Genealogy Weekly: Masons, Carlisle Indian School, and Civil War Orphans

In this episode of Genealogy Weekly, we covered a resource for Masons in Michigan, two resources for the Carlisle Indian School, and a database for the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home.

Links and show notes are below the video.

Michigan Masons: Deaths

  • From Transactions and Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan
  • Indexed by Kris Rzepczynski and available on his site as a PDF
  • Includes entries from Transactions and Proceedings 1930-1938 (deaths 1929-1937). More years will be added
  • Entries include name; date of death; lodge name, number, and location; and year of the Transactions

Carlisle Indian School (starts at 2:53)

Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home (starts at 9:26)

  • Compiled by the Greene County Public Library
  • Abstracted from the Applications for Admission
  • One or both parents might still have been alive, just unable to provide for the child
  • Search by surname (rather than full name) to find siblings

You can find past episodes of Genealogy Weekly, along with all of the show notes and links, here.

Genealogy Weekly: Masons, Carlisle Indian School and Civil War Orphans

The Easy, Low-Tech Way to Label Scanned Photos

You’ve scanned some family photos. Great! But who is in them? With file names like IMG_1092.jpg, it isn’t readily apparent who is in the photo. How can you label scanned photos? You can embed the data into the metadata of the file, but there are two problems with that: time and access. It takes time to type all that up. And what happens when you email that photo to a cousin? Will they figure out how to read that metadata?

Fortunately, there’s an easy, low-tech way of labeling those photos while you’re scanning.

Getting Started – What You Need

An easy, low-tech way to label scanned photosThis is a photo of my grandpa with his mom. When I scanned it, I ended up with a file name SCAN0115.jpg. I can enter the data within the metadata using a program like Photoshop, but that takes time and my cousin probably won’t be able to find it.

What I need is a piece of paper and a pencil. (I told you this was low-tech.)


Next, I write my “label” and lay it down on the scanner with the photo.

Scan both at the same time.

An easy, low-tech way to label your scanned photos

Lay the photo and your label on the scanner, close the lid, and scan at the same time.

This makes one image. (I did crop the one below so it would fit on the blog better.) I have the photo and the label together.

An easy, low-tech way to label scanned photos

Scanned photo with the label, all in one image. If I knew the date and place of the photo, I would include that, too. 

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your photo software to tag your photos. You still want to do that. But this step of writing out the label and having it as part of the visible image makes things easier down the road.


You might be thinking, “That doesn’t save a lot of time.” Actually, it saves time and frustration.

  • I can send the image to my relatives and they can see in an instant who it is.
  • I can embed metadata at my leisure later, without worrying that I’ll forget who was in the photo. (Yes, I’ve had that happen. Very embarrassing to have to go back to my mom and ask, “Who did you say this was?”)
  • Having the label visible also makes it easier for me to rename the file and to arrange into albums/folders on my computer. Having that information in front of me – literally – means I don’t have to go searching for that data, which saves me time and effort.


  • Yes, it takes time. So does any method of labeling. Sorry.
  • You need to have handwriting that is at least half-way legible.
  • You relative could crop off the label. But that’s their decision. Besides, you still have your copy of it.

Tips for Labeling

It seems weird to call our ancestors by their full name. (What do you mean Grandma’s name isn’t “Grandma”?!) But that’s what you need to do when you label your photos.

If I had labeled this one “Grandpa with his mom” and I give it to my daughter, she could wonder, “Whose grandpa? My grandpa or mom’s grandpa? And which side of the family?” When you list people by name, it takes out that ambiguity.

Add the location and a date if you know it. I don’t know either the date or the location in this photo.

Make It a Group Activity

You don’t have to do this all by yourself. One person can write the caption, one person can scan, and one person can then write the information on the back of the photo. (Use a pencil and don’t press down too hard!) This would be great for Thanksgiving evening or Christmas night. (Just be sure to get all of the food off the table first. Family photos and food DO NOT MIX!)

I hope you’ll give this suggestion a try. When you do, let me know how it goes!

An Easy, Low-Tech Way to Label Scanned Photos

No Memories of Kennedy – and Why That Matters

Kennedys arrive at Dallas

President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

Around November 22 each year, people start asking the question, “Where were you when you heard Kennedy was killed?” My mom was at home. Dad had the later shift at his service station and was getting ready for work. The milkman (yes, the milkman) had just made his delivery at our house when the news broke on TV. Mom and Dad invited the milkman in to watch the news with them. Mom remembers Walter Cronkite breaking down when he announced that the President was dead…

As for me, I have no memories of it. Not because I was too young to remember. I wasn’t born yet.

I’m used to being the youngest in the crowd. I’m the youngest in my family. I’m the youngest of my grandparents’ grandchildren. I was among the youngest in my high school graduating class. Until a few years ago, I was always the youngest in a gathering of genealogists. I’m used to the discussions that revolve around events that I missed. (“Remember that time we <blank>? Oh, that’s right. You weren’t born yet.” Sometimes, I think my sisters enjoy those conversations a little bit too much.)

So Many Points on the Timeline

People have expressed almost sadness that I missed this key event in the nation’s history. On the one hand, it would be interesting to be able to carry on a conversation comparing notes of “where were you.” But on the other hand, there are lots of key events that I — and a lot of my friends — have missed. Pearl Harbor. The 1929 Stock Market Crash. Lincoln’s Assassination. Fort Sumter. The Treaty of Ghent. Washington’s first inauguration. Lexington and Concord.

I look at my great-niece and great-nephews and realize that events that I do remember vividly — things like the space shuttle Challenger and 9/11 — are things they they will only hear about from others. They have no memory of them.

Why This Matters — and What We Can Do

So why does it matter that I have no memory of JFK? Because others do, and they need to record those memories for those of use who don’t. And for those like me who don’t have those memories, we need to record our “where I was” stories for the key events in our lives, so that the youngsters of today — and those yet to be born — will know.

[NOTE: I published a version of this on my older blog No Story Too Small in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.]

Genealogy Weekly: Midwest Obits, Ohio, and Michigan

In this episode of Genealogy Weekly, learn about an online Civil War roster for Ohio, state censuses from Michigan, and a huge database of obituaries from across the Midwest.

I’m changing things up a little bit with Genealogy Weekly. Beginning with this episode, I’ll be highlighting cool resources that might have flown under the research radar. Let me know what you think!

Show Notes:

Evangelical Messenger Obituary Index

Ohio Civil War Roster (starts at 7:44)

Michigan State Census of 1884 and 1894 (starts at 12:48)

  • Available at
  • Click on the Discover tab and select State Censuses
  • Search by surname or surname, first name
  • Great resource to help fill in the gaps with the missing 1890 Federal census

You can see previous episodes of Genealogy Weekly here.

Genealogy Weekly with Amy Johnson Crow

Figuring Out Ult and Inst in a Date

You found your ancestor’s obituary. Yay! There’s just one problem. It says that he died “on the 5th inst.” Or what about that marriage announcement you found? The happy couple got married “on the 27th ult.” They sort of look like dates, but what are “inst” and “ult”?

Ult. and inst. are abbreviations that refer to months, but in a relative way. Let’s take a look.

Inst. = Instant = Current Month

Inst. is an abbreviation for instant, which refers to the “present or current month,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Inst. in a date

G. W. Spurgeon obituary, (Topeka) Kansas Farmer, 17 December 1879.

G.W. Spurgeon died “on the 3rd inst.” That alone doesn’t give us enough information to know which month it refers to. We need to know when this obituary was published.

The obituary appeared in the Kansas Farmer on 17 December 1879. Since “inst.” refers to the present or current month, Spurgeon died 3 December 1879.

Ult. = Ultimo = Previous Month

Ult. is short for ultimo, meaning “of or occurring in the month preceding the present.” Like inst., we can’t know which month it’s referring to unless we know what the “present” month is.

Ult in a date

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 7 August 1900.

Ult. can trip us up. When we read that Pvt. Guy De St. Croix died “5th ult.” and the article is datelined 7 August, it’s easy to think he died 5 August. He actually died 5 July. Ult. refers to the month preceding the present. The article is in August, so the month preceding would be July. (If he had died in August, he would have died “5th inst.”)

Figuring Out Ult and Inst in a Date

The Disgusting Words in Genealogy

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” ~L.P. Hartley

There are times while researching your family’s history that you come across a document that makes you want to smack someone. The words on the page scream in your ears and chill your soul.

Deaf and dumb. Idiotic. Defective. Lunatic. The N word.

In today’s society, they are disgusting words. But that hasn’t always been the case.


The Progress (White Earth, Minnesota), 14 July 1888.

It wasn’t just newspapers. Consider the heading on this document:defective-dependent-delinquentThat little gem is from a special schedule in the 1880 U.S. Federal census: “Supplemental Schedules of the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes” (sometimes referred to as the Defective Schedule or the DDD Schedule.) Included on that schedule were people classified as Insane, Idiots, Deaf-Mutes, Blind, Inhabitants in Prison, Homeless Children, and Paupers and Indigents in Institutions.

About Those Words

I wrote about the 1880 DDD Schedule in a post titled “Do You Have a Defective Ancestor?” Recently on Twitter, @nickidewbear said:

This got me to thinking about that title and why I didn’t put “defective” in quotes, as she suggested in a later tweet.

Defective was the word that was used on the document. It was not a euphemism. It was how the Federal government classified those people. It was the government saying, “These people are defective, dependent, and/or delinquent.”

The Federal government in 1880. Not me today.

Why That Matters

Accuracy is paramount in our research. When we change language or put things in quotes to soften the brunt of disgusting-sounding words, we are not being accurate.

We need to record the words — as disgusting and offensive as we find them to be. They were the words used by the people creating the records. They are their words. It’s not up to us to change them.

A Bit of My Background

I come at this issue from two different sides. I am a historian.

I am also the mother of a profoundly Deaf son. He was born Deaf. He does not speak. He also has other challenges that he struggles with every single day of his life.

If he had been living in 1880, he would have been on the Defective schedule. The Federal government would have called him Defective. I’d like to believe that I, as his mother, would not have called him that or thought of him that way. I’d like to believe that in 1880, I would have thought of him as I do today: my son.

So when I record the words used by our ancestors, I do so with a heavy heart. But I also know that softening those documents for today’s sensibilities do not serve any purpose except to make us feel better.

We Cannot Judge Nor Excuse

We cannot judge people of 100 years ago for the words they used. We can examine them. We can study them. We can see what they mean in context. But we cannot judge them.

Nor can we excuse them. It is easy to rationalize away their word choices. “Oh, when they said ‘deaf and dumb,’ they meant ‘dumb’ in the sense of ‘mute’ or silent.” No, sometimes they really did mean “dumb” like we’d use that word today: Stupid. If you were Deaf — especially if you couldn’t speak — your intelligence was questioned.

What we can do is read the words of the time and try to put them in context, to try to understand without judging, without excusing.


Genealogy Weekly: Canada, Colorado, Indiana in WWII and More

We have an international flair in Genealogy Weekly this week. There’s a new immigrant collection for Canada; digitized newspapers in Colorado; digitized WWI-era photos of Camp Atterbury in Indiana; and free access (and an expanded focus) for Fold3. Details and links below the video.

Show Notes:

Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949

  • Available from Library and Archives Canada
  • Records pertain to thousands of people whom Canada recruited from overseas (mainly the British Isles) to fill a labor shortage in the late 1800s/early 1900s

Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

Camp Atterbury, Indiana WWII Photos

Fold3 – 2 Bits of News

Genealogy Weekly with Amy Johnson Crow

The Question You Need to Ask When You’re Stuck on Your Genealogy

Have you ever been stuck on your genealogy? It’s ok if you have. It happens to everyone at some point. Whether it’s a brick-wall problem or simply not knowing where to look next, it can be frustrating when we feel like we’re not making any real progress.

Before you throw your hands up in despair, there is one question you need to ask.

A friend and I were discussing this the other day. I asked her what she thought the question was. “Have I reviewed my notes?” “Have I tried variant spellings?” “Do I have a timeline?” Those are all great questions, but they’re all follow-up questions to the one you need to ask.

The question you need to ask when you’re stuck is:

“What is it I’m trying to find?”

 That one question will frame everything else.

Why You Have to Ask

Asking “What is it I’m trying to find?” doesn’t sound like much of a research question, but it forms the foundation for everything else.

There’s a scene I’ve seen played out countless times. Two people are talking about genealogy. It could be two friends, a librarian and a customer, or a speaker and an audience member. The scene goes like this:

Person 1: I am so stuck. Great-great-grandpa Starkey was born in Ohio and he died in Illinois. His daughter moved to Missouri. One of his sons fought in the Civil War. His second wife had been married before, but they didn’t have any kids together. I think they might have been Presbyterian. He was a farmer, but they say he also made coffins.

Person 2: Uh….

(Variation: Person 2 replies, “Is there a question in there?”)

Did you see what happened there? Person 1 has a lot of data and feels stuck. Person 2 can’t help because they don’t know what it is Person 1 wants.

Here’s the thing. If you can’t articulate what you’re trying to find. chances are you won’t find it.

Genealogy and Road Trips

road-mapI love road trips. Sometimes I get in the car with no particular destination in mind. When that’s the case, any road will do. But this doesn’t work with our genealogy.

When we have a destination in mind — when we know what it is we’re trying to find — we can get ideas about how to get there. When we don’t know where we want to go, we can wander around the back roads and take forever to get nowhere. The scenery might be pretty and we might find something just from luck, but we can also end up feeling like we didn’t accomplish much.

“What am I trying to find” as a Foundation

When we state what we’re trying to find, it sets the framework for our research. Thinking back to Person 1, maybe she wants to find his parents or where in Ohio he came from. Maybe she wants to identify his first wife or firm up her suspicion that the family was Presbyterian. Any of those questions are fine. She just needs to decide what her question is.

Let’s say that she wants to find his origins in Ohio. That makes me think of census records, his death record, obituaries, land records in Illinois (especially his first purchase of land there), and county histories.

That’s a bit different than if she’s trying to identify the first wife. Yes, I’d still look at those records for him (and for her if I have a first name to start with), but I’d also look at the children’s birth, marriage, and death records, as they could identify their mother. It’s a different research strategy based on what I’m trying to find.

Ask the Question

When you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, take a step back. Breathe. Then ask yourself, “What is it I’m trying to find?’ The clearer you can get on that, the more focused your research will be.

The question you need to ask when you're stuck on your genealogy

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

It’s sad — and rather frustrating — to go to a cemetery, take some photos, and realize when you get home that those photos don’t really help you. (It’s especially frustrating when you’re not able to get back to take more photos.) To help ease the frustration, here are 5 cemetery photos that you should get in the habit of taking every time:

1. The Cemetery Sign

The cemetery sign should be the first photo you take each time you go to the cemetery. I know it feels a little strange to take a picture before you even get into the cemetery. Honestly, this was a hard habit for me to get into, but I am so glad I did!

When you go to several cemeteries, you can lose track of which one was which. Having the sign as the first photo for that cemetery, you never have to wonder later, “Which cemetery was this?” All you need to do is scroll back through your photos until you get to the cemetery sign.

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - cemetery sign

Havens Cemetery, Franklin County, Ohio

Not all cemeteries have a sign like the one for Haven Cemetery. In those cases, make your own. Write down the name (or the location if you don’t know the name) and take a picture of that.

2. The Entire Tombstone

I like to get a picture of the entire tombstone, even if I can’t read all of the details. (More on that in a moment.) You wouldn’t photocopy just one paragraph of an ancestor’s will. Treat the tombstone the same way: as a document. Get a photo showing the whole thing.

EDIT: Make sure you get photos of the back and sides of the stone, too! (Thanks to everyone who reminded me that I forgot to mention it!)

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - the Entire Tombstone

Nellie Sager

3. Close-up of Details

There are often details that aren’t legible in the photo of the entire tombstone. That’s when you want to take close-up shots. Take photos of the name and dates, the epitaph, symbols, and other details. (Take them from several angles to improve your odds of reading them later.)

Here’s a closeup of Nellie’s name and dates:

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - closeups

Nellie / dau of D & K Sager / died / Nov. 1, 1889 / aged 7 Ms 26 Ds

A closeup of the epitaph:

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - closeups

Clasped are her [?] / Over her pulseless breast / Angels have taken our darling / Nellie has gone to rest.

4. The Wider Shot

If you want to have some hope of finding that tombstone again, take several steps back and get a photo of the tombstone and the stones around it. This helps give you landmarks for finding it again. Little Nellie’s tombstone could easily be overlooked. But the larger Edgar tombstone stands out more. I can look for that stone again and know that Nellie is right in front of it.

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - wide shot

Nellie’s stone in context with its surroundings

(Yes, I know that smartphone cameras can geo-tag a photo. But what if you don’t have cell coverage at that cemetery or you’re not using your phone? And what if you’re like me and have geo-tagging turned off?)

5. The Neighbors

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - nearby stones

Walter, son of D & K Sager, is buried next to Nellie.

Our ancestors are often buried near other relatives. Get photos of the surrounding tombstones (including closeups of the inscriptions). Even if you don’t know how (or even if) those people are related now, you’ll have the information for when you do more research on the family later.

Buried next to Nellie is Walter E., son of D. & K. Sager, who died 4 January 1888, aged 3 years, 3 months, and 26 days. (How sad for the Sager family to lose two children in less than two years.)

Get in the Habit

It’s so easy to take tons of photos at the cemetery. Getting into the habit of taking these 5 photos will help you be less frustrated when you’re looking at them later.

What’s your “must take” photo at the cemetery?


Want 5 tips on how to take better cemetery photos? Sign up HERE to receive a FREE downloadable guide featuring five of my favorite tips.

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

Genealogy Weekly: Ancestry Mexico, North Carolina Newspapers and More

Family History Month is finishing with a bang! This week’s news includes the launch of Ancestry Mexico, a redesign of FamilyTreeWebinars, a big sale at Family Tree Magazine, and more issues of a North Carolina African-American newspaper going online. (Links are below the video.)

Show Notes:

Ancestry Launches Ancestry Mexico

Legacy Redesigns FamilyTreeWebinars site

  • Changes include videos being mobile-responsive and the ability to create playlsts
  • Official announcement

Family Tree Magazine Has Book Sale

DigitalNC Add More Issues of The Carolina Times

Genealogy Weekly with Amy Johnson Crow