ABCs of Family History: F


is for family art. This term includes art pieces (1) collected by an ancestor and (2) created by an ancestor. For example, the following piece was created by my dad during his college years.

Family art is valuable because it can shed some light on your ancestor’s personality. Several studies have shown that certain personalities are drawn to particular art styles. For example, more outgoing, romantic folks tend to gravitate toward modern art. Here’s a handy table that summarizes some of the more common art styles and corresponding personality types.

Art StylePersonality Types
AbstractCreative; extroverted; open-minded
CubismControversial; open-minded; provocative; shocking
ImpressionismAgreeable; avoids conflict; conscientious; mediator
ModernAmiable; open-minded; outgoing; romantic
Pop ArtFall in love easily; fun-loving; optimistic; vibrant
RenaissanceConservative; prefer the simpler things in life
TraditionalConservative; mature; rule-follower; won’t rock the boat

Do any of these ring true with your ancestors and the art they preferred? Tell me about it in the comments below. It could be that your ancestors merely collected pieces that were in vogue during their lifetimes.

Also, if you have family art, why not share it? I guarantee that future generations will come to cherish those pieces and their collectors/creators. Your genealogy “to-do” for this month is to photograph (or scan) any family art pieces you have and upload the images to the “Memories” section of your FamilySearch account (or to whatever genealogy program you use). I promise you won’t regret it.

ABCs of Family History: E


is for enumeration. Enumeration, or the process of counting people, is crucial to genealogical research because it ultimately results in a census. (For more on census records, click here.) In the U.S., enumeration occurs every 10 years, and the next round starts in 2020. (Census Day is officially 4/1/20.)

How does the enumeration process work? It starts with an invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau. 95% of households will receive this invitation in the mail. Almost 5% of households will receive it in person from a census taker. The remaining households (mostly in remote areas) won’t receive an invitation; instead, they will be counted in person by a census taker. Each of these categories is assigned to a Type of Enumeration Area (TEA). To see what category your geographic area is assigned to, check out the TEA Viewer.

Households assigned to the self-response TEA will have the option to provide data online, by mail, or by phone. According to the Census Bureau, information provided by households is kept confidential and is used only to produce statistics. The information is never shared with immigration enforcement agencies, the FBI, or local police. However, census records are released to the general public 72 years after Census Day. So, the next census scheduled to be released (1950) will be available in April 2022.

The enumeration process benefits more than family historians. It also—

  • determines how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • is used to redraw district boundaries. (Redistricting counts are sent to the states by 3/31/21.)
  • is used by communities to plan for new roads, schools, and emergency services.
  • is used by businesses to plan for new retail areas.
  • is used by federal agencies to distribute federal funds.

Are you dreading next year’s enumeration process? It shouldn’t be too bad. The Census Bureau will be using existing public data to reduce follow-up visits. It also is automating field operations to make the process more efficient. And think of it this way—the information you provide next year will benefit family historians for generations to come.

ABCs of Family History: D


is for DNA. DNA testing has quickly become a trendy tool for genealogical research. But is it necessary? Some would argue that genetics testing is superfluous, especially if your family tree is well developed. However, there are several key reasons why DNA testing should be considered.

#1—DNA is another genealogical record. Just like a census or birth certificate, DNA is a record. And it’s arguably the most unique record you will find. It connects you to cultures and geographic regions that may be somewhat foreign to you. A few years ago, I took a DNA test through The results came in the form of an “ethnicity estimate,” which summarizes my genetic origins from thousands of years ago.

Ethnicity Estimate

As you can see, the greatest percentage goes to Scandinavia, closely followed by Great Britain. The 12% attributed to Ireland is somewhat puzzling, but it’s very plausible my English ancestors commingled with the Irish.

Earlier this year, introduced “genetic communities,” which show where your ancestors most likely lived in the past few hundred years. My genetic communities include early settlers of Central Appalachia, Mormon pioneers in the Mountain West, and early settlers of Eastern Kentucky and Northeast Tennessee. Of course, these make sense when compared to the results of my own genealogical research.

Genetic Communities

#2—DNA testing can connect you with distant relatives. One advantage of DNA testing is that you’re introduced to DNA matches, which are usually second, third, or fourth cousins. Reaching out to these matches can provide you with new insights, old pictures, and family stories. You may even find a new ancestor! Earlier this year, a second cousin contacted me through We compared notes, and I was able to learn more about her mother’s line. It was a wonderful experience that was made possible by DNA testing.

#3—DNA testing can verify the information in your tree. DNA testing is a way to verify the accuracy of your family tree through scientific means. I had always known that my direct ancestors came from Sweden, Denmark, and England. When my DNA test confirmed this, I felt confident that my genealogical research had been sound. You may experience the opposite, however. You may uncover biological relatives you didn’t know about, which can expand your family tree to other areas of the world.

#4—DNA testing can conquer family tree roadblocks. This happened to me when I was researching the Stafford line. The earliest Stafford I found was John Miles Stafford, my 5th great grandfather. John was born on February 17, 1783 in Walkers Creek, Giles, Virginia. On May 10, 1803, John married Nancy Runyon in Tazewell, Virginia. They had eight children.

For the longest time I was unable to identify John’s parents—the line simply stopped at John. That was until I received a message from someone on who matched my DNA profile. Here is an excerpt from the message:

We have family lore that John Miles Stafford was “raised by the Compton’s” from the memoirs of one of his grandsons and as it turns out, our Y-DNA is a match for the Compton surname. That tells us that John Miles Stafford was born out of wedlock to a COMPTON male and a STAFFORD female, and we are nearly certain of who the couple is, and believe that it is John Compton Jr. and probably Absolem’s daughter Sarah Stafford. Absolem Stafford and John Compton Sr. (father of John Compton Jr.) shared a property line in Tazewell Co, VA and can also be found living in very close proximity during the years of their migration from the east coast.

Jackpot! It turns out that John Miles Stafford is a descendant of the Compton line. After diving deeper into the family history, I began noticing Stafford males with the first name of “Compton.” Compton Stafford (1805-1890), one of John’s sons, was married to Eleanor McCoy (of the famed Hatfield versus McCoy feud). My second great grandfather was also named Compton Stafford (1847-1905). Could it be that “Compton” became a family name out of respect for the Compton family who raised John Miles Stafford?

Are you convinced yet? I hope so. DNA testing can be an extremely valuable tool no matter how developed your tree is. Various DNA tests are available, so do your research to see which one is best for you.

ABCs of Family History: C


is for census. Census records are a staple of genealogical research. They provide vital information for each household member, such as name, sex, race, age, marital status, education, and place of birth. Census records also paint vibrant pictures of the family’s everyday life. For example, a census will reveal each individual’s occupation and the value of the family’s home. The 1900 census is particularly helpful because it lists the number of children a woman had and how many of those were living. No matter what you’re looking for, a census record is a great place to start.

According to Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, the U.S. is required to conduct a census every 10 years. The first census was taken in 1790; the most recent census was performed in 2010. Early censuses (through 1840) listed only the names of the heads of household. Starting in 1850, enumerators recorded specific information for all household members. Unfortunately, most of the 1890 census was destroyed by a fire in January 1921.

In general, census records are subject to the “72-year rule.” This means that records are kept private for 72 years after the census year. Therefore, the latest census we have access to is 1940. Individuals named in the 1950-2010 censuses (or their heirs) can request records for their households only by submitting Form BC-600. Otherwise, you will have to wait until April 1, 2022 to explore the 1950 census. Note that census records from 1790 to 1940 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.

When you examine a census record, you will notice various symbols and codes. Perhaps the most common code in the 1940 census is the “x” with a circle around it. This indicates who gave the household information to the enumerator. For example, here is the 1940 census listing my great grandfather, Charlie Stafford, and his wife, Draxie. As you can see, Draxie provided the information to the census taker.

Stafford_1940 Census

An “x” with a circle around it appears next to Draxie’s name

There are other codes, too, so it’s important that you become familiar with them before examining the record. Click here for a helpful summary of the questions and codes used in the 1940 census.

Want to view some “famous” census records? Click here.

ABCs of Family History: B


is for boat. Boats are synonymous with the classic immigration story, which teaches us that immigration is more than just physical movement – it’s an emotional journey where identities evolve and family narratives are rewritten. As such, it’s important for the family historian to look to passenger lists and other boat records to understand the motivation behind the immigration of an ancestor.

The first (and earliest) boat record I found concerned my 11th great grandfather, Godfrey Hundley. Godfrey was born in 1611 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England. According to a 19th Century publication edited by John Camden Hotten, Godfrey sailed from London to America on the vessel “Primrose.” He arrived in Virginia on July 27, 1635; he was 24 years old.

Primrose 1

“Primrose” Passenger List (part 1)

Primrose 2

“Primrose” Passenger List (part 2)

The publication describes the passengers as “persons of quality; emigrants; religious exiles; political rebels; serving men sold for a term of years; apprentices; children stolen; maidens pressed; and others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations.” I assume Godfrey fell into one of those categories, but without clarifying documentation, I have no way of knowing which one.

Although the reason for Godfrey’s immigration is unclear, the story behind my 2nd great grandfather’s journey is pretty straightforward. In 1857, Marcus Espersen Funk immigrated from Denmark to America to join the Latter-day Saint community in Utah. His travels were partly motivated by a desire for religious freedom and a thirst for new opportunities.

Marcus Funk

Marcus Funk (1842-1926)

The following boat record shows that Marcus, his mother, and his siblings traveled from Liverpool, England to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the ship “Tuscarora.” The ship arrived on July 3, 1857 (159 years ago today); the voyage took a little over a month.

CR 271 25_Bx 3 Vol 2_00076

“Tuscarora” Passenger List

Notes describing the Tuscarora’s voyage shed some light on the situation:

“The ship Tuscarora, Captain Dunlevy, sailed from Liverpool, May 30th, 1857, having 547 of the Saints on board, of whom two hundred and ninety-eight were from the Scandinavian and the remainder from the British Mission. Elder Richard Harper was appointed president of the company, with Joseph Stapleton and C. M. Funck as his counselors. The Saints who sailed in that vessel only contemplated going to the States that season, there to labor and procure means to enable them to cross the plains to Utah another year. After a pleasant voyage lasting about five weeks the Tuscarora arrived in Philadelphia on the third of July. From that port most of the emigrants continued the journey by rail to Burlington, Iowa, where they scattered in search of employment.”

Marcus and his family eventually settled in Richmond, Cache County, Utah.

These two stories illustrate the importance of boat records in telling your family’s immigration story. This story is tremendously important. It reveals the types of values your ancestors cherished – values that caused them to leave their homes and risk everything for a new life. Be sure to lean on boat records to help uncover the motivation behind your ancestors’ travels.

ABCs of Family History: A


is for ahnentafel. Yes, it’s German. Literally translated as “ancestor table,” an ahnentafel is a simple yet compact way to depict one’s family history. And it can be done without diagrams or the typical family tree structure. This makes an ahnentafel the preferred way to present genealogical information when schematics are limited or impractical (e.g., group emails).

An ahnentafel uses a numbering system to organize your ancestors. The individual whose ancestry is being traced (typically you) is listed as No. 1. The subject’s father and mother are assigned No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Paternal grandparents get No. 4 and No. 5, while the maternal grandparents get No. 6 and No. 7. This means that, with the exception of No. 1, all males will have even numbers and all females will have odd numbers.

Here is an example of an ahnentafel using my maternal grandfather (Harold Edwin Lundquist) as the subject.

1st Generation

1 Harold Edwin LUNDQUIST. Born on 4 January 1910 in Smithfield, Cache Co., Utah. Died 28 May 1979 in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., California; he was 69.

On 8 November 1930 when Harold was 20, he married Erma Funk in Preston, Franklin Co., Idaho.

2nd Generation

2 Eric Benjamin LUNDQUIST. Born on 27 December 1871 in Broten, Annehard, Sweden. Died 25 July 1932 in Smithfield, Cache Co., Utah; he was 60.

On 4 November 1903 when Eric was 31, he married Eugenia Harris in Logan, Cache Co., Utah.

3 Eugenia HARRIS. Born on 4 November 1881 in Hyde Park, Cache Co., Utah. Died 14 February 1950 in Smithfield, Cache Co., Utah; she was 68.

3rd Generation

4 Carl Gustav LUNDQUIST. Born on 9 February 1834 in Luckebo, Orebro, Sweden. Died 21 September 1880 in Broten, Annehard, Sweden; he was 46.

On 20 November 1857 when Carl was 23, he married Caroline Erickson in Ostmark, Varmland, Sweden.

5 Caroline ERICKSON. Born on 12 September 1832 in Varmland, Sweden. Died 11 March 1903 in Hyde Park, Cache Co., Utah; she was 70.

6 William Emer HARRIS. Born on 3 December 1854 in Ogden, Weber Co., Utah. Died 27 October 1904 in Pocatello, Bannock Co., Idaho; he was 49.

On 4 November 1877 when William was 22, he married Katherine Sarah Perkes in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Co., Utah.

7 Katherine Sarah PERKES. Born on 12 May 1861 in Belleville, St. Clair Co., Illinois. Died 7 September 1957 in Smithfield, Cache Co., Utah; she was 96.

As you can see, an ahnentafel generally includes the three main genealogical events: births, marriages, and deaths. In addition, since an ahnentafel doesn’t use diagrams, last names are usually in capital letters so you can easily scan each name.

Take some time to prepare a basic ahnentafel – you never know when it will come in handy.