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Last year, I told my husband that I wanted to expand my dream of inspiring and educating others about genealogy and family history by cre...

31 August 2014

Inspiring My Husband to Write a Book

When I started scanning and photographing all of my memorabilia, my husband suggested I start doing the same for his stuff. When I started writing the book 21st Century Family Historian, Andy realized personal and family history needs to change in his mind's eye as well.

In so many words, high school Andy was bored in high school AP English classes. As such, he found many ways to make the class more interesting often to his teacher's chagrin. From writing nonsensical poetry to laugh at the assignment, to having all his classmates use plethora in their class assignments, to turning in the conspiracy as to why he couldn't read Jane Eyre, my husband pushed the limits of what was accepted.

His high school friend kept of his writings and returned them one day long after he was married. Within the last year, he decided the writings would make high school English teachers laugh, challenge high school students to do their assignments with their own flair, and make a good book for our children to treasure when the grow up.

How to Fail English with Style
How to Fail English with Style
by Andrew Lee

I'm pleased to announce the release of his lighthearted view of high school English class in his eBook How to Fail English with Style.

This just goes to prove my point that if you're doing having fun doing family history, you're doing it wrong.

30 August 2014

What is Family History?

In my new book, 21st Century Family History, I invite you to reorient the course of family history. Then, I start off my describing what family history is. Here is another peak at the first chapter in the first section of "Reorienting the Course of Family History" entitled "What is Family History?"
Before we can understand a definition that says, family history is ______ ; let’s take a few moments to consider some questions that seem off topic, but work our way back to a definition.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Czech Republic, and the United States of America, a reality TV show called Who Do You Think You Are? is relatively popular. The show follows a celebrity each week as they research their family tree. Have you seen it? If you have, stop and think about why this show is so compelling. (If you haven’t seen it, then some past episodes are available on YouTube)

Does it have drama? Yep.
Does it have twists and turns? Yes.
Does it have stories that anyone can relate to? Yes.

In one episode of the American version of the show, country singer Reba McEntire traces her ancestry in America and England. She learned some very painful truths, including one about a relative who was a slave owner. That truth bothered her but she faced it with grace.

Then she learned she had a relative involved in a lesser known side of the servitude issue in America. Reba was emotionally fired up as much as her trademark fire-red hair. She was incensed that the father of a nine-year old boy would sell his son as an indentured servant to be sent to America. Reba felt the father had basically abandoned his son. Through the research of a genealogist, she learned the more plausible truth about why the child’s father would send the young boy on a dangerous ship voyage alone, to work as essentially a slave. Her heart completely broke. The emotions of anger melted into love and gratitude. You’ll have to watch the episode to know why.

In Reba’s show and in every other episode, Who Do You Think You Are? follows an individual through the discovery of very real, very personal stories using old photos and documents, and knowledge from various experts around the world. As the featured star encounters each discovery, they experience a wide range of emotion and see a variety of weird coincidences. When their discovery wraps up at the end of the episode, they’ve learned a lot and have something to share with their children and grandchildren… and often a desire to learn more. Sometimes, they have a desire to change or continue on the legacy they learned. Not every story is happy, but every story is real.

When examining other media, a few key elements are necessary to please an audience. A successful television show, movie, or book must have a champion, emotion, and a hook. We need someone to cheer for, a story that is engaging, and enough entertainment to keep us tuned in or turning the page. If one of these components is missing, few people will be interested.

Family history is no different. When a person seeks after their legacy (whether to build upon or break free from), they want to know the champions along with the other cast of characters. Some characters we will love. Some we will learn from. And some we might be glad we didn’t live, with because we might not have kept our wits about us in their presence. At the same time, the beloved grandpa may have a dark side. The unpopular uncle may have taught dogs to do tricks. And the ostracized family member might have influenced the world for good, despite the black sheep status.

Real people are not one dimensional, but have multiple facets to their lives. All of these family members taken in context with  their struggles, triumphs, defeats, heart aches, and strength provide a wide range of emotions. You will scream. You will sorrow. You will celebrate. You can understand, or you may never comprehend. Regardless, you will find enough emotion, when you do your research well, to keep you hooked. The quest to know. The quest to learn. The quest to share. The quest to forgive. The quest to honor. Your hook, based upon the emotion caused by the champions (or scoundrels) are the core of family history done well.
What is Family History by Devon Lee
What is Family History by Devon Lee

Did you ever stop to realize that Family History has the word 'story' in it? Family history is the stories of families. When we forget that, the work and the sharing of the work becomes boring… just like an unsuccessful TV show.

Let’s emphasize this another way. Family History is not pedigree charts and group sheets. When someone says, “I'm going to do my family history or genealogy,” they usually mean building these charts. Additionally, most every beginning family history class will show you a pedigree chart and tell you to start filling it out. If you wanted to earn the Boy Scouts of America Genealogy Merit Badge, six of the ten required assignments deal with charts and resources and four deal with stories.

Charts are not family history. They are tools that assist in the big picture of the family history pie. Genealogy and Family History are different in focus. Though genealogy is important, its focus is establishing names, dates, and relationships. When you understand Family History, you’ll understand that facts are a support to the story but not the entirety of it.

Family history is not this:
Lewis S Brown
1918 - 1978

or this:
Lewis Sherman Brown
b. 18 Sep 1918 in Columbus, Franklin, Ohio
d. 18 Sep 1978 in Columbus, Franklin, Ohio

or even this:

Family History is not just charts
Lewis Brown's Group Sheet information by Devon Lee

Looking over these facts, do you know much about Lewis Brown?

If you focus on completing a pedigree chart, you’ll likely stop there. Sure you might need a few documents to prove the dates. But other than that, your purpose is to complete a chart. Once the chart is complete, with a document to prove it, the work stops. Sadly, few of your family members will care.

On the other hand, family history is… that Lewis has three daughters who fondly remember dancing with their father. It is me yearning for the opportunity to have danced with him.

Family history is… that Lewis Brown was an assistant bowling manager for Swan Lanes in Columbus, Ohio. He participated in numerous tournaments. He earned several prizes, including a silver tea set. Family history is the question of whether he ever bowled a 300 game. Two of his daughters remember differently.

Family history is… that Lewis Brown was a home delivery milkman for Borden’s. When he wasn't driving his route, he would usher football games at the Ohio State University stadium. When his delivery route changed and required working during home games, Lew would listen to the Buckeyes on the truck radio while making deliveries. Family history is the fact that one of his granddaughters would rather have gone to the rival university before attending Ohio State.

Family history is… that Lewis Brown served in the Army during World War II. His wife was left behind to care for his ailing mother. It is the fact that Lewis returned home, perhaps without permission, to see his new baby girl before traveling overseas to India. Family history is the fact that his children and grandchildren loved his military photo because his eyes seem to follow you around the room.

Family history is… that Lewis Brown died on his birthday at the age of 60. He left behind a wife, two married daughters with 5 grandchildren between them and one daughter still in high school. It’s the fact that his death was attributed to esophageal cancer caused by smoking. Family history is the fact that his entire family dearly missed him.

Family History is Your Family and Their Stories
Family history is Your Family + Their Stories
by Devon Lee
Family history is every story, every artifact, and all the memories that are found between the birth and death dates. No historical document you can find will tell the things I just shared, but they do make up who Lewis Sherman Brown was.
To continue reading this chapter and the the second section of the book with tips and suggestions on what you can and should be doing in the modern age of genealogy, order your copy of 21st Century Family History available in eBook from on September 1st with a print version to soon follow.

21st Century Family Historian
available on September 1st

29 August 2014

Reorienting the Course of Family History

Why would you need another book about family history? Why would you even buy your first one? I hope to share a few of the opening chapters of my new book to encourage you that 21st Century Family Historian is different from other genealogy and family history books that you'll find on the shelves at your local library. You should feel more energized about the work you have done, or you'll be inspired to contribute your unique talents to your family's preservation efforts.

21st Century Family Historian by Devon Lee
21st Century Family Historian
available September 1st.

Here's a sneak peak at the first section entitled "Reorienting the Course of Family History."
Often, when people think of genealogy, it doesn't elicit much passion. Genealogy is something old people do. Genealogy is laborious or tortuous. Genealogy is for that weird family member who is really into it, but not for me.

In speaking to many 'old timers' about genealogy they tell me that 'new' genealogy is different. Let's examine that for a minute. In the long distant past, genealogy was focused heavily on establishing lineage. You can look to the Bible, to Egyptian obelisks, and to Chinese Dynasties to understand that lineage was important. In many cases it determined the ruler of empires. For the most part, genealogy was similar to completing pedigree charts and group sheets to detail who begat whom.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of the barbarian tribes in Europe sought to bring legitimacy to their nobility. In the ensuing decades and centuries, the Christian European royalty ‘traced’ their own lineage back to show they were related to the royal Jewish line, to the lineage of David. There weren’t always records to prove any of these, and examining many of them will show numerous mythical figures (for instance, the Norse gods Thor and Odin) that couldn’t possibly be ancestors.

Genealogies were kept for nobility, but as kingdoms and empires rose and fell, the nobility became the peasants and their lineage was lost, forgotten or hidden. By the 16th century, the Catholic Church was keeping many standardized records throughout Europe such as baptisms, weddings, and burials. In many places, the church and the government were intermingled and these records became the forerunners of modern civil records.

As migrations across Europe and to the new world occurred, many people held on to their recorded heritage. Other families lost their lineage records as they migrated. Often, individuals seeking to re-establish their heritage would hire professionals and if they were lucky, the professional would compile an accurate lineage. In the past, several of these compilations were fabricated out of whole cloth. Far too often, these heritage books would link a person to Charlemagne or other historical hero when there was no such documented evidence.
As more and more lineage works were discovered to be fraudulent, genealogical proof became important. Thus, when genealogy was taught, the need to find documents verifying facts was stressed. If you wanted to record a life event, you needed to have a birth certificate, death certificate, family Bible, or other record to back up the information. Although the need to prove facts is important, far too often those people who wished to record an event who did not have a record to verify it (perhaps only someone's memory) felt that they could not write it down and the information was lost.
Another distressing loss of information occurred as governments were overthrown and new people in power sought to cleanse their lands of the undesirables, especially those with noble ancestry. Places like China that previously had excellent genealogical records going back hundreds and even thousands of years saw families destroying their records in order to save their lives. Genealogical proof will probably never be available for most of their ancestors.

Even with a push for documentation, the quality of research still remained fair at best. Most people working on genealogy were amateurs, and amateurs do not always follow a common standard. Today, one could debate whether genealogy standards would rise if only professionals did the work. But, as the number of professional genealogists will never grow to more than a tiny fraction of the population, the way to increase the quality of genealogical work is not to leave it to experts.

If someone is very lucky, they will have some records that another person interested in their family lines compiled. This could simply be a family tree drawn on a sheet of lined paper. It could be a collection of pedigree charts and group sheets. Or it could be a scrapbook filled with not only these charts, but with copies of the documents to support the facts on the charts.

Yet something has been missing with inviting people to do their family history. If two books are on a shelf, and one is a 900 page story about a family who lived during the French Revolution and the other is a 100 page collection of pedigree charts, birth certificates, and a smattering of journal pages... which one would a person be more likely to pick up and read?  The 900 page novel, even if the quality of the novelist's writing is poor. The reason stems from the fact that charts and records are exciting to only a few people. A story that might have been developed from those charts and records, but not necessarily, is far more interesting. People can envision a setting, emotions, and challenges in a narrative form rather than an outline. If outlines or basic facts were more appealing, then we'd have no need for stories by J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, or Jane Austen.

Despite the knowledge that most people love stories more than charts, genealogy has been slow to adopt the practice of recording the stories as well as the facts. A few learned and passionate people of the past kept wonderful, detailed journals. But if you had a poor ancestor, they probably didn't keep a journal, even though they had important stories to share. Few people took the time to write these stories down.

Imagine the value in the details behind the death of a toddler on a German immigrant’s farm. The toddler fell into a recently dug well and drowned. If someone would have written down things like: when did it happen, why did no one see the youngster wander off, who found him, how did the parents react, what was their reaction to the sermon given at the child's funeral that criticized the parents heavily as an 'example' to others, then the story could have more depth and accuracy rather than our poor speculation. In this case, the parents were poor and unable to write their side of events. A literate church leader recorded the blasting remarks from the funeral. Someone learned  probably heard the story of the child's death and had the ability to write, but did not take the time to record it. Future generations are left with only a name, birth and death dates, and a location for the event for a pedigree chart. The sermon, when discovered, will paint the family in a negative light. Ultimately, nothing else will be remembered about this poor toddler farm boy and his bereaved parents with the ‘traditional’ approach to genealogy.

Thankfully, a new wave of interest in family research is growing, and it's changing our perspective of what is important. There is a move away from the genealogical focus on names, dates, and places, to the stories that support those details. Emphasis is placed on preserving memories, photos, and the stuff of people's lives. Then use all of this information, coupled with local and national history, to better understand those names on the charts. The movement is tilting toward preserving memories rather than only completing charts.
To read more, purchase your copy of 21st Century Family Historian at, currently in eBook format with a print version to soon be released. Copies go on sale September 1st.

28 August 2014

Thankful Thursday: It is Good to be Home

Whew! This summer has been a wild ride for my family. In actuality, it started in October 2013 when his company announced plans to reorganize his engineering group. It ended at the end of July with us moving back to my home state of Texas. Furthermore, I'm 1 hour away from my hometown of Sugar Land, TX. For those who know anything about Houston, we're in the Northeast side now. So, I'm truly back home, just on the other side of town.

The moving truck arrives and a neighbor welcomes my daughter
to our new home. Hello Texas!
In addition to the relocation, I have exciting news. My church leaders have requested that I serve our congregation as a Family History Consultant. How cool is that? I have even more of an excuse to teach and inspire others to do their own family history.

So far, this new responsibility has allowed me to take a peek at another person's tree using the helper feature. It's pretty cool. I'm so tempted to 'fix' their tree but a wise consultant knows it's better to teach then to do.

Additionally, I worked with a true newbie to Family Search and family history in setting up their free account. I've learned that perhaps it's best to work in people's homes on their computers, rather than my computer in a church building. Thankfully, the Get Help feature from FamilySearch had a person to contact which solved a few of our issues. Additionally, I helped her fix a few minor problems she had getting started, but I applauded her attempts. She's excited to start playing around and create her tree. I'm excited she's letting me help her along.

Apparently there is a future conference to speak at in April, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I also need to encourage my congregation to do their part in family history, with a major emphasis on tree creation and indexing.

Do you think Genealogy is boring?
Is it something only done by old people in dusty libraries?
If you answered "Yes" then this book is for you.
Available at

In the middle of all of these changes, I completed my new book 21st Century Family Historian with the goal of inspiring those not yet involved in family history to get started and to reignite the fire in those who have dabbled in genealogy but need a new reason to start up again.

I'm super excited for the changes that have taken place. It feels good to be 'home' in more than one meaning of the word. The boxes are nearly unpacked, the paint is dry, and the walls have decorations. Now it's time to get back to raising my kiddos and sharing my passion for family history.

20 August 2014

Power Scrapbooking: Borders Aren't Only for Decoration

Heritage Scrapbook layout
Heritage Scrapbook tip: Use borders

Notice the brown boarder surrounding this scrapbook layout? This is done intentionally but not necessarily as a design element. Instead, the added edge has a practical purpose.

I have noticed that not all scrapbook printing companies are the same. What I mean is, not all printing companies cut their printed scrapbook pages the same when combing them into books. As such, I'll often have significant variations between what allowance one company provides and what another does not.

Standard advice for digital scrapbookers to place all essential elements within the space 1/2 an inch from the edge of the page. All other details can go all the way to the edge, but consider anything 1/4 in from the edge likely to be cut off.

With this page, I have a border colored to compliment the page.
If the border is not entirely trimmed off, the added edge serves as design role.

With this advice in mind, I like to put a narrow border on my pages. Anything inside the border should not get cut off. Anything under the border may. This helps me to visualize the space I have available to me.

Some scrapbooking programs have gridlines that you can lay over your layout creations that are not permanently attached to the design. For me, this is not enough to jump out at me, so I place my border on a separate layer in Photoshop Elements. Sometimes I remove the border before printing and sometimes I do not.

Consider adding borders to your layout for design purposes, or practical ones as well. Most often, the small border will be trimmed off.

15 August 2014

Getting Nerdy: My Ancestors and Death

Warning: My nerdy genealogists side is coming out. I have seen people create cause of death trees before. I haven't wanted to create a similar tree for reasons I can't determine. However, after writing the previous post, I was curious about something else. I wanted to know how old my ancestors were when they died. Not only that, how old was their child I'm descended from when they died?

So, I created this chart. I've listed my ancestors and their ages when they died. On the slanted connecting lines, I listed the age of the child when their parent's died. I hope this makes sense.

Age at death pedigree chart
Age of Death Pedigree Chart
After doing this experiments, it shows me how finite life can be. I had my parents long than my mother's ancestors had their parents (with the exception of Mom's mother) but not as long as my dad's family had their parents. My father's family generally lived longer lives, more so than my father. What's interesting both Robert Geiszler and George Geiszler were very heavy men throughout their life. We talk often of obesity killing folks early in life. Yet look how great-grandpa and grandpa Geiszler lived fairly long lives, despite being overweight.

Who knows what the chart will look like when I join my ancestors across the great divide? However, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope to have my numbers be as large as possible.

My upcoming book 21st Century Family Historian, discussed the use of genealogical databases and other tools that enabled me to access this information in less than 20 minutes. The book will be released in less than half a month! I'm super excited. Look for it at on September 1st.

13 August 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: Louise Album Recap

Thank you for following this series of posts featuring the heritage scrapbook album I made. Making the album about my dearly beloved Grannie was comforting as she passed away in January 2012. The scrapbook allows me to see a snapshot of her life in a visual format. I can share it with my children so they can remember their great Grannie.

Here is a recap of the color scheme that I used:

The digital scrapbook kits that I used:

The pages I created:

If you will give family history scrapbooking a try, remembering to focus on the photos and stories, you will be successful in preserving your family memories.

08 August 2014

Mixed feelings about a completed family tree

For some genealogists, completing their family tree when they are young means they are half-completed entries for their parents and grandparents. Why? Because these relatives are still living and the death blank can not be completed. This is a good thing. You spend your time working on the relatives starting with great-grandparents and working backward.

In my youth, I had one grandparent's blank complete as my grandpa Lew Brown had died when I was nearly 3. I was fortunate enough to have met and had a few memories with my dad's parents and many with my mother's mom. The Geiszlers were placed in a nursing home when I was in middle school. I was never able to visit them in the nursing home and they both died when I was in college. My Grannie Louise Brown lived and was a part of my life, despite the great distance between our homes (Texas to Ohio) and pre-Facebook days. She died at the ripe age of 92 and I was in my thirties. The grandparent's death date blanks were now all complete.

In the mean time, I had started a family and had two children. Shortly after meeting my second child, my father died, 10 years after I graduated high school. My children would have the commonality with me. They would not know one of their grandparents. My mother died not long ago after meeting all of my children. My oldest children have some memories of Grandpa Penny. However, the youngest two won't have many memories, if any. My ancestral family tree now has all of the blanks completed for my nearest ancestors. My children's tree have my half of their tree with completed entries. Their father's side still has their grandparents incomplete as they are living and active parts of their lives.

Louise Long Pedigree Chart
Grannie's family tree had completed death information for much of her life:
meaning, her grandparents and parents had all died before she was 17.

Since my mother died, I have felt like an orphan. Then I had a realization, that my Grannie was an orphan with a completed family tree when she was 17. She had one grandmother whom she never met because her death line was complete long before Louise was born. Her grandfather William Lester Long, owner of Long's Pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio, died when she was 5. In the 1930s, Louise would complete the blanks for her remaining two grandparents and her parents. Her Grandma Angie died when she was 11, Grandpa Smith died when she was 13, her mother died shortly before her 14th birthday and her father died when she was 17. She was more of an orphan, meaning at a younger age than I was, including the fact that her birth mother died due to child birth.

Then I thought of my mother. She never knew her grandparents, again, because Grannie's parents had died long before Mom was born. Grandpa Lew's parents had died many years before Mom was born as well. However, mom grew into adulthood and was married with two children before her father passed away. Her grandparent's blanks were completed before she was born and now she had her father's death information to add to her chart. Her mother's death blank was completed long after Mom's children were born, raised, married, and having a family of their own. Mom didn't really feel like a total orphan.

As I said, the family tree that my children will complete has all the birth, marriage, and death lines complete for their pedigree chart for their Geiszler/Brown grandparents. I'm fortunate, that this line goes back four more generations before the lines are blank because of brick walls. On their father's side, the blanks are completed when they reach great-grandparents. They are very, very fortunate with this regard.

I can not predict the future, nor would I want to. In reviewing my family tree, there are sometimes I wish a few blanks were not complete. I wish they weren't complete because that would mean those individuals were living with a death blank yet to be determined.

Working on our family history gives us many things to think about. Are there things I can learn about longevity from my ancestors? Are there things I can empathize with? Is a completed chart all there is to my family members?

When we begin look beyond names, dates, and places to complete the pedigree chart, we find the heart of family history.  Something I stress in my upcoming book 21st Century Family Historian, available at The charts are only tools to guide us to the stories we can learn. So although my chart is complete, much like that of my grandmother's, the stories are going to keep me from being too sad.

06 August 2014

15 Things I Learned About Myself While Scanning

I have been holding on to this post for sometime, waiting to release it when the time was right. In 2012, blogger Sarah and the Goon Squad, wrote a great piece entitled Things I Learned About Myself While Scanning Old Photos.

She featured 8 things that she learned and I loved the idea. I'm amazed that she kept her list to less than 10 things. In reviewing my list, I could have come up with hundreds of things. I'm sure that would be super boring, so I decided to cut the list off at 15.

1. I used to smile as big as my second daughter.

Devon Lee youth

Devon Lee's daughter
My daughter.

2. I have always prefer my hair long

Power of personal history

3. This perms destroyed my hair

Scanning and Personal History
Scanning and Personal History
A few years after the perm 'faded,'
and my hair was never the same.

4. I wore a lot of dresses for a girl who hated dresses. Perhaps I didn't like ugly dresses.

Devon and Robert Geiszler
Pretty dress from scrapbook.
Wish I had more dresses like this.
Not so pretty dress.
I can see why I hated dresses!

5. I didn't know much about fashion.

Devon Geiszler in Middle School
Hmm... teddy bear sweater in Texas?

6. But sometimes I had winners (okay, for the time...)

High School Homecoming
High School Senior Prom

7. I enjoyed pageants when I was just having fun

Have fun at Pageants
That's me clapping and having a great time.
My pageant winning moment
This was my winning moment!

8. I like having my pictures taken but doing it full time would not be fun.

Devon Geiszler
Devon Geiszler

9. I had more fun at activities with friends than with boyfriends.

Devon Geiszler and Joseph Buffa
High School dance with my best friend Joe Buffa.
Best dance ever!

10. I really do miss being in color guard.

Kempner High School Color Guard
Kempner High School Color Guard at camp
Blinn College Band and Color Guard
Blinn College band, me in the middle!

11. High School became more fun when I cared less about grades and more about people.

Kempner High School Graduating Seniors
The point is... I would never have enjoyed this girls if
I didn't learn the time I spent studying with the time I spent
with people. These girls made high school rock!

12. I am so glad I went to Texas A&M

Texas A&M Elephant Walk Class of 98
Texas A&M Elephant Walk Class of 98

13. I love being married to this hunk!

Andrew and Devon Lee
Andrew and Devon Lee

14. Motherhood has been the most difficult blessing of my life.

Andrew and Devon Lee
The day I became a mother for the first time.

15. I'm so blessed to have these folks call me mom. This is the best career move I have ever made.

My fabulous kids!

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to think about your story, your personal history. My upcoming book, 21st  Century Family Historian, focuses on the importance of recording your story just as much as the story of your ancestors. The book will be released on September 1st at