Friday, October 28, 2011


Karen Utter Jennings
            The harvest season is a season of gathering crops from the fields and getting together with family and friends to celebrate the harvest. Gathering family stories is a fun and tantalizing aspect of genealogy. With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to prepare for big family gatherings. 
            Collecting family stories includes letters, oral stories, photos, cards, interviews, Bible records, published materials such as books, etc.  Each piece of memorabilia contributes to a rich family history.
            Many folks write holiday family letters to their kinfolk.  These letters can sometimes be full of family information, so keep them with your research.  Not long ago, my cousin, Shirley Bell Utter Grout gave me photos and old family keepsakes from her side of the Utter family: Zim and Sarah Utter. In the batch were several letters written by Sarah’s sister. The sister writes of news from their hometown in Indiana and of family still living there. The sister gives details of a friend’s wedding and all she received as wedding gifts. What a wonderful documentation!
             When you have old letters, somewhere on the letter, perhaps at the top or bottom, include the date, who the writer of the letter is and how they are kin to you.  In fact, always save all letter and cards as they document and preserve that person’s handwriting and their words. 
            This year, during your annual Christmas card sending, why not try your hand at writing family letters to your kinfolk.   Explain that you are doing genealogy and include family information that you have found.  Ask them if they can supply answers to the missing information and if they have pictures they will share.  You may be surprised at what you will get in return. 
            Another suggestion for this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings is to ask your guests to bring a few family photos to share with everyone. Then prepare for the event by writing down questions you may have or memories, which will be great conversation starters.
            Interviewing relatives at the family gatherings is another great way to learn bits and pieces of days gone by.   An informal interview can be as simple as sitting together asking and answering questions.  Beforehand, write questions on paper so you will not forget them during the excitement of the day. Keep the paper and pen with you.  While interviewing, think about using a small cassette recorder if you have one.  I have learned that when our family members get to reminiscing, I cannot write fast enough to catch every phrase and word!  You may want to ask your relatives permission to use a recorder beforehand.    
            Another great way to gather family stories is to use the photos you have with no identification on them.  Place the photos in archival-safe clear sleeves and assign a number to each photo.  During the get-together, pass them around and ask if anyone recognizes the people, places, events, and dates.   Write the information you learn about the photos on paper corresponding with the assigned number of each photo.
            Please, never write on the backs of the pictures and if you must, use pencil.  If you use an ink pen to write on the backs, over time the ink will bleed through onto the fronts of the pictures ruining them.  
            Family dinners and get-togethers are opportunities to discover missing pieces of your research.  The holidays are coming: gather your family history stories.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


By Karen Utter Jennings 
            As the holidays near, if there are genealogists on your gift-giving list this year, here are a few ideas for finding that “just right present” for them.  Sometimes with the hurry and bustle of life, my mind goes blank when I try to think of something unique for my loved ones.     
            Magazine subscriptions are always nice.  Genealogy magazines to consider might be   Family Chronicle, Ancestry Magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Helper (I have not read this one), and Family Tree Magazine.  Remember history magazines for the history lovers in your family. 
            Every genealogist will appreciate genealogy books.  My friend, Myra, recently became interested in her family history search, so I bought a genealogy book for her birthday. Remember the Genealogy Friends of the Library’s books that are for sale in the genealogy room at the library.  The Genealogy Friends of the Library are a group that promotes family history research in Neosho, MO. They offer books pertaining to local history and genealogy as well as cookbooks, too.
            Our local authors have new books available, too.  Kay Hively and Larry James just published a book about the Neosho Fish Hatchery.  Frankie Carlin Meyer offers her latest book about our area and her family history.  Contact the authors to purchase their books.   
            Genealogy software such as Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic are popular.  There are software programs for writing your family history and scrap booking, also.  Check them out in our local stores.  A gift subscription to might thrill your genealogist. is one of the best websites for your money.   They offer several different plans.  Go to their internet website for more information. 
            For the genealogist who has a collection of pictures and memorabilia, scrapbook supplies are great gifts.   Family heritage is a popular scrap-booking topic and you can buy complete kits to make the project easier.  During the cold winter months, genealogists can scrap a beautiful family keepsake album.
            I found Family Tree Lagacies, a hardbound book from the creators of Family Tree Magazine.  This book has sections to help you document all aspects of your family genealogy and keep it organized. From the usual vital information such as births, marriages and deaths, to memories and traditions, this book uses dozens of fill-in pages to record information. There is even space for mounting photographs. The questions that are included in each section helps the writer remember what to include for a well-rounded family history. The book includes a reference guide to help you delve deeper into family history research and it comes with a DVD. It makes a nice gift.
            For the writer in the family, journals make great gifts. There are memory books and journals available with questions and space to record your family stories and information.   These books will easily get someone writing in no time.
            Digital cameras and laptop computers are handy for genealogists who are on the go. The little netbooks are something to consider. I’d love to have one!  Photo Editing Software makes a wonderful and useful gift, also. During the holidays, watch the store ads and catch these expensive items at a great price.  
            Remember the stocking stuffers.  CDs, flash drives, mechanical pencils, erasers, printer ink, paper clips, and batteries are just a few items you can sneak into a stocking.    
            I think I’ll leave this wish list near my husband’s chair just in case he needs a few ideas for me… 

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I love the movie, "Serendipity" about a man and woman who cross paths in a department store at Christmas time and find the last pair of black gloves, whom both want to buy. From that lone encounter comes a story of hope and love. I've watched it time and time again. Serendipity happened to me and my brother one day in a cemetery! This is the serendipity that happened to us:
Serendipity and Sonya
By Karen Utter Jennings
            I love finding something unexpectedly or something happens to surprise me.   Some might call it luck, some may say it comes from a Higher Power, or some call it serendipity.  The dictionary describes serendipity as a seeming gift of finding something good accidentally or having luck or good fortune in finding something good accidentally.    
            Serendipity happened to me on Memorial Day, 2009.  I took two of my grandkids, Kendal and Kynsey, to meet my brother Bill and his wife, Peggy, at Rocky Comfort Cemetery.   We decorated the Utter, Johnson, and Black family graves and we went to the graves of other lines of the Utter and Johnson families.   
            While Bill and Peggy continued to putter around that area, the kids and I crossed the road to search the newer part of the cemetery for a family grave.  After searching vainly, we went back and found Bill and Peggy where we had left them, but they had company.  Bill introduced me to our second cousin, Sonya Allison, her 2 daughters and their children.  We chatted about our Utter sides of the family and before we left, exchanged information.   A few days later, I wrote Sonya a letter and included a few family pictures.  Within a short time, she wrote back and included some of her family pictures.  A fantastic friendship was born.
            Over the summer, Sonya and I have enjoyed our time together. Our correspondence includes family information, tons of pictures, and stories.  Sonya set up a meeting with other cousins and one Tuesday we met in Joplin for lunch then journeyed to meet distant cousins Fred, Waple and Sue Ferguson for the afternoon.   
            Fred shared pictures of my great-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter and a beautiful old picture of my great, great-grandparents, David and Christina Utter.  In return, I gave Fred pictures of my grandfather and father and other assorted pictures.  Fred and Sonya chattered happily, catching up on family matters as it had been a while since they last visited together. 
            Our host for the afternoon was Waple Ferguson.   Waple is 93 years old and he remembers my great-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter.   While Waple talked and told stories, I wrote.   I came home with a wealth of family history, pictures and a warm and loving feeling.
            Genealogists dream of finding relatives with information and pictures!   And it happened to me.   I like the word serendipity, the way it sounds, the meaning of it, so I choose to call meeting Sonya just that.  But whatever it is, through the contact in the Rocky Comfort Cemetery, it led to Sonya: who is another treasure to cherish.
            You never know when you will cross paths with someone who is kin to you and what family information they may have. Be a bit bold and approach that person who you run on to, introduce yourself and see if serendipity happens to you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Organize Your Genealogy

Organizing Your Genealogy With Binders and File Folders
 Karen Utter Jennings
            Is your desk or workspace overflowing with family genealogy materials?  Can you find exactly what you are looking for without digging for it?  The next step on your genealogical journey is to organize.  There are many ways to organize, but this week we will focus on using three-ring binders.   
            When I began my family research, I found information on my great, great-grandfather, David Jefferson Utter and his siblings.    Soon into the research, I knew I had to organize the notes, the papers, and the newspaper clippings that were piling up before I misplaced them.
            I chose three-ring binders.  Binders come in varying sizes and colors.  Depending on the size, they can hold a lot of information.  My favorite is the white binder with a clear view front.   If you choose the largest binders, they are capable of holding upwards of 500 sheets.   Along with the binders, you will want to purchase a set of archival safe clear sheet protectors to hold small items like newspaper clippings, pictures, and notes.   
            I purchased a binder for David Jefferson and two others for his siblings.  I set up each binder with the protective sleeves and tabbed dividers.   I sorted the family group sheets and other materials on each person and put them into the appropriate binder.   As my research grew, I bought more binders until I had binders for several family members. 
            Binders are handy to take along when I go to libraries or other institutions to do research.   Once the binders are set up, you can pull a particular binder for the people you are researching and have the information beside you.  
            When approaching a method to organize your family history research, you want to use what you are comfortable with and can afford.  Starting out small and adding to it as you collect your information may be the way you want to start.  As you continue on your genealogical journey, your collection will grow and grow and grow.  If you choose binders to organize  research, you won’t be disappointed.  Always remember to use archival safe materials to store your precious research. 
            Another method genealogists and writers use to organize their notes, research material and family information is using  file folders in filing cabinets.  Before we begin, I will tell you that I like simple and easy things.  So, regarding using file folders to organize my research, I try to keep it simple.  I file alphabetically and group materials together.  I write fiction and nonfiction, so I have my fiction in one file cabinet and nonfiction in another. 
            To begin organizing your family research with file folders you will have to gather your gear.  Purchase a box of file folders and file labels if you do not want to write directly on the folders.  You will need a place to store the file folders, so choose an upright file cabinet (they come in many sizes) or a crate that will hold file folders.  Accordion files are available, also.  There are many ways to store file folders, so check it out in the office supply store.     
            Sort through your family group sheets and pedigree forms and file them in your file folders.  Write the names directly on the file folder tab or on a file folder label and apply it to the folder.  The easiest way to file is alphabetically, but that is your own personal decision.  You may devise a system that fits your needs.    
            As I do my family research, I run across useful information that I print out to keep as reference material for my writing.  I place that information in file folders and file it alphabetically.  Since I am a writer, I have several large upright file cabinets that are handy for this purpose.   I also have the space for them, so remember they do take up space in a room.
            There are other methods to filing and it can become complicated.   Some researchers use proof files.  Proof files are the originals and master copies of all the information you accumulate.  Examples include birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, divorce papers, photographs, copies of secondary sources, correspondence, etc.  The originals are copied, then stored in a safe place.  The copies of the originals are used in research.
            Remember, if you choose to use file folders as a filing system, keep it user-friendly and uncomplicated.  I use both methods: three-ring binders and file folders in filing cabinets. That's because I am a writer, too. Genealogy is supposed to be fun, not complicated.  Have fun researching your family history!