Thursday, November 10, 2016

What is a Hashtag and How do I Use it for Genealogy

What is a hashtag used for and how can it help me with genealogy? That's a question I am often asked when giving my social media presentation. That silly little pound sign (#) that all the kids are using really does mean something. Once you learn the power of hashtags, you will be amazed at what you can find online!

Hashtag History

It was Twitter that introduced the hashtag in the summer of 2009. By putting that little symbol in front of a word or phrase, you could hyperlink associated material.

Hashtags are keywords with a pound sign in front. #Genealogy, #familyhistory, #funnykitten, and the list goes on...and on...and on! Genealogists are learning the power of hashtags to both organize their own information into categories to be easily found, and to find new information that can directly effect their research.

Using Hashtags to Organize and Categorize

Hashtags for organizing and categorizing can help when sharing on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If I wanted to share the pictures from a recent family reunion on Instagram so that all the cousins could enjoy them, I might add a hashtag like #ColeFamilyReunion2016 to each of the images. Then, a person need only search #ColeFamilyReunion2016 on Instagram to have all the pictures pop-up.

Now you may notice in the image here on the right, that not all of the images associated with the #ColeFamilyReunion2016 are those from my family reunion, but that's okay. Why? Because these other Cole Family's may be long lost relatives!

If you want to differentiate your family reunion, you may have to be creative in your hashtag. You might try something like #RobertColeFamilyReunion or #ColeFamilyReunion2016Ohio. Be sure to share your designated hashtag with all the family members so that they too can cache the images they took. By doing so, all the family pictures at your family reunion will be hyperlinked together.

Registering a Hashtag

Lots of people wonder how or if they can register a hashtag. The short answer is no, not really. says of registering hashtags:
"The first and most important thing that must be understood is that you cannot legally own a hashtag. The goal is that you habitually use a chosen hashtag and people will associate it with your brand. The hashtag selected should be a distinctive phrase or word associated with your company or messaging."
There are websites online that help you determine if a hashtag is already being used. is one of these websites. Here, you can enter in a hashtag you are interested in to see how many people have used it in the last 24 hours.

In this example above, it looks like the hashtag #everyonelovesamie is unique! There is a lot of information on the web about registering a hashtag. I will let you Google that and "hash" it out for yourself!

Organizing My Research Findings with Hashtags

Let's say I have been researching the Bowser family of Clark County, Ohio. I would like to post some old photographs I found or some pictures of the tombstones I took at the local cemetery. I might post them with three hashtags like #Clark, #Ohio, #Bowser. Now, I have organized all my pictures with this combination so that I can easily find them on whichever designated platform I choose.

Remember, if you hashtag your images on Facebook, you won't be able to search for them on Instagram, so many of us share to both platforms at the same time. You can do that by starting at Instagram and before posting, click on "Facebook" under the Share options.

In this way, you have captioned and hashtaged your image to be found on Instagram and Facebook at the same time. Others searching for these same hashtags on either platform would then find the images.

You can imagine the endless possibilities. Hashtags can be used to cache images for weddings, vacations, graduations, and your family history.

Finding New Information Using Hashtags

If I posted something on Facebook about the death records for Ohio I found online, I might type something like:
"FamilySearch #deathrecords for #RossCountyOhio can be found online and include digital images of the death certificates. #genealogy #familyhistory."
In fact, many genealogists, big companies, and societies are doing this very thing. They want to share with you their findings and collections. It's happening on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media hotspots.

Because they are doing this, you can search for hashtags like you would a person. Take a look at this example at Facebook:

In the search field at the top left of the Facebook homepage, you can type in any combination of hashtags. In this example, I searched for #RossCountyOhio #genealogy. The post regarding probate records for Ross County, Ohio pops up. Scroll down further and you will find the post regarding Ross County death records, too. In this way, you may locate records and collections that you did not know even existed.

Sadly, you can't possibly know what a genealogist or society will hashtag their posts with. You may have to try your search in several different ways. Maybe you will just search #Ross #Ohio...or maybe you will decide to only search with #Ohio #genealogy. There is no limit to the combinations, so just have fun with it and see what you can find.

Hashtags on Instagram

On Instagram, you can do the same thing. In particular, I love to search for a hashtaged surname on Twitter.

I follow DeadFred on Twitter. is a genealogy photo archive online. Now, they are putting images on Instagram and hashtaging them by surname and location. Take a look at some of these examples on the left.

Notice how they are hashtaged. In the top example, they have used #NY instead of #NewYork. In the second example, #VT was used instead of #Vermont. Some have been hashtaged with surnames and some have not. So again, be thoughtful and methodical when searching for relevant hashtags.

Hashtags on Twitter

Have you ever been disappointed that you couldn't go to a big genealogy conference like RootsTech or the National Genealogical Society Conference? Did you know that you can virtually follow along with Twitter hashtags? Yep! If you were to go to Twitter and search #RootsTech or #NGSconf or #WDYTYA (that's Who Do You Think You Are?) you can follow the tweets that are being posted about the event. You will see news information, pictures, and even videos in real time as you participate virtually using hashtags.

I hope this information about hashtags for genealogy will inspire you to use them. Let me know what fun things you find by searching for hashtags in the comments section below.

To learn more about social media tools for genealogy, I think you'll enjoy reading:
Using Facebook to Break Through Genealogy Brick Walls
Using the Power of Pinterest for Family History

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Using the Dawes Packets for Native American Genealogy just announced that they are allowing free access to their Native American records collections from now until the 15th of November. However, these records are difficult to navigate and most of us need some instruction.

For the best, step-by-step instructions on searching within the Dawes Packets for Native American Genealogy, please visit my blog post at Genealogy Gems titled, "How to Use the Dawes Collections for Native American Research."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Haunting Illnesses of the Past

Halloween is coming up and there is always something fun about the holiday. Mildly gory decorations and stories fill the house and it's a ghoulishly good time!

I have recently been searching the cemeteries and death records of the Wilson family of Clark County, Ohio. I was taken aback by how many family members died of tuberculosis and it reminded me of the many horrible diseases of the past.
Lavina Wilson West died of tuberculosis in 1880.

Some of the old diseases are so uncommon these days that you may never have even heard of them!  Looking at death records can open your eyes to a world of diseases you knew nothing about.

Tuberculosis was one of those diseases that plagued the Wilson family. It was also known as galloping consumption or the white plague. Over 100,000 Americans died every year from the bacterial disease in the early 1900's.[1] It is still among one of the most widespread diseases in the world. Symptoms include a cough lasting up to 3 weeks, fever, pain, fatigue, and coughing up blood from deep within the lungs. Sanatoriums were created for the sick and were sometimes referred to as “waiting rooms for death.”[2] 

One of the difficulties with TB was that a person could be infected, but not sick.  In other words, the TB bacteria could be latent and in this state, not contagious, but a ticking time bomb. Once the TB became active it could pass through coughs, sneezing, and close contact.[3] Family members, because of close proximity, would often catch the disease from an infected loved one. Out of the thirteen children of Lavina and Michael Wilson, at least three children and a son-in-law died of the disease.

Besides tuberculosis, another killer was la gripe, also known as the influenza. It was March of 1918 when the first wave of the Spanish Flu hit America in our military camps.[4] The soldiers had brought it home from the War. Unfortunately, it did not stay in one place and spread rather quickly. By fall, we had a second wave and a serious problem on our hands. The virus killed nearly 200,000 Americans in October of that year, including my great grandmother.

My great-grandmother, Donia Hensley Cole, was born in 1893. She was 25 years old when she contracted the flu. According to her death record, she was also pregnant and sick for nine days before passing. Donia was the mother of three children, all under the age of seven, and I have often wondered about her last days.

The symptoms of the Spanish Flu included fever, aches and pains, nausea, and diarrhea. Occasionally, the afflicted would get dark spots on their cheeks and their skin would turn a bluish hue from lack of oxygen. In many cases, the sick would develop pneumonia which would cause death.

Though, tuberculosis and the flu are awful, it was diphtheria that gave me the heeby-geebies. Diptheria is a bacterial disease that attacks the nose and throat of the infected person. Though there is a vaccine that protects us today, that wasn't the case in the not-so-distant past.

In 1914, diphtheria entered the home of my great-grandfather, Alonzo Walls. Two of his daughters, one of whom was my Grandma Iness, came down with the disease. The oldest daughter, Lulu was fifteen and Iness was just seven years old. Lulu became sick first and it likely went un-diagnosed until it had progressed too far. Lulu and Iness were put in the same bed so they could be quarantined from the rest of the family and receive their treatment. Treatment for diphtheria at that time may have included an antitoxin derived from horses or the disease was left to run its course.

Iness woke one morning to find her sister lying there dead beside her. Lulu's tongue had swollen so greatly, it would not fit into her mouth. Iness was lucky and recovered.

The only known picture of Lulu Walls, child on the left.

The haunting illnesses of the past can make a scary story this Halloween. It may not be in good taste, but if your children like a good gory story, why not tell them what their ancestors died of…after all, it's great to take any opportunity to talk about family history!

Tip: If you have a death record that lists an unusual cause of death, you might find out more about it by using the list of old illnesses and their names found at: Reviewing that list will be sure to make you grateful you live in 2016!

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Read more fun stories:

Well, That's Weird: Strange Genealogy Records Found Online

"Finished" Family Line Questioned

[1] Sucre, Richard.  “The Great White Plague: The Culture of Death and the Tuberculosis Sanatorium.”  University of Virginia.  Web.  (  accessed 14 Mar 2015).
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Understanding Tuberculosis.”  American Lung Association.  Web.  ( :  accessed 14 Mar 2015).
[4] Billings, Molly.  “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.”  Stanford University.  June 1997.  Web.  ( :  accessed 16 Mar 2015).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thoughts on Writing Tragic Events in Family History

This has been a truly tragic week already. On Sunday evening, my husband and I rushed to our neighbor's home to find their small child had been accidentally hit by a truck, leading to his death. The hours that passed and the days that have followed will forever be engraved in our memories. It made me think and feel many things, some too personal to share in this public format. However, one particular thought keeps crossing my mind: How do you write about a tragic event in your family history?

The First Question

Maybe the first question should be: Should you write about a tragic event in your family history? Many of you may remember when I blogged about the death of my grandmother's child and the coal mining accident that took the life of my grandfather. One of the reasons I decided to include these tragic stories in my family history was that my uncle had tried many times throughout his life to write about it, but couldn't. I felt the stories needed to be told and recorded for future generations. I was far enough removed from the events to be able to write the story without significant distress.

Don't Wait Too Long

It is fine and even practical to wait a time before recording your story after the event has happened, but don't wait too long.

The uncle I spoke of, Uncle Willard, arrived after the slate fall...only in time to drag Grandpa's body out of the mine...only able to witness the very end. My other two uncles, Millard and James, were in the mine right beside Grandpa when it happened, but I had never asked them a thing about it. They both died years ago and now I will never have that part of the story. I didn't want Uncle Willard to pass on before I had a chance to hear his story at least.

Remember, though waiting is good, waiting too long may cause the story to be lost forever.

Does Telling the Story Help the Teller?

When I asked Uncle Willard to tell me the story some 50 years after the event, he had difficulty. Not difficultly remembering the details of the accident, but rather dealing with the emotions it still stirred up. Would it have helped him back then to speak of it, or to write the day's events down? Did it help him now knowing the story was being preserved to pass down to other generations?

When I interviewed my aunt and my mother about what they remembered the day their father died, they too struggled to get through the story without losing their composure. They had never talked about it in-depth either. I wondered, did they want it recorded like Uncle Willard did?

These are some great questions to ask yourself and the others involved in your tragic stories. Genealogists love a record made at the time of the actual event by someone with first-hand knowledge. But sometimes, writing about a horrible tragedy when it is fresh in the mind is far too difficult. Even still, talking or writing about the event and one's feelings can in some instances be therapeutic to the survivors. You will need to decide based on each instance and consider whether telling the story helps the teller or not.

Other decisions you might consider is the when to about the event and in what format to record the story (i.e. written, audio only, or video.)

Do tragic stories help our descendants?

I don't know. I think so. When it's quiet, I can still hear the crying of my neighbors when I arrived on the seen. I mentioned to my mother that it was the most heart breaking sound I could have imagined. She said she remembered her mother waking in the night, crying and screaming, "Why! Why did you have to leave?" as she carried Grandpa's clothes around the house. I think that hearing that story made me realize...the heart can recover, at least somewhat.

I reflected on Grandma's lost child and husband and yet, she pressed forward, raised her other children, and lived and loved her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her story gives me hope. Hope for my neighbors, hope for myself, and hope for others in the mist of horrific circumstances that life can go on.


I hope my thoughts on writing about tragic events in your family history have made you consider the idea of writing your stories. If you have a tragic event that is too difficult to write yourself, consider asking a trusted family member or friend to write the story for you. You never know how your story will help and sustain a descendant in the generations to come.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Following the Wrong Family Line: Not a Mistake after All

I followed the wrong family line! Gordon Johnson was born about 1827 in Tazewell County, Virginia.[1] He married Cosby Green in about 1849. I thought Gordon was the “right” guy. I had been doing the family history of my cousin’s paternal line when I stumbled across Gordon and Cosby.

Sadly, it was the wrong family line. However, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Gordon wanted to be “found.” You see, Gordon didn’t appear with his family in the 1870 census. Cosby was listed with five children ages nine to seventeen. I wondered where he was. His last child was born in about 1861. Then, I knew. Gordon must have been a soldier in the Civil War.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to find out what happened to him. His story ended up being fascinating and down-right uncanny.

Following Gordon in Time

I first found Gordon at age 23, listed with his wife, Cosby, and a baby in the 1850 Lee County, Virginia census. The 1860 census found Gordon again in Lee County, Virginia with his wife and six children.  She was obviously quite the busy young mother! By 1870, Cosby was head of the household with five children.[2]

My next step was to see what was available for Civil War records online. and both have several databases available for Civil War research. I did a military search for Gordon on and found many good matches.

I learned that Gordon was living in Lee County, Virginia and was about thirty-six years old on enlistment day. He served for Virginia and did not survive the war.[3] Well, that answered my first question. He was definitely a soldier and he had never returned home.

I also learned that Gordon was enlisted in the 64th Virginia Infantry on 13 Aug 1862 and was mustered out on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Chicago, IL.[4] This is the uncanny part! Guess where I was living when I found this record…yep, just outside of Chicago. What were the odds?! It just convinced me even more that Gordon was cheering me on from the “other side.” “Find me,” he called, “Tell my story!”

Another fun find was in the Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958 in which his widow filed for pension.[5] Did you realize that Confederate soldier widows could get pensions?

The application for pension filed by Cosby was only one page, but she stated that she and Gordon had married in Mulberry Gap, Tennessee.[6] A quick Google search showed Mulberry Gap to be in Hancock County. Hancock County courthouse had a fire and marriage records between 1844 and 1930 were lost.[7] Because of this loss, it is likely this pension record is the only record that states the exact location they were married. This was a great find!

I Hit the Mother Lode

I love using Fold3, especially for Civil War and War of 1812 research. I searched for Gordon and hit the mother lode. There were seventeen pages in the “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia” file. It confirmed he was in Company G of the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry and enlisted in Lee County, Virginia for three years.

Other new tidbits of information included that he was captured at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on 9 Sept 1863. He was then sent to Camp Douglas [Illinois] on 24 Sept 1863 via Louisville, Kentucky. He died on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Illinois of phthisis pulmonalis, another name for tuberculosis. At that time, he was buried at Chicago City Cemetery in grave #918. Wow! What a story!

Gordon’s wife Cosby filed a claim on 12 July 1864 suggesting that she was given word of his death at least within six months.[8] I hope she found out sooner, rather than later.

Some Enriching Details

A Google search for “64th Virginia Mounted Infantry” gave me some insight into Gordon’s time in the military and his imprisonment.

The 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry was recruited from the Virginia counties of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Buchanan. They were allowed to stay in their home area as long as they promised to protect the Confederacy. The regiment did not see much “action” or bloodshed, but their mortality rate was high due to their dying of disease as prisoners of war.[9]

Two thirds of the 64th regiment were captured on 9 Sept 1863 at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.[10] Gordon and a couple of his brothers were among those captured.

The winter of 1863 and 1864 were some of the harshest on record. Cold temperatures, insufficient food, lack of adequate clothing, and disease ravaged the camp. By the end of the war, Camp Douglas had housed over 26,000 Confederate prisoners and had over 3,000 fatalities due in large part to the horrible conditions.[11]

Fort Douglas, Chicago, IL. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Soldiers who had died at the camp were first buried in the Chicago City Cemetery, but due to flooding, in 1866, the soldiers were exhumed and removed to Oak Woods Cemetery in a large mass grave.[12] A monument stands there and reads “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF SIX THOUSAND SOLDIERS HERE BURIED WHO DIED IN CAMP DOUGLAS PRISON 1862-5”. There are large bronze tablets that list some of the dead that are buried there. I checked to see if his name appeared on the tablets…it does.


Even though I had followed the wrong family line and found the “wrong guy,” it was a pleasure to get to know Gordon Johnson. I was kind of disappointed when I learned he wasn’t in my cousin’s family line. But guess what…after more research, I found that it was me who was related to Gordon…through his wife Cosby! I love it when a family history story comes together, don’t you?

Do you wonder how to best write about tragic events in your family history? If you are struggling with that question, I think you will enjoy reading:
Thoughts on Writing Tragic Events in Family History


[1] 1850 US Federal Census, District 31, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 351 (stamped), dwelling 657, family 679, Gordon Johnston [sic], digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Mar 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 955.
[2] 1870 US Federal Census, Jonesville, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 14 (penned), dwelling 88, family 89, Cosby Johnson, digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1658.
[3] “U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865,” index, Ancestry ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, born 1826, resident of Lee County, Virginia.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Mrs. Causby [sic] Johnson, widow, Lee County, Virginia.
[6] Ibid. Note the location of marriage is indexed as Troutburg, TN, however after viewing the image, it was determined to be transcribed incorrectly and the location of marriage is Mulberry Gap, TN.
[7] “Hancock County, Tennessee Genealogy”, FamilySearch, (,_Tennessee_Genealogy : accessed 4 Apr 2015).
[8] “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia,” digital image, Fold3, ( : accessed 7 April 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, 64th Mounted Infantry; citing NARA microfilm publication M324, roll 1044.
[9] Jeff Weaver, “64th Virginia Infantry,” USGenWeb Archives, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
[10] Ibid.
[11] The Chicago Story that must be Told, Dec 2013, pg. 3; digital image, Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation ( : accessed 2 Apr 2015). This number has been disputed over the years.  Most have declared the official number to be about 3,108, however the monument placed at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago gives the number as 6,000.
[12] Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, para. 2-3, digital image, National Park Service

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ten Tiny Tidbits to Record for Baby

What a wonderful weekend! My sister and her husband welcomed their third baby girl into the family. Eden Rose was born at 3:20 am on the 24th of April, 2016. So adorable!
Andrea and new baby, Eden Rose.

I sat down last night to record the events of the labor and delivery in my journal. What did I include? Here are ten tiny tidbits I suggest we all record for the new babies in the family.

1. Full name and the reason the name was chosen.
2. Time of birth, date of birth, and stats of baby.
3. What hospital was baby born and where is it?
4. How did Mommy know it was "time to go to the hospital?"
5. Who went to the hospital with Mommy and who was present at the birth?
6. Who took care of the other children when Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital?
7. How long was labor and delivery? Were there any problems or difficulties?
8. What was the first thing Daddy said when he saw the new baby?
9. What was the first thought Mommy had when she saw the new baby?
10. Does baby look more like Mommy or Daddy?

Dave and his three little girls.
You may have more tiny tidbits to include; the more the merrier! In our little baby's story, I included that her Auntie Mandie stayed the first night with her in the hospital. Because Mommy had a bad reaction to some medications, she was moved to a bigger hospital some distance away. Daddy was exhausted and had spent the daytime hours with Mommy. Now, in the evening, the two older children needed some attention. Daddy went to be with them and Auntie Mandie went to stay all night at the hospital with Eden. She reveled in the glory of having a little one to cuddle!

Eden Rose on her special night with Aunt
Finally, Andrea was released from the hospital and reunited with her new baby and family. It was a long few days, but the reunion was all the more sweeter. Oh, and I got to hold and cuddle the new little one too!

Me and baby Eden.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Finished Family Line Questioned...Part II

Back in October 2015, you may have read along as I lamented the false sense of security I had about a "finished" family line. Several genealogists had recorded that my ancestor, Henry Bowser the husband of Catherine Long, was the son of George Bowser and Elizabeth Moyer.

A cousin connection and a new document brought up some questions of Henry and his true parentage. Now, Henry Bowser Sr. and Mary Bowman were a possible candidate for his parents. Read more about that here.

I went to work collecting every record I could on Henry, George, Elizabeth, Henry Sr., and Mary. Without giving away too many details (because I plan to use this in my certification portfolio), Mary's obituary gave her true relationship to young Henry. He was her nephew.

By default, I might have assumed that George and Elizabeth had to be his parents. After all, there were only two couples in question. Right? Nope. When further researching this problem case, I found another possible parent. Daniel Bowser of the Montgomery county area turns out to be another father possibility.

I had to put this research question aside for awhile, but today I picked it up again by chance. I was "cleaning up" some digital documents and found something I had saved. It was Henry and Catherine's marriage record. Actually, it was a duplicate marriage record. Why had I saved two, I wondered? I noticed that they were two different types of marriage record. This one was a small handwritten list. The source citation of each document indicated that these two records were recorded in two different volumes of marriage records held at the Montgomery county courthouse.

I had overlooked this little paper because I found the more detailed marriage record. Though I had not deleted this extra record, I had subconsciously pushed it aside. When I looked closely, right there in black and white, it said "Henry Bowser of Danl."

This is a great find! I am heading over to the probate and guardianship records for the county now.

It just goes to show that "finished" family lines are not always finished. New records are being found each day and make all the difference. The research others had done was not bad research. With what they were able to access in the 1980s, they made the most logical parent choice for Henry. Now, it is our responsibility to check that work and make sure nothing new has come to light.

Happy hunting my fellow genealogists!