All posts by jennyskip

RootsTech 2019 Takeaways

Oh, my gosh! I’ve spent the last four days in front of the television watching #RootsTech #NotatRootsTech via the RootsTech app and Apple TV.

A few years ago I was able to attend this in person, the largest symposium of genealogy-related seminars/exhibits in the world, I believe it was 2012 and 2013. It is held in the middle of Salt Lake City at the Salt Palace Convention Center. I always associate the aroma of fresh-roasted nuts with cinnamon and vanilla sugar, because a vendor was cranking out cone-shaped bags of them the whole time I was there.

This year, the RootsTech app on my phone and iPad worked better than ever, at bringing live-streamed broadcasts of certain sessions from 10 AM (my time) to 6 or 8:00 PM Wednesday through Saturday. All of those live-streamed sessions will be available on the RootsTech web site for a while. Meanwhile, I could have bought a $129 special pass to have temporary access to some other awesome classes that weren’t on the free live-streamed feed. I didn’t spring for the specials pass, but I may change my mind. Right now I’ve got my hands full trying to process all the new stuff that was introduced to me in the past 4 days.

  1. New innovations: Thru-Lines, which as of now can replace the old DNA Circles if you choose, organizes your DNA matches in a graphic pedigree that shows how you’re related to some of those elusive DNA matches who don’t have public pedigrees. The listing of DNA matches is revved-up, and you can hook up some of those mysterious matches with tags. All kinds of tags! Customizable tags! Mom’s side, Dad’s side, Pennsylvania line, Smith line, Direct Ancestor, Died Young….all sorts of possibilities there.
  2. Findmypast now has DNA that can more closely pinpoint where in the UK your DNA is from. And if you have a DNA test in another platform, such as or My Heritage, you can just transfer it over to their site. 23 and Me also showed prominently in some of the live-streamed segments, and you can transfer your raw DNA to their site as well, providing the raw data is autosomal rather than specifically X or Y DNA data.
  3. My Heritage is coming out with a new tree-connect function (BETA, I think) where you can more easily move over your data from Family Search Family Tree.
  4. I looked at several DNA explanations. I think my understanding of DNA has expanded, but I still have a lot of exploring to do.
  5. Story telling, memory keeping, finding reliable sources, documenting them, and establishing proof, are a few other subjects pulsing in my brain.

Thanks to the many people who put on Roots Tech. It is huge. There’s something for everyone. They are already planning the next one in 2020, and meanwhile there will be a RootsTech London convention in October.

Watching #RootsTech #NotatRootsTech from home

Old Courthouse records

This week’s prompt from Amy Johnson Crowe’s 52 Ancestors motivational challenge, is “At the Courthouse.”

I’m looking forward to what other genealogy lovers make of it.

My mom went to county courthouses a lot in the old days of genealogy research, back in the 1960’s. Some of the courthouses didn’t even have photocopiers, so she had to transcribe the items she found onto scraps of paper, in longhand. I have files full of these, and believe me, her handwriting is not easy to decipher.

But aren’t lots of old records you’d find in courthouses digitized now? And can be accessed by clicking on a green shaking leaf? Like deeds, probate records, vital records, marriages, etc.?

Let me amend that last sentence. I know that not everything is digitized. I worked for a county property appraiser, and once in a while we’d have to go to the courthouse to see if there was anything on file that would help in a title search. We had ancient old deed books in our office, but sometimes a property description would refer to a really old deed book that we didn’t have, or couldn’t display because the pages were brittle and yellow and crumbling. So, then a trip to the court house was in order.

Some of the records were on microfilm. Not too many years ago, all the techs in our office had a microfiche or microfilm reader machine on our desks. Then, we moved all of them (about 40, I think) to a storage room next to the loading dock, and they were piled up in huge stacks. Our office was vilified as having used heated and cooled office-worthy space for storage of useless junk. So they were moved elsewhere, I don’t know what happened to them. My mom bought one of them for $50. I think it broke, and of course, no one in the modern world knows how to fix them any more.

One time I went to the records annex of the court house to look at some old deed books. The clerk there found them in a cardboard box underneath the counter. The next time I went to look at those records, they couldn’t find them at all. So, sometimes our pilgrimage to the courthouse, with high hopes, turned out to be a wild goose chase. The films were too hard to read, your arm would ache from turning the crank on the microfilm reader, which was never located in an ergonomically suitable spot on the machine, and after long, fruitless hours, you were ready to go to lunch over in the historic district to salvage the day.

If you’re looking for ancestors who lived in the US back in the 1600’s and 1700’s and 1800’s, there’s the question of “which county courthouse should I look in?” My DAR patriot lived in the Cook’s Creek area of what used to be Augusta County, and later Rockingham County, Virginia. [See the historic atlas at this link for some maps that show changes in counties in VA, and other states.] Some of his contemporaries and offspring lived within a hundred or so miles of his old home place, in what is now Pendleton County, but formerly Hardy, Rockingham, Augusta, or maybe Randolph, Lewis, or Grant Counties. Try to find a deed, so you can find exactly where their property was situated, and it says something like “40 rods southeast of the old sycamore tree…”

The Crafting of the Green

Ah, the blessings and the bane of learning a new craft technique!

I’m talking about making iron-on appliqué embellishments with a cutting machine, and attaching them to fabric.

These projects are to celebrate the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

tote bag jenny skip
tote bag
back of bag jenny skip
back of tote bag

This is the bag pattern from a previous post, when I made a Valentine’s Day [sort of] tote bag, using the pattern from Sew News. The main difference, besides the theme of the holiday embellishments, is the fabric of the bag. For the previous project, I used a cotton canvas remnant. But when I went to Joann Fabric to buy some more of it, I couldn’t find it in the store. I could have substituted duck cloth or twill or denim, for a similar, but not the same weight and feel. This fabric looked and felt very similar to cotton canvas, while it was on the shelf in the Utility Fabrics section of Joann’s. But it was cheaper and was 100% polyester. And once made into a bag, the fabric had a few noticeable differences.

Difference #1: it seems to be more wrinkle-prone than cotton canvas.

Difference #2: you have to use a different method to adhere iron-on appliqués to it, than you would with cotton. Cricut Easy-Press 2 Interactive Reference Guide recommends that you use their brand Iron-on Protective Sheet when applying the iron-on embellishment. I had never seen or heard of it, so I didn’t have one of those, but I did have a Teflon sheet that I sometimes use for applying Wonder Under. So I used that. Also, the temperature needs to be a little lower than cotton. Yup, I can vaguely recall using an iron on certain man-made fabrics and literally melting the fabric into a sticky goo.

Here are some finished, decorated, shirts for celebrating St Patrick’s Day.

St Pat tote bag jenny skip
St Pat’s tote bag

Put them in the bag and go!

Family Photo, Plain and Fancy versions

For the family history buffs who are following Amy Johnson Crow’s #52 Ancestors social media post-a-rama, this week’s prompt is “family photo.”

Lucky for me, some of my ancestors in the 1850’s and later, bought into the new-fangled technology of picture taking. It’s apparent that some of them traipsed home from working in the fields to pose for the camera. And what glorious images those old cameras coaxed forth! The beautiful sepias and crisp dark shadows are no match for the wimpy and fading pixels of today.

These two studio photos of my grandma (the littlest poppet in the pictures) and her family, in plain and fancy regalia, were taken in England about 1905, a few years before they emigrated to the U.S.

At ease and somewhat casual

With fancy hats and coats

Father had provided a good living as a carriage builder, but that market was drying up in favor of the new mode of conveyance, the motor car. When they came to the states, he got a job in a grocery store.

Now that Valentine’s Day is Over

I apologize in advance to all of you who hate Valentine’s Day. I used to hate it, too.

Now, I just hate the fact that I want to make a special project to commemorate the holiday, and it doesn’t turn out right.

This year, I wanted to make the giant tote bag I saw in the current issue of SewNews magazine, that is decorated all over with shiny foil iron-on lip decals you can make on your cutting machine.

This would have been the first iron-on project I made with the cutting machine, if it had turned out right. First strike against me was that the free download from the magazine’s web extras files, was a .pdf and my cutting machine didn’t like that file extension. I tried to save it as a something else file, and it wouldn’t. Oh well, not too big a deal, I found a bunch of other free pairs of lips images that seemingly would work as well. I unrolled the roll of foil iron-on film and discovered that there isn’t all that much product rolled up in that cardboard tube, it’s mostly cardboard! Who knew? Then, for strike two, I loaded the film into the machine, it said liner side up, cut out the decals, and then realized the liner side was actually the opposite side of what the machine cut. Now, to salvage those 6 pairs of lips I directed the machine to cut out, I will have to manually cut them out from the other side using an X-acto knife. Then we’ll see how much trouble I can get into, before it’s three strikes and I’m out.

Meanwhile, we had a nice dinner with some great friends.

Table set

Honey-baked ham for an entree

We continued the festivities into the weekend, when we splashed out for breakfast at our local favorite early morning eating place. Check out their romantic breakfast specials:

Valentine’s Day Weekend specials at 43rd St. Deli

Who said the way to a man’s heart (or person’s heart) is through his (her) stomach? Just add imagination, some laughs, friendly people, and a little salt and pepper, and you’ve got an awesome holiday.

Eventually, the bag was finished:

finished bag


For all my fellow family history bloggers who are keeping up with Amy Johnson Crow’s #52ancestors challenge, the prompt for this week is “love.”

For me, the obvious relative to go with that prompt is my 2nd great-grandfather, Valentine Fitch, or Voitzsch, as his surname was known before he sailed across the pond.

Although, to my ears, Valentine for a man’s surname sounds strange, I’m told it was a common given name for Germans, Spaniards, and Scandinavians. It’s a swashbuckling, romantic name!

By many accounts, he was born in Prussia and emigrated to the US with his parents and some of his numerous brothers and sisters, and perhaps cousins. The parents settled in New York. Valentine and many of his siblings moved to the midwest and put down roots in Winnebago County, Illinois.

Ancestry. com has a cadastral map of 1886 that shows V. Fitch’s parcel of land in Section 9. His name is plentiful in historic records of the US in the 1800’s and 1900’s, not only documenting his life and times, but also his son’s, grandson’s, and nephews’ lives, who were given the same name as his! Alas, though, I’m still in the dark about his time of death. He is not buried next to his wife in the Cherry Valley cemetery. Where did he go? What did he do? His name might as well have been Ozymandias, for all I was able to discover about his death. But once, he was an immigrant, a pioneer in the promised land of America, with his whole life of opportunities ahead of him!

Improv Quilting

The impetus for this post came from a magazine I subscribe to, Sew News The current issue has an article entitled “Piece Out” on page 40 about improvisational piecing. I love this for several reasons: 1) I don’t like to waste fabric, 2) I like free-form designs, and 3) I want to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth from subscribing to publications.

Very early in my artistic history, I felt pressure to conform to other people’s ideas of what art should look like. In elementary school art class, we were told to stick little torn pieces of tissue paper on a piece of card stock with paste to make (the teacher hoped) a colorful mosaic-like picture. When I was finished with the assignment, my picture had blobs of white and maroon tissue paper. Everyone else’s had various combinations of the primary colors. The teacher said I must not have listened to the directions. Probably so. I was embarrassed. But at the time, I was really into arranging those white and maroon pieces of tissue paper on a page.

Anyway, the Sew News article shows 2 improvisational quilting projects: a zipper pouch and a pillow. In both, the maker had sewn together strips of fabric, then accented the white or light-colored pieces with sashiki-style rows of hand-stitching in a complementary color of thread. They looked super cool and fun to make. And, I had one lone little pillow form lying around that was just begging to be covered.

So here is my take on improvisational quilting:

Improvisational pieced pillow

First, I sewed together some leftover strips of fabric, ironing the seam allowances on the wrong side toward the darker strip as I pieced. I decided to put a machine-embroidery motif on the front. This one is from Urban Threads Letter Perfect Alphabet.

The opening in the back of the pillow is envelope style, so I added batting and backing to two sections of the pieced fabric, right side of backing fabric facing the right side of the pieced fabric with the batting under it. I sewed the envelope edges together, then turned and pressed them.

I decided that this pillow might benefit from having pink piping around the edges. For sewing on Wright’s piping, I like to use a piping foot.

clear piping foot

I sewed the piping around the edge of the front piece, clipped the corners a little bit, then pinned the two envelope pieces on to the front, the longer one in front of the shorter one, with both right sides facing the right side of the front panel, to sew around the edge again, right where the stitching was from sewing the piping on. I just stitched over it from the other side, leaving an opening for turning inside-out. Once turned, I hand-stitched the opening closed very close to the piping.

stitching the opening closed

Another interesting thing to make out of leftover pieces of fabric is a yo-yo. I added a couple of different sizes of yo-yo’s for embellishment, even a heart-shaped one in honor of Valentine’s Day next week. The little gizmos for making yo-yo’s consist of a plastic plate tightly fitting inside a tray. You can find various sizes and shapes from tiny to Jumbo, and in flower, heart, and clover shapes. They are made by Clover, and each kit costs about $5-$10 apiece.

Here’s what the back looks like:

For some odd reason, I could NOT edit these last few iPhone photos to get them to come out rotated once to the right!

Hope you have fun crafting for your Valentines!

The Surprising girl Behind the grandma

“Surprise!” That is the theme of this week’s #52ancestors prompt by Amy Johnson Crow. Isn’t it funny how you can’t imagine your grandparent, wrinkled, stooped in stature, and white-headed, as the young woman she once was? That is, unless you are lucky enough to find a picture.

I got a text message this morning from Family Search reminding me that today is my Grandma’s birthday, and if she hadn’t died when she did, she’d be 120 years old now!

Grandma as a young woman

In addition to the birthday reminder, I got in the mail today a packet of pictures and memorabilia from a guy whose family bought the farm that my grandpa (eventual husband of the woman in the picture) and his family lived on, back in the early 1900’s. He was holding back from posting his pics online, so it would be a surprise!

My Aunt Virginia wrote this little memory about her mother:

She loved children and animals. In olden days we had hoboes that would come to the back door begging for a cup of coffee or a piece of pie. She never refused them and they never left hungry. Even in much later years when it wasn’t safe to help strangers, she would give a helping hand against our warnings. In her last years, when there was just the two of us, I was able to get her out of the house to go places. She opened up to people and made a lot of friends who thought she was a kind and beautiful person. She had a dry sense of humor that everyone enjoyed. I miss her much.

Happy happy birthday, Grandma! We’re glad you were born!

Using Real and Virtual Libraries for Family History Research

Would you rather look at a computer screen, a phone screen, or an actual paper page in a book? Your answer may rely on which of the “generations,” as defined by Wikipedia, you belong to. The younger the demographic cohort of a person, the more they seem to prefer the transient image, the disappearing snap photo, the meme: something to ponder briefly, identify with, for what it’s worth,  and then move on to the next thing. The older the demographic cohort of a person, the more they seem to prefer a book, something tangible and permanent, that can sit on the shelf and collect dust but be there, faithfully, when one has a notion to look something up.

My mom, possibly classified as being on the cusp of the “Silent Generation” and the “Baby Boomers,” (see Wikipedia link above) reveled in doing what one cousin recently dubbed “the legwork” in family history research: going to the courthouse, copying down information in longhand  because there was no copy machine at the facility in the 1960’s (and her script can be very difficult to read), traipsing up and down mountains in foul weather to find old neglected graveyards, knocking on the doors of unsuspecting relatives we’d never met before and doing impromptu interviews with them,  and taking blurry pictures of the old portraits in wood-and-plaster frames on their living room walls.

Eventually, she compiled all her notes into a book. This photo includes two versions of it.


For the first version, the spiral-bound one above, she asked me (as a much younger person) to draw the cover, with the background mountain formation the locals called “Ol’ Tom of the Rocks.” I guess she decided to go with something a little less primitive for the cover of the second, more mass-produced version. I think she self-published about 100 copies and sold them for about $10 apiece. They sold out quickly. Quite a few libraries across the country have non-circulating copies.

I have the original manuscript and I’ve thought about reprinting it, since people still contact me, craving a copy of it.

She recorded all she could find of the descendants of Thomas Bland, born c. 1740. I’ve entered a lot of her info  into my pedigree chart, and thus have enough hints generated that I will never run out of updating tasks for the rest of my life.

To find the nearest physical location where a copy of her book resides, or any other family history book, you have only to look it up in the virtual library card catalog in If you’re reading this, of course you know that Family Search is a free web site you can join, collaborate with others, post your pedigree, which becomes part of the global tree (except for the entries for living people, which are suppressed from public view).  It’s also a treasure trove of historical records. Sign in, go to the link “Search” near the top of the page, then go to “Catalogue.” Choose to search by “Titles” and then type in “Thomas Bland.” If you click on one of the Thomas Bland of Pendleton County entries, you can find a link inside, for “WorldCat” database, which will show you all the libraries that have a copy, beginning with the one closest to you. You may be able to get your local library to “borrow” it from one of the other libraries.

This may be possible with any book you find in the WorldCat. Real or virtual, you’ve gotta love your library. This is for week #5 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge. 

Making a Board Game Console with a Digital Flavor

by Skip

My son approached me with a project: build a frame to fit over a flat screen TV with a plexiglass cover. The TV and frame would sit flat on a table. Okay…but why?
His answer: to play board games
I responded: so how does that work?
His answer: you connect a computer to the TV with an HDMI cable and view an image of a game board. Then you move your pieces around on the plexiglass cover.
My response: why not use the board that comes with the game?
His response: some games are completely digital and don’t have boards.
My response: so why not just play the game on the monitor?
His response: because with this method you can use customized game pieces that are scaled to show the difference in size between a scrawny little hobbit and a 20 foot tall orc. And you can hold the pieces in your hand. The game board can also have animations like a flowing river. It’s just a lot cooler than playing a straight up digital or board game!!
My response: Got you!!

So let’s talk about specifics. How big is the TV? Where do its cords come out? How is it vented for cooling? What is the distance from the screen to the plexiglass?

We got the TV out on a table and determined that if we used 2×4 lumber and made a frame 24 1/4-inch by 39 1/4-inch, that would fit over the TV. We would add 1/2″ thick plywood brackets at each corner with felt pads( to protect the table it sat on). The brackets would elevate the frame 1/2-inch off the table providing a 1/2-inch vent around the perimeter. We sanded the frame up to 220 grit sandpaper after filling some of the imperfections in the 2×4’s with wood putty made up using the sawdust from the sanding and Titebond II glue.  We painted the frame with a primer, two coats of black acrylic paint and topped it off with a clear coat of acrylic.

My son picked up a large sheet of 1/4-inch thick plexiglass from a big box store along with a plastic cutting knife.

The width of the plexiglass was perfect, but it was too long. Using a straight edge, we scored the plexiglass along a line to give us the 39-inch length we needed. It was recommended to score over the same line 7 times, but we went with 10 scores. We put a board under the plexiglass at the scored line and cleanly snapped off the extra length.

We drilled a 1/8-inch hole at each corner of the plexiglass, set the plexiglass on the frame where we wanted it, and using the holes in the plexiglass, drilled a pilot hole in the wood at each corner. Using some wood screws and fender washers we attached the plexiglass to the frame.

Close-up of plexiglass attached to frame at corner

My son attached some felt pads to the back of the TV to elevate it off the table for better ventilation and to bring it closer to the plexiglass. If this works, we are done. Later we may elevate the plexiglass off the frame with spacers at each corner and the middle of each side to provide for better ventilation.

felt pads attached to frame

I was concerned that all this plexiglass would be a static magnet for dust. My wife suggested that my son wipe down the plexiglass with anti-static dryer sheets and she retired to the sewing room (her woman cave) were she knocked out a large muslin bag with a draw-string closure to store the frame in.

muslin storage bag

In retrospect, you have to weigh the pros and cons: a really cool computerized playing surface weighing several pounds and costing several hundred dollars versus a 12-inch by 16-inch cardboard box weighing less than a pound and costing $70 for a pro edition. Cool wins!

your move!