Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL)

In 2016, Elissa Scalise Powell attended one of my Legacy FamilyTree Webinars (a subscription site) and in an email urged me to apply for the CGL credential. I appreciate that she put that thought in my head, because I certainly did not think I was worthy of that certification, but it was nice that she did.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) administers the program.

The requirements are simple (once you get past the first one!):

  • must be a CG
  • access to two presentations (can be FamilyTree Webinars) with some caveats
  • any script and notes, if any
  • the syllabi
  • List of resources, which I always include in the syllabus
  • your presentation resume
  • $300[1]

I started to gather my materials together in 2017 but that was pre-Zoom and it was (at best) cumbersome to get a recording of the lecture and make it available for the judges. It is desirable to apply for the CGL at the same time (or shortly after) as your CG as the cycle for renewal, whenever you apply for the CGL will match that of your CG. In other words, the longer I waited, I would still be paying $300 for a shorter amount of time. I waited.

I applied shortly after I submitted my renewal and was notified at the same time as my renewal that I had also compiled with the requirements for the CGL

I am not sure why I decided to apply for the CGL. I would present whether I had the credential or not. I love to teach eager students. More postnomials? Unlikely. BCG does provide peer review by expert presenters who give thoughtful comments. Here is what I submitted.

Here are some takeaways based on the judges’ (3) comments. Maybe you can learn from them if you also lecture.:

  • Two of the three judges were more critical of “Molly” than “150 Years.”
    • They thought my DNA explanations were not as clear as they should be and pointed out that I used some words in the wrong way, e.g. pedigree collapse instead of “multiple common ancestors.”
    • One judge wanted more explanation of what might make the cause variation in the methods I used. I disagree with this a bit as Molly is an DNA case study that is easily understood by the person who knows something about DNA, but not much. it was supposed to be without jargon.)
  • There were no comments about me as a presenter–voice, word patterns, motions, etc.
  • There were some grammatical errors on the syllabi.
  • The formatting of the footnotes varied between bibliographic or reference style. (My fault on that one.) I used a very short footnote style for any image used in the presentation and one judge thought they were too cryptic.
  • The organization of the presentations was clear. They liked that I stated the objectives up front. (H/T to Tom Jones for that one!)
  • They liked the section breaks that broke “150 Years” into methodolgical sections, which enables the mind to partition off what was just presented and preps it for what is to come.
  • The visual aids were strong, but I sometimes put periods at the end of a phrase in a bullet and sometimes do not….I need to strive for consistency.
  • One judge stated, “The presenter coins the term “radial research,” applying it to a powerful research technique. This new term serves as a great member aid for a potent methodology.” Credit where credit is due: I am not the creator of that term; I don’t know who is. I do know that Geoff Fröberg Morris, FHL Scandinavian expert, used it when we discussed this project and Warren Bittner, CG used the term in a presentation on his Bittner family given many years ago that I attended.

So, perhaps this will be helpful to you should you decide to obtain the CGL credential. There are not many of us. My credential is no. 49! There was talk for a while to reduce the price. The Board elected to keep it at the $300 level.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: The Certification Discussion Group kicks off in August this year for me. I reviewed the website, sent out the zoom and Dropbox links and did some responding to requests by the students. If you are interested in CDG, just go to our website (https://theCDGseries.wordpress.com) and sign up on the waitlist. It will be offered in the winter of 2023. I worked on my Applied Genealogy Institute syllabus for my “Write as You Research” course. These are always harder to put together then I think they will be. Registration will be open from 8-14 August at https://appliedgen.institute. And finally, we are making final plans for our Italy trip in September and October.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists,”Teaching-Category Application,” BCG Application Guide 2021 (online download: https://bcgcertification.org/process/app-guide/) Table of Contents says p. 10, but the pages are not paginated.

My CG Renewal

Assessment of my portfolio’s Research Report against BCG’s Rubrics. Each colored column represents the evaluation of one judge.

Every five years, the credential awarded by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Certified Genealogist, is up for renewal. The submission of my initial portfolio was ridden with angst and personal doubt, and a residual worry lingered five years later! Usually, individuals celebrate for two days after receiving notice of the receipt of the credential and then start planning their renewal—and worrying!

I was no different.

The requirements for renewal are much less than the requirements for the initial portfolio, significantly reducing my worry factor. The number of documents is fewer (1-2 only); the work samples do not need to be complex; and the work product can be reviewed by someone else, opening up articles and the use of editors. You must identify your weaknesses from the judges’ comments from the initial portfolio and address them.[1] At least one submission must meet the Genealogical Proof Standard.[2]

The portfolio judges identified areas of weakness. My research report (done for a client) was very weak and it received the most yellow, indicating “partially meets standards.” (See image above)[3] In 2017 when I received the credential, I knew nothing about DNA. I spent the next five years taking classes in DNA and writing about 25 personal and client reports, honing my technique.

My renewal was composed of 4 documents:

  • A cover letter where I described the identified weaknesses from the portfolio comments and what my goals were to rectify them;
  • A genealogical resume which was arranged by weakness and included classes and self-education I had undertaken;
  • Work Sample 1: a personal research report identifying the parents of Kirstin Pehrsdotter, b. 1656, d. 1725 in Sweden.
  • Work Sample 2: an article which was published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in December of 2018 using DNA.[4]

Here are some of my take-aways from the process and my submission.

  • I had been sporadic about keeping.a record of my learning opportunities. I should have been more diligent recording the dates, name of the course and instructors. It was a pain to compile.
  • One of the two documents submitted had to represent reasonably exhaustive research. Both of my work samples did.
  • I woke up in the middle of the night a couple times wondering if I had really proven Kirstin’s parents. I would reassure myself with “Who else could it be?” and mentally “walked myself” through the evidence. Only one man was left standing and then I would go back to sleep. (See? It never stops.)
  • I had one other DNA article I could have used but it was also Swedish and I didn’t want to use two Swedish articles.
  • While the DNA article was older and didn’t need much work–it had already been reviewed by others, the RR hadn’t. I had written it about a year before and now I needed to polish it up and make sure all my citations were in order, etc. This took the longest–maybe a month.
  • I knew that submitting a DNA article and one using international records would slow down the judging process. I also knew that the BCG was getting a lot of portfolios to review. It took 5 months to review the two work samples.
  • I also submitted my application for Certified Genealogical Lecturer at the same time. Since you have to have your CG before you can submit for the CGL, I knew that if they waited and awarded both at the same time, there would be another delay. BCG did award them at the same time. I will blog about the CGL more in the future.

I am employing some new strategies for the next round in 2027. I am being more diligent in recording my educational opportunities. It is too early to identify a work product I will want to submit, but if I keep working, something will appear that will be a reasonable submission. But, there is also a good chance I won’t renew at all. I am of a “certain age” and it may not be worth it for me to do so. I have not been certified long enough to become a CG Retired.

In June of 2022, I was informed that my submission met standards and I was renewed as a Certified Genealogist for another five years! The judges’ comments were minimal—all green! Now my worry is what do I say about my weaknesses! 🙂 (not that I don’t have any…)

If you have questions, just ask!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I am committing to blogging more. I find I enjoy it ….stay tuned. I have been working on my Applied Genealogy Institute class materials where I will be teaching “Write As You Research! A Methodology for Efficient Report Writing.” Check it out if you are interested in taking the course. I turned the research report into an article to the NGSQ and it was returned with comments. I made the revisions based on their peer reviewer’s comments, and sent it to two people to review before I send it back to the Q. I am co-chair of Seattle Genealogical Society‘s Centennial and it is starting to consume some time.

[1] For exact requirements see: Board for Certification of Genealogists, “The Renewal Application,” The BCG Application Guide 2021 Revised, (Washington DC : Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2021). The Application Guide is free for the download at https://bcgcertification.org/process/app-guide/
[2] —–, “Genealogy Standards, Second Edition Revised, (Nashville : Ancestry.com, 2021) 1-2. This is the latest; when I submitted it had not yet been issued, but the revisions did not affect my work samples.
[3] This is a self-made Excel form I made shortly after receipt of my initial portfolio reflecting the BCG judges’ comments. It represents just the Research Report and the ratings of the three judges. Green is “meets standards” and yellow is “partially meets standards.” I did not receive any “does not meet standards.”
[4] Jill Morelli, “DNA Helps Identify “Molly” (Frisch/Lancour) Morelli’s Father,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 106 (December 2018):293-306.

AppGen Institute Registration

Learn by Doing

Mark your calendars! We are offering some great classes this fall semester (October-November) that you won’t want to miss. The registration window will open on 8 August and close on the 14th. If the class is oversubscribed we will use a lottery system to assign individuals to the course.

Here are the AppGen offerings for this fall. Click on any link to go to a description of the course:

Don’t forget to sign up for the AppGen Mailing List to get the latest news and reminders.

Happy Hunting!


Multiple Common Ancestors vs. Pedigree Collapse

I recently submitted my renewal portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists for review by the judges in hopes that they would deem my submission worthy of my continuing to receive the credential of Certified Genealogist. This is something I have to do every five years to maintain my credential. I was honored that they said “yes.”

One of the common observations of both of the judges was that I should have used the term “multiple shared lines of ancestry” in lieu of “pedigree collapse.” Now, I had never heard that term, and I set about to figure it out. I thought you might be interested in what I found.

The judge stated, “The explanation might have been clearer if terminology such as “multiple shared lines of ancestry” had been used rather than “pedigree collapse.”[1]

First, I went to the document that included the words pedigree collapse so I could determine the context.
“In order to further reduce the possibility of pedigree collapse creating an inordinately higher concentration of shared DNA than the relationship would justify, the lineage of the remaining families was investigated.”[2]

I decided that I would ask the experts on the Facebook kGroup, “Genealogy tips & Techniques,” one of the wonderful FB sites that provide solid advice. I want to thank the many people who contributed to my learning on this topic.

The easiest way for me to explain their information was:

  • Multiple shared lines of ancestry: are common lineages with others outside your family (in this case the Wood family). This is often discovered when we are doing DNA work as we are working with test takers.
  • Pedigree collapse: is a reduction in the expected number of ancestors within your own family. Think of your fan chart–do you have all unique individuals or do you have some that appear twice? I have two couples that appear twice back about 5 generations, reducing my count of expected great-greats.

This is not an official definition but it appears that the ISOGG Wiki doesn’t have a definition either.[3] None of this should be confused with endogamy (yet I hear that all the time).

We always want to use the right terminology and I agree with the judge on this comment. I should have used the more generic terminology of “multiple shared lines of ancestry.”

I hope this has been helpful.

Happy Hunting!


What I have been doing since the last posting….since it has been so long since I posted… Applied Genealogy Institute is growing appropriately. The practicum-based institute works with a small number of students using an applied learning approach to skills and record sets a genealogist needs. We are getting ready to enroll our next set of students for the fall semester. Pop over to https://appliedgen.institute and check out the classes. I am also working on three articles: 1.) responding to peer review comments to a submission of one of my two documents of my renewal to the Q; 2.) gathering information and background about my grandfather, particularly as it relates to his establishment and loss in the 1930s of his private bank; and 3.) identifying 46 orphan train riders that arrived in Hamilton County, Iowa in the fall of 1890. I have found 31 so far.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists to Jill Morelli, CG, CGL, letter, 18 June 2022, attachment, Judges’ comments, Judge no. 1, p. 3.
[2] Jill Morelli, CG, “Finding a Father for Marie “Molly” (Fisch/Lancour) Morelli,” work sample 2. This submission was originally published as an article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, “DNA Helps Identify “Molly” (Frisch/Lancour) Morelli’s Father”, 106 (December 2018) 293-306. Emphasis by author.
[3] International Society of Genetic Genealogists, Wiki, (https://isogg.org/w/index.php?search=multiple+shared+lines)

AppGen Registration now open!

The registration window for the Applied Genealogy Institute 2022 winter courses is now open. Please go to https://appliedgen.institute webpage to review the course offerings and to Register Here! The week long registration window is open until 9 January.

We have superb instructors teaching five unique courses:

  • Catholic Records; Margaret S. Fortier, CG
  • Applied Genetic Genealogy; Leah Larkin, Ph.D
  • Foundations I: Using the Records; Lisa Gorrell, CG
  • Advanced Swedish Genealogy; Jill Morelli, CG
  • Learning from Ledgers: Diane L. Richard

You can review the dates, cost, class outlines on the website. We have recently instituted a Contact Us! page and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to fill it out, we will respond as quickly as we can.

AppGen is a unique institute, born virtual in 2021, that focuses on practicum based learning. It is offered twice a year. We are committed to small classes (15 max.), direct and frequent interaction from the instructor and “learning by doing”.

Hope you had a happy holiday and are looking forward to a great 2022!

Happy hunting!


What i have been doing since the last post: working on my renewal for my BCG certification, (it is 99.9% complete and in it’s “let it rest” mode so I can go back and do one more look with fresh eyes.) and writing the syllabus and assignments for the Advanced Swedish Research course. Next up: CDG starts with 60 new students on 31 Jan.

Applied Genealogy Institute Inauguration

“If you see a vacuum, fill it,” said my boss to me in the 1990s when I was at The Ohio State University as their University Architect. It might be better said, “When you see a need, how can you not fill it?”

Such was the case of the Certification Discussion Group (CDG). I saw a need, based on this blog, for a more systematic presentation of the tips and techniques that I (and others) had gathered by talking to those who had received the credential and those who had not. CDG was born in winter of 2017.

Then it happened again. Early in the pandemic I was monitoring the private CDG Facebook (FB) page (alumni of the program) and noticed a recurring theme of laments about lack of focus and purpose, lethargy and sense of loss. I started weekly (now every 2 week) sessions with successful CGs explaining their journey, outside speakers, and projects. Oh, did I mention– and an outstanding mentoring group program for those “on the clock” managed by Pam Anderson. These offerings have been very popular. One person said the FB page was worth the price of the course! I might not go that far but…. CDG FB page became active in summer 2019.

Well, “opportunity” has struck again. While monitoring that same FB page in early 2021, Mary Roddy, Lisa Gorrell and I identified that people were frustrated with certain aspects of institute learning or loved portions of it that were not regularly presented. We identified some key principles for a new institute, and Applied Genealogy Institute was born in the summer of 2021. Applied Genealogy or AppGen is a virtual institute for intermediate to advanced genealogical learners who want to delve deeply into a topic in a practicum-based environment. Our moniker is “Learn by Doing,” as we believe small classes (15), homework (due weekly) and high interaction with the instructor (who responds to homework) make for a better learning experience.

We kicked off the 2021 fall session with three classes, Irish Research, Land Records and Broad Context. This winter 2022 session will include:

  • Catholic records, Margaret R. Fortier, CG
  • Foundations I: Using the Records: Lisa S. Gorrell, CG
  • Applied Genetic Genealogy: Leah Larkin, Ph.D.
  • Advanced Swedish Research, Jill Morelli, CG
  • Getting Lost in Ledgers, Diane L.Richards

If you are interested in AppGen, please sign up for our Mailing LIst. If you are interested in the winter offerings, our window of registration will open 2 January until 9 January 2022 at our website.

Meanwhile the winter classes for CDG are assembled and will launch the end of January. Sign up at the CDG website if you wish to be considered for the Fall class.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: well, Christmas is to celebrate, isn’t it? I also have been working very hard on the assignments for my AppGen course and starting to write the syllabus (it may end up 60+ pages!)

Genealogy Goals for 2022

Do you set goals for the new year? I usually don’t because I find them intimidating and rarely achievable–like world peace or a bi-partisan Congress. This year I decided to do so. Here we go…

Genealogy Goals for 2022:

  1. Submit my BCG renewal (and hopefully “pass”)
  2. Submit a second article to a peer reviewed journal for publication (first is slated for February’s NCGS Journal.) (and hopefully get accepted)
  3. Write the best syllabus for AppGen’s “Advanced Swedish Research” class (and while I am at it–have the strongest lesson plan for the course)
  4. Have two more articles in final draft stage for submission to peer reviewed journals.
  5. Develop with my co-coordinater, a terrific and do-able plan for the SGS Centennial 2023.

OK, that’s enough. I’m exhausted.

I admit to cheating just a bit….

No. 1: My renewal is due mid-January and I am essentially done with it. I am letting it sit for a bit.
No. 2: My article on three Union Civil War deserters is slated for February, but I would like another. I am trying to extend my publication “reach” to other journals and hope this next one can go into a journal I haven’t been published in yet or haven’t for a while.
No. 3: I am working on my course syllabus now and since I teach the course starting in March, I will either have achieved it or not by then. Note: “Best” is not measurable.
No. 4: I have a couple in the gestation period but would like to get them moving.
No. 5: We have to have this done in the next few months. Note: “Terrific and do-able” are really not measurable.

So, consider doing some genealogy goals for 2022 and then we can revisit them together at the end of the year.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays and, why not….world peace in 2022!


What I have done since the last post: Did some final touches on the renewal docs; started working on the syllabus and presentations for Applied Genealogy Institute (“Advanced Swedish Research”); prepared for the holidays

My Renewal

In January of 2017, I was granted the credential of Certified Genealogist by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, attesting to the quality of my work. But, you do not get to rest on your laurels for long (about a day and a half!). Once you obtain your credential, you have five years to plan and execute your renewal submission. I have been working on mine as it is due in mid-January 2022 (with a 3 month one-time extension due to Covid to mid-March.)

Renewal documentation is quite different than the requirements for submission of a portfolio:

  • A maximum of 2 documents are required, at least one of which must exhibit application of the Genealogical Proof Standard.
  • You must submit your development activities of this past 5 years, illustrating how you have attempted to correct the discrepancies identified by the judges
  • it can be reviewed by anyone at any time in advance of submission–even edited and proof read.

I have many documents I could select. I first spent some time looking at my judges’ comments and identified two areas of weakness:

  1. my research report was particularly weak (This is often the weakest element.)
  2. I had no knowledge of DNA

I worked hard on number two in 2017, and have had two articles published in peer reviewed journals that used DNA to provide evidence (it never “solves the case” contrary to newspapers and DNA hobbyists). I have stopped taking clients, except those with Scandinavian problems, so I lacked research reports written for someone else but I had loads of them I had written for myself.

My renewal will (at least at this moment) consist of my DNA article for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (December 2018) and a personal research report, both of which exhibit application of the GPS, and my development activities for the past five years. Since I am an education junkie, the latter is not a hard document to put together, except to keep it succinct.

I had a false start–I first thought I would have just one document, a Swedish study which was published in the Swedish American Genealogist (June 2020). As I got into it I realized that I would write it differently today and I had to change all the footnotes anyway. I worked on it for a while, but then decided that a personal research report was better.

As of yesterday, I have completed the personal research report and it is sitting for a while (a week?) before I pick it up again and see if there are things I want to change. I hope to submit it to BCG before Christmas.

I hope for you, your family and the world–peace. We thank our researchers and our government for fast tracking the vaccine and making it freely available to us and the world. For all of you who are not vaccinated—Omicron is coming. Please get vaccinated for the sake of your family and your loved ones, if not for you.

Happy Hunting and see you in 2022!


What I have done since my last post: Two friends and I have started a new, virtual institute for intermediate and advanced learners. This past fall I taught “Exploring Broad Context,: and this spring will teach “Advanced Swedish Research.” If you are interested in this kind of a program of small classes and practicum-based learning, pop over to https://appliedgen.institute/mailing-list and sign up to receive the announcement of when class registration opens (2-9 January). Hope to see you there.

[1] Image in public domain.
[2] Has one ever tried to “rest on their laurels”? I suspect it would be very uncomfortable.

“My Case Study just blew up! What do I do?”

You have been working hard on your indirect evidence based Case Study (CS) for your portfolio.[1] You are proceeding with “reasonably exhaustive research,” per the Genealogical Proof Standard.[2] And, then…..there it is….the direct evidence that John Doe is the father of Fred Doe. Crap (or worse)! Your case study just blew up–or did it?

Just because your case study “blew up,” doesn’t mean it really has. Let’s explore some thoughts and some alternatives. Start by revisiting your research question. Let’s just say yours was one of a relationship—like noted above.

  1. Your research question must be one of identity (two same named individuals or one individual/two names) or relationship (child, parent, siblings, etc.)[3]
  2. If it is one of relationship then you will need to establish the identity of the person first, to a point that the person could not be conflated with someone else of the same name or does not have a gaps in the timeline of their life.
  3. THEN you can address the relationship.

In step no. 2 above, you are making sure there are no other same named individuals who could possibly conflict with your person or fill the gaps. What results is that you have your primary relationship question but you have a sub-question of who was Fred Doe (identity)? If your major question blows up, you sub-question may be enough to carry your case study. Re-craft your research question and you may have salvaged much of your CS.

Several past CDG students have outlined their blow ups. Melissa shared her ProGen project.[4] I have somewhat simplified it for this post.

This is a case of one woman all named Ora that each had a different husband—Ora 1, Ora 2, Ora 3, and Ora 4. Melissa wanted to find the father of Ora.[2] She started by finding out the Oras were the same person with 4 different husbands. No birth or marriage records exist. She was working towards an indirect evidence based proof when…. she found the death certificate of Ora 4 and it named her father, James Doe. sigh.

Did her Case Study blow up? yes and no.

Her research question was answered and thus the finding of direct evidence forced her to refocus. Three options lay in front of her:

  • she could find another case to work on;
  • she could shift to an identity issue with the research question being “Can Ora 1, 2, 3 and 4 be merged into a single person?” The latter option would result in her salvaging much of what she had already done and still be an acceptable Case Study if it was complex enough to illustrate her skills. In this case she pivoted; or
  • She could discover another piece of evidence that said the father of Ora was not James Doe but rather Theodore Doe and she would have conflicting direct evidence.

Barring that additional finding, if she changed her research question to “Were Oras 1, 2, 3 and 4 all the same person?”—her sub-question– she is back in the game.

Recognizing that your primary research question may have layers of sub-questions, means that you may have the ability to pivot to one of the sub-questions and use that instead.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Always work on a Case Study where you have solved the problem. If you don’t, you may be working on a problem that cannot be solved or you will be stuck waiting for a repository to open.
  • Sometimes we have 10 problems and have solved 8 of them. Those problems and their solutions now look easy and we dismiss them to work on unsolved problem no. 9. Wrong. Pick from one of the 8 and write it up.
  • I thought my CS would take about 10 pages to write up. When I started applying the GPS to my CS, 34 pages later I had a Case Study that satisfied “reasonably exhaustive research.”
  • Remember, unless it states specifically that Ora 1 is the same person as Ora 2, you are probably working with indirect evidence.  
  • Mary Kircher Roddy has written two articles for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (Q) both about individuals who did a change of name (same man/different names).[5]
  • My Case Study was about two same named individuals and whether they could be merged into one.[6]

So, before you abandon all your good work, think about shifting your research question instead. It might still be a valid Case Study suitable for your portfolio.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I won’t bore you with all the details. The major item is that the two partners and I have formed a partnership to bring educational opportunities in the form of an institute to high-intermediate and advanced learners. In September, we had our first class offerings and we are now preparing for Spring classes, having issued a Call for Proposals and have received some excellent proposals. Our next steps will be select the classes to be offered. If you are interested in knowing more about us you can find us at https://appliedgen.institute.

[1] The portfolio is a submission requirement to be considered for the receipt of the credential Certified Genealogist. this program is administered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, Second Edition (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2019) 1-2.
[3] For all rules pertaining to the Case Study and other elements necessary for submission, see Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Application Guide 2021 (revised), download at https://bcgcertification.org.
[4] This was a ProGen Study Group project and Melissa was “safe” in addressing the problem to the group. Portfolio submissions cannot be reviewed by others before submission. I use this example with Melissa’s permission.
[5] I direct you the index of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly at http://hodges-hodge-society.org/ngs/NGSQsearchForm.htm You need to be a member to access the articles online.
[6] Ibid.

Harry Bittner, b. 1886, d. 1900

“Obituary,” Daily Freeman Tribune, (Webster City IA)
28 Feb 1900, p. 8, col. 3.

Working with Orphan Train Riders is a roller coaster of emotions. I cannot imagine a little boy or girl just 5 or 6 years old, standing on the platform of the train station having adults look them over like cattle–some wanting to be accepted by a family and some just wanting to go home. The families wanting farm help, or care givers or children they never could have.

This is a short story of Harry Bittner’s short life, just one of the 35 boys who got on that train in New York, traveled to Hamilton County, Iowa in August of 1890. [1]

In that year, the Children’s Aid Society made three stops in Hamilton County, Iowa, to distribute children, in August, October and November.[2] The program was based on the idea that children without parental care would benefit from the bucolic rural life in the Midwest. Many of these children had living parents.[3]

Harry was in the group of 18 children, 14 boys and 4 girls who arrived in Webster City, Iowa in August. The town had been anticipating their arrival for a couple of weeks and had formed a committee of townspeople to accept applications for the children, of which more than 60 were received.[4] Hiram Olmstead and his wife was probably one of the applicant families. Whether they had made a “reservation” for a child ahead of arrival or if Harry was selected randomly on that August day is not known.

Hiram Olmstead (b. 1826) and his wife, Lucy, had migrated from New York where they were born, to Illinois and finally resided in Hamilton County, Iowa by 1880.[5] In 1890, advancing in years and with children of their own mostly grown, the couple received the boy, Harry Bittner, age 4. Things must not have gone as anticipated. Harry was very young, the Olmsteads were elderly. After about 18 months, Harry Bittner found another home with Charles and Harriet Young, also of Hamilton County.[6]

There he resided until his death in February 1900 at age 14. We know little about his short life. The Youngs were obligated to send him to school and to give him room and board. We assume they did. We don’t know the chores Harry was supposed to perform. We do know the family was Baptist and Harry became confirmed and accepted the Baptist faith just prior to his death.[7]

Harry appeared in one census, the 1895 Iowa state census as a 9 year old.[8]

Iowa State Census, 1895,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 20 December 2020), Hamilton County > image 311 of 681, Charles Young household; citing State Historical Society, Des Moines.

Three newspaper articles outline his death and provide an obituary of his life.

“…For a few days he had been feeling poorly, but was usually very rugged and healthy. In the night he arose and was walking the floor, and a member of the family gave him medicine, but a few moments prior to his death.”[9]

The story of the Orphan Train Rider Harry Bittner is just one of the 34 stories I am researching.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I am a believer in DIY context. As I was researching an Orphan Train Rider (OTR) who was adopted into my family, I was impressed with the amount of newspaper coverage of their arrival and their lives but the lack of identification. Small town newspapers believed that everything was news! I wanted to know what happened to this little ones removed from an urban existence and thrown into rural Iowa. There is much I cannot find documentation for; however, I can tell the stories of those that appear in the records in Iowa.

1 Iowa Genweb, “Orphan Trains to Hamiliton County,” http://iagenweb.org/hamilton/misc/orphantrains.html;
2 “E. Trott of the Children’s Aid Society…,” The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa), 3 September 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. The article says the train arrived “last Friday,” making the date of arrival 29 August 1890. Also, “Ten boys and three girls…”, The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa),15 October 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. Date calculated to 9 October 1890. Also, “The third and last party…” The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa),21 November 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. Date calculated to 20 November 1890.
3 Ron Grossman, “The Orphan Train: A NobleIdea that Went Off the Rails.” Chicago Tribune, 19 July 2018. https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-flashback-orphan-train-children-separated-immigrants-0722-20180718-story.html
4 “Boys Wanting Homes,” Webster City [IA] Freeman, 24 August 1890, p. 4, col. 5.
5 1880 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Iowa, population schedule, Webster Township, ED 104, page 3, household 26, dwelling 28, Hiram Olmstead household; NARA T9, roll 342.
6 “Obituary,” Daily Freeman Tribune, (Webster City IA) 28 Feb 1900, p. 8, col. 3.
7 Ibid.
8 Iowa State Census, 1895,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org, accessed 20 December 2020), Hamilton County > image 311 of 681, Charles Young household; citing State Historical Society, Des Moines.
9 “Harry Bittner who has been making his home…,” Daily Freedom Tribune (Webster City, Iowa), 26 February 1900, p. 8, col. 3.