March 2008

The P3 Power Boost Magazine

Researching with the Geniebug

By Sylvia D. Murray AG

The Winter Count

As we do Genealogy Research today we often think in terms of written records only.  We need to remember how records were kept in the days before a written language was introduced to a group.  These histories will help identify Native Americans time of birth or death by the events that were recorded for a particular year on a hide or muslin cloth.

 The tribal leaders picked the significant event for the year and the designated winter count keeper recorded the event.  He was the community historian.  This honor would be given to each new generation in some families.

The Winter Count was passed down among males of the tribe, sometimes being recopied as the original hide or fabric wore out.  Paper copies of the Winter Counts are found museums.  Each recopying would result in some changes, often minor but other times many additional details were added.  Sometimes a woman would be the artist/recorder but more often it was a male member of the tribe.

The recopying of any information often has additions or deletions, you will often find this happening in hand copied court records, wills, bills of sale, and other documents.

Winter Counts or as the Lakota called them “waniyetu wowapi” we used in conjunction with their oral histories.  The oral histories would present far more details about the recorded event.  The year was measured from first snowfall to the first snowfall of the next year.  So a rough translation is a drawing of winter or year.

Many groups of people passed down their histories by recording them pictorially. Some hides have over 200 pictures recording a tribal history of approximately 200 years.  Events recorded might include illnesses, such as small pox, the arrival of white men, wars, great feats of war or honor,  and even the start of religious schools for the children in the area.

This practice was largely ended by the 1930s as the literacy level increased among tribal leaders.

The Winter Count not only helped people identify the year they were born but also recorded social and political history of the nation. These painted events would reflect what was widely known in the area, this would become a reference point for dating.  Some of the events might not be critical to the tribe existence but would be readily recognized as a certain year on the robe.

Many peoples retain early tribal memories either by paintings, stories, and sometimes both.  The past was very important and held knowledge of the nation.


February 1, 2008

By Sylvia D. Murray A.G.
How Do I Find My Heritage?

Each of us wonders about our family origins and just where we came from.  With our immediate families being so spread out and disconnected we often do not know where to start or even whom to ask.

This column’s purpose is to guide you, step by step, answering questions and making suggestions, on each new step in this very individual project. 

Getting started is as easy as looking at your own birth certificate.  It will indicate where you and your parents were born, with at least a state given.  Hopefully your parents are still alive and can get you started on your initial pedigree chart.  It’s so much fun to fill in the blanks with each bit of information you glean from private and public records.

Each life is made of basically three recorded events, birth, marriage, and death.  Our goal will be to flesh out these statistics into a living breathing person with whom you can identify.  From whom did you inherit the color of your eyes or when did nearsightedness enter my family line?  Health issues can be traced and will help you make knowledgeable decisions on your life style and medical health.

Go to and they list a variety free forms you can print.  You will need a pedigree or ancestral chart and family group sheets as you get started.  There are several great software programs available on the market but until you are sure just which bells and whistles you really want I suggest a free download of Personal Ancestral File or PAF.  Go to , next, select order/download products, then, software downloads, select Personal Ancestral File 5.2.18, then download, its free. They offer a tutorial to either print or copy to a disk.  A disk is best as it’s over 250 pages.  They will ask you to register for future update notices.  The only information requested is first and last name and email address.  At that point you can select your language for your free down load.  It’s very user friendly. 

Starting with the pedigree or ancestral chart start writing what you know about your direct line, yourself, parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on.  Expect not to be able to fill in all the blanks but do the best you can, even if it’s only a guess on a year or state.  This data serves as your starting point.

Second if you have any relatives who might be able to remember these dates and places call and ask them what they remember or know about your family.  Remember all people are listed with their birth names.  If you have name changes (other than marriage) list each one and the reason for the change too.  Each name directs you to additional records. 

On your Family Group Sheets list as many children as you know for each couple.  Approximate dates are acceptable at this point in your research.  You will learn methods to find the exact date and place events occur. 

Be sure to be flexible as you gain information.  Marriage didn’t always happen before the birth of children, or even at all in some lines.  There are many reasons for this that we will explore later, but do not let this make you uncomfortable.  These things have been happening since the beginning of time.  All that really matters is that you exist.

Next column we will work with free web sites to take your research further.  A nice one to explore for now is   Please remember only deceased individuals are listed due to privacy laws.  You will not always be successful but it’s worth a look.  People from all over the world have contributed to this site.  Another good site with many free links is
Your will find many sites requiring payment; this is up to you if you join.  Let’s see what we can find on you and your family at free sites first. 

If you have research questions or problems, please send them to

Until next time,


Article Published in The Brass Spectacle, March 2008


January 15, 2008

The P3 Power Boost Magazine


By Sylvia D. Murray, A.G.

Checking Vital Record Certificates for Hidden Information and Clues

You have been collecting formation on your family and now have several documents, birth, marriage, and death certificates.  Perhaps you were very lucky and obtained an obituary or funeral card on your grandparents or an aunt or uncle. 

For those of you who are new to Genealogy it is very easy to just look at the date and the place of an event.  The detective in each of you now needs to come to the surface as we look for clues hidden in this piece of paper.  On older birth certificates you will not only find race listed but whether or not the parents were married and if the baby is legitimate.  And one very important fact is the mother’s maiden name on the document, this will lead you to extended family information.

Check the date the document was filed, if it is several years after the event, it may indicate changed information or an adoption.

By careful perusing you will be able to determine the birth order of your direct ancestor.  This will led to clues about an infant that may have passed away or a child lost before maturity.  As the years pass many families no longer talk about such a heartbreaking event.  But when asked they will tell you the details of the tragedy.  Many families suffered many deaths during the 1918 flu epidemic.  You will often find proof of this in a cemetery; note the dates on the markers or tome stones.  Local area history will have lists of the diseases that swept through an area.  The town library or newspaper will give you more details.

Other facts reported on the birth certificate are the occupation of the parents, where they resided, and state of birth.  I have several delayed birth certificates in my family.  They didn’t register at birth and waited to file until later in life. They applied for a birth certificate for one of several reasons, including: entering the armed forces, working for the government during the War, and to qualify for social security.  Delayed birth certificates have listed their proofs of birth, this may indicate where the family resided, voted, went to school, or even religious affiliation.

Marriage records have at least 2 parts, the license and the certificate.  Some states have more than 2 parts, in Montana we have 3.  If at all possible you want to acquire a photocopy of both license and the certificate.  They have different information listed. The license tends to have the family information of dates and places. The license is the application to be married, the certificate records the date and place of the marriage.  The marriage could take place in a different town or even county in a state.  Remember that just because they applied for the license it does not mean that the marriage ever took place.  Licenses are valid for a certain length of time, following which they would have to apply again.  All families have elopements, and sometimes annulments.

Death Certificates are a wealth of information but the only fact that is accurate is the date and place of death.  All other facts need to be verified by other proofs.  The first one of an older couple to pass will have the best certificate, as the facts will given be given by someone who has lived with them for many years and knew them best.  The second one in an elderly couple to die will often have many errors on their record because the informant may be child, a cousin, or even a grandchild or care taker.

The place of death may not be their usual residence, but they will 9 times out of 10 be buried near their home town.  Do not assume because they are buried in a certain location they died there.  Often elderly widowed relatives live with children their later years, or in a nursing home near by. Parents should be listed with the mother’s maiden name and birth places for both individuals, with at least a birth state given.  Occupation for the deceased will suggest other informative records to locate for the individual.

Check the funeral home listed as they may have additional information, just as will the cemetery listed. The funeral home may have changed hands but they normally retain the older records from the previous owners.  Many funeral homes now charge for copies of their records on your family member but it is often money well spend.  You could gain the religion, the location and denomination of their church, a newspaper obituary, if they served in the military, and/or a copy of the memorial card.  Each funeral home keeps different amounts of information so this will vary.  Be sure when you contact the cemetery to ask if they are interred in a family plot.  If they are you want to determine the other occupants of the plot, as they should be relatives, whose names will generate more research leads.
Remember that I am giving best case scenarios.  All states and counties keep a varying amount of information.  Start with the county if they have copies of the records as they will be the most complete information for the event.  The eastern states have been keeping vital records for a longer period of time than the western states.  Check for the dates covered for each state and their holdings.  Please check both the state level and the county level.  You do not need a certified copy and this will sometimes save you some money on the fees.

My favorite site for death records is  Several states had Pdf files of the original document.  Please check each state for this availability.  You will find not only death records are in this index but also some birth records and obituaries.  Be sure to watch for the word free or paid service in each state.

Any research questions you may have, please contact me at

Have fun researching, Sylvia 




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