Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!
“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch]. Where should you spend your time and money? While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource. If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites? I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy. Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?
Which paid sites do you regularly use? Which free sites do you use? Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day. It is really getting rather confusing.”
What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:
“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.
It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.
For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.
Our mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!
I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!” Lisa
Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that a little thing called “Life” can get in the way!
Getting back into genealogy can actually be a bit daunting. Where did you leave off? Where should you start back up?
If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this video, we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently get back on the trail of your ancestors.
Get your Genealogy Restart checklist in the Resources section.
And by the way, perhaps you haven’t taken a break, but you feel like you’ve gotten a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This process also works very nicely as a quick audit to help you get back on track.
How to Jump Back into Your Genealogy
Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that that little thing called life can get in the way.
In my case, my daughter got married earlier this year. There were plans to make, bridal shows to throw, and the wedding itself which meant planning a trip because it was a destination wedding. Needless to say, I didn’t work on family history for several months.
If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this article and companion video we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently gets back on the trail of your ancestors.
Even if you haven’t taken a break, you might be feeling a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This quick genealogy audit can help you get back on track too!
Genealogy Restart Checklist
I love a good to-do list where I can have the satisfaction of checking things off and knowing that at the end of it I have accomplished something. Some of the things on this list may not apply depending on how long your genealogy hiatus has been. If that’s the case you get to check them off right away!
Step 1: Find Out Where You Left Off in Your Research
Do you remember where you left off the last time you were researching your family tree? If not, your search history is a great place to start. For example, if you used the popular genealogy website Ancestry.com you can pull up your past search history.
How to find your search history at Ancestry.com
At the Ancestry® home page you will see a box at the top that highlights the recently modified items in your family tree. According to one source at Ancestry.com, this “shows a list of last modified nodes in the tree. For a shared tree – any user who has access to the hint can modify the nodes and it will show up in that list. It (also) shows a hint leaf for the nodes that have at least one undecided hint.”
This could be a place to start, but I recommend reviewing Your Recent Searches if you want to pick up where you left off.
You’ll find your search history in the menu under Search. Click All Collections. Toward the top of the All Collections page you’ll see Your Recent Searches. It’s just above the map. You’ll see a few buttons listed for the most recent names you searched. Next, click the View All button to get a more comprehensive view of your activity history, starting with the most recent activity.
On the Recent Activity page, you’ll see the names you searched for and the details you included such as a place and time frame. Ancestry also tells you the date you ran the search.
Recent Search History page at Ancestry®
If you see searches in the list that you don’t need anymore, click the trash can button to delete them.
Notice over on the left that you are viewing Recent Searches, but you do have other options:
All Recent (activity)
Viewed Content (records you’ve viewed)
Viewed Collections (record collections you accessed)
All Recent provides the best overall picture of your past search history. This is a great tool for jogging your memory and helping you decide where to pick back up.
Review your activity history in your genealogy software.
You can also review your most recently activity in your genealogy database software.
In RootsMagic for example, in the menu go to Search > History or click the History tab at the top of the side bar on the left side of the screen.
Step 2: Identify Gaps that Need to be Filled
Many people enjoy focusing their research on their direct ancestors (grandparents, great grandparents, etc.) While you may have traced back many generations, you may have missed a few things along the way. This is a good time to start with yourself and work backwards through the direct ancestors in your family tree. Look for gaps in your timelines and information, and then start back up by researching to fill them in. Of course, you can also do with any relative that you want to learn more about.
Once you’ve identified the person you want to work on, create a research plan. If you’ve never created a research plan before, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You create and track it on paper, a spreadsheet or any number of notetaking programs. The important thing is that you identify:
your specific research question,
the records you think you’ll need to answer it
the locations where you think those records may be housed.
Step 3: Prepare for Genealogy Research Success Going Forward:
Since you’re picking your genealogy back up, this is the perfect time to check to make sure you’re set up for success going forward. These remaining items will help ensure that your new discoveries will be well-documented, organized, and protected from loss.
Genealogy software database
If you already have genealogy database software, open it up and see if there’s a newer version available. Look for Check for Updates in the menu.
If you don’t have a genealogy database software program on your computer, go get one now! We’re talking about a software program that you install on your computer. It’s a database specifically designed to record all the information you find. It keeps it organized and searchable, allows for source citations, photos, links, and more. It also gives you tremendous flexibility in running reports. This is something with which an online tree can’t compete. And most importantly all your data resides on your computer hard drive. This means it’s completely within your control and not subject to a paid subscription, or problems with a website such as the site being closed or sold off. The tree you build can be synced to an online tree if you wish to do so. Back in the old days (early 2000s) a database on your computer was the only option, and it remains your best option today.
Genealogy software is typically very affordable. You can even download Family Tree Builder at MyHeritage for free. If you’re willing to invest a few dollars there are several excellent programs to choose from such as RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, etc. I use RootsMagic but all of these programs have been around a long time and are great. The one you pick really depends which user interface you like, and to what extent you may want to sync your tree online.
If you don’t have a cloud backup program running on your computer, now is the time to get one. What’s the point of restarting your genealogy research if you’re going to risk losing everything if your computer is damaged or stolen? I’ve used Backblaze for years because it’s reliable, affordable, has an app, and automatically backs up all my files including video. There are several out there to choose from. The important thing is to pick one and get it installed on your computer. It will run automatically in the background, giving you peace of mind that your files are backed up offsite on the cloud in a secure location.
Status of Genealogy Website Subscriptions
Now that you have the tools you need to restart your genealogy research, it’s time to check genealogy websites. Did you have subscriptions to some of the popular genealogy websites like MyHeritage or Ancestry? Log in and go to your account to see if they are still active, and if they are, when they are set to renew. This will help you decide where to spend your time first. Start with the subscription that is up for renewal first. Then you can determine if you want to allow it to renew or cancel and try another genealogy website subscription to round out your research.
If you don’t have any current subscriptions, consider focusing first on familysearch, the largest free genealogy website. Then, depending on your research goals, you can select the paid subscription(s) that will support your research plan.
A Paper Filing System
While we don’t generate as much paper these days as we used to, some paper is inevitable. Don’t add to the paper clutter. If you don’t have a paper filing system in place, take a moment and set one up. Pick a filing system and stick to it. Then as you start your genealogy research you’ll always have a place to put things.
Filing Digital Content
The same goes for digital files as goes for paper files. Don’t jump back into your research without a filing system in place. It’s important to download the digital records you find so that you have access to them even when your subscriptions run out. Avoid a messy computer and commit to a digital filing system and filing name convention.
Were you citing your sources consistently when you last worked on your family history research? If not, STOP EVERYTHING and watch my video Source Citations for Genealogy. Citing your sources will save you headache down the road. You may discover that a previous conclusion was incorrect, and you’ll want to review the source where you got that information. A downloaded record usually doesn’t include specific details as to where you go it. Going forward, as you download records and add the details into your database be sure to also add the source citation.
With this in mind, familiarize yourself with the source citation tool in your genealogy program. If it looks daunting, don’t panic. Head to the menu and click Help, and then search for source citation. There you’ll find the instructions you need to once and for all get a handle on how to cite sources in your software.
Now’s the Time to Restart Your Genealogy
Don’t let the passing of time stop you from getting back into your favorite hobby. By following this checklist you will quickly get back into goal-oriented research and exciting discoveries about your family.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes
Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
How to Find Free Genealogy Resources
In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”
The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:
If the materials are available at a more convenient location
If the materials are available somewhere online for free
The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.
The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.
New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.
The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.
The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy
Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.
Here’s our path of least resistance:
Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.
The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.
Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:
Log in with your free FamilySearch account
navigate to the desired page
click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Look for the Watchlist link, and the blue buttons that lead to free online genealogy records for that location.
Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.
You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.
Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.
Google Alerts do the work of searching for free genealogy for you.
How to Create a Google Alert:
Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
Go to www.google.com/alerts
Sign into your free Google account
Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
Select how often you wish to receive alerts
Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
Click the Create Alert button
Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available
Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.
17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.
Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:
Run your search
Click an item
Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
The library closest to you will be listed at the top
Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like DownloadableArticle. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.
To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria. (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags.
To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to https://tinyurl.com/FMPLisa.
(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)
Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy
A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.
This Site search tip comes from Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox.
Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:
you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.
Here’s an example of a Site search:
Free Pennsylvania site:ancestry.com
Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.
Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.
Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information
To find what’s local and free:
Search WorldCat.org (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
Use Google to search.
Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.
When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:
Databases they offer
Their online catalog to plan your research
Other associated libraries
Details on planning a visit
Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook
Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook.
English parish records top this week’s list of new online genealogy records. More new or updated family history collections: British newspapers, pensions and India records; records for Brazil, Germany, The Netherlands, Peru, and Poland; UK images and deaths; US...