January 30, 2015

Which are the Best Genealogy Websites for YOU??

money_tree_PA_500_wht_3903Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!

“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch].  Where should you spend your time and money?  While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource.  If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites?  I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy.  Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?

Which paid sites do you regularly use?  Which free sites do you use?  Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day.  It is really getting rather confusing.”

What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:

“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.

It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.

  • For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
  • For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
  • When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistOur mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!

I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!”  Lisa

5 Most Popular Searches in Historical Newspapers–and Tips for Improving Yours!

Genealogy Research in NewspapersThe British Newspaper Archive celebrated its 3rd birthday recently by looking back at how people are searching its 9 million+ newspaper pages. To date, the five most common searches are:

1. Football

2. Murder

3. Death

4. Jack the Ripper

5. Railway

Not what you expected? Your digitized newspaper searches as a family historian may be a little more specific and less sports-and-murder oriented. But are they too general to yield successful results?

Here’s a tip from Lisa: “With 9 million searchable pages, the key to finding what you want is to use the Advanced Search.

british search“You’ll find it under the search box. My initial search for my husband’s great grandfather resulted in tens of thousands of hits until I included mandatory keywords, his name as a phrase, a defined time frame, and zeroed in on advertisements. The 299 results were far more manageable and resulted in several fantastic finds!”

Armed with these tips, those with Irish or English roots should explore The British Newspaper Archive, even if you’ve searched there before. “We’ve come a long way since the website launched on 29 November 2011 with 4 million historic newspaper pages,” says a press release. “The collection is now more than twice the size, with over 9 million fully searchable pages available from 300 British and Irish titles. The newspapers cover 1710 – 1954, a much broader time period than at launch. If you weren’t able to find a particular person, event or place when The British Newspaper Archive launched, it’s well worth looking again now.” Visit www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk to try a search for free.”

Learn more about searching historical newspapers in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Chapter 4 is all about the newspaper search process, and includes a copy-able Newspaper Research Worksheet.

Last of all, check out this fun infographic below from the British Newspaper Archive in honor of its birthday:

 

British Newspaper Archive

What to Do When Genealogy Records Were Burned

flames_300_wht_8629Recently Sue from Elk Grove, Illinois wrote in with a question about what to do when records were lost due to fire (or war, or disasters, etc.):

“We have been trying to locate information on my great great grandparents Hugh and Mae Sullivan. I have never been able to find marriage or birth records and have realized that it was mainly due to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Interestingly, through a directory from 1866, they may have lived only blocks from the origin of the fire. I have them in 1880 with 4 sons, the first of which was born just 10 months following the fire.

“I suspect that they may have lost other children in the tragedy. I am unsure which direction to go to find more of their story and any suggestions would be helpful. Several newspapers are reported to have lists of the missing but I have either been unable to read them or to locate them. Sam Fink’s list [an index of Cook County marriages and deaths] did not provide any information. I suspect that my ancestors were among the very poor immigrants that flooded into Chicago. There were relief societies and I have wondered if records were kept of those who were rehoused.”

Here’s my response to Sue:

genealogy gems podcast mailboxI think you are on the right track with newspapers. Newspapers.com (owned by Ancestry) carries the Chicago Daily from 1871. Here is a screen shot of the List of Missing from Oct. 11, 1871.  It might be worth a subscription to Newspapers.com to be able to really comb through all the issues.

newspapers com missing clipHere’s a tip on working with less-than-the best digital images of historical newspapers. You can “invert” the actual image (have it read white-on-black instead of black-on-white), then darken it and add a little more contrast to get the most readable copy possible. This can be done right from the Newpapers.com viewer.

Also, in Family History podcast episode #37 I discussed a book specifically on Chicago research: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide To Family History In The City Of Chicago by Grace DuMelle. As I recall, it was a very comprehensive book and could give you good leads on where to look.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

 

For more tips like these, read my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Inside you’ll find:

  • Step-by-Step Instructions
  • Worksheets and Checklists
  • Tech Tools You Probably Aren’t Using But Should
  • A Massive Amount of Location Specific Websites  and a Case Study that Puts It Al Together

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Advice from Your DNA Guide

dna_magnifying_glass_300_wht_8959Knowing your genealogical question can make DNA testing for adoptees (and anyone else) more focused and relevant. Being patient and determined—not quitting after a single test’s results—can also pay off, as it did for Paul Dobbs, a Welsh-born man who followed his adoptive father to Canada only to learn he was fathered by a U.S. serviceman.

Paul Dobbs didn’t find out that Len Dodds wasn’t his biological father until after the man who’d raised him to adulthood passed away. The truth came out during a genetic investigation into Len’s rare medical condition. He learned that he was child of an American soldier stationed in Wales during World War II. But years of traditional genealogical research led to dead ends. Then Paul turned to DNA and found a match: a first cousin.

With the help of his new-found cousin and the traditional genealogical records available about servicemen serving in Cardiff at the end of World War II, Paul was able to form a convincing hypothesis about the identity of his biological father.

He reached out to a potential half sibling who agreed to conduct a DNA test to explore this option.

She was a match.  Paul had found his biological family! (Read his story in the Vancouver Sun.)

Not everyone will find their birth parents through DNA testing. But Paul took an approach that can serve anyone looking for biological kin through DNA. His experience reminds us that knowing your genealogical question can make DNA testing more focused and relevant. Being patient and determined—not quitting after a single test’s results—can also pay off, as it did for Paul.

For any male adoptee seeking his father, the yDNA test is a logical route to take. This is where Paul turned first. The yDNA provides an undiluted record of a direct paternal line.  This can often help adoptees identify a surname for their paternal line. However, Paul did not have the success he was hoping for with yDNA testing.

He then turned to autosomal DNA testing. Remember that this kind of test traces both your paternal and maternal lines and reports back to you matches in the database that have predicted relationships like, “2-4th cousins” or “3rd-5th cousins” and then you are left to decipher who your common ancestor might be.

DNA testing is a great option for adoptees to get a jumpstart on their genealogy. However, before testing, everyone, adoptees included, should carefully consider how the results of testing may impact you and your family, both biological and adopted.

Genealogy DNA Quick Reference Guides Cheat SheetsReady to learn more about your family with DNA testing? Learn how to with my series of quick guides. Purchase each guide individually or pick up the bundle of all 4 for the best deal!

Visit my website to learn about expert consultations with me. You’ll get customized guidance on which tests to order and how to maximize your results for your genealogy research.

Premium Perks! Genealogy Technology Tools Video, Life Story Writing AND Scottish Research

Are you a Genealogy Gems Premium member–or have you thought about becoming one? If so, you’ll want to know about the NEW content we recently published for Premium members only:

10 Technology Tools for GenealogyPremium Video: 10 Genealogy Tech Tools You Can’t Live Without

Most of us want to use the best technology tools available for genealogy. But we don’t want to wade through every app, software and gadget out there. We just don’t need them all! This video session focuses in on Lisa’s favorite 10 technology tools that keep the focus right where it belongs: on our research, not on technology overload. In this one-hour class, you’ll learn how to:

  • organize your research notes with Evernote
  • harness mobile genealogy with a tablet or iPad
  • save, share and transfer genealogy files through the cloud
  • access your home computer from a mobile device
  • safely and securely backup all of your family history files
  • curate and consume genealogy-related content
  • and much more!

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 116: Life-story Writing Inspiration and Scottish Roots

Laura Hedgecock life story writingGenealogy Gems Premium MembershipThe newly-released Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 116 includes–in addition to news you can use and inspiring asides–two great conversations. The first is an interview between myself (Contributing Editor Sunny Morton) and Laura Hedgecock, author of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. We talk about the challenges and rewards of writing life stories, whether your own or someone else’s. Learn some practical tips for writing family stories and helpful advice on what to do about family secrets.

Lisa also chats with Marie Dougan on the shores of Scotland to talk about researching Scottish ancestors. Marie is a professional genealogist based in Scotland who has been researching for more than 12 years. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and is currently a tutor on a range of genealogy and family history courses at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Marie loves to talk genealogy technology tools, which is one of Lisa’s favorite topics, too! So listen in on their conversation and see what tips you pick up!

HOW are We Related?? Use a Cousin Calculator

Genealogy relationship cousin calculatorRecently, I heard from Shirley in Austin, Texas (U.S.) with a question about how her relatives are related to each other:

“My GGM (Caroline ‘s) great grandfather (Franz Joseph)  is the same as my GGF (Eduard ‘s) grandfather (Franz Joseph). How would they be related to each other?  Half 2nd cousin twice removed?

The relative in common (Franz Joseph) and his same wife, had two sons: Franz Carl who is Eduard’s Father, and Johan Anton, who would be Caroline’s Grandfather.”

My answer: 

genealogy gems podcast mailboxI like this Cousin Calculator tool (also called a relationship calculator) at Searchforancestors.com. If Caroline is the Great Grand daughter of Franz Joseph and and Eduard is the Grandchild of Franz Joseph, then according to the Cousin Calculator they are first cousins one time removed. Hope that helps!

What kind of complicated or double family relationships have YOU discovered on your family tree? Enter them into the cousin calculator. Then tell us how they’re related on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

Genealogical Double-Dating?!? The Julian Calendar Explained

Julian calendarDo you know about the Julian calendar and how it can REALLY throw your genealogy research off?

I knew about this but I’ve never heard it explained as simply as Margery Bell does in the Family History podcast episode 43, just republished and re-released on the Genealogy Gems website. Click on the link to see show notes from the episode with a great summary of what the Julian calendar is and how it can affect your research.

In this podcast episode you’ll learn things like:

  • the definition of “double-dating” in the historical calendar and how to interpret those dates;
  • the fact that different countries switched over from the Julian calendar at greatly different times;
  • why Washington’s birthdate, as recorded in his family Bible, is not the birthdate celebrated today in the U.S.;
  • why several days are missing from the 1752 calendar;
  • how to translate dates from the Julian calendar to today’s Gregorian calendar.

I hope you enjoy this FREE podcast episode! And why not share it with a genealogy buddy? It’s a great topic for beginning and more experienced family history researchers.

 

How to Record Phone Calls on Skype and Smartphones

stickman_customer_service_anim_300_wht_2125Looking for ways to record phone calls for family history interviews? Janice emailed me to ask that very question, and I gave her some ideas that can help you out too.

“I live in Maine and have awesome century old relatives that love to share stories. Most are in nursing homes and have hours and hours available of awesome family stories. I am limited on traveling because most visits are five hour drives one way.  They love talking on the phone. Is there any recommendation for an app that could record our conversations for historical preservation.  I would love to share these stories with the Maine Memory Network before they are forgotten.”

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistHere’s my response:

Lucky you for having these relatives to gather stories from! You mentioned using an “app” so I’m assuming you want to be able to use your smartphone. Here’s a good article with some options for recording from a smartphone.

 

How to record phone calls on Skype

Another alternative is to get a Skype account, and call them from your computer using a headset with microphone. For about $2.95 you can call any phone number (calling another skype account is free) and then you could use the program “Pamela” to record the call. Pamela works seamlessly with Skype, automatically generating the recording when you call. The file is saved on your computer as an easy to use MP3 file. The free version of Pamela lets you record for up to 15 minutes at a time. You can always restart another recording after 15 minutes, or purchase the software for unlimited recording length.

Janice’s response to my advice: “Oh how exciting. I like the Skype idea. I have discovered so many relatives to that were orphaned this would be a great way to capture their lost stories. Thanks a million!”

More Tips for Interviewing Relatives

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastWould you like some tips on how to contact and interview long-lost relatives? Check out these two episodes of the FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:

Episode 14: How to Contact Long-Lost RelativesConnecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that first call. In this episode, we chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has mastered the art of “genealogical cold calling” by conducting hundreds of telephone interviews.

Episode 15: More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives. In today’s episode we talk more about “genealogical cold calling” with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 171 – Coping with Change and Genealogy Storytelling

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family HistoryThe newest episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast is now ready for listening! This is a really special episode with a story I think many of us can relate to. It’s about a man who started researching the life of a woman he never met–he doesn’t even know who her descendants are. And yet he feels compelled to learn her story. Learn how and why, and about some of his successes and challenges in the podcast episode.

I’ll give you just one little teaser: 99 postcards found in an attic when he was 13 years old got him started.  He’s held onto them for the past 38 years. Recently he finally started studying the stories on their backs. And that’s when he could see that 86 of them were addressed to a Mrs. Lizzie Milligan and postmarked between 1904 and 1925. Who was she? That’s what he is determined to know. And he’s already blogging his discoveries–in part hoping others can help him solve the mystery.

Episode 171 can be found through iTunes or by clicking here.

PERSI Digitized Collections Gaining Ground

ebook ereader for Mac Digital Genealogy books at Google BooksJust over a year ago, we shared the news that the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) was migrating to FindMyPast.com. The big news was that this index to over 2.5 million names and topics in thousands of genealogy, history and ethnic publications would begin to link to full-text articles on FindMyPast.

Well, it’s happening. FindMyPast recently reported: “We’ve added images to the indexes of fifteen different publications in PERSI, including The American Irish Historical Society Journal (1898-1922), The American Historical Society’s Americana (1909-1923) and the Connecticut Historical Society Annual Report (1890-1923).”

Even better, it’s FREE to search PERSI at FindMyPast and view results. If you see something really compelling, you can pay for a-la-carte access (called PayAsYouGo credits) to a detailed indexed entry and any digitized content, or subscribe for full access. But you can least learn whether an article on your topic exists (like “Silas Johnson Methodist minister” or “Swinerton family Salem, Massachusetts”) and where it was published.

Whether FindMyPast doesn’t have an article digitized yet or you don’t purchase access to it, you can still order a copy. Just use the Allen County Public Library’s Article Fulfillment service: it’s only $7.50 USD for up to six articles, plus $0.20-per-page photocopying charge.