December 30, 2013

Final Days for Family Tree DNA Sale

Here’s a quick reminder that there are just two days remaining in the Family Tree DNA holiday sale. If you’ve been thinking about ordering a DNA test kit for yourself or someone in your family, you might want to take advantage of these special prices, good through midnight CST on December 31, 2013:

Family Finder: $99, including a voucher worth $100. Family Finder is an autosomal DNA test, which looks at your genetic makeup “to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations,” according to the company's website. It’s good for both males and females. The voucher, which can be delivered immediately via email or shipped with the test kit, brings your net cost down to zero—a great deal if you like to eat out! (The test price itself will continue to be $99 after January 1.)

Y-DNA 37: $119 (discounted from $169). Available only for males, Y-DNA tests give results regarding the ancestral origins of your direct paternal line (father, father’s father, father’s father’s father, and so on). If you’re a female, you can ask your father, brother, father’s brother, or male cousin or nephew with your surname to take the test. Check to see if there’s a surname project you can join (they’re free) for help with finding genetic cousins. 

Full mtDNA: $169 (discounted from $199). Both males and females can use the mtDNA test to reveal the ancestral origins of their direct maternal line (mother, mother’s mother, mother’s mother’s mother, and so on) deep into history.

Combination tests are also on sale, as are upgrades if you’ve tested previously but want to refine your results. If you tested your autosomal DNA with another company and would like to upload your data to Family Tree DNA, the cost is now only $49. I did this with my test results.

Family Tree DNA test kit (from website)
I’ve ordered several of these tests for family members in the last couple of weeks. I’m not affiliated with Family Tree DNA in any way and haven’t received anything for mentioning their sale, but I recommend the company. The sale prices are displayed on the Family Tree DNA home page, so you can't miss them. No coupon or promotion code is necessary. Testing simply involves scraping the inside of your cheek for a minute or so. It's quick and painless.

If you’d like to know more about genetic genealogy, I suggest you follow The Legal Genealogist, written by Judy G. Russell, to keep up with DNA news and other genealogy-related issues. She's summarized recent developments in "2013 Look-Back: DNA." Her blog is a wealth of information, and always an excellent read.


December 29, 2013

A Sense of Family's Top 5 Posts of 2013

How in the world did 2013 manage to go by so fast? Life seems to be running at warp speed lately. It’s been a year full of learning and discoveries, including some breakthroughs in my personal and professional research. I haven’t been blogging quite as much in recent months, due to an increased workload, but please know that I continue to treasure each one of my readers. Thank you for viewing, commenting on, and sharing my posts throughout the year.

Today, it gives me great pleasure to share the top five posts on A Sense of Family for 2013:

OGS 2013 Conference: Day One  (28 April 2013)

If you missed any of these the first time around, I hope you can find time to enjoy them now. I look forward to bringing you more family history research tips, tools, reviews, and stories in 2014. Best wishes for a happy new year!

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December 24, 2013

Wishing You a Merry Little Christmas

Christmas is a time for gathering together with friends and family, thinking about those we love who may be far away, and counting our blessings as we approach the end of another year. Irving Berlin wrote this for the 1954 movie White Christmas, which my family traditionally watches every Christmas Eve, and I think it’s a great sentiment:

If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep
Counting your blessings

This year I’m blessed to be spending Christmas with three generations of family: my husband’s parents, my sisters- and brothers-in-law, my three children and five nieces and nephews. After all these years, the “in-law” part has melted away; this is my family, too. Everyone managed to make it this year, which makes it all the more special.

Today will be a busy one: wrapping the last presents, picking up the party trays, shopping for stocking stuffers, and going to Christmas Eve service at church. Tonight there’ll be nineteen of us gathered for a Christmas Eve party featuring Dale’s homemade shrimp and corn soup, sandwiches, veggies, cheeses, dips, and Christmas cookies. You can bet we’ll have the Christmas tunes cranked up and the wine flowing.

I love Christmas Eve, because it’s the day when all the preparations give way to the actual celebration of Christmas. I always try to pause and let it soak in for a moment. Whatever problems or sorrows we face, whatever undone tasks linger on our work lists, whatever challenges or decisions lie ahead, can all be set aside for now.

On Christmas morning, we’ll converge for presents around the tree. Here are tangible blessings: boxes upon boxes wrapped in paper, ribbon, and bows. I’m excited to see my husband and kids open the gifts I got them, because I have a couple of surprises under that tree for them. There’s a certain degree of mayhem that comes with so many people opening presents at the same time, but it’s a sweet one.

Christmas night, we’ll come together again for a feast, Whoville-style, of roast beef, potatoes, and all the trimmings. Blessings in abundance.

I hope, wherever you are and whoever you’re with, that you enjoy a Christmas brimming with blessings this year. I’ll leave you with this wish, beautifully sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, for a holiday filled with happiness:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Wishing the happiest of holidays to you and yours!

December 17, 2013

Ohio Vital Records on FamilySearch: Tuesday's Tip

Marion county ohio courthouse genealogy

FamilySearch is wrapping up a banner year of digitizing genealogical records. They’ve made significant additions to their six Ohio vital records databases in 2013:

The result is that you’re more likely than ever before to find either a reference to your ancestor’s Ohio birth, marriage, or death record or an actual image of it online. That’s great news. But what if you think a record should be in one of these databases, but it isn’t? Maybe you’re almost positive your great-great-grandparents got married in Knox County, Ohio, in the 1870s, but can’t find any mention of their record in either of the marriage databases.

Well, the adage that it’s not all online is true. Not all records have been microfilmed, not all those microfilmed have been indexed, and not all those indexed have been digitized. So how do you know what is and isn’t included in the Ohio birth, marriage, and death databases? It takes a little digging, but you can find a coverage chart for at least some of them. Go to “Ohio, Deaths and Burials, 1854-1997” and click on “Learn More” under the description. Scroll down to where it says “Coverage Table” and click on the link for the Wiki article. Or click on this direct link to the FamilySearch Ohio historical records coverage table.

Here’s a snippet of what you’ll see:

Once you click through, you'll see the chart shows that no Knox County records are included in the “Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958” database. Now you know that you’ll need to find another way to access your great-great-grandparents’ record, either on microfilm or by contacting the county Probate Court. But keep checking back to the Ohio birth, death, and marriage databases listed above in 2014, because FamilySearch is continually adding to its collections, and the chart may not be updated to reflect new additions. In this brave new world of online accessibility, the record you’ve been waiting for might appear one day!


November 28, 2013

Grandma's Sugar Cream Pie: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, stories, and favorite dishes. It’s a rare Thanksgiving table, though, that doesn’t include some sort of pie. Thanksgiving and pie go together like, well, turkey and gravy. I always make pumpkin pie, spiced up with extra cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Other families roll out the apple, cherry, pecan, sweet potato, or lemon meringue pies. But my childhood Thanksgivings always featured my Grandma Ballenger’s specialty: sugar cream pie.

sugar cream pie Thanksgiving Pennsylvania Dutch

Nora (Eberhard) Ballenger’s parents came from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and when asked about her ancestry, all she could tell me was that her family was Pennsylvania Dutch. Sugar cream pie was one of her Thanksgiving staples, so naturally it became one of my favorites, too. She told me her mother, Mary (Comfort) Eberhard, used to make it when her jars of home-canned apples and other fruit ran out in the winter.

Grandma didn’t use a recipe when she cooked, and was at a bit of a loss when, as a young bride, I asked her to write it down for me. She said you just take a little flour, some sugar, and some milk and mix them together. Well, let’s just say my first efforts proved it’s not quite that simple. Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe to get it just the way I like it, creamy on the bottom with a milky layer on top and lots of nutmeg. It usually sets up just fine, but I still cross my fingers when I take it out of the oven.

Here, then, is the recipe I use for Grandma’s 
“Pennsylvania Dutch” Sugar Cream Pie:

Place a refrigerated pie crust in a deep dish glass pie plate and crimp edges (I use Pillsbury’s Pie Crusts). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together:  ½ cup flour
                                             1 cup sugar
Stir in until smooth:                1 cup whole or 2% milk
Pour mixture into unbaked pie crust. Gradually pour in another ½ cup or so of milk to fill and pull a fork through to gently mix (don’t stir with a spoon).
Cut into thin slivers:                ½-1 Tbsp. butter
Drop the slivers of butter onto the pie.
Sprinkle with:                          dashes of ground nutmeg

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 325 degrees, and bake another 40 minutes. Transfer carefully from oven. Pie may seem a little runny but will firm up as it cools. Refrigerate after cooling.

What pies are part of your Thanksgiving tradition? Whatever they are, I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable holiday, and hope you, like me, have much to be thankful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 22, 2013

Where I Was the Day JFK Died

November 22, 1963

I was too little to understand what was happening the day John F. Kennedy died, having just turned four. My family lived in a house across from Smith Road Elementary School on the south side of Columbus, Ohio. My friend Holly lived a couple of blocks away. I wanted to go down and play with her, but the rule was I had to call first (Smith Road was a busy street, and Mom had to walk me down). I had learned how to dial Holly’s number by sticking my finger into the holes on the circle, but that afternoon I couldn’t get a call through to her on our party line. Every time I picked up the receiver, people were already on there, talking and talking. The news on TV didn’t interest me, and I was frustrated. At some point, my mom must have gotten upset and told me to quit pouting, the President had died and I wasn’t going anywhere today.

When we watched the news coverage of JFK’s funeral a few days later, I was fascinated with Caroline, who was two years older than me. I thought she was pretty. She had a little brother, like me. I still didn't understand what happened, but I knew their daddy couldn't come home and play with them anymore. I was sad their daddy had died, and hoped my daddy wouldn’t die.

My mom was 22 then, and her memory of the day JFK died is a lot clearer. She was driving the car, with my brother and I in the back seat, when a special bulletin came over the radio announcing that President Kennedy had been shot. She had almost reached Town and County Shopping Center, but was so unsettled by the news that she turned around and drove home. She called my dad at Reeb’s Restaurant, then switched on our black-and-white TV. They were showing footage of the President in the car. It looked like he was ducking down. Then they announced he was dead.

Mom doesn’t remember me trying to call Holly, but thinks it was probably after we got home from our aborted shopping trip. Her mind, naturally, was on bigger matters by then. Kennedy’s death left her with a deep sorrow. She couldn’t understand why someone would want to kill him. He was doing so many good things. Two days later, Mom was watching the news on TV when she saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, live, right there on the screen in front of her. She was horrified. What would happen next? It seemed like the world was going to hell in a hand basket.

Mom says she didn’t feel like going out or doing anything for days after Kennedy died. When she did, it felt like a lot of the young, carefree feeling had gone out of her and the world.

My brother and I eating breakfast in our TV room, 1965

As small and insignificant as our individual memories may seem, they matter to us, and they’re worth preserving. As any family historian knows, someday they’ll help future generations understand us and our times. Collectively, our memories add up to the legacy of a nation. Think of how much of my mom’s memory, and even mine, is tied to the television. This was the first national tragedy to come into our homes on live TV. No wonder it shook the country to its core.

I'll be reading accounts of other people’s memories with interest today and in the days to come. I’ve also been watching some of the televised specials commemorating the life of John F. Kennedy and analyzing his assassination. The one that moved me the most, and gave me the best sense of what it was like to live through those days, is Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy on TLC. The program has already aired, but I imagine they’ll rebroadcast it at some point.

Fifty years later, I still think Caroline is pretty, and I wish her peace in remembering her father today.

Kennedy photo credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

November 14, 2013

How can you tell if your ancestor might have served?

I recently put together a list of veterans in my family tree, both as a tribute to their service and a reminder to myself to research them further in military records. Someone asked me how I could tell if an ancestor was the right age to have served in a U.S. war or conflict. This is a great question, because identifying potential service is a natural first step to finding an ancestor who did serve in the military.

Fortunately, Family Tree Magazine has an excellent War Service Reference Guide available as a free download on their website, It lists the dates of every American military engagement through World War II, starting with the Powhatan Wars of 1622-1644. There’s also a handy chart showing the range of birth years for men who could have served in each major conflict, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam. It’s a quick and indispensible one-page guide that I refer to often. To find it, click on “Research Toolkit” on the menu bar, then click on “Cheat Sheets.” Scroll down to “Record References” and you’ll find five offerings, one of which is the War Service Reference Guide.

Here’s a snapshot of the chart:

War Service Reference Guide

The information on the reference guide is taken from an article by Rick Crume that appeared in the November 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Thanks to Rick and the editors of the magazine for offering this great resource free of charge. I hope you find it as helpful in your research as I have in mine.


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November 10, 2013

Veterans in My Family Tree

Civil War flag Ohio Historical Society collection

For this Veteran’s Day, I’ve challenged myself to compile a master list of my ancestors who served in the military. I want to pull this information together both as a tribute and as a reference to the veterans I’m researching, organized by the war they fought in. When I read about a new military records database that’s just become available online, or discover a resource for researching a particular war, I’ll have a ready reminder of the names I want to search for. A side benefit is that compiling any list of this sort tends to expose gaps in my research, and reminds me of things I want to check into.

The veterans I’m researching in my family tree are:

Revolutionary War

Philip Roush (6th great-grandfather)
Born: 18 March 1841 in either Pennsylvania or Virginia
Died: 1 March 1820 in Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio
Served in: Dunmore County (Virginia) Militia under Capt. Jacob Holeman
Enlisted: 29 May 1775
Rank: Private
Spouse: Catharine Kelchner
DAR Ancestor Number: A098986
Pension Record: none known
Buried: Roush Cemetery, Cheshire, Ohio
Notes: Dunmore County is now Shenandoah County.

Jacob Roush (6th great-grandfather)
Born: 1746 in either Pennsylvania or Virginia
Died: March 1830 in Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio
Served in: Dunmore County (Virginia) Militia under Capt. Jacob Holeman
Enlisted: 29 May 1775
Rank: Private
Spouse: Catharine Fox or Fuchs
DAR Ancestor Number: A098978
Pension Record: none known
Buried: Roush Cemetery, Cheshire, Ohio
Notes: Jacob also fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War, before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, under Capt. John Tipton.

War of 1812
No ancestor currently known

Civil War

Newel King (3rd great-grandfather)
Born: 17 January 1838 in Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio
Died: 17 September 1896 in Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio
Served in: Company B, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Enlisted: 6 August 1862
Rank: Private
Spouse: Electa Roush
Pension Record: Invalid certificate #186,803; Widow’s certificate #436,094
Buried: Gravel Hill Cemetery, Cheshire, Ohio
Notes: Newel contracted measles during the war, resulting in hospitalization in the U.S. General Hospital in Gallipolis and a lifelong struggle with epilepsy.

John Steele (3rd great-grandfather)
Born: June 1826 in Wythe County, Virginia
Died: 28 April 1873 in West Columbia, Mason County, West Virginia
Served in: Company K, 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Enlisted: 16 October 1861
Rank: Private
Spouse: Mary Russell
Pension Record: Widow’s certificate #373,222
Buried: unknown
Notes: John was hospitalized due to illness in Huntsville, Alabama, and for the last year of his enlistment served as company cook. He suffered from weakness and disabilities after the war.

Ludwig Scheibel (2nd great-grandfather)
Born: 29 September 1839 in Germany
Died: 25 December 1910 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio
Served in: Company G, 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry
Enlisted: 23 May 1861
Rank: Private
Spouse: Paulina Trebtan or Treptau
Pension Record: Invalid certificate #27,522
Buried: Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
Notes: Ludwig also went by the American name “Louis.” He received a gunshot wound in battle at Chickasaw Bayou in late December 1862, and was given a disability discharge in April 1863.

World War I

Roy David Eberhard (great-uncle)
Born: 9 March 1894 in Allentown, Pennsylvania
Died: 6 September 1977 in Westerville, Ohio
Served in: 324th Field Artillery, U.S. Army
Enlisted: 5 October 1917
Rank: Private First Class
Spouse: Ethel Jewett
Pension Record: unknown
Buried: Union Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
Notes: Roy served in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Battle of Argonne Forest) on the Western front.

World War II

Dwight Charles Ballenger (great-uncle)
Born: 27 April 1916 in Westerville, Ohio
Died: 20 January 1990 in Westerville, Ohio
Enlisted: 22 December 1942
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Spouse: Betty Rosensteele
Pension Record: unknown
Buried: Otterbein Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio

Have you found a good way to keep track of the veterans in your family tree? If so, I’d like to hear how you do it. And if not, why not make a list like this for yourself? If you post it online, feel free to share a link in the comments section below.

Wishing every veteran a good Veteran’s Day, with heartfelt thanks—

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October 31, 2013

Halloween Edition: A Turkey of a Will

Here’s a little treat for you trick-or-treaters out there in genealogy cyberland. Even the editor of the paper this article ran in—the October 18, 1894 London Times, published in London, Ohio—recognized what a fun piece he had on his hands.

Without further ado, I give you:

Queer Will
       Jonas Good, a resident of Ross county, Ohio, has had his will probated in Chillicothe. The will is a very queer document and was written by himself and is as follows:
       August 31, 1894, last request and testament of Jonas Good: At my request I have about three or four acres of corn on the uplands of L. B. James, and it is my request for Moses Good, my nephew, to take it in his care and see to it until said corn be ready to cut up, and also want the said Moses Good to sell the said corn and pay to Frank Vincent $5 of the corn money, and the balance of the money that is left after paying Vincent is to be equally divided between Polly Good and Leroy Good, her grandson, and the balance of my goods and chattels also to be in charge of Moses Good, except my garden stuff and turkeys, which I want my niece, Eliza Carroll, to take in charge; to gather the garden stuff and see to the turkeys.

Isn’t that a hoot? And the thing is, as odd as Jonas’ requests are, this is actually a great will, because it names people and states their relationships to each other. If only some of my ancestors had thought to do that…

I hope Moses took care of that corn and Emily saw to the turkeys, so old Jonas won’t be tempted to play any ghostly tricks tonight. Happy Halloween!

Source: “Queer Will,” The London Times (London, Ohio), 18 October 1894, p. 1, col. 3.

October 21, 2013

And Now We Are Three!

Three years ago, I ventured out into the wide, wide world of cyberspace and posted my first welcome message here at A Sense of Family. It’s been a great three years, and I want to take a moment to reflect and thank everyone who reads and subscribes to this blog for making it so rewarding.

In looking back, I’m struck by three things: how fast time goes, how many more resources for genealogy are online today, and how many wonderful people I’ve come to know through blogging. Since I haven’t figured out a way to slow the speeding days, weeks, and months down, I’ll stick to talking about the other two things here.

In the fall of 2010, most of my searches on the FamilySearch website gave results from the Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and IGI. I couldn’t have imagined the scope of databases under the FamilySearch umbrella today, or the ease of having so many actual record images at my fingertips 24/7. And that’s just one website. Think of all the expansions at Ancestry and Find My Past in three years’ time. And the rise of new companies that serve the genealogical community—Mocavo, for instance. Not to mention the proliferation of smartphone and tablet apps like BillionGraves (I could barely text on my 2010 cell phone). It seems like everyone—from the federal government to state archives to county offices to local genealogical societies—is making an effort to improve access to historical records online. And the ways to learn about genealogy have exploded, too (think webinars and study groups). I know there are some challenges, such as threats to the Social Security Death Index, but the progress is truly phenomenal when you stop to think about it.

Reading blogs is one way I try to keep up with all that change. Bloggers are generous with sharing information and tips. It helps to hear about other people’s experiences as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of 21st century family history research. Every blog has a voice, and behind that voice is a person. In my experience, the people who write genealogy blogs tend to be passionate, helpful, smart, involved, and genuinely nice people. After reading someone’s posts for a period of months or years, you come to know them a little bit, so when you meet for the first time, there’s a quick bond. You know just what to talk about. I’ve met many fellow bloggers at genealogy conferences and institutes who have become good friends, and I treasure those friendships. There are many others I hope to meet someday.

Mostly, I want to say thank you, readers, for taking precious time out of your days to read my posts. Thanks especially to those who reach out to leave a comment here or contact me by email. It makes my day to know I’ve helped or touched someone. It’s also a thrill to hear from a distantly-related cousin who’s just discovered my blog. Connecting with people regardless of the boundaries of time and space is what it’s all about, after all. That’s the magic that keeps me sharing those stories, reviewing those resources, and talking about those tips.

So please join me in raising a toast to being three!

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