July 20, 2017

Genealogy Research Trip Produced Amazing Family History Find

We love the ease with which we can search online, but a genealogy research trip can offer exceptional and unique rewards. If you have been apprehensive about visiting a courthouse or archive,  follow our 4 step plan for a successful genealogy research trip that could lead to your own amazing discovery!

Genealogy Research Trip of the past

By J. D. Cress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am spoiled. Spoiled because I did not join the genealogy craze before the dawn of the internet and the power that using the Web brings to our family history research. I don’t know the pangs of writing 100+ letters to possible relatives and then waiting…waiting…and waiting to hear back from at least one!

In my genealogy world, if an answer can’t be found on one of my favorite genealogy website repositories (like FamilySearch, Ancestry, or Findmypast) then a quick Google search usually does the trick.

However, we new genealogists of the Internet era may be banking on the fact that “everything” we need is online. This is obviously not true. In fact, many local libraries and archives are under-staffed and under-funded making digitizing of their holdings difficult. This is why making a genealogy research trip is a really good idea.

The Unprepared Genealogy Research Trip

Several years ago, I made my first research trip. I was woefully unprepared. On a whim, I drove three hours on a weekday to “go to the courthouse.” I arrived at lunch time…and it was closed for an hour. Sigh. However, a nice receptionist suggNewspaper genealogy research tripested I go to the local public library just down the street.

When I arrived at the tiny corner building, I asked at the circulation desk for the history department. She seemed a little taken back, but said, “We have a little room in the basement with some local history and genealogy things.” Note to self: not all libraries are large enough for a “history department.”

In the basement room, no one was on duty, but a nicely printed instruction sheet of what was available and how to use their files laid on the table. “I guess I just dig in,” I thought, and off I went.

Though this was my first genealogy research trip, it proved to be very fruitful. In a scrapbook simply titled “Walls Family,” I found a Xerox
copy of an article from an 1874 newspaper. In this article, my fourth great-grandmother (Susannah Harmarson Walls) had been interviewed because she was the oldest living woman in the township. Her interview began, “I was born in Delaware. The exact year, I do not know, but I suppose I will be 86 years of age on the 16th of July next. My father’s name was Levin Harmarson. He died when I was only three years of age. My mother’s name was Mary Woodard.”

The interview included the story of her mother re-marrying, the family leaving Delaware for Wheeling, Virginia, and she marrying her step-brother there. Then, they traveled on into Scioto County, Ohio. She named each of her eleven children and their spouses.

The information in this one interview was particularly helpful. Before this, we had no idea when or where Susannah and Levi married, and finding the spouses of their children had proved difficult!

Though this was an amazing find, I wonder what other records, items, or photographs I might have dug up had I prepared ahead of time. Perhaps, I would have had time to dig more into their microfilm holdings, archived pictures, atlases, or even had time to go to the local cemetery.

The Prepared Genealogy Research Trip

Fast forward several years and I am making much more prepared genealogy research trips. Get the most from your next genealogy research trip by following these 4 important steps:

1. Run a Narrative Report. Start creating your genealogy research trip plan by printing out a narrative report of your targeted family line. This can be done with the reports feature found in genealogy database programs like RootsMagic.

create a plan for genealogy research trip

2. Look for holes in your research. Carefully read through the report looking for holes in your research or where you may be missing a source. In this case, a “hole in your research,” may be the missing marriage date of a couple, or the missing birth date of a child. Circle these “holes” and make a list of what the needed piece of information is to correct it and where you can find it.

Example: Clark County, Ohio. Need a death date for Edmund West. County didn’t keep death records that early. Likely died between 1830-1840. Check probate record books, estate files, tax records, cemetery records, and tombstones at Wilson Cemetery.

Maybe you have a birth date, but no source. A source is the proof of a particular fact. For example, a good source for a birth date is a birth register or even a marriage record. If you are lacking sources for your genealogy facts or are not sure how to begin sourcing your genealogy, learn more about that here.

3. Decide what repositories you will need to visit. After creating your list, determine where these items are held by asking yourself important questions, such as: Will I need to visit the courthouse, a library, an archive, cemetery, or all the above? Which location will produce the most results? Should I visit the archives first, or the courthouse?

4. Contact each repository ahead of time. Finding out the days and times when each of these places is open before you go is a must! Try to pick a day when all, or most, of the places are open so that you can get a lot done. If this isn’t possible, consider making an extended stay overnight to accomplish your goals.

Keep in mind that not all websites are up-to-date. Just because the library says it is open from 10 to 5 every day but Sunday on the webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that is still the case. Always call each establishment to verify days and hours of operation.

10 items for the genealogy research trip

Remember, there are newspapers, maps, documents, and pictures just waiting to be uncovered. By thinking about what you want to achieve while on your trip and what information you need to find and where, your genealogy research trip can be a successful one. Happy hunting!

More on Genealogy Research Trips

Still feeling unmotivated to get on the road, read or listen to these features for inspiring tips to make a courthouse records research trip in your near future!

Courthouse Records Research TripGenealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Website

Premium Podcast Episode 126 – Road Trips for Genealogy

Premium Video – Using Evernote to Create a Genealogy Research Plan

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

Genealogy Playlist Ultimate Guide for this Summer’s Road Trips

Summer_Road_Trip_Playlist

Are you going on a road trip this summer? Do you have a genealogy playlist ready? Here are some favorite resources for creating the ultimate genealogy playlist for the open road.

The Apps

Whether you have an Android, Apple, or Windows device, plan your own audio genealogy playlist for your next road trip. Here are some of our top picks:

get the app1.  The Genealogy Gems Podcast App allows you to listen to our regular podcasts with tips and tricks for genealogy and includes extra bonus content you won’t find anywhere else. By downloading the podcast before you hit the road, you won’t have to worry about using your data or hoping you have enough bars! And don’t miss the Bonus content available in many of the episodes. It’s a nice perk of our app.

2. AudioBooks from Audible. Audio books are a great idea for any road trip. For the highest quality reading voice, consider downloading a free app like AudioBooks. With 180,000 available titles, you will be sure to find something you like. AudioBooks offers a free 30-day trial and includes one free audio book. After the trial month, you can download a new book each month for $14.95, or purchase any book you want for the listed price.

3. Kindle Audio App is also free and easy to navigate. Once you have downloaded the app to your device, you can sign-in with your Amazon account to purchase the books you want. You can even sample books before you buy! Kindle Audio App allows you to experience “immersion” reading by allowing reading and listening simultaneously. Or, turn your Kindle e-book into an audiobook by having your iPhone read it to you: click here to learn how.

Genealogy Playlist Book Recommendations

Would you like some great summer reading options? These Genealogy Gems Book Club titles are some of our picks for listening on the road, on the beach, or wherever the sun takes you.

The Summer Before the War Helen Simonson coverThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is a fun read about Beatrice Nash who lands in East Sussex, where locals aren’t exactly thrilled to meet her. She spends the summer fighting for her job, meeting a local cast of engaging, eccentric characters (both gentry and gypsy,) and trying not to fall for handsome Hugh. Then, the Great War breaks out. Listen to a free excerpt of an interview with the author in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 192.

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to GrowOrchard House cover by Tara Austin Weaver, author of the internationally-acclaimed blog Tea & Cookies. This memoir is one part food, one part gardening, and two parts family drama, liberally seasoned with humor and introspection. Tara’s mother moves to Seattle to be near her. Together, they purchase a home with a wild garden. The challenge of reinvigorating the garden is nothing compared to the challenge of renewing their troubled relationship. It’s an honest (and mouthwatering) story of planting, cultivating, and harvesting the fruits of family and garden. The Genealogy Gems Premium website members can access the full interview in our premium podcast episode 133 or click here to hear a free excerpt.

Lost_Ancestor The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. This is the most recent book in a “genealogical crime mystery” series by the British author. Forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is hired to find out what happened to his client’s great-aunt Mary, who disappeared without a trace a century ago while working as a maid at a grand English estate. The author joined us on the June podcasts if  you would like to take a listen. Genealogy Gems Premium members can hear the entire interview hereOther titles in the series: Hiding the Past and The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier Novella.

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubOrphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline, spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list and top of The Bestsellers List in Canada. The novel intertwines the stories of Vivian and Molly. Vivian is an Irish girl who lost her family in New York City and was forced to ride the ‘orphan train’ to find a new home. Decades later, the aged Vivian meets a teenager, Molly, who is struggling to find identity and happiness in the modern foster care system. Click here to catch highlights of our interview with Christina Baker Kline on the The Genealogy Gems Podcast. Genealogy Gems Premium members can click here to listen to the full-length interview.

Book club winner

 

Find more books we think are perfect for family history lovers at The Genealogy Gems Book Club

Are You Ready for a Genealogy Travel Adventure?

If you would love to take a genealogy travel adventure to your ancestral homeland, consider who might help you make it happen. Get inspired and ready with these tips!

genealogy travel adventure

Map: Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

Recently Joyce, a Genealogy Gems Premium member, wrote in to thank me for the new Premium video, Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Then she asked a great question:

“What I would really like to know is if you have any travel agent/agency that is great for Europe travel to do my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ Any help or direction you can give would be much appreciated.”

I have just the thing for Joyce’s travel question! In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 115, I interviewed Kathy Wurth, who specializes in family history tours of Europe. (You will find her contact information here on the show notes page for the episode.) Even if she doesn’t go to the locations you want to visit, I’m sure that she could help match you up with a travel consultant who does. Tell her “hi” for me!

Before you set off on your own genealogy travel adventure, get inspired and get ready! Here are some great resources for doing just that:

Get inspired! Listen to or read about these genealogists’ travel adventures to ancestral homelands that I’ve covered on Genealogy Gems in the past:

genealogy book club She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen to an excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.

 

Three Slovak WomenThree Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. A popular genealogy expert’s story of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.

 

 

genealogy book club Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters  by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants. I profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.

 

Get ready! Here are some free travel tips for genealogists from our friends over at Family Tree Magazine:

More Resources from Genealogy Gems on Family History Travel Adventures:

Family History Travel with a Non-Genealogist Companion: Tips and Laughs on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 124 (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required to access; click here to learn more)

Look for Genealogy Records in a State Capital When You’re Traveling There

Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum

www.geneaogygems.comIf you want to take a genealogy travel adventure–or invite someone else to–please share this article with them! Just email a link or It’s easy, it’s free–and maybe you’ll pick up a travel companion! Happy travels!

 

U.S. Passport Applications for Genealogy: Find Immigrant and Traveling Ancestors

passport applicationsHave you ever thought to use passport applications for genealogy–to search for your immigrant or traveling ancestors?

Passports were issued in the U.S. beginning in the late 1700s, but weren’t required except during times of war until 1941. These records can be an excellent place to learn an immigrant’s date of arrival, the arrival ship and date of naturalization (if naturalized).

Two Quick Tips for Researching U.S. Passports for Genealogy

  • Passports expired every few years, so people reapplied. You may find multiple applications for those who traveled abroad more than once. Subsequent applications will refer back to a prior one.
  • In earlier years, look for married women and minor children in group passports issued under the name of the head of household.

Where to Find Passport Applications

Passports Genealogy

Resources

A Page of History: Passport Applications  by Phil Golfarb

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124 interview with author Phil Goldfarb on the history of passport applications and celebrity passport stories. Available to Genealogy Gems Premium members.

Family History Made Easy podcast for free, step-by-step beginner and back-to-basics genealogy education

Share BoldThanks for sharing this post with your genealogy buddies and on your local society social media channels.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 126 Features Family History Travel and More

premium podcast 126Genealogy Gems Premium members can now tune in to Premium podcast episode 126 on family history travel and more.

Have you ever tried to squeeze some family history into your family vacations? It’s not always easy to convince a spouse or the kids to make a teensy-weensy research stop or a pilgrimage to an old family cemetery, is it? In this episode, Lisa and Sunny reminisce and share hard-won advice and laughs about their adventures in bringing family history on the road with relatives. Lisa even made a video about the time she took her entire family to the Family History Library! Check it out.

In this episode Lisa also follows up on a hot new Ancestry database for those with U.S. roots: the Social Security Applications and Claims database. With more info than the SSDI on those original SS-5 applications, this database is a WINNER, and she shares success stories. Learn how to see your favorite friends and fan pages first in your Facebook feed and MORE in this great summer episode.

Genealogy Gems Premium MembershipPremium members on our site have access to this exclusive episode AND ALL previous Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episodes. (That’s 125 and counting!). They can also watch exclusive full-length video tutorials on Lisa’s most popular topics (like Evernote, Google and Google Earth, and organizing your computer files). To learn more about the benefits of Premium membership, click here.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124: Ancestry, Book Club Interview and More

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 124If there’s a theme for Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124, it’s travel! (Which works for us here in the U.S., where we are enjoying summer vacations.) Our ancestors sure traveled, and sometimes a paper trail followed them. In this episode you’ll hear Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s interview with Phil Goldfarb, author of two volumes on U.S. passport applications. More episode highlights include:

  • genealogy book club genealogy gemsThe exclusive Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of our featured title, The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist);
  • Another tip for photographing headstones on your trips to the cemetery, whether your own relatives’ or for sites like BillionGraves;
  • Follow-up tips on saving your data at Ancestry and navigating the remodeled Ancestry website;
  • An easy, inexpensive family history craft that would be perfect for a family reunion this summer.

liesHere’s a teaser from our conversation on passport applications: People lied on them, including those who became famous. Clara Barton lied about her age and Harry Houdini said he was born in the U.S., when he was actually born in Austria-Hungary. Also, passport applications can be an excellent place to learn an immigrant’s date of arrival in the U.S., the ship they arrived on and the court and date of naturalization.

Did you know that Genealogy Gems Premium members have access to our full archive of Premium podcast episodes, as well as hours’ worth of exclusive video tutorials on genealogy research skills, using online records and harnessing powerful technology tools like Google searching, Google Earth and Evernote for genealogy? Click here to learn more about Premium membership for yourself or for your genealogy society or library.

As always, our Genealogy Gems flagship podcast remains free, thanks to your support and purchases you make through the links we provide (like for the books we recommend on this page).

Google Alert to Remember Your Wallet? Yep, It’s Coming

Google patent to remember your walletIf you’ve read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, then you know that Google Alerts is an incredibly powerful tool for automating your online genealogy searches and finding things.

But l admit it, there are days when I just want to find my reading glasses (typically sitting on my head) or my car keys (I’ll never forget when my kids were toddlers and would hide them in the compartment under the seat of their Big Wheel!) Wouldn’t it be great if your smartphone issued you a Google Alert if you left your keys or eyeglasses behind when leaving the house? It’s a concept under development, based on a new Google patent recently posted on the U.S. Patents and Trademark website.

According to the patent, the device uses short-range wireless technologies to link your smartphone (and who would travel without their smartphone?!) with other commonly-needed items like your wallet, keys or glasses.

According to this article on VentureBeat, “The user can control the amount of distance between the mobile device and the paired object that must exist before an alarm goes off. They can also control the type of alarm, as well as how often the device checks to see if all paired objects remain nearby.”

VentureBeat further comments, “The patent is interesting because it shows Google trying to differentiate Android products by enabling them to directly address some of the little friction points in everyday life. Features such as these may not use cutting-edge technology, but they could sway a consumer to buy an Android product over an iOS product.”

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverSpeaking of patents….you can find out if your ancestor ever applied for a patent by searching Google Patents for his or her name! Google Patents is also a great place to learn more about the household items and inventions that shaped our relatives’ lives. You can learn more about using  Google Patents –and other fabulous and FREE Google tools you can use for family history–in the new, fully-revised 2nd edition of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 180 is Ready!

podcast logo 180The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 has been published!  Click here to enjoy an episode about big names, like Ancestry and Google and FamilySearch. And big numbers, like the possible price tag for Ancestry at auction, AND small numbers, like the small price of a new handheld computer.

In this episode, we’re also talking about researching on road trip tips, an important online Civil War database, a leading Canadian digital archive and EXCLUSIVE tips for using FamilySearch’s free digitized book collection, which now tops 200,000 titles. Because we’ve gotten so much demand for it, we’re also sharing tips for backing up your data at Ancestry–not just your tree but your sources and DNA, too.

Nathan Goodwin logoThis month we also feature a meaty excerpt from our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist). (Premium subscribers can catch the full interview in Premium episode 124, to be published soon.) He tells us how he got started. We talk about the plot and characters and the challenges of creating genealogical mysteries with dangerous consequences for the present and more!

Mixed in with all this news and how-tos is an assorted cast of listeners-with-questions and an inspiring story about long-lost siblings reunited by radio. Enjoy!

 

BillionGraves Challenge for June: Win a FitBit!

BillionGraves June challengeAfter a long winter in the U.S., it’s finally warming up! Just last week I did my first BillionGraves cemetery field trip of the season. So I’m pleased to see that they’re offering a BillionGraves challenge to those who take pictures or index:

“This month we are giving away Fitbit’s 5 cutting edge fitness monitoring devices to the top 5 photographers AND transcribers! Read the details on our blog HERE.

“It can’t be any better than doing your favorite thing- taking pictures of headstones and transcribing them, AND winning prizes! So take advantage of the rising temperatures to capture some headstone images at your local cemetery or get your transcribing game on.”

We’ve blogged about BillionGraves before: it’s a leading site for capturing cemetery headstones around the world. Their free app (for iPhone and Android) makes it easy to find a cemetery near you (wherever you are) that needs imaging; use your smart phone to take geo-tagged tombstone photos; transcribe any images you care to; and upload them to their site. (I always upload when I return home so my phone will upload images using my home’s wi-fi instead of charging me data.) But you can also participate in the challenge by indexing records already on their site, if cemetery visits aren’t your thing.

Got kids who are out of school and looking for something to do? Take them with you to image headstones. My kids don’t necessarily prefer this to going to the pool, but they’re game sometimes, especially if a stop at an ice cream stand is part of the deal. Here’s Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with BillionGraves staffer and tips for getting started: