July 29, 2014

Remember the Sears Catalog? It’s on Ancestry.com

Sears Catalog Fall 1960, Cover. Digital image from Ancestry.com. Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Sears Roebuck Catalogs 1896–1993. Vol.102–228 K. Chicago, Illinois: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears Catalog Fall 1960, Cover. Digital image from Ancestry.com. Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Sears Roebuck Catalogs 1896–1993. Vol.102–228 K. Chicago, Illinois: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Back in “the day,” American consumers window-shopped by mail with the Sears catalog. From 1888-1993, the Sears catalog stocked millions of American households and fed the Christmas lists of men, women and children.

Wouldn’t pages from the Sears catalog make a lively addition to your family history posts, pins, pages and  conversations? Ancestry.com thinks so, too! They’ve digitized the catalogs and they’re keyword-searchable here. (Just a word of advice: browse a certain issue or search for a specific product. A keyword search for “bicycle” brings up over 5000 results through the OCR technology used to find matches.)

According to this brief history, the Sears catalog first launched as a mailer for watches and jewelry in 1888. “The time was right for mail order merchandise,” says the article. “Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.”

Here’s one more blast from the American consumer past: Sears kit houses. Have you heard of these? You used to be able to order pre-fabricated homes from Sears. You could customize one of many standard sets of plans, and all the materials would be pre-cut and delivered to your home, “some assembly required,” so to speak. Learn more about Sears kit houses and see images of several designs (1908-1940) here. Did your family ever live in a kit house? Tell us about it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

Do You Have Midwestern Roots? Meet me in Indianapolis

Midwestern Roots Genealogy Conference 2014I’ve been cruising the British Isles aboard the good ship Marco Polo with Unlock the Past Cruises. But this coming weekend,  I’m heading into the heartland of the United States–to the Midwestern Roots Family History & Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. If you’ve got roots in the American Midwest, I hope you’ll meet me there!

The Midwestern Roots conference will kick off Thursday evening, July 31 with my Great Google Earth Game Show. During this interactive, virtual globe-trotting show, you’ll not only face some geographic genealogy trivia, you’ll see firsthand how and why to use the powerful, FREE resources of Google Earth for your family history research. Then enjoy a two-day event with over 30 sessions by nationally-known speakers on research skills, technology topics and more.

There’s a definite focus on technology at this conference (the theme is “What Would Your Pioneers Have Tweeted?”). As the conference site says, “Most of the sessions will focus on using ever-changing and emerging technologies and sources online. Other sessions will cover photo preservation, DNA, methodology and using traditional sources.”  There’s something there for everyone–and Indiana is a friendly and affordable destination for a lot of folks living in the United States. Check out the full conference program here.

Online registration is still available for some pre-conference activities (some are waiting list only). You can’t register online any more for the conference, but you can register onsite beginning at 8am on the first day, so show up anyway!

Google Earth for Genealogy BundleCan’t make it to the conference but want to learn more about using Google Earth? Genealogy Gems Premium members have access to 3 videos on using Google Earth for genealogy on my website (learn more about Premium membership here). And anyone can purchase my 2-CD set, Google Earth for Genealogy. I’ll give you your own virtual tour of Google Earth and demonstrate how to find ancestral homesteads, explore your relative’s neighborhood streets, overlay historical maps with modern ones and more.

12 Things You Can Find in Obituaries

Paul McClellan obituariesRecently I decided to learn more about my great-uncle Paul McClellan, my grandfather’s brother. After World War II, Paul left his Idaho hometown for Pennsylvania. Surviving relatives know hardly anything of his life or family.

The census only takes me through 1940 and he lived through the 1970s. Pennsylvania vital records are pretty tight-lipped. So almost immediately, I found myself looking for obituaries.

Our online community tree at FamilySearch told me when and where he died. I emailed the local history and genealogy contact at the public library in that town. I heard back within a day and had this obituary within a week.

I’ve seen a lot of detailed obituaries. But perhaps because I’m so thirsty for information on Paul, the level of detail in this obituary made me especially happy. I see his:

  1. Age
  2. Street address
  3. Hospital where he died and length of stay there
  4. Birthplace and age
  5. Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
  6. Employer and retirement date
  7. Membership in local civic organizations
  8. WWII Army veteran status
  9. Surviving widow’s name, including maiden name
  10. Names, spouses and residences of surviving siblings
  11. Name of funeral home and officiator of funeral
  12. Cemetery name

Wow! Some of these details confirmed that I had the right guy: his age, birth data, relatives’ names. Others open new avenues of research for me. I’ve already started following leads to the civic organizations, funeral home and cemetery.

You know, what is NOT said in this obituary may also prove important as I continue my research on Paul. First, there are no surviving children or grandchildren listed. This disappoints me as I was told he did have children by at least one previous marriage. If he did have children, the informant (his widow?) either didn’t know about them or didn’t choose to mention them. Second, the informant did know a lot about Paul’s kin. Maybe Paul and his wife didn’t totally lose touch with the folks back home–it just seems so years later.

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersHave you worked much with obituaries? Do you know how to find them? Learn more in Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in print or as an e-book. There’s an entire chapter on online digitized newspaper collections, and one on online resources for finding newspapers (either online or offline). Yet another chapter is devoted to African American newspapers. This book will teach you to find all those elusive obituaries–and plenty more mentions of your family in old newspapers.

New or Improved Genealogy Apps! Ancestry, FamilySearch and MyHeritage

custom_smart_phone_categories_12848Have you downloaded the apps that go with your favorite genealogy websites? You should! And if it’s been awhile, you should do it again. Why? They just keep getting better!

Here’s a rundown of new or improved apps from

  • Ancestry.com,
  • FamilySearch.org, and
  • MyHeritage.com:

Updated Ancestry App: Now A Continuously Swiping Tree

The old version of  the Ancestry app was a great start, but didn’t actually have a tree interface on it. You could see lists of family members in your tree, but not in pedigree format. The new version (still FREE)  has a redesigned look that, at least for iOS users, includes what Ancestry calls a “continuously swiping tree.” (The way Ancestry programmers made this happen was unique enough they got a patent for the process–read about it on the Ancestry blog.)

Here’s a summary of what the iPhone and iPad apps can do (taken from the Ancestry site):

Ancestry app

  • New: Redesigned look for sleeker, more intuitive use
  • New: Build your tree faster by connecting to Facebook and your contact list
  • New: Read about the lives of your ancestors through story-like narrative
  • Preserve memories by scanning and adding photos to your tree
  • Explore high-res images of historical documents and records
  • Access the world’s largest online family resource with more than 12 billion records
  • Receive Hints to help reveal new family connections by finding records and photos for you
  • Fully redesigned for iOS7

Click here to download the Ancestry app for iPad, iPhone and Android.

New FamilySearch Apps: Tree and Memories

FS Mobile AppTwo new FREE mobile apps, FamilySearch Tree and FamilySearch Memories, help users add information to their FamilySearch.org trees. The folks at FamilySearch describe the apps this way:

FamilySearch Tree makes it easy to add photos, stories, and audio recordings to ancestors in FamilySearch trees.

  • Browse your family branches and see portraits of relatives you’ve never seen.
  • Discover facts, documents, stories, photos, and recordings about your ancestors.
  • Easily add memories and records about your relatives.
  • Preserve and share those old photos and documents that are hidden away in storage.
  • Adding or updating ancestor details like names, dates, and relationships will be available coming soon.
  • Available for iOS 7+ and Android 2.3+

Click here to download the FamilySearch Tree App from the Apple App Store (iOS)

Click here to download the FamilySearch Tree App from the Google Play App Store (Android)

FamilySearch Memories makes collecting, preserving, and sharing your favorite family memories (photos, stories, and spoken words) easy and convenient wherever you are.

  • Snap photos of any family event, or take photos of old photos and documents.
  • Record audio interviews with family members and capture details of their life stories and favorite memories.
  • Write family stories, jokes, and sayings with the keyboard, or use the mic key to capture what you say.
  • Enrich written stories by adding descriptive photos.
  • Identify and tag relatives within a memory to automatically add it to their collection in Family Tree.
  • Available for iOS 7+

Click here to download the FamilySearch Memories App from the Apple App Store (iOS)

Everything you add with either of these apps syncs with FamilySearch.org.

Updated MyHeritage App: Now Access Your Family Photos

MyHeritage appNow your MyHeritage family website can always be at your fingertips–along with all your family photos. Features of the newly-updated version of the MyHeritage app:

  • NEW: View all your photo albums and family tree photos;
  • Easily view and update your family tree anywhere you go;
  • Search 5.3 billion historical records;
  • Fully sync with your family site and Family Tree Builder software;
  • Supports 32 languages.

Click here to download or upgrade Family Tree Builder 7.0 so you’ll be ready to view and edit your tree with the free mobile app.

Click here to download the MyHeritage app from the App store.

Click here to download the MyHeritage app from Google Play.

So…doublecheck your mobile devices! How long since you’ve updated YOUR genealogy apps?

Special FREE Genealogy Gems Premium Episode Featuring Dan Bucatinsky of WDYTYA?

Dan BucatinskyWho Do You Think You Are? has become a worldwide television phenomenon, starting in the UK and making its way around the world, telling the stories of well-known celebrities in search of their family history.

July 23, 2014 marks the debut of season 5 of the series here in the U.S. and the show’s Executive Producer Dan Bucatinsky (image left) joins me on the podcast to talk about the series.

This episode was just too much fun not to share with everyone. So we will unlocked  this Genealogy Gems Premium episode for all to hear on July 23, 2014 in celebration of the start of the new WDYTYA? season. Premium episode #113 will be available on our website, as well as through the Genealogy Gems Podcast App! Get the app here.

We hope you enjoy the free access to this Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode! Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and Podcast

Not a member yet? There are over 100 episodes just like this one available exclusively to Premium Members for one low price of $29.95 for an entire year. You’ll also get my most popular genealogy classes on video, and new audio and video content added every month. Become a Member Today

“Long Lost Family” Season 4 Starts Strong

giving_hug_pc_3332Have you caught the new season of the British television show Long Lost Family? Critic Michael Hogan of The Telegraph (UK) did, and he gave it a 4-star review.

This ITV series follows the stories of people who are trying to reunite with (you guessed it) long lost family members. Hogan was hooked pretty quickly: “Within precisely four minutes, even this cynical, stony-hearted critic.. [was] blinking back tears.” He goes on to summarize the stories of birth parents and children who reunited on one episode of the show. Then he concludes, “This was effective, absorbing television that delivered two happy endings. By the time the credits rolled, I was blubbing like an Argentine footballer.” (See the full review here.)

Have YOU seen the show yet? Check it out  at the ITV website (looks like episodes show for free for a limited time after airing). Or catch the show on ITV on Mondays at 9pm (BST).

Saw the show? Tell us what you think on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

 

 

FREE Microsoft Office 2013 Guides

MS Office Quick StartDo you have Microsoft Office 2013?

Microsoft Office has published a series of new FREE Quick Start Guides to help users better navigate the 2013 editions of Microsoft Word, Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Visio and Project Standard.

Don’t have the 2013 version? Many of the tools and features mentioned in the Microsoft Office 2013 Guides may be relevant to older versions, though the design or some functionality may have changed. So these can still be helpful to those who aren’t totally up-to-date in their Microsoft Office software.

Click on this link to find and download these pdf guides. (If you don’t have Windows 8, you’ll need free Adobe Reader.)

Find a Grave Canada: Now Search by Province!

badge_button_canadian_flag_400_wht_1996Genealogy Gems Premium member Ken Lange recently wrote us about a GEM of his own he’d like to share with everyone. If you’ve got Canadian ancestors, check this out!

Mailbox question from Beginning Genealogist“Dear Lisa,

I just renewed my Premium membership (thanks so much for all you do there, BTW), which reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to pass on to you with respect to Find-A-Grave.

Now, for the most part, we all love Find A Grave, and I’m sure everyone has benefited from information gleaned from the site at some point in time.  However, as a Canadian, I have long been frustrated by the fact that when searching for memorials in Canada, you can’t narrow the search down even to a province… Canada is a big country, and while not at populous as the US, this still leads to unnecessary sifting through records, especially for common surnames.

I don’t know if there are existing tools out there to address this problem, and I’m hoping that Ancestry will fix this sometime soon. But out of frustration a while back I took matters into my own hands and modified the Find a Grave search page for Canadian searches so that you can at least specify a province. Here is a public link to the file:

Find a Grave Search Page for Canadian Searches

I don’t know if it will work with all browsers in all environments, but I’ve had it working in IE, Firefox, and Chrome.”

WOW! This is cool. I recently discovered a Canadian great-aunt on my dad’s side of the family. All I’ve learned so far is that her last name was Maier or O’Maier (depending on how you read the record), that she was born in Canada, and that her parents were born in Germany. She married my great-uncle in Idaho, so I’m guessing she came down through British Columbia or Alberta. A quick search using this interface tells me there are no O’Maiers in Findagrave in either province, but sorts several possible Maiers neatly into both those provinces. I’m still a long way from answers, but I can see how helpful this will be to those with Canadian roots!

Atten-TION! Calling all War of 1812 Graves

tombstone_message_11293 (2)Do you have a U.S. ancestor who participated in the War of 1812? Do you have a picture of the grave?

The Federation of Genealogical Societies and cemetery website BillionGraves recently announced a joint project to image all of gravestone markers for participants of the War of 1812.

“The images from these markers, coupled with the Federation’s current project to raise the funds to digitize the 7.2 million images of the pensions for those who participated in the War of 1812 are a natural fit,” said D. Joshua Taylor, President of FGS.

Hudson Gunn, President of BillionGraves said, “Our focus is to see that the nation’s military headstones are documented and preserved for future generations. Headstones from early American history are quickly deteriorating, making it only a matter of time before they are lost forever. We are very pleased to have the Federation lend its help to spread this message for the War of 1812 veterans.”

As many as 350,000 men may have served in the war. Although it is impossible to know how many may have cemetery markers, there could be as many as 50,000-80,000 markers for these veterans.

BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies are asking anyone with knowledge of  War of 1812 graves to upload the image of the marker to the BillionGraves website  using their free mobile application during the month of July to honor and remember the service of those who served in the “Second Revolution.”

Join the Crowd: International Indexing Challenge THIS Sunday

join_the_puzzle_crowd_400_wht_10889FamilySearch is hosting a worldwide crowd-sourcing challenge aimed at establishing a new record for the most volunteer indexing participants online in a single day.

The challenge will take place during the 24-hour period beginning at 6:00 p.m. (MDT in Utah, USA) on Sunday, July 20. (Local start times and status updates can be found on the FamilySearch Facebook event page.) Already one of the largest and most successful volunteer transcription programs in history, FamilySearch indexing is looking to top its one-day record of 49,025 individual contributors.

“Our stated goal is 50,000 volunteers participating in a single day, though we think the potential exists to surpass that mark by a considerable amount,” said Mike Judson, indexing workforce manager for FamilySearch. “All it takes to be counted in the record is to submit one batch. With hundreds of thousands of past indexing volunteers and thousands more joining weekly, breaking the record won’t take much if people will commit to spend the 30 minutes or so required to finish and submit a batch.”

Indexing  is the process of transcribing information from historical documents to make them freely searchable online at FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch indexers perform the initial transcribing of names from home or wherever they can connect to the Internet. FamilySearch arbitrators (advanced indexers) check to ensure consistency and accuracy. Since FamilySearch indexing started in 2006, this crowdsourcing effort has produced more than one billion freely searchable records that have helped millions of people to find their ancestors.

The prior record of 49,025 indexers and arbitrators in a single day was set on July 2, 2012. To be counted in the new record, each indexer or arbitrator must submit at least one indexing or arbitration batch during the 24-hour period. Volunteers and potential volunteers can visit https://familysearch.org/indexing/ to learn more.

Indexing projects are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Russian, and Japanese. Volunteers are invited to work on any project but are strongly encouraged to work in their native language.