In the Spirit of Thanksgiving

This week persons in the United States will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, a day set aside for giving thanks, gathering with loved ones, feasting, and perhaps watching football, as well as possibly shopping (as evidenced in the past few years).  But, overall, the emphasis is traditionally on “counting our blessings.”

Earlier this week I was feeling somewhat down by a lack of thanks.  In the past year I have helped a fair number of persons with their genealogy research in workshops, classes, help sessions, and email queries.  The overwhelming majority of those I have helped are appreciative and courteous.  But somehow there has been a short series of impatient (and dare I say “demanding”) requests.  It could be that persons are disappointed in my inability to solve some of their genealogy problems.  Even after investing a lot of time consulting and responding, these few persons simply find it beyond their ability to express any type of appreciation in the form of two words: thank you.  To me that is very disheartening.

And, then today I received this in an email from a close relative:

Just the other day, I was going through the folders that I have your genealogy material in (on the computer) and I read for the second time, the information you sent a couple years ago about Xavier Schaefers, brother to our great grandfather.   It was fascinating once again (especially about several of his children dying of diphtheria and the result mostly living to a ripe age) and it is so nice to have this information.   Thanks once again for all your interesting research that you put tremendous effort into.   I am so glad that you enjoy it because I know when you have new or more information you will share it.   I love history, and genealogy is a part of that.   So please remember how much I appreciate having this family history.

Wow, what a game-changer!  (Not to mention an attitude changer.)  That boosted my morale immediately and helped me realize that my work is appreciated.

My husband has an interesting perspective: the most famous person in Christianity was only thanked by one of ten lepers that He healed.

My goal is to be the one in ten who does give thanks when on the receiving end of help.

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Another BillionGraves Story

Our local genealogy society receives numerous research requests, some of which are to photograph a tombstone of an ancestor.  The biggest challenge in taking the photograph (other than picking a day when the weather conditions are favorable!) is locating the actual tombstone.  Until a few months ago, I would use the Grave Marker Inscriptions as a guide, but it was published nearly thirty years ago so it is somewhat dated.

Well, if you’ve read my earlier post from September 10, 2014, you know that my husband, Jim, has photographed most of the tombstones in the Ames cemeteries and uploaded the images to BillionGraves.  This remarkable website came to the rescue when I had a request to photograph a stone in which a person had a death date added.  She was not a direct descendant of the person but related more distantly.  However, she knew there was likely no one else who would provide the final inscription of the death date, so she looked into doing it.  (For privacy reasons, I am not using her name.)  After contacting the cemetery sexton and learning there was no policy prohibiting a distant relative from contracting the proposed engraving, she hired a monument company who did an incredible job matching the other information on the stone.  The final work was impeccable and there was no evidence of the update being done forty some years later.

But the challenge for me in taking the photograph was to locate the stone in a mid-sized cemetery.  By searching the name on I could get an image of the general area in the cemetery.  Then by using the BillionGrave app on my cell phone I had a marker for the location of the grave as well as my location.  (Oh, the wonders of GPS!)  So, it was a matter of aligning the two points which was fairly easy to do.  The tombstone I was looking for was a flat stone and many of the stones in the general area were covered with leaves, it being autumn and October in Iowa.  Without the GPS, I would have had to brush away many leaves to find the intended marker, but that wasn’t necessary since I was guided by the visual display.

I am so grateful for this technology … AND the volunteers who take, upload, and transcribe the photos.  The person who requested the photos now has the satisfaction the work was done to her specification and the granite memorial is now “complete.”

[My husband Jim has contributed the following description of using the search function.]

“ is a website you can access from your home computer to locate the position of the grave in the cemetery.   The first screen which opens offers a series of choices at the top of the screen.  “Search” opens a screen show yellow and green boxes, call “Person Look Up” and “Cemetery Look-up.”

If you already know the exact name on the gravestone your are looking for, enter the name.  You will also need to enter the “country” “state” and “county” in the boxes below.  Touch the search function and the third screen will appear with the gravestone picture on the left and the area of the cemetery on the right.  Each of these can be enlarged to let you see the stones clearly and the area of the cemetery where they are placed.  A yellow/orange target symbol will be at the stone’s location.

If your computer device or smartphone will work once you are in the cemetery, a blue dot will appear with your location, showing the distance and direction of the gravestone you have named.  As you walk toward the gravestone, the blue and yellow/orange target symbols will come closer together.  When the two symbols align, you should be within a few feet (5-15 feet) of the gravestone and you should find it easily by looking around.”

Disclaimer: Neither Mary nor Jim Lohr has received any compensation from BillionGraves.  We have no connection with the company except Jim has volunteered in taking many pictures and I have used the app.

Posted in Computers, Genealogy, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Facebook to the Genealogy Rescue

I am a huge proponent of technology when it can be used for furthering genealogy research.  In fact, more and more research is being done using the Internet and social media.  Not everything is online (and never will be) and what is online is not always accurate.  However, I believe it would be a huge mistake to overlook using electronic tools when it can make the research so much easier.

Case in point: I have a printout from a civil marriage record in Germany from 1836 written in the old German script.  I could make out the names of the bridal couple (it helped that their names were underlined!) and I had a good idea of how they were spelled from an index.  But deciphering the rest of the narrative entry eluded me.

I turned to Katherine R. Willson’s fantastic listing of genealogy Facebook groups (available at  In the 118 page listing was an entry for a group called Genealogy Translations.  It’s a “closed” group, meaning one must request membership.   Following my approval to join, I carefully read the instructions for posting to the group.  There was a good description for uploading a copy of what you want translated.  The whole process was fairly simple and not overwhelming.

Thinking I’d give it a try, I posted my request (wanting to know if the names of the parents were included in the record).  Within nine (yes, nine!) minutes I had an answer to my question as well as additional information on the groom.  Unbelievable!  You can bet my follow-up comment was a sincere thank you to the person who so generously answered my request.

No, not all genealogy queries are answered this quickly.  Some are never answered … but this rapid response sets the record for my research problems!

And that, in a nutshell, is why I am a big fan of Facebook and social media for genealogy.

Posted in Computers, Research, Technology | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An Image Here and an Image There: a BillionGraves Tale

Last spring while I was off playing Grandmother, my husband Jim decided to take a “stay-cation” and found a project dear to the heart of any genealogist … photographing gravestones in area cemeteries.  (I suspect he has a few symptoms of “genealogy fever.”)

He downloaded the app from to his cell phone and registered for an account (all free).  Then by using the camera on his phone he took a picture of each tombstone, “linked” those stones and memorials if they were family members (e.g husband and wife), and uploaded the images to the BillionGraves website.  Other volunteers transcribed the writing on the tombstones.  An especially helpful feature of the website is that not only is it searchable by cemetery and by name, but the location of the gravestone is indicated on a map of the cemetery.  Very useful for locating a particular burial site in a large cemetery!  (Of course this only works if there is a tombstone or grave marker.)

To date, Jim has contributed nearly 11,000 images to BillionGraves!  He has photographed all five of the cemeteries in Ames, Iowa as well as a few in the surrounding area.

The work was not without a few challenges, however.  He encountered snakes, bees, cold, heat and rain.  But the biggest challenge was fending off the mosquitoes in late July and early August.  In Jim’s words, “They considered me their person blood drive.”  He gained the upper hand when he wore this mosquito hat that kept most of them at bay.

Jim 2

And Jim without the netting:


The value of the BillionGraves website was brought home to me this last week when I helped a friend unravel a mystery she had been trying to solve for some time.  We found her relative’s grave in a cemetery in Illinois … thanks to other kind and generous volunteers who had photograved and transcribed the images from that cemetery for BillionGraves.

So, a big round of  applause and appreciation for ALL the volunteers at BillionGraves who have donated vast hours making this information available not only to genealogists, but to persons trying to find the final resting place of their loved ones.  Your work is a wonderful and helpful tool.

(Thanks  to our daughter Naomi for suggesting the topic of this post.)





Posted in Genealogy, Research, Story County Iowa, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Genealogy Jig

Time for the genealogy happy dance!

One of the biggest genealogy challenges I’ve faced with my German ancestors is finding the village or town where they were born and lived.  The reason for needing this information is that there was no centralized repository for 18th and 19th century records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.  These events were recorded at the local level, either in the church registers or the municipal archives.  So, in order to find them  you have to know where to look.  (Basic genealogy principle!)  And until you can identify where an ancestor lived, you really can’t do much research.  For example, it took me about four years of intense searching to local the ancestral village and parish of my Schwans ancestors.  But persistence paid off and eventually I found the little town of Vreschen-Bokel (with an incredible amount of help from Jens and Jane and many other persons!)

In researching the birthplace of my son-in-law’s German ancestors, I was facing the same challenges, with absolutely NO clue where in Germany they originated.  So I focused on other lines that were easier to research and “forgot” about the Roths and Muellers.  But one night recently I took another look at an obituary for Susanna Roth Mueller and noticed she had a sister who survived.  Further research on the surviving sister, Elizabeth Rath Weimers, (now deceased) yielded her memorial on and, wonder of wonders, an actual copy of her death record at    And what should appear on her death record but the names of her parents (including the maiden name of her mother) AND her place of birth.  And, as almost a pure gift, the information was typed so I did not have to decipher handwriting.  More checking on FamilySearch confirmed the names of the parents, Johannes Rath (not Roth) and Susanna Schmidt (or Schmitt).

As is so often the case, this opened more doors and I identified seven children who had been born to this couple … as well as the date of their marriage.  But why stop there?  I have ordered the microfilmed records in hopes of identifying the names of the parents, one generation back.  Yeah, it does seem like we genealogists are never satisfied!  But if the information is available to be found, I want to find it.  Why quit when the chase is hot!

The place of birth on Elizabeth Rath Weimer’s death certificate was given as Dürkheim.  The index to the microfilm listed her place of birth as Grethen and baptism in  Dürkheim … but on a map there is a distance of almost 300 miles between Grethen and a town named Bad Dürkheim.  That didn’t make sense that parents would travel that distance in 1855 with a newborn.

Back to more checking on the towns … it turns out there was a town called Grethen that was annexed by Bad Dürkheim in 1935.  Also, the town of Dürkheim became Bad Dürkheim in 1905.  NOW, the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together.

Now where are those dancing shoes?






Posted in German Ancestry, Germany, Research | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Coincidence Times Three

If you’ve read my two previous posting, you’ll recall my telling of some coincidences I’ve recently observed or experienced.

Well, if events come in threes, I can attest to a third:

This week I had two persons contact me for genealogy suggestions and advice: both were originally from South Dakota, my home state. One person was also a South Dakota State alumni, as am I (“Go, Jacks!”) and, both had questions about searching in areas of South Dakota which were familiar to me.

Love these “did this really happen” and “small world” experiences!

Posted in Genealogy, Humor, South Dakota | 1 Comment

“I Recognize Those Names”

Keeping an open mind–and being prepared for finding answers in unexpected places–is a familiar adage to experienced genealogy researchers.  I saw an example of this in a recent day-long workshop that our local genealogy society presented.

During the last session of the day, the presenter was using some of her own family tree as an example.  Suddenly a member of the audience announced with delight, “Hey, those are my ancestors, too!”

The speaker and audience member had never met previously, but a follow-up discussion revealed they were second cousins once removed!  They had grown up in the same area of Iowa, but with about a little more than a generation between them.  Currently they live about 90 miles apart.

This genealogy research is good for finding deceased ancestors but becomes even more rewarding when a connection is made with a fellow cousin.   Especially when the example used includes  the very people you are researching!



Posted in ancestry, Iowa | 2 Comments