FindAGrave Can Hold Off on the Recently Deceased

rant alert: If this post about FindAGrave offends you, please unfollow, unlike, as appropriate. Do not message me in an attempt to change my opinion.

My father passed away the morning of 7 March 2020. Unlike my Mother’s passing, it was sudden and not expected.

We split the duties of notifying various relatives as our immediate family is small. Sometime early that afternoon when I had completed notifying everyone on my share of the “needs personal contact list,” I wrote a draft of Dad’s obituary and created a FindAGrave memorial for him. I knew where he would be buried. The cemetery location was not a problem. We had not finalized any arrangements, but I knew enough details to create a shell of a memorial on FindAGrave.

A few days later, I went to add his obituary to his FindAGrave memorial and someone had already added suggestions to it. His picture was not immediately posted on the funeral home website (it took us a while to choose it) and at some point before the funeral someone added that to his FindAGrave memorial as well.

All before he was actually buried.

Can’t you people just wait a God-damned minute?

Can’t you people just wait a God-damned hour?

Or, heaven forbid, wait a week or two?

Please do not tell me these people mean well or it’s something to do to occupy their time. You can read the obituaries a month late. It’s not a race to see who has the most memorials on FindAGrave although I suppose that is something these people will want on their own FindAGrave page when they pass.

The only reason I created the page the day he died was because of “well-meaning” obituary creepers who create FindAGrave pages for the recently deceased and then make it difficult for family members to become administrators of their FindAGrave memorials. There’s no reason for anyone to create a page that fast for someone who recently died. You can wait a month. Seriously you can.

And, can’t you find a way to “turn off” suggested modifications to FindAGrave pages that have been created for the recently deceased? Or do you just simply not want to? Odd how you can do all that high-falutin’ programming for the DNA analysis, and yet are unable to figger this sort of thing out.

While I’m frustrated about the way FindAGrave handles memorials for the recently deceased, there’s an important thing to remember. The people who really mattered at the time Dad passed were either those who were at the funeral or communicated with my family during that time. It was not a FindAGrave contributor.

If that sounds a little harsh, so be it.


Sweet Potatoes or Parsnips? Kids Say the Correct Things

I’m even precisely certain when the picture of my grandmother Ida Neill and my oldest daughter was taken. Based upon the fact that my daughter is wearing a sweater, I’m guessing it was at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Based upon when Grandma Neill died (summer of 1994) and when my daughter was born, I’m reasonably certain the photograph was taken in 1993.

And of course to me that seems like not all that long ago. I suppose it seems like a lifetime ago to my daughter and, from her perspective, it just about is. After the death of my father this month, I’ve come into an additional set of family pictures and ephemera and it has become increasingly important to me to see that these items are identified and preserved. A significant number of items are unidentified and I’m one of the few who knows who the people are or at least knows who to ask. My children won’t know who most of the people are except for me and pictures of my parents when they are closer to the age they were when my children were alive.

When did I get to be the older person identifying who is in the pictures? That’s probably a topic for another post.

There are several reminders that one can take from this picture other than to identify people when you can.

Try and preserve the original organization of the pictures. Some items were randomly dumped in with others. But in some instances my mother had sorted the pictures by family–or at least had taken the photos she had received from a family member and kept them in a separate envelope or box. That organization is helpful.

The pictures may tell a story. The image used in this post is one of four of my grandmother and daughter taken that day. This is the last one. The other three show Grandma cutting up something for Sarah to eat and eventually feeding her. That did not dawn on me the first time I saw the pictures in my parents’ things.

Don’t neglect asking your own children questions. My daughter correctly identified the food in the brown dish (parsnips with bacon on top) that I incorrectly thought were sweet potatoes. She also remembered that was the “parsnip dish” that Mom always used for that dish. That detail had slipped my mind. We all remember different things and it’s not just those people of our generation and before who may be able to help us remember details in a photograph.

The photograph would make a great one to use to illustrate Grandma’s parsnip recipe. And it even reminded me that my Dad always had to have ice in a glass of any beverage.

If you’re looking for something to write about or jog your own memory, try using a picture taken during your life time. You have your own stories to tell as well.


We Can Cite Without All that Knowledge

I read a blog post about citing research process and sources supposedly geared towards a beginner but really seemed to be directed towards a genealogist with quite a bit of experience. The post seemed to miss a key point:

we don’t always know all that stuff

I understand if I say the will of Barbara Haase in Hancock County, Illinois, mentions her deceased daughter Francis Trautvetter, I need to be clear what I mean by “will” and I need to cite clear what version of the will that I used. But someone whose travels into genealogy has just started won’t be aware of all the possible iterations of Barbara’s will there are:

  • the paper original in the courthouse
  • a microfilm copy of that original paper
  • a digital image of that microfilm copy of the original paper–either on or FamilySearch
  • the record copy of the will written in the county’s will record book
  • the microfilm copy of that will record copy
  • a digital image of that microfilm copy of the will record book
  • a reference to the will’s mention of Frances in an original paper petition by the executor filed at the courthouse
  • a microfilm copy of that petition
  • a digital image of the microfilm copy of that petition, either at FamilySearch or at

If I’ve not researched too much in a certain area, I may not be aware of all the various formats in which local records can be accessed. While I should learn as much about the records as possible, it’s not necessary to know all those details to create a citation. You can be clear about how you accessed something without knowing all the possible places the information could be available. The essence of citation (particularly for local records) is:

  • What is this record?
  • When was it created?
  • When was it recorded?
  • Where was it recorded?
  • Who originally created this record?
  • In what format was it originally created?
  • How did this record get to me (how did I access it) and in what format did I access it?
  • When did I access it?

There may be times when a few of these questions can’t be answered–especially the exact day for the creation and recording. But if you have these answers you’re on your way.

That’s true even if the punctuation in your citation isn’t perfect.


Really Tracking Your Research

In the old days of genealogy, we were told to fill out “research logs” where we tracked the sources we used, what names or families we looked for in these sources and the results of our search. Tracking what we did as we did it was a laudable goal.

I’m just concerned now that with the advent of searchable databases, most genealogists are not coming anywhere close to tracking what they search for in a specific database or on a given website.

If I am searching for a family in an online 1860 census index, am I keeping track of all the necessary variants of the first name and the last name? If I fail to locate the likely head of household, am I searching for all the other likely household members? Do I write down all the variants for the last name and think about what is the best combination of wildcard and soundex searches for those names? Do I do the same with the first names? Am I searching for all nicknames, diminutives, etc.?

If the likely residence of a family is geographically small and the population is also small, I can search the census manually. If it is large with a population to go with it, this may be possible or it may be impractical. I’ve seen articles where it has been said someone cannot be found in a census. I rarely see where the specific unsuccessful searches are listed out in an attempt to defend the “can’t find them statement.” If the census is searched manually then listing the procedure really is not necessary (but the source is). But if a manual search is not done and it is said “she can’t be found” then the search parameters should be included.

The genealogical community is more aware of the importance of sources than they were twenty-five or so years ago. Now we need to work on our tracking of search parameters, particularly when we are indicating someone “can’t be found” and a manual search is impratical.


Be Thankful for What Has Passed Down

It can be easy to lament the lack of family history items such as photographs, bibles, letters, etc. that some families seem to have and other do not. I understand the frustration of those who have no such items in their family.

I also understand how it sometimes comes to be that these items do not get passed down from one generation to the next. Some families never really have these items in the first place for one reason or another. Other times they are passed down in the family and for one reason or another either leave the family, are unidentifiable, or are destroyed.

Having been involved in several post-death house or apartment cleanings it is easy to see how this can sometimes happen. Sometimes these cleanings are done under an extremely tight time frame and items are unceremoniously thrown away. Sometimes these cleanings are highly emotional events where remembering is painful and it’s easier to toss than to methodically go through items one at a time. Sometimes these cleanings are done by someone who is not a member of the family and is simply working to “prepare the location for the next owner or tenant.”

A box of items from my parents’ home

Consequently, items can be thrown away, donated, incorrectly identified, have their provenance lost, etc. It happens and, even if it has never happened to you personally, it certainly is easier to see how it could happen when you have been involved in it yourself.

So if you do have items passed down from long-dead family members–consider yourself lucky. That item has survived and navigated its way to you over time and place. If you have such items, work on ways to preserve them for others.


Administratrix with the Will Annexed

Typically administrators are appointed because there was no valid will left by the deceased.

Yet there are some cases where there is a valid will and an administrator. This can happen if the will names no executor or the named executor refuses to act, is incompetent, or denied by the judge.

The image on this post comes from the appointment of an adminstrix when my ancestor’s 1877 will named no executor. His wife was appointed “Administratrix with the will annexed” as shown here.

Another situation is where the executor dies before the estate is settled. A great-grandmother was settling her husband’s estate and died before it was settled. In her case, she appointed her executor to also complete the settlement of her husband’s estate.


Can I Copyright A Maiden Name?

Discovering Katharine Wickiser’s maiden name was Blain was a great find for me. Once you’ve been researching for a while new names are not located as frequently as they were in the early days of research.

Now…do I expect everyone to credit me with finding this? No. Would it be nice, yes. However, I realize that this information will appear in GEDCOM files and other online sites in the near future and I won’t be credited with locating the information.

Can I copyright the maiden name of Katharine Wickiser? Especially if I discovered it? The answer is no.

Katharine’s maiden name is a fact. Even if it took me twenty years and twenty thousand dollars to find it (which it did not), the name still remains a fact. Facts are not copyrightable. Otherwise, I’d simply copyright 2+2 = 4 and charge banks for each time they used that fact when computing balances.

If I write a paragraph on her maiden name that paragraph is copyrightable. If I write a blog entry on how I cannot copyright her maiden name, that blog entry is copyrightable. But the name itself: no.

And the word is copyright. Not copywrite. If you write your copy right, you can copyright that copy. But even if you copy the fact right, you cannot copyright the fact. Even if you copy something wrong, you can copyright that. Why you would want to copyright something that was not copied right is beyond me, but who knows?


How Are Your Pre-1850 Skills?

In informal conversations with other genealogists and with my experiences in helping other researchers, there are two points in time where American genealogists experience research pangs:

  • their first (or second or third) foray into pre-1850 research.
  • their first (or second or third) foray into pre-American Revolution research (especially outside of New England).

The everyname census in American research 1850 and after makes sorting out families somewhat easier, although there are always exceptions. Good, sound methodology is always required for research, but in many cases, crossing the 1850 line presents additional challenges particularly in those areas that were not keeping good vital records. In other cases, crossing the American Revolutionary time-frame presents a challenge as well.

There are several ways to help yourself cross the 1850 barrier. One is to read articles in journals like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, the Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, etc. Another is to attend workshops and conferences related to your topic. Reading well-written research guides is another. Mailing lists can be helpful as well, but sometimes finding a good one can be difficult.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been working on pre-1850 families in Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky and was reminded that this period is a challenge for many. It is especially frustrating working on those families who were “extremely migratory” and not too well-off.


Your Own Unique Migration Chain

I’ve never been a huge fan of migration trails. Of course, how our ancestors got from point A to point B is important. However, what is generally more important is why our ancestors went from Point A to Point B. Usually that why was a person.

A friend, relative, or former neighbor found out about an opportunity and thought that our ancestor, still living in Point A, should migrate to Point B. Of course, there were times than our ancestor read a book or newspaper that mentioned the advantages to living in Point B. But still something drew him to that area.

I have had more luck working with migration chains than any other type of “migration technique” for genealogical research. Our ancestors rarely moved in complete isolation. Twenty-two of my mother’s ancestors migrated to the United States between 1850 and 1883. Every one of them immigrated to where either:

  • a relative was already there
  • a relative was quick to follow the ancestor to the new location

And it was not only my Germans who followed this trend. My Irish settled where they had kin and former neighbors. My wife’s Swedes, Belgians, Swiss, Germans, and Greeks did the exact same thing during approximately the same time period. And it was not only the non-English speakers who migrated in groups over a period of time.

My families who travelled from Virginia into Kentucky and eventually into Indiana had some of the same neighbors in all three states. My wife’s Kiles who migrated from Ohio to Illinois in the 1850s were part of a larger contingent following the same migration path. And some of my Virginia families in the 1750s had neighbors with the same last names as the neighbors of their grandparents fifty years earlier and several counties further east.

Pay attention to your ancestor’s associates when he settles in a new area. Those associates and neighbors might have been his neighbors and associates from “back home.” Finding where they were from may help you discover where your own ancestor was from as well.


RIP Keith Neill

My father passed away on 7 March 2020 near his home in rural Carthage, Illinois.

Keith I. Neill, taken December 2019

This is the obituary that we had published for Dad on the website of Printy Funeral Home in Carthage, Illinois.

Keith I Neill, 78, of Carthage, passed away at 8:43 AM Saturday, March 7, 2020, near his home in Carthage.

Keith was born April 14, 1941 in Keokuk, Iowa, the son of Cecil and Ida (Trautvetter) Neill.

He was a 1960 graduate of Carthage High School where he participated in FFA. He was also active in 4H and greatly enjoyed showing cattle and attending livestock shows throughout his entire life. Farming was extremely important to Keith, especially tending to and caring for his cows. He lived his entire life on a farm north of Carthage where he farmed with his father and later with his son David. He passed away doing what he loved, driving the red pickup, and checking on things “down the west road.” That was the same road where he walked to the Young America School seventy years ago.

He met Connie Ufkes at Ferris Grade School and they were married on May 28, 1967, in Carthage, Illinois. Connie preceded him in death in 2015.

Keith is survived by two sons, Michael (Melissa) of Rio, and David (Shelly) of Carthage; two granddaughters, Sarah (Brian) Nelson, of Altona; and Katherine (James) Sullivan, of Virginia Beach, Virginia; and two step-grandsons, Jeremy and Josh Roberts. He was also preceded in death by his parents and a brother Roger.