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How to Start Researching Your Family History

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in Genealogy | Comments Off on How to Start Researching Your Family History


IMG_0767 -CH -websiteDo you want to start researching your family history but aren’t sure how to do it? This article, the first in a series, will help you get started by explaining the basic information you’ll need to locate and record for each relative.


When starting genealogy research, always begin with yourself and work backwards. Initially, you’ll need to obtain the following basic data for each person you add to your genealogy file: name, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, place of burial, their parents’ names, spouse’s name, and children’s names. You can add additional facts for each person – but more about that in another post.




Record full names, if possible. Some families use the same first name for multiple individuals but use different middle names. In this situation, a full name can identify a specific person and lessen confusion.


For example, a number of males in my Smith family were given the first name Johann. Trying to identify and keep straight multiple Johann Smiths, especially when they lived near each other, is maddening if not impossible. Fortunately, each of these Johann Smiths had different middle names which made it easier to distinguish between them: Johann Adam, Johann Anthony, Johann Nicholas, and Johann Stephan.


Birth, Marriage, and Death Information


When recording births, marriages, and deaths, list the date and the location where the events occurred.


While there’s no right or wrong way to record the locations where life events occurred, I prefer to be thorough and include as much information as possible. I always include the names of the city, township, county, and state. If it’s pertinent, I’ll also include the name of a facility and a street. Recording insufficient information can often make it necessary to go back and find the information a second time. And that’s not fun.


Example: Born February 1, 1990 at Chartreuse Hospital, Emerald Street, Lime Township, Greenburg, Pennsylvania.


City, Township, and County Names Sometimes Changed


Over time, some cities, townships, and counties changed their names. Let’s say your relative was born in Smithville, but later, the town’s name changed to Charlestown. How do you record this? I would list it this way:  born in Smithville (now Charlestown), Center County, Ohio. Do the same for changes in township and county names.




DSC02215 -CH -websiteRecord the names and locations of cemeteries where relatives are buried. Sometimes a person’s information is so difficult to find that the only recourse is to visit or contact the cemetery where they’re buried. There are times when gravestone inscriptions may provide the only existing information for a person. Most cemeteries have burial records which will prove helpful when gravestones are illegible or missing or when you don’t know the location of a grave.



Recording Your Information


Before collecting information, you’ll need to decide how to record it. Unless you already have a lot of information, a spiral-ring notebook and file folder will get you started. Record your information in the notebook and store loose papers in the folder. Once you have a lot of information, you can purchase a genealogy software program for your computer. I’ll discuss software in a future article.


Are you ready to get started?


Don’t let fear stop you from learning about your family’s history. When I began tracing my family history twenty-six years ago, I knew nothing about genealogy. But along the way, I bumped into people who knew how to research and they graciously taught me. I’ve now researched over 10,000 people and compiled a number of family genealogy books. I’ve also had the time of my life meeting distant relatives and traveling to areas where family members once lived.  If I can do this, you can, too.


I know getting started can be a little overwhelming, so I’ve made a simple form that you can download and use to record the basic information discussed in this article. To download this free form, click this link: Genealogy – Individual Form


If you have any questions about getting started, please leave them in a comment and I’ll answer them.

Don't let fear stop you from learning about your family's history. An adventure may await you! Click To Tweet


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Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes that history should be alive and personal.

You can find Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Need a speaker? Leave a comment with your contact information.

All written content and photographs ©2010-2016 Cynthia Howerter and are not to be used without prior written authorization.






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Why Did George Washington Want to Cross the Delaware on Christmas Night?

Posted by on Feb 16, 2016 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 8 comments

20150331_173342 -CH -webIt’s common knowledge that General George Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night in 1776, but what’s not as well-known are the reasons why he chose that particular night to cross. It’s the “why”—the story behind the historical fact—that draws us in and makes this piece of American history come alive.


After experiencing a string of humiliating defeats throughout 1776 at the hand of the British army, General George Washington ordered his soldiers to retreat from New York on November 21st. British troops pursued them.


Washington and his soldiers fled to Trenton, New Jersey where they found themselves pinned between the Delaware River and the British in early December. Washington refused to surrender and ordered his men to cross the river into eastern Pennsylvania. Rather than chase the exhausted and poorly equipped Americans, as they should have done, the British called off the fight.


Safe in Pennsylvania for the time being, Washington’s army made camp near the Delaware on December 7th. Although he had avoided capture, the situation General Washington found himself in couldn’t have been much worse.


On January 1st—just days away—all of his soldiers’ enlistments would expire. Worse, Washington knew that his troops had no incentive to reenlist. Many were shoeless. Most wore ragged summer clothing. The sick went without medicine and the healthy went without food. No one had received pay in months. Between these conditions and their repeated defeats, the army was demoralized.


It wasn’t only the soldiers who were dispirited. Farther downstream in Philadelphia, which was virtually undefended, the members of Congress were keenly aware of their army’s repeated failures against the British forces. They also knew the British army stood sixty miles away. After giving General Washington full power over the army, Congress packed up and fled the city. So did most of Philadelphia’s inhabitants.


Realizing New Jersey’s colonists’ support for the war had dwindled, the British issued a proclamation that offered a free and general pardon to all Americans who would take the oath of allegiance to King George III and pledge their peaceable obedience. Thousands in the colony rushed to take the oath and pledge to the British Crown.


Washington needed a victory to regain the support of the colonists and his troops. Now. Before the enlistments ended and he had no soldiers.


Spies informed Washington that 1,500 Hessian soldiers under the command of Colonel Johann Rahl had arrived in Trenton—almost directly across the Delaware River from the American encampment—and taken up winter quarters. These German mercenary soldiers had been hired by the British to help fight the Americans and were considered the most highly-trained fighters in Europe. Several months earlier, the same Hessians now living in Trenton had used their 17-inch-long bayonets to slaughter hundreds of young teenage American soldiers during the battle of Brooklyn Heights.


While his soldiers and officers feared the nearby Hessians, Washington viewed their presence as an opportunity. Because armies at this time rarely fought during winter, Washington believed his troops stood a decent chance at achieving a victory if he could launch a surprise attack.


But when would be the best time? General Washington shrewdly reasoned it was right before daybreak on December 26th—when the unsuspecting Hessians would be taking it easy after celebrating Christmas the day before. And in order to keep his army’s advance upon the Hessians a secret, Washington knew his men had to cross the Delaware River in the cloak of darkness on December 25th—Christmas Night.


Washington’s officers were convinced the attack would fail. Most tried to talk him out of it. But Washington understood that unless he made an attempt to win a victory before the year ended, without an army the colonies’ quest for independence would cease. Not even a severe winter blizzard on Christmas Day that made the crossing treacherous caused his resolve to waver. He set his plans in motion.


The army crossed the ice-filled Delaware in secrecy on Christmas Night. After marching in the darkness for hours through snow and sleet, Washington’s raggedly dressed and mostly barefoot men arrived undetected at Trenton in the morning and defeated the Hessians during a battle that lasted less than forty-five minutes.


The engagement’s tally: twenty-one Hessians killed, 90 wounded, and 900 captured. The Americans suffered no battle casualties.


Morale soared in Washington’s army. Throughout the colonies, men rushed to enlist as news of the Trenton victory spread. The colonists’ and Congress’ confidence in the American army’s ability to defeat the British and win their liberty had been restored.


Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Night in 1776 is more than a dry historical fact. It is the fascinating story of one man and his army who, facing overwhelming adversity, refused to give up and persevered until they achieved a victory that turned the tide in the war to win our country’s independence from Great Britain.



Questions for discussion:

1) Did you know the full story as to why George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night before reading this?

2) Has there been a time in your life when everything was against you, but you knew you had to press on?

3) What similarities do you see between George Washington and our current leaders?


A note from Cynthia: There are innumerably more details about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, however, my goal on Cynthia Howerter – all things historical is to present brief and general overviews of historic events.



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Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes that history should be alive and personal.

You can find Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Need a speaker? Leave a comment with your contact information.

All written content and photographs ©2010-2016 Cynthia Howerter and are not to be used without prior written authorization.




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Welcome to Cynthia Howerter – all things historical

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in Historical Articles | 10 comments

Welcome to Cynthia Howerter – all things historical. Because I’m a history buff who loves to write, it’s a natural fit for me to write about American history.


I heard you groan. And I understand why: you hate history. And why wouldn’t you? We all remember those high school history classes that bored. us. to. death. But history does not have to be boring. It can be fun. And interesting. It should be fun and interesting. And, in my opinion, it should feel alive.


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Why did we hate history class?


Because teachers spewed out boring facts and tons of dates—which meant nothing to us. Who cared that on December 25, 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware? Not me. Not you. Thanks to fact-happy instructors, most of us grew up with a lifelong distaste for anything related to history.


My website might turn you into a history lover.


I’ll tell you the stories behind historical events—such as why George Washington wanted his army to cross the treacherous ice-filled Delaware River during a blizzard that Christmas night. Were you aware that many of his soldiers were teenage farm boys—most of whom had no shoes or winter clothing when they climbed into the boats? Did you know that several men froze to death after crossing the river—or that Washington would have died a traitor’s death at the end of a rope had the British captured him?


Would you like to learn how to research your family history?


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Would you like to attend a reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle?


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Would you love to know where you can eat in an 18th century restaurant while being serenaded by colonial musicians?



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Whether it’s articles about colonial food, clothing, daily life, ordinary people, historic events, reenactments, places you can visit, how to research your family’s history, or the story behind Washington’s crossing, there’s something of interest for everyone at Cynthia Howerter – all things historical.


Why have I started a historical website?


History runs in my family. My fourth-great-grandfather, Colonel John Kelly, crossed the Delaware with George Washington. At the Battle of Princeton, New Jersey, he single-handedly destroyed a bridge that separated the American and British armies. Had the British crossed that bridge, they would have annihilated Washington’s army. Later, Colonel Kelly led a ranger militia unit on Pennsylvania’s frontier to protect settlers from British-allied Indian attacks.


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When I was young, my grandmother explained that Colonel Kelly’s Scot-Irish blood flows through my veins. As an adult, I’ve spent the past twenty-six years researching the times he lived in. I’ve come to realize that I have a personal link to our country’s history—as well as a responsibility to pass that knowledge on.


Who is Cynthia Howerter – all things historical written for?


  • adults
  • students of all ages
  • homeschoolers
  • teachers
  • reformed history-haters


It’s for people with questions about who, why, where, when, and how things once happened in our land. It’s for those who love the story behind the facts.


It’s for YOU.


I’ll publish articles once or twice a month. If you enjoy a post, please share it with others by using the provided social share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest or by good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Sign up to receive notifications of new articles via email. To access my website directly, go to:  Let me know what you think; I value you and your feedback. To leave a comment, click on “Comments” underneath the article’s title.


History—real history—flows through my veins. I hope you’ll stick around and let it flow through yours as well.

Cynthia Howerter



IMG_1553 -CH web 300x300Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes that history should be alive and personal.

You can find Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Need a speaker? Leave a comment with your contact information.

All written content and photographs ©2010-2016 Cynthia Howerter and are not to be used without prior written authorization.

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Eggnog – A Christmas Tradition

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 8 comments


Americans have always loved their eggnog. Although the egg and milk-based punch actually originated in Britain where it derived from a medieval beverage called “posset,” it was brought to the American colonies where it remained popular. Thanks to the numerous farms in the American colonies, eggs and milk were not only abundant, but readily available to most people, allowing citizens from all walks of life to enjoy eggnog punch.

Wealthier colonists added expensive wines and brandies to their eggnog, while the affordability of rum made it a common addition to the average person’s nog. No matter what type of alcohol was used, its addition to eggnog most certainly delivered a “punch”—hence the significance of that term.


It’s not known exactly how the name “eggnog” came into being. During the seventeenth century, drinks were served in wooden cups and mugs called “noggins.” It seems logical that the serving of the egg-based drink in a noggin was combined into one word, “eggnog.” Perhaps after one had consumed several noggins of the alcohol-laced punch, it was just easier to lift an empty mug and request a refill using an efficiency of words: “Egg—nog—if ye please.”


George Washington loved eggnog and hand-wrote his own recipe for it. Using rye whiskey from his distillery as well as sherry and rum from the Caribbean, Washington noted that the concoction should be “tasted frequently” as it cured in a cool place for several days. As he did not identify who the taster should be, we will leave that to our glorious imaginations.


Over two-hundred years later, Americans still enjoy their eggnog, especially during the Christmas holidays. While it can be purchased ready-to-drink, there’s nothing like the taste of homemade eggnog.




Our family and guests have enjoyed the following recipe for several generations. I do hope you’ll try my recipe, and as you lift a cup in a toast, remember to thank our forefathers for passing along this traditional beverage.


Cynthia Howerter’s Eggnog Punch

12 large eggs, separated (can use pasteurized eggs, available at most grocery stores)

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups whole milk

4 cups heavy cream

2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

Ground nutmeg for dusting


In a large mixing bowl, beat the 12 egg yolks with the sugar until thick. Gradually add the milk, cream, half-and-half, and the optional nutmeg, if desired. Chill. In another large bowl, beat the 12 egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold whites into the cream mixture. Refrigerate until well-chilled. Sprinkle with nutmeg before serving. Serve cold.


Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter 



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Christmas Decorations in Colonial Williamsburg

Posted by on Dec 5, 2014 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 2 comments



Last year, my husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving Day in Colonial Williamsburg. We were delightfully surprised to find many doors and windows already adorned with the town’s famous Christmas decorations.




After admiring the many gorgeous wreaths displayed on stores and houses on Duke of Gloucester Street, I knew I had to have one for our front door. But while I adore hand-decorated wreaths, swags, and table decorations, I’m all thumbs when it comes to making them. Can you relate?


Not to worry! Colonial Williamsburg has had previous experience with people like us. Their outdoor garden shop in the heart of the old colonial capital sells made-to-purchase Christmas decorations. Let’s take a look.


Who could resist buying this lavish wreath with fresh scents of pine, oranges, apples, and pineapple? This would look wonderful on my front door.




For someone with a small front entrance, this pine wreath, which boasts a fresh pineapple, oranges, dried pods, yarrow, and several small flowers, might do quite nicely.




I saw my husband ogling over this beauty with its green oranges, apples, and pine cones. He’d nearly convinced me to purchase it until I spotted several other wreaths.




Ahh. This exquisite masterpiece with yarrow, green oranges, apples, pine cones, and dried lotus pods would look incredible on our door … but so would the one my husband liked. Sigh.




What a dilemma. Normally, when I can’t choose between two items, I buy them both. But because we have only one front door, my usual purchasing method was not going to work.


Needing more time to think about which wreath to purchase, I walked to the other side of the shop and discovered that the thoughtful Williamsburg folks also sell table decorations for members of the all-thumbs club! Who knew?


This arrangement would look splendid on my dining room table!



But this arrangement with the breath-taking purple larkspur, red pomegranate, holly, and magnolia leaves would look dazzling as well. By now, you can see that I was having a difficult time choosing what to purchase—but only because all of the Christmas decorations were to die for.




Seeing that I could not make a timely decision, my wonderful husband suggested that we leave the shop and head to the King’s Arms Tavern where we were to meet other family members. “You can make up your mind over dinner, Cynthia.”







Obviously, hubby did not realize that our cozy dining room would contain yet more stunning decorations …











…which further confounded my purchasing decision.






After a lovely dinner, my husband asked which Christmas decoration I’d decided to purchase.

“I’ll take them all.”

For some reason, my answer did not surprise him.


Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter


Colonial Williamsburg is located in Williamsburg, Virginia.


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