My Top Ten Genealogy Books

This week, the ProGen study group I am mentoring asked me to share my top ten genealogy books. Below is a snapshot and a breakdown of my answer.

*Keep in mind, these are my top ten GENERAL genealogy books, not my top ten books for genealogy professionals, which would be a different list (for another day!).

In order of importance:

    1. The Source, by Lou Szucs: my genealogy professors assigned this as required reading, starting at my first genealogy courses, and it was a staple textbook in several genealogy courses throughout my time as a genealogy undergrad. I found it to be an *extremely* helpful resource, and I consider it a must-read for anybody who wants to learn genealogy.
    2. Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls: don’t be put off by the goofy title; this book is more comprehensive and informative than some books that teach advanced genealogy research techniques, plus it refers to/quotes all the foundational genealogy works any serious researcher should own, which will help them to build their library as they go, which many those other guides don’t do. The authors are also credentialed and renowned authorities on the subject.
    3. The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising. I already touted my reliance on this text in a previous post; it is one of the secrets to my pushing through those “brick walls” when I get stuck on a research project, because Rising presents every possible solution in this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
    4. Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills: this book is required reading by the Board for Certification of Genealogists–your citations must be formatted in accordance with the style in this book or you cannot become board-certified, nor will your work be in accordance with the Genealogy Standards (manual) which they also require. (Note: ICAPGen does accept other citation formats, so Accredited Genealogist® applicants can use other citation styles–for example applicants from other countries who are accustomed to styles used in their homeland are welcome to keep using them.)
    5. Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, recommended because Rose is a consummate scholar who teaches about the record types that hobbyists often overlook, and because anybody wanting to undertake serious genealogy needs to leave their desk and hit the courthouses. Hobbyists are desk jockeys, but serious genealogists know how to go out and find offline records.
    6. Black’s Law Dictionary is a must-own because researchers can’t adequately understand the records they find in the courthouses mentioned above ^ unless they have a reference guide to the laws behind those records. Black’s Law is that reference work. Be sure to get the older editions, because newer editions won’t cover the laws from your ancestors’ time periods. I found it cheapest to get multiple editions on CD-ROM.
    7. Elements of Genealogical Analysis by Robert Charles Anderson. The “genealogical proof standard” (GPS) for proving one’s family history is a big buzzword in genealogy these days, but the rules of the GPS don’t include any standards/methods for sequencing/connecting the dots when identifying ancestors, nor for presenting findings. This book does–it maps out how researchers can logically prove ancestors’ identities via linkages and other helpful strategies.
    8. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. This work isn’t as crucial or as comprehensive as The Source (above), but Greenwood imparts a lot of valuable knowledge about the census and other record-types, making this book a staple for American researchers.
    9. The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. DNA testing is an integral part of genealogy research today, and this book is my preferred guide to learning the ropes.
    10. Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas Jones. This book teaches readers how to master the Genealogical Proof Standard, which I mentioned with book #7.

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Free Printable for Ancestor Thanksgiving Placemats Craft

A few years ago, I was in charge of the craft for our family reunion, and my ancestral dinner placemats were such a hit that I’m sharing them with you now as a fab idea for Thanksgiving!

I used a free printable from the Internet. The one I used has since been taken down, but here is an even better one:

I printed it off and had all the kids glue it to wide colored cardstock, then I handed out paper copies of ancestral photos for them to glue to the trees. An aunt who is a teacher with a laminator ran quickly ran these through a laminator after they were finished and they were ready in time for dinner!

Note the captions and life span dates at the bottom of each photo, to help relatives who were assisting children to more easily identify each ancestor. I also made pedigree charts with photos available at the craft tables, so that adults helping me with the activity could help children put photos in their proper place–we didn’t want anybody going home with an incorrect pedigree!

I took these pictures after my own kids’ placemats sustained a few years of use, but this craft makes a great Thanksgiving activity for the kids–and adults, too!–because it gives everyone something to do while other relatives are busy making dinner!

These homemade visuals of the family tree also provided excellent dinner conversation (steering everyone away from politics–yay!), giving us a chance to teach the younger generations about their ancestors while they waited for someone to pass the rolls at dinner! 🙂

Other ideas for including your ancestors in family gatherings like Thanksgiving :

  • Skip that “everyone list what you’re thankful for” go-’round-the-table game and introduce the “unseen guests” at your dinner table instead. Hand each family member a card that introduces that unseen “ancestor guests” (ie-“We’d like to welcome Mary Johanssen, from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mary was born in 1859 and married at fifteen to Paul Onstadt. They had twenty children, but seven of them died as babies. Mary is your great-great grandmother. As we eat our dinner, let us be mindful of all that Mary suffered during the great famine of . . . ) then go around the table, having each family member read their card aloud.
  • Family Bingo: Distribute blank bingo cards. Players must fill in the blanks with the names of all the ancestors/relatives that come to mind.  The bingo-caller then draws family names from a jar; five names in a row wins a small gift.
  • Story Circle Game: Frame a topic, where the participants will relate a life story or memory of dearly departed relatives. One question might be, “What things were rationed in World War II and how did you deal with it?” You might ask the question, “What is your favorite memory of growing up in Grandma’s hometown?” Before commencing the actual storytelling, you should let the people in story circle know that you want to gather their stories for posterity. Be prepared to capture the stories manually in the event that anyone objects to audio- or videotaping. Remember that the information you collect should be documented with the name of the person who tells the story, the date and location of the story circle, and any dates and places the person relates. You never can tell what research leads you will pick up in the process.
  • Table Teams: While waiting for dinner to be ready, cover each dining table with a disposable white plastic tablecloth (this plastic comes in a roll especially for such occasions). Put a few markers on each table top, then invite family members to draw their family’s family tree on the plastic cloth with the magic marker. Full names, birth dates (and death dates in some instances), marriage dates, spouses’ names, and children can be brainstormed while everyone is waiting for the dinner to start (beats watching television!
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire” trivia about family members and ancestors.   The fastest finger ones also deal with the family. For example, “Put the following family members in the order of their birth.” “Which person was not a nurse?”  Be sure to include persons who have married into the family, too.
  • Create a centerpiece with family mementos. Using photos, heirlooms, or handed-down ornaments, you can create a visually stimulating centerpiece that may spark up the conversation you have been waiting for.
  • Heirloom Show & Tell: Have everyone bring in a family object (clothing, a book, a work tool, a knickknack) with a history. Display the items and, later, make time for a storytelling session.

For the techies in the family, you can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):

I wish you–and your families and ancestor-guests!–the happiest Thanksgiving this week! 🙂

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The Intentional Genealogist

~ Good Vibrations

Any experienced genealogist will tell you how often our ancestral discoveries are helped by incredibly serendipitous occurrences–how often we miraculously stumble across random scraps of paper embedded in ledgers that we opened by mistake (when we meant to open the one beside it), or chance encounters with a person who holds the answers we’ve been seeking for years, but whom we met only as the result of some bizarre incident.

Ancestral kismet happens so often to genealogy researchers, in fact, that Geoff Rasumussen–the host of Legacy Family Tree webinars–recently published a book about such experiences, though the stories I have heard from my fellow researchers and genealogy students could fill several volumes more:

In my daily work as a professional genealogist, I have noticed that this special genealogical mojo ebbs and flows. When I have it, my projects unfold smoothly and all goes well, but when I don’t have it, I hit the proverbial “brick wall” and can’t find the information I’m looking for.

~ Tips for Good Genealogy Mojo

When I feel my progress on a family history project begin to lag, I’ve found that it is usually because my life is out of balance. When I restore that balance, the mojo returns and I usually find what I am looking for. I call this living the spiritual life, or what some might call, in secular terms, being “an intentional genealogist.” This might sound silly, but let me give an example of what it looks like:

When unable to find information on an ancestor, I will typically stop and take a look at my day or my week. Is my life out of balance? For example, am I so focused on genealogy that I am neglecting my family or other people who need me? If the answer is yes, then I stop what I am doing and put living people first. I feel very deeply that those who have passed on care about the living (we genealogists have a sixth sense for these kinds of things) and that they don’t like it when I focus on the dearly departed while neglecting those who are still with me. That neglect brings a sort of bad karma, bad mojo to my workspace, and blocks my ability to progress professionally.

~ How I Discovered This Phenomenon

One night, in the throes of a busy evening of research, I almost told my kids to eat “whatever was in the fridge,” because I was so excited about my client’s research project that I didn’t want to stop. My kids typically just ate cold cereal on nights like that. I was researching the life of an Italian American woman who gave birth fifteen times, but lost the majority of her children in infancy to various illnesses or stillbirth. But as was about to send my children to fend for themselves in the kitchen, I suddenly felt this strong impression that the Italian mother I’d been focusing on all night would NOT approve of my children eating cold cereal for dinner while I traced her family tree, because Italian mammas love to make sure that their families are well fed! So I stopped what I was doing and made sure that my kids had a hot meal and were tucked into bed with songs and stories. Once I had done so, my research project went more smoothly than ever, and I made a few bonus discoveries that night once the kids were asleep. I felt very strongly afterwards that this mamma was intentionally NOT letting me find her famiglia earlier, while I had been neglecting my children. Call me crazy if you will, but the impression overwhelmed me to the point of tears as the records practically fell into my lap only after I had lavished that love and attention on my children.

I now try to make a phone call, sit and talk with a child about their day, send someone an email of appreciation, or send out a thank you note–take care of any good deed FOR THE LIVING left undone–before I sit down to do my research work.

The result of these efforts has been pretty consistent over the years: the more good deeds I do for the living, the more good mojo I have for uncovering the secrets of the dead. I now aspire to be a consistently intentional genealogist.

~ Intentional Genealogists

I believe that when we work hard to do more good deeds for the living, we will see more good come back to us in the form of questions answered, discoveries made, and mysteries solved in our genealogy research. It is just a theory, but I invite everyone to put it to the test and tell me what they discover! 🙂

Here is an infographic I made for some of my students about intentional genealogy and how it might fit into a research strategy. It is just one idea; you will find your own as you learn how to work an live intentionally:

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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only press “allow” on comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

My Genealogy Time Management Technique

Actually, I have several genealogy time management techniques, but this particular technique is the overarching, macro-level time management strategy governing my other activities (for which I utilize other time management techniques that I’ll discuss later).

~ The Technique & Background

I call my macro time management technique my “Hat Days.”

Have you ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Bugs’ Bonnets” where the characters keep acting in accordance to the hat that falls atop their head? If not, you will need to watch it for context (I grew up watching that episode over and over on Saturday mornings; it inspired me to create this technique!).

Genealogists can probably all relate to my need for the technique, I am sure: it arose from a need to stay more focused while researching.

Sometimes, while working on one project, I’d discover a cool hack that helped me uncover a record, or I’d find a new resource online that hadn’t been digitized before, and next thing I knew, I’d be entering names from several projects (clients, my family, etc) into that database, or applying the hack to several projects. This behavior became a big time-waster and cause for inefficiency as I found myself with several open files, dozens of open windows on my desktop. That sort of chaos can only result in lost information or rookie mistakes like going back to fetch data for citations.

(Can any of you out there relate to such feverish activity when the thrill of the hunt takes hold?)

~ How The Technique Works

My “hat days” solved this dilemma by forcing me to wear only specified “hats” on their assigned days. I now only perform client work on certain days (and only for certain clients on their allotted day); I can only work on my own ancestors on Sunday. Each day (or some activities get a half-day) I wear a certain hat ONLY, and I am not allowed to engage in any other activity until I officially switch hats. All hats have their time slot, and their scheduled times must be honored each week. I only swap for emergencies (like cancelled trips to archives due to weather, construction, etc).

Genealogical studies also have their own “hat” that I can only “wear” on a specified half-day, because such studies have a HUGE tendency to send me fishing around on the laptop;  genealogy journals always show me new techniques I hadn’t considered, record groups I haven’t thought of in ages or heard of before, etc, which makes me want to hit the laptop or a few courthouses and do some helter-skelter digging for every name on my list. Instead, I take good notes (and my to-do lists handy!) as I study, keeping my study hat on and my client work hat far away, or more chaos and inefficiency can result.

In my early years as a budding genealogist, my hat days were also used to separate my studies–I was learning about California genealogy, European genealogy, and more subjects. To keep myself from working myself into a dither with a document-laden desk (and desktop!), I wore my “California Genealogist-in-training” hat on one day, my “Italian genealogist-in-training hat on another,” and forced myself to stick to those topics on those days.

~ What This Looks Like

Whenever I am wearing my client research hat, because it is one of the days assigned to client research, for example, my “hat days” rule requires me to quickly jot down any other ideas/urges pertaining to other hats in to-do lists (I use the Getting Things Done time management system for my to-do lists, FYI). Then I go back to focusing exclusively on the duties associated with whatever hat I am wearing that day.

If I am supposed to be focusing on my clients, I keep my focus on them. If it is family time and I am supposed to be baking, cleaning, tending to church duties, or serving in the community, or working on  my own ancestors, then I keep my sights on them–whatever hat I am wearing (mother, community servant, baker, chef, family genealogist of professional genealogist), it stays firmly in place. Gone are the days when I let myself get so carried away that I emerged all frazzled from a sea of papers and twenty open windows on my desktop.

(Confession: I still walk the line on busy days when I am hot on the trail of a great find and I am pumping out entries, analyses, citations, and paragraphs left and right, I will admit. Especially when I am on the road and time at a repository is limited. Let’s face it, genealogy is passion so great that self discipline takes constant WORK).

~ How I Keep Track

Clients come and go, and projects start and finish. PLus, many half-day and quarter-day hats means that I wear a LOT of hats!

I keep track of them in the heart of my planner, via Franklin Covey’s planner bookmarks, which can be filled with bookmark cards. These inserts come as perforated planner pages (two to a page) so I keep extras in the back of my planner that I can easily punch out and re-write when it is time to jot down a new list of hats with their assigned days (or half days/quarter days) whenever new clients need to be listed:

planner bookmarks

This technique might not work for or be necessary for others with different working styles, but it has really helped me. If it happens to help anybody who reads this, I hope that you will let me know! 🙂

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PLEASE NOTE: any videos or images appearing after my signature were placed there by WordPress. These ads are not visible to me, so I cannot endorse them.

© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

When the records don’t give answers, use GENEALOGY EVIDENCE

Are you having trouble finding the records that identify an ancestor’s parents, or the place where they were born? Then you might need to master the art of genealogical proof in order to prove, on your own, who their parents were or where they were born.

Proving the relationships, events, or identities of the past  is something that I’ve been doing for years as a professional genealogist, but ALL researchers can master this skill with the right tools. Below are some infographics I use when teaching the basics of genealogy proof and evidence to my students. I’ll also include some must-have guides for learning how to prove what happened in the past when you just can’t find the records that spell it out for you:

evidence-and-proof-in-genealogy-infographic

Because my students struggled most often to differentiate between information and evidence, I made a special graphic to walk you through that difference, just to make sure everybody understands where the two diverge:


An example from the infographic above would be in the statement, “The exclusion of his daughter Mary from his will and testament is evidence that either she was disinherited or that she had died before this date.”

How to Find Evidence

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For those who want to learn how to uncover evidence in genealogical records to help prove what happened in the past (even when the records don’t come right out and say what happened), here are the must-reads for your family history library:


Mastering Genealogical Proof is on my shelf and I’ve read it cover-to-cover; it will walk you through exercises like a textbook, so you get to learn from the author as if you were taking a class from him!


Genealogical Proof Standard is a quick read (small, pamphlet-like book) by one of the greatest genealogy authors in the industry, and will teach you how to present your findings according to the most trusted and reliable genealogical conventions, so that future generations don’t discard your conclusions as uninformed or wishful thinking. I found this book extremely helpful when I first began writing proof arguments!


Evidence Explained is perhaps THE most crucial guide on every genealogist’s shelf (I own it in both hard copy AND digital!), because, in addition to defining all the key concepts pertaining to genealogy evidence and proof, it also is a giant citation guide (akin to the MLA guides and APA guides we used in college) for the very unique discipline of genealogy, to help researchers know how to cite everything from unpublished diaries found at your local historical society to a newspaper clipping that you copied out of Grandma’s scrapbook. It covers everything you need to know in order to properly cite all the sources that you draw from when building your family tree. Without citations, all of your years of research will be deemed untrustworthy to future researchers, thanks to the Internet, where so much falsehood circulates.

Also, Robert Charles Anderson’s book, Elements of Genealogical Analysis teaches readers how to prove kinship via evidentiary linkage, a type of “logic for genealogists” guide that none of the other books offer. Since formal logic/deduction is no longer taught in the schools, this book is also a must-have:

With these tools, you can write a fully cited, “proven” family history that will pass the “suspicious Internet junk” test and endure through the ages. Good luck! 🙂

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PLEASE NOTE: any videos or images appearing after my signature were placed there by WordPress. These ads are not visible to me, so I cannot endorse them.

© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

How I Organize My Genealogy Files

I haven’t been posting to the site in recent months because I’ve been so busy with clients and with the genealogy stash I inherited; mostly I have been busy filing away the boxes that arrived on my doorstep not long ago, then sifting through the data and getting it into Scrivener with citations, so that I can then move it into Word, as I’ve written about in a previous post.

So I thought that today I would write about how I organize my files, both electronically and hard copy–

Two filing systems

In a February 2011 UGA webinar, genealogist Janet Hovorka warned that reliance on one medium for preserving our history is dangerous because paper burns and electronic files can become corrupted or accidentally deleted, so we are safest when we keep backups of *both* types. I try to do the same.

While I don’t actively print off everything I create (I try to run a paperless office and help the environment), whenever I *do* print a family chart for a relative or child’s school project that ends up having a typo and needs to be re-printed, instead of tossing the first bad draft, I instead keep it as a backup in my family binder, and simply write over the offending word(s), correcting it with a pen, thus eventually (and innocently!) compiling a binder of backup forms and data over time while helping the environment (by reducing waste, because I didn’t throw out all the typo pages). I do the same when printing records or photos for others that come out to faint or crooked–those go into my own backup genealogy files as well, so that I end up with a lovely hard copy reserve to my wonderful digital storage! 🙂

(incidentally, for those who want to see Hovorka’s webinar about preservation, if you join the Utah Genealogical Association’s virtual chapter, you can watch all their past webinars as a perk of membership! Their association is low cost, sends out a great magazine, and is dedicated to general genealogy topics, which is why they have a virtual chapter, because so many researchers nationwide want to join them! I really enjoy this group–they come highly recommended by me. Here’s a link: http://ugagenealogy.org/aem.php?eid=18)

My Digital Files

I like to think that I have read pretty much every genealogy book ever written (and the periodicals and articles about genealogy organization, too), but because I’ve worked as a professional genealogist for seventeen years now, I’ve been forced to toss most authors’ advice on organization and come up with my *own* system that works for me. So most of you reading this post might have to do the same for yourselves. I’ve read articles that suggest you organize your files by date, by couple, by geography, you name it. But here is what worked for me, in the end–

–I keep all my files in two main sections or halves; maternal and paternal. This is out of necessity because I interact so often with my maternal and paternal cousins in two different reunions, two different Facebook groups regarding our ancestry, and because I am building two different web sites for them to help them stay involved in our very separate “causes.” So out of necessity, my family files must stay divided in two, because of the way I see them and meet with them as two distinct families in my own life.

–Then within those two sections, I have all the files numbered according to the Ahnentafel numbering system. I leave myself out of it, so in the maternal half, my mother is number one, and in the paternal file set, my dad is number one, and each ascending ancestor is then subsequently numbered accordingly. My mom is currently married to someone else and I have a stepdad, but I am not working on his genealogy; should I ever inherit it, I will give him a third file and number him number one, as well! 🙂

If you don’t know how to do Ahnentafel numbering, here is a quick tutorial video:

(BTW–Technically, in my pedigree, I should be number one. But I started genealogy at such a young age–most other genealogists out there are my mom’s age and *they* are number one, so by making my parents number one and making myself an italicized “i,” I am doing nothing amiss, trust me. This is what happens when young’uns get into genealogy before their prime, lol!).

Here is a photo, to show you what this looks like:

Screenshot of tdgen file organization

–Then, as you can see in the photo, each ancestor has their own sub-folders, inside which I keep their records, which I label by date, so that they form a sort of timeline within the folders. I LOVE the timelines they create in my file screen, which tell me at a glance if there are any spans of time missing from my research!

Here is another screenshot, which shows you a female ancestor, so that you can see the sub-folder system I keep for the children of these direct-line ancestors, too. I keep them with their mothers because we had some divorce and remarriage in my ancestry that resulted in second wives and children while first wives were still living, so to keep the new wives and their children separate from MY ancestresses and their children, this was more organized than putting child folders with fathers. Plus, I feel that those women deserve special credit/kudos for birthing those entire generations of our family! 😉

Screen Shot of TDGEn file organization 2

Hard Copy Records

For my tangible records, I keep something similar to the folder structure you saw in the screenshots above: “photos, records, reports.” Those are the three main categories I work with most often, and I like to keep them separate and organized (because I do *not* like binders with reports and historical documents all mish-mashed together and falling apart at the seams; I much prefer to see things neat and sorted by category!) , so here is how I do that:

TDGEen desk stuff

I do like to staple a spare pedigree, individual report, or family group record onto the inside of each person’s folder as a sort of reference, however, so that I’m not constantly flipping between binders and folders all day. But I must keep all reports and historical documents separate in my system, just as a picky child I once knew liked to eat all of their foods on separate plates for fear they might touch each other (haha!).

Also, I am trying to re-label all my hard copy files with Ahnentafel numbers, as I did not do this when I first started throwing documents into folders years ago. That is slow going. If you haven’t started numbering your files yet, pick up a copy of Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s book Organizing Your Family History Search. I think I like her ideas for numbering tangible files better than my own paper folder system–I wish I had heard about her system years ago! When I get the time, I might try to implement it; who knows, maybe one day when the kiddos are grown . . .

Now, you won’t see me lugging any of this stuff (file box, binder, or photo box) to any repositories with me–I just take my laptop, a few crucial copies/reports, legal pads, cell camera, and some empty file folders and thumb drives  with me, and that’s it (see this post about my travel bag). Again, I try to run a paperless office whenever possible.

BUT I keep these binders of printouts and folders full of files and boxes full of photos as backups for a safety precaution. If, while I’m out traveling for a client, my laptop were stolen or damaged somehow, I would be able to pull my data out of the cloud, yes. But if the cloud were somehow compromised (it has happened before!), I could call my husband and have him fax me my paper copies from the home office. Keeping backups of all types help prevent catastrophes from devastating your family history preservation efforts, and keeping an organized system makes it easy for the folks at home to retrieve stuff for me even when I’m not there!

Now, for those of you who think I am crazy for keeping my photos and my historical documents and my pedigrees apart (“they belong TOGETHER!” you might be thinking), please do not fret! I want you to know that I DO believe in combining them for family scrapbooks. This is my *professional* system for staying organized and focused as a researcher. When it comes time to make a family scrapbook, I am all for compiling a work of art–like a quilt–where you lovingly piece all three components together. But when I am researching, I want my data sorted, organized, and TIDY.

My mom does the “quilting” in our family right now. She carefully pastes photos and stories onto paper, slides them into plastic sheets and puts them into binders with some glossy color copies and sends them around as Christmas gifts to extended family so they can get to know our ancestors better. Me, I have five children ranging from elementary to high school plus a thriving client business, so I have zero time for such things, but I hope to make time for efforts like hers one day! If I did have the time, I dream of sitting down and putting all of my work on the ancestors into a project like these heirloom-quality books from MyCanvas, then ordering nice, hardbound, glossy-paged copies for all of my siblings and children and maybe even my cousins:

But for now, I’m too busy organizing, filing, typing up citations, and proving identities and kinships, so that dream will have to wait! 🙂

For the rest of you, there is a fab class on how to build your own family history scrapbooks in MyCanvas coming up–you might want to check it out, it sounds amazing! Here is a link:

http://www.familyhistorywritingstudio.com/course/creating-a-legacy-family-history-book/

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PLEASE NOTE: any videos or images appearing after my signature were placed there by WordPress. These ads are not visible to me, so I cannot endorse them.

© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

My Big (un)Scholarly Historical Discovery

I made an exciting discovery about everybody’s ancestors that appears to *almost* debunk (or, I hope, enhance) a noted scholar’s theory. The circumstances are almost comical, but my case is quite compelling–I hope readers will weigh in and tell me what they think!

In the genealogy world, an article went viral in social media circles a year or so ago, citing the book of Roger Ekirch, an historian at Virginia Tech who discovered evidence of that our ancestors slept in different patterns than we do today, for example by awakening and spending a few hours engaged in activities before then engaging in a “second sleep” period each night.

You can read more about these sleep cycles of the past in the following articles and blog posts:

https://www.sassyjanegenealogy.com/sleep-like-your-ancestors/

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16964783

http://blog.myheritage.com/2014/10/our-ancestors-sleep-patterns/

Now, the *reason* for the ancestors sleeping so differently than we do today isn’t spelled out in the articles. I confess that I have not had time to pick up Dr. Ekirch’s book yet, as much as I want to (I am a bibliophile who really *should* be on the road to recovery, but alas will still not admit that she has a problem! My to-read pile almost takes up more space in this house than my children!), but from the articles, it appears that Dr. Ekirch believes that the invention of the electric light had something to do with the change from the “many sleeps” cycle of the past to the more steady, uninterrupted sleep of today.

However, over the past few months, I made a little discovery that almost debunks (or, I hope, better informs) this theory about the electric lights, so I will share it here–

In December, my husband’s employer unexpectedly closed their doors.

Unfortunately, they did so just as we were about to purchase a new boiler furnace (on credit!) to replace our old one, which had cracked and died. Needless to say, we could not get financing for the new one, now that my husband was out of a job!

So what did we do? Well, we started living like the ancestors here in our nearly one-hundred year old home, and I stumbled upon an interesting discovery relating to Dr. Ekirch’s theory–

Our house was freezing cold everywhere but the family room, which is where we have a fireplace, so we moved the children into the family room at night to sleep. My husband and I slept in our room, which is down the hall from the family room. And every night, no matter how high or hot we stoked that fire, we awoke at 3 a.m. sharp, because the fire had ALWAYS died out!

Always, by 3 a.m. on the dot, my husband and I awoke, like clockwork, because the house was so ice cold that our bodies awakened out of sheer shock (we felt the cold) and paternal/maternal instinct that feared for our children’s safety. As soon as we sensed that the fire had died, my husband would get up, gather wood, and stoke up the fire again, while I would go around covering up the kids, who had always kicked off their covers, which made the poor things’ skin practically turn blue!

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 11.11.58 AM

Cots, sleeping bags, pillows, and teddy bears, all lived around our fireplace this winter!

And then we would return, all shivering and freezing, to our own beds. By then, from all the cold and exertion, we were usually all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so like the ancestors in the articles, I did usually find myself reading, writing, on social media, or doing some genealogy, yes. We also talked, watched movies, or whatever.

All winter long, my husband and I engaged in the “two sleeps” described in this article, because we had no choice–the fire *always* went out by 3 a.m., and the house was always stone-cold by that hour, so we were always up and about tending to the fireplace and the sleeping kids at that hour, which awoke us both fully. It was so fascinating!

Even now now that the weather has warmed and we are no longer stoking fires at 3 a.m. and we have “sprung forward” for the time change, I find myself automatically awakening at four a.m.! I try to use that time to work on genealogy projects or writing, to make good use of the time, rather than wasting it. But I get a good chuckle as I ponder the fact that I may have accidentally stumbled upon the answer, in real life, to what a scholar has been looking for on paper–the reason why the ancestors were always up halfway through the night. Because they were COLD and worried about their children! 🙂

Indeed, I believe that fires, more than electric lights, are the reason behind the “two sleeps” our ancestors experienced back in the day! Something much more parental, Darwinian, more “survival of the fittest”–er, warmest–was at work here, I believe! 🙂
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