Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nurturing your family

Defining family in today’s world is a ‘hot topic’ in some circles.

I’m defining the family as they have for centuries with a husband and a wife, their children and posterity, their ancestors and extended family. I know that there are many factors that may change the mix in the family - death, remarriage, never married, divorce, adoption, no children, etc. The fact remains, even after the mix, that everyone has family.

What a blessing families are when nurturing relationships are a priority. Developing good family relationships takes work, sacrifice, unselfishness, love and a great deal of time. I can’t tell you how many times my New Year’s resolution has been to remember every family member’s birthday (including extended family) for the year with a card or a call or a gift. I have failed every year. But I am determined before I die, that I will accomplish that resolution.

I love my family and with that love comes vulnerability. Is it worth it? Yes, a thousand times, yes. The nurturing that comes from some family members makes up for the lack from others. The ‘perfect’ family does not exist and yet that is not a reason to give up hope on making it just a little better. Dr. James D. MacArthur teaches the principle of the scale of ‘one to ten’. You can use this principle in every aspect of your life. I am using family relationships as the example for our purposes here.

If ‘one’ is the worst and ‘ten’ is the best, think about what ‘number’ your family relationships would be. Dr. MacArthur teaches that you can’t expect to move from a ‘two’ to a ‘ten’ overnight. You can, however, make choices that could make that ‘two’ turn into a ‘two and a half’ or a ‘three’ in a very short time. And then make choices to make it better than the ‘two and a half’ or ‘three’ and so forth.

We all have busy lives. Family members live near and far. We share a history and a bond….and our choices either strengthen or weaken the family. I have come up with some ideas that you might want to implement that will strengthen and nurture your family.

Create a calendar - Use PAF, Calendar Creator, or some other software. Add birthdays, anniversaries, pictures (you may want to even include ancestors).

Create a family newsletter - Publish monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annually. Items to include: Upcoming events, birthdays, anniversaries, awards received by family members, pictures, recipes, family historical moments, words of wisdom from older family members, etc.

Create a Christmas letter - Annually. Update extended family on your doings for the year.
Create a family website – (do a google search “family web site”+free)

Write a “Round Robin Letter” - Email or Snail mail. One person begins the letter and sends it to another household of the family. That family reads and adds to the letter and sends it to the next household….this continues until it returns to original sender where only the part of the letter everyone has read is then deleted and then is continued to be added to and sent forth again.

Annual Gathering - A day or more than one day. Choose a location that will accommodate all who would attend. Potluck or have catered. Share genealogical research. Share stories. Catch up with each other’s lives. Take pictures…lots of them.

Annual Camping Trip - Music, Games, Campfires, Stories, Crafts, Food, Pictures, Family flag, Skits, Talent show, Fishing, Hiking, Swimming, Service project. This can be a time where the older members of the family can really shine. Make it wonderful for the kids.

Enjoy creating the ties in your family that will bless each one.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

All Records and All Sources are Clues

I was six years old when I first met my great uncle Simon. It was my first trip to Minnesota to meet some of my father’s relatives. I was somewhat shy around those ‘ancient’ Scandinavians, but I listened intently as they visited. Simon’s wife, Hanne, from that first meeting became one of my favorite people of all time. Her happy and positive nature was never diminished by the hardships she experienced.

Years later I gathered names, dates and places of events, and stories of the family. Then I started gathering documents to substantiate what I had been told. Every piece of evidence was confirming Simon’s birth date in Norway…death record, social security original application, marriage record, naturalization record…every record I could find here in the United States. When I began searching the parish church records of Norway on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (now you can search those records online at ), I was more than surprised when there was no entry for Simon in the baptism record for the ‘known’ date. So I began searching backwards in the records and found nothing. Then I searched forward in the records and there he was! Not born in June of 1882 but born in July of 1885. Simon had managed to keep this truth from the entire family here in America and from this truth came a very interesting story that his children and I are still learning about.

Having documents and records with incorrect information is quite common. The further the recording of information is done from the time of the event the better chance there is for error. Sometimes the error is intentional and sometimes it is accidental. An effective way to make your research findings as accurate as possible is to acquire documents and records that were created as close to the time of the event as possible.

I believe I have at least one record for almost every person in my database that has errors in it. I don’t discount them or throw them out. I weave them into the information about my ancestor for they hold clues to more information and stories that I can research and learn from.

Enjoy discovering where documents and records lead you as you search the clues within them. Discrepancies and inconsistencies will be found more often than you wish…but will make you more determined to uncover the truth.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

PAF 'Personal Ancestral File'

You have begun accumulating some great records on your family. Soon the dates and names and places in those records will begin looking like a ‘junk drawer’ in your mind. You need a tool that will keep you organized. A way to keep each member of your extended family and your ancestors in their rightful place.

You will be surprised to know the computer was invented just for this purpose. Yes, I know, there are many other applications for computers in business and personal life. I think it is very generous of us to allow others to use the computer for those other purposes, but genealogy is its primary purpose ( just ask anyone passionate about family history).

If you have a computer, acquire a family history program. There are many that you can purchase. You may also download free of charge the PAF program you will find at It is an incredible program and is easy to use.

On the main page of - down just a little and on the right side of the page you will find ‘Free PAF Family History Software’. Click on ‘Download PAF’ and a window will open for you to register. Once you fill in your name and email address click on ‘submit’. You then will follow the directions for downloading the PAF program. Once it is downloaded and you have gone through the ‘Getting Started’ short tutorial I would encourage you to go to the menu bar at the top of the on ‘Help’ and then click on ‘Lessons’. These are very helpful in learning how to use the PAF program fully.

Now you have a place for everyone in your family and you can start entering the information you have gathered. There are several benefits for having a family history computer program.

Once entered, the person is there forever unless you delete them. You never have to re-enter a person.

If a relative wants a copy of a particular family, you won’t have to copy it by hand, you’ll print the report from the program.

You are able to add newly acquired information without creating a whole new page.

If you don’t have a computer, there are several approaches you can take to still be able to use the PAF program or any other program you might purchase instead.

Work with a sibling, child, grandchild or friend on their computer.

Use the computers at the Family History Center near where you live.

Use a computer at your local county library.

Once you let your family know that you want to work on the family history, ask for a combined family gift for your birthday or other holiday.

Enjoy growing your family tree using a family history computer program.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Work from the "Known to the Unknown"

In life, most aspects of daily living have guidelines or guiding principles which help us sidestep choices that might undermine or distract us from things that matter most and are of the most value.

In family history research, there are guidelines that, when implemented, can be of great benefit to us. Working from the KNOWN to the UNKNOWN is probably considered to be the First Commandment of Genealogy.

Beginners and dabblers don’t always heed this directive and either become whiners, frustrated with their progress or lack thereof or they waste a lot of time, energy, and financial recourses or they give up because the ‘hit a brick wall’.

But what is meant by working from THE KNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN ? It is not a secret formula nor is it a difficult method to learn. It does take discipline and some reigning in. Like a top race horse, a trainer does not give free reign when top performance and a quality outcome is desired.

Family history success isn’t going back as far as you can with names and dates as quickly as possible. It is systematically researching and gathering documentation on family one ancestor at a time whereby we become acquainted with them from generation to generation. Creating a web of identifying factors helps pinpoint our ancestor. Knowing names of the people in their family of origin (the family they were born into), their family of choice (spouse and children), occupation, church affiliation, event dates and places and other factors is essential. We then can be assured we have the “right people” and will be ready and able to go another generation back….and the process repeats itself. Document everything. Don’t take ‘Aunt Harriet’s’ word for it.

Begin with you….then your siblings and their posterity

Next your parents…. and then their siblings and their posterity

Next your parent’s parents…. and their siblings and their posterity

And so on with each generation

Immerse yourself in the lives of your ancestors by gathering credible evidence of their lives and the times in which they lived. You will feel a richness and an affection for them while getting to know them for from them came you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Family myth

Myths are rampant in every family history and it takes intentional sleuthing to determine what is truth and what is mostly fiction. I repeat ‘mostly fiction’ for you will find at least one thread of truth in the story that has been passed down to the present generation.

New and seasoned genealogists are easily captivated and then distracted into finding a factual link that connects a famous person with a more recent ancestor. Most often time and resources spent pursuing this elusive link are wasted.

Let me suggest a wiser use of your time. Always work from the ‘known to the unknown’. In the world of family history -‘known’ means documented data. It is not necessarily what ‘great aunt Harriet’ has told you.

We may think we know what the name of a parent or grandparent or other close relative is. Surprisingly, we sometimes find that the legal name given at birth or adoption will be similar but different. A birth date may have been celebrated someone’s entire life only to find out, when documentation is obtained, that the date is incorrect. Birth and marriage dates may have been changed on purpose for a variety of reasons.

Perpetuating some myths of the family may seem the kind thing to do, but truth can heal when combined with love, understanding and acceptance. Every family has information that has been locked away. Truth doesn’t have to be headline news in the next family gathering. It can be shared with gentle compassion. This will have multiple benefits in the family. How we speak of those not present teach our children and grandchildren they are safe as they make mistakes and are loved and lifted by family.

Be the one who generates truth as you record the story of your family with a kind and generous heart.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fall in love with your ancestors

Through the years I have found that I am related to some really awesome people in history. Most of them have never been written about in history books. I have had to methodically search out records that gave me a glimpse into their lives. I have fallen in love with each one of my ancestral extended family members as I have learned about the struggles, joys, disappointments, successes, losses and blessings in their daily lives.

I read the records where a baby is born and dies the same day. I want to reach through time and hold and comfort this young distant grandmother of mine for I know she couldn’t take the time to grieve for her loss because others counted on her just to survive.

I want to sit with the distant aunt who lost two of her sisters by hanging in the Salem witchcraft frenzy and listen to how she survived the ordeal. I want to weep with her and then dry her tears.

I want to feel the marks indelibly sketched into the body of a distant grandfather who was captured by Indians and made to carry a heavy copper kettle around his neck and over his shoulders as he was led half way across North America before he finally was freed.

I want to bind the wounds of a distant uncle who was wounded in battle fighting for the birth of this great nation, the United States of America, where I have freedoms most of the world cannot even imagine.

I want to listen to and understand the magical Norwegian language as my distant grandfather tells me of the loss of his childhood sweetheart soon after they emigrated to ‘Amerika’ leaving him to care for two young boys…how he moved on and found a second sweetheart from the old country and added two more sons to the family. I want to embrace this great Viking of mine.

Family history is much more than gathering names, dates of events and places where those events occurred. It is becoming intimately acquainted with them, loving them and being grateful for who they were and how they lived. Getting to know your ancestors will transform you.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Welcome to Mama Susan’s Tree House. My family, students (past and present) and associates have encouraged me to write from my decades of experience researching and teaching family history. My desire is to create a comfortable place to share with you the ideas, tools and information that will help you be successful in your own research. I wish I could spend time with each of you individually, but time and distance won’t allow it and so I am grateful that technology can bring us together.

We, as individuals, are unique. Our life, our family and our ancestry have helped mold each of us. Researching our family is a journey of discovery. The adventure begins with a stroll through your own life. Gather documents and memorabilia from your past and present. This will take some time and effort. You will have more than you realize and yet you won’t have some items you believed you possessed. In the gathering and obtaining, you will learn about records you may not have thought still existed.

The documents and items you will want, to name a few, are: birth records – hospital documents, government birth certificate, church birth record, newspaper birth announcement, birth announcement sent to relatives and friends of the family, journal entries of grandparents, aunts and friends of parents; baby book; baptism record; grade school records; records from organizations you belonged to such as Boy Scouts, Bluebirds, etc.; awards; high school transcripts; college or tech school records; military service records; accomplishments; residences; marriage certificate; newspaper articles; pictures (be sure to date the photo and name all who are in the photo as well as the place the picture was taken); employment records; volunteer work; resume; medical records; etc. up to the present time. Take these items and place them in top loading acid free protective sheets and put them in chronological order in a three-ring binder (you might actually fill more than one binder). If you are missing a document, get a copy of it from the appropriate source.

Choosing to do this assignment will be one of the most fun and rewarding activities you ever do. It will have a very healing affect on you as you gather and put your life together in a visual record. You will be looking at the whole of it with its difficult times and its good times. Your perspective will broaden and you will be able to see what an incredibly awesome person you are. You will be reminded of the people in your life that have affected you and the people you have affected. And in the end you will be grateful you are you.