Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Success: My Geriatric Fiesta

The great thing about the American South is they hold onto their history. If you hail from anywhere south of the Mason Dixon, you can be sure that someone in your family has a great stash of treasures just waiting for you to discover them.

That has been the case with my great aunt Shirley.

She gave me my first great start in doing genealogy. I was 17 and just starting to see some progress on my work. I was getting pretty discouraged that it wasn't going better. We went to Shirley's place, and she showed me a 20 page genealogy some distant cousin had sent her. I went from having a handful of names to hundreds of names.

Over time, I grew wiser and learned how to document and check someone else's work. And that was when I realized I probably didn't get everything Aunt Shirley had. She still had all of my great grandmother's stuff. There had to be answers to questions I still had somewhere in the ephemera of Callie's possessions.

So I called her up and made arrangements to go back. When I showed up, she had a dining room table full of boxes. Albums, stray documents, copies, envelopes, and stacks and stacks of pictures. At first I was like:

But it wasn't until I tried to reach for my first box that I realized this would take a long time, and it would take longer if I did it wrong. Then I was like:

Some helpful hints for any large-scale scanning opportunities you have this holiday season.

Don't get overwhelmed

Eventually I just decided to go by box, that way I could put it all back the way I found it. Several times I had to remember that I wasn't there to organize the boxes of stuff she has, especially since she doesn't ever plan on going through these things again. I'm here to digitize them. Just grab one and dig in. But don't go crazy and unpack the whole box all at once, or you'll skip stuff and scan things twice.

Or just make a mess.

Review first, copy second

Don't waste time unpacking a box or scanning things that have nothing to do with you. I don't need to scan pictures from the 2004 Disneyland vacation. It's important to be thorough and make sure you don't miss anything by accident. But if you're tight on time, focus your sights. Make a list of what you need to find so you search, not mosey through the boxes. It'll help you to keep your pace and not get distracted.

If you're there with other family members, be sure to include them in what you're doing. Looking at old photographs can help jog their memories so good stuff falls out. Ask them questions about the things you're looking at. In the process of asking about a newspaper article about my grandfather's death, I found out about an article for my grandmother's little sister I had no idea existed.

But if including them becomes problematic or distracting, like them telling you the same story for the third time in a row, taking a break to spend time with them doing something else is a good idea.

Budget your time

I gave myself three days. Any more than that, I knew it would be more polite to come back for another trip because I only live an hour away. Budget differently based on your likelihood of coming back and the present circumstances of your visit. Aunt Shirley was going in for surgery and I was helping to babysit her husband with Alzheimer's. I don't want to create more work for them. For the amount of work I had to do, three days was ideal. I was able to go at a comfortable pace.

When I got bored with scanning pictures I changed it up. I'd take a break for about 10 minutes, then do documents instead. When I couldn't deal with boxes anymore, I started organizing and labeling the files on my computer. I kept switching it up so I could keep working, and the change of pace made it possible for me to find everything that I did. I got more done switching things up than if I just had a scanning bonanza and waited to "do the rest later."

Small doses are better

Maybe it's because scanning is such a repetitious activity, but eventually you start to burn out.

So do your work in bite sizes. Make small piles of things to scan. Scan them. Put them back. Maybe sort and label the files on your computer. Set a start time or a stop time, or set a goal for the number of things you want to scan. Once you reach your goal, give yourself a present. I got myself some presents before, during AND after I finished.

Share the love

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is to share what you discover in small, but meaningful ways. Shirley loved hearing about Pomp Fenity's autograph album. I also shared pictures with my mom via Facebook. And be sure to send a thank you card to whoever has just allowed you to make a royal mess at their house. Be sure to include a picture, relatives love that sort of thing.

Scanning trips don't have to be difficult. They can be fun, meaningful, productive experiences. If you organize yourself and take your time, you can discover indispensable knowledge you never knew you couldn't live without!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Our Stories: Christmas Memories

I'm participating in Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. There's a prompt each day from 1 Dec - 24 Dec.

This video includes the prompts for 1 Dec -- 4 Dec.

Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris

You can participate too!



Friday, November 15, 2013

Learning: The Village Idiot Factor

We've spent a lot of time talking about getting started on your genealogy, but I am well aware that many who are finding this blog are already well along in that journey. As I was thinking about what would help you regardless of where you are in your research, I thought about "the genealogical standard of proof."

The Genealogical Standard of Proof is fancy language that basically means to support your information with documentation. I personally don't like the title because I think it's very misleading. If you're calling something a standard, you're referring to something which doesn't change. If you're calling something proof, you're calling something irrefutable evidence--beyond the shadow of a doubt, something that absolutely reflects the truth.

My problem with these two ideas--of standard and proof--is that they are totally unhelpful in terms of thinking about the records I'm trying to find. Why? Because the person I am looking for, or the person who wrote the records, or kept them, or digitized them--they are all variations and degrees of the same person.

The Village Idiot!

I have a witch hunter in my family. True story!

I can't keep a strict standard for accuracy or infallibility in my evidence because the records do not allow me to do so. We simply can't expect consistency from records in societies where people could not read and write. Or spell their own name. Or went on witch hunts. Logical, cohesive conclusions just weren't their thing.

In fact, when I can't find something in a database or in a book after reasonable effort has been made, everything I know about "proper method" and "standards of proof" goes out the window. Or headfirst off a wall. Because thinking like an idiot may be the only way I'll ever find this information.

And do be sure to check out the Village Idiot skit from Monty Python.
It will make you feel much better!
These days I ask myself, quite literally, "If I were an idiot, what are some mistakes I could have made that would make this record impossible for someone else to find?" Instead of combing the errors out of my research, I try to calculate for them and anticipate them because I've been doing this long enough to know that they simply can't be avoided.

Take into account the Village Idiot Factor

If the Village Idiot was your ancestor, or the census taker, or the person who indexed the database, or the person who designed the search engine you're using, you're dealing more with trial and error than with real research. Try different name spellings. Use wild card searches for the name. Extend the parameters on your date ranges. Get rid of the dates. If you're dealing with census data, try different combinations of information you already have. Look at ever single Hannah in the city of Halifax from Ward 5 if you have to. (Real example.) Then marvel at how crazily the indexer transcribed/misspelled that last name.

Look for the right thing. If you can't find it, start looking for the wrong thing. On purpose. And be really persistent. Almost stupidly so. Because that may be the only way to find the information about your ancestor.

So what is a good standard to use for judging a record?

Once you've got some records together, when you analyze them carefully you'll probably notice that not all of the information matches. That is normal. But then, how do you know which information is correct?

I don't compare my records to some sort of standard to determine if my record is accurate enough or not. I use other records from that same person to determine how accurate a document is. I look for information that repeats on all the documentation. The more information that repeats or is similar enough to be valid, the more likely it is to be accurate information, and to apply to the person I'm researching. The less things line up, the less likely it is that the information is right, or that it applies to the person I'm researching.

 I call this a reliability rating. Before I look at a record and ask myself, "Does this apply to my ancestor?" or "Is this information accurate for my ancestor?" I ask myself, "How reliable is this record?"

I use three main criteria to rate the reliability of the records I discover:

Primary versus Secondary

A primary record is a record that comes from the lifetime of my ancestor. It doesn't need to come directly from my ancestor, but it needs to have been recorded while they were alive. A secondary record is one that was recorded after they died. Secondary records can fill in a lot of gaps in hindsight. Published genealogies can be really valuable secondary resources. But we have to remember that if they didn't live with our ancestor--never met them, never spoke to them, were not there personally to witness the information, most of the time the information they record has to take a back seat to someone who was there personally.

First-hand versus Second-hand

A first-hand record will come directly from an ancestor. Some people would think that this is the most reliable criteria, but it isn't. In cases of old age, memories become faded and get scrambled together, or forgotten. Sometimes ancestors lie, or leave out important information. But generally speaking, first-hand information will be more reliable than second-hand information. Second-hand information is anything that comes from someone who is NOT my ancestor. Sometimes that information CAN be more accurate, because an outsider's experience can be more objective. It depends on the information you're analyzing. I would trust a first-hand account for something like a birth date, but not necessarily for something like an account of a trial, or something that could have a lot of bias about it. You have to be the judge.

Earlier versus Later

My husband has a great example of this distinction. He is descended from James Henry Sutton, or "Alabama Jim" as the newspapers have called him. He fought on both sides in the Civil War, and was captured at one point by Union forces. 

He wrote a personal memoir later on in his life, and some of the information is incomplete and inaccurate. My husband has had to substantiate a lot of things with earlier records in order to piece the story of his desertion from the 48th Alabama back together. Earlier records in this instance are going to be more accurate, because this story has only become more elephantine with each retelling.

Sometimes records are created as something is happening, and then they snowball out of control. Sometimes they're created with inaccurate information, later records hopefully will have been corrected. Timelines are really useful tools for myth busting in this way.

Use these three criteria to analyze your records

Then ask yourself some questions:
  • Is my documentation primary or secondary? Are most of your records things that were written about your ancestor AFTER they died? If so, you'll want some more primary source documents, stuff from when they were alive. 
  • So you've decided you want primary source documents. What kind do you want? First-hand, or second-hand? Do you want things that you ancestor wrote about him/herself, or do you want stuff that someone wrote about them?
  • Do you have a good mixture of these, but now you're trying to fact check? Find the earliest versions of the record or account that you can find. Try to find someone else who was there. Get as close to the event or the person as you can. Have many different accounts of the events and put the pieces together. Not everything needs to have your ancestor's name on it to be helpful in painting a picture.

Filling in blanks for family history can be difficult. Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we've "dead-ended." We've trained ourselves on the Genealogical Standard of Proof, for Pete's sake, and we still haven't found anything. That must mean there's nothing else to find, right?

Well, in my experience that is the time to ask yourself, "If I were an idiot..."

Or Upper Class Twit of the Year...

I've never come away from that experience disappointed!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Getting Started: Why You Should

I feel like part of the reason that more young people aren't into genealogy is because young people have this very real unwillingness to do anything "uncool." If your friends aren't doing it, then it must be weird, and if it's weird then it's not okay to do. Kinda like the Spice Girls I still have stashed inside my iPod.

I still believe you can totally judge a person by their favorite Spice Girl.
Posh Spice FTW!
If you want to reach younger people with the message that genealogy matters, you have to go after the ones that have already decided they don't care what what other people think of them.

Yes. I'm talking about your geeks, nerds, and bookworms. The young people with enough self awareness to understand a few basic realities about life and their place in it.

The thing about this particular group of young people is that they're already spoken for in terms of obsessions. They're often part of fandoms--online communities that share in their entertainment interests, especially literature. Whether it's a show, movie, book, series, or game, the time they spend in those associations is what lays claim on any time they would use to investigate something like genealogy.

Fandoms exist in every kind and variety--Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Twi-hards, Nerdfighters, and all the rest. The people involved are genuinely smart and funny, and they love connecting with people online for stuff they care about. More than anything else, they appreciate a good story, which is why they dedicate significant amounts of time to their chosen fandoms. And I would argue that young people in fandoms would make excellent genealogists, even if they don't realize it.

We relate to famous people and fictional characters because they often represent traits we want to see in ourselves. Fandoms thrive on that association. These traits are exactly what we want to find in the lives of our ancestors. And because these fandoms also come along with appreciation for history, literature, technology, and science (and thereby, scientific proof) fandom nerds have the skill sets they need to be pretty amazing at genealogy.

The best way to reach people in any fandom is through the people and characters they care about, so I wanted to point out the connection genealogy has to some of the more popular fandoms that exist.

Who Do You Think You Are?--J.K.Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

The popularity of this series is based largely on how Rowling presents the fight against evil, and triumph over struggle. Much of the experience she uses to paint that picture are the struggles from her own life. By learning about her family's history, she was able to see where she really comes from. It gives all of her success an even deeper meaning, because she wasn't just overcoming her struggles. She was overcoming all the bad hands that have been dealt to her since before she was born. Seeing how her story provides a resolution for her ancestors is as good as any of the books she ever wrote. Blog--Benedict Cumberbatch, actor for Sherlock Holmes in BBC's Sherlock

With a murder case and a slave owner from Barbados among his lineage, the influence these ancestors have on Cumberbatch is actually really personal. The role he plays in Amazing Grace is directly influenced by his family's connection to slavery. A dark past leads to a depth of emotion and complexity of character that give us shows like Sherlock. What few people stop to think about is that this depth and complexity are a reflection of the actor's real life--and everyone's real life is a reflection of their genealogy.

Who Do You Think You Are?--David Tennant, actor for The Doctor in BBC's Doctor Who

I never appreciated how much of David Tennant simply made his incarnation of the Doctor after himself until I watched this episode of Who Do You Think You Are? To see him romping through church yards and randomly picking up skulls without thinking about it is exactly what you would imagine The Doctor doing. Watching Tennant interact with his family made me not only want to know him personally, but to know his whole family.

Who Do You Think You Are?--Alex Kingston, actor for River Song in BBC's Doctor Who

I love River Song's character in Doctor Who, and seeing her discover her Jewish heritage was fantastic. You can see how the strong female characters she plays have been provided for out of Alex's rich heritage of determined women. Even if the brothel one of them was running sounds like something out of Les Miserables!

Bella said it, and now we will too. You really are a vampire. Press--Robert Pattinson; actor, played Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter Potter films 4 and 5, Edward Cullen in the Twilight film series

Apparently he is related to Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Coincidence? Typecasting? You decide!

And, last but not least, there are the Nerdfighters!

Gussie Manlove--Vlogbrothers, Nerdfighters, etc.

So, I actually attempted to find out if anything has ever been said about John or Hank Green's genealogy. But in the process of all that Googling, I discovered something even better--how Nerdfighteria actually unraveled the mystery of Gussie Manlove! Now imagine if the members of this (rather large) online community all learned about their own family history. And like, started blogging about it like crazy. They would certainly take down an server or two... or ten!


So yeah. Lots of cool and famous people do genealogy. And if you're a young person reading this, and you admire these famous people, ask yourself one question: "Do I know more about these (or any other) famous people than I do about myself?"

And if you answered in the affirmative, I invite you to start exploring your own family's mysteries. And we want to hear about what you discover! Check out the submit tab at the top, send us an email and let us know what you find!

Happy researching!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Learning: How to Be Wrong

So when you hit the online scene for genealogy, you will see all sorts of tutorials and guides for how to do things the "right" way. Where to start on your German research, a YouTube video on using Evernote for genealogy, a seminar on source citations and why you should care about them--the list goes on and on.

The purpose of the Learning posts to is cover these sorts of topics, but there was one topic I wanted to cover first. One that doesn't get a lot of attention because it's not really the sort of thing you go looking for.

How to be wrong.

There is a right way to be wrong. And, I would argue that this is one of the most important lessons you learn as a genealogist. The sooner you learn it, the better off you'll be--and it's a lesson that some people simply never learn. And, one could argue, that a lot of the tutorials that exist online would be totally unnecessary if we were better at admitting it when we're wrong. So today, I'm gonna teach you how to do it.

Step 1: Acknowledge it

Here's a GIF that should help you if you don't know exactly what that looks like.

What you wrote, what you copied, what your grandmother said, the name spelling, the birthplace, the marriage date--whatever it is that you're holding onto as irrefutable fact--is wrong. And it is THAT piece of information that is screwing you up. You see a lot of talk about "Brick Walls" in genealogy. Paid genealogists develop entire seminars on these "brick walls," and people pay actual money to go to these seminars to be told they're wrong.

The admission of being wrong is always free. Correcting what you've done? Now that costs time and money, and that's usually what keeps us from admitting it to ourselves. But we all make mistakes, and most of the success we experience comes after we admit to ourselves that we were wrong about something. And personally, I find it better to be my own best editor than to pay someone else to be my critic.

Step 2: Think. Also known as "Don't Panic."

My husband and I were driving home from San Antonio, which is a journey of about 3 days. We were planning on stopping at several cemeteries in Virginia and Tennessee along the way. The journey was long, we were both cranky and tired, and by the time we got to the cemeteries we had already pushed our newlywed patience to its limits.

When we arrived at the first cemetery, to my horror, not a single name in the place was one that I recognized. I had known that there were two Brogan cemeteries in Tennessee. I even mentioned it to my husband, which had precipitated in him asking me, repeatedly, if I had the right information. He even suggested that we bring both locations, "Just in case."

Just in case nothing, I thought. I'm always right. 

So I did what no genealogist should ever do in similar circumstances. I started to panic. I got mad and threw a fit, and cursed that ever a place existed with no cell reception to correct my mistake. Fortunately for me, my husband is as patient with me as he is awesome. He pulled over to a funeral home on the main road, who just happened to have a book on the very cemetery I needed. They gave us some new directions and we continued on our journey.

Because of the delay, we ran into bad weather and could only stop for 1 of the 3 cemeteries I had planned. And I may never get another chance to go back to that part of Tennessee because it is extremely remote. The time it took to correct my mistake was far exceeded by the time I wasted panicking. And the only reason I panicked is because I couldn't admit to myself that I was wrong.

So let that be a lesson to you. Don't throw a fit. The only person you're going to hurt if you do is yourself.

Step 3: Get Educated

Kablam! Elimination!
Lack of Education!
We all make mistakes because we don't know exactly what we're doing. Sometimes we just make it up as we go along, and we forget that we're bluffing. We start to believe ourselves, and it takes someone who knows a lot more than we do to show us how much we still have to learn. And there are many resources in genealogy that help us develop our skills so we don't have to make things up anymore.

Identify exactly what you did wrong, and figure out how to fix it. You're the one in the best position to do it because you care, you've already been working on the problem, and if you don't then who will? Sometimes it takes years and a lot of different theories before we find the right answer. You may even need to take a break until more records are available. The only wrong thing you can do is give up. and both have learning centers. They host videos and tutorials that can helps us work through the exact problems we are having. YouTube is also a great place to look for this sort of instruction.
There are a lot of other videos and channels too, but these are the ones I have found to be the most helpful to me. You can also look for solutions to specific questions, like doing Irish genealogy or different methods for sorting your information. Some of the simplest solutions I've found to my most complicated research problems I've found on YouTube.

Here are a few other sites you may find helpful as well:
  • Brigham Young University's Family History Library, not to be confused with the regular Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
  • BYU Family History Training Center
  • BYUtv does broadcasts, rebroadcasts, and streaming of all kinds of genealogy programming.
  • FamilySearch Wiki--Looking for a record from a specific place? Find the place in the Wiki and they'll tell you what records are available and where to find them. They were the first place I looked to start working on my ancestors from the Caribbean.
  • Google Books--Search by location and surname. You never know what you might find.
If you are stuck beyond all stuck, you may need to ask for help. We take help requests here, more info under the submit tab up top. Also try to look for other researchers working on your same lines. The more you share your family tree on sites like,, WikiTrees, Mocavo, and connect with other researchers on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, the more likely you are to find someone researching the same family you are. Or at least someone who can help you out who has been stuck in a similar way.

Step 4: Practice those victory dances for when you're right next time!

Work it!

Happy researching!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Introduction: Caitie Gow

So I'm just kind of dying of excitement for you all to get to know Caitie! She's the other contributor to this blog, and she has a channel on YouTube. Be sure to check it out.

The reason I invited her to be a co-blogger with me is because 1. she is both young and savvy at what she does in her genealogy, and 2. she's part of the reason this blog even exists. I was watching one of her other videos when I asked myself why I've never seen a group for young genealogists our age. So we combined together, and the rest is history!

She's a great researcher and an awesome example of what a young and savvy genealogist is like. I'm looking forward to seeing more from her here, on her blog Genealogically Speaking, and on her YouTube channel!


It's a list of things and you have to say which ones you've done, which ones you'd like to do, and which ones you don't want to do or do not apply.

It was created by Jill from Geniaus!
Her blog is

You can see the meme and its list of things here -

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Giving Back: FamilySearch Indexing

So one of many interests in starting this blog was the idea of giving back to the genealogical community. Everything that exists in genealogy today is here because of someone's effort to give history to someone else. By participating in giving and volunteering, we are able to preserve history and benefit others in the same way.

I believe that young people do a tremendous service to genealogy. But because there's nothing to unite us, we remain invisible. Because we are invisible, many do not see the ways in which we contribute.

I've been trying to decide between a host of projects that I can work on in order to give back. I've participated in a few projects before, but I'm also looking to explore new ideas in how to offer my services and experiences to others in ways that matter.

My favorite contribution to the genealogical community is probably FamilySearch Indexing. The records they make available are free to everyone, and include everyone. Whereas many sites are still focusing on North America, Europe, and Australia, FamilySearch offers the chance to index records in dozens of languages from all over the globe.

By downloading the indexing program, I can request patches of records, and index them. They will then be made available for free at They have projects available in a variety of languages. By contributing my efforts to this project, other people can have success that might have never otherwise had.

The software offers you the option of setting a goal. I want to set a goal for how many names I want to index. I set a really high goal of 5,000 names once, hearkening back to the story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000. I wanted to get a concrete understanding in my mind of what it would take to give even the briefest personal attention to 5,000 people. It was a noble goal, but the time period in which I was trying to accomplish it was much too short.

Realistically speaking, if I do about 20 names a day it would take me about 8 months to do 5,000 names. If I do 30 names a day, I can do it in 5 1/2 months. So if I make a goal to do 5,000 names in 6 months, it should give me the space I need to be realistic.

Even though I'm going to be very busy throughout October, I'm going to make the attempt. Five thousand people by April 6th, 2014. Can I do it? Let's find out!

In what ways do you give back to the genealogical community? What are some of your favorite volunteer projects? What are some volunteer projects you would like to see?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Started: Free Stuff

So maybe by this point, you've gotten some stuff down on paper. Maybe you've even started a tree on a website like, or in a software like RootsMagic. Give yourself a high five for being awesome!

So hopefully you have enough information down that you can start forming questions about stuff you want to know.

There are two types of questions you're going to be asking: the interesting kind, and the uninteresting kind. The uninteresting kind are pretty much like, Who is Uncle Fester and when is his birthday? The interesting kind are like, Was Uncle Fester a gangster and did he ever kill anyone? Keep in mind that you're going to have to ask both kinds of questions. The uninteresting stuff leads you to the interesting stuff, or at least gives you what you need to start asking more interesting questions.

And write your questions down! When you write your questions down, you think of more questions, or better ways to ask the same question.

I is frum Irelands! Lookit mah hat!

When you don't write down your questions, you end up looking at cat gifs on Tumblr.

But records cost money and I am broke!

So when I started out doing genealogy, I didn't have money to spend on it. Actually, let me rephrase that. I didn't have money, period. So unless it was free, I wasn't going to use it. And because I spent so many of my formative researching years as a broke teenager, I learned how to work the system like a boss.

DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON ANYTHING IN GENEALOGY UNLESS YOU HAVE TO. Why did I put that in all caps? Because this misconception, that genealogy costs money, is what keeps a lot of young people from even trying to research their heritage. And I'm here to tell you, genealogy can be one of the cheapest hobbies in the world if you do it right.

If this happens to you, you're doing it wrong!

So let me tell you about some of my favorite tricks. Note that I'm an American/Canadian researcher. Many of my hints can be universally applied, but I can't vouch that all of my suggestions will work for researchers from other places. The principles are still the same, so find a way to apply them in your situation and let us know how it turned out!

Yes, we all know you have to pay to see the records on But that doesn't mean you have to pay to use the site. If you put your information in a tree on, your information will get something called Hints. Hints are the little shaky leaves that appear over the names in your tree, and they point you to records that could be about your ancestors.

When you open up the hint for Ethel, it looks like this:

If I click on the green Review button, I get the Give-Us-Your-Money splash screen. But because I've been doing this for a long time, I know I have options.

Because of this hint, I know her information may show up on the 1911 Canadian census. And now I have a choice. I can pay for the super deluxe and expensive world edition of to see this record. Or I can try and find this information myself for free in another place.

A basic Google search for "1911 Canadian census" or some variant of it will show you that Library and Archives Canada has a website. Their site allows you to search and download copies of the census records FOR FREE.

Don't get me wrong, paying for a subscription to can be a great thing. But not if the records they're going to give you are records you can find for free in other places. And you would be surprised how often that happens. Let the ones you CAN'T find build up for awhile. When you've got enough to keep you busy for awhile, sign up for the free trial. Cancel it before it costs you a dime.

FamilySearch is a website published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church I've been a part of since I was 16. They give away information for free because they're cool like that, and because in their minds the information doesn't belong to them. They're your ancestors, you have a right to see that information. And if you have ancestors that come strange, exotic places like I do (Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada) FamilySearch has some of the only records available on the internet. In some cases, they have the only copies in existence.

They continue to add more records to their site all the time, so be sure to check back often to see if records for your ancestors have been added.


The fastest way to build your tree is with census records. They are records that include parents, children, years or dates of birth, birth places, sometimes even grandparents living in the household. When you are able to trace a family on the census over time, it can clue you in one what they went through in life. The places they lived reveals a lot about who they were and will focus your research to some very specific areas. So finding free census records is always going to be your goal.

HeritageQuest is a great resource for census records. I have always really loved the way their search feature works on their website. It doesn't have tons of boxes and options on it like does, and many times that makes it easier to find stuff. And if you live in the US, your public library system will usually have a subscription to HeritageQuest that you can use for free. I have library cards from two different states, and they both offer HeritageQuest.

If you go to your city/county/state library page, one of them should have a real website with databases on it. Find where they keep the genealogy databases, and see if they offer HeritageQuest. Click the link, enter your library card number, and it will take you right through to their site. Bookmark the portal page where you enter your card number so you don't always have to dig through the library's site again.

Google Books

Google Books has copies of many genealogies that have already been written by those who came before us. You don't want to waste precious time and energy doing work that has already been done. I've found a book which picks up my family at my great great grandmother at about 1877, and carries her lineage all the way back to 1654 with the Lundy family of England. They were Quakers who settled in the New World, and whose lineage is well documented throughout that time period. And while not everything published in a book is accurate, verifying someone else's claims can be a huge help to your research. If their information is accurate, you just saved yourself years of work.

What are some free tricks you use to have success in your genealogy?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Success: Charissa Joy Los

Genealogy Roadshow is a great show by PBS, based off of the Antiques Roadshow format. Participants contribute their research questions, and professional genealogists provide them with answers.

This was the experience of one young researcher, Charissa Joy Los. Born to an African-American father and a white American mother, she was adopted to a new family of white parents. Being biracial in an adopted family, it's easy to see how Charissa would turn to genealogy to find her place within both of her families.

Photo from The Detroit News, credit to Marvin Shaouni

I loved watching her story because she understands so clearly that a piece of her story is missing. She genuinely wants to have the African-American part of her heritage to play a role in her life. She discovers the truth about her ancestors moving to Detroit as part of the Great Migration. You can see how she and her birth father both gain a new sense of self from that knowledge, a deeper connection to each other and their past. The fact that the researcher assisting her is African-American makes the discovery even more meaningful and interesting, in my opinion.

Because I have been discovering my own Black Canadian and Caribbean Canadian heritage in Nova Scotia, I can understand Charissa's desire to understand her relationship to her own race. The same way that she felt more complete as a person with her new discoveries, I feel the same way about my grandmother's family as I continue to discover it. You can read all about those discoveries of mine for Muriel Ince Michaels on my personal blog, Of Trees & Ink.

To watch the episode, visit the site for Genealogy Roadshow and click on the episode for Detroit!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Started on Your Genealogy: Part 1

Many young people want to know where they come from and the history of their family. It's a question we all ask at some time in our lives. What were my ancestors like? Where did they come from? Did they ever participate in anything important? Am I like them?

The desire to feel a connection with your ancestors is as important to your identity as being connected with your parents. These questions and desires are what lead us to do family history research, also called genealogy.

When you decide you want to start researching your family's history, it can seem really intimidating. Where do I even start? What if I don't know any of the information?

Where do I start?

Sometimes the most important step that a lot of people forget is to start with yourself. These
questions might be helpful:

  1. What is your full birth name? 
  2. What is your birthday?
  3. Where were you born? What was the name of the hospital? 
  4. Where did you go to school?
  5. Did you ever move? If so, when and where?
  6. What are some of your important accomplishments? When and where did they happen?
It may be helpful to make a timeline. If you don't know who your parents are, learning everything you can about your life will help you find out. As you fill in the missing details from your life, you will be able to continue working your way back to your parents, grandparents, and onward. If you get stuck, it means you don't have enough information about the people you've already found.

What kind of information do I need to know?

Your research is always going to focus on the events in people's lives where there would have been records kept. The main events that have records associated with them are:
  • Births
  • Baptisms and Christenings
  • Wars and Military Service
  • Jobs and Occupations
  • Engagements
  • Marriages or Divorces
  • Death and Burial
For each of these above, you'll want the most approximate date you can find, and the location where it took place. Be as specific as possible. Record the City, County/Municipality, State/Province, Country. Don't skip over information on the locations, they will help you as you continue to work your way backwards.

The best way to find out about this information is to ask the people themselves, or people who knew them. But do keep in mind, some of what they tell you will not be 100% accurate.

So once you get to the point where you have a place to start, it's time to start looking for documentation and proof. ALWAYS REMEMBER: If you can't prove something with documentation, it's just a theory. False information will get you no where, and all false information started out as a theory.

Where do you find documents or proof?

There are four kinds of places you can look for documents about your ancestors:
  • City level: This includes going to the city where your ancestor was living during the event you are researching. If they were living in Richmond, Virginia when they got married, looking for records at the city level means you go to city of Richmond to look for the marriage license. You can look courthouses, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, hospitals, etc. You have to ask yourself, "What information am I trying to find? Who would have written it down?"
  • County/Municipality level: This can also include libraries, courts, historical societies, and genealogical societies, depending on how that community is organized. Newspapers are organized and kept at the level at which they were published. So if you want a county newspapers, you look in the county records. If it's the paper for a large city or a capital city, they'll usually be in the state archives. If it's a local city newspaper or publication, it would likely only be available in the city library or historical society.
    If you can't find a historical society for a city, they may only have one for the county. If the county doesn't have one, it may only exist by state or province. 
  • State/Province level: Archives usually exist on the state/province level. It's also on this level where online research usually becomes a possibility. Check for archives, libraries, or universities that may have books, websites, or records on your ancestors. Many times they will have digital copies of their records, or will be able to direct you where you can find your information.
  • National level: National archives are usually very large libraries, usually located in the capital city. They will not have copies of every type of record that has ever been recorded. You may or may not be able to find things like birth, marriage, or death records there. It depends on what tools they have available for the public to use. You will usually find things like records of military service, census records, tax lists, or anything in connection with famous events.

A lot of that may not make much sense now. But believe me, it will soon!

When you are researching always ask for help before you start. The people who work in these places are usually very helpful and smart. They will know their collections really well. They can usually tell you if they don't have a certain type of record, and will be able to tell you where you can find it.

As you can see, genealogy means dealing with lots of different kinds of records. And because they're kept in all sorts of different places, you have do just as much research on records and where to find them as you do on people and ancestors.

We're going to be reviewing and sharing the many tools for finding records that we use every day. Because every place is different, there will be a Places section in the sidebar. Check back to see if we've covered a place that's important to you. If you want to do a review of a library, genealogical society, archives, or any other site that you've found helpful, let us know in the Submit section! 

What do I do with all the information I find?

This is a great question! There are two things you can do. You can either print copies of family group sheets and pedigree charts and fill them out by hand. Cyndi's List is a website you'll come to know well--she has a list of various forms here you might find helpful if you want to start out the "ol' fashioned way" with pen and paper. Or you can download various programs or use genealogical websites to store that data in an online "tree." A family "tree" simply refers to any chart or program that organizes your family into a diagram, and they usually end up looking like trees.

Some suggestions of sites or programs you can use are:
  • also has many different country-specific sites, so change it to the ending of the country where you live. Canada would be, Australia is, etc. also has a software you can download called Family Tree Maker.
  • RootsMagic
  • MyHeritage
  • Wikitrees
When I first started out when I was 16, I used a program called PAF that doesn't exist anymore. It was super simple, and anyone could learn how to use it. If you want something easy and self-explanatory, I can recommend the free version of RootsMagic

We will be talking about and reviewing these sites and products, so you can have a much better idea of how they work and whether they're a good fit for you. Look for it in the Tools section in the sidebar, it'll be coming soon!

You'll want to make copies of the records and proof that you find. In a very real way, you are beginning what will turn into the library of your life. It could include printed records, books, websites, and digital copies of stuff galore. Stay tuned and we'll be sure to tell you what to DO with all that stuff.

Don't worry. There are apps for that!

Good luck, and happy researching!


P.S. If you just started out and you want to share your questions of where to begin, or what you've found so far, email us from the Submit section. You can also contact us at our community on Google+, Young & Savvy Genealogists

Monday, September 30, 2013


My name is Heather and I'm a young and savvy genealogist! I'm 23 years old and have been doing family history for ten years now. I started with a few names scribbled into an old composition book with Crayola markers as a young girl. My research has since taken me deep into the history of the American South and around the world to England, Ireland, Canada, Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada.

And that list continues to grow!

I have a genealogy blog over at Of Trees & Ink, and I have been participating in genealogy blogging since 2011. I've met a lot of truly awesome people from some really cool places. They care about genealogy as much as I do, and connecting with them has been a really rewarding experience.

But there's something missing from this genealogy community... something important :)

More young people like me and Caitie! A community where we can talk together with other young genealogists like us.

So we're building a new community here. If you're under 30 and love genealogy, we want you to be a part of it. If you have stories you want to tell, we want to hear them!

We're going to be working on building up the genealogical community in 4 ways:

  1. Giving Back: No matter where you live, there is local history that you can help to preserve. Simply find a project you can get excited about, participate, write about it, and send it to us. Or write about it on your own blog and send us the link to feature it. You can volunteer at local historical and genealogical societies, help to clean up/preserve local historic sites, index records, photograph cemeteries through projects like BillionGraves or Find A Grave, or volunteer to take research requests who live far away from you, but need records where you live. Anything you are doing or have done to contribute to the genealogical community, we want to hear about it.
  2. Success: What success are you having in your personal research? What mysteries have you solved or walls have you broken down? What research methods are you using? What tools do you find useful? What are you doing that is helping you to have success? Did you think of a creative way to use technology for your family history? Let us know!
  3. Learning: None of us are perfect at what we do. No matter how long we've been researching, there are always new things to learn. Share what you learned from a particular conference, class, seminar, or even an online tutorial from others in the genealogical community. Let us know when you find new educational resources--books, videos, tutorials, how-to articles, anything that helps you to be a better researcher. You can spotlight your local historical societies, or give a shoutout to another organization or researcher who helped you in an unexpected way.
  4. Sharing: All of the information we find has the strongest impact on our lives when we share it with our other family members. How do you share your genealogy with your family? DNA stories, connections with long lost family members, interviews with family members, photos and stories from your family reunions, traditions, interesting old photos that you want to use as cousin bait--we'll be sharing our stories, and we welcome you to do the same.
Caitie and I will be posting our experiences with these--but we want to hear from other young and savvy genealogists and feature your stories here! Submit your stories to us--find the instructions on how to do so in the Submit section above. 

If you are a savvy but not-so-young genealogist, please feel free to share our site with anyone who is. If you are a young and savvy genealogist and want us to know it, leave a comment with a link to your site!

Looking forward to meeting you soon!