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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-01-20 09:33 am

Open Thread Thursday: What's in your genealogy research toolkit?

This topic comes from one of many interesting blogging suggestions found at Geneabloggers.

My electronic/online toolkit of free resources

When I first began shakin' the family tree, it was a massive undertaking of organizing photos and pieces of paper. I had a blizzard of loose photographs, dozens of handwritten family group sheets, and the massive Williams family photo album, given to my great grandparents for Christmas in 1885, probably as an engagement gift. (I am rapidly figuring out that Maxie squirreled away photos taken long before her engagement to Jo Desha Williams, so as the tintypes fall away from their paper moorings, I'm constantly muttering, who ARE these people and how are they related to me?)

In the olden days before I realized there was family tree software out there, I started documenting my kin in a Word document.

No, you did not misread that.

I nearly swooned with delight to be told that I could download Personal Ancestral File from the LDS church website for free. I'm still using it. I'll probably continue to use it long after it is no longer supported, because at last check, my family tree has 15,302 record entries, and I just don't want to deal with fixing the inevitably corrupted data that would come with a transfer to another software program.

And I host the GEDCOM at Rootsweb - the "free" affiliate of

I have an Ancestry subscription. For a while, my tree was at both locations.

But I am *really* into sharing freely, and I don't like the idea that anyone can search at Ancestry for people in my tree, but to actually see the records, they have to pay.

(The "Ancestry vs Rootsweb" snobbery out there just really tickles know, some notion that since people are paying to host trees at Ancestry and not paying for Rootsweb, that means the family trees at Rootsweb are less accurate. Puh-lease...garbage in, garbage out. The hosting service is irrelevant under those circumstances.)

Here are a few of the other frequently used free online resources in my genealogy research kit:
Arkansas Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Home Page Has information about Union and Confederate Soldiers from Arkansas
Books We Own A free, nationwide look-up service
Causes of Death in the Late 19th Century, hosted by the University of PA at West Chester
Chronicling America Old newspaper searches from quite a few states
DeadFred For finding old photos
Family Search
Find a Grave
GenDisasters Why did they suddenly die or relocate? Was it because of a natural or other disaster? You can also submit documentation of disasters not currently on the site.
Historic Money Conversions How much was great grandpa's estate really worth?
Missouri State Archives If you are looking for birth and death information for the State of Missouri, this one is a gem.
Rotating Census Maps Maybe the folks didn't move, the county lines did...
Veteran's Administration Nationwide Gravesite Locator

My graver's research toolkit

Even before I got bitten by the genealogy bug, I was all about funerary art. So here is what is in my graver's toolkit (contents vary depending on how far away from home I am):

Two digital cameras
A sixteen pack of extra batteries - for some reason I find the batteries often do not last as long in cemeteries...
A household spray bottle of plain water
A four inch wide soft paintbrush
A bricklayer's trowel, for cutting the roots of stubborn Bermuda grass away from flat gravestones
Aluminum foil for reflecting light - I use heavy duty, since I am usually solo on these trips and it keeps its shape better
Notebook and several pens
Groundcloth for sitting on while I take a break, eat my snacks or have a swig of water
Bug spray
Myrtle, my handy-dandy Garmin Nuvi 205W GPS

This year, I'll probably look for some kind of an organization system for this stuff...right now, I just pitch it in the car and go...

My road warrior research toolkit

Sometimes, the rubber has to meet the road and you just have to "go there" and see what you can find...

Depending on where I am going, I take:
Both digital cameras, and extra batteries
My Flip-Pal mobile scanner
If permitted, my lap-top computer - if not, a computer print-out of the branch(es) of the family I am researching
A roll (or more) of quarters and/or my copy card(s)
Small audio tape recorder (I even use it for myself, so I can dictate while I am driving)
Notebook and pens
My big honking sub-divided folder with pockets to put all those copies I bought for a quarter each and don't want to get crinkled...

And last, but certainly not least...a smile for everyone. I've found if I just keep on smiling, a lot of doors get opened to me.

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