Family History Software for Mac: Recommendations from You

Are you a Mac genealogist? Check out these family history software for Mac recommendations sent in by Genealogy Gems listeners.

Recently we’ve been talking about the importance of keeping your master family tree in family tree software on your computer, especially in the wake of Ancestry’s announcement that they’re retiring Family Tree Maker software. Lisa has given lots of suggestions, including RootsMagic 7 for Mac, but YOU have also sent in these comments for Mac-compatible family history software.

1. MacFamilyTree 5

“On your list of software to replace Family Tree Maker for the Mac, you should take a look at MacFamilyTree 5
. The support is fast and fabulous. The graphics on screen and in print look up-to-date and easy to read.

As someone who has been using The Master Genealogist, I had to start looking for a replacement before the FTM users. My only complaint with MacFamilyTree is that you can’t attach sources to particular items of information as I can in TMG, but you can’t in any of the other genealogy software either. I miss being able to indicate that a source for the birth had the full date but only the state for the place, for example. So I haven’t given up on TMG yet because I don’t want to lose information as I migrate my data.” -Diana

2. Reunion 11

“I have received and read your website for some time, and have found many helpful ideas and comments.  Your last edition (Family Tree Maker discontinued) was indeed interesting, and verified how on top of things you are—thank you.

You suggested alternatives to Family Tree Maker…RootsMagic, MyHeritage, and Backblaze. (Editor’s note: Backblaze is Cloud backup for your computer, not genealogy software). While all three programs are available with versions that will work on Macs, in all fairness to Mac users, I suggest that you include (at least mention) that a great alternative for Mac is: Reunion 11 by Leister Productions.  I have used this software since their beginning, and find it world-class for the Macintosh.  They also have a method for moving your tree from Family Tree Maker to Reunion.” -Bill

More Family History Software for Mac

Thanks to Mac Users Diana and Bill for their recommendations. Here’s a great article from Family Tree Magazine outlining more options for genealogy software for the Mac.

More Inspiration from Genealogy Gems Like You

We love hearing from Genealogy Gems listeners and readers! Check out these posts from my “Mailbox.”



12 Strategies for Finding Maiden Names of Female Ancestors

Show Notes: Finding female ancestors poses unique challenges that can throw roadblocks in your way. And the reason for that is simple. The women in our family tree assume the surname of their husbands when they marry. In genealogy, we’re researching backward through time, and that means we encounter a woman’s married surname first. However, it’s critical that we eventually locate the records that mention the woman’s maiden name so that we can find her parents and continue to climb her family tree. Professional genealogist Shelley Bishop has come to the rescue in her new Family Tree Magazine article. It’s called Ladies in Waiting. In that article, she covers 12 resources for discovering maiden names.

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Show Notes

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Lisa: Hi, Shelly.

Shelley: Hi, Lisa, thank you for having me.

Lisa: This is a great article. I think it’s going to help many people bust through the maiden name roadblock. And it really is a kind of roadblock, isn’t it?

Shelley: It really can be a real challenge. Whether you’ve done a little bit of genealogy or a lot of research, it can definitely be a stumbling block for you.

12 Places to Look for Maiden Names

Lisa: Well, I love that you’ve got 12 places for us to look for maiden names. Take us to the first location. What’s your first resource for finding maiden names?

Strategy #1: Marriage Records

Shelley: The first thing you’re going to probably want to do is see if you can find a marriage record. I think that’s probably the natural place to begin. Marriage records don’t exist for all times and all places. So, as you go back further in time, you may find that there aren’t really marriage records. But if there are, that is going to definitely be the first place you want to look.

Most marriage records could have been created at the local level. More recent ones can often be found at the state level. And they will usually say the woman’s maiden name. And there can be other clues if it doesn’t state it.

Strategy #2: Family Records

Lisa: That’s a great point. And closely related to that is family records, right?  These are records collected over the years. You might even find them in your own drawers and around your house.

Shelley: Absolutely. Family sources can be amazing. You might find mention of a woman in a diary or letters. Letters might expose relationships and names that you weren’t aware of, or places that you weren’t aware of.

It’s also important to talk to some family members who might know a little more or who might have some of these family materials and keepsakes that you could look at. Ask them if they’d be willing to talk with you and maybe you can copy some of their things. That’s a great way to get started.

Strategy #3: Church Records

Lisa: So, you’ve got the family sources, and the civil marriage records. What about religious records? I think you had that as number three.

Shelley: I did, yes. When there isn’t a record of a civil record of a marriage, there could still be a religious record of a marriage. Check church records. See what church records existed for that time and place and determine where they might be held. That can change over time. There’s a lot of different places.

You might look at the baptism records of children, because those will often state the mother’s maiden name. Again, these are church records. So, there’s a variety of church records that can help you.

Lisa: And church records often go a lot farther back than the civil records, don’t they?

Shelley: Definitely, if you’re lucky, they can go quite far back.

In the Pioneer days, sometimes a traveling preacher would keep his or her own records, and some of those little journals have been discovered and published. So, you can even find those!

Strategy #4: Children’s Vital Records

Now you have your children’s vital records as number four. What are we looking for there?

Shelley: Yes, children’s vital records can be great. We’re looking for birth records of children to see if they exist. The marriage records of children sometimes will state the mother’s maiden name, which is a real find. And the death records of a child may also state the maiden name. Those things are really worth checking out.

Be sure to look for records of all of the woman’s children, not just the one that you’re descended from. You want to look at all of the children that she had, even if they are by a different husband, because you just never know what you might find there. And if she had a child who died young, which is a sad situation, that record may give the mother’s maiden name.

You mentioned looking at all the different children. I know for me and some of my families, I find that different children, whether they were born earlier or later in the woman’s life, sometimes that surname kind of looks a little different on some of those. The reason to look at all of them is the possible variations in the spelling of the surname. Sometimes the children weren’t exactly sure how this surname was pronounced or spelled. They just knew it was sort of like something so you will get variations. When you find those, just compare them between the different records and be generous in your search and try different variations when you’re conducting searches.

Lisa: Yeah, I know, even with my grandmother, she would say Mickolowski with an M, but it was actually Nikolowski with an N. So, checking everyone else’s records really helps find which is the most regularly used spelling.

Strategy #5: Death Records

Shelley: The fifth resource would be death records. And that would be both the death record of the woman herself, of course, but also, death records of the children, and death records of her husband or husbands. They could provide her maiden name.

And you might find someone else who is associated with her. I can’t overstate the importance of doing whole family research, because women relied on other people in their lives. They relied on men, especially. So that could be her brothers-in-law, her husband(s), her father while he was alive, and so forth. Those death records are something you’re going to want to explore for everybody that you think she might have been associated with, or that might have been related to her.

Lisa: That’s a great point. What you’re describing is cluster research.

When we get to the point of finding her death record, that’s a much later record. She’s not standing right there making sure the name gets written down correctly. So, if we can find earlier death records of associated people, they might be more accurate.

Shelley: Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately, a lot of times, especially if a woman lived to enjoy ripe old age, they didn’t even know her maiden name! You’ll find unknown written on the line where it should be.

Lisa: Exactly, and that’s why this article is great. You’re going to help us get past the unknown.

Strategy #6: Cemetery Sources

I see that number six is cemetery sources.

Shelley: Yes. Gravestones don’t give you a whole lot of information, just usually dates. But I find that you can even find cemetery records about who purchased the family plots, where she’s buried and who she is she buried with. You can get great clues from seeing who is buried with a woman. It might be her parents or others with her maiden name. And sometimes, that’s not apparent when you’re just looking at a single gravestone record online.

So, if you can, I always recommend trying to go to the cemetery in person. See how those graves are positioned and see who she’s buried with.

You might also find a published transcription that’s been done by a society where the graves have not been put in alphabetical order. They’ve just been put in the order in which they were encountered when they were read. That can also be another source of clues. So, you can sometimes find a young child who’s buried with his or her maternal grandparents. I had a big breakthrough that way, and that was the source of the maiden name. I knew this couple had a child. Unfortunately, she died young. She was buried with her mother’s parents.

Lisa: Gosh, it’s amazing how many different ways you can stumble into things like that.

Strategy #7: Census Records

For number seven you have census records.

Shelley: Census records can help in a lot of ways. Especially if the woman is widowed. Later in life, she might be living with an adult son or adult daughter in the home of a son-in-law. That is a great way to find somebody. If you find a woman living in old age in with a man whose name you don’t recognize, and then some another person that could be a daughter, that’s really worth investigating.

Likewise, if the woman herself died young, her children may have been taken in by her parents or her sister or someone like that. You may find if she died at age 36, you may find her children living with her parents in another census record.

Lisa: I’ve even seen by looking through the census records – and you were talking about the cluster research of looking at all the different family members – seeing a name of a child, either in her family or her sister’s family. And that name really sounds like a surname. That could be a mother’s maiden name being used as the child’s first name.

Shelley: Yes, that does happen. Maiden names were used as first names. That was a pretty popular practice in some areas. It can be a clue to the mother’s maiden name. It can also be a clue, believe it or not, to the grandmother’s maiden name. Sometimes they would take it back a generation farther. I had someone named Greenman as a first name. Well, that’s a surname, right? So, I had to get work back to find the Greenmen. And it ended up being, two generations back, a surname.

Strategy #8: Newspapers

Lisa: One of my favorite record sources is newspapers, and you have that as #8 in good places to find maiden names.

Shelley: Oh, my gosh, that is a fantastic place! Again, depending on the time period and the locality that you work in, you’ll want to look for marriages and announcements, which can vary anywhere from just a short little social note to long, elaborate marriage announcements. Those will almost always say the full name of the bride.

You can also look for Golden Anniversary announcements. If they’ve been married a long time and had a 50th anniversary, a lot of times, they’ll give a whole rundown of when and where they married and their parents. Sometimes they’ll even name their parents. And they’ll talk about people who attended the anniversary party, which could be her siblings with the maiden name.

And the other things are social notices.  If they went out of town to visit relatives with the maiden name or something like that, you might find that.

And of course, there are obituaries. It may include not only of the woman and her husband, but also their children. Anyone mentioned that you think might have been related is worth looking into.

And I know you’ve done a lot of work on newspapers. Your book is a great guide to using newspapers.

Lisa: I just love them. And like you said, there’s so many different types of articles that can have that information.  What’s number nine?

Strategy #9: Published Sources

Shelley: Number nine is published sources. Those would include things like old county and town histories where they might talk about the early settlers of a region, and the first members of the early churches. A lot of times you’ll find women’s names in there. You’ll also sometimes find a biographical sketch could be of her husband, her son or her grandson, and that could be in a far distant city and state than where she lived.

Published family histories are another place to look. A lot of times they will give the maiden names of women who married into the family.

You also have online family trees, which have to be taken with a little grain of salt because they’re not always as well documented as we’d like them to be. We have to be kind of careful about just accepting what they say. But that’s true for all published resources. We also have to verify that information. You will definitely want to do additional research to either confirm or refute the information.

Lisa: Very good point. Number 10 is court records.

Strategy #10: Court Records

Shelley: A woman’s status when she was married historically, she was a feme covert. She was literally covered by her husband’s care. And she could not make any court decisions or any financial arrangements, or anything like that, in her own name. Her husband was in charge of all of that for her.

When she was widowed, then she could take care of her own affairs. So, you might want to look at estate records of her possible father, and those will usually name both her husband and her in these estate records. Did they receive property? Were they named in a will? And so forth, like that. You will often see a woman named with her husband in estate records. 

Guardianship records could have been created if the woman died while her children were still young. Guardianship was done to protect the property of the children against other people who might come later and try to claim that property, including a woman’s future husbands.

Divorce records may be found if the woman got divorced. You will often find her maiden name there because they will go back to the original marriage.

Strategy #11: Deeds

Lisa: Number 11 is Deeds. We can find maiden names in deeds?

Shelley: You can occasionally find maiden names and deeds. And sometimes if you can’t find the maiden name, at least you can find good clues there.

Again, if her she had a father or widowed mother who died and left property, sometimes there’s not a will. And sometimes there’s not a probate or an estate file. In that case, you want to check the deeds, because if they own property, it might have just passed down to the children without going through the courts. And if that’s the case, then the children had to decide how to divide up the property or they had to liquidate it. And so often, some of them would sell their shares to another one. Or they might also sell their shares to a third party. So, you want to look in the deeds, and these are called Quitclaim deeds, because the person is quitting, basically giving up their claim to their fair share of the property. So, if you find a deed that has that word, Quitclaim in it, that’s a good indication that that there are other people who are invested in that property, who also have interest in it. You might be able then to find those people and find out how they’re related. And then, who owned the property that they are now dealing with.

Lisa: Terrific strategies! There are so many different creative ways to deal with this problem of trying to find maiden names.

Strategy #12: Military Pension Records

And the last one is one I would imagine a lot of people haven’t thought of, but I agree with you. I think it’s a great resource. Number 12 is military pension records.

Shelley: So, if your mystery woman was married to someone who served in the Revolutionary War, war of 1812, or the Civil War, you want to check to see if either the soldier or his widow applied for a pension after the fact. Those pension records can be a goldmine! You can learn so much from them. They’re really interesting to read!

There are indexes to those, and I talk about where to find those in the article. And you can look for them. You can order the entire file from the National Archives, or sometimes those files now have been digitized. Look through them and see what you can find. In some cases, they will lay out exactly the woman’s maiden name, when she was married, the names of her children and their ages.

Lisa: Well, we have really learned a lot from you.  Shelley, I think you’ve kind of smashed the idea that we just have to be stuck by not knowing a woman’s maiden name. There are so many other places to go and look. And with a little bit of diligent effort, I think we have a really good chance of success.

About Genealogist Shelley Bishop

We’ve been talking about Shelley’s 12 strategies for finding maiden names. She goes into all of this in detail in her article called Ladies in Waiting in the March / April 2023 issue of Family Tree Magazine. And you can find Shelly Bishop at Buckeye family It’s been so fun to catch up with you and talk about this topic. Thank you, Shelly!

Shelley: Thank you, Lisa. I really appreciate you having me. And I just want to tell everybody, keep at it keep, keep searching. Best of luck with finding those maiden names!


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Genealogy Gems Book Club: Q & A with Genealogist Nathan Dylan Goodwin, Author of The Sterling Affair

After a long day of genealogical research, what could be more satisfying than curling up with a good book about genealogical research?! Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s new book The Sterling Affair promises a satisfying return journey into the life of forensic genealogist Morton Farrier. 

(This article includes affiliate links. If you decide to pick up a copy of this book, using our links for which we will be compensated by the book seller helps support our ability to bring author Q&A’s like this to your screen. Thank you!)

Click here to purchase your copy of The Sterling Affair

Genealogy Gems The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. Click image to order your copy.

The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Goodwin sets the scene of his new book as follows:

“When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother.

Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state.”

A Conversation with Author Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Don’t worry, we won’t be spoiling the exciting read you have ahead of you. Today I will be chatting with Nathan about his life as an author, his writing process, and how the main character, Morton Farrier, almost didn’t make it past the first book!

Lisa Louise Cooke: The Sterling Affair is your eighth novel in the Morton Farrier genealogical crime mystery series. When you first began writing the series did you imagine an eighth book?  And today can you imagine even more?

Nathan: I literally had no concept that there would be so many books in the series! At first, it was written as a one-off, then I started to have ideas for two or three more.

I think when I wrote book three, The Orange Lilies, I knew that the series had plenty more scope, especially as DNA-testing was just beginning for genealogists, opening up a whole new world of potential storylines! As to the future of the series, I’m currently plotting books nine and ten. I don’t see an end to the series just yet!

The Sterling Affair - a genealogical crime mystery

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Lisa Louise Cooke: I heard you speak at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in 2019. In that presentation you told the audience that you almost killed off Morton at the end of the first book. I imagine you’re glad now that he survived. What exactly happened back then? 

Nathan: Killing Morton would have been the most stupid thing I could have done!

I started writing Hiding the Past (the first book in the series) as part of my studies for a Master’s Degree in creative writing and I think I’d been reading a novel at the time, which went along the lines of ‘if you’re reading this then I’m dead’. I thought this angle might work for the first draft of my story but thankfully, as the book progressed, I was able to see several plotlines, which could continue into further stories.

I knew from the outset that I wanted the main character, Morton Farrier, to have been adopted and be totally unaware of his biological family, so there was plenty of scope there to continue that subplot in future books.

Lisa Louise Cooke: How has the advent of DNA testing changed the course of your writing?

Nathan: DNA-testing has completely changed the course of my writing—in a good way, I like to think! There are now so many more possibilities for Morton to solve his cases in different ways.

Morton took an Ancestry DNA test back in 2014 when it had not yet even become possible in the UK. He did what I had to do, which was to order one in the US and have a friend ship it over, then post it back to the US for testing and analysis!

From that point onwards, DNA has played an ever-increasing role in helping Morton to solve his cases. In the most recent book, The Sterling Affair, Morton uses a variety of real tools and websites which are familiar to genealogists.

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you start a book like The Sterling Affair, do you already have it well mapped out, or are there surprises even for you along the way as to the path it will take?

Nathan: I usually spend at least three months conducting research for the books. This involves reading, visiting record offices, libraries, churches, etc. Basically, anything which Morton does in the book, I do first.


Novel Research - photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

At the point when I actually start writing I probably have about 60% of the storyline mapped out. It’s a big cliché to say so, but for me the characters really do come to life and do things which I hadn’t anticipated. For the first few books I found it a little unnerving to be starting to write something that I didn’t know pretty well 100% what was going to happen, but now I trust myself and I know I’ll get to the end if I let the characters lead the way!

Lisa Louise Cooke: Where do you get your inspiration for the story lines in your books? 

Nathan: My ideas come from a variety of sources, but never by actively searching for the next story; I just seem to stumble on a nugget of an idea, which I think could make for an interesting genealogical crime mystery and make a note of it! It can be a news story involving history or genealogy in some way, something I’ve picked up from a family history publication, or a Facebook group where people share their own genealogical mysteries.

Increasingly, the books have more real-life characters, plotlines and locations. For example, The Spyglass File, which is set on the frontline of Kent during the Battle of Britain, was loosely based on my grandmother’s story, whereby she gave birth to an illegitimate child in 1943, whom she put up for adoption whilst my grandfather was a POW in Thailand.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin Genealogy Gems Podcast

Nathan’s Grandmother – Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

The Sterling Affair is based on nefarious goings-on during the 1950s and involves real undercover MI6 operations and real spies. The idea for this story came from the National Archives newsletter, which mentioned the release of some previously closed MI6 records. This got me thinking about someone trying to conceal their real identity and Morton having to use his skills to work out who he might be! 

Lisa Louise Cooke: For those new to your books, they will see that this is the eighth novel in the series and wonder if it’s too late to join in. Can the book be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel? 

Nathan: I always say that the books can be read as a stand-alone, but you would be missing out on Morton’s backstory. However, with The Sterling Affair there is not too much given away about his own past, so, of all of the stories, this is the most readable out of sequence!

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you’re not writing about Morton Farrier, what is your favorite way to spend free time? 

Nathan: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘free time’!? Obviously, I spend a lot of time on genealogy. I’ve been researching my own family for thirty years now and I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my two loves of writing and genealogy. Aside from that, I enjoy reading, running, skiing, theatre and spending time with my family, friends and dog.

Lisa Louise Cooke: You’re a man of many talents. Do you have other “wishlist” projects you yearn to do in addition to writing?

Nathan: I enjoy photography and would like to develop that at some point in the future and I really would like to take a watercolour painting class at some point. I just need some of that free time you mentioned!

Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

A man of many talents – Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Lisa Louise Cooke: I’ll be at RootsTech again this year. Will we see you there?

Nathan: I shall have a booth at RootsTech SLC this year signing books and also at THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham once again. So people can come and say hello and let me know what they think of my stories. I love chatting with my readers!

Hear More from Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Read and hear more from genealogical author Nathan Dylan Goodwin in the following exclusive Genealogy Gems content:

  1. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 features an Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
  2. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 179 features a discussion of The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin.
  3. Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Genealogy Gems Book Club – In this article from 2015 Nathan discusses the second book in the Morton Farrier series, The Lost Ancestor. 
  4. Listen to the full-length Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, as he discusses The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.)
  5. Listen to our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his The Wicked Trade and The Suffragette’s Secret in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 159 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

Catch up on the Morton Farrier

Learn more about the entire book series featuring Morton Farrier here in this Genealogy Gems Book Club article. 

Why I’m Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

I’m on my computer a lot for genealogy, communication, shopping, entertainment and pretty much everything else!

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

I’m also concerned about my privacy and security online. Chances are you are too. VPNs add an important layer or online protection and are one of the hottest tech trends right now. I receive a lot of questions about what tech tools I use, so in this episode I’ll explain:
  • why I’m using a VPN (don’t worry, you don’t need to be techy at all to use a VPN!)
  • what I looked for in a VPN
  • how I set it up (oh my gosh, it was so easy!)
  • how it protects my online activity
  • the surprising BONUS benefits that I love and you will too.
My goal is to help you find your family history safely and privately. I took a deep dive into VPNs and I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned so you can do it yourself.
Click the play button below to watch or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.

Episode 56 Show Notes

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a top tech trend right now, although their origins can be traced back to the 1990s.

According to the top tech blogs VPNs usage in the U.S. jumped by 41% between March 13 and March 23, 2021 and is expected to continue to surge. Today I’m going to explain what that is, and the top reasons why I use a VPN and why you might want to start using one too.

What Does a VPN Do?

Sending data over an unencrypted internet connection is like mailing a postcard. Your message is wide open for the mailman and any other nosy people to see.

Whenever you’re connected to an unencrypted internet network on your phone, computer, tablet, TV, etc., you’re sending countless pieces of information out into the digital world that can be seen and intercepted by many different parties before they get to their intended destinations.

While not every message and piece of data I send out over the internet is sensitive (such as banking information) I like knowing that my activity is private. It’s a lot like why we always protect the identity of living people in our family tree. It’s always best to err on the side of privacy and security when working online.

A VPN creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet. In other words, it puts an envelope around your postcard so that no one can sneak a peek at your private correspondence. That way none of your data going in and out of your devices can be seen – not the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or even by the VPN.

The best VPNS also don’t create or keep activity logs or connection logs. This means if they are asked by government or law enforcement to hand them over, there’s nothing to hand over.

Since every device has a unique IP address, your device can be traced back to you. However, when you use a VPN, your connection gets routed through one of thousands of servers, hiding your real IP address and replacing it with one of their own. This allows you to browse the web anonymously.

Top Reasons I Decided to Use a VPN

There’s no one way to make everything you do completely private. But a VPN does add a nice layer plus some great added benefits. I’ve been thinking about doing something more for a long time, and then my brother-in-law who worked for years for one of the largest tech companies in the world told me he set up a VPN and that I should too. I did my own homework, and here are the top reasons why I use a VPN:

1. I want to be able to use public Wi-Fi safely

Libraries, archives, traveling to speaking engagements, visiting ancestral locations, vacation. Public Wi-Fi is often provided and it’s really convenient, plus I don’t have to use my phone as a hot spot which uses up cellular data not to mention battery. Your favorite coffee shop could be a favorite spot for hackers who steal personal information. And you can even get hacked on your own home Wi-Fi. With only basic computer knowledge, the hacker could gain access to your passwords, financial details, or even your emails!

Any time you’re on public Wi-Fi a VPN hides your IP address encrypts your internet connection using encryption.

2. I want my privacy and don’t want to be tracked by my ISP

Your internet service provider (known as an ISP) can see everything you do.

In the US, ISPs can legally sell your data to ad companies.

In the UK and Australian ISPs are required to keep logs of the websites you visit, the apps you use for around a year.

Governments, large corporations, and websites potentially surveil your activity regularly to harvest your data for their own agendas.

A VPN makes your online activity private and secure with tunneling and encryption. Your messages go through a tunnel of sorts so others, including your ISP, can’t see where you’re located, or that the data is from you. It also applied encryption (AEs-256 is what you’re looking for in encryption) so that your message is essentially locked by you and the service delivering the data for you doesn’t have the key. Only the recipient does (such as the website you’re trying to communicate with.)

But you may be wondering, isn’t your activity safe because you only visit secure “HTTPS” websites?

In an interview with Dan Pomerantz, Co-Founder of ExpressVPN explains it this way: “Many of those companies know your identity, and they might store and resell those data about you without your knowledge or approval. Why is that the case even when you use https? Because technologies called DNS and SNI transmit those data in plain text, and because the pipe operators can still see the destination of your traffic.”

3. I want the best deals when online shopping

Many websites offer deals based on your location. Countless times I’ve been shopping for airlines tickets and watched the price go up each time I checked the price. It’s an effort to get me to buy before the price goes up more. The website can do this because it knows who I am and my location.

Have you noticed more and more websites asking you to allow them to know your location? You can click “Don’t allow” but if you’re not using a VPN you can’t be sure they don’t know who and where you are. Using a VPN means you’re accessing their website through that tunnel which hides your location, opening up opportunities for deals you might not have gotten otherwise.

A VPN allows you to select from servers in different location to be your “location”. So, I may live in Texas but my internet traffic might be by way of London. And by going through the “tunnel” the website doesn’t know it’s me. This gives me more flexibility to shop for the best deals.

Will a VPN slow my connection speed?

I was a little worried about a VPN slowing down my connection speed. But I’ve not found that at all, and in fact if your ISP is throttling your speed, which many do, it can actually speed up your connection because again your ISP can’t tell where you’re located. Connecting to a server closer to your location increases the speed, and switching servers is super easy in the app. Smart location will automatically pick the best server to you too.

What to Look for in a VPN

  • Lots of global servers – The VPN I chose has 3,000+ servers in 160 VPN server locations in 94 countries.
  • High speed
  • Best encryption – Look for AES-256 encryption
  • Usable on all your devices – If you’re like me, you have multiple devices and a variety of platforms. I have Windows computer, iOS mobile devices and a smart TV. ExpressVPN has super easy-to-use apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as platforms that other VPN companies don’t support, like Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and routers.
  • 24/7 customer support – Look for live chat with a real person.
  • Ease of use – You should be able to fire up the app and connect with just one click. And it should be super easy to change servers.
  • Privacy / No activity logs – They should have a transparent privacy policy and state out right they don’t create or store logs.
  • Trusted as Secure – Look for high start ratings from a large number of users. It should also be highly-ranked by trusted tech review sites.
  • Affordable – It’s normally $12.95 a month, but I’ve arranged with ExpressVPN to get my viewers and listeners 3 extra free months with the 12 month plan. Comes out to just over $8.00 a month plus the first 3 months free.
  • Money-back guarantee – ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so there was no risk in trying it.

The VPN I Chose

There are tons of VPNs out there but it’s important to know they don’t all offer the same features, especially the free ones. (My theory is that nothings ever really free particularly when it comes to security.) After doing my homework I decided to use ExpressVPN. It’s top-rated and has all the features I was looking for. I’ve been using it for a while now and I’m really happy with it. It’s super easy to use. So I reached out to ExpressVPN and they’ve agreed to extend a special offer to us. This is an affiliate link so I’ll receive compensation when you use my link. That helps make this free show possible, so thank you! Plus you’re going to save money.

Special Deal for Genealogy Gems Viewers:
Get 3 extra free months with the discounted 12-month plan.
Comes out to just over $8.00 a month (+ 3 months free) Gosh, I feel like I would have spent more than that just to gain access to the additional shows it gives me access to with ExpressVPN. Keep reading below to learn more about that. ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee so there’s no risk to try it.

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

Rated #1 by CNET, The Verge, Wired, TechRadar, & many more! Learn more about their approach to security at the ExpressVPN Trust Center. (Includes Network Lock which protects you if there’s an interruption in your internet connection.)

BONUS Reason #4: Access to regionally specific online content.

And speaking of being able to access the internet through any global server, this allows you to access regionally specific content. Did you know that many websites or apps are blocked or restricted depending on where you are located?

I discovered this while on the road for some genealogy speaking engagements. I was keynoting in London several years ago, and at the end of the day in my hotel room I sat down to watch my favorite show on Netflix. But when I logged in it said that I was not allowed to watch the show in England. My iPad was telling the internet provider that I was in London, and the ISP told Netflix. Had I had a VPN at that time, I could have rerouted my server connection through England and binged watched as many episodes as I pleased.

So is this helpful even if you aren’t traveling right now? You bet it is!

Remember when the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are? came out. We were going crazy over here in the U.S. because we would go to the website to watch it only to get an access denied message. It said you had to be in the UK to use the BBC iPlayer. A VPN allows you to switch locations and enjoy the show.

This is true of subscriptions like Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, ITV, Sky Go, and more.

You’ll also find that various subscription services offer different content based on your ISP location. By switching locations you can get access to shows not available in your home country with the same subscription.

My experience specifically with Amazon:

  • It may tell you to turn off your VPN. Try a different server. Thanks to the ExpressVPN live chat I found a server that allowed me to stream on Amazon.
  • Amazon restricts your access by your billing address.
  • Servers that let me access Amazon videos were San Francisco, Jersey 1, and Jersey 2. 

How I Set Up ExpressVPN

Start on your computer by getting your subscription.

  • Can be used on 5 devices.
  • Download the app from the website to your computer.
  • Install the ExpressVPN extension on your web browser (Chrome, Firefox)

More about Web Browser Settings:

Spoof Your Location
When you visit a website and it wants to know your location, it asks because it’s not getting that information based on your IP address. It’s based on nearby Wi-Fi networks, your systems location settings, or your device’s GPS. This means in that situation your location can still be potentially revealed via your web browser. If you decline the request for your location, you might find that some websites or content will be blocked for you. The Spoof Your Location feature helps solve the problem. When you’re connected and it’s turned on, the extension hides your location by automatically sharing the ExpressVPN server location instead.

Block WebRTC
WebRTC is an HTML5 specification designed to enable voices and video communication to work inside web pages without needing to install any special plugins in your web browser. (Examples include Google Meet, Facebook Messenger and GotoMeeting.) In some situations, Web RTC could potentially leak your IP address even while connected to a VPN. Block WebRTC allows you to block it entirely.

HTTPS Everywhere
Automatically makes websites switch from HTTP to a secure encrypted HTTPS connection where available.

How to Set Up ExpressVPN on your smartphone and tablet:

  1. Go to the app store and search for ExpressVPN
  2. Download app
  3. Open the app
  4. Sign in with your ExpressVPN account
  5. Tap button to connect. You will be connected to the “smart location” ExpressVPN has selected for you – typically considered the fastest connection.
  6. Tap the three dots ( … ) to change servers. Be aware that when you change to a European server you may see different types of GDPR “cookie” pop-ups that you aren’t used to seeing. These have to be accepted / managed before visiting the website. 


Questions and Comments

One of advantages of watching the show live is the chance to ask you questions. I answered many at the end of the show, but here are the remainder with my answers. 

flounder1st​: Does VPN only work for Wi-Fi data or Cellular Date also?
Lisa: Yes. 

Mary S: ​I may get a new computer soon, should I wait and install it on the new one?
Lisa: You don’t have to. When you get the new one simply uninstall the VPN from the old computer and install and sign in on the new one. 

Linda G: So I can use a VPN but my husband can continue doing his own thing through his regular ISP?
Lisa: Yes. 

Please share your questions and comments below.

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