November 24, 2017

“I Found 130 Letters by My Ancestor!” Why Use Google Books for Genealogy

Betty has at least 130 good reasons to use Google Books for genealogy! She used this powerful Google tool to find her ancestor’s name in a book–which led to a treasure trove of his original letters in an archive. Here’s what happened–and how to try this with your own family history research. 

You’ve heard me say that Google Books is the tool I turn to every day. Now, you may be thinking, “But my ancestors wouldn’t be in history books!” Resist the temptation to make assumptions about sources, and about your ancestors. With over 25 million books, Google Books is more likely to have something pertinent to your genealogy research than you think. And as I often tell my audiences, those books can include source citations, providing a trail to even more treasures.

Why to Use Google Books for Genealogy: Success Story!

At the National Genealogical Society conference this past spring, Betty attended my class and then stopped by the Genealogy Gems booth to share her story. I recorded it, and here’s a transcription:

Betty: I was stuck on my Duncan Mackenzie ancestor, so I put his name in Google Books, because when you’re stuck, that’s what you do!

Lisa: Yes, I do!

Betty: So, up popped this history of Mississippi, it was sort of a specific history, and it said Duncan Mackenzie had written a letter to his brother-in-law in North Carolina from Covington County, Mississippi. And of course I already had my tax records and my census records that placed him in Covington County. This was in the 1840s. I thought, this just couldn’t be him! Why would any of my relatives be in a book? [Sound familiar?]

So, finally, weeks later, it occurred to me to go back and look at the footnotes in the book, and I found that the letters could be found in the Duncan McLarin papers at Duke University. So, I didn’t even think to even borrow the microfilm. I just told my husband, “next time you go East for work, we need to go by Duke University.” So I set up a time, and I went, and it WAS my great-great-grandfather who wrote those letters! I have now transcribed 130 letters from that collection. They let me scan them all, and I’ve been back again to scan the rest of the legal papers.

Lisa: So, an online search into Google Books not only help you find something online, but it led you to the offline gems!

Betty: And it just changed my life! Because I spend all my time on these letters. It’s distracted me from other lines! [LOL! I get that!]

How to Use Google Books for Genealogy

Are you ready to put Google Books to work in your own research and discover some genealogy gems of your own? Here, I re-create Betty’s search for you, so you can see how to get started:

1. Go to Google Books (books.google.com). Enter search terms that would pertain to your ancestor, like a name and a place.

2. Browse the search results. The first three that show up here all look promising. Click on the first one.

3. Review the text that comes up in the text screen. As you can see here, Duncan McKenzie of Covington County is mentioned–and the source note at the bottom of the page tells you that the original letter cited in the book is at Duke University.

Learn More about Using Google Books for Genealogy

Learn more by watching my free Google Books video series at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Click the video below to watch the first one. (And be sure to subscribe while you’re there, because there are more videos to come!)

Then, watch the video below for a quick preview of my full one hour video class (and downloadable handout) called Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day!, available to all Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

No More Late Fees! Check Out Free Genealogy Magazines and eBooks at Your Local Library

Your local library may offer free genealogy magazines and ebooks. Why choose them over print? So many reasons! No more late fees. Read on the go. Choose your font size. So go ahead: check out digital versions of that Genealogy Gems Book Club title you’ve been meaning to read, or the current issue of Family Tree Magazine. Here’s how.

genealogy library freebies

Here in the U.S., it’s my favorite time of year: back-to-school! The weather slowly cools. My children shake off summer’s mental lethargy. My own schedule resumes a more predictable, productive rhythm. And after months spent outdoors, I rediscover my local library. Top on my library list this fall: free genealogy ebooks and magazines I can check out on my mobile device. It’s on-the-go reading for my favorite hobby–with no searching under my bed when items come due to avoid those pesky late fees.

Free Genealogy eBooks and Magazines

Genealogy Gems Premium Member Autumn feels the same way about free genealogy gems at her local library. Here’s a letter she wrote to Lisa Louise Cooke:

“I’m really enjoying both the Premium and free podcasts. I also like the addition of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. I haven’t read all the books yet but am adding them all to my wishlist on Overdrive, a free app that allows you to check out digital books for free from your local library. They don’t have every book but they have many, many books including some from the book club. Most libraries have a lot of biographies and histories available through Overdrive for free that are of interest to genealogists as well. Some libraries are adding video to their Overdrive offerings too.

Many of these same libraries offer magazines free as well.  My library…use[s] Zinio, a magazine app. I only subscribe to a couple of magazines now because I can get so many for free through my library (not to mention keeping my home neater by not having them laying everywhere).”

genealogy book club family history readingIt makes me happy that Autumn is enjoying the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We hear from many avid readers who love browsing our list of mainstream fiction and nonfiction picks for family history lovers. As part of our book club, we interview every book club author, too–from beloved novelists like Fannie Flagg to acclaimed journalists, memoir writers, and historians who take their own unique approaches to family history themes. Hear excerpts of these interviews on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast; full interviews run on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available by subscription.

Overdrive and Zinio

At Autumn’s recommendation, I started using Overdrive through my local library. I love it! I’ve listened to several digital audiobooks on the road and at the gym through Overdrive and have read several ebooks, too. (I’m always on the hunt for the next Genealogy Gems Book Club title.) The books just disappear at the end of the lending period (hence the “no late fees” bonus).

Genealogy Gems Service Manager Lacey Cooke loves Overdrive, too. She sent me these four reasons why:

1. Download for Offline Listening: “You can download the ebooks, audiobooks, magazines etc. to your device so that you can enjoy them offline (great for traveling). They’ll still disappear once your lending period expires, but having them available offline is awesome. You don’t have to worry about data charges or slow internet connections.

2. The Wishlist: Autumn briefly mentioned the Wishlist feature. I love this feature because it gives me somewhere to save book titles that I’m interested in reading at some point, but I’m not ready to check out just yet.

3. Bookmark/Syncing: You can bookmark a page, then pick up where you left off. If you have the Overdrive app on multiple devices, the app syncs. I can start reading on one device, and pick up on another right where I left off.

4. Format Adjustments: You can adjust the font style, size, and color to make it easier for you to read. I like to pick a nice, clean font in a big size so there’s no strain on my eyes.”

It’s worth noting that if you don’t already have a library card with your local library, you may be required to sign up in person to get a card, even if you only plan on using the Overdrive app to request items online. New releases or popular titles may have a wait list to check out the ebook or audiobook (especially if the library only possesses one copy). If you do have to place an ebook on hold, you will be notified via email when it becomes available to you, so if you don’t check your email regularly, keep that in mind when you place a hold. Each library system is different, so of course, your experience may vary.

Another helpful tip: not every library offers Overdrive ebook checkouts. But sometimes you can use another library’s Overdrive privileges. Autumn sent a link to these instructions on how to do so. (Thanks, Autumn!)

Autumn also mentioned the Zinio app. My library doesn’t offer Zinio yet, so I spent a little time on its public search portal. That doesn’t have a browsable genealogy category, and searches for the terms family history, genealogy and ancestry came up empty. But I did finally find these titles:

Lisa Louise Cooke, Genealogy Gems DNA expert Diahan Southard, and I are all frequent contributors to Family Tree Magazine, which we {heart} and recommend for its easy-reading research tips, hands-on tech and DNA tutorials, and the eye-candy layout. (Click here to subscribe personally, if you don’t want to read through a library app.)

More Free Genealogy Resources at Your Local Library

Of course, your local library may offer many additional free genealogy research and reading materials. Of tremendous value is access to Library editions of popular genealogy databases such as Ancestry, Findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage, along with institutional versions of historical newspaper databases. (Click here to learn more about the differences between the major genealogy websites.) Call your library or browse its website to see what resources may be available with your library card on site or even remotely from your own home or mobile device. And remember to watch for your library’s e-media options like those recommended by Autumn.

As a special shout-out to all the free genealogy resources at your library, Lisa Louise Cooke has granted free access for everyone to Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125. In this episode, Lisa has a full discussion about more free genealogy gems at public libraries with Cheryl McClellan. Cheryl is not only my awesome mom, she rocks professionally as the Geauga County, Ohio public library system staff genealogist!

This Premium episode is usually exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium members. If you love it, and you’re not already a member, consider gifting yourself a “back to school” subscription. It’s the most fun, energizing, apply-it-now genealogy learning experience you may ever have.

Tour Your Childhood Home with Google and Google Earth

Ever thought of visiting your childhood home? Here’s a story about people who are actually buying theirs back. For the rest of us, here’s how to use Google and Google Earth to revisit your childhood home and relive some memories–without spending a dime.

Tour Your Childhood Home with Google and Google Earth

Your childhood home–or perhaps another beloved family home–is your own personal address on Memory Lane. Who wouldn’t love to stroll up to its doors and recapture some memories?

The image above is of my husband’s great grandfather’s home in Winthrop, Minnesota. It’s a home that I have many photos of, have researched, and have come to feel personally connected to although I’ve never seen it in person. It’s one of many ancestral homes that I yearn to visit one day. So as you can imagine, I really enjoyed this report from The Wall Street Journal about a few lucky folks who are living the dream of not only visiting, but owning and restoring, their childhood home.

Even if you’re not interested in buying back an old family home, many of us are curious about the houses we used to love. Are those houses still there? What do they look like now? What else can we learn about them?

Let’s explore three ideas to help you stroll down memory lane. Then, I’ll share a discovery from a Genealogy Gems Premium podcast listener who recently dropped me a line.

1. Find the address for your childhood home

If you don’t recall the street address of your favorite family home, ask a relative or look it up. For U.S. addresses since 1940, you might start with the U.S. Public Records Index, searchable in part or full at Ancestry.com (volumes 1 and 2 for 1950-1993), FamilySearch.org or MyHeritage.com (click here to learn more about that database). Look also in records such as:

For U.S. addresses from 1880-1940, look to U.S. census records, which include street names and house numbers. In the example below from the 1930 census, you can see “Cedar Street” written vertically by the red arrow, and the house number written for each household entry, as shown in blue.

From the 1930 US census, Ancestry.com.

If you can’t find an address on an old record, but you think you could navigate yourself there on a map, it’s time to go to Google Earth and fly yourself there!

2. Use Google Earth to view your childhood home now

Learn all these Google skills with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!

Google Earth is your on-ramp to your own personal Memory Lane. Go to the site, enter an address, and watch yourself “fly” to that address. If you don’t know an exact address but you know where to look, enter a street name or even a city. Then zoom in to the neighborhood and street section of interest. Activate Street View, if it’s available. Not sure how to do that? Watch my free Google Earth for Genealogy Video Class to get started.

Once you’ve found the location, take a close look. Is the house still there? What does it look like now? How has the landscape changed? The neighborhood?

You can use Google Earth to revisit your own childhood home or another family landmark, such as an ancestor’s homestead or burial place. (Click here to read about one genealogist’s virtual trip to an ancestor’s business using Google Earth’s Street View, and click here to see how another genealogist used historical map overlays in Google Earth to identify an old home’s location.)

3. Google the address of your childhood home

Googling the address of your family home may produce unexpected and interesting results like these:

a) Sale listings. If your house has been on the market in recent years, you may be able to find a listing with great details, and even pictures of the inside today. Top Google search results from specific addresses often bring up real estate websites with varying degrees of information, such as square footage, current estimated value, year built, most recent sale date and price, and more. Weed through these entries to see whether Zillow or another similar site shows a current or past listing for sale or rent. These may contain more details and may even have interior and exterior pictures of the house as it is now.

Watch closely—Google may bring up houses nearby, not the one you’re looking for. But even a neighborhood listing for a house built on a similar floor plan may jog your memories of the home and may give you a sense of what the area is like now.

b) Historical information. A Google search result may bring up historical news coverage or obituaries from digitized newspaper websites like Newspapers.com (a subscription may be required to view these in full). Or you may find something really fascinating, like a discovery made by Genealogy Gems Premium member Heather. After listening to me talk about this subject in Premium Podcast episode 141 (click here to subscribe), Heather wrote me this email:

“I love listening to the podcasts while driving to and from work, often sharing my own thoughts with you.  This happened yesterday while listening to the latest Premium Podcast episode on family homes. I decided that I had to write and share what I managed to find! Since I have deep family roots in Connecticut back to 1650s, I managed to find a few family homes, but I started searching with the more recent generations and addresses that I knew. The two homes where my great-grandparents (Inez Hart and John Milton Burrall) and my great-grand aunts (Mary and Lucy Burrall) lived were written up in an application for the National Register of Historic Places!

The National Park Service is working on digitizing these applications. I found the application with a narrative description of the home and pictures of the interior and exterior. I have found other applications that have also included some genealogy of the family who lived in the home. Here is the website for the National Park Service and the database search page.”

Thanks for sending these in, Heather! And for sending along copies of the applications she found. The multi-page applications (more than 10 pages each!) include historical background on the buildings and former owners, as well as photos and site maps. Above is a photo–and below is an excerpt–from these applications.

When you’re ready for a full-fledged Google education, take a look at my top-selling book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, and my companion video tutorial series, Google Earth for Genealogy. You can save by bundling them together for the ultimate Google-for-genealogy education!

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

 

 

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Worried about access to your online tree if you let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse? The tree should still be there. But take these steps to be sure your tree remains accessible and secure–along with the records you’ve attached to it.

What happens to my ancestry tree?

 

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Many people start researching their genealogy with an Ancestry subscription. They build their family tree on the site, adding details about dozens of relatives. Then they sift through Ancestry’s billions of historical records and add hundreds or even thousands of new names, dates, relationships and other facts to their trees. They even attach records to each ancestor as evidence of what they’ve learned.

Then life calls them away for a while, like it has for Beverly. She wrote to me, concerned about what will happen to all her hard work on that Ancestry tree:

“I have been a member of Ancestry.com for a long time and have worked on several trees. I love to work on my genealogy but lately have not had time. Can I drop my membership and still retain my trees? I plan to get my membership back at a later day. Right now I am wasting $20 a month.”

Beverly, I hear your pain! We all go through busy seasons. It’s easy to cringe at the thought of paying for genealogy website subscriptions we aren’t currently using. But the idea of losing all our progress on those sites is worse.

I did a little research along with Sunny Morton, Genealogy Gems Editor and our resident expert on the “genealogy giants” websites. Here’s what we can tell Beverly and everyone else who is wondering the same thing:

According to Ancestry, the answer is yes. You can still access your trees with your login after your subscription lapses, as long as you didn’t delete the tree or the account altogether.

Ancestry continues to host people’s trees because they want our tree data to share with others, and to give people a reason to come back! Your login and password remain the same. But your account reverts to a free guest account, without access to most of Ancestry’s historical records—including the ones you’ve already attached to your trees.

Ancestry Tree Preservation Strategy 

If you plan to let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse for a while, but you want to continue to work with your online trees, consider taking these steps:

1. Download a copy of every record that you’ve attached to your ancestors’ individual files on Ancestry.com. Do this by opening the image of the record, click on the Save/Saved button at the upper right, and click Save to your computer. I suggest doing this even if you don’t foresee letting your subscription go in the near future.

2. Save each record in an organized, findable way on your computer. I recommend using a consistent system to organize these, which I explain in the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, in episodes 32-33. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members have access to a 2-part video tutorial on organizing their hard drives.) If you don’t have a consistent way to organize these document images, you’ll soon become overwhelmed with files that all sort of look the same and you won’t be sure what year they are or which ancestors they pertain to without opening each one!

(What about cloud storage options, such as Google Drive or Dropbox? That’s ok, too, although I recommend using these platforms more as temporary or backup storage or to share with relatives, rather than as your primary storage. Instead, I recommend investing in cloud-based backup for your home computer. I use Backblaze personally and for my business.)

3. Download copies of your Ancestry.com treesClick here for instructions; it’s really easy. Yes, Ancestry does continue to maintain your trees, but what guarantees do you have? Data loss does happen even on big websites, and sites change their practices and policies sometimes. If that happens, you could lose all the information you’ve carefully added to your tree.

4. Start using computer software for your “master family tree” instead of keeping it online. A “master family tree” is your most complete, up-to-date version of your tree (or trees, if you build separate ones for separate family lines). Keeping your master tree on your own computer keeps all your tree data at your fingertips without any subscription required. Having one master file matters even more once you start sharing your tree on other websites or with relatives.

RootsMagicI use RootsMagic, and that is why I happily agreed to them sponsoring my Genealogy Gems Podcast. It works for Mac and the PC. I like its affordability: there’s a free version you can try for as long as you like, and the full software will cost you the same as about 90 days of access to Ancestry.com. And RootsMagic has solid relationships with the major genealogy sites: it now syncs with your trees on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, and you can research records on MyHeritage.com and Findmypast.com. RootsMagic has tons of advanced features to help you create family history charts, books, and reports, and a great user support community online.

Ancestry and the other Genealogy Giants

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetKeep up with news and changes on the “genealogy giants” websites with our ongoing coverage of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com. And get our quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites. This inexpensive, easy-t0-read guide compares the “big 4” side by side to help you determine which records website may be the best ones for your current genealogy research needs.

Disclosure: this post recommends carefully-chosen products and services for which we receive compensation. Click here to read my full disclosure statement, and thank you for supporting the free content we provide at Genealogy Gems.

Inherited Genealogy Files: Adding Source Citations to an Inherited Family Tree

Adding Source Citations is our third post in the Inherited Genealogy Files series, and in this post, we answer a listener’s question.

 

We recently received this letter from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, Cristy. She says:

Thank you for your tip about starting from the present and working backwards. I was having a hard time knowing where to start. I had inherited a tree passed from my mom and my great-grandmother, that when combined with the information my husband’s aunt gave me [I had a] tree with almost 1200 names. But the information from my great-grandmother and my aunt does not have any sources and all of my mom’s sources got lost in our various moves over the years. She only had her old school database that just had the facts and no sources.

I determined that a genealogy book my mom used as a source for one of our lines [had been] copied [from] an older genealogy line that has been proven incorrect. So, my goal has been to re-find my mom’s sources and document everything. I didn’t know where to start. I have now made a second tree in my database keeping the original as a place to start and only putting what I have proved using actual sources and attaching the documentation as I go. Your episode on the Genealogical Proof Standard was really helpful. It will be a big help as I clean up my tree.

Finding Source Citations for Your Inherited Family Tree

Let’s first give a brief definition of source citation.

Source Citation: the information that tells your reader where you obtained a particular piece of genealogical data.

For example, a family tree should include a source citation for the birth date and place, the death date and place, and the marriage date and place…and that’s just the start.

Finding source citations is really easy if you are using FamilySearch. Let’s say I used a death record I found online at FamilySearch as the proof of my ancestors death date. What is so wonderful about using FamilySearch.org for finding records is that it includes a source citation for you to copy and paste. Take a look.

Adding source citations from FamilySearch

You can highlight the source citation text and copy it into your genealogy software. A bonus is knowing that FamilySearch is free and easy to use.

Adding Source Citations for Genealogy to RootsMagic Software

As I mentioned above, you can take the source citation you found on FamilySearch and copy and paste it into your genealogy software. RootsMagic is the genealogy software we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use (and we are proud that they sponsor our free Genealogy Gems Podcast.) It is an easy-to-use and effective software for both PC and Mac users. (To learn more about using RootsMagic, read here.)

Using RootsMagic, let’s add a source citation to an event in a family tree:

Adding source citations to RootsMagic

In this example above, we have double clicked on Clarence’s name and opened up the Edit Person window. We would like to add a source citation for Clarence Bowser’s death date and place. In the line for death, we click on the box in the source citation column. The source citation column is indicated by that little icon that looks like a record.

At the pop-up window, we click Add new source and from the options, choose Free Form and click OK.

Adding source citations to database

Now, let’s assume you copied the following source citation from a record you found at FamilySearch.org:

“Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN : accessed 8 December 2014), Clarence W Bowser, 09 Nov 1958.

The first part of the citation is the title of the collection and the location you found it. “Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN. That front half of the citation is going to go in the Footnote area of the next pop-up window. The remainder of the citation you copied is going to go in the Page field. Then click, OK.

correctly adding source citations

Notice, the entire footnote at the right of the screen looks like the one you copied from FamilySearch. You may wonder why on earth we separated the citation. Because, RootsMagic is going to remember you have a source citation from Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007. The next time you find an ancestor’s death record in this index, you will not need to click Add new source. Rather, you will click Cite existing source, and choose the Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007.

Adding source citation for death record

At the next screen, the Footnote field will already be filled out for you. All you need to do is fill in the Page field with the back-half of the new source.

Adding source citation for other record

More on Adding Source Citations for Genealogy

Evernote for Genealogy Quick Reference GuideIn addition to keeping your source citations on a genealogy software program, you may wish to clip the citation and add it to Evernote. Lisa Louise Cooke explains just how to do this in her article titled, “Cite Your Sources from FamilySearch with the Evernote Web Clipper.”

You can get loads more tips and tricks in our helpful Evernote for Windows for Genealogists quick reference guide (also available for Mac users). Also, get a quick overview about this amazing product from this video clip on our YouTube Channel.

Google Searches for Genealogy Leads to an Opera’s Worth of Stories

Google searches for genealogy are a main focus of our Google Guru, Lisa Louise Cooke. Read this inspiring story of how one Genealogy Gems reader used Lisa’s Google search tips to find a trove of family stories worthy of an opera.

Google searches for genealogy

Opera house image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

You never know when the amazing technology of the internet and Google will lead to a discovery that will open the doors on your family history. I recently received a letter from Genealogy Gems listener, Kristen. She shared the sad tale of her maternal grandmother’s history. Her grandmother had lost her mother before the age of two. Then, as an only child, her father abandoned her to be raised by a less-than-loving step mother. This young woman grew-up and had children of her own, but all she had in the way of a family history was the memory of her father’s name and a handful of unnamed photographs.

Kristen went on to say, “She never really spoke of her sad childhood, save to say that the stepmother would tell her she had always been unwanted and that her mother was unloved and the marriage was forced.”

Among the handful of mystery photographs of her grandmother as a child, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners titled Silence is Golden and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman was attached.

Using Clues for Google Searches for Genealogy

Here’s the rest of Kristen’s letter:

I took your advice and Googled Merton Markert Modern Classical Silence Golden. Up came the Lancaster High School Yearbook for 1905, featuring p. 41, the senior class portraits with their course study descriptions and a small personal quote for each. There was that exact photo of her, and the name Merton Markert, Modern Classical with the quote, “Life seems a jest of Fate’s contriving.”

The whole yearbook had been digitized by Mocavo, and it is the only yearbook for that high school in several years. My great-grandmother [Merton Markert], who had been buried and unspoken for a hundred years, had reached out to me. She wanted me to find her! Lisa, I cannot adequately describe the feelings I experienced at that moment of discovery. You understand how a moment like that feels, I’m sure. The chills, the tears…I felt like I was staring into her eyes, reaching through a century of silence, and finally able to acknowledge her sacrifice and legacy.

On the football team that year was my great-grandfather, and the whole book was ripe with clues that still hold nuanced significance.

From there, I was able to grow a tree on Ancestry.com and get the basics. But that does not tell you who the person is, the struggles, the character, the story. So taking your lead, and thinking like my brother the Sherriff Detective, I got creative. Using all kinds of searches and sniffing and turning over and under, I was able to uncover a veritable opera’s worth of stories within this one branch [of my family tree]. The cast of characters include: A Colonial founder, a secret bastard half-sister, a suicidal mother, a Klondike Gold Stampeder, alcoholics, a rejected Baptist Pastor, a homosexual affair-turned-murder victim,  a bonafide Monuments Man (buried at Arlington), and a chorus of war veterans. And cancer. Lots of it. In fact, breast cancer was the reason for Merton’s death in 1910. That kind of information is vital to my sisters and female cousins.

So thank you, my clever inspiration.
Ain’t opera grand?

Lisa’s Response to Kristen with Additional Ideas

Thanks for sharing your fascinating story. I completely understand the emotions you felt the moment she was looking back at you on the screen. Those moments are precious and meant to be savored!
Using search techniques from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition, I also discovered this same yearbook on the  robust and free Internet Archive website. Perhaps there is more there to be found. And I have an additional idea I thought you might like to try. It’s Ebay.

Ebay currently has a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Who knows what could be put up for auction in the future. You could sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria. Happy hunting and thanks for being a Genealogy Gem!

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can listen to Premium episode 16 which goes in depth into my Tips for Finding Family History Related Items on eBay.

More on Google Searches for Genealogy

Google is an effective and easy-to-use genealogy tool, you just need to know a few basics. Watch my YouTube video on speaking Google’s language and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of our tech tips and more!

West Virginia Genealogy Research and Working with Changing County Boundaries

As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!

West Virginia genealogy research

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.

County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.

But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:

I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?

Birth Records in the 1800s

The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. [1]

Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)

West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level

Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.

There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries

I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!

  • 1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
  • 1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
  • 1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
  • 1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
  • 1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
  • 1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
  • 1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier

As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.

Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)

There is also a free guide at Family Tree Magazine for West Virginia genealogy research that we highly recommend.

More on Advanced Research Strategies

Creating a FAN club tipsChanging county boundaries is just one area that must be mastered to ensure accurate genealogy research. Here are 3 more articles that will help you beef up your genealogy research skills:

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Missing Census or Missing Family: Legacy Tree Genealogists Answer

Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy

ARTICLE REFERENCES

[1] Johni Cerny, “Births and Deaths in Public Records,” originally written in “The Source: A Genealogist’s Guidebook to American Genealogy,” online article, Ancestry Wiki, accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Finding Living Relatives and Reuniting Lost Treasures

Finding living relatives and reuniting lost family treasures is just one way genealogists do random acts of kindness. Our Gems reader has a passion for reuniting photos from eBay to living relatives, but needs to find them first. I have some tips for finding living relatives using Ancestry family trees.

Finding Living Relatives for photos

Years go by and dust collects on old photos left on shelves. Sadly, some will choose to sell those once treasured photos on e-bay or at a local flea market. But the good news is there are genealogists who are actively searching for living relatives to reconnect with these pictures of the past.

Finding Living Relatives

A Gems reader recently asked:

I love doing random acts of kindness and when I find photos on eBay and other sites, I love trying to find some family members to enjoy the treasure. There was an email from a listener that I wanted to see if you could expand on for me.  She asked who she should contact via Ancestry to ask about a found item. You had great suggestions, but I am hung up on one thing you said.

You said to look at their tree and look at the relationship to the person who created the tree, and the person mentioned in the picture. I would love to do this, but alas, I do not know how.

I have a very specific example right now. I found this listing for Ora Shields barn on eBay this morning. Ora is not my relation, but this would be a neat picture if he were! I looked in Ancestry and found lots of trees for him. I found a couple of people with lots of sources for him, and I always look to see the last time the tree owner logged in.  But, what next. I am not sure how to tell how the tree owner is related to Ora.  Any suggestions?

P.S. Love your show and now I am addicted to Google Earth thanks to listening to the premium video!  Keep the good stuff coming!

Using Ancestry Family Trees for Finding Living Relatives

I’m so glad our Gems are loving Google Earth and our Premium videos! It is wonderful to hear how our Gems Premium Members are using these tools! It is also spectacular that they are seizing the opportunity to help others and I want to help them do that!

I just grabbed a tree on Ancestry that included a person named Ora Shield’s as an example.
Below is the result showing this Ora Shields. If I wanted to find a living relative of this individual, I would take the following steps.
Step 1: Click the down arrow on the name of the tree and click View Tree.
 finding living relatives with Ancestry trees

Step 2: Click the down arrow on Find Person and choose Home Person from the pull-down menu.

 finding living relatives home person

Step 3: Quickly scan the names and find someone with the last name Shields. In this example, this is the Home Person’s great-grandmother.

 finding living relatives click person

Step 4: Click the up arrow above the Home Person’s great-grandma (Cora Shields) to see the Shields’ ancestors.

finding living relatives from list

As you can see, Ora Shields is great-grandma Cora Shield’s brother!

Determine the Relationship

Now, what is the relationship? For this answer, head to the Cousin Calculator at http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/cousincalculator.html.
Using this calculator, you can’t specify brother. So, we identify who the direct ancestor is that the Home Person and Ora Shields share. That would be Cora’s parents. Ora is their son and Home Person is their great-great grandchild. Enter that into the calculator and it will tell you how they are related.
relationship calculator for finding living relatives

Isn’t this an amazing tool? I wish the best of luck to our reader and others who are finding living relatives to reunite with these treasures. And, I love sharing these feel good stories on in our blog and podcasts so thank you, reader, for letting us share your question with our Genealogy Gems.

More on Finding Living Relatives

“Who Else Has Viewed This Record?” Find Living Relatives

Premium Episode 3 – Seven Strategies That Will Lead You To Living Relatives

Not a Premium Member yet? The Genealogy Gems Premium Membership is the best way to get the most out of Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems! Premium Members get exclusive access to incredible content to help you further your research – all for one low annual price! Click here to subscribe!

Send a Letter, Make Cousin Connections

When was the last time you sent a letter or email to someone you didn’t know? Gail did, and you will be touched and inspired by her sweet story of finding a long lost cousin in Italy. Sometimes, all it takes is sending a letter to make a monumental cousin connection.

cousin connections with letters

I often encourage our readers and Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners to reach out of their comfort zone. Writing letters is just one way we can expand your search for records and cousin connections. I wanted to share with you this story of how reader Gail was rewarded by simply writing a letter.

Gail shared:

 Antonio Capetti Italy

The only known photo of Antonio Capetti – the ancestor who links Gail with her Italian cousins.

“It is because of listening to your podcast, that we just returned from the most amazing trip of a lifetime!

My husband & I had scheduled a fabulous trip to Italy, where I’d always wanted to go. It is the home of my father’s ancestors, and I have been researching this side of the family since the early 1980s.

A couple weeks before we left, I was determined to find a living relative still in Italy. I remembered your suggestion to write to the priest in the old family village. I wrote to the priest and included a letter to any “found” family member briefly outlining the family tree and including a return envelope. Imagine my excitement when, the week before we left, I received a letter from a long lost relative! 81-year old Mario was amazed that after over a century, the two branches of our family would get together again. We began texting and set up a meeting place.

We met Mario in Venice and all cried when we met – feeling that family connection immediately.

Trip to italy

Then, at his suggestion, we hired a car to take us to our old family hometown, where he walked us through town and showed us a concrete medallion on the building where our ancestors lived, inscribed with the family name.

Italy visit write a letter Gail

We went to the church and saw our name also inscribed on the baptismal font, as it had been a gift from our family. We walked to the cemetery and then had lunch together.  During lunch, we face-timed with my father back in the U.S. and everyone cried as we stated that “our relatives in heaven are smiling today!”

Our trip was the trip of a lifetime and the highlight was meeting family we didn’t even know we had, walking together down the roads that our ancestors walked!

the roads our ancestors walked

Thank you, Lisa, for your suggestion.  It made a wonderful trip so much more special and personal – one we will never forget.”

How absolutely fabulous! I am so happy to hear when readers and podcast listeners take a little Gem and turn it into such a once in a lifetime experience.

Thank you to Gail for taking the time to write and share this with me, and all of us who seek to know our ancestors!

More Gems on MAdvanced DNA Bundle by Diahan Southardaking Cousin Connections

Follow Gail’s example and put into action new ideas for cousin connections. If you’ve had your DNA tested, don’t miss Diahan Southard’s newest quick reference guides that will help you get much more value out of your results. And keep reading below for more ideas:

“We’re Cousins?!” DNA for Genealogy Reveals Surprising Relationship

How are We Related?? Use a Cousin Calculator

DNA Matches: What To Do With All Your Genetic 4th Cousins

3 Ways to Improve Your Genealogy Blog

Creating and maintaining a genealogy blog is a fun and rewarding way to share your family history. Blogging is also effective in finding cousin connections! If you are worried your blog isn’t pulling in the cousins you expected, elevate your ranking in search results by implementing these 3 ways to improve your genealogy blog.

improve your genealogy blogI recently received this exciting email from Ruth:

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Several months ago, I attended one of your all-day seminars in Bossier City, Louisiana and I must thank you for motivating me!

I’ve been researching my family tree off and on for 25 years or so, and at times it has taken a back burner to whatever was going on in my life; only to be dusted off when I would get an inquiry or perhaps when someone in the family passed away. In the last 3 years, I have been attending these local seminars with a distant cousin. They were fun and I learned a few things, but none had generated the enthusiasm that I have at the moment!

The knowledge that you share and the easy manner in which you deliver your presentations are so down-to-earth and it inspires me to learn more. I left your seminar with a Premium Membership package and I have been listening to your podcast ever since.

You also encourage your readers to blog about their genealogy. I took your advice and I’ve done just that. Please take a look at my blog – any suggestions you might have would be welcomed. The title is My Family Tree: Hobby or Addiction? and I have dedicated it to my father who passed away in 2005! Here is the link: http://myfamilytreehobbyoraddiction.blogspot.com/

Thank you again for all you do that encourages us and for the new tools that you share with your listeners to help their journey along the way!

Many thanks,

Ruth Craig Estess

Ruth, thank you and congratulations!

improve your genealogy blog ruth

I love hearing how you have put it into action what you learned at the seminar.

Tips for Improving Your Genealogy Blog

Ruth is doing a terrific job including family information on her genealogy blog that others might be Googling. That means they are very likely to find her. But there’s more that can be done. Here are 3 additional tips for Ruth and anyone who wants to get more traction with their genealogy blog:

1. Add more images. Google looks postively upon websites that have images. It considers the website to be more of an authority on the subject covered in the blog. Images improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) In layman’s terms, SEO refers the ways in which you have made your blog easy to use, and easy for Google to understand what it is about. The better Google understands the subject, the better chance it has of delivering your blog as a result when people search on things you write about (like your family tree!) It’s important that your image files have names that accurately reflect what they and your blog post are about. Therefore, it’s a solid strategy to include relevant genealogical information such as names, places and dates in the image titles. If you don’t happen to personally have photos about the subject of your blog post, include images of documents or other related items.

2. Include a Call to Action. At the end of each post, invite your readers to comment and contact you if they are researching the same family. It’s amazing what a little invitation will do to prompt interaction. If you skip this step, your readers may just “lurk”, or in other words, quietly read and then go on to the next website. That’s a missed opportunity for connection and collaboration. Even though a reader may be researching the family you are writing about, they may not think to reach out to you or comment unless you prompt them to do so.

3. Make use of blog categories. Categories and Labels help organize you blog content. Create a category for each surname you discuss on your blog. The category can appear in the side column on your blog. That makes it easy for readers to click a surname they are interested in and jump directly to your posts that discuss that name.

Surname labels in genealogy blog

Categories and Labels are great for SEO too. Google loves well-organized websites because they are easier to understand and deliver in search results.

More Gems on Creating Your Own Genealogy Blog

Ruth wrote to tell me she has already started putting these ideas into practice. She’s on her way to rising in the search results and hearing from distant cousins. How exciting! Click below to continue reading about rewarding and effective family history blogging.

Why Marketing Experts Would Agree That You Should Write a Family History Blog

Why and How to Start a Family History Blog

Genealogy Blogging, the Future of Genealogy and More

Tell Us About Your Genealogy Blog

Do you have a genealogy blog? Well, here’s my call to action! Please share your family history blog, SEO tips, and success stories in the comments area below.

And I would so appreciate it if you would share Genealogy Gems with your friends and blog readers by including a link to our website in your list of favorite genealogy help sites on your blog. Thanks!