November 24, 2017

Articles by Sunny Morton

About Sunny

Sunny Morton is a genealogy writer whose work is read by thousands in magazines and online. As a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, she frequently posts on the news, but also loves to share quick research tips, reveal little-known resources or take genealogists for an exhilarating dive into deeper research topics and techniques. She's also the author of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.

Black Friday Genealogy Freebies and Sales: Grab the Gems before they’re gone!

Our Black Friday genealogy sale is on! Start with a limited-time FREE viewing of  the new Premium video, Your Guide to Cloud Backup. Then snatch up rare and exclusive savings on Backblaze cloud backup service, a new mobile genealogy bundle, and our new Irish guide and Irish genealogy guide bundle!

Backblaze Cloud Backup Sale: A Genealogy Gems Exclusive

Backblaze continually backs up all your computer files to a remote ‘cloud’ server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), all of your files can be restored. Ensure your research is protected from disaster with Backblaze!

Use coupon code gems2017cyber for 10% off any new Backblaze subscription. Offer good through November 27, 2017. Check it out at www.Backblaze.com/Lisa.

Not Sure About the Cloud? Watch this Free Video Now

Now through next Monday, November 27, 2017, you can watch the new Genealogy Gems Premium Video for FREE. In this brand new, half-hour video tutorial, Lisa Louise Cooke will provide answers to questions like:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?

Click here to watch right now for free!

 

Mobile Genealogy: NEW Value Bundle

Black Friday genealogy

Included in this special, limited-time bundle:

Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet & Smartphone for Family History Research
by Lisa Louise Cooke (paperback book)

Whether you have an iPad, an Android tablet, or a smartphone (or all three), Mobile Genealogy will help you put them to work for your genealogy research. Explore apps in-depth, get the latest cutting-edge strategies for mobile genealogy and family history, and use Lisa’s tips and tricks to make your mobile device a genealogy powerhouse!

Using Social Media for Family History
by Lisa Louise Cooke (45 min. video)

Discover how sharing your research on social media can benefit you, your family, and your research. Lisa will focus on two of the top site that you might not be using: Pinterest and Instagram. They are fun and easy to use, and the perfect place to reach the next generation.

The bundle is a $39.90 value but this weekend you’ll pay just $19.95.
Available through Monday, November 27.
Click here to buy it now!
(Bundle includes print book and video class download. Book ships to U.S. and Canada only.)

 

NEW Irish Genealogy Guide #3: Land, Tax and Estate Records

Donna Moughty’s Irish Guide series has proven so popular, we’re adding a third one! Jump on our Black Friday pre-order sale (shipping begins approximately Dec. 11, 2017) and you’ll get 30% off Irish Guide #3: Land, Tax, and Estate Records

This Guide explains how and why Griffith’s Valuation was done, and how to use it to glean the most information about your family. After Griffith’s Valuation, the Revision Books allow you to follow the land and in some cases, to the 1970s, possibly identifying cousins still living on the land. Quick reference guide includes:

  • Explanation of the columns in Griffith’s Valuation
  • Rules under which Griffith’s Valuation was done.
  • Tips for using Griffith’s to find your family
  • Using the Revision Books to identify life events
  • The Tithe Applotment, an earlier tax list
  • Landed Estate Courts
  • Estate Records

Get the guide here.

 

Save even more! Get 40% off the entire 3-guide Irish genealogy research bundle by Donna Moughty:

  • Irish Guide #1: Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research
  • Irish Guide #2: Irish Civil Registration and Church Records
  • Irish Guide #3: Land, Tax, and Estate Records 

Purchase all three for only $20.90 through Monday, November 27, 2017. (Guides ship to U.S. and Canada only. Shipping estimated to begin December 11, 2017 on orders including Irish Guide #3.)

Get the bundle here.

40% off How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Lisa Louise Cooke’s tried and true methodology for genealogical newspaper research! If you think you know how to search for newspapers, this book will make you think again.

Retail: $24.95

Sale Price: $14.97
Get it here.

*Sale on paperback only

 

Please Share these Black Friday Genealogy Gems

Please share these gems with your genealogy friends–or send them as your “wish list” to a loved one. Remind them to act quickly as these offers are only good through Monday, November 27, 2017.

 

Comparing Digitized Newspapers on Genealogy Websites: Why Findmypast.com Gets a Headline

When it comes to digitized newspapers on genealogy websites, Findmypast is a clear headliner. The site already hosts millions of U.S., British, and Irish newspaper pages–and their British collection is about to DOUBLE. Extra, extra, read all about it!

 

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4Here at Genealogy Gems, we regularly compare features of leading genealogy websites, or as we refer to them, the “Genealogy Giants:” Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Today’s topic: digitized newspapers.

It may surprise you to hear that digitized historical newspapers aren’t a big part of the collections at all four giant genealogy websites. In fact, only one site–Findmypast–offers access to millions of exclusive British and Irish newspaper pages and a major U.S. newspaper database (which is usually just available at libraries).

Why mention it now? Because a good thing just got better: Findmypast plans to double its British newspaper content over the next two years.

Digitized Newspaper Treasures at Findmypast.com

Findmypast’s enormous genealogy collections focus on the countries of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Findmypast and The British Library have been working together for several years on The British Newspaper Archive, now home to more than 22.5 million newspaper pages dating from the 1700s. But what many people might not realize is that these same newspaper pages are also available to Findmypast subscribers.

You can search newspaper pages on Findmypast by name (first and last) and by other keywords, such as an occupation, street address, event or another word that might be associated with your family in newspaper articles. You can narrow the date range of papers searched and even target specific newspapers:

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

Original bound newspaper volumes at the British Library. Image from The British Newspaper Archive.

And it gets better. Findmypast just announced that over the next two years, it will nearly double its digitized newspaper collections! It is scanning over 12 million pages from the largest private newspaper collection in the UK: the Trinity Mirror archives. Over 150 local papers from across the U.K. are included. These pages have never been made available online, but will be on both The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast. The project is already underway and moving along rapidly: up to 100,000 pages per week.

According to a press release, “The program builds on an existing partnership that has already resulted in the digitization and online publication of upwards of 160 Trinity Mirror titles, including significant coverage of both World Wars. Published online for the very first time, these war-time publications also included the Archive’s first national titles, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Herald.”

TIP: If you are interested in accessing British newspapers, but not needing the full range of genealogy resources offered at Findmypast, consider purchasing PayAsYouGo credits from Findmypast. You can purchase 60-900 at a time and “spend” them to view individual search results, including newspapers. You can also subscribe separately to The British Newspaper Archive.

More Digitized Newspapers on Genealogy Websites

The other giant genealogy websites do offer some newspaper content–indexed, imaged, or both. Here’s a short summary of what you’ll find on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and MyHeritage:

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites Ancestry.com subscription options

Ancestry.com’s subscription options.

Ancestry.com: This giant site does offer some digitized newspaper content, including images connected to indexed names in Historical [U.S.] Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003, Australia’s New South Wales Government Gazettes, 1853-1899 and Canada’s Ottawa Journal (Birth, Marriage and Death Notices), 1885-1980. But Ancestry.com’s biggest newspaper collections are mostly indexed obituaries (not images of the actual newspaper pages). Ancestry.com subscribers who want major access to digitized newspapers should consider upping their subscription to “All Access,” which includes Basic access to Newspapers.com. (Click here to learn more.)

FamilySearch: Millions of indexed obituaries are searchable by name on its free website, but it doesn’t generally offer any digitized newspaper pages. Of its billion+ historical record images, FamilySearch prioritizes more “core” genealogical records, such as vital records, censuses, and passenger lists.

MyHeritage.com: This site used to have access to NewspaperARCHIVE, the same U.S. newspaper database Findmypast currently offers, but it doesn’t now. It’s got new collections of Ohio (4.5 million pages from 88 sources) and New York (1.9 million pages from 56 sources) newspapers and access to the Jewish Chronicle [England]. But the bulk of its newspaper search results come from searching two other websites: Chronicling America and Trove, run by the national libraries of the United States and Australia, respectively. While it’s convenient to search them from MyHeritage if you are already using it, it’s not a reason to subscribe, as you can use those sites for free.

More Inside Tips on the Genealogy Giants

Genealogy Gems is your home for ongoing coverage and insight into the four ‘genealogy giants’ websites. Click here to learn more and to watch the RootsTech 2017 world premiere of my popular lecture that puts these big sites head-to-head. Genealogy Gems has published my ultimate quick reference guide, “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.” It distills that hour-long lecture (and I was talking fast!) into a concise, easy-to-read format that will help you know which websites are best for you to use right now.

Pay It Forward in Genealogy: 4 Ways to Give Back to the Community

During this giving season, why not give back to the community of global genealogy lovers who quietly and continually enrich our family history research? Here are 4 ways to pay it forward in genealogy from the comfort of wherever you are! One gem you may not have heard of: the British Library’s project to index old maps.

pay it forward in genealogy

4 Ways to Pay it Forward in Genealogy

1. Help with global gravestone research.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered the final resting places of many an ancestor–perhaps along with important biographical data and even additional relatives–with the help of websites such as BillionGraves and Find A Grave.

BillionGraves says it’s “the world′s largest resource for searchable GPS cemetery data, and is growing bigger and better every day.” Its volunteers take GPS-tagged pictures of headstones in cemeteries around the world and transcribe them for their free searchable database.

How you can help:

  • Image headstones: download the free app to your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play. Take images of headstones in cemeteries you visit, whether it’s your own ancestor’s burial place or a local graveyard.
  • Transcribe personal information found on gravestone images. You can transcribe the images you take or you can visit the site and transcribe images that someone else has uploaded. Click here to get started.
  • Upload additional source documentation to BillionGraves tombstone images, such as obituaries, cemetery records, and the like. You’ll make these virtual gravestone sites even more genealogically valuable! Click here to learn more.

Find A Grave has a slightly different model for collecting global gravestone data. Here you can create free memorial pages for ancestors, which “generally include birth, death, and burial information and may include pictures, biographies, family information, and more.” You can also upload your own headstone images and transcribe them (or someone else’s images), and you can even upload a spreadsheet of cemetery burials you may have already transcribed.

Who’s behind Find A Grave? It’s owned by subscription website Ancestry.com, but it’s a separate, free site powered by volunteers: “Thousands of contributors submit new listings, updates, corrections, photographs and virtual flowers every hour. The site simply wouldn’t exist without the million+ contributors.”

Find A Grave has recently updated its site to make it more secure, faster, easier to use, and accessible to new devices and other languages. More than 100 million graves from over half a million cemeteries worldwide are already searchable at the site. To get started, download the Find A Grave app at Google Play or the App Store, or just visit the website.

2. Transcribe old documents and maps.

Millions–even billions–of digital images of old documents contain genealogical clues, but those names, dates, and places need to be extracted from those image files before they become easily searchable. Transcribing that information is also known in genealogy circles as indexing (or creating indexes). Here are four places to contribute your indexing skills:

FamilySearch Indexing. Thousands of you have likely participated in this best-known volunteer record transcription project out there. (We blogged about it recently in honor of their worldwide weekend indexing event.) Their indexing platform recently became fully cloud-based, so you can index more easily on your computer or mobile device. Volunteers are especially needed right now who can read Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, and Dutch.

British Library Georeferencing Project. The British Library is recruiting volunteers to help geo-reference thousands of old maps that are already online. Geo-referencing, or geotagging, means assigning geographic reference points (longitude, latitude) to points on a map image. Doing this with old maps allows them to be linked to their modern-day locations, allowing us to compare the past and present (as Lisa teaches about in her free Google Earth video class). Over 8,000 maps have already been “placed” by participants (and subsequently checked for accuracy and approved by their panel of expert reviewers). The latest phase of the project includes 50,000 maps, mostly 19th-century maps from books published in Europe. The British Library says that “some places have changed significantly or disappeared completely,” increasing both the intriguing challenges for volunteers and the value to those who will benefit from their map sleuthing skills.

Ancestry World Archives Project. “The Ancestry World Archives Project is thousands of volunteers from around the world with a passion for genealogy and a desire to help others discover their roots,” says the project home page. “And all it takes is a computer, some basic software we provide and a little of your time.” Even though Ancestry.com itself is a subscription website, any records indexed through the Ancestry World Archives Project remain free to search on the site.

Here’s a screenshot of their current projects (click on it to visit the site):

National Archives Citizen Archivist Program. “A Citizen Archivist is a virtual volunteer that helps the U.S. National Archives increase the online access to their historical records,” reports Melissa Barker in a recent blog post. “This is done by crowdsourcing metadata about their records through tagging, transcribing, and adding comments to the U.S. National Archives catalog.”  Click here to read the full article and get started.

3. Reunite heirlooms with long-lost relatives.

Probably millions of “lost” family items are out there: in flea markets, second-hand shops, online auction listings, perhaps even your own closets or attics. Genealogy Gems has reported many times in the past about genealogy heroes who claim these “orphaned heirlooms” just long enough to research and contact living relatives who would love to find them.

Whether it’s a family bible, an old marriage certificate in a dusty frame, a fading photo album, or a pile of old letters, each “orphaned heirloom” is unique–and so is the experience of tracking down its family and reuniting them. Here are several stories to inspire your next visit to eBay or a secondhand shop:

4. Solve “unclaimed persons” mysteries.

Unclaimed Persons Project“Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person,” writes Lacey Cooke, Genealogy Gems service manager, who has a forensic anthropology degree. “It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them.”

Lacey is the one who introduced us to the Unclaimed Persons project earlier this year. With Unclaimed Persons, an online community of volunteer researchers joins forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest. Click here to read more about that effort.

How will you pay it forward in genealogy?

Click on one of the opportunities above–or tell us about one you’ve tried–to give back to your genealogy community this season. This largely-invisible community is all around us and enriches all our efforts, from late-night research sessions by ourselves (in records indexed by volunteers!) to local societies who host classes that inspire us or who answer our obituary inquiries and Facebook posts about their locales. If you are already one of those volunteers, THANK YOU. You are a gem and we here at Genealogy Gems are grateful for you.

P.S. You can also “pay it forward” by sharing free content like this from our website with your genealogy friends and society members. Why not link to this post on social media or in an email and challenge those you know to do good in the genealogy world?

 

 

Applying to Lineage Societies: Why Hire a Pro to Help You

A professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies. Joining is a time-honored way to honor your heritage and document your family history research. But it’s not easy! Here’s why even experienced genealogists may want to hire a professional to help with the process.

Professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for supplying this guest blog post.

Applying to lineage societies

Do you have an ancestor who lived in Colonial America when the Revolutionary War was fought, or perhaps earlier in Jamestown, Virginia? Does your ancestry extend back to New England when the Mayflower arrived? If so, there are various lineage societies you could consider joining:

family history video documents applying to lineage societiesWhile each organization has different requirements for their lineage society application, most have the same principles: prove a connection from yourself to the person of interest by use of vital records (where available). Where not available, other documentation that proves family connections can be used. (DAR now also accepts DNA evidence.)

You may not know that most societies allow you to “piggy-back” on applications they have previously accepted. Let’s say your second cousin Steve already joined a society based on your common patriot (or pioneer) ancestor, Alexander Smith. You would just need to provide documentation proving your connection to your parents, your relevant parent’s connection to his/her parents, and your relevant grandparent’s connection to your common great-grandparents, who were already mentioned in Steve’s application. You may then be able to reference Steve’s application for the remainder of the lineage going back to Alexander Smith.

Overall, this may sound like a simple process. But it often takes quite a bit of work because the records needed to prove each generational link are not always readily available–and sometimes they just don’t exist at all.

Why get help when applying to lineage societies

Below are five ways that a professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies:

1. Help you determine how to apply. As we mentioned, each lineage society has different requirements, so you’ll want to be sure you know what they expect in order to be as efficient as possible in gathering documentation. A professional can help you determine exactly what documentation is required and locate contact information for those with whom you need to work to submit your application.

2. Identify where your research should stop and start. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes. If your lineage ties into one that has already been acceptably documented by another member of the society, you should use it! A professional genealogist can help you identify any previous lineage society applications that have already been approved for your lineage. This single step can save you a lot of time and money.

3. Organize your information. A professional genealogist can work with you to determine what documentation you already have and what you will need to order. They can help you order copies of missing vital records or find acceptable substitutes in archives, libraries, and online.

weigh conflicting evidence applying to lineage societies4. Conduct in-depth research as needed. Many times, at least one ‘problem’ generation requires in-depth research, circumstantial evidence, and a proof summary in order to make the connection. A well-written proof summary explains how all the circumstantial evidence fits together to support the generational link, and often aids the applicant in obtaining membership when not enough concrete documentation is available (or when it conflicts). This often involves delving into land records, tax lists, probate records, and other more obscure sources to find any and all clues and pieces of information that can be used to tie two generations together. It can be a time-consuming task. A professional genealogist can do this efficiently and thoroughly.

5. Compile and present all records to the lineage society for admittance. You’ll be the one to present or submit your documentation, but professionals can help you get it all ready so that you’ll be as prepared and organized as possible.

Save time and money when applying to lineage societies

A well-prepared lineage society application often shortens the waiting period to be accepted into a society because it is easier to verify and follows the rules of the society. If an application is poorly prepared, it can take several submissions before acceptance into the society is granted. And of course, the lineage society determines what they will and will not accept as proof, so there’s never a guarantee. They may request additional information, and then you have to go back and keep digging! But since professional genealogists have experience working with the various societies and know what types of documentation are usually accepted, working with a pro can make the application process to a lineage easier, more efficient, and in the end, more rewarding.

If you have an ancestor in your lineage who may qualify you to join a lineage society, experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists can help you gather your documentation and prepare your application. They are the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. Based near the world’s largest family history library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Legacy Tree has developed a network of professional researchers and archives around the globe.

Contact them today to discuss your options–and your ancestors. EXCLUSIVE OFFER for Genealogy Gems readers! Receive $100 off a 20-hour+ research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists with code GEMS100. Offer good through December 31, 2017.

RootsTech 2018 Pass Giveaway (and More Exciting RootsTech News)

Our RootsTech 2018 pass giveaway is underway! Enter by November 15, 2017 to win a chance to attend the world’s biggest genealogy event for FREE. Meanwhile, there’s more RootsTech news: the class schedule is posted and two keynote speakers have been announced. We think you’ll want to go! The real question is, will you get in for free?

Rootstech 2018 pass Giveaway

It’s time to give away a RootsTech 2018 pass to one lucky Genealogy Gems fan! This is a great prize: all-access admission to the world’s biggest genealogy event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT, February 28 – March 3, 2018. It’s a $279 value! Keep reading to see how to enter. But first, a quick update on RootsTech 2018.

The Latest RootsTech 2018 News

RootsTech is:

  • A conference. Choose from more than 300 classes on traditional research skills, DNA, tech tools, photos, stories, and organizing.
  • A convention. The biggest names in the genealogy industry share a huge Expo Hall with hundreds of other vendors, societies, and services. All want to answer your questions and show you the latest and greatest tools and resources to help your research.
  • A party. There’s no denying the fun, festive atmosphere of RootsTech. There are world-class keynote speakers (Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton and “Humans of New York” Brandon Stanton) and dazzling evening entertainment (love the 1940s extravaganza this year!).

This short highlights video captures it all. Check it out:

RootsTech 2018 passThe RootsTech class schedule has been published. I’m super excited about classes being taught this year by the  Genealogy Gems team. Just one example: Google Earth guru Lisa Louise Cooke and Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard are teaming up to deliver a powerhouse talk about putting your DNA matches on the map. Click here to see the full Genealogy Gems lineup.

RootsTech 2018 Pass Giveaway

We have a RootsTech Full Registration Pass to give to one lucky winner! This pass includes* access to over 300 classes, keynote/general sessions, the Innovation Showcase, Expo Hall and evening events. (Click here for more info about RootsTech 2018.) All you have to do to enter is take our 5-question survey by midnight (CT) on November 15, 2017.

Can’t attend Rootstech? Enter anyway for a chance to win a 1-Year Genealogy Gems Premium Membership!** Everyone who completes the survey below will be automatically entered to win.

We want your input: We know many people are not able to attend RootsTech in person, and that’s why we hope to make several of our booth classes available on video. Tell us which topics you want to see, and help us continue to make Genealogy Gems the best it can be.

Rules: Must complete survey by 12:00 am CT on November 15, 2017 to be eligible. No purchase necessary. Winners announced and notified on November 16, 2017. *RootsTech 4-Day Pass only covers registration (does not include airfare, hotel, or other expenses). If the winner has already registered for RootsTech 2018, the original registration fee will be refunded. **Premium Membership prize eligible for both new members and renewals. Non-transferable and no cash refund.

Getting Started on Ancestry.com

Getting started on Ancestry.com can be a little daunting. As one of the world’s top genealogy websites, it’s packed with information about millions of people–perhaps including your ancestors. These step-by-step instructions will help you start building your family tree and learning more about your heritage.

getting started with Ancestry

Here at Genealogy Gems, we regularly spotlight the world’s top genealogy websites, or what we call the “genealogy giants.” Ancestry.com is one of them. If you’re ready to explore your family history, Ancestry.com may be a good choice for you, especially if you’re ready to invest a little money.

Before we take you step-by-step into Ancestry.com, these tried-and-true principles will make your foray into family history more accurate and rewarding:

  • Start with your own generation and work backward in time. You’ll use what you already know about more recent generations to learn about more distant generations. You’ll likely trace any individual ancestor’s life history in reverse, too.
  • Build your family tree with information about your relatives in old documents: names, dates of birth/marriage/death, places they lived, where they are buried, the identities of their loved ones. Giant genealogy websites like Ancestry.com give you access to millions of old documents that may mention your ancestors.
  • Some historical sources are more reliable than others. The best information often comes from eyewitnesses who created a record at or near the time of the event (like the baptismal record created by the priest who baptized an infant). That said, gather data from as many reliable, independent sources as possible–because anyone could get something wrong.
  • Spelling and dates weren’t always consistent or precise in the past. So don’t be put off by a “creative” spelling of a name that otherwise seems like your ancestor or a birth date that’s off by a year (or even a few).

Learn more beginning genealogy strategies in the free step-by-step Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. Now, keeping these principles in mind, let’s get started on Ancestry.com.

Getting Started on Ancestry.com

Orient yourself by watching this one-minute video by Ancestry.com–and then we’ll break it down for you below:

1. Set up your Ancestry.com account.

Choose one of these options:

A free guest account. This will allow you to:

  • build a family tree (your relatives can help if you invite them)
  • upload and share photos and stories about your ancestors
  • find others who may be researching the same ancestors
  • start searching for records that may be about your ancestors

A free trial and paid subscription. Your ability to actually see historical records about your ancestors will be limited with a free guest account. These records are often the key to new discoveries about your family tree. Consider signing up for a free 14-day trial subscription and a subscription offer that best fits your budget. (Click here for current prices–last we checked, they started at $19.99/month or $99 for six months. And Ancestry.com does have dedicated sites for certain areas of the world: click on these links if you’re from the U.K. or Canada.)

2. Start building your family tree.

After setting up your account, you’ll be prompted to enter basic information about you and your family: names, ages or birth dates, birthplaces, and genders. The screen will look something like this (the exact design may vary):

If you don’t know everything, that’s ok. That’s why you’re here! And if you are looking for unknown biological relatives, click here to learn about doing DNA tests.

After you fill in basic information, Ancestry.com will ask whether you want your tree to be public or private. Private trees can’t be viewed by others searching for similar names without your permission; public ones can. Whether your tree is public or private, Ancestry.com privacy protects information about those marked as living. (Click here to read more about Ancestry.com’s privacy settings.)

Once your tree is created, you’ll see it in a new family tree view. Click where it says “Add father” or “Add mother” to keep entering more information about each person’s parents:

You can also add a person’s siblings, spouses, and children. In the family tree view, click once on a relative’s profile (the box with the name, dates, and pink or blue silhouette). Roll over the tool icon that shows at the far right and then select Add relative, as shown below. You may add a father, mother, spouse, or child.

Again, enter as much information as you can. Consider asking other relatives what they can tell you. The more you can tell Ancestry.com about your family, the more it can probably tell you!

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: Whenever you enter new information, make it a practice to note where you found it. That’s called citing your sources: click here to learn how to do this on Ancestry.com.

3. Review Ancestry.com record hints.

After you enter information about a relative, you may start to see little green leaf “hints” pop up on your ancestral profiles (see image on the right). Hints mean that Ancestry.com has identified one or more records in its system that may be about your ancestor, based on the data you have provided.

Take a look at these hints by clicking on the ancestral profile thumbnail again. Now click in the upper right corner where it tells you how many hints you have to review:

When you do, you’ll be taken to a new screen that shows you all the records Ancestry.com has identified as possible matches. It’s up to you to review each one to see whether, based on what you know, it appears to match your relative. (Reminder: if you have a free guest account, you may not be able to view most of the records.)

Here’s what the hinting results screen looks like:

You don’t necessarily want to review record hints in the order they appear. Remember the first bullet point at the beginning of this article: Start with your own generation and work backward in time. 

On Ancestry, results from Ancestry Member Trees appear first, but the creators of those trees don’t necessarily know any more than you do! Instead, look down your list for any records that tie the person (Victoria, in this example) to her known relatives and locations. The more unusual the name or place, the better, since the odds would be higher of it being a match.

I have already learned that Victoria was married to Robert Montgomery, and one of their children’s names was Ola (rather unusual), so I’d start by clicking on the third result shown above, which is the 1910 census. That takes me to a summary showing a transcription of part of the record. Click to view the actual record to read it yourself (the summaries aren’t always right). In this case, not only do Robert’s and Ola’s details match what I already know, so does information for several other children, and they’re living right where I’d expect them to live based on what I’ve learned about their children. So where the hint screen asks, “Does the Victoria Montgomery in this record match the person in your tree?,” I click Yes.

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: Download a copy of each Ancestry.com record image for your own safekeeping. Click the tool icon to the right of a record image and select Download. For strategies on organizing and naming these record filenames consistently on your computer, click here and listen to free podcast episodes #32 and #33.

To finish the process of accepting this hint, Ancestry.com will transfer all relevant information (including the source citation) from that record into Victoria’s tree profile for me. But it lets me choose which information to transfer. Here’s what it looks like when you accept hints:

The top section (#1) shows a helpful summary of what you already know about Victoria.

Next (#2), you see a comparison of information in the 1910 census, on the left, with what’s already in Victoria’s profile, on the right. You can check which data to add for Victoria from the census: her name, birth date and place, the event date, place, and her personal description.

Ancestry.com flags any data that is new or different from yours in the census. In this case, you don’t want to add her name because what you have (“Victoria M Montgomery”) is more detailed than “Victoria Montgomery.” (That middle initial may prove a key piece of identifying information at some point!) But I will click on the other facts to add them, even if I’ve learned that information from another source, because my confidence in each fact grows when it’s reported independently by multiple records. If I’m not sure about conflicting information, I may click to add the fact and then choose the subsequent option to add it as an alternate fact.

In section #3, I can click on Victoria’s husband Robert’s name and repeat the process of adding details from the 1910 census for him, then for their children who appear in the census. Ancestry.com will even automatically add new relatives to my tree who appear in this record if I so choose. When I’m done selecting all the data I want, I click Save to Your Tree.

Ancestry.com returns me to my remaining hinting results, and I’ll move on to other records that appear to be a strong match (for example, a marriage record between Victoria and Robert, and other censuses). Gradually, I’ll compile additional clues from these strongly-matching records that may help me better recognize “my” Victoria in less-detailed records.

4. Search for more records on Ancestry.com.

Remember, record hints likely won’t find every available record about an ancestor. So when I’m done reviewing all Victoria’s hints, I’ll open her Facts page to view a summary of what I’ve learned about her so far. With my memory refreshed, it’s time to search for additional records about Victoria.

On the top right of Victoria’s profile page, I’ll click Search. Then I’ll see a list of all additional possible records Ancestry.com has found that may pertain to my ancestor:

Following a process similar to reviewing hints, I will scroll through the top search results, then review likely matches and accept or reject each one.

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: We encourage everyone to keep their master family tree safe on their backed-up home computer, rather than just on Ancestry.com. Click here to learn more about downloading a copy of your tree and the software we recommend you use at home.

5. Share your tree with relatives.

You’ll likely want to share your tree with relatives, either for them to contribute to it or just to see what you’ve learned. Your relatives do not need an Ancestry.com subscription to view, add to, or edit your tree. (They will need a subscription if they want to search the site for historical records themselves.)

To invite relatives, click on the Trees menu at the top of the Ancestry.com site. Select Create and Manage Trees. Then select the tree you want to send (you may only have one at this point). To the right of that tree, click Invite Family.

You’ll then have the option to send an email invitation to your relatives or invite them via their Ancestry.com usernames if they already use the site. You can specify whether that person may just view the tree, add photos, or be able to make changes to the tree (choose the latter option carefully!).

As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll repeat the process of reviewing hints and searching for records for each of your relatives as you identify and add them to your tree. It’s exciting to see your tree grow and to learn the names and places associated with your family’s past. Remember as you go to look for the stories you’ll often find written “between the lines” of historical documents. Perhaps you’ll realize that a marriage record shows the young couple eloped over the state line. Maybe a series of death dates reveals the loss of several family members to war or cholera. Or maybe you’ll discover that several generations of ancestors pursued careers similar to yours, or shared your middle name. Genealogy is always about your family history, but discoveries like those also make it your history.

Getting Started on Other Giant Genealogy Websites

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetInterested in researching your family tree but not ready to pay for an Ancestry.com subscription? Consider getting started on FamilySearch.org instead. It’s totally free! It offers some of the same records and tools as Ancestry.com. Learn more about it–and other genealogy website options–in my new quick reference guide, “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.”

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

Join the Crowd: Help Make History with FamilySearch Indexing Event Oct 20-22

Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems PodcastYou’re invited to participate in a global FamilySearch indexing event! Join thousands of volunteers worldwide October 20-22, 2017 as they index historical records that will help genealogists (maybe you) climb your family tree. If you can index in another language, you have a VIP invitation–your skills are especially needed.

This coming weekend, FamilySearch is throwing its annual global indexing party: a three-day event designed to get genealogists away from their own database searches for just long enough to contribute to building those databases. It’s the Worldwide FamilySearch Indexing Event, and it runs October 20–22, 2017.

What is FamilySearch indexing?

Indexing is the process of extracting ancestral information from the world’s historical documents and putting them into online databases to help researchers find their ancestors in them more easily.

Here’s a quick video that illustrates the process (it’s a super cute video):

Why Is There a FamilySearch Indexing Event?

FamilySearch runs the world’s best-known volunteer online indexing system. This system has helped tens of thousands of volunteers index millions of names that are now searchable for free on FamilySearch.org and other websites. The annual three-day FamilySearch indexing event concentrates the year-round efforts of indexers into an energetic burst of activity. It also shines a light on the important service performed by FamilySearch indexers and attracts new (and lapsed) helpers to the cause.

Last year’s event galvanized over 100,000 volunteers, who indexed more than 10 million historic records in the three-day period. A FamilySearch representative stated, “From its beginning on Thursday in Southeast Asia and Australia to its conclusion Sunday night in the Pacific, the event attracted a wide range of participants. Volunteers contributed online from home or participated in locally organized events from Zurich, Switzerland, to the Rocky Mountains in the United States.”

Indexing volunteers with non-English language skills are particularly needed at this time. Over 200 FamilySearch digital camera teams are currently photographing historic records from non-English speaking countries. The effort has created a huge need and opportunity for indexers to make these records freely searchable online.

Volunteers can choose from projects of interest from all over the world and in several languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, and Dutch.

What’s New at This Year’s FamilySearch Indexing Event?

This year, the FamilySearch indexing portal became entirely cloud-based, a step forward in this increasingly mobile world. Now you can index on-the-go on your tablet or phone as well as at your computer. You can also modify the layout of your dashboard based on personal preferences, set and track individual goals, and even create groups with friends (or others interested in working on a common project, such as your society members).

RSVP for the FamilySearch Indexing Event

This year’s FamilySearch indexing event has a dedicated webpage where you can RSVP and learn more. All you need to begin indexing is a FamilySearch.org account and access to the internet. (And for this event, a little bit of time between October 20-22, 2017.)

Ready to join the fun? Visit FamilySearch.org/indexingevent2017 to get started.

Learn more about FamilySearch Historical Records in the Genealogy Gems Podcast

David Ouimette is known to his FamilySearch colleagues as “the Indiana Jones of genealogy” because of his globe-trotting adventures in discovering historical record treasures. Hear from him in the newest free episode of Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast. Click here to listen!