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NicknamesTracking down records in your genealogical research is one the biggest challenges to solving family history mysteries. Different spellings of specific names, the spontaneous changing of last names, and transcription errors can make the process even more complex. One area that many researchers encounter is the challenge of nicknames. If an ancestor had a nickname, it can sometimes be used interchangeably with their given name which can complicate the process of tracking down specific records or information. Here’s a closer look at some tips to navigate around this issue and how to approach it in your research when you think a nickname may be muddying your research.

How nicknames enter the discussion

Nicknames can be used on genealogical records for any number of reasons. In some cases, a family gives a child a formal name to honor a relative or religious figure, but calls them by a different name at all times. For example, in some cultures many children named Maria are actually called by their middle name. The person in question may end up using their nickname on formal documents. When family members are reporting information such as providing household details to a census taker verbally, they may refer casually to a sibling or child by a nickname or term of endearment. Think of how you refer to loved ones via nicknames and it’s easy to see how this comes into play.

Identifying when nicknames might be the culprit

There are some obvious cases in your genealogical research when nicknames might become important. Longer names tends to be reduced to their diminutive forms. Elizabeth quickly becomes Betsy, William is referred to as Will or Bill. Specific nicknames fall in and out of favor during certain periods, and there are often variations related to ethnicity, geography, and more. For example, Alexandra could be shortened to Alex, Andi, Sandra, Sandy, Alexa, or Allie (or numerous other variations). Because today’s digitized research archives are keyword based, it’s important to figure out if a nickname could be at the root of your struggles to track down information about specific ancestors.

How to find nicknames

When you’re having difficulty finding records related to an ancestor or puzzling out who “Polly” is when you’re expecting to find a “Mary,” consider whether a nickname could be the cause. Start by brainstorming all the common nicknames associated with a specific name that you can come up with. Vary the spelling. Lizzy, Lizzie, and Lizzi could all be viable depending on the details. For more inspiration, consult baby name books or online lists of nicknames. For example, in the example above, Polly was once a common nickname for Mary but not something that occurs to many modern researchers. The more variations you develop, the more widely you can search to put the pieces together. Consulting diverse sources can help you be creative, and may lead to the breakthrough you need to find an elusive ancestor.

Are you struggling with aspects of your genealogical research? A professional genealogist can help. Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.

Genealogy MysteriesNothing brings genealogy to life for researchers like staring into the face of a long gone ancestor. Often, it’s a small detail – perhaps the expression on their face or the resemblance that they bear to a loved one. Regardless of what captured your interest, old family photos are a treasure that helps connect past and present generations. They can hold even more meaning if you’re able to identify who is featured in the photograph. Here are five strategies that researchers can use to learn more about who might have been captured in family photographs.

Look for written clues and ask older relatives

In some cases, identifying a family photo may be as simple as flipping it over. Start your search for more information by looking on the photograph itself – including the back – for details. Names, dates, or locations can all be helpful even if you aren’t able to make an immediate association between that information and a specific person. Another strategy is asking older living relatives, who may recall what certain ancestors looked like or have seen the photos before.

Consider the context

Archeologists discuss “context” when learning more about the artifacts that they uncover. Basically, where was the item when it was found? In the case of family photos, context could refer to an album that might contain written information beneath or near the photo. It can also be helpful to note which photos are near each other, as there may be relationships between the people or they could be chronological photos of the same person. If the photos were uncovered in another way such as near specific letters or papers, the proximity between documents may offer clues.

Determine the type of photo

Photography has evolved significantly since it first developed. Understanding what type of photograph an image is offers hints as to the period it was taken. Daguerreotypes were common from 1839 until the early 1870s. Cabinet cards were more common from 1866 until the early 20th century. Color photos weren’t typically available until the 1940s, and weren’t widely available until the 1960s. A photography expert can help you determine what type of photograph you’ve got.

Look for a photographer’s imprint

Many photographers listed details on their work such as their name, business name, city, or an imprint (like a logo) of their business on each image they took. Check the image front and back, as well as any case or frame, for this information. If you can find it, researching details of the business can give you signs regarding the time period and location that the photograph was taken.

Play visual detective

Another way to gather information regarding family photos is to play visual detective. What can you learn about the people in the photo by looking at the scene and setting? Was the image taken at a hard scrabble farm, for example, or in a lush sitting room? Focusing on personal details of the people in the picture such as hair style, clothing, specific clothing styles and jewelry can also provide insights into when a photograph was taken. Any belongings or decorations in the picture can also be helpful.

With all this information, you’ll often be able to narrow down the time period, general life circumstances, and other information of the people in your family photographs. Compare this information to the other details you have, and you’re likely to make important progress in identifying who is in the photo – or at least developing a hypothesis. Do you need assistance with research related to visual evidence or other genealogy projects? Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.

Digitized Genealogical RecordsThe process of getting genealogical records digitized is one of the most important technological innovations that has impacted the practice of genealogy today. Research no longer requires traveling around the world and visiting distant libraries or waiting weeks for reply by mail in order to get insights and original records. Increasingly, all kinds of collections from global sources – from ship’s passenger manifests to European Parish records – are being digitized and becoming searchable through subscription databases, free resources like or paid services like The development in genealogical technology is making it easier for amateur genealogists to conduct research and more efficient for professional genealogists to conduct client projects quickly and affordably.

The scale of the effort

The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the resource and its related entities. The LDS Church has taken a leading role in the preservation of genealogical records, up to and including capturing an estimated 5 billion records over the last eighty years. Some of the records in question are captured on microfilm. Others, more recently, have been digitized. Today, FamilySearch and other organizations are partnering – including some major recognizable brands such as Ancestry and MyHeritage – are teaming up to accelerate the pace at which records are digitized and collected.
How records are digitized

Often, records are digitized by volunteers or professional genealogists that use an indexing system to transcribe the genealogical records. Indexing projects are organized in the following way. A collection of documents is outlined for digitization. For example, the list could be Maine state birth records from 1910 to 1920 or military records of the Civil War registrations from California. Those documents are then digitally scanned. If they’re from an era with variable handwriting, it’s much more difficult and often impossible to use scanning technology and original character recognition software to automatically transcribe those records.

Instead, a human volunteer needs to read and interpret the record. Each collection will be broken down into batches which can be easily completed in a short amount of time. The indexer is shown an image of the file, and then asked to key in each field to an indexing system. The indexing system then uploads the documents to a central database. Over time, those records become integrated with searchable databases.

Right now, the effort is being led by FamilySearch and is focusing on the existing 5 billion records (and growing) collection. In a recent interview, a manager affiliated with the program estimated that there are an additional 10 billion records from North America, South America, and Europe to be collected and digitized. More than 60 billion exist worldwide.

If you’re regularly using online or subscription databases as part of your genealogical work, the background on how diverse historical collections are digitized can help add context to your experience. Often, knowing which database or collection to target can vastly expedite your research.
Are you interested in hiring a professional genealogist? Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation, including learn more about digitized genealogical records and how they can help in your search.

Difficult Family HistoryThere comes a time in every genealogist’s research when they uncover a potentially difficult piece of history. Details vary – sometimes a beloved family story turns out to be unfounded, or an ancestor was convicted of a serious crime. Whatever details come to light, it can sometimes be enough to leave a researcher reeling and trying to find his or her equilibrium again to move forward with the work. One of the essential ways to approach these situations is to put on your research cap and make sure the details are appropriately contextualized to help you make sense of what you’re learning. Here’s a quick checklist for how to proceed when you discover a genealogical surprise.

Ensure your documentation is in order

One of the first things to keep in mind when you uncover unexpected information is to make sure you have all your information clearly outlined. Have you gathered all the possible documentation to help you really assess the story of what happened? Consider for example that you find out an ancestor served time in prison. The circumstances could be fairly benign. They may have been locked up for a short time due to a debt or a public disagreement. Of course, the charges may be much more serious. But gather all the information that you can find – including court records – to help you really understand the nuance and complexities of the situation.

Try to understand the historical context

Even if you find that an ancestor of yours had life events that you’re struggling to accept, make sure that your research takes into account the historical context. Someone convicted of theft may have been living in extreme poverty and trying to provide for their family, for example. If you determine that an ancestor was born out of wedlock, are there societal reasons that could explain why this fact was covered up? Throughout history and throughout our own family lines, there’s a wide range of people who are both good and bad. But the societal norms, pressures, and challenges of their lifetimes were often extreme and can sometimes help put specific life decisions and circumstances into perspective.

Determine what’s upsetting to you

If you’ve gathered all the research and historical context to understand the story and you’re still troubled by it, it’s important to determine what’s bothering you. For example, if your research upended a popular family tale, you may be struggling with a shift in your identity. If you determined that you’re directly descended from someone who was convicted of murder or another serious crime, it may be challenging your ability to imagine anyone in your family could commit such a crime. By determining what’s upsetting you, you’ll be better able to work through it and determine what kind of support is best. Should you lay this particular piece of family history aside? Explore it more in-depth with other family members to find acceptance? Find a professional to discuss your concerns with?

A professional genealogist can help you navigate how best to process and contextualize information that you’ve found. Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation and to discuss your work for a genealogist on our team.

Writing Family HistoryWriting a family history can be a great way to capture all the information that you’ve worked on in your genealogical research. It’s also a great strategy to concisely convey the story of your family’s development over time in a way that’s easy to share with others – from members of your extended family to other genealogists and historians. But developing a family history, whether you write an entire book or you develop a more free flowing heritage album, is a significant amount of work. Here are some general guidelines to help you get started with conceptualizing your project.

Determine a scope of work

The starting point for any family history is determining a scope of work. It would be impossible to write one book that comprehensively covered everything you know. Instead, decide on a specific scope of work for the project. Do you want to document the life and times of one very specific, interesting ancestor? Perhaps you could tell the tale of your family’s migration to the United States? Or maybe you want to broadly develop a resource that explores the history of one family line or one geographic/historical location? The more clearly you determine what you’re trying to accomplish, the easier it will be to map out your narrative and select the right sources.

Think about your style choices

Even though a family history is a factual work of non-fiction, there are numerous ways to approach it. Will you use a story style or a more academic tone when approaching your project? Part of what drives your style choices can be determined by what you’re trying to accomplish. Is your goal to share your family stories or to provide a resource for other researchers? Determining who your audience is and how you’d like the project to help them, educate them, or entertain them will give you a good idea of the best style to use.

Use and track a variety of sources

A family history needs to strike the balance between providing a good story or reading experience and documenting the facts. Consider what sources you’ll use. Many writers incorporate oral histories, photographs, and more traditional genealogical research documentation. The important part is that as you incorporate sources, you have a clear plan for how to document and record them. In text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies are all options – sometimes in combination. Choose one approach and follow it throughout the text.

Consider working with a professional

Writing a family history can be a major undertaking. At various points, a professional may offer valuable assistance. Consulting with a professional genealogist can help you make important choices about what to cover, reflect on your text, or streamline your sourcing. An editor or copyeditor can proofread the document to give you the confidence of knowing that the text is clean and error-free.

Do you need help developing a plan for writing up your family history? Contact Price & Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.