records.  You’ve selected the ones that help you answer a question.  And then you start to pull them all together and you have the answer.

So what did we learn?

I really like dogs. 🙂  Also, it’s probably not a good idea to do everything at once.  Find a record, find the right record.  Ask a question and select the right records for that question.  Then you can spend your time on careful analysis and find the right answer.  One step at a time.

Is it just me, or does anyone want to go watch Best in Show right now?

A few upcoming speaking engagements. Tuesday’s Tip

I have a few speaking engagements coming up that you might be interested in.  I usually post my slides when I’m done, so if you can’t attend, you can view them later.

March 16, 2013: Ancestry Day, Blue Springs, Missouri

The Midwest Genealogy Center is sponsoring an Ancestry Day with in Blue Springs, Missouri.

I will be doing two presentations:

  • Find them Fast: Searching Secrets to Help You Find Your Ancestors Stories on
  • Putting Your Ancestors in Historical Perspective: Extracting Stories from Military Records on and Fold3

Also, the ever amazing Lou Szucs will be there as well speaking on:

  • Extraordinary Clues in Ordinary Records
  • Hidden Treasures at

March 21-23: RootsTech, Salt Lake City, Utah

I will be doing one lecture and participating in a panel at RootsTech this year:

April 5 – 6: The Fairfax Genealogical Society’s Annual Spring Conference and Spring Expo

I do not have the schedule for the Fairfax Spring Conference yet, but will post them when I do.

Ancestors from Outer Space and Constructive Criticism. It’s Follow Friday!

Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Two on

Slavery-Related Court Petitions Online Database from Genealogy Decoded

Two from The Legal Genealogist

That Was Constructive Criticism, You Fool! from Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog

Two stories continued:

And a couple of my posts on Sticky Notes

Moonshine, Civil War, Newspapers and an Assassin. It’s Follow Friday!

What I’ve been reading and writing this week.  Enjoy!

A couple of To Be Continued posts that you should start reading:

And a little shameless self promotion, my 3 posts in’s Sticky Notes this week:

Would We All Be Better Genealogists if We Just Got Rid of Trees? Wisdom Wednesday

Oh, I’m serious.  Think of a world where you do genealogy without every creating a family tree.

No tree on or in Family Tree Maker or whatever your most beloved software or online source is.  Nope.  Never.

Trees are Boring.

Have you ever tried showing a family tree to someone in your family?  What was the reaction?  Was it “this is awesome” or was it “uh, huh.”    The names are meaningless unless you know them.  People like pictures.  People like stories.  There are no visible stories in a family tree.  And the pictures are usually teeny tiny.

Trees are boring

Trees are boring

Everybody else’s trees are full of nonsense/garbage/errors

“If only everyone kept a tree like mine!”  HA! (Not mine personally.  I have tons of stuff to clean up. 🙂 ) The amount of time that gets wasted by those of us in the genealogy community worrying about everybody else’s trees and how many errors and what not are in them, well, we’d get a lot more genealogy done if we weren’t doing that.  And seriously, why do we care?  Just because someone puts a mistake in a tree doesn’t mean you have to believe it.  Or put it in your own tree.  And your ancestor’s are still your ancestors.  And the facts of their lives are still the facts of their lives.  Bad trees don’t change that.

Trees are really just a handy place to hang a record or image

We have no idea why anyone puts any given fact in a tree.  They might attach a record.  But you still have to go look at it and guess that person’s thoughts.  I’d rather not. I’m guessing 99.9999% of all trees do not have attached proof summaries and discussions of why they are entering the data they are entering.  Attached sources are just documents.  They may or may not be evidence of some question that we don’t know.

It’s all about the story.  The emotion.  The picture.

Have you every picked up an interesting lineage? Or some summary of a person or families life and been totally caught up in it?  Made that emotional connection?  Got the chills from a picture?  Because that is what we are after.  Right?  Telling the story.  Making people come back to life.  Honoring those that came before us.  Boxes with lines and a name and a birth date don’t do that.

What if, instead of building trees, we wrote lineages or stories? 

Back away from the tree.  Pick your favorite ancestral couple, and document their life and family.  Include sources and narratives.  And then start working back.  I bet you think it through a whole lot more.   I bet you avoid silly errors and have a better understanding of the people.

Then go show that to someone.  Will you get a “this is awesome” or an “uh, huh” ?

I have come to the point where I truly believe that a tree is not the end goal.  It’s  a  “paint by numbers” genealogy tool if you will.  I want something more than that for my ancestors.

Men in High Heels! Covert Burials! It’s Follow Friday

Here’s some goodies from this past week.

And this series:

Genealogical Proof Standard for Ancestoring’s Ask A Genealogist

Some Words of Wisdom to Get Your Monday Going. Motivation Monday.

I found these from a post Elissa Scalise Powell made on the TGF.  It is a series of videos by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania entitled: Genealogists Share: What I Wish I Knew Then. They contain sage words of wisdom.

Preview of Videos on You Tube. Genealogists Share: What I Wish I Knew Then

Preview of Videos on You Tube. Genealogists Share: What I Wish I Knew Then

Write down where you found it.  That is what I wish I had known.

Warriors, elopements, and pranks! It’s Follow Friday!

In a week where I didn’t post at all, I admire those who did even more!  Enjoy.

Three from The Legal Genealogist:

Two from Shiloh to Canaan

And these gems: