November 24, 2017

Home Archiving for the Genealogist: 5 Ways to Think Like an Archivist

You may be doing some “home archiving” without even realizing it, if you’re the keeper of any family photos, documents, heirlooms, or artifacts. Professional archivist and genealogist Melissa Barker offers these tips for the family historian and keeper of the family archive.

Home Archives

I have always said that “home archiving” is something genealogists do, perhaps without ever calling it that. So family historians can definitely benefit from learning how archivists work. Here are five ways to think like an archivist.

5 Home Archiving Tips for Family Historians

family history video documents home archiving1. Learn to preserve family artifacts.

Archivists are always educating themselves on how to preserve certain items that have come to their archives. Genealogists inherit family heirlooms all the time. Learning how to preserve them is thinking like an archivist.

Tip: Preserving an item means keeping it from further deterioration. This may mean putting it in special storage materials, keeping it out of strong light, and storing it in a place that isn’t too hot, cold, or humid. Click here to read an article on humidity and your family archive.

2. Organize your “collection.”

A very important job for archivists is keeping their records collections organized so they know what they have and can pull them efficiently. Genealogists, as home archivists, would also benefit from keeping their genealogical records organized.

Tip: Get inspired! Click here to catch some tips on organizing your digital photos from Denise Levenick, The Family Curator and author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records.

archival sleeve3. Store your treasures carefully.

Archivists are always careful to use special materials such as archival file folders and boxes to put records and artifacts into for preservation. Genealogists should use archival materials to preserve and store their records just like archivists do.

Tip: Click here to read my article on how to archive family history documents. It’s packed with great tips and recommended products to store your items safely.

4. Keep the stories that go with your artifacts.

home archivingTelling the stories of the people that have come before us is also something that archivist try to do with the records they have in their care. Archivists do this by sharing their records collections with the public through displays, exhibits, and open houses. Genealogists should tell their ancestor’s stories by sharing their family histories with their families and passing down their ancestor’s stories to the next generation.

Tip: Create a meaningful display of artifacts in your own home. Group together items that tell a story, preferably unique, eye-catching items. Add framed copies of documents and photos (keep originals safely tucked away). Click here for some fantastic ideas from Lisa Louise Cooke on sharing your family history with the non-genealogists in your family.

home archiving5. Archive your own mementos.

Archivists collect today for tomorrow! Many archivists collect documents and artifacts that are produced today so they can be preserved for tomorrow. They collect items such as the high school graduation program, digitizing the local newspaper, and that local diner menu.

Genealogists do the same thing in their “home archiving” by collecting and preserving a funeral card, digital photographs they took at the grandbaby’s birthday, and the marriage invitation you received for your niece’s wedding.

Home Archiving, National Archiving: It’s all in the Genealogy Gems Podcast

Did you know I’m on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast now? I chime in frequently with that “offline” archival perspective that’s so important in our research. Click here to see the list of recent episodes. In Episode 211, publishing this week, I report on a fascinating way you can help make collections from the National Archives more accessible to everyone. Why not listen in? It’s free!

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!

Polish Genealogy: 4 Steps to Find Your Family History

Researching your Polish genealogy may seem a little intimidating at the start. Read these get-started tips from a Polish genealogy veteran at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Then you’ll know how to dive right into your Polish family history–and where to turn if you need a little help.

Polish genealogy

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for supplying this guest blog post. Legacy Tree employs researchers with a wide range of expertise. They asked their Polish expert, Julie, to share tips for finding Polish ancestors, based on her decades of experience.

If you’re an American researching your Polish ancestors, you aren’t alone. Polish Americans make up the largest Slavic ethnic group in the United States, second largest Central and Eastern European group, and the eighth largest immigrant group overall. So how do you begin tracing your roots in Poland?

Get Started: 4 Polish Genealogy Tips


1. Get to know the basics of Polish history.

Probably every Polish-American family has heard mention of the “border changes” that were supposedly the reason why Grandpa’s papers say he was from Austria, although everyone knew he was Polish. What many people don’t realize is that Poland did not exist as an independent nation from 1795 until 1918. Historically, Polish lands were partitioned among the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Empires, and ethnic Poles were citizens of one of those three nations. This is why you might see your Polish ancestors stating Russian birth on the 1910 U.S. census, but Polish birth on the 1920 U.S. census, after Poland was reestablished as an independent nation.

By Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png: Halibuttderivative work: Sneecs (talk) – Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, click to view on Wikipedia.

2. Determine your Polish ancestor’s religion.

Buffalo, New York. Children of the Polish community leaving church with baskets of food on the day before Easter. Library of Congress photo; digital image via Wikipedia. Click to view.

Although we in the U.S. are accustomed to the separation of church and state, this was not the case in many places. In Poland, it was common for priests, ministers, or rabbis to act as civil registrars, blending ecclesiastical and government authority as they recorded births, marriages, and burials. Although this was the protocol in all three partitions for the majority of the 19th century, the exact span of dates in which this was true vary based on the partition in which your ancestors lived, and greatly affects where you should be searching for the records you need. In “Russian Poland,” for example, civil record keeping began in 1808 with Roman Catholic priests acting as civil registrars for people of all faiths (not just Catholics). Beginning in 1826, each faith was allowed to keep its own civil records using a paragraph-style format that remained relatively stable through the 1930s. Civil registration that was independent of any religious organization did not begin until 1945.

The fact that civil copies of church records were made increases the likelihood that records survived for your ancestor’s town. There’s a persistent myth that “all the records were destroyed in the wars,” but that’s simply not true in most instances. Existing records for some locations date back to the 1600s, but in other places surviving records are sparser.

3. Use U.S. records to determine your ancestor’s precise place of origin.

Grandma may have said that her father came from Warsaw, but most of our ancestors came from small villages, not large cities. It’s more likely that her father was using Warsaw as a point of geographic reference to give people a rough idea of where he lived, since others are unlikely to recognize the name of a small village. This means that you most likely won’t find his birth record by looking for it in Warsaw, but it also leaves you in the dark about where to look instead.

What kinds of records are most likely to indicate a precise place of birth? Passenger manifests and petitions for naturalization (if dated after 1906) are great sources for this information. If your Polish ancestors were Catholic, church records from the parish they attended in the U.S. are much more likely to contain specific place of birth than their civil equivalents. These include marriage records for immigrants who married in the U.S., baptismal records for U.S.-born children of immigrants, and church death/burial records.

Click here for an article about a woman who found her Polish Catholic grandparents’ church marriage record–and with it their overseas birth place–at St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, NY. You’ll also learn tips for finding Catholic church records in the U.S.

If your ancestors were Jewish, check cemetery records for mention of any landsmannschaft to which they might have belonged. Landsmannschaften were fraternal aid societies organized by immigrants from the same town in Europe, and they frequently purchased large burial plots for their members.

4. Use a gazetteer to determine the parish or registry office that served your ancestor’s village.

Depending on which partition your ancestors came from, some good gazetteers include:

  • The Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, or Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries, published between 1880 and 1902 in 15 volumes. The SGKP is written in Polish.
  • The Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, which includes all of Russian Poland (officially known as the “Królestwo Polskie” or Kingdom of Poland) published in 1877. The SKP is mostly written in Polish with some text in Russian.
  • Kartenmeister, an easy-to-use online gazetteer for “German Poland” that covers East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. Kartenmeister can be searched using either the German or the Polish name for a town.
  • The Galician Town Locator, offered by Gesher Galicia, is another easy-to-use resource that covers the historic Galicia region, which was a part of the Austrian Empire that is now split between Poland and Ukraine.
  • The JewishGen Gazetteer is a phonetic gazetteer to assist in identifying the correct location in cases where your ancestor’s place of origin is misspelled on U.S. records. It covers areas throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

Once you have correctly identified both your ancestor’s place of birth and the location of his place of worship or civil records office, you’re ready to make the jump back to records in Poland.

Get Expert Help with Your Polish Genealogy Questions

We at Legacy Tree Genealogists would be honored to assist you with any step along the way in your journey to discover your ancestral origins, including onsite research if needed. Our experts have the linguistic and research skills to efficiently find your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Exclusive offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Save $100 on a 20-hour research project using code GG100, valid through October 31st, 2017.

 

Getting Started with Australian Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist

Ready to start your Australian genealogy research? A Legacy Tree Genealogist walks you through essential Australian history, geography, genealogical record types and online resources to trace your family tree “down under.”

Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post. 

Australian genealogy can be straightforward, but you do need to know a time period and a place, as well as the family name you are researching. Australia has only been a single country since 1901; before that there were colonies and territories beginning with the first European settlement in 1788. Even today the individual states and territories have their own governments and record systems with no single combined place to research. Therefore, knowing the time period and place where your ancestors lived is essential.

Australian history and geography

European settlement began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which included both male and female convicts and military and naval personnel. The colony became known as New South Wales, and occupied the eastern half of the continent of Australia including Tasmania (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land). The western half of the continent was never part of New South Wales and was originally known as the Swan River Colony, and later Western Australia.

With the exception of Western Australia, the other states and colonies were originally part of New South Wales. Victoria was known as the Port Phillip settlement before it became self-governing in 1851, and Queensland was the Moreton Bay settlement until 1859. Early records for both of those colonies will be in New South Wales, so it is important to know when the individual colonies and territories were established.

Australia in 1856 – image courtesy Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Australia)

Similarly, a knowledge of geography is essential, as Australia is a huge continent with most of the population along the coastline. Another complicating factor is that there may be places with the same name in one or more colonies/states. For instance, if researching ancestors from Maryborough, it would be necessary to identify whether you should be researching Maryborough in Queensland or Maryborough in Victoria.

To make matters even more confusing, some places changed their name! For instance, until 1911 Innisfail in Queensland was called Geraldton, not to be confused with Geraldton in Western Australia on the other side of the continent. Bendigo was originally known as Sandhurst, and many of the goldfield towns in central Victoria were known under the broader name of the Mount Alexander goldfield. Knowing the history and geography will help you immensely as you embark on your Australian genealogy research.

Getting started with Australian genealogy research

If you have Australian genealogy there are many wonderful free online Australian resources that will give you a head start in researching your ancestors and learning more about their heritage. Wikipedia – Australia is a good starting place for an overview if you are unfamiliar with Australian history and geography. Depending on where your ancestors were, read the appropriate sections of history and geography. For example, convicts were sent to New South Wales and Tasmania until 1842 when the colony was opened up for free settlement, but Western Australia only received convicts from 1850 to 1868. The gold rushes in Victoria in the 1850s attracted thousands of people, as did later rushes in Queensland in the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s.

Many immigrants were looking for their own land and a better life for their families. Each of the colonies had their own immigration schemes in a bid to attract as many people as they could. Most colonial passenger lists are now indexed and can be searched online at the various state archives. Some states have even digitized the passenger lists, which may be viewed freely online. State archives are a wonderful free online resource, and include offices such as the Queensland State Archives, Public Record Office Victoria, or the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

A free useful portal site is CoraWeb – helping you trace your family history in Australia and elsewhere. It is divided up into categories such as archives, cemeteries, convicts, maps, probate and will records, shipping, migration, and other genealogy-related topics.

Australasian Congress 2018 Sydney Australia

Conference alert! Lisa Louise Cooke will be headlining at the Australasian Genealogy Congress in March, 2018, in Sydney, Australia. Early-bird registration is available through September 30, 2017.

Australian birth, marriage, and death records

Like everything else, you need to know an approximate date and place before you begin to research birth, marriage, and death records. Prior to civil registration there are some church records which consist of mostly baptisms and marriages, with a few burials. Civil registration started at various times, and different colonies collected different information at different times, with South Australia having the least information on the certificates.

Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) was the first to introduce civil registration in 1838, with Western Australia following in 1842, South Australia in 1842, Victoria in 1851, and New South Wales (including Queensland at that time) in 1856. Most states have online indexes available for searching, but only Queensland and Victoria provide digital copies of certificates for download after purchase. Western Australia still requires researchers to mail their applications with no online ordering.

Tasmania is perhaps the most helpful – with their early church records and births, marriage, and death certificates indexed, and digital copies online for free through the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. The Tasmanian Name Index includes free indexed and digitized copies of various genealogical resources.

Federation in 1901 and the National Archives

The individual colonies voted to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and since then there has also been a Commonwealth (later Federal) government. This took over some government functions such as the military, immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, although some states continued to have their own immigration schemes. This means that post-1901, researchers need to use the National Archives of Australia, as well as the various state archives.

In 1911 the final changes to the map of Australia took place, with the separation of the Northern Territory from South Australia, and the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory within southern New South Wales.

With the centenary of World War One, the National Archives of Australia has digitized all army dossiers and made them freely available online. RecordSearch is the main database, and it can be searched in a number of ways including a “Name Search” and “Passenger Arrivals.” While not every record series is indexed by name, it can be useful to search for an individual’s name, especially if they arrived post-1901 or served in the military during either World War.

Australian Newspapers and Photographs

In Australia, digitized newspapers are freely available online through Trove, which is maintained by the National Library of Australia. Along with newspapers, Trove also includes government gazettes, books, articles, maps, manuscripts, photographs, archived websites, and other resources. If you are interested in what a place looked like at the time your ancestors lived there, then try an image search in Trove. Remember that it is continually being added to, so it is essential that you revisit your searches from time to time. (Click here to read another Genealogy Gems article about Trove.)

Christoe Street, Copperfield Queensland in 1876 when my ancestors lived there. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland via Trove.

Individual state libraries also have genealogy sections with online guides to various family history topics. These can be a good place to start, and most participate in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ where you can get advice and information. However, they cannot do individual research – just answer questions.

About Legacy Tree Genealogists

EXCLUSIVE OFFER for Genealogy Gems readers! Receive $100 off a 20-hour+ research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists with code GEMS100. Expires Oct. 31st, 2017.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is 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. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree website.

Why Do DNA Testing for Family History If You Already “Know” Your Tree

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history: my pedigree is full!” I still hear this occasionally. But here’s why everyone doing their family history should take at least one DNA test.

Full tree You still need DNA testing

Teenagers (including my own) are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” for change in human behavior. For my kids, it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11-year-old).

In DNA testing for family history in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed.

Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it. But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history.” Really?

This got me thinking though: who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test is those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.”

To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP anyway to your invitation to DNA test.

1. To create and preserve a unique record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.

2. Because you have second cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.

Genetic vs Genealogcial Cousins3. To verify what’s on your tree. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart to a story and a life worth preserving.

Verifying what’s on your tree brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, it’s true. In fact, in the process of verifying your tree, you may discover new genetic truths about it. You may find that some who you thought biologically related actually aren’t, and you may discover new biological relatives you didn’t know about. Not everyone is prepared for this, especially if they’re pretty sure they know everything about their ancestry. But increasingly, I’m finding, people do want to know about a second cousin who was adopted out of the family or their grandpa’s secret half-sibling–and these connections may never emerge unless you participate in DNA testing for family history.

Remember, your genealogical pedigree is not the same as your genetic pedigree! Click here to read about different things you may learn from each one.

4. To help someone else build their tree. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.

So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!

Test DNA for Family HistoryClick here to get started with DNA testing for family history. You’ll learn who to test, why to test, what tests you can take and where to purchase them. You can watch a short video about getting started and see additional resources that will help you get the most out of your testing experience all along the way.

 

Lifting the Fog: Tips for Beginning Irish Genealogy Research

Ready to start tracing your Irish genealogy? Don’t get into a fog and loose your way. Beginning Irish genealogy is a snap when you follow these step-by-step tips from expert Donna Moughty.

At the recent RootsTech 2017 conference in Salt Lake City, I had the opportunity to sit down and film a conversation with Irish genealogy expert, Donna Moughty. We discussed some of the key elements of Irish research such as developing a research plan, tracking down the necessary information in U.S. records, and the dramatic way in which Irish genealogical records research has changed in the last few years. You can watch that video below:

But this wasn’t my first conversation with Donna. Last Spring, she was a guest on Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode #134. That podcast episode is available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members. But, in honor of all those celebrating their Irish roots this month, here are some tips from the episode.

Tips for Beginning Irish Genealogy from Donna Moughty

Donna Moughty Irish Genealogy Expert

with Donna Moughty at RootsTech 2017

1. Start with yourself and work systematically back, making sure you’ve made all the right connections. Common Irish names can easily send you off on the wrong track.

2. It’s all about location in Ireland. Not just the county but name of parish, or if possible, the townland they came from. If that information exists, it’s likely to be in the country to which they immigrated.

3. If the information exists, it’s probably not in one location. You might find it in bits and pieces in a lot of records. All records are not online, especially Roman Catholic church records in the U.S. When requesting those, write to the parish, send money, and tell them you’re looking for the locality in Ireland. The parish secretary will fill out a form, which may not have room for the locale on the form so you may not get that information unless you ask for it.

4. Scour the documents! Some Catholic priests would not marry a couple without proof of baptism, so there may be information in the marriage record about the location of the parish of baptism.

5. Research everyone in the family including parents, siblings, and children. If that doesn’t pan out, start all over again with the witnesses and the sponsors from the baptismal records. Who are they? Where are they from? They were likely a family member or close friend who came from the same area in Ireland.

6. Many of us had Irish immigrants who came during the famine era or after (1840s-). They used chain migration. One relative came and worked and earned the money to bring someone else. The later the person arrived, the more information we’re likely to find on that individual. Watch later censuses for someone living in the household who was born in Ireland, maybe a cousin or niece, because they likely came from the same place. If they came after 1892, we’ll find a lot more information in the passenger list, including the place they were born, and if they naturalized after 1906, we’ll have all the information we need.

7. Once you get back to Ireland and if you know the maiden and married surnames of a couple, look in Irish records to see where those two surnames show up in the same geographic location. This overlapping of names is a good indicator that you are researching in the right place. You can research surnames using Griffith’s Valuation 1847-1864, which is an Irish tax list (search it here on Ancestry.com). The majority of the people who were occupiers of land (tenants on someone’s estate) are named here.

More on Beginning Irish Genealogy

irish genealogy cheat sheetYou’ll love these two quick-guides by Donna Moughty on Irish genealogy. Guide #1 titled “Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research” will help you determine a birth place, differentiate between persons with the same name, and walk you through identifying helpful US records.

Guide #2 titled “Irish Civil Registration and Church Records,” will guide you through locating Protestant church records, civil registrations, and more. It will also walk you step-by-step through using the new online Civil Registration records.

And now, purchase these two quick-guides as a bundle and save!

Getting Genealogy Organized for Genealogy Gems Premium Members

Getting genealogy organized is just one of the topics we cover here at Genealogy Gems, and Premium Members have exclusive access to podcast and video content to help you accomplish that goal. We’ve put together a step-by-step plan for getting the most out of Premium Membership, and going from unorganized to organized in nothing flat!

get-organized-Genealogy-Gems-Membership

A new Gem’s reader recently sent us the following email:

Dear Lisa,

I have recently joined Genealogy Gems as a Premium member and wanted to ask if there is a good place to get started. I have a ton of family information collected, but as yet have not figured out a plan of attack. I was wondering if you could guide me in which podcasts, premium podcasts, and videos would be good ones to start with. I need to put this information into some semblance of order so that I can move constructively on it, as well as to be able to share the family history with others and have it make sense. Thanks, Gerri.

Getting Genealogy Organized with Premium Content

Hi Gerri, we are so glad to have you as a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. Welcome!

Getting Organized with Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

The best place to start is by digging into these blog posts that I highly recommend:

When you are ready to move onto the Premium Podcast episodes, I suggest you focus first on:
  • Hard Drive Organization Part 1 and Part 2
  • Use Evernote to Create a Research Plan
  • Podcast episode 114: Paper Organization
  • Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast episodes 31 & 32: Organizing Your Genealogy Files.

Getting genealogy organized is one of the most overwhelming tasks new and seasoned genealogists deal with. Whether you’re new to Premium Membership or a long time member, make sure you have a solid basic structure for your genealogy organization, as it is the backbone of everything that follows. That basic structure for getting genealogy organized might look like this:

A Quick Plan for Getting Genealogy Organized

  1. Assess what you have.
  2. Pick a genealogy database software program. We recommend RootsMagic.
  3. Set-up a few 3-ring binders with acid free sheet protectors so you have a place to put documents and other important things.
  4. Set-up a basic folder and file structure for your hard drive based on the Premium videos Hard Drive Organization.
  5. Have a back-up plan for your precious family history files. We recommend BackBlaze as a way to automatically back-up your computer files.
  6. Sign-up for our free newsletter (if you haven’t already) to stay up-to-date on all the latest records and techniques.
  7. Don’t wait to be fully organized before you begin. Stay motivated by scheduling “fun” research time, as well as organization time.
  8. Make appointments with yourself to stay on track, and listen to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast while you organize.
  9. Regularly tap into all of the Genealogy Gems resources like what’s new in books and guides.
  10. Like us on our Facebook page to see more genealogy ideas

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member

If you are not a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, take a look at what you are missing! Premium Members are able to listen to our Premium podcasts packed with even more tips and techniques for all things genealogy. You also have access to my most popular training videos.

BONUS e-book:

Bonus EBookFor a limited time, new members will receive
this exclusive digital PDF e-book,
a collection of my most popular
articles from Family Tree Magazine!
(the e-book will be emailed to you
within 24 hours of purchase)

 

Genealogy for Beginners: FREE Podcast Series

The FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast series teaches genealogy for beginners with step-by-step, hands-on help at a friendly pace!

Genealogy for Beginners podcast family history

“Which podcast is best for beginning genealogists?” This question recently came from our reader and listener, Beverly.

It cued me to remind everyone about my FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast! I created it for beginners to help them get started in a fun and easy way, and for more advanced researchers who want to brush up on their family history research skills in a step-by-step fashion.

Are you new to podcasts?

A podcast is like an online, on-demand radio show. You can listen whenever and wherever you want because they are recorded! Here’s a link to frequently asked questions about podcasts.

Get My Free Podcast – Perfect for Beginners!

To access the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:

1. Go to www.genealogygems.com

2. Hover your mouse over Podcast

3. Click on Family History: Genealogy Made Easy

4. Click the link for episode 1 entitled Getting Started (episodes are in numerical order.)

5. Click Play Now and then click the play button to listen on your computer.

6. You can also subscribe through iTunes here.

Get More Podcast Episodes, and Our App!

After you get started, enjoy the back episodes of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast for tons of additional ideas and strategies. The easiest way to listen is through the Genealogy Gems app available for Apple, Android and Windows.

More Gems: Genealogy for Beginners

We really want you to see Genealogy Gems as your guide through the fun and fascinating world of family history. That means in addition to our podcasts, we write loads of how-to articles just for you. To get instant access to all of our blog posts just right for beginners, go to our home page, look for the What do you want to learn about? menu, click the down arrow, and click Beginner.  On your screen you will see all of our Beginner articles in chronological order starting with the most recent.

4 Beginning Genealogy Answers to Get You StartedFree Podcast

6 Sources That May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

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

 

DNA Testing for Family History: New Premium Video

getting started in genetic genealogy dna testing for family historyReady to start DNA testing for family history? Or maybe you’ve tested but need help getting the most out of your results. Here’s a new video for you: Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy.

If you’re new to DNA testing for family history–or floundering along the way–the new Genealogy Gems Premium video tutorial may be just what you’re looking for. Millions of people have already tested, and savvy genealogists use those test results to better understand their ethnicity and family connections.

Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard, author of a fantastic series of laminated DNA guides, walks you through the answers to three important DNA questions in Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy:

1. Which test should I take?

2. What will I get from the testing?

3. Will it help?

In this video, Diahan reminds us that “genetic genealogy is not about miracles.” In fact, DNA testing for family history works best when paired with good old traditional research. You know, creating a pedigree chart, finding records, and searching dusty courthouse basements. (You didn’t think you were going to get out of that, did you?)

Diahan breaks down the elements of atDNA, mtDNA, and YDNA testing. You will want to hear why she gives a five star rating to YDNA, but only a three star rating to mtDNA! Click the video below to get a quick preview of this exciting class:

DNA testing supplements traditional genealogy research in many ways. For the majority of us, even the basic autosomal DNA test can provide us with a long list of cousin matches. The more family members you have tested, the more matches you will find. Cousin matches are fun, but they are also the tools we need to break down those brick walls. Maybe your DNA results will lead to finding Cousin Susie who just happened to get the family Bible. Wouldn’t you like to have the opportunity to get to know her?

Premium_2016In my own family, our true ethnicity was carefully hidden. Traditional research hinted to our racial identity, but it wasn’t until a DNA test was taken that we were sure. Adoptees and foster children are also finding DNA tests helpful in locating their next of kin.

Genealogy Gems Premium website members have exclusive access to Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy and 30 additional full-length video tutorials on topics ranging from research strategies to technology tools. They also have access to the full audio archive of the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast. Click here to learn more about Premium website membership.

More Gems on DNA Testing for Family History

YDNA3 Reasons to Test  Your DNA for Genealogy

Confused by Your Ancestry DNA Matches? Read This Post

YDNA for Genealogy: 3 Scenarios When YDNA is Useful

Census Research Tip: Why Look at the Same Thing Twice

census research tipWhen may it pay off to look at the same records or indexes twice? When you can compare them on different genealogy websites. Here’s an example for this census research tip.

You’ve probably noticed that some record sets are available online at multiple websites. At each site, the images and indexes you find may be a little different. Online tools for viewing and searching at each site may also be different.

For example, a digitized image may be faded, dark, blurry, blotchy, cut off, or otherwise unreadable on one website but clearer on another site. Here are two images from the first few lines of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census taken in Bay Minette, Baldwin, Alabama. The first image comes from HeritageQuest Online (available at public libraries) and the second is from Ancestry.com. See the difference?

Alabama census image HeritageQuest census research tip

alabama census image ancestry census research tip

As you can see, depending on which line you’re reading, one image may be clearer than another.

Here’s another census research tip: The online tools available at each site are different, too. At HeritageQuest Online, you can view the image at original size, 200% or 400%, and you can look at the image as a negative, which sometimes helps faded text stand out a little more. Ancestry.com lets you zoom in and out, magnify specific areas, and rotate the image or view it in mirror form (in case you’re trying to read backward text bleeding through from the other side).

HeritageQuest Online improvesMore Gems for Online Genealogy Research

HeritageQuest Online Gets Better with Ancestry’s Support

4 Tips for Getting the Most out of Ancestry.com

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 125: HeritageQuest Online, Ancestry Library edition and other great genealogy resources at the public library (Available only to Genealogy Gems Premium website members)