Spreading Genealogy JOY! one Brick Wall at a Time




I am literally bursting with joy as I type.

Several years ago I met a sweet, elderly, cheerful woman who also volunteers at my local Family History Center.  I was shocked when she told me that her father is her brick wall.

I don’t know why I was shocked.  It’s a story I hear a lot.  I suppose it might be because she is an elderly Mormon lady and we Mormons tend to know a lot about our family trees…?

We talked for a bit and honestly, she didn’t say anything that gave me ideas on how to figure it all out.

Time passed.

I hadn’t seen her.

A few months ago I prepared a class on DNA Basics to teach at my local FHC and I started thinking about my friend.  Had she solved it yet?  If not, had she DNA tested yet?

It wasn’t long after that she happened to walk into the center during my shift to talk to someone else.  I asked – had she solved it, had she tested?

The answers were no and yes.  But the DNA results hadn’t helped her.

My inner genealogist/detective/puzzle-solver started doing this:


And it was all I could do to calmly ask if she would be willing to let me take a peek at her DNA results.

I was ANYTHING but calm on the inside.  I was full on Hermione raising my hand as high as possible wanting to shout, “Let me try!  Let me try!!!”

She told me about a granddaughter who has been working on it and some theories she has and she told me about some new discoveries they have made that they are hoping will help.

Like, as in one document.

(But I suppose when you have literally been searching for 50 years, even one new document that leads you nowhere feels like an accomplishment).

There I sat, with a kind smile, understanding eyes, gentle head nods all masking my internal jumping up and down yelling, “Pick me, pick me!  I reeeeeeeeeally want to try to help you!!!!!”

She agreed to give me access to her Ancestry DNA.  But it was totally in a, “Do you know how many people have tried to help me over the years?” kind of way.

One thing led to another, and a few weeks later I was sitting on my cozy couch with my laptop going through her DNA matches.

I could see notes made by her granddaughter.  I found her tree.  I found a blog her granddaughter put together outlining every bit of detail they had.  Which was almost nothing.

I started sorting.  I took every scrap of a lead in each record and dug deeper than they had ever considered going.  I created a tree for the person her father listed as someone who would always know how to find him.

I compared that tree to her DNA matches trees.  I started grouping her matches into clusters.  Those clusters started lumping together into two groups.  Even her matches without trees were matching other matches in just two groups.

The woman who was listed as the person who would always know where her father was?  That woman’s parents had the same first and middle names that my friend had been told might be her father’s parents’ names.  Those potential parents had a son born at the right time in the right place to be my friend’s father.  He just had a different name.  That son, the firstborn son, completely disappears at about the time my friend believes her father became estranged from his parents.

Oh boy.

The stars were aligning.

Did I just begin the end of a 50-year journey for my friend?

(Insert clapping, dancing, shouting for joy – all loud enough for our entire small town to hear!)

And then I reined it in.  There was more work to do.

But my hypothesis was looking pretty fantastic, so I emailed my friend and told her I had found some interesting things and would she have time to come see me so that I could show her what I had discovered?  In fact, I suggested that she could come to my DNA Basics class in a few days and I could show her after or we could meet the following Thursday.

Sure enough, she came to my class.

After class, I pulled out my laptop and began the slow build.

I showed her the US Consular record that she already had.  I showed her that woman who her father listed as someone who would always know where he was.  I showed her that woman’s family, including her siblings and the parents whose first and middle names matched what she believed her grandparent’s first and middle names might be.

She stopped and said, “But their last name is Key, not Campbell.”

Yes, yes it is.

I gently suggested that when a young man becomes estranged from his family – so estranged that he never goes home again – it is not uncommon for that young man to change his name.

I explained that while I wouldn’t call my hypothesis solid yet, so far, there was not another possible set of parents emerging from her DNA matches or from any documents.

I offered a research plan that we could follow to work through the process of trying to prove or disprove my theory.

It really didn’t take her long to go from, “But their last name is Key, not Campbell.” to “My whole life I thought I was a Campbell, but I’m really a Key!”

I gently refocused her and suggested that while it was looking like that was true, we better spend some more time to be certain.

My sweet, elderly, cheerful friend was headed out of town for several weeks.  She would be back to work on everything some more.

And last Thursday was the day she showed back up at the center.

She was literally bursting with joy – just like me – as she told me that this is all she can talk about with every person she comes across.  She wanted to keep working.

So work we did.

I showed her my spreadsheet of her matches.  I showed her how I was working through some of the nitty-gritty.  We dug in and started researching and connecting more of her matches to this family.  We dug and read and compared and analyzed and updated and attached and discarded and worked and worked and worked.

We only found more connections and further proof that my theory was correct.

I wouldn’t say we are done.

But I also can’t offer you any other hypothesis.  So far, every match is easily connected to her mother’s side, or it’s connected to the possible grandparents I discovered.  Parents of a father whose life was cut short.  A father who was only around for her first six years of life.  A man for whom my friend has only one picture.

There is no third cluster to consider.

We have two clusters.

We have ONLY two clusters.

I think we are nearly there.

And that, my friends, is filling my entire heart and soul with joy.



Happy Monday, do you have a brick wall?  Have you tried using DNA to smash it?  I highly recommend that you do.




About an Eagle Scout Project

My oldest - a self portraite on the day we photographed the cemetery.  Would someone take that boy in for a haircut already?  ;)

My oldest – a self portrait on the day we photographed the cemetery. Would someone take that boy in for a haircut already? 😉

In October, my oldest son started his Eagle Scout Project.  Guess what?!  He chose to photograph a local cemetery and upload the photos to findagrave.  Does that just make your genealogy-loving-heart swoon or what?

We chose a very close cemetery.  His plan was pretty simple.  Hold two separate events – one to photograph the cemetery and a second to work on uploading the photos to findagrave.  We knew there would be more photos left over so we made plans for those as well.

It was GREAT!

The day we started our project, the stats for the cemetery on findagrave were 10,568 memorials, 74% photographed.

The day we compiled our data, we could report:

We were able to take 6,173 photos.  We were able to go through 3,832 photos.
Of those photos:
1,090 were added to existing memorial pages.
175 new memorial pages were created and photos added.
132 duplicate photos were added because the photo on the page was hard to read and ours was better.
5 photos were needed but couldn’t be added because there were already five photos on that memorial page.
2,430 photos were not needed.

167.25 total hours

After we turned in his completed paperwork, many individual volunteers have continued to go through the photos.  Many more photos have been added and memorials created.  We still have a few hundred photos to go, but those are being cared for by volunteers.

The day his project was approved, the cemetery stats on findagrave were 10,755 interments, 81% photographed.  We are so happy to have helped bump up both of those numbers.

Shortly before Christmas, my son went before the Eagle Scout Board and his project and application to be an Eagle Scout were approved.  So exciting!

It was a great project and one very close to my own heart.



For those who may come across this and want more details to help other future Eagle Scouters, I will elaborate on each phase of the project and share a few tips.


  • We selected our cemetery by proximity, it was the closest to our home.  We could see that much of it was photographed but we chose it anyway knowing that adding more photos and memorial pages would still be valuable and that a cemetery close by would be easier for us to manage.
  • We chose a “photograph everything possible” approach for the photographing day as there is no simple way to determine what needs to be photographed.  I would definitely do it this way again.
  • My son wrote his project proposal and it was approved.  He didn’t specify any numbers except for a total number of hours.  Unfortunately, he typo-ed or something and the number that was approved was 150 hours!  Holy cow.  Somehow I missed that until we were about to type up the final project workbook.  Thankfully we were almost there anyway and got some volunteers to do some more uploading to push us over the 150 mark.  My advice here?  Don’t commit to a number of hours, photos, or uploads because they hold you to what you propose.  Do commit to a number of events – i.e. one session of photographing, one session of uploading or something like that.
  • My son drove through the cemetery and familiarized himself with the different sections, roughly how many rows per section and headstones per row.  He noticed which sections had mostly flat stones etc.
  • We planned one day for photographing and a second day for uploading.
  • We made a flyer for our photographing day.
  • We scheduled our church building for our uploading day and arranged for adult volunteer helpers who could bring laptops.
  • We tried MANY times to contact the sexton of the cemetery to ask permission to complete our project.  We were unsuccessful.  It wasn’t a problem for us, but each area is different so be sure to get approval if you can.  The sexton was actually working in the cemetery that day and asked us how it was going and was delighted we were working on it.

Photographing Day

  • This day was announced in church, with my son’s scout group, and at the local family history center.  We had volunteers from each of these efforts.
  • We planned for a 3 hour window and explained on the flyer that volunteers could arrive anytime during that window.  The back of the flyer had a map of the cemetery.  The front explained the project, the date and time and included this information:
    • Arrive anytime during those hours and help out for any length of time that works for your schedule.
      Find (my kiddo’s name here) in the center of the cemetery (see map on back) to sign in and receive instructions.
      Please bring something to take pictures with.
      If you bring a camera with an SD card, we will download the photos to our computer before you leave the cemetery.
      If you bring another type of device to take pictures, it needs to have the ability to email the photos to (my kiddo’s name here) at (my son’s just-for-this-project email address).
      If you would like to help but don’t have a camera or device that will work, let (my kiddo’s name here) know ahead of time and he will have a device for you to use that day.
      All helpers welcome & appreciated!
  • My son and I arrived 40 minutes early.  We drove the cemetery and looked for signs of a funeral and saw none.  We set up a table in the center of the cemetery with four chairs.  We had a clipboard for volunteers to sign-in, sign-out, record their total time spent, number of photos taken, email address and camera type.  We had pens, extra maps, water bottles, snacks, and a first aid kit.  My son selected the first four sections of the cemetery we would photograph and placed sprinkler flags at the end of each row in those sections.  The flags were laying on their side to be posted when the row was photographed.  This turned out to be such a great help throughout the day.  It made communication and completion a snap.  We bought 100 flags from a local sprinkler company for about $11 – worth every penny.
  • When volunteers arrived, my son had them sign in and gave the following instructions:
    • He thanked them for supporting his project.  He directed them to the area of the cemetery in which we were currently working.  He asked them to photograph all sides of every memorial.  He explained that photos should be close up with minimal white space.  He asked that volunteers be respectful of any items placed on or near headstones.  If they needed to be moved to take the photo to be sure to then put them back just as they were.  He explained that gently brushing off grass clippings or other yard waste was fine, but please use your hands.  Volunteers were asked to start at the south end of a row that hadn’t yet been photographed, photograph everything in that row including any headstones in between rows (better twice than not at all) and then when they reached the north end of the row they would post the sprinkler flag that was laying there.  The flags indicated to volunteers that the row was completely photographed.  He also explained that when an entire section was complete, a boy scout would remove the flags from the ends of the rows and post a group of three flags in the northwest corner indicating the entire section was complete.  His last request was that the volunteer return and sign out when they were finished.
  • I was tech support that day.  I had my laptop and downloaded photos from SD cards and idevices before volunteers left the cemetery.  We had a scout leader donate 7 iphone 5s for use that day.  He is the VP at a local company and had access to the phones because the company had just replaced them for iphone 6s with a handful of employees.  The phones were charged and empty.  We checked them out to volunteers who didn’t have a device or camera.  If I were to repeat this project in the future, I would do this again and try to round up even more devices.  This made downloading so much easier as I was able to take them home and do it later that day.  We had three volunteers who chose to share their photos after the event; three volunteers who used devices I could not download from and we had to work that out later; the remaining volunteers were easy to work with and we got the photos that day before they left.  The best photos came from actual digital cameras but they were often too big and had to be cropped during the uploading portion of our project.  The idevice photos would often turn the wrong direction and had to be manipulated before uploading so neither was perfect.
  • My son had one additional job that morning that he shared with his younger boy scout brother.  They used their long-boards to travel the cemetery quickly to check on volunteers, track progress, and move flags from a completed section to the next section we would be photographing.  I was not at all comfortable with their idea of traveling this way as I felt it wasn’t very respectful.  But we talked through their idea and I reminded them to ride very respectfully – straight line, no wild tricks or antics, no loudness, this was all about quick travel, not fun.  I’m so glad I supported their idea, it made the day much better that they could travel around so quickly.  They were able to get back to the center and communicate, check on volunteers, get answers to questions, provide needed supplies, all in a very timely manner.  It made the day better for everyone.
  • We had a nice stream of volunteers throughout our 3 hour window.  I would definitely recommend this method.  Some volunteers had only 40 minutes to give, others had up to 3 hours.  In all he had 51.3 hours and 29 volunteers arriving and leaving at times that worked for them and 6,173 photos taken.
  • My son and I took turns being at the table.  One of us was there at all times while the other was photographing a row within sight of the table, moving flags, helping volunteers and so on.

Uploading/Downloading/Preparing Photos

  • My son asked me to tackle this aspect of his project.  It was definitely the most challenging.  I downloaded everything to my computer and then backed it up on my external hard drive.  I had one main folder and then sub folders that I named based on who took the photos.  This wasn’t to give them credit but to help me and the way I think.  I also created a folder on flickr as a second back up.  Then I broke the photos into groups of 100 or 200 to be burned to CDs or DVDs for the uploading activity.  I also created about 10 digital groups of photos on a thumb drive.  That turned out to be really important as many volunteers brought smaller chromebooks that don’t take a disc.

One More Thing

  • My son does not like making announcements, speaking in front of large groups, giving directions or anything like that.  We knew it was important that he provide the instructions at our Uploading night so we created a video with all the instructions our volunteers would need.

Uploading Night

  • This was planned for the Wednesday night following our Saturday morning photographing day.  We scheduled our local church building and it was the activity for the Young Men aged 12-18 that week.  We provided pizza and skittles.  The activity started at 6:30.  Once enough boys had arrived, we served pizza and played the video.  They ate and watched.  The timing was pretty perfect.  We met in a large room very close to the restrooms so the boys could wash their hands before starting.
  • A few things to note:
    • We once again had sign-in sheets to track our volunteers and the time they spent.  This is needed for the finalized workbook.
    • We had pens and half-sheet forms for our volunteers to tally the number of photos they went through and if they were: 1- not needed, 2- added to an existing memorial page, 3- a memorial page was created and the photo was added, 4- a duplicate photo added because ours was significantly better.
    • Not all volunteers produce alike.  Some catch on quickly and get a lot done, others barely accomplish anything.  However, their hours count exactly the same and it’s a good experience for everyone.  Just don’t expect a lot and be grateful for what you get.  🙂
    • Having CDs, DVDs, and digital files on a thumb drive met every computer need we had.
    • We had a few more boys than computers and many boys handled this well and worked in teams, a few did not and were a bit of a distraction.  We had a much larger turn-out than we anticipated.  We had 30 volunteers who spent 47.6 hours going through photos.  I can’t find the tally sheets from that night but I remember thinking that I was able to go through more photos in 2 hours than all 30 volunteers combined were able to go through in 2 hours.

The Remaining Photos

  • The remaining photos have been worked on by myself and several other genealogist volunteers from our local family history center.  We are still working through the last few hundred photos.  My son was still demonstrating leadership in this part of the project because he included his instructional video on each disc, communicated with these volunteers and delivered/picked up the discs.

A Few Last Thoughts

  • Project approval in each phase went well.  I have heard that where we live, any project that supports Family History or Genealogy seems to be pretty easily approved.
  • The trickiest part of planning was figuring out who to have sign as the beneficiary.  The true beneficiary is whomever comes across the photos and needs them in their genealogical research.  We tried to get the signature of the sexton of the cemetery but couldn’t ever track him down.  We settled on getting the signature of a local LDS Bishop as the project benefits genealogy researchers and the LDS church encourages it’s members to learn about their ancestors and work on their family history.  This worked for us.
  • We didn’t have volunteers sign any kind of release to use their photos.  This should probably be done but since we were very clear on our intent to post all needed photos to findagrave we didn’t worry about having a release form.  You may want to consider using one.
  • If one of my younger sons were to choose this project in the future, I would make one big change.  I would seek out a local historical society or family history center that was willing to deal with going through the photos and uploading them.  I would have my son plan to photograph the cemetery and organize the photos afterward onto whatever media item the next group of volunteers preferred and then call it good.  The scouts helped on the uploading night.  We got through some photos.  They had a good experience.  I think any time spent on Family History is great for our youth.  However, it was a lot of continuing work to keep getting photos to volunteers and track their work.  Far beyond what is required for an Eagle Project.  Plus, it’s a bit outside of the skill set of most young men of this age and more of the end parts fell to me to support more heavily than I would have liked.  The photographing portion is very boy scout friendly.  They can understand, explain, direct, and help with every part of that.  The photo organization and tracking of which photos are complete, who has discs, what is left and so on, is a bit beyond most boys scouts way of thinking.


The Sweetest Thank You


I have a new friend.  Her name is Lorraine.

I’m pretty terrible at ages so I don’t want to guess her age I just know she is definitely older than my parents and has seven grown children and some grandchildren.  I don’t want to go so far as to say she is old enough to be my grandma because I don’t think she is, but she is so grandmotherly that I just love to be around her.  I met her when she attended a class I taught on Descendancy Research a few weeks ago.  Since my class, I have worked with her twice during my shift at my local FamilySearch Center.  She is the sweetest person I have ever met.

Thursday night I helped her again and as we were logging out of our programs and gathering our things she says to me, “Oh, I meant to ask, do you happen to like apple crisp?”  To which I responded, “Yes!” immediately.  She smiled and said, “Oh good, because I baked one for you today and it’s in my car.  Would you mind going out to my car so I can give that to you?”

I was so surprised and grateful for her kindness.  She went on to express how grateful she was for my help.  She has shared with me that she never thought she would find an area in her tree that needed work.  But of course we found a spot that hasn’t been worked on in Family Tree and she is so excited to be able to contribute to her family’s story.  She is working hard to learn how to search for sources and attach them.  How to draw accurate conclusions and add missing family members to the tree.  I’m grateful that I have gotten to spend time helping her.  Honestly, helping people is so rewarding and I never feel like I need a thank you, but her thank you was so thoughtful that it really made my night, in fact, it made my week.

Now I think I need to pay it forward.


Free Classes Anyone?

Mapleton_Family_History_Center_LogoMay is a busy month for me.  I am teaching four – F.O.U.R. – classes at my local FamilySearch center.  Plus I am helping with two family history related meetings.  One to train other consultants and one to help some people one-on-one with their own research.  It’s sort of like a class.  For that one, I have to pre-research someone’s tree.  Just to top it all off, I teach a weekly class on Sundays at my church.  Busy, busy!  But awesome – I love it.

Curious what I’m teaching?

Well, let me tell you.

  • This Thursday – “Online is Not the Only Option, Effective Use of Microfilm/fiche
  • This Sunday – “Descendancy Research
  • The last Thursday in May – “Blogging for Beginners“, I know that doesn’t really sound like a family history class but it is.  The class is going to focus on how blogging can help your family history efforts.  It’s going to be awesome.
  • Not yet scheduled but sometime VERY soon in May – An as yet untitled class for teenagers.  It is a new program being developed by our center.  It will run for 5 weeks and I am teaching week 2.  We will be teaching this 5 week course over and over for at least a year so I’ll get plenty of use out of that PowerPoint and handout.

Teaching is a happy place for me so I am looking forward to the next several weeks.  I love teaching at our center.  I think it’s wonderful that we offer such a wide range of classes.

Do you have access to free genealogy classes in your area?


Tip: Get to know your local research facilities.

Marriage Record found on microfilm at the BYU Family History Library.

Marriage Record found on microfilm at the BYU Family History Library.

Becoming familiar with the research facilities near you is really important.  Many areas in the world have FamilySearch Centers, Libraries, Universities, Archives, Genealogy Centers, Registration Offices, Museums and so on.  Find out what facilities are near you and what they have to offer.

I live near Brigham Young University, or BYU.  They have a great Family History Library that I visit often.  I can order any microfilm that is held at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City FOR FREE.  I can order two films/fiche at a time.  They arrive in about two weeks and stay at BYU forever.  Once the films arrive I can order two more.  They have plenty of films in their collection already as well as books, maps, family histories and more.  The library is conveniently located for me and meets many of my research needs.

My most recent visit was on Tuesday night.  I looked through four different films/fiche and found six records that I needed.  I brought my darling 12 year old with me so we were able to order four more rolls of microfilm.

BYU isn’t the only facility I have nearby but it is my overall favorite.

Do you know what research facilities are near you?


Jim Baird Quote

gg, Jim Baird quote


Prayer is an important part of my life.  An important part of pretty much all of my activities.  But this quote – it’s a good reminder to me that God wants to bless me.  He wants me to have success in my research efforts.  He wants me to feel the love and strength that comes from knowing my ancestors.  I believe He helps me.  I believe He helps me even more when I humbly ask for His help through prayer.


Jim Baird & I work at the same FamilySearch center.  He says this all of the time.





Seek Knowledge

gg, seek knowledge to serve

Tomorrow I am going to try to soak up some knowledge.
I’m also going to share some knowledge.
That is my kind of day.
The FamilySearch Center that I volunteer at holds a family history fair every year.  Tomorrow is the day.  I’m teaching a class on the US Census.  I’m also going to attend several classes.
I love learning & teaching.  For me they go hand in hand.  Once I learn something, I love to share that knowledge with others.  I hope Bernard would find my pursuit of knowledge appropriate and loving.  That’s what I’m trying for anyway.
I hope your Saturday is just as wonderful as mine will be.

Happy Weekend!