Probate Genealogy: An Intriguing Field of Research

Professional genealogy is a diverse field that includes a wide variety of unique specialties from adoption to genetics, cartography, photographic analysis, military, migration, religious groups, ethnic groups, and many more. One of the lesser known specialties is probate genealogy

Probate is the legal process through which an individual’s real estate (property) and personal estate (possessions) is distributed to his or her heirs, regardless of whether there is a will.

Testate is the term used when a will existed in the settling of the estate. Intestate is the term used where there was no will written and the court decides how the estate is to be distributed. 

According to one recent survey, 68% of Americans do not have a will.

So what happens when a deceased person leaves behind an inheritance? First, we all know that families can be complicated and locating the rightful heirs to an estate can be an equally complicated process. 

Before any person’s assets are distributed, estate executors, administrators, trustees, fiduciaries, and bank and trust officers will generally hire an expert to help conduct probate research.  

Probate research might involve:  

  • Finding a missing executor(s) named in a will.
  • Tracing named heirs, when their location is known or unknown.
  • Addressing official and unofficial adoptions. (When a child is officially adopted, their new family becomes their next of kin. However, when an adoption is informal and undocumented, the birth family remains the next of kin as far as intestate inheritance is concerned.)
  • Finding rightful heirs and next of kin when there are no known heirs or the person died intestate. This includes identifying each living relative. 
  • Confirming or denying the existence of suspected or possible other heirs. This might include children born out of wedlock.  
  • Finding missing documents, like a birth certificate.

Probate Genealogy

Probate genealogy, also commonly referred to as “heir hunting,” is the practice of investigating family trees, finding heirs, and proving their right to an inheritance. 

Probate genealogists are professional forensic researchers. They are responsible for: (1) identifying rightful heirs; (2) preparing required documents, including An Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship, a Narrative Report of Kinship, and family tree charts; (3) collecting sworn affidavits; and (4) providing expert testimony, if needed.

Probate genealogists work on both testate and intestate estate matters. Probate genealogists may also assist clients, estate planners, financial institutions, and private companies with heir searches as part of the will and estate planning process.

In the process of their research, probate genealogists comb through and identify many of the same types of documents persons doing family research will discover: birth, death, and marriage certificates, real estate and property tax records, military records, residency, employment, civil actions, immigration, etc. 

However, probate genealogy is a precise science. Each project undergoes a stringent review process and is meticulously checked for accuracy in research and presentation. There are no “do-overs” when it comes to the legal distribution of a person’s estate. Because accuracy is of the utmost importance, reputable probate genealogists generally carry $2-5 million dollars in professional liability insurance against errors and omissions. 

Depending on the scope of the search, an investigation can take a few days, weeks or sometimes months. 

Probate research is an expanding field. As the population lives longer, people become more mobile, and there are changes in family structures and dynamics, the challenge of tracing missing heirs becomes more difficult. This creates an increased demand for probate genealogists. 

Probate genealogists typically have four-year college degrees in Family History and Genealogy, have genealogy accreditations, are knowledgeable about probate laws (which vary widely among states), and have extensive experience and a passion for genealogy research. 


Quick & Legal Will Book, Ninth Edition, by Attorney Denis Clifford
Make Your Own Living Trust, by Attorney Denis Clifford
Peace of Mind Planner: Important Information about My Belongings, Business Affairs, and Wishes

Create a Genealogy Migration Map Using Google My Maps

Have you considered creating a migration map to trace your ancestors? It’s fast and simple to use Google My Maps or other free mapping tools to map your family’s history. 

Combining mapping technology with your genealogy research gives you an entirely different visual perspective that goes well beyond simply knowing where your relatives lived based on Census or other documents. A map is a fantastic way to trace your relative’s footsteps and immerse yourself in your family history.   

Simple Map-Making Technologies

Featured in this article are the step-by-step instructions on how you can get started creating your own maps today for FREE by using Google My Maps.

You might think that creating custom maps requires advanced cartography know-how or a complex geographic information system (GIS). Once, that was true; however, with new map-making applications, anyone can create their own custom maps with just a few clicks.

For beginner mapmakers, I recommend Google My Maps. My Maps is a little known offshoot of Google Maps, which enables users to create their own simple maps on a desktop computer or Android device. Anyone with a Google account can use this free map creator. Using My Maps is very straightforward, even to a first-time map maker.

As your map-making skills develop, you may want to try other mapping software/applications. Each platform is unique in terms of its features and price, so there’s definitely something for everyone. Other mapping applications you may want to explore are: Visme, MapBox, Map Me, ZeeMaps, Scrible Maps, and One Place by UnEarth

Why Should I Create a Migration Map

An event-based genealogy migration map can help you: 

  • Share genealogy information with family members. 
  • Display information in a visual way that is easy for people to quickly grasp. 
  • Organize and sort snippets of key information you’ve discovered in various records.
  • Identify research problems, such as how could your great-great grandfather have been in the Civil War and held in the Vicksburg, Mississippi prison for two years and also be fathering children with birth dates during the same period. Either there was some hanky panky on the homefront, or you have some records or dates that warrant review.
  • Identify gaps. For instance, if you found the 1850 census and then none until 1900, there is a gap in your research yet to fill that could show significant migration movements. 
  • Think critically, like a criminal investigator. Who? What” When? Why? How? During your genealogy research, you come up with more questions about your family’s history than census data and other records can possibly answer. For example, if you compare your grandmother’s timeline to your grandfather’s timeline you may discover that they attended the same high school or arrived on the same ship, which provides a clue to where they may have met. 

Other Genealogy Mapping Tools

If you use Ancestry as your family research tool, it automatically creates a timeline, referred to as a “LifeStory.” On the timeline, you’ll discover a map (automatically created using MapBox) that pinpoints the migratory path of your ancestor, tracing the location of where that person’s parents lived to where your relative died, and all of the places they lived in between. 

In the following illustration, you can see that my second great-grandfather’s parents were from Maryland. He was born in Oxford, Ohio; then he moved to Vermillion, Illinois, where he was married; he then lived in Danville and Oakwood, Illinois; and finally migrated to Foster, Missouri, where several of his children were born and where he would later die. 

FamilySearch and MyHeritage also have some neat mapping tools if you use those sites for your genealogy research. MyHeritage has their PedigreeMap. RootsMapper has been around awhile and is an interactive mapping website that works with FamilySearch.

Using Google My Maps

While I like the maps these genealogy sites offer, there are clear advantages to creating and sharing your own custom maps using Google My Maps. Once you try My Maps for your genealogy research, you’ll start thinking about a dozen other ways to use the mapping technology, such as pinpointing all of your previous travel destinations, identifying places where you competed in sports, or even destinations in your bucket list. 

Share maps easily and collaborate with others, just as you would in other Google suite products (such as Sheets, Slides, or Docs). Integrate your map with image search or location services and store everything – maps and data – on Google drive.

With a simple user experience, familiar interface, and potential for some really creative applications My Maps is a great choice for casual cartographers or a first-time map maker.

Let’s Get Started

For this example of how to create a simple map, I used My Maps to trace my second great grandparents, Matthew and Mary, from their birthplaces to where significant events happened in their lives to the cemetery where they are buried.

What Google Maps allows you to do is add your own landmarks, routes, and locations. You can also draw your own shapes onto the existing map to add detail. While you can view a custom map in the Google Maps app for Android and iOS, you can only create it using the web version on your desktop. 

Creating a Map Step-by-Step Instructions

Starting your map and naming it

  1. To start, go to the Google Maps website and sign-in using your Google account. Once you’re signed in, press the menu icon (three stacked dashes) in the top left. 
  2. In the options menu, click the “Your Places” option. 
  3. In the “Your Places” menu that appears on the left, click the “Maps” tab. At the bottom of the menu, select the “Create Map” button. 
  4. In the “Edit map title and description” menu, add the name and description for your map and then click “Save” to save it. In my map, I have changed the title to the “Migration of Matthew Gray.”

Adding Map Layers

  1. Your custom map is made up of layers, with the “Base Map” layer (the main Google Maps view) at the bottom. You can customize the appearance of the “Base Map” layer by selecting the options arrow next to the “Base Map” and choosing a different map theme.
  2. When you create a new custom map, a new “Untitled Layer” is added by default. Title your first layer by selecting the three-dot menu icon next to the layer and then click “Rename Layer” in the drop-down menu. 
  3. You can add as many layers as you want to your custom map, allowing you to separate the different layers of your map from each other. To add a layer, click the “Add layer” button. 
  4. If you decide later you want to delete a layer, select “Delete Layer” using the layer drop-down menu. 

In my map, you can see that I wanted two distinct layers, one for my grandfather’s migration (using blue pins) and the other my grandmother (using gold pins) because they each have unique migration paths.

Adding Components to a Custom Map in Google Map

Your map can be customized with various components. You can add marker points, shapes or lines, as well as directions directly onto the map. 

Search bar. Below is the components icons, including pinpoints, shapes, directions, distance, and move.
  1. To start, make sure you’re in the My Maps map editor. 
  2. A custom marker point is a pinpoint that appears on your map. You can use this to point map users to a location or area that isn’t specified on the “Base Map” layer. 
  3. In this instance, we want to add my grandfather’s place of birth as the first pinpoint on the map. Based on my genealogy research, I know that Matthew Gray was born in Oxford, Butler county, Ohio. So I type that location into the search bar. Google automatically takes me to this location on the map and it displays a lime green pinpoint.
  4. Select the “Add Marker” button on the menu (located below the search bar) and a new pinpoint is added. I can drag it over the lime green pinpoint. 
  5. When I “right click” with my mouse on the new pinpoint, a display box appears allowing me to give it a title and add a description. I can title this one Matthew Gray’s birthplace and add a date in the description. I can also add a photo, video and directions. I can also change the color of the pinpoint using the “paint bucket” icon so that all of the pins for Matthew are the same color. 
  6. Simply continue adding points to your map tracing your ancestor’s known geographical steps. 
  7. Be sure to “Save” your new pinpoints to add it to your map. 

Adding Lines or Shapes

You can add lines and shapes to your custom map to emphasize certain areas.

  1. Click the “Draw a Line Option” in the menu (located below the search bar) and then select the “Add line or shape” option. 
  2. In a suitable area of the map, draw a line using your mouse. Use multiple lines to create a joined shape. 
  3. Add a custom name and description to your object in the pop-up menu before selecting “Save” to confirm. 
Utilizing the line tool component.

Creating Custom Directions

You can add route directions from points A to B by creating a directions layer. 

As you create your directions layers, remember that transportation routes that existed 100 years ago are not the same as they are today. While our state highways and county roads sometimes follow original travel routes or trails, the interstate highway routes don’t. Most interstate highways were constructed over land never used previously for transportation, but road designers considered these routes to be more direct and straighter. 

In the following example, I created a directions layer (or route) that traveled from Danville, Vermillion county, Illinois, the place where my grandparents were married, to Foster, Bates county, Missouri, where they died. When I first added the A and B locations, the software generated a route that included Interstate 35. But I know that I-35 between Iowa and Missouri traversed virgin ground and never followed a previous travel route. So I used the drag tool to move my route so it followed the state highways instead, a more reasonable route they may have taken in the 1870s. 

Utilizing the directions feature
  1. Click on the “Add Directions” option (direction arrow) in the menu below the search bar to create this layer. 
  2. The directions layer will appear in the menu on the left. Add your departure point to the “A” text box and the arrival point to the “B” text box. 
  3. Once both the “A” and “B” boxes are filled, the map will update showing the route between your specified locations.
  4. Since we know that it is more likely that our relatives traveled from city to city using a route other than the interstate highway, if your map shows a route that includes the interstate, you can alter the A to B route by dragging the line to roads other than the interstate.  
  5. If you are fortunate to have a diary that describes the route that was taken, you can drag the route through the towns that they traveled. Sometimes a biography or obituary will also offer clues regarding their travel route. 

Sharing Custom Maps

Once you’ve created your map, you’re free to access it yourself from within Google Maps (menu> Your Places >Maps) or from the Google My Maps website. 

Only you can view your custom map by default, but you can share it with others.

  1. Go to the Google My Maps website, sign-in, and then select the “Owned” tab where your custom map should be listed. 
  2. To share it with others, click the “Share Map” button. This will give you options to share your custom map on various social media platforms, through email, or by embedding it on your website. 
  3. Select one of these options to proceed. 
  4. This will bring up the “Link sharing” options menu. Under the “Who Has Access” section, select the “Change” button.
  5. In the “Link Sharing” options menu, select the level of access for your map. You can restrict access to specific Google account users, allow access to anyone who has the shared link or make your map public instead.
  6. Your shared settings will be saved, allowing you to invite specific users to view it by email invitation or by sharing the link to your custom map to a wider set of users. 

I hope you will give it a try. Keep it simple at first until you’re comfortable with the mapping technology and then…just have fun creating all types of maps to enjoy yourself or share with your family and friends.


Samsill Sheet Protectors, Acid Free & Archival Safe, 8.5″ x 11″, Top Load, Non-glare, Heavyweight, 200 pack
Print File Archival Photo Pages, Holds Eight 3.5″ x 5″ Prints, pack of 25
Gaylord Archival Blue/Grey Flip-Top Document Storage Box, 7″ W x 15 1/4″ L x 10 1/4″ H

Immersion Genealogy: Walking in Your Ancestor’s Footsteps

Family history is so much more than charts, documents, names, and boxes of old photos. With access to online family research websites, it’s easy to limit your research to census records, yearbook photos and marriage certificates. But what you are missing is the context by which to interpret your research.

Historical context is the political, social, cultural, and economic settings, which help you better understand your relatives and their uniqueness. In plain language, historical context tells the stories that explain– who, how, when, what, and why.

Examples of Historical Context

  • Residences and communities where your relatives lived
  • Historical and political events that influenced their lives
  • Places where they worshiped
  • Their language and customs
  • Periods of military service and conflict
  • Types of jobs they held or businesses they owned
  • The medicines and medical care available
  • Family relationships
  • Immigration patterns
  • Personal property that they owned

Immersion Genealogy

Immersion genealogy is a way of raising consciousness and deepening your understanding of your family members, while helping to overcome assumptions and erroneous family lore.

Immersion genealogy has helped individuals understand situations that were not readily apparent in census documents, such as: why their great-great grandfather was an inmate in a sanitarium for years after the Civil War; why their once prosperous relatives abandoned their farm in Oklahoma in the 1920s; and why their Norwegian great grandparents left some of their children behind in Norway when they immigrated to America.

Others have discovered: national historic places linked to their relatives; segregated burial grounds, distinguished among immigrant and religious groups; and a World War II ammunition plant where their grandmother worked.

Immersion genealogy can be as simple as reading a book about local history or scanning archival newspaper articles of the community and period where your ancestors’ lived. You can visit a genealogy research library, local museum or national historic place. Others like to walk the hallowed grounds in which their ancestors are buried. Many people also enjoy taking a trip to their ancestral homelands.

Regardless of the path you take, immersion genealogy is all about walking in your relative’s shoes and then melding your new discoveries, family research, social and cultural experiences, and family stories.

Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation
The Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide
The Central Iowa Norwegians

NewsBank: Free Access Always

Most genealogists and family researchers are familiar with, a newspaper subscription service; but fewer people know about NewsBank. 

What is NewsBank? 

Established in 1972, NewsBank is a news database resource that provides public libraries, schools, and institutions of higher learning with access to archived newspapers and other digital publications. In turn, these institutions provide free access to NewsBank to their patrons, faculty and students, which they can use for research or simply to read.  

Public libraries that subscribe to NewsBank make it accessible to their patrons who have a library card. Cardholders can then access NewsBank at the library or remotely via the Internet. 

Due to NewsBank’s relatively high cost, participating libraries are primarily located in larger communities. But that doesn’t mean you are out of luck if you live in a smaller community. If you live in a rural area or in a community without a library or with a small library, you can obtain a library card from a larger public library near you and access NewsBank for free. 

NewsBank offers several different databases, the most useful for family researchers is titled “Access World News.” This online service is considered the world’s largest full-text news database of articles taken from more than 2,000 local, regional, national, and international newspapers. NewsBank has consolidated more than 150 million current and archived articles. 

In addition to newspapers, NewsBank offers access to audio files, blogs, college newspapers, journals, popular magazines, newsletters, newswires and services, video, radio and television broadcast transcripts, and web sources. NewsBank offers hundreds more sources than any of its competitors, with nearly 75% of sources exclusive to NewsBank. 

The oldest date of publication of the newspapers varies significantly. Much work has been done to convert paper or microfilm versions of newspapers to a digital format. Most major papers are available dating back to the early 1900s. Back issues of many smaller papers are available as well.  For instance, my hometown newspaper (population 5,000) is available dating back to its original publication.

How NewsBank Benefits Family Researchers

NewsBanks’ Access World News is available online, 24×7 so it is very convenient. It can provide fresh opportunities for family research. Possible uses include:

  • Family researchers can uncover previously unknown aspects of their family history from obituaries and other news items, including society columns, crime reports, casualty reports, sports stories, and more.
  • Discover information about property ownership and transfers, small business ownership, and real estate and personal property sales.
  • History buffs will spend hours uncovering lost details about local people, places and events, while all users will enjoy looking back at everyday life of yesteryear.

How Do I Access NewsBank? 

You can get to NewsBank by visiting your library’s website. Locate the web page on library’s site that lists NewsBank. At my library, NewsBank is found on the “Online Learning-Databases” page. If you can’t find the page on your library’s website, give them a call or do a site search.  

Once you click on the NewsBank link, you will be prompted to enter the barcode number located on your library card and your password associated with your library card account. 

If you don’t have a library card, you can go to the library and set up an account; or most larger libraries have online new account registration. If you don’t remember your password, contact the library to have it reset, or work through the “Don’t Remember Password” feature online. This step, and your account information that is needed, are specific to your library account, not NewsBank. Your library card information provides direct access to NewsBank. 

How to Use NewsBank’s Access World News Database

Provided below is a great video tutorial offered by the Jaffrey Public Library in New Hampshire on how to use NewsBank Access World News. The only difference between the information in this video and your experience will be how you access NewsBank through your library’s website. Once you find NewsBank on your library’s site, you will be taken to NewsBank and share the same user experience as featured in the video.    

When you’re on the Access World News’ site, don’t overlook its unique, intuitive map-based interface, which enables users to easily target their research to a geographic area. For example, let’s say you know that your grandfather died in Illinois; however, you don’t know where, when or in what newspaper his obituary was published. Rather than search the entire worldwide database, use the map feature to narrow your search to newspapers located in Illinois. 

Give it a try. Happy hunting for a bit of your family’s history!


Genealogy Means Family. Ladies Relaxed Fit V-Neck Sports T-Shirt
Genealogy, It’s All About Family; Fruit of the Loom Unisex Basic T-shirt
Packrat, Ladies Semi-Fitted Tank Top

Cryptic Headstone Puzzles Visitors

Genealogists, family researchers, Find A Grave volunteers, and cemetery visitors will sometimes stumble upon an unusual headstone, one that leaves you scratching your head. Perhaps it displays an unfamiliar symbol or includes an inscription that is written in a language other than English.  

But this headstone stands out from the rest — it is a literal puzzle. Henrietta and Susanna Bean’s monument, which marks the side-by-side burying place of the two wives of Samuel Bean, stands in the Rushes Cemetery in Wellesley, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Original Monument from 1867

Inscribed on the monument is a cryptogram that is 15 letters across and 15 down, carved on a white marble stone. A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text. Generally, the cipher used to encrypt the text is simple enough that the cryptogram can be solved by hand. But this secret message remained unsolved for 80 years. 

The Bean Family Biography

Genealogy research has revealed some interesting biographical information about Rev. Samuel G. Bean, M.D. and his family. 

Samuel G. Bean was the son of Abraham Bean (sometimes spelled Biehn or Beau) and Susannah Graybill. He was born March 24, 1842, at Huron, Canada West, Canada. 

He lived and studied for a time in Pennsylvania, where his mother was born. It was in Pennsylvania where Samuel enlisted on Aug. 5, 1862, for the Civil War. He was mustered out on Aug. 12, 1862, as a private in the 129th Pennsylvania Regiment, Company “C” Infantry. 

In 1863, he married Henrietta Furry. Henrietta was born June 9, 1842, in Philadelphia. Following the wedding, the couple left the country and moved to Canada. Henrietta died there on Sept. 27, 1865. Henrietta Bean’s funeral card was also a puzzle, with 19 letters across and 19 down. It read: 

“In memoriam Henriettah Furry Bean Born in Penn. married in Philadelphia to Samuel Bean, M.D. and went with him to Canada leaving all her friends behind – Died in Linwood the 27th of Sep. 1865 after an illness of 11 weeks, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days, she was a model wife, 1 of 1000 – much regretted by her sorrowing husband and all who knew her – Lived a Godly life for 5 years and died happy in the Lord – Peace be to her ashes – So mote it be”

Samuel married his second wife, Susanna Clegg, daughter of William Clegg and Rachel Irwin, on July 16, 1866, at Perth, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Susanna H.A.T.E.R. Bean. Mrs. Susanna (Clegg) Bean died during childbirth on April 27, 1867, at age 26.  

Notice Samuel’s fascination with letters and the initials he incorporated into his children’s names. 

For some years, Samuel taught school, and then he decided to enter the medical profession. His medical card appeared March 8, 1867, “Samuel Bean M.D. Graduate of the Eclectric College of Pennsylvania is now permanently located in Linwood and prepared to practice Physic Surgery and Midwifery.” He practiced medicine for a short time before becoming a Wesleyan Methodist minister. 

Samuel left Canada in 1867, traveling with his infant daughter and settling in Rome, Oneida, New York. It was in New York, where he was active in the Methodist Conference and met his third wife, Anna Maria Wankmiller, daughter of Ludwig Friederich Wankmiller and Jacobena. The couple married in 1871. 

Rev. Samuel Bean, M.D. and his wife, Anna, had four children: Samuel S.A.L.E.M. Bean, Caroline D.O.R.N. Bean, Maria M.A.C.E. Bean, and Jesse A. Bean. 

As a self-described “Preacher of Gospel,” in 1885, the family moved westward and made their home in Larchwood, Lyon county, Iowa. Rev. Bean was active in the Iowa Methodist Conference. It was also in Iowa where his youngest son, Jesse, was  born. 

The family eventually moved to Bronson, Levy, Florida, their last home. He practiced medicine there and was engaged in fruit farming. On Jan. 28, 1904, on a return trip from Cuba, the boat he was sailing in capsized and he was lost at sea. It was reported that all efforts to recover the body were made, but to no avail. 

Anna Maria (Wankmiller) Bean died a few months after her husband, on June 14, 1904. 

Solving the Puzzle  

To solve the 225-alphanumeric epitaph on Henrietta and Susanna’s monument, one must read the entire inscription in a spiral fashion, recognize that some letters in words are displayed zig-zag between two lines, and accept some spelling discrepancies unique to the period it was written. 

According to legend, the monument was first decoded by a cemetery caretaker, John Hammond, in 1947. However, he never revealed the answer. In the 1970s, a 94-year-old woman solved the code and revealed the message lovingly written by Samuel for his two wives, and eventually to those that could decipher it. 

A New Monument

The epitaph on the headstone drew many curious visitors over the years. Unfortunately, the countless rubbings of the inscription, along with the weather and softer marble material, caused the inscription to become almost entirely illegible.  

So, the Wellesley Township and Wellesley Historical Society decided to have a replica made. Unveiled in a ceremony on Oct. 17, 1982, the new monument is made of a more durable gray granite. The letters are blackened, so anyone wishing to read and solve the puzzle can do so with greater ease, without causing additional harm to the original monument. 

WARNING: Read no farther if you would rather decipher the code yourself. Scroll up and look at the headstone again. 


To solve the puzzle, begin on the seventh character of the seventh row down and read in a spiral fashion. To help you get started, I have highlighted the names of both wives. Beware, the zig-zagging pattern becomes a bit more complicated at each corner of the spiral. 

The inscription reads: 

“In memoriam Henrietta, 1st wife of S. Bean, M.D., who died 27th Sep. 1865, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days, and Susanna his 2nd wife who died 27th April, 1867, aged 26 years, 10 months and 15 days. 2 better wives 1 man never had, they were gifts from God but are now in Heaven. May God help me, S.B., to meet them there. READER MEET US IN HEAVEN.”


  • Vol I A Biographical History of Waterloo Township and other townships of the county : being a history of the early settlers and their descendants; mostly all of Pennsylvania Dutch origin…, 257.
  • Census, marriage and other records used to create a Bean family tree on Ancestry
  • Find A Grave, memorial ID129674485


Your Guide to Cemetery Research, By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Cemetery Iconography: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism, by Cassidy Madariaga
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards, by Tui Snider and H.E. Cameron

RootsTech 2022 Free Virtual Event Just Announced

Mark your calendars and hold these dates so you can participate in the FREE virtual RootsTech 2022 genealogy event, hosted by FamilySearch International.

Due to continued concerns regarding COVID and its impact on an international event, RootsTech 2022 will be held virtually on March 3-5, 2022. Everyone is welcome to participate.

RootsTech is a global family history event where people of all ages learn to discover, share, and celebrate their family connections across generations through technology. At RootsTech, there is something for everyone, no matter your experience in family history or your skill level in technology.

Here is the video announcement about next year’s event.

A call for content (presentations and exhibitors) is opening soon.

You can receive updates all year long by following RootsTech on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. You can also visit their website.

Questions? Contact RootsTech at


Unofficial Guide to How to Find Your Family History on the World’s Largest Free Genealogy Website, by Dana McCullough, Paperback, Aug. 4, 2020
Mom’s Journal: What I Want You to Know About Me and My Life, Hardcover, by Jennifer Basye Sander
Dad’s Journal: What I Want You to Know About Me and My Life, Hardcover, by Jennifer Basye Sander

Genetic Genealogy May ID Three Infants Pulled from River

Minnesota criminal investigators are hoping that new DNA analysis and genetic genealogy will lead to the identification of three infants pulled from the Mississippi river over a period of several years. The three cases are among 56 unidentified person cases in that state.

Baby Girl “Jamie”

Composite image of Jamie, NamUS Case #UP4795

It was Nov. 4, 1999, when the body of a 6-pound, full-term baby girl was found by a fisherman in the water approximately 10 yards north of the Mississippi River shore, near 800 Levee Drive, Red Wing, Minnesota.

The Caucasian girl had straight, brown hair, dark eyes, and measured 21 inches.

The girl, named “Jamie” by Minnesota investigators, was found wrapped in a towel with its umbilical cord still attached. The infant was born alive and believed to have been in the water for a week or two.

Jamie’s case was instrumental in Minnesota becoming one of the first states to enact a “safe haven” law. The Safe Place for Newborns law, enacted in 2000, allows a mother, or someone with their permission, to legally leave an unharmed newborn, no more than 7 days old, with an ambulance, hospital or healthcare facility that provides urgent care, without fear of prosecution for abandonment.

Baby Boy “Corey”

Composite image of Corey, NamUS Case #UP4794

Four years later, on Dec. 7, 2003, a 7-pound baby boy with curly, black hair, and dark eyes, was discovered by four teenage girls in Old Frontenac, Minnesota, approximately 10 miles downstream from Red Wing. The infant was found on the edge of Lake Pepin.

The coroner estimated the child, who authorities named “Corey”, was four or five days old when he died. A DNA test showed that Jamie, the first baby discovered, and Corey are genetically related maternally.

Baby Girl “Abby”

Composite image of Abby, NamUS Case #UP4796

Oddly, another four years had passed when on March 26, 2007, a third infant, who has been named “Abby,” was discovered. Her decomposed remains were found by two casino employees in the Buffalo Slough of the Mississippi River at the Treasure Island Marina (Slip 36, Dock C).

The infant was near term or term and had no apparent congenital abnormalities. She weighed 6 lbs. and measured 21 inches.

The girl may have been in the water for either a few weeks or perhaps as early as the previous fall/winter of 2006. The cold temperatures and ice in the river may have affected decomposition and prolonged discovery.

Abby was of Caucasian descent, and may have also been of Hispanic or Native American ancestry. According to law enforcement, the child was not from the Prairie Island Indian community, a Mdewakanton Sioux Indian reservation in Goodhue County, Minnesota. The child is also unrelated to the first two children.

Cause of Death and Burials

The children are buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Red Wing. Find A Grave #181825875 (Jamie), #181825808 (Corey), #181825834 (Abby)

No cause of death could be determined for any of the children. Among the unanswered questions is whether the infants were victims of homicide or abandoned.

A generous and compassionate couple from Red Wing paid for the burials of the three children. They lie next to their stillborn daughter.

DNA Testing

DNA samples were collected by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for each child when they were discovered. It was the initial DNA profiles that concluded the first two children were related.

Now, with more advanced DNA testing, access to public DNA databases (including GedMatch), and the skills of genetic genealogists, investigators are more optimistic that they will be able to eventually identify the infants and their mothers.

Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office put out a call in August 2020 to raise funds to cover the $5,000 per child cost of having Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs perform the new genetic DNA analysis and to work with genetic genealogy researchers.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, investigators with the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office have already received some new leads as a result of the analysis that they are working on. Anyone with information about the cold cases is urged to contact the sheriff’s office at 651-385-3155.


  • National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUS provides technology, forensic services, and investigative support to resolve missing person and unidentified remains cases. They created the composite drawings of the three infants based on forensic data. The images are aged to resemble what they would have looked like if they would have lived to be a few months old.
  • Safe Place for Newborns law, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  •, Pioneer Press


AVERY 8-Tab Plastic Pocket Dividers for Genealogy Supplies, Insertable Multicolor, 3 Sets
File Folder Tabs, Selizo 100 Sets Hanging File Folder Labels, 2″ Tabs and Inserts
Amazon Basics Expanding Accordion Organizer File Folders, Letter Size, 25-pack.

Volunteers Needed: Transcribing Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Volunteers who have an interest in genealogy, post-American Civil War history, or the African American experience during the Reconstruction Era are needed to help transcribe the thousands of pages of handwritten letters, telegrams, and reports of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Other records to be transcribed include reports and communications about the post-Civil War Freedmen’s relief efforts, hospitals, vaccination programs, establishment of the schools (including names of schools, teachers and superintendents), labor programs, etc.

Sample Transcription, Pages 71 and 72 of the Louisiana Education Correspondence

Transcription work will also include letters and reports sent directly to the Commissioner in Washington and his subordinates regarding developments occurring in the field offices, as well as problems encountered…from lack or delay of funds promised, desperate pleas for food and medicine, shortages of school supplies, misuse of public resources, confiscation of lands, unpaid teachers, disciplinary matters, disputes, and even murders

These extremely interesting and historically significant records are considered to be the richest and most extensive documentary source for interpreting the African American experience in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.

History of the Freedmen’s Bureau

On March 3, 1865, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (commonly referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau) to help rebuild the South and transition the 4 million newly freed Blacks from slavery to a free-labor society.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was placed under the authority of the War Department and organized into districts that covered the 11 former Confederate southern states; the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia; and Washington, D.C. A majority of the bureau’s initial district commissioners and agents were former Civil War soldiers.

The purpose of the bureau was to provide practical aid and relief to the tens of thousands of former Black slaves and impoverished white individuals in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Civil War had decimated the communities, farms, and homesteads in the South, as well as the plantation-based economy. Millions of people were dislocated, faced starvation, and left with only the clothes on their backs.

The duties of the Freedmen’s Bureau included supervision of all affairs relating to refugees, freedmen, and legal custody of abandoned lands and property during the Reconstruction Era. They provided food and clothing, operated hospitals, established refugee camps, helped locate and reunite family members, and built or converted old buildings into schools to ensure everyone could receive an education.

Freedmen’s Bureau School established in north Florida

The Freedmen’s Bureau also provided new citizen services directly to the freed slaves in terms of legalizing marriages, legal representation, investigating racial disputes, negotiating labor contracts, securing military pay and pensions for Black veterans, and settling individuals on abandoned or confiscated lands.

One of the major accomplishments of the Freedmen’s Bureau was the building of thousands of schools for Black children, and the founding of colleges such as Howard University in Washington, D.C., Fisk University in Nashville in Tennessee, and Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.

Freedmen’s Bureau Black College

The Freedmen’s Bureau was originally intended to last only a year, but after much political debate, continued until the summer of 1872.

Start Contributing Today!

Become a Smithsonian Digital Volunteer and help make historical documents, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau records, more accessible.

Work virtually, side-by-side with hundreds of other Smithsonian “volunpeers” who collaboratively index and transcribe millions of records each year. The Freedmen’s Bureau records were previously indexed and are currently available to search online through popular genealogy websites. The present effort is to transcribe the actual handwritten documents.

Get started now at the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. Historical societies, community groups, and other organizations are encouraged to host Transcribe-A-Thons to get their members involved in a burst of transcription work.  


Amazon Basics Legal Pads, Pink, Orchid & Blue Color Paper, 6-Pack
Pendaflex Hanging File Folders Letter Size, Assorted Colors, 1/5-Cut Adjustable Tabs, 25 Per Box
Ktrio Sheet Protectors, 8.5 x 11 inches, Clear Page Protectors for 3-ring Binders, Top-Loading Letter Size, 100 Pack

Embrace Your Irish Heritage: Jameson Employee Records

More than one million Jameson whiskey employee records have been released and are free to access through during July 2021.

May the “Luck of the Irish” be with you during your search through this treasure trove of Irish family history. and Irish Distillers, producer of some of the world’s best-loved Irish whiskeys, teamed up to share Jameson’s employee records. Ancestry’s staff traveled to Midleton and digitized the Jameson’s extensive collection of oversize record books. The official title of the collection on is: “Ireland, Jameson Distillery Staff Wage and Employment Books, 1862-1969.”

These historic records include detailed weekly wage books, with employee names, occupation, hours worked, and wages paid, spanning 100 years. To protect the privacy of living former employees, the personal details in these records are currently available only through 1937.

The employee records are considered historically significant for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they may be the only surviving records for the individuals listed in the earliest volumes. Civil registration of births did not began until 1864, and later records were destroyed in the bombing of the Four Courts in 1922.

Workers pictured at Jameson’s Bow Street Cooperage. Source: Irish Central

The Jameson Distillery Bow Street (informally the Jameson Distillery) was established in 1780. It was originally named The Steins Family Bow Street Distillery, up until a Scotsman by the name of John Jameson stepped off the boat in Ireland and changed the Irish whisky business forever. Jameson became the general manager of the distillery in 1786.

At its peak, the Bow Street Distillery was described as a “city within a city.” In addition to the distillery, the Jameson complex housed a Smithy, cooperage, saw mills, engineers, carpenters, painters, and coppersmiths’ shops. Cellars were dug underneath the streets to store the maturing whiskey.

In 1976, the company opened it’s New Middleton Distillery; and whiskey production was relocated to that facility. As a result, the Bow Street Distillery was closed. Today, the original Bow Street Distillery is an Irish whiskey tourist attraction located just off Smithfield Square in Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, it is temporarily closed due to COVID guidelines issued by that country.


Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (2019), by John Grenham
Grasslands Road Celtic Irish Soda Bread Handled Dish with Soda Bread Recipe
Grasslands Road Celtic 10-ounce “Hersef” Irish Coffee Mug, Gift Boxed

Genealogist Helps Solve “Bundled Toddler” Case

In 1963, the concealed body of a young child was discovered in the mountains east of Ashland, Oregon. Now, nearly 60 years later, that child has been identified with the aid of genetic genealogy. 

In July of 1963, a 65-year-old man had gone fishing at the Keene Creek Reservoir, located along Greensprings Highway east of Ashland. While fishing he hooked a small wrapped bundle.

On the outside of the bundle was a patchwork quilt, which was tightly bound with wire and connected to iron molds, obviously intended to be weights.

When the fisherman opened the bundle, he found a blanket wrapped around an object. Once he removed the blanket, he discovered a fully clothed body of a small boy still wearing his shoes.  

An autopsy was performed and the death was ruled a homicide. However, the precise cause of death was not determined. The toddler was believed to be between 1 and 2 years old, and had been dead for less than a year.  

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) made several attempts to identify the boy. They tried to identify where his clothing had been purchased. He had been wearing a red, long-sleeve pullover shirt with thin white stripes, gray corduroy trousers, and a cloth diaper with blue diaper pins and covered by plastic pants. 

They tried to match the child’s footprints with those of newborns at local hospitals about the time he would have been born. They also investigated many tips, reports, and letters. But, eventually the case went cold. 

The boy was buried in a small white casket at Hillcrest Memorial Park, in Medford, Oregon.

His headstone was inscribed “Unknown Baby Boy, 1961-1963.”

Over subsequent years, dozens of sheriffs, detectives, and deputies with the JCSO, Oregon State Police, and FBI had re-worked the cold case to no avail. 

In 2007, JCSO volunteer special Investigator Jim Tattersal took on the task of reviving the Keene Creek Case. He examined old boxes of evidence and case files looking for any possible evidence that may have been overlooked or to which new forensic science could be applied.  

In 2008, investigators had the boy’s tiny body exhumed for the purposes of extracting a DNA sample, performing dental identification, and skeletonizing the remains for analysis and potential facial reconstruction. During this process, signs of congenital defects in the child’s remains were revealed, and the forensic anthropologist concluded he likely had Down syndrome.  

Unfortunately, the only DNA database that was available in 2008 was the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which didn’t return any matches. However, the boy’s DNA profile remained in the system and was available for missing children searches. The unidentified boy’s remains were reburied, and the case remained unsolved. 

In 2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created a composite image of the boy. The hope was that the image and case information might jog someone’s memory. But, it too generated no solid leads resulting in his identification.    

In 2020, the big break in the case happened. Oregon’s Human Identification Program submitted the child’s DNA sample to Parabon NanoLabs with the goal of using phenotyping, the GEDMatch open-source database, and genetic genealogy to narrow in on an identity of the child. 

CeCe Moore

This is where CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist who has appeared on many TV shows, including The Genetic Detective, got involved in the case. Moore heads the Parabon NonoLabs genetic genealogical unit. 

Moore found two potential siblings of the unidentified child. That led investigators to speak with one of the child’s maternal half-brothers. During the interview, he told investigators that he had a sibling born with Down syndrome in New Mexico. He also said that when he was a child, his mother and brother had left on a trip. When she returned, she was alone. A birth certificate identified the child as Stevie Crawford, born Oct. 2, 1960

Unfortunately, the exact cause of Stevie’s death will never be known. Nor will we know how this innocent toddler’s body ended up discarded in a river in Oregon. According to the sheriff’s office, all potential suspects in Stevie’s death are deceased. 

Stevie’s relatives plan to have his remains returned from Oregon to New Mexico to be buried in the family plot.  

Create your website with
Get started