Turn Spring Cleaning Into a Treasured Family History Christmas!

honor your female ancestorsIt’s the last day of March, so it must be time to start thinking about Christmas, right?

OK, so you may not be thinking about your next Christmas craft project or gift-giving. But March has been Women’s History month and I’ve got a fun and easy craft project for you that will honor your female ancestors, help you do a bit of Spring cleaning of your stashes of left over fabric, and put you well ahead of the game when it comes to holiday prep.

Follow along with me in the video below as I piece together a crazy quilt Christmas stocking.


Familiar Female Faces

This stocking not only possesses a nostalgic flare with its Victorian-era crazy quilt design and embroidery, but it’s also brimming with familiar female faces from my family tree. Gathering together as many photos as I could of the women that I directly descend from was a fun challenge. I scoured old photo albums, searched online family trees, and put the word out to family members to make sure I had every available image. I was pleasantly surprised at how many I came up with.

Not Just for Stockings

This crafty idea certainly isn’t limited to Christmas stockings. You could translate this into a wall hanging, or even a full-size bed quilt. Make one as a gift, and it will surely be handed down the family lines for generations as a treasured heirloom.

Create a Video Story of Your Creation

I made this video with Animoto, a web and mobile app that makes this job of video creation oh, so easy! And it got me to thinking how lovely it would be to give a “bonus” gift of video to the recipient of this family history present.

  1. Re-purpose the Photos – since you’ve already pulled out the photos to create the transfer images, why not drop them into Animoto? Add your memories, poems they wrote, and any other tidbits that help their legacy shine through. Sprinkle with a bit of music (Animoto has loads of songs to choose from), and in minutes you can create a short tribute video to the women in your tree.

  2. Document the Project – Grab your smartphone and snap pictures and videos during the process of creating the stocking (or other form of this project). Toss your photos and videos into Animoto, add personalized comments, and you’ll have a sweet video to accompany the gift. It will show how you poured love into every stitch! (Ah! What I wouldn’t give for such a video of my Grandma sewing the lovely items I treasure today!)

Made with Love

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I appreciate you using these links because that compensation helps make the Genealogy Gems blog possible. Thank you!)

Animoto is a trusted sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast.


How to Document Family History with Shotbox

Documenting family history isn’t just about finding genealogical records. Family history can be found all around our home and the home’s of our relatives. These items need to be documented too. But when you start inventorying what you have – scrapbooks, photo albums, heirlooms and inherited items – it may turn out to be a bigger job than you thought. You could just snap photos with your phone, but you might end up with annoying shadows and glare.

The Shotbox, a handy portable photography studio, solves these problems. I’m using it to document my family keepsakes and even digitize my photo albums. It makes the job much easier and gives me better results, faster.

Videos and show notes

It’s helping me accomplish a goal I’ve wanted to reach for a long time – quality documentation of all the family items that are meaningful to me and that I hope will be meaningful to future generations.

Save on the Shotbox

SHOTBOX SHOP  (thank you for supporting our free channel by using our affiliate link)
GG20 – $20 off the $249 Shotbox bundle
GG10 – $10 off the $199 Shotbox bundle
GG5 – $5 off the Shotbox base unit

Watch the Videos

Watch this special preview unboxing video now to get ready for tomorrow’s live premiere:

Next, in this video you’ll learn how to set up and use the Shotbox to photograph heirlooms, books, old photo albums and more and get stunning results:


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Show Notes

(This article contains affiliate links for which we may be compensated. Thank you for supporting our free content.)

Shotbox: Multiple Uses

While this article and video focuses on using the Shotbox for family history, there are many other uses for it. You can also use it to create professional looking photos of items you want to sell online, document items for insurance purposes, and (one of my favorites uses) capture your kid’s and grandkid’s artwork.

Unboxing: What’s Included

I like to know what I’m going to get when I order something, so I’ve created an “unboxing video” for you. Here’s everything that comes in the bundle:

  • SHOTBOX Core Light Box and reversable floor panel
    SideShot Kit – smart device platform with an extra 12″ of LED lighting
  • Backdrop Kit – black, white, green, and blue backdrops
  • Black DELUXE Carry Bag – shock-resistant neoprene. Zipped pockets
  • Power cord extension cable
  • Bluetooth shutter remote
  • Glare shield set
  • Archival spatulas and fingertip covers

Setting up the Shotbox

To open the portable studio, grab one of the square holes on the top (the black panel) and pull up. The box is will pop open.

Next, take the small poles on either side of the opening and pull them down to secure in place. This will make the box rigid and sturdy.

Place the reversable floor panel on the bottom of the Shotbox.

Select a backdrop. You have four to choose from: white, black, blue and green. The blue and green will come in handy as “green screens” that will allow you to easily remove or change up the background of the photo when used in a video.

Carefully unroll the backdrop and hold it by the “Shotbox” tag on the end. With the smooth side facing up, hang the backdrop by placing the holes over the tabs at the top of the back of the box.  Gently use the plastic rod at the other end of the backdrop to move it back into place and secure the rod behind the front lip of the box.

Plug the power cord into the back of the box. Use the round dial in the upper right corner of the front of the box to turn on and adjust the lights.

Shotbox backdrops

Backdrop installed in the Shotbox.

Photographing Items

The Shotbox features several holes in the top of the box. These give you options for placing your phone, camera side down, so that you can photograph flat items such as books, paper and artwork through the hold. You can then reposition your item or your phone for the optimal shot.

You can zoom in on your phone screen to get just the right cropped image or edit the photo afterwards. I like to quickly edit after taking a series of photos. Usually there’s little to do but cropping, but sometimes the Enhance feature or other editing tools in your Photos app will help achieve the final results you want.

Shotobx book

Photographing an ancestor’s journal with the Shotbox

Bluetooth Shutter Remote

Use the Bluetooth shutter remote to speed up the photographing process. You’ll need to pair it with your smartphone. Do this by turning on the Bluetooth functionality on your phone. (On my iPhone I went to the Settings app, tapped Bluetooth, switched it to the on mode.) Press and hold the button on the remote until it flashes and then the device should appear in your list of Bluetooth compatible devices on your phone. Once paired, you can simply press the remote button to snap each photo.

Using the SideShot

When photographing three dimensional items you’ll need the SideShot. It’s a separate piece that allows your phone to photograph from a variety of angles from the front.

To install the SideShot, place the end of the long arm into one of the holes on the top. (I started with the center hole.) Make sure it snaps in place and is sturdy. Next, turn the level to release the tension which allows you to position it and the perfect angle for your shot, then tighten it back up. Turn your phone upside down and point the camera through the hold in the SideShot.

You’ll also find foldable side pieces that allow you to also use a tablet as your camera. It’s also a good idea to use the shutter remote so you won’t risk bumping the camera once in position.

Finally, plug the needle tip cord into the back of the box and the other end (the USB) into the SideShot. As you turn on the power to the Shotbox, the lights on the back of the SideShot will also come on.

shotbox sideshot

Using the Shotbox Sideshot to photograph family heirlooms

Reducing Glare

Glare can be a real problem when photographing items that are framed behind glass. The glare shields that come with the Shotbox dramatically reduce glare.

Each glare shield is fitted with four magnets that fit perfectly on the four screws on the inside of the top of the box on each side. Simple place each shield in position and they will hold in place.

Glare can be further reduced by experimenting with repositioning your camera and varying the amount of light with the on/off dial.

Save on the Shotbox

SHOTBOX SHOP  (thank you for supporting our free channel by using our affiliate link)
GG20 – $20 off the $249 Shotbox bundle
GG10 – $10 off the $189 Shotbox bundle
GG5 – $5 off the Shotbox base unit

Bargains on the Best Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Bargains that Support Genealogy Gems This page includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase we will receive a commission that helps make the free Genealogy Gems Podcast and our articles possible. Thank you for your support!    (As an Amazon Associate I...

How to Use Online Genealogy Trees and Hints Wisely

Is the tail wagging the dog in your genealogy research? Resist the temptation to jump at each hint and online family tree. Instead, take the lead in your own research and follow the scent of each clue with genealogical best practices. Here’s how…

Almost as soon as you start adding information to your family tree on any of the major genealogy records sites (AncestryMyHeritageFindmypast) you will start getting suggestions. These suggestions are known by a variety of names on the various sites, such as hints, Shaky Leaves, Smart Matches, record matches, etc. No matter what they’re called, they can be a great way to quickly make even more progress in growing your family tree.

There’s an old saying: you get what you pay for. In the case of hints, you have technically paid for them by subscribing to the genealogy website’s service. However, you didn’t pay for them through careful research following solid genealogical methodology. You haven’t yet verified their accuracy, or in the case of suggested online family tree, verified their sources.

how to use online trees and hints wiselyhow to use online trees and hints wisely

Online family trees are one of the most common types of hints you’ll receive. And it’s no wonder: there are billions of names entered in online family trees*, so your tree is very likely to match some of them.

However, with all those matching trees there are bound to be problems. If you’ve been wondering about the reliability and usability of other people’s online family trees being recommended as hints, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn more about using information gleaned from other’s online family trees.

The question of trusting online family trees

Brenda is a Premium eLearning member, and she wrote me recently with a question about using online family trees:
“I’m just getting back into my genealogy research after 10 years of not having time. It seems that research has completely changed to online work! I’m getting [hints that link to other] family lines, but can I trust them?”

And this related question comes from Douglas: 

“Weekly, I get emails with family tree matches, asking me to confirm the match. My problem is not with the matching but with when I dig into their tree, the source for their information is another tree. That info may be a clue but I learned way back that the info needed to be backed up by good primary and sometimes secondary sources, not what somebody thought was right.  Info that I entered in my tree years ago and found subsequently to be wrong is still hanging out in a dozen trees. What is your opinion?”

My guess is that at some point you’ve had some of the same questions as Brenda and Douglas. Am I right? Well, even though it’s exciting to find someone who’s already built a family tree that includes your ancestors, it’s important to proceed with caution. Avoid the temptation to “graft” or copy the tree onto your tree.

That’s not to say you should ignore online trees. Instead, let’s discuss how reliable they are and how to use them wisely and responsibly.

How to use online family trees as hints

Douglas has stated the problem accurately. The researchers behind those tantalizing trees may have made mistakes or copied unfounded information without verifying it. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.

Once copied to one tree, incorrect information can easily get picked up by others and copied over and over again. And the problem is made worse because the more it’s copied, the more unskilled researchers may assume it must be accurate because they see everyone using it. It’s a vicious circle indeed!

mistakes in online family trees

Mistakes can happen in online family trees

Approach every online hint and tree as a clue – a lead – to be considered and scrutinized. You won’t know the accuracy of it for sure until you review the research and verify the sources. That being said, the next logical questions would be “how in the world will I have enough time to verify all of the information in all of these trees?”

The answer is, you don’t.

Instead, do your own genealogical research first, one person and one generation at a time. Work from the present generation backward and learn everything you can from known and trusted primary and secondary sources. If this idea sounds new to you, I strongly encourage you to start listening to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. It’s free, and available here on my website, as well as through all major podcast apps. If you’re new to genealogy or returning after a long spell, this podcast will cover the basics in genealogical research and help you get on track.

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastIt’s easy to let other people’s online trees give you a false sense that you are quickly and easily building your own family tree, but it’s just not true. A tree worth having is a tree worth researching. Don’t let the tail wag the dog here. Follow the proven genealogical research process, and then tap into online family trees when you need a fresh new lead.

Automated record hints and matches

On genealogy websites, you’ll get two types of automated hints or matches. The first is for other people’s trees, which we’ve already discussed. The second is for historical genealogical records.

In order to deliver the historical record hint, the website has compared the data on your tree with the data available in the transcriptions of their records. Since many people share the same name and other distinguishing characteristics like birth dates, it’s important to look at each record closely and carefully.

Review both the record transcription and the digitized image of the document (when available), keeping in mind that not all the useful genealogical data is always transcribed. And in the process of transcribing, errors may have been made.

You first want to evaluate whether this document pertains to your relative. Next, you will need to determine what else it adds to your knowledge of them. Compare what that document says to what you’ve already learned about your family. Watch for multiple, specific pieces of evidence that support or are consistent with what you already know.

FindMyPast hinting 2 online family trees

Genealogy Giants guru Sunny Morton says that “record hints on Genealogy Giants FamilySearch and MyHeritage are especially known for a high degree of accuracy; Ancestry.com’s are generally pretty good, too, but the site is clear about reminding you that these are just hints. I don’t have data on how accurate Findmypast hinting is, but I do know that they’ve been adding more records to the pool of records they hint on, and that’s also good.”

wise owlAfter reviewing all the record hints you’ve received, conduct additional searches yourself for records about each ancestor. Use the same process described above to scrutinize and evaluate each record.

Remember that even a digitized record hosted on one of the major websites can have transcription, spelling, or other errors, and sometimes you’ll have to make judgment calls. There’s no substitute for your brain! And there’s no substitute for carefully verifying and documenting every discovery as you go.

Next steps for using hints and trees wisely

By using hints for online family trees and historical records as leads when needed rather than the main path to follow will help you build an accurate family tree.

We are here to help you take control of your family tree and your research every step of the way. For specific information about reviewing record hints, read Getting started on Ancestry.com. 

When you do find errors in someone else’s tree, here’s some sound advice for How to approach someone about errors on their family tree

And finally take a moment to read Don’t lose control when you post your family tree online.

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member like Brenda, I suggest Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 152. It features my audio interview with Sunny Morton on take-home strategies for using hinting tools at the Genealogy Giants.

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

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

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