November 25, 2015

Black Friday starts NOW & supports the Free Podcast

black friday deals on amazonHere are our top Black Friday Amazon picks. I’ve paired each pick with a tip for how to use it for family history (yes, even the TV).

Amazon has already announced Black Friday deals and you can get them now! These are my favorite deals! And just in case you want an excuse to buy, I’ve paired each item with an idea for using it to further your family history. Thanks for shopping with these links: your purchases support the free Genealogy Gems podcast.

Samsung tvSamsung UN40J5200 40-Inch 1080p Smart LED TV (2015 Model) (SAVE 40%)

It’s got a 4-star rating on Amazon, where it’s a #1 best-seller in its category. The built-in wi-fi gives it smart functionality. The refresh rate is 60CMR (Effective); LED backlight. There are 3 inputs: 2 HDMI, 1 USB. Definitely worth checking out!

Family History Idea: Here’s How You Can Bring Your Family History to a Big Screen: How to Use Chromecast


amazon earphonesAmazon Premium Headphones (SAVE 52%)

Also a #1 Amazon seller in its category. Designed with magnetic earbuds and a flat cord to keep your headphones free of tangles, the headphones deliver clear, crisp sound through ergonomically-designed earbuds. They’ve got a mic and multi-function button to allow you to control your calls, music, and more. Compatible with Kindle Fire, Fire HD 8, and Fire HD 10 tablets.

Family History Idea: How to Listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcasts Offline

Samsung tab 4Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (7-Inch, White) (SAVE 41%)

This Android 4.4 (Kit Kat OS) has a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 8 GB Flash Memory and 1.5 GB RAM Memory. The WXGA Display has 1280 x 800 resolution. 32GB of memory is available through a microSD slot and 50GB of free Dropbox storage. It even comes with over $300 of free content and services.

Family History Idea: Do You Have These 5 Free Family History Apps? You Should!


brother printerBrother HL-3170CDW Digital Color Printer with Wireless Networking and Duplex

This printer provides fast, high-quality printing at up to 23 pages per minute, at a resolution up to 600 x 2400 dpi. It does automatic two-sided printing. Its wireless capabilities make it easy to print from a laptop or mobile device. The 250-sheet capacity paper tray is adjustable for letter or legal size paper.

Family History Idea: A Family History Photo Display with Mementos: What Would Yours Look Like?

backblaze sale cyber mondaay


This last pick IS NOT an Amazon Black Friday deal. It’s even better. It’s our very own HOT DEAL. ONLY available on Cyber Monday at a full 50% off is Backblaze online backup service–the same technology we use here at Genealogy Gems to keep our documents, media files, photos and more backed up in web-based secure storage. Click here to learn more.


CyberMonday SALE: 50% Off Backblaze Cloud Backup

backblaze sale cyber mondaayOn Cyber Monday 2015 get 50% off Backblaze cloud backup service through Genealogy Gems. Sign up for our email newsletter to receive the coupon code and special instructions for this deal, which will only be valid on Monday, November 30, 2015.

Santa LisaI protect all of my genealogy data by backing up my computers with Backblaze, and Cyber Monday is your chance to do the same. Start off 2016 with peace of mind!

Here’s what I love about Backblaze:

  • Continual Backup: Backblaze operates behind-the-scenes through your internet connection to continuously back up all your computer files (or just those you select). This includes music, photos, data, documents, etc.
  • Unlimited: Backblaze will store an unlimited amount of data for you, even for multiple computers.
  • Easy Restoration: In the event you lose data, you can sign in to Backblaze and download from any computer.
  • Protection: The off-site storage secures your data in a separate physical location. That protects you against a natural disaster that could easily wipe out any backup storage devices or drives along with your computer.
  • Versatile: Backblaze serves both Mac and PC owners.
  • Free Trial: You can try it for free before paying a cent.

Backblaze’s regular price is already low: just $5 per month or $50 for an entire year. With our exclusive CyberMonday sale, you’ll get 50% off your purchase of a new plan.

This offer won’t run on the main Backblaze site: it’s only available through Backblaze partners like Genealogy Gems. So we can’t advertise the coupon code on our site or on social media.

We will mail the coupon code and instructions for redeeming it to our email newsletter subscribers on Thursday, November 26, 2015 and again this weekend (Happy Thanksgiving!). 

Still Thinking About it? Read These Posts

backblaze online backup for genealogy Cloud backupWhat’s Your Computer Backup Plan? Better Than Mine Was, I Hope!

Dropbox v. Backblaze: Does Cloud Storage for Genealogy Replace Computer Backup?

How Cloud Backup Helped One Genealogy Gem Get Closer to Living a Paper-free Life

sign up newsletterRemember to sign up for our newsletter! You’ll get the coupon code and ordering instructions, along with a free Google for genealogy e-book as a thank you.

Here’s how to get 75% off Findmypast Subscription through Nov. 30, 2015

findmypast subscription sale 75 offWe see a lot of genealogy website subscription deals. This one for a findmypast subscription is fantastic! Don’t miss it if you have UK roots. Keep reading for the special link and coupon code that you’ll need for the discount.

This weekend, findmypast is celebrating Thanksgiving with a highly tempting offer: a full 75% off a 12-month World subscription (usual cost: $199.50; your cost: about $50–for the entire year!). CLICK HERE  and use the coupon code THNKSGNG15 by Monday, November 30, 2015 to get the discount.


If you have roots in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, you should be using Findmypast to research them. For those readers in the US, Findmypast estimates that 35 million of us are descended from those first 51 Mayflower passengers (including these celebrities). And that’s just from those 51 people! That doesn’t hold a candle to the millions of other UK descendants who now live all over the world.

Findmypast is home to millions of records you will find only there, from British and Irish newspapers to the crucial 1939 Register. The site has strengthened its US, Canada and Australia collections to help descendants trace their families back to their British, Irish, Welsh or Scottish roots.

This weekend, findmypast is celebrating Thanksgiving with a highly tempting offer: a full 75% off a 12-month World subscription (usual cost: $199.50; your cost: about $50–for the entire year!). CLICK HERE  and use the coupon code THNKSGNG15 by Monday, November 30, 2015 to get the discount.

More UK Research Gems

1939 RegisterAccess the 1939 Register Online at Findmypast

The Bombing of London: Interactive Map of The Blitz

Irish Catholic Parish Registers from the National Library of Ireland




DNA Ethnicity Results: Exciting or Exasperating?

DNA ethnicity results

Wikipedia Commons image. Click to view.

Are your DNA ethnicity results exciting, confusing, inconsistent, exasperating…or all of the above?

Recently Kate expressed on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page her frustration with her ethnicity results provided by AncestryDNA. She gets right to the point when she writes, “the way they refer to the results is confusing.”

Kate, you are not alone. Many genealogists have been lured into taking the autosomal DNA test at one of the three major DNA testing companies just to get this glimpse into their past. Remember that the autosomal DNA test can reveal information about both your mother’s side and your father’s side of your family tree. Many take the test hoping for confirmation of a particular ancestral heritage, others are just curious to see what the results will show. Though their purposes in initiating the testing may vary, the feeling of bewilderment and befuddlement upon receiving the results is fairly universal.

Kate has some specific questions about her results that I think most will share. Let’s take a look at a couple of them. First up, Kate wants to know if our family tree data in any way influences the ethnicity results provided. The answer is an unequivocal “no.” None of the testing companies look at your family tree in any way when determining your ethnicity results. However, the results are dependent on the family trees of the reference population. The reference populations are large numbers of people whose DNA has been tested and THEIR family history has been documented for many generations in that region. The testing companies compare your DNA to theirs and that’s how they assign you to an ethnicity (and place of ancestral origin?).

Next Kate asks, “Do they mean England when they report Great Britain?” Or to put it more broadly, how do these testing companies decide to divide up the world? All of the companies handle this a little bit differently. Let’s look at Ancestry as an example. When you login to view your ethnicity results, you can click on the “show all regions” box below your results to get a list of all of the possible categories that your DNA could be placed in. These 26 categories include nine African regions, Native American, three Asian regions, eight European regions, two Pacific Island regions, two West Asian regions, and then Jewish, which is not a region, per se, but a genetically distinct group.

Clicking on each individual location in the left sidebar will bring up more information on the right about that region. For example, clicking on Great Britain tells us that DNA associated with this region is primarily found in England, Scotland, and Wales, but is also found in Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Basically, this is telling us that people with generations of ancestry in Great Britain are quite a genetic mix from many areas.

GreatBritainRegionThe first chart here shows that if we are to test the DNA of 100 natives of one of these primary regions (England, Scotland or Wales) then 50 of them will have the great Britain “pattern” of DNA covering 60% or more of their entire genome, and 50 of them will have that pattern in less than 60% of their DNA. The fact that this half-way number is so low, only 60%, tells us that there is a lot of uncertainty in this ethnicity estimate because there is so much mixture in this region. Kate, for you that means that when you see Great Britain in your ethnicity estimate, it could mean England, or maybe it means Italy- Ancestry can’t be certain.

IrelandRegionBut that uncertainty isn’t the same for every region. Pictured here is also the ethnicity chart for Ireland. You can see that half the people who are native to Ireland will have 95% or more Irish DNA.  Kate, for us this means that if you have Irish DNA in your results, you can be pretty certain it came from Ireland. From these tables you can see your membership in some regions is more robust than others, and Ancestry is using these tables to try to help us tell the difference.


In the end, the ethnicity results reported by each DNA testing company are highly dependent on two factors: the reference populations they use to compare your DNA against, and the statistical algorithms they use to compute your similarities to these populations. Every company is doing both of these things just a little bit differently.

Kate, if you want to get another take on your ethnicity results, you can take your data over to Family Tree DNA, or you can be tested at 23andMe. A free option is to head over to Gedmatch and try out their various ethnicity tools. If you need help downloading and transferring, you can head over to my website:  Most people have found after searching in multiple places that their “true” results are probably somewhere in the middle.

While these ethnicity results can be interesting and useful, for most they will just be a novelty; something interesting and exciting. I have found that their most useful application is acting like a fly on a fishing line. They attract our family members into DNA testing where we can then set the hook on the real goal: family history.

Using DNA for Genealogy Ancestry Family Tree DNA GuidesIf you’re ready to bait your own hook, I recommend you check out my series of DNA quick guides. These laminated guides will help you choose the right DNA tests for your genetic genealogy questions. You’ll become a smart shopper, more prepared to choose the testing company that’s right for you. And you’ll be prepared to maximize your results from each company, rather than look at them blankly and wondered what the heck you just spent that money on. Click here to see all my DNA guides: I recommend the value-priced bundle!

Save 50% and then 25% MORE with our exclusive code!

You don’t see a deal like this every day!family history writing sale

The Video course Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects is packed full of strategies to help you finally get your family history written!

The story of your own or your family’s history is likely to be the most personal, emotionally satisfying and overwhelming writing project you’ll ever undertake. Our own Sunny Morton will help ease your exasperation with easy and accessible genealogy writing activities in this digital download video course.

The course is currently on sale for 50% off, and now you can double dip for an extra 25% off! 

Use coupon code LISA100 by 12/31/15 and you’ll receive an exclusive Genealogy Gems 25% discount ON TOP of the 50% sale price!

family history writing sale

You must use this link: Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects, and then enter the coupon code LISA100 at check out. Hurry, offer expires 12/31/15.

MyHeritage Search Connect – A New Way to Meet Relatives

myheritage search has created a unique new database that allows you to find others who have searched for the same relatives you’re trying to find.

Genealogy companies are getting smarter about figuring out how to use the data that’s created when people use their sites. One example is the newest smart-searching feature from MyHeritage Search Connect ™.

For several years, MyHeritage has kept track of who is searching for what ancestors. Now MyHeritage has turned their enormous archive of this information into a searchable database, with 30 million entries focused specifically on rare surnames. The database will continue to be updated weekly.

Now when you search in MyHeritage, results from  Search Connect ™ will appear in your search results. Subscribers will be able to click on those results and connect with other MyHeritage users interested in that surname. According to a company press release, “As well as connect with other MyHeritage members, you can also view the full data of their search (such as dates, places, relatives and more), as well as similar searches they’ve made.” This can help you determine whether you are indeed searching the same branch of a family.

An initial search in MyHeritage Search Connect on a rare surname in my husband’s family–O’Hotnicky–brings up results that could keep me busy for a while! We’ve never connected with overseas relatives, and many of the results shown are for MyHeritage trees created by members outside the U.S. I was pleased to see that MyHeritage’s Global Name Translation tool (released earlier this year) translated the O’Hotnicky name correctly into Eastern European spellings.

PRIVACY TIP: If you’re a MyHeritage user, you can opt out of having your searches (past, present and future) included in the database. According to MyHeritage, “To do that, log into your family site and click on your name in the upper right-hand side of the screen. Select ‘My Privacy’. Click on ‘My member preferences’ on the left and uncheck ‘Enable Search Connect™’.”

We are pleased to partner with MyHeritage, a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast.

MyHeritage scandinavian-facebook-enMore on MyHeritage from Genealogy Gems

Millions of New Scandinavian Genealogy Records Online at MyHeritage

Send Family Birthdays and Events Right to Your Phone with MyHeritage 

MyHeritage App Ranks in Top 100–and Gets a Redesign


How to Use a Microfilm Reader or a Microfiche Reader

how to use microfilm readerNot sure how to use microfilm or microfiche readers? Watch these quick video tutorials before your next trip to the library!

Recently I heard from a Genealogy Gems Premium member who is digging in deep to her family history. But she confessed that she left the Oklahoma Historical Center in Oklahoma City “in tears because I really didn’t know what I was doing” with the microfiche machine and with microfilms.

I totally understand. Microfilm and fiche readers are not my favorite part of genealogy research, either. But despite the wealth of digitized records that continue to appear online, microfilm is going to be around for a while! FamilySearch and other publishers of microfilmed data (like state archives) do not have copyright permissions to digitize all their microfilmed materials. Even if they can get it, it’s going to take a long time to make that happen.

how to use microfilm reader how to use microfiche reader

Rows of microfilm lay neatly organized in rows of tall cabinets at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Meanwhile, we will continue to need microfilm and microfiche readers!

  • Microfilm is a long reel of film (up to 125 feet, I’ve heard) that are essentially page-by-page photos of a document collection, book, newspaper, etc.
  • Microfiche is a single sheet of film (about 4″ x 6″) that contains the same, only shrunk down so small you need a magnified reader to make sense of it.

These were standard technologies for duplicating records in the pre-digital era. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City alone has over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. Yes, that’s million! (And yes, they will lend them out to a Family History Center or FamilySearch Library near you.)

To access these fantastic films and fiches, you will need to use microfilm readers and microfiche readers. It’s easy to walk into the library and think everyone knows how to use them but you. But that’s not true. In fact, every single genealogist has had to face their first encounter with a reader. Don’t be shy about asking politely for a tutorial (and help when you do it wrong and something gets stuck). And don’t be shy about watching these tutorials on YouTube before you go to the library again:

How to Use a Microfilm Reader:

How to Use a Microfiche Reader:

As you can see, YouTube is a fantastic place to pick up essential genealogy skills! Click here to check out our more great ideas for using YouTube for family history.

More Beginning Genealogy Tips from Genealogy Gems

4 Beginning Genealogy Answers to Get You Started

6 Sources That May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online: Google and FamilySearch Wiki

Use Facebook for Family History: Gather Memories

facebook family history crowdsource memoriesHere’s an innovative way to use Facebook for family history. It comes from my downloadable video class, Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects, and with our special coupon code LISA100 you can save 25% on the class for a limited time! 

Are you using Facebook to gather family history from your relatives? You can! It’s a version of “crowd-sourcing,” or using the internet to ask lots of people at a time for help. Here are two specific examples:

riser reunionI posted this first photo in my husband’s family reunion Facebook page, after being given a ton of photos from past reunions. I couldn’t identify anyone in the picture and I couldn’t tell what was happening, but it looked like something special. After I posted it, one person commented, “Boy that’s an old photo of me”–which identified someone in the picture! Then an aunt commented that this was a bridal shower held during the annual family reunion. Yay! The mystery photo was captioned.

grandpa on facebook (1)In this second example, I asked for more than just a photo caption. I posted a yearbook photo of my grandfather and two newspaper articles about him in our family Facebook group. In the accompanying post I asked, “Does anyone know anything about his time in the military? All I know is his entry/release dates, that he was in the Navy and a radar tech.” I tagged several close relatives so they would see it. (This was in our closed Facebook group. You can tag people by typing the @ sign and then their names in the post or in a comment below it.)

The response was fantastic. My aunt  said grandpa served on a ship in the Atlantic and mentioned a rank she thinks he achieved. My uncle said he had some related papers and would send them to me (yay!). Even better, some younger family members commented how much a sibling or son looked like grandpa at that age. A cousin snagged what I’d posted for her daughter’s family history project. So even those younger relatives who couldn’t tell me about grandpa could benefit from the online conversation.

BONUS TIP: I get the best response when I post an image or video along with my questions. Pictures and videos will catch people’s interest, jog their memories and sometimes prompt additional comments. This is a good way to remind people of your interest in the family stories and to share what you already have.

pain free family history writing projects 25 offThis story collecting tip came from my video class: Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects. Use coupon code LISA100 by 12/31/15 and you’ll receive an exclusive Genealogy Gems 25% discount when you click above to order!

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsEvery week, we post about exciting new genealogy records online. Scan this week’s list for anything you should search (or share with a friend): a colonial North American digital archive; Revolutionary War-era residents of Alabama; U.S. military burials; Freedmen’s Bureau records; California naturalizations and British WWI databases.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN RECORDS. Over 130,000 indexed images were added to the United States Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital and Medical Records 1865-1872 collection, searchable for free on FamilySearch. The index includes “patient registers, registers of sick and wounded, prescription books, and other medical records from freedmen hospitals and dispensaries….Records include letters and endorsements sent and received, account books, applications for rations, applications for relief, court records, labor contracts, registers of bounty claimants, registers of complaints, registers of contracts, registers of disbursements, registers of freedmen issued rations, registers of patients, reports, rosters of officers and employees, special and general orders and circulars received, special orders and circulars issued, records relating to claims, court trials, property restoration, and homesteads.”

ALABAMA REVOLUTIONARY WAR. A new database of indexed images at Ancestry “contains biographies, news clippings, and cards in paragraph form detailing persons who were residents in Alabama during the Revolutionary War in America.”

BRITISH WWI RECORDS. Findmypast has released new databases relating to World War I service: Surrey, Military Tribunals, 1915-1918 (military exemptions for the county of Surrey); and two British Army memorial rolls for employees of Lloyds of London and the London Stock Exchange who died in service.

CALIFORNIA NATURALIZATIONS. A database with indexed images of over a century’s worth of California naturalization records (1887-1991) has been updated at

COLONIAL NORTH AMERICA. A new digital archive has been launched: The Colonial North American Project at Harvard University. Its goal is to post digitized versions of “all known archival and manuscript materials in the Harvard Library that relate to 17th and 18th century North America.” According to the site, its “documents reveal a great deal about topics such as social life, education, trade, finance, politics, revolution, war, women, Native American life, slavery, science, medicine, and religion. In addition to reflecting the origins of the United States, the digitized materials also document aspects of life and work in Great Britain, France, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico.” (Click here to read our blog post about the project’s announcement in 2013.)

U.S. MILITARY BURIALS. recently added over 8 million U.S. military veterans’ burial records to the Special Collections that can be accessed by BG+ subscribers. These records include burial and cemetery records from the Veterans Affairs office, as well as military headstones from civilian headstones around the world.

thank you for sharingThanks for sharing these new genealogy records online with friends and fellow genealogists and through your genealogical society social media channels. It’s fun to spread good news!

Celebrating 1000 Genealogy Gems Blog Posts: #2 in the Top 10 Countdown

Top Ten Genealogy Coundown #2One of our most popular blog posts ever explains why you should still choose family tree software over genealogy websites for your master family tree–and which software programs Lisa recommends.

Earlier today we celebrated our most popular blog post ever: the one about NOT keeping your master tree online at genealogy websites like Ancestry. Interestingly, keeping your master tree in software at home was the theme of our second most popular post, which includes a list of Lisa’s favorite family history software programs. We’re sensing a theme! Gems readers want to keep their genealogy SAFE.

custom_software_box_12041Bottom line:  the best genealogy software for you depends on how much you want to spend and how sophisticated you want your database to be. Do you want a free basic version or a premium product that will cost you something? Do you want to use the software to produce books or family charts? Are you a Mac or PC user? Lisa addresses these considerations in her top-rated blog post on the best genealogy software and why you should be using it.

Next: how to download and/or backup all your Ancestry data. Don’t miss this popular post–or our recommendation for backing up your entire computer for $5 a month.

top 10 blog posts trophyClick here to see all Top 10 most popular Genealogy Gems blog posts–and enter NOW to win a great prize!