FHWR: Writing your Family History

Have you tried writing your family history or stories and cannot get started?  Or you start and you cannot figure out how to end it?  I’m with you.  For the next six blogs over the next six days I will be blogging about an opportunity for a writer’s getaway where you will receive the gift of time without distractions, except of your own making!

elkins ValerieValerie Elkins of Family Cherished blog and writer extraordinaire, and I have put together a Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR) in September in Colorado and you are invited. The event will be held in Silverthorne, CO from 19-23 September. Ask your questions of the two of us and perhaps you can resolve your dilemmas with the advice of “experts.”

You are invited to write about your family history in perhaps ways you had not thought of before.  Valerie is the expert here, but I may have a few things to add. Writing is like climbing a mountain, one has to exercise a little before making the big ascent. Family History Writing is similar—we need time to exercise these writing skills to accomplish our task. We provide you with lots of time to work on your product, unfettered by the need to do the laundry, or the demands of family.

If you have an idea and want time to work on your idea, this is the place for you! Family history writing can take many forms and Valerie can get you started by discussing goals and audience.  Perhaps you have stories from your Aunt Maude; perhaps you have documents; or perhaps you have artifacts, such as WWI memorabilia–all of which can form the nucleus for your writing. Whatever your have, Valerie can get you started or can help sharpen your goals.

You may be working on your memoirs or The Book. What ever the topic, we invite writers of all genres to join us in the Colorado Mountains, with a view of the Continental Divide and hiking trails outside your door.

Write your stories.  Blog about your artifacts. Interested in writing but not genealogy?–we’re happy with that, too.  Share your experiences of the day, or not, but along the way, we guarantee you will get a chunk of the writing done–a big chunk. Valerie and I will cook breakfast and lunch for you, and provide the wifi.  We also provide the dessert and wine at the end of the day when we discuss what we have been working on.

Now, we are not talking about a big group, but our minimum is seven writers (we already have two people signed up!) with a maximum of 12.  The intimacy of the group will make for great discussions and developing friendships. The cost is VERY reasonable, contact one of us if you are interested.

Tomorrow I will cover portfolio writing.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: spoke to Fiske Genealogy Library (not as easy as it sounds–had to rebuild the presentation because Ancestry posted new record sets AND I had dental work done in the am), set up for the SGS membership meeting on Sunday and sent a revised copy, incorporating the comments from the peer reviewers for the NGSQ, back to the Q.  I have no idea when it will be published and there are some steps to do in advance. I’ll keep you posted.


Setting portfolio writing goals

Gold starI admire those of you who say you are going to write your portfolio and then fill out the application to send to BCG. I knew that wouldn’t work for me. I needed the pressure of a deadline and the BCG “clock” ticking provided it. (When you apply you are given one year to submit your portfolio before you have to reapply.  I reapplied twice.)

One of the things that helped me was to set small goals.  I set time goals (write for an hour) and I set quantity goals (draft 10 citations). Both worked. This setting of small goals might have helped me more if I had put them in place more often. 🙂

I just read an article by Grammarly “How to measure your writing goals as a writer and business professional” that resonated with me and the discipline needed to complete a portfolio. I thought I would share with you how the concepts of goal setting might apply to  portfolio writing and the writing of other genealogical articles.

  1. Identify a single goal:
    Let’s say you want to have both transcriptions done in one month. Break the process down into specific steps that achieve your goal, e.g. selection of a personal document, reviewing four other transcriptions and their research plans, determining the best format, etc. . Once you have the steps outlined, you might allocate each step to a particular day that month.
  2. Allocation of Time:
    Consider allocating a set amount of time each day to write. Set a timer that rings when your allotted time is up. (Sound like a great task for Alexa!) This might force you to devote time every day–even if it is a small increment.
  3. Wash, Rinse and Repeat
    This “rewards” you for writing every day. Check off the calendar with a big red X or a happy face or a gold star when you write that day!  This visual reminder informs you that you are incrementally addressing your goals.  It is great to see a calendar with lots of gold stars and in fact, you may find yourself not wanting to break the chain–and write even more!
  4. Monetary goal
    Well, genealogists don’t get paid for writing their portfolio, but you might find yourself writing other articles for money.  Do you have an annual amount you wish to make? A “thermometer” showing the total dollar goal and the amount you have achieved to date might serve as good measurement tool.
  5. Satisfaction
    Did you feel happy about a particular article or a blog post you wrote recently?  Record, using a five-point scale, your level of satisfaction each day with your writing production.  Over time you may perhaps also identify those writing assignments that give you the greatest pleasure.

Some of these methods might work for you, but others might not.  Which ones?  Try them and see.

If “time” is your issue, i.e. you do not have enough of it, consider signing up for the “Genealogy Writer’s Retreat” in September in Colorado.  This retreat is sponsored by Valerie Elkins and I and is the “gift of time” to write family histories, portfolios or other articles you have wanted to write without distractions.  We cook breakfast and lunch and provide designated quiet time for writing.  Dinner, sharing time, dessert and wine follow in the evening. Doesn’t that sound like delicious?

Let Valerie or me know if you are interested.  You do not have to be a genealogist to attend; you just have to want to write.

Happy Hunting!



Privacy and the GDPR

“Genealogy Certification” respects your privacy and recognizes the importance of your personal information. We are committed to protecting your information through our compliance with this Privacy Policy. This Privacy Policy describes our practices in connection with information we may collect through your use of our website (our ‘Site’). By using our Site, you consent to our collection and use of the information described in this Privacy Policy.

This blog post is now a page on this website.

You might have some questions, but be aware, I am no expert in this.

Why are you doing this?

On 25 May 2018, the European Union put into effect the requirements for a privacy policy called General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR. Although this blog is a very small “fish” in a very big “pond,” we felt it reasonable to describe to you our use of your information. While the GDPR applies to our European readers, we think it is good practice for all to recognize what we use of your information and how we use it.

For a description of what the GCPR is see The Legal Genealogist:
Abundant Genealogisthttps://abundantgenealogy.com/what-is-gdpr-and-why-does-it-matter-for-genealogy-and-family-history/

At Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journey (“the website”), we have two principles that we follow when it comes to your privacy:

• We don’t ask you for personal information unless we truly need it.
• We don’t share your personal information with anyone except in accordance with law.

We can state those principles clearly, because we do not carry advertising on this site, except when WordPress adds it. Those ads and your click-throughs fall under the policy of WordPress, its parent company and any of its affiliates. We urge you to read their Terms of Service at: https://en.wordpress.com/tos.

“Genealogy Certification” uses the free version of WordPress, and, therefore, we do not have an the ability to add a click agreement to their principles/policies, and so our low-tech solution is this:

  1. Opt-in: by using this site you are agreeing to the use of your cookies in a manner described below.
  2. Opt-out: you can refuse to supply personally-identifying information by unsubscribing.

What are Cookies?

Cookies are small programs stored on your computer, which may be used by WordPress, the blog service provider, to enable certain privacy and log-in capabilities. You have the ability to delete cookie files from your computer at any time or avoid cookies by configuring your browser to reject them or to notify you when a cookie is being placed on your computer.

What information do you collect?

Jill Morelli is the sole owner of the information collected on this site. We only have access to personally-identifying information if you voluntarily give it to us directly or by using email.

We collect information when you make a comment, subscribe to receive blog posts by email, surf the website, or when we use certain other site features in the following ways:

• To keep the website secure.
• To improve user experience.
• To improve the website.
• To respond to your requests.

We don’t and won’t sell or rent your information to anyone, and we won’t share any of your information with any third party unless required by law–which is highly unlikely.

WordPress also aggregate data about visitors (browser type, language preference, referring site, date and time of visit and the like), through services like WordPress that track this information for us, and retain it in log form. This information isn’t linked to anything personally identifiable, but we don’t sell or rent any of it to anyone either.

How do you protect my information?

The website is scanned on a regular basis for security holes and known vulnerabilities in order to make your visit to our site as safe as possible, but it is not perfect.

Do I have rights to my information?

International privacy rules give you rights over personally-identifying information collected for website purposes, including the right to withdraw any consent previously given; the right to review data that’s been collected; the right to correct or update your data; the right to have any portable information transferred to another data controller; and the right to have any personally-identifying information erased.

What if I click on a link that you have provided?

This website, through its many blog posts, has a lot of links to other websites. We’re not responsible for their content or their privacy practices.  We’re also not responsible if any content from this website is republished elsewhere without our permission.

Will these Privacy Policies ever change?

This Privacy Policy may change from time to time. Your use of the website after any change in this Privacy Policy will constitute your acceptance of such change.

The Site and I, personally, shall have no liability to you under this Policy, it being acknowledged and agreed that the Site is provided solely for your convenience.

What if I need more information?

I first urge you to read the blogs I noted above. If you need more information or have questions about this privacy policy, please contact me by email, jkmorelli@gmail.com.

If you wish to unsubscribe, do not hesitate to do so. That function is totally in your control.

Happy Hunting!

Much of this blog post utilized the privacy statements of others including The Legal Genealogist, GEDmatch and WordPress.  I am indebted to all of you for your leadership.

Jill Morelli, CG
Updated: 22 May 2018

Don’t Make Up Rubrics!

Rubric: b. an established custom; a set of rules, an injunction; a general prescription. [1]

Rubrics on computerThe definition of “rubric” has morphed from its 15th century ecclesiastical origins into directions of how something is assessed or prescribed.[2] The Board for Certification of Genealogists® (BCG) publishes their rubrics on their website, which explains how the BCG judges will assess your submitted portfolio.[3] The BCG website explains:

New research-category applications are evaluated using standards-based rubrics that address all aspects of the work, including documentation, research, writing, and adherence to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Study of these rubrics will supply insight into the criteria BCG’s judges consider during evaluations.[4]

I contend that one of the reasons some of us (me included) have/had angst associated with the submission of the portfolio is that we worry if we are “following the rules.” That’s not a bad thing; what is a “bad thing” is when we “make up rules”, adding requirements that really aren’t there.

Making up the rubrics is evidence that we are overthinking the portfolio and its process.

Example #1: A friend asked if she would be penalized if she did system x vs. system y in her KDP report. The important point here isn’t the question itself, but rather that she had a misconception about the requirements of the Rubrics. Why did she think that there was a “requirement” for one system over another? I asked which rubric told her that she had to use one system over another. There, of course, wasn’t one.

Example #2: I thought that the three generations of the Kinship Determination Project had to have a theme that tied the three generations together, in addition to being a documented family line. I worked hard to identify a family with theme, selected a family line with a series of three seceders from their home religion. I worked hard to gather the information to support the theme. As I finished up the report, I realized, after doing my “just before I submit my portfolio” reading of the rubrics, there was no requirement for that. I removed much of the theme description and submitted a shorter KDP.

Don’t fabricate rubrics that don’t exist. What isn’t there—isn’t there. You have the ability to do what you wish within the rubrics that are presented.

You can avoid this tendency to make up rubrics by closely reading and understanding the rubrics. Look for key words in the description of the rubrics that “meets standards”. Don’t make it harder by reading more into them than is there!

You should also constantly question your assumptions–not just those assumptions related to your genealogical research, but also those assumptions related to the process of putting your portfolio together.

Are you making up rubrics, and making the process harder? CGs, what are some “rubrics” you made up?

[1] OEDonlinehttp://www.oed.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/view/Entry/168394
[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Rubrics for Evaluating New Applications for BCG Certification,” 15 January 2018, https://bcgcertification.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/BCG-Renewal-Rubrics-2016.pdf The rubrics are free for the download and while you are there, download (free) the Application Guide. You will want to also obtain the book Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition ($, from BCG) which are referred to on the Rubrics. here is the link for the Standards manual:  https://bcgcertification.org/product/bcg-genealogy-standards/
[3] Ibid., “Rubrics,” https://bcgcertification.org/application/rubrics/


How I File My “Stuff”–Yawn

MyDesk old spreadsheetI started collecting my family information in 1982. It was the time of paper genealogy. I wrote letters, included SASEs, and recorded the informational scraps received on family group sheets. I was always interested in citing my work and eventually developed a source list (see left) that I number coded to my family group sheets. At one time, my husband and I worked with Russ and Birdie Holsclaw to write a program for genealogy that would incorporate citations. That initiative failed under its own weight, but I was still determined to find a program that could facilitate my writing citations for genealogy.

Fast forward to 2002, my daughter was now in college. I had contributed my time and expertise to a community organization in Denver, moved to Florida, moved again to Ohio and was finishing up my masters degree at Ohio State.

I remember—it was a February of 2002.  I said to myself, “After I graduate, what am I going to do?” (Note: I had a very full time job at Ohio State!)  I decided to check out various genealogical programs to see what might be available. I wanted one that could facilitate citation writing. There was only one—The Master Genealogist (TMG), which was still under production, but the citation element was there!

Like avid genealogists everywhere, there were many nights in the subsequent months when I looked up from my genealogy work and it was 2:00 in the morning! But, citations were not enough. It was equally important to have a filing system that I could easily file and easily find the source I was looking for.

The over-riding principle of my organizational system was simple. I adopted a single goal– to find any document in 20 seconds or less. I knew that the simpler I made my system the more likely I was to follow it. I also investigated systems that others espoused—colored folders, long identifying numbers and surname files.  None of these were simple and all required me to remember where I filed something to retrieve it. I looked back at my original list of sources and realized I could just number my sources sequentially, record the number in the database and I would be good to go. I let my computer do the “heavy lifting,” I just had to cite every source received, give it a number and put it into that 3 ring binder.

Did it happen?  You bet! I love my system, but I would suggest that few have ever adopted it, perhaps because it requires you to cite your sources!

MyDeskSo many genealogical filing systems rely on the “library system” of cataloging our sources, i.e. the description of the item determines how it is filed. For example, you have a death certificate and file it in the vital records file under Fred Jones. You consider yourself done. You aren’t.  What happens when you want to find it later? You have to remember it existed, “think” about it being in Fred’s file and then you have to think about it being a vital record and then you have to think about where it might be filed (color, Ahnetaufel number or what). Too much thinking for me!
MyDesk B213I instead file by the “archival method.” I don’t care what kind of document it is; and I don’t care who is identified. I only ask myself one question—is it my dad’s (Jacobson) or my mom’s side (Bode) of the family! I grab a 3-ring binder with the proper family (I have no pedigree collapse between my mom and my dad’s side of the family, which would complicate things.) The 3 ring binder has archival slip sheets in it (see image on left and note number in lower right hand corner); each sheet has been pre-numbered sequentially—J for Dad’s side, B for mom’s. A number looks like this: B213.

I find the earliest open slip-sheet, insert the document into it and record the reference number, in this case B213 in the short form of the citation of the source in my database.

MyDesk numberThis last step is the key. Like an archival system, if my document becomes separated from its number (say, I took it out of the slip sheet to inspect more closely and didn’t put it back) then I have to find where it belongs by looking at my (very long) source list. Not good. Waste of time. Or, even worse, if I misfile it, then the reference number refers to an empty slip-sheet. Like an archive, if the item gets separated from it’s box, the archivist has to figure out where it goes and if misfiled, the document can be lost for a very long time! (See image on left to see number on the slipsheet.)

When I look at my list of sources, I see a short form abbreviation for the source followed by my reference number. Using our example above, the short form would look like this—“PRO Jones Fred [B213]”—for the Probate Record of Fred Jones, filed in my Bode books, slip sheet number B213.  No thinking when filing and no thinking when retrieving. I let my computer database do the heavy lifting. If I have multiple Fred Jones’s, I add the year of birth after his name: “PRO Jones Fred 1902 [B213]

“Case Study”

For my portfolio, I didn’t have and wasn’t going to get the church record of the birth of my great uncle Boyd. I went to his birth record in my database, and saw I had 6 different sources for his birth. I needed the best source–one that was recorded closest to his birth with the highest reliability.  I had an online source of an entry in a church book of Boyd’s birth by his pastor father when Boyd was about 7 or 8 years old.  That’s good, but then I saw something else on my source list. I had a letter from Shirley M. that I had used as a source for Boyd’s birth—number B52. I pulled the 3-ring binder down, opened it up to B52 and there was the letter Shirley had written in c. 1982. She had visited the church and carefully recorded the birth information—from the book that the church now said burned in a fire in 1895!

I explained the lack of an original birth record in my KDP like this:

“The True Dutch Christian Reformed Church (Ridott, Illinois) birth records for Boyd Bode in 1873 pose a conundrum. The church burned in 1895 and a present church official informed the author that no records survived.[1] Casting doubt on this statement is that in the 1980s, researcher Shirlee Mxxxx of Stephenson County, Illinois, transcribed the records from the church books, which indicated that “Bajoden Bode” was born 4 October 1873, to the parents, Hendrik Jans Bode and Grietje Wienenga Bode.[2] While the “stories” differ, the result is that the evidence of Boyd’s birth is consistent with other sources concerning birth date, birthplace and parents’ names.

Which is more credible: a transcription from the original by a careful genealogist or the entry in the membership book of the church by the father about 7 to 8 years after the event? I used both as the information was consistent.

More importantly to our point: The identification of the desired record, the removal of the 3-ring binder from my shelf, and the flipping the pages to the correct page, took about 10 seconds! Could you find a letter that you don’t remember receiving in 1982 in less that twenty seconds?

I love my system. Of course, not all things can fit into a 3-ring binder. Some source collections are so large they get their own 3-ring binder, e.g. all my photocopies of the BMDs in the Weener (Germany) parish records and my U.S. land records of the Bodes. Some sources I don’t catalog at all—censuses, books, and my framed ornate marriage records. I have removed the censuses I had collected, which opened up more slip sheets for newly found sources (Remember, the order doesn’t matter!) These days I am doing more digital filing and link to the actual document by using a permalink or the image itself.

That’s it– not hard to set up, but you have to cite your sources–always.  The system is easy to remember and it works. I hope your system works as well. If you have questions don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy Hunting!


[1] Valerie –?–, secretary, Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church (successor to the True Dutch Reformed church), Ridott, Illinois [(e-address for private use),] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 23 February 2016, “Birth record: Boyd Bode, 1873” Personal Correspondence Folder, Bode Research Files, privately held by Morelli [(e-address), and street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2016.

[2] Shirlee Mxxx [(address for private use),] to Jill Morelli, original transcription, c. 1982, “Transcription of Bode Entries at Ridott [Christian Reformed Church],” Personal Correspondence Folder, Bode Research Files.

She’s baaaaaaaack!

No excuses. I have been neglectful of this blog for this past year. And I promise I won’t in the future, because I loved helping folks be more confident in the process of submitting your portfolio. And, I love writing this blog

Here are some highlights of the past year, since I received the credential of Certified Genealogist.

I attended SLIG 2018, –Judy Russell’s class on the law. Generally, it wasn’t my finest hour. I didn’t “get it.” I contend I still am not skilled at getting to the law without just contacting the University of Washington School of Law Librarian.

During “Conference Season” (Spring and summer), I attended and spoke at five conferences and did numerous local presentations.

I had the luxury of two extended periods of time in Colorado when I wrote and wrote and wrote.

I designated 2017 the year I learned DNA. I took lots of opportunities to learn as much as I could. I find it easier to learn something if I have a specific problem. My husband’s family provided me with a problem to solve–an illegitimate birth with an unknown father. I worked for a year to analyze the DNA evidence and target testing of candidates.  I was successful in identifying the correct individual. I wrote up the discovery and submitted it to the Q. It is to the Q but I haven’t heard whether they will publish it or not.

The Certification Discussion Course is going well.  We have 3 facilitators and 4 class series in the Spring 2018. I feel this course is an extension of this blog–both are trying to dispel some of the myths that surround the process of portfolio production. The course is based on each facilitator’s personal journey. Each journey is enriched by the others. The course gets universally great reviews and the attendees are my best marketers.

This coming year promises to be even better:

I didn’t attend SLIG this year, but signed up for IGHR instead–Karen Stanbary’s course on DNA. I am speaking at 5 conferences again this year and have numerous local speaking engagements. This year is different in that I also have 4 all day seminars in places other than the Washington.  I have already been to Eugene, OR and will also make it to Naperville, IL, Omaha NE and San Luis Obispo, CA.

I have been asked to describe my filing system of genealogical materials and the relationship to my database (RootsMagic), which I will do the next post. I have a system which allows me to find any document within 20 seconds, even a letter from 1978! This was a great help with my portfolio.

Happy hunting!


One Day at the National Archives?

NARA resource room 203Sacrilege!? Yes, but probably a reality for some.

So, let’s see if we can find any significant documents in just one day at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. [1]

In this example, you could pull two Civil War pensions, two Compiled Military Service records (CMSR) and two or more land records related to one or more of the federal land grants (homestead, Timber or Mineral Culture, etc. I selected these records because they are easy to pull, and are usually on everyone’s list of documents.

Obviously, pre-planning is key.

Before you go:

  1. Identify all your Civil War ancestors and obtain their pension card from Ancestry.com (“U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934”). Copy each card into a document for each soldier/sailor. If you cannot find their pension card in Ancestry, try the “Soldiers and Sailors Database” (https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm) hosted by the National Park Service. Your goal is to obtain  from the website the unit regiment number, state, company and type of unit. Make note of these for your soldiers/sailors. You now have a list of soldiers/sailors who fought in the war and images of their pension card.
  2. Identify all individuals who might have obtained a Homestead or homestead type lands. Even if your ancestors didn’t obtain land under the 1862 act, they may have acquired property under the many subsequent acts. You can conduct a name search on the Bureau of Land Management site (https://glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx).  Using the BLM site, record each ancestor’s name, the office through which they obtained the land, the legal description and the final account number.
  3. Make a lunch for the next day.

If you have 4 or more records identified in each of the Civil War pensions, CSMRs and land records, prioritize them. You will probably not be able to capture them all in one day.

Tip #1: If you are super efficient you will have obtained your researcher card the day before your research day. Try for late in the day (3:30 pm) when there is no line.

Research Day:

9:00 am

On the day you arrive, be there at 9:00 a.m. when NARA opens. You will go through a TSA-type scanner, sign in, and stand in line to get your researcher card. This can take an hour. Use your new card to scan in at the front desk.

Tip #2: It is likely that NARA will be adding an additional pull time (that’s when they go get the records) Since it is unknown when this will occur, for the purposes of this post, I am assuming the first pull is at 10:00 am.

Grab some of the blanks of the Reference request forms and of the military request forms as you have identified ancestors. You can pick these up on a table opposite the desk where you scanned your card.

Fill out your first military form. In the researcher’s name field, enter your name  (last name first), then enter your researcher number from your new researcher card, your soldiers/sailors name, and unit identification in the boxes noted. Place an X in the box for “service record.” Fill out as many of the forms as you have ancestors which might have CSMRs. You are done with with your requests for CSMRs. Next, fill out the military forms the same way you did for the CSMRs, only this time add the numbers from the Ancestry pension index, making sure you have the numbers lined up correctly within the category, e.g. widow, minor, etc. It is a little tricky. Put an X in the box opposite the word “Pension”. Take forms to the front desk where you scanned your card and hand them for review. They will fill in the rest of the boxes and check your work.

Walk your corrected and approved forms over to the Microform transactions desk and place in the small wooden box opposite the transaction desk.

You likely got those four pull slips in before the 10:00 pull. Congratulations! You now have to wait for the NARA employees to get the documents and deliver them to the second floor. But, you are super efficient and well prepared, you have other work to do.

10:00 am

While you are waiting for your military records, take your four Reference forms into the consultation room. While you wait for an archivist to help you, fill out your name and researcher number and your land records facts in the space provided (name, legal description, Land Office and final certificate number). The Archivist will review and complete filling out the forms and submit them for the next pull at 11:00.

10:35 am

Now go put your stuff into a locker. I keep only my laptop, my phone/camera and my cables and, of course, my researcher card. Everything else goes into the locker.

10:45 am

It is possible your records are now waiting for you, otherwise, you have a little time to “kill.” Think about your next priority….carded medical records? Enlistment records (important if you think your soldier was a substitute), more land records, legislative correspondence or private claims? Information on nurses of the CW, or something else you want to get?

If a consultation with an Archivist would help, this would be a good time to have a brief chat. Or, if looking at Ancestry, Fold3 or other website would help at this point, consider using the computers at the 1st floor. Also, you could take a side trip to the Innovation Hub to see whether scanning a document for the NARA website is something you want to do. (To volunteer to do scanning, you have to declare that on your form in advance of submission.)

11:00 am

Go up to the second floor and find a station in the front room or the room to your left. Set up your computer and your camera. Watch for the guy in the blue “lab coat” as they are the individuals who deliver the documents.

Tip # 3: I suggest you locate your workstation facing the window because, for photography, the light is better coming at you. It reduces the amount of shadows on your documents.

Tip #4: If you have a regular digital SLR camera you might check out the camera stands they have available for your use. At a minimum, pick up the plastic flat pieces to weigh down those sharply folded papers, so you can take a better quality photo of them.

11:30 am

You have your first box of documents!! Woo hoo. And, you are all set to go. Pick a pension file. These are thick large envelopes. Sign the slip, and take the envelop to your work station. Carefully remove it from the envelope. Before you do ANYTHING else, take a photo of your green pull slip that came with your documents. Do this every time.

Tip #5: If you come across a series of documents with a staple or any other type of fastener, take it to the front desk and ask if they can remove it. Removal makes the photographing so much easier and the archivists want them removed. They will give you a substitute.

Your pension could take a full hour to photograph. If it doesn’t take that long, pull your next document, probably one of the CMSRs, as these are usually much shorter documents to review.

By this time, the documents may have suggested other documents to review. For example, is there reference to a court martial? Then perhaps you should check the court martial finding aids in the consultation room.

Start keeping a future research log for your next trip to the Archives.

12:30 pm

Take a lunch break. You will have to pack up your things and remove them from the research room. The quickest lunch is to bring your lunch, but there is a cafeteria downstairs that serves freshly made sandwiches, drinks and snacks.

If you have other pull slips, put those into the box, but there is no purpose in asking for things that you will not get to.

Tip #6: If you have decided that you wish to come back the next day, they will hold your records for you.

1:00 am

Go back to the research room and set up your work station again on 2nd floor. Start reviewing your next pension record.

2:00 pm

Review your two Compiled Military Service Records. These are usually very quick. If you are lucky your ancestor has some personal papers in the file as well….this generally means he did something wrong or questionable…so, more paperwork! Carded medical records are also very quick to review.

3:00 pm

Review your land records. If you put in four this will take at least an hour to review and photograph. Mine were very tightly packaged and so you will need that plastic sheet to weigh the folds down.

4:30 pm

There are no pulls after 4:00 and there are no records handed out after 4:30. So you are done for the day. You have very efficiently reviewed two pension records, two CMSR and at least two land records, and you have a research plan for your next trip to the Archives! Good job.

Tip#7: It is now 4:30 pm, no more pulls or documents handed out, exit the building and walk around to the public side.  Even in July, at this time of day, there will probably not be any lines. Walk in and visit our country’s most important documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Follow the signs to the Rotunda.

Now, the genealogy work really begins. You will want to file all your photos, transcribe the documents and link them to the proper ancestor in your database. This could take many days to record all the documents that you gathered in just one day!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: visited with my newly found cousin on my mother’s side, flew back to Seattle, took a nap with my cat on my lap, started sorting my genealogy “stuff”, recorded my expenses in my expense sheet. Started working on transcriptions of a land record of my great grandfather.

[1] It is possible to have success in 4 hours for a well-prepared researcher with a research card, but I am assuming that my “typical” researcher is a first timer.