IN THIS EDITION -- May 9, 2002


Monticello Group: No Hemings Allowed

The official association of President Thomas Jefferson's descendants voted this week to keep the kin of Sally Hemings, Jefferson's slave and mistress, out of the group. The Los Angeles Times reported that the 700-member Monticello Association decided there was "not sufficient evidence" to prove Hemings' children were fathered by Jefferson, despite DNA tests and historic documentation that indicate they were. In 1998, scientists showed through DNA analysis that a male Jefferson fathered one of Hemings' sons. In 2000, the foundation that owns Monticello (Jefferson's estate near Charlottesville, Va.) came out with a study concluding that Jefferson himself likely fathered all six of Hemings' children. Without membership in the association, Hemings' descendants cannot be buried in the family graveyard at Monticello.

California Slave Insurance Records Made Public

Hundreds of slaves and slaveholders are listed in insurance records that were released last week in California. Though California never allowed slavery, it is the first state to require the release of slave-related records held by insurance companies doing business in the state, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. More than 1,000 slaves and slaveholders are named in the records, provided by a dozen firms. The records have been posted online and put on display in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Breaking the Handwriting Code

A tip from Marie Owen of Redmond, Ore.:

"It may seem rather obvious, but when deciphering some of the older writing such as in the census, I often look at other letters on the same page to make it out. If you think that may be a 'J,' look for another name such as John, Jack, Josiah, etc. Are they the same? BINGO! I work in a Family History Center, and it has surprised me about how few people fail to compare other words on a page to the ones they are trying to decipher."


Chinese Catalog Now Online

As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month continues, a new, important resource for Chinese family historians has hit the Web. The Chinese Language Catalog, one of the world's largest collections of Chinese family histories, will now be available for searching through Cybersia, which owns, partnered with the catalog's owner, the Genealogical Society of Utah, to post the microfilm collection. Before, it was only available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Campaign Begins for Franco-American Heritage Museum

Though Americans of French heritage are outnumbered only by the Irish in New England, their heritage and culture are in danger of being lost due to assimilation. That's why a nonprofit group is raising funds to build the Franco-American Heritage Museum: to preserve the history of 1 million French Canadians who immigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1930. A location for the New England museum has not been determined, but its planners intend to provide information, exhibits, artwork, writings and genealogical research facilities. Learn more about this museum (and how to contribute) at this Web site.

For a guide to tracing your French roots, use this Toolkit from Family Tree Magazine.


Organizing Your Research

It's important that you begin organizing your genealogy research soon after you start collecting. Wait too long, and organization becomes a daunting task. If you're comfortable with computers, invest in a computer program to keep track of your family. Having your data in a computer genealogy program can be especially helpful for long-distance research, as you can easily print an up-to-date pedigree chart or family group sheet to send to correspondents.

At the very least, use paper pedigree charts and family group sheets. Pedigree charts show all of a person's ancestors, usually for three or four generations back. Family group sheets show detailed information on one nuclear family: a married couple and their children, with the children listed in birth order, if you can determine it. You can buy printed forms from genealogical publishers (look for ads in genealogical magazines), download forms from the Internet, or photocopy them from genealogy handbooks. These forms help you see what information you have and what you still need to look for. They allow you to see various people in the family in relationship to each other and may highlight problems such as improbable dates.

Many how-to genealogy books include information on organizing your files. Don't feel compelled to follow one system. Choose a system you like, or choose pieces of several systems. The most important things about your method of organization are that you're comfortable with it and you can find material you want relatively quickly.

-Excerpted from Long-Distance Genealogy by Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, $18.99. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Betterway Books. Available in bookstores or online.