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A Genealogist In The Archives: 2020

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Your Ancestors and the Four Seasons

It's turning cooler here in Tennessee where I live. I can smell Fall in the air and the trees are just starting to turn colors and lose their leaves. Fall and Winter are my favorite seasons of the year. Many who know me, know that I hibernate in the Summer and come out in Fall and especially Winter. I even love snow!

Have you thought about what seasons your ancestors enjoyed? Were they Summer people or Winter people? Did they hate a particular season? 

I have been researching my family history for over 30 years. I am the type of researcher that wants to know what my ancestors had for breakfast, what were their hobbies and lately I have been thinking about what season they enjoyed the most and which season they detested.

I will admit it might be a bit difficult to really know if your 6th great-grandfather loved Summer as I imagine there are probably no records that actually state this fact unless you have his diary where he says it himself. But maybe we can glean from other sources if our ancestor was partial to a particular season.

Maybe your ancestor loved gardening and you know this because you have records where they bought gardening supplies or seeds from a catalog. Or maybe you have photographs of them next to the beautiful roses they grew in their garden. My Grandma Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram loved gardening, especially growing flowers. She truly had a green thumb.

My Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram, ca. 1968

Many of our ancestors grew their own food, either out of necessity or pleasure or both. There is a certain sense of accomplishment, I am told, when you can grow your own food during the Summer and feed your family throughout the Winter.

Mrs. P.L. Cook Prize Winning Canned Food, Houston County, TN. Archives

In the Fall of the year, here in Tennessee, is sorghum molasses making time. This is an old tradition that dates back to the mid-1850s. Here is a great article from the Tennessee Encyclopedia about Sorghum Molasses making history: Possibly your ancestors made sorghum molasses and you can find evidence of that because they sold their jarred molasses to the local mercantile or they entered it in the local county fair and won a blue ribbon. Documenting our ancestors daily lives, in any season, helps to tell their life story. 

Lola Knight Scrapbook, ca. 1922-1923, Houston County, TN. Archives

Maybe it's the Summer season that your ancestors loved. They loved picnics, going creek stomping and attending that family reunion. Summer was a very busy time for farmers but they always took the time to enjoy themselves at the local watering hole or enjoying a summer treat of cold watermelon. My husband's family owned and operated a local public pool and it was the place to be in Houston County, Tennessee on a hot summer day. 

Southernaire Restauant & Motel Pool, ca. 1959, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, as you are reading through old letters, diaries, scrapbooks and any other records your ancestors left behind. Pay closer attention to any mention of the seasons and if there are any thoughts shared about if they preferred one season over another.  We can't know every thought and feeling our ancestors had but we can sure glean as much as we can from the records they left behind.


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Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review "The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir"

Imagine finding out you are not who you thought you were. Being a genealogist or “the unofficial historian for the family” as Griffith calls himself, only to find that you are researching the wrong family.

The Stranger in My Genes is a memoir of Bill Griffith who had been conducting his genealogy research since 2003. Urged by his cousin, Griffith took a DNA test that would change everything. The story Griffith tells that leads up to that fateful moment when he is presented with the shock of a lifetime is one that most of us would have a hard time relating to.  Searching for genealogical documents, traveling to sites where his ancestors lived their lives are some of the normal things any genealogist does to know more about their family history. Griffith conducted these same type research trips only to find that it was the wrong family tree.

Griffith states and believes “Genealogy is the pursuit of truth and if you choose to begin researching your family’s history, you had better be prepared to accept whatever truth you uncover”. In this memoir, Griffith faces his own truth that very few have had to face.

This book is an extension of Griffith’s journaling that he did at the time he received the results of his DNA test and started on a very unusual journey. The chapters and entries are for the most part chronological with the exception of some entries where Griffith remembers his genealogical trips to ancestral home places and cemeteries.

Griffith explains in detail the journey he took to verify the DNA results and the steps he took to accept the truth that he learned. Griffith gives detailed information about DNA and how it works in such a clear and concise way that someone who has never encountered genealogy DNA could understand it and follow the scientific meanings.

This memoir reminds us of the fact that most genealogists have family secrets contained within the family tree. These family secrets should be documented and recorded by the genealogist with care and with living family member’s feelings in mind. Griffith’s conscience effort to respect the feelings of his Mother during his journey is very touching.

The agony Griffith went through waiting on the DNA results to arrive will resonate with many who have experienced the same waiting period. The results themselves are something that anyone would have trouble grappling with once they arrived. To find that your Father was not your Father after so many years of researching that side of your family is something Griffith had to come to grips with and it was not easy. The way in which Griffith writes about his agony, disbelief and how he finally was able to cope with the results is something he did so eloquently in this memoir.

The journey Griffith takes in his memoir is truly his own and one that made me truly sympathize with him as I read his story. The ups and downs with regards to the relationship with his Mother is difficult to read when the reader thinks about their own parents and how this news would affect their relationship.

Many genealogists struggle with the hidden truths they dig up while doing their genealogy research. Most are not as earth shattering as Griffith’s but none the less something we have to deal with in our own way. Griffith’s memoir shows us the grace and sensitivity that should be used when dealing with our own family secrets.

(This review original published in the Federation of Genealogists Magazine FORUM)


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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

My Grandmothers Taught Me to Have Fun!

This past Sunday, September 13th, was National Grandparent's Day!

It got me to thinking about both of my Grandmothers and remembering something fun they both taught me. 

Grandma Agnes (left) and Grandma Ida (right), ca. 1968

My Grandmother on my Mom's side of the family, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram (1922-2012) was the Grandma that I didn't live near until about 5 years before she died. My Dad was in the Air Force, so we lived away from my Grandma and Grandpa Bartram.

Grandma Ida, as I called her, taught me how to "bird dog". To her, "bird dog" meant to scan the area where you are walking for coins, buttons, or just anything that you might find. My Grandma loved to walk for exercise and she would find and pick-up all kinds of things when she would walk and "bird dog". Grandma Ida taught me how to "bird dog" when I went to stay with her and Grandpa Bart one Summer. She and I would walk to the coffee shop every day that was located a few blocks away from her home in Mogadore, Ohio. As we walked, we would scan the sidewalk to see what we could find. 

From that Summer until now, I "bird dog" everywhere I go and I remember my Grandma Ida when I do it.

Grandma Ida with Me, ca. 1969

My other Grandmother on my Dad's side was Agnes Marie (Curtis) LeMaster (1920-1988). She was very special to me because she came to live with my family when I was 3-years old in 1972 after the passing of her husband and my Grandfather Cody Lee LeMaster (1909-1972). She lived with our family until her death which was 2-months after I had married.

Grandma Agnes taught me how to play Bingo! She loved to play Bingo and never missed a chance to visit the Bingo hall. When I was old enough, she would take me with her to the local VFW to play. One time they even had "Kiddie Bingo" where the kids could play and instead of winning money, whoever won could choose from toys that were donated. My Grandma and I had so much fun playing Bingo but also spending time together. Not long after Grandma Agnes died, they stopped allowing Bingo to be played in Tennessee for money. When that happened, I remember thinking, "If Grandma Agnes was still alive, she would be so mad". Whenever I see something on TV about Bingo or hear it in other circles, I think of my Grandma Agnes and how much fun we had.

Grandpa Cody and Grandma Agnes, ca. 1967

I have learned so much from my Grandmothers over the years. But these two things that I learned from them were fun and I now have wonderful memories to share with my daughter and grandson.


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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Genealogy and The Andy Griffith Show

Genealogy is everywhere.....

I was talking with my friend Thomas MacEntee of Genealogy Bargains the other day about how we can find genealogy and family history everywhere these days. This is so true and it's also true genealogy related themes have always shown up in our popular culture and in places that are not genealogy related.

School Board Minute Books, Houston County, TN. Archives

For instance, a couple of months ago my husband and I started watching The Andy Griffith Show. We started with Season 1, Episode 1 and have really enjoyed watching each and every episode. I have to admit, I have never watched The Andy Griffith Show. I had heard about it and maybe seen a clip or two but never had I sat down and watched entire episodes. 

The Andy Griffith Show

The other night we watched Season 1, Episode 25 which originally aired April 3, 1961 and was titled A Plaque for Mayberry. This particular episode description caught my interest: There may be a direct descendant of a Revolutionary War hero living in Mayberry flatters the town, 'til they learn who it is. The Women's Historical Society presented a plaque to the descendant of the Revolutionary War Hero who lived in Mayberry.

Members of the Women's Historical Society

The words Revolutionary War Hero jumped off the TV screen at me and I couldn't wait to watch the episode.

I won't spoil the show for you but you can watch this YouTube video of a synopsis of the episode.

You can also read about the story line and some trivia about this episode at IMDb:

If you watch the episode, you will even get a chance to see Barney Fife's family tree!

So, it's true, genealogy is everywhere! Even on The Andy Griffith Show!


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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Finding School Records in the Archives (Even if Your Ancestor Didn't Go To School)

The kids are starting to head back to school!

Are you doing genealogy research in school records? Don't think you need to because your ancestor didn't attend school? Think again!

School records are one of the more interesting sources of records available in a lot of archives. Even if your ancestor didn't attend school as a child, you might be surprised by what can be found in the various types of school records.

School Enrollment from Camp Ground School in Houston County, TN., located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

School Transcripts or Attendance and Grade Reports: These types of records were kept at the teacher level and by the school district. These records would record when the person attended school and what grades they made in each subject. Sometimes a copy of these records were kept by the teacher and these records will get donated to an archive when that teacher passes away.

Cave Orchard School Register ca. 1929, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

School Board Minute Books: These are a very interesting and a useful record source for the genealogist. These books record the business of the local school board which could include anything. This particular type of record is where you might find your ancestor even if they didn't attend school. Maybe they hauled coal for the coal burning stoves in the schools and they were appointed by the school board for this job, their name would be listed in these minutes. Possibly your adult ancestor had a problem with a teacher and they brought their grievance to the school board, this could have played out in the minute books and your ancestor would be named. A lot of local residents were involved with the school system but never actually attended school.

Houston County High School Yearbooks, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Yearbooks and School Newspapers: Many of our archives, historical societies, genealogical societies and libraries have collections of yearbooks and school newspapers.Yearbooks not only have photos of students and information about school clubs but they also will have local business advertisements. These local business would have been solicited to pay a fee for the advertisement to help pay for the printing of the yearbook. Possibly your ancestor's business is in one of these yearbooks. School newspapers. Many of our schools published a school newspaper and the articles were written by students and a lot of times there are photographs from school events. Checking school newspapers for our ancestors and their school activities is something to put on your "To Do List".

Houston County High School Newspaper, ca. 1926, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Photographs: When looking for your ancestor's photographs in an archives be sure to check any school photograph collections. They could include individual photographs as well as photographs of sports teams or clubs that your ancestor was involved with.

Erin High School Girls Basketball Team, ca. 1946, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Unknown school photo, undated, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Maybe your ancestor was one of the teachers of one of the schools. Some archives do have collections of teachers records such as teaching certificates, student registeries and grade books.

Teaching License for Gertha Brooks, ca. 1919, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

School records are a must when doing any genealogy research and even if your ancestor did not attend any organized schools, remember that they could still be named in some of the school records that exist. Don't overlook this very valuable resource!



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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

When Your Genealogy Has Gone to the Dogs!

In honor of National Dog day which is today, August 26th, I am sharing a previous post from two years ago about a wonderful record source that we have at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives....


As genealogists we are constantly searching for records for our ancestors that we have not seen before. Records that are unique and will fill in those gaps in our ancestor's timeline.

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, University archives and museums are full of these types of records. One such set of records in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives is a Dog Registration book.

This particular Dog Registration book dates from 1901-1923. The purpose of this record book was to register dogs who were over 6-months old. The owner had to pay a fee or tax which started out in 1901 to be $1.00 and by 1923 was up to $3.00 per dog.

W.H. Griffin dog registration entry, July 16, 1907, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The fees that were collected were put into what was called the Sheep Fund. The Sheep Fund was there for any farmers who had a sheep killed by a dog or had one damaged by a dog. The owner of the sheep would be able to ask for funds from the Sheep Fund to replace the dead or damaged sheep. At the end of the year, if there was still funds left in the Sheep Fund, it would be given to the local schools to help purchase books and supplies.

W.R. Boone dog registration entry, May 16, 1901, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Information that can be found on the dog registration receipts include the dog owner's name, the owner's address, the name of the dog, the description of the dog and the date of the receipt. Who knew that our ancestor's dogs could help us with genealogy information today!

As genealogists we can get some great information from records sources like this Dog Registration.



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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Finding Treasures Behind Framed Photographs

Many of us have inherited framed photographs or documents as part of our family genealogy collections. In the Houston County, TN. Archives, we sometimes receive framed photographs and documents as part of a records donation.

Many of these framed photographs and documents are in frames that have removable backs. This way the photographs and documents can be changed out if the person wanted to display a different photo or document. My Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram (1922-2012), had framed photographs of all her grandchildren's school pictures and each year she would put the newest photo in the front to be displayed.

Frame with Removable Back

Frame with Removable Back

If you have received framed photographs or documents with removable backs, have you taken the back off to see what secrets could be hiding? Recently, I inherited some framed photographs from my aunt and I found that there was a different photograph hiding behind the one that was showing.

The photograph that was on display was:

William Sherman Bartram (1872-1961)

The photograph that I found, in the same frame, hiding behind the William Sherman Bartram photo was:

Alva Filmore and Mary (Baker) Drummond

The interesting thing about these two photographs is they are from two different families that are both related to my late aunt and myself.

One of the first things we do in the archives when we have received framed photographs or documents that have removable backs is to remove the back and see if there are any additional hidden documents or photographs that can't be seen from the front.

It is surprising how many people will put more than one photograph or document in a single picture frame. Then, over time, those older photographs and documents are forgotten. There has been many times when people have found long lost photographs and documents in picture frames of their family.

Some might remember back in 1991 when someone purchased a $4.00 painting at a flea market and when the frame was taken apart an original copy of the Declaration of Independence was found which was estimated to be worth $800,000.00 to 1 million dollars at the time. You can read about this event here:

While we may not find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence behind one of our ancestor's photos, it is still a good idea to check those framed photos and documents for anything that might be hiding!



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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Our Ancestors and Their Gardens

We are in the middle of Summer and by this time anyone who has a home garden, they are reaping the rewards of their hard work. Cucumbers, squash, watermelon, corn, green beans and other vegetables are being harvested. Have you thought about your ancestors and the gardens they planted?

Many of our ancestors were farmers and had fields and fields of crops. Then there are those of us that have ancestors that lived in the city and were lucky to have a potted plant.

Whatever our ancestors planted, harvested or just enjoyed, are we documenting it?

Mrs. P.L. Cook with canned garden vegetables, ca. 1946

During this Summer, why not take the time to add to your genealogy the types of crops your ancestors raised, the different flowers that were in their home gardens and all the different kinds of vegetables and fruits they grew for the family table. Did they grow prize winning roses or beautiful tulips?

Maybe your ancestors planted "Victory Gardens" also called "War Gardens" during World War I or World War II. Victory Gardens were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at homes and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. These gardens were used to relieve the strain on the public food supply. These gardens were also considered a morale booster for those on the home front, especially those that had family members off fighting the war.

Victory Garden Poster, ca. 1945

My Mother grew up in Ohio and she often told me about the cherry trees that her father, Forrest Cecil Bartram, grew in their yard. I have documented this fact in my genealogy research. This same Grandfather retired from Goodyear Tire after over 40 years of service and moved with his wife and my Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram, to Cocoa Beach, Florida where they raised all kinds of fruit trees. This was the first time I had ever heard of and tasted a kumquat. For the record, I don't like kumquats! LOL!

Kumquat Tree

So, as you are harvesting your bumper crops, take time to document your ancestors gardens!



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Friday, June 26, 2020

A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos: Book Review

From my bookshelf....

I am an avid reader and my genre of choice is non-fiction, history, biography and of course genealogy books.

From time to time I am going to start posting a book review of a book that I have on my bookshelf.

I hope you enjoy!

A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos aims to help anyone who has photographs stashed in shoe boxes, plastic containers, under their beds or in the back of a closet. Many genealogists have this problem and are always seeking help to organize their photos.

Knowing where to start in photo organization is how this book begins. Bartlett says “I wrote this book in several chapters to set the state for the multiple phases your photo organization project can go through”. The author explains she and Ann Matuszak founded the company Pixologie, Inc. and states “it’s the first photo organization company of its kind in the country”.

There are seven chapters in the book; each deals with a different topic related to photo organization. Bartlett addresses many aspects of photo organization from organizing original photographs to dealing with digital photographs. Bartlett explains that preserving and organizing photos are important for our children, families and to connect the generations.

George Washington Stringfield Family, ca. 1903, Melissa Barker Photographs

This book has appropriately placed photographs of the organizational process in each page where that part of the process is being described. Many of the steps described in the book are in bullet point listings for easy reading and referencing. Bartlett instructions are concise and are very easy to follow.

On page 31, Bartlett provides an example of an age chart to use as a tool to dating photographs and is a great tool when trying a large amount of photographs. Chapter 3 discusses which photos to keep and which ones to toss. I pretty much agree with Bartlett’s suggestions with the exception of tossing photographs of people she says are “not relevant in your life anymore”. As an archivist, I would suggest that no photos of people be tossed but donated to an appropriate archive.

Age chart from Page 31

Bartlett gives the reader great step-by-step instructions on how to organize the many different kinds of photographs. The steps are easy to follow and there are many photos share in the book to help those that need visuals. Chapter 5 deals entirely with scanning photographs. Bartlett does a great job of explaining the process and the equipment needed to achieve this goal. The last chapters shows the reader how to back-up digital photos, save photos and use cloud storage for all digital photographs.

A Simple Guide To Saving Your Family Photos is a great little book and reference guide for anyone embarking on a photograph organization project.

Published 2016 by Pixologie 
ISBN 978-0-9978136-1-6

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

GenFriends with Dr. Penny Walters

Have you ever wondered why we do genealogy research? Why do we have this addiction to researching our ancestors? What ethical concerns do we all have when we find information that may not be something all our family members would want out there?

Well, Dr. Penny Walters discusses that in her two books that were recently discussed with the author on GenFriends, a genealogy discussion group.

Dr. Walters joined the GenFriends panel to discuss her two books:

The Ethical Delimmas in Genealogy

The Psychology of Searching

I was part of this discussion as one of the panelists for GenFriends and found these topics to be quite interesting and something I felt other genealogist would enjoy exploring.

You can watch the full episode of GenFriends at this link:

After you have watched the discussion on YouTube you can then decide if you would like to purchase Dr. Walter's books, they can be purchased at Amazon:

The Ethical Delimmas in Genealogy
The Psychology of Searching

Exploring why we research our ancestors and the ethical dilemmas we face is something many of us think about and Dr. Penny Walters has researched and written about in her two books.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Buffered vs Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper: What's the Difference?

Archival materials are something that archivists and conservators work with on a daily basis. When we are working on an archival project, we reach for the materials we need to help us preserve documents, photographs and artifacts.

As genealogists and home archivists, you need to be using archival materials to preserve the documents, photographs and artifacts you have in your collections. Knowing the right kinds of archival materials to use is a necessity.

One of the staples of any archive is archival tissue paper. Archival tissue paper is a must for any genealogist and home archivist. We use this archival material to line archival boxes before putting things into them. We crumple it up and put it around items in boxes so that they don't move around in the box and get damaged. There are many uses for archival tissue paper and just like white gloves, the home archivist should have a supply on hand.

There are two kinds of archival tissue paper, buffered and unbuffered.

The difference between these two kinds of archival tissue paper is:

Buffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is "buffered" because it contains an alkaline substance, usually calcium carbonate, added as an alkaline reserve or "buffer" to counteract acids that may form in the material.

Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is free of the alkaline substance

Most genealogy records, photographs and artifacts would benefit from being archived in buffered materials like boxes, tissue paper, folders, etc. There are some exceptions:

Dye Transfer Prints or Cyanotypes Photographs: Should only be archived in unbuffered materials. These particular types of photographs and/or blueprints should never be archived in buffered materials due to the reaction of the calcium carbonate that could happen with the photographs.

Protein Based Materials: Materials that come from animals should be stored in unbuffered archival materials or at least should not come in contact with buffered materials. These items could include silk, wool, leather, feathers, animal specimens, horsehair, etc.

Using the right materials to preserve our family documents and heirlooms will help them to last for generations to come!



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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Genealogy Records Off the Beaten Path

Court records, deeds records, scrapbooks, photographs... these are some of the more well known record groups that most researchers access when they visit an archive, historical society or library.  

But did you know that there are numerous other record groups and types that are housed in archives that are almost never requested to be viewed by researchers. Why is that? Maybe it's because the researcher doesn't know these wonderful collections exist.

Wisdom Lodge #300 Newspaper Clipping, Houston County, TN. Archives

Here are 5 tips for genealogy researchers to learn about and view unique records in the archives where their ancestors lived:

1. Plan, plan, plan! Every genealogist who visits an archives, historical society or library to do research needs to have a research plan in place before they step foot in the door of the facility.  

2. Ask the archivist or librarian what record collections they have that are unique or unknown to the general public. Possibly there is an index of what is in the collection or better yet a Finding Aid.

3. Ask the archivist or librarian to allow you to view all of their records indexes or all of their Finding Aids. Most repositories will have these printed and in notebooks or they will be available on patron computers in the facility.

Election Worker's Payroll Request, Houston County, TN. Archives

4. Specifically ask to view the Vertical File Collection index. This index will be alphabetical and will include surnames as well as subjects such as "Erin United Methodist Church". Each file could contain just about anything. Remember...Vertical Files are like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get!

5. Specifically ask to view the index to the Manuscript Collection. Again, this listing will be alphabetical. The titles could be named anything, some of the more familiar titles will look something like this: "John Doe's Family Papers 1812-1900", "Erin Methodist Church 1848-1920". These collections could be contained in one box or in multiple boxes. The Finding Aid for the collection will help you decipher what is in the collection.

The next time you visit an archives, historical society or library to dig up those records on your ancestors, try these 5 tips to help you find those unique records, the ones that will tell more of your ancestor's story, the ones that will put "meat on your ancestors's bones"!



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