Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy Records
Today’s episode is unlike any other I’ve done on the podcast. Today we are going to tackle some difficult subject matter: family secrets in genealogy. You know, none of us have a perfect family tree. In fact, I would venture to guess that at some point each one of us who are delving into our family’s past will come across some sad and painful stories. An ancestor abandoned at an asylum, incarcerated for acts of violence, or perhaps who committed suicide.
For Crystal Bell, my guest on today’s show, that sad and painful story was very close to her branch of the tree. In fact, the troubles lay at her parents’ door, and she bore the brunt of the chaos that was created. And yet there is tremendous hope that comes from Crystal’s story. She is a wonderful example of the freedom that can come from facing your fears and breaking down the mystery of a troubled past. It’s what I call the redemptive gifts of family history.
Crystal also shares some of the research strategies that her co-workers at Ancestry.com gave her for taking the next steps in finding her mother, who passed away under an assumed name.
Thoughts from Crystal on responding to the family secrets in your own tree:
“Hatred and resentment only make you look older. They have a great toll on your health. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t hate my mother and father because I don’t know their circumstances were. I can only try to determine their ancestors. I want to know who were my ancestors. Where did they come from?
I feel badly when people…just don’t want to know. I don’t want to die with that sense of abandonment. I want to move on, I want to get past the grief. I want to know who my people were. I just, for the first time in my life, want to experience a feeling of joy and happiness that I feel like I deserve.”
Ancestry.com “Shaky Leaf” Hints Technology
Crystal made connections on her Ancestry.com family tree by reviewing the automated hints provided on the site, known popularly as “shaky leaves.” Learn more about using these in this video.
The MyCanvas service mentioned by Crystal is no longer offered by Ancestry.com. But it is still around! Learn more in my blog post about it.
Here’s a final family history thought for today:
We are not just defined by one relative, or the product of a dysfunctional family or parental relationship. We come from all of our ancestors….
The ones who did amazing things,
The ones who did everyday things,
And the ones who did wrong.
You deserve to know them all, and as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.
If you have relatives who have served in the military, why don’t you plan a little extra genealogical web surfing time this week? Here are two sites offering free temporary access to records:
1) In honor of Memorial Day in the United States, findmypast.com is offering free searching of its collection of U.S. and international military records from midnight EDT on Thursday, May 23 until midnight EDT on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.
Findmypast.com hosts over 26 million military records, with an emphasis on 20th-century records. That’s a plus for U.S. military records because so many from the 20th century were destroyed in a huge fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973. For the U.S., you’ll find World War I draft registration cards; World War II Army enlistments and prisoner of war records; Korean War casualties and POWs; Vietnam War casualties and even “casualties returned alive” (people thought to be dead but who came home) and an Army casualty file for 1961-1981.
There’s a much longer list for military records for the U.K. and Australasia, and a short, separate list of Irish military records. I’m guessing many of you in the English-speaking world have relatives who appear in these records.
A Dutch genealogy researcher writes in with tips and encouragement for finding your family history in The Netherlands.
Niek in Arnhem, The Netherlands recently wrote in with 5 excellent and enthusiastic tips for exploring your Dutch family history. Here’s what he had to say about the civil registry, surnames, church records, land records and royal lineages:
“About three years ago my father got diagnosed with skin cancer and to help him get his mind of things I opened up an account on MyHeritage for us, so we could start working on our family tree together. Maybe I have some tips that could be of some value for your listeners with roots in The Netherlands:
1. Civil registry. In 1811, the civil registry was introduced by the French, who ruled the country. This meant that municipalities were obliged to keep the records (marriage, death and birth) of their citizens. That system hasn’t changed much since 1811 and most of the information can be found online on websites like www.wiewaswie.nl and www.geneaknowhow.net (the latter has some English translations as well). It’s very easy to find your Dutch ancestors [back] to 1811. For example, I know the names and most of the date of births and deaths of 60 of my 64 four-times great-grandfather who lived during the introduction of the civil registry.
For me, the most exciting thing about these post-1811 documents is that they were often signed by the father of the newborn or by the bride and groom. To see the 200 year-old signature of your ancestor can really send shivers down the spine! [Click here to read more about Dutch civil registration on the FamilySearch wiki.]
2. Surnames. The introduction of the civil registry also meant that citizens had to have a last name. Up to then last names were used, but not mandatory. It could be that last names would change after a generation. For example, my last name, Lucassen means Son of Lucas, my oldest paternal ancestor I could find was named Lucas Jans, which means Lucas, son of Jan. And his son was called Jan Lucassen, and this last name was passed down the generations (although some of his children had Janssen, son of Jan, as a last name).
3. Catholic church records. I am from the province of Brabant, which was a Catholic province. Before 1811, records were kept by the church. The Catholic church was particularly skilled at keeping records and information. Although they unfortunately don’t have dates of birth and dates of death, they used to register the dates of baptism and burial. (A baptism date isn’t the same as a a date of birth, although, in the civil registry marriage certificates, the date of birth is the same as the date of baptism.) [Click here for a FamilySearch wiki article on Dutch church records.]
4. Land records. Apart from the church the municipalities kept records of sales of land and property, which is a great way to find out more about the family relations of your ancestors, and about the houses they may have owned. For many parts of the country, these records can easily go back to the 17th century. [This FamilySearch wiki article tells you more about Dutch land and property records.]
5. Royal lineages. If you’re lucky you’re able to connect one of the branches of your family tree to nobility, as many parts of The Netherlands and the rest of Europe were ruled by knights and viscounts. If this is the case in your family, you can easily climb up in your family tree for several centuries because the family relationships of nobility is very well documented and an important part of their heritage (like the story you told about your visit to Windsor Castle) because of the possession of land over which they ruled. Sometimes you do hit a dead-end when a parent of one of your ancestors isn’t known, or isn’t known for certain. But some of the lines travel back really, really far! [Click here for a FamilySearch Wiki article with more on researching noble lines.]
More Dutch Genealogy Gems
“Exercise Field Artillery Corps” album, image AKL092038, Netherlands Institute of Military History uploads at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimhimages/16026248719/.
Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!
Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.
10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success
1. Have you selected a place to start?
I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play.
For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)
At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.
In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.
It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.
2. Have you developed a project research question?
Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?
In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”
The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3.
Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment HowAlice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)
3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:
Where exactly was Washington from in England?
When did he come to the United States?
Why/how did he end up out West?
Did he work on the railroad?
When and where did he marry?
When was their oldest child born?
Did he join the LDS church?
And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.
The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.
4. Do you have the research forms you need?
There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.
Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!
Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.
Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.
In Elevenses with LisaEpisode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)
As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:
Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)
Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:
Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.
7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.
Here’s what my shopping list looks like:
3” 3-Ring View Binders
(allow you to customize covers & spines)
1” 3-Ring View Binder
1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers
8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.
Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:
Year (will force chronological order)
First Name (filed in surname folder)
Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.
8. Are you prepared to make copies?
Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data.
Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off from its cloud hosting service. According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”
Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.
My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:
The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.
While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.
Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.
We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.
Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.
Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:
a good printer
a stock of paper
a portable terabyte hard drive
Ideas for saving paper and ink:
Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
Make double-sided copies.
When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.
9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
I use and recommend Backblazefor computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:
Use a free service like Blogtrottr.com to receive email notification reminders. Simply paste the Genealogy Gems channel URL into the first field, https://www.youtube.com/GenealogyGems enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.
Recap:10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success
Have you selected a place to start?
Have you developed a project research question?
Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
Podcasts have always faced an obstacle: it just hasn’t been that easy to find them or listen.
After I launched The Genealogy Gems Podcast in early 2007, I spent most of my time trying to explain to potential listeners how to “subscribe” to the show. Along came the smartphone, and eventually podcast apps, and things got a little easier. In 2010 we launched our own Genealogy Gems Podcast app in hopes of improving the listener experience even more. That’s great for those tenacious enough to find us in the first place, but what about everybody else? Also though podcasts have experienced a huge surge in popularity thanks to the viral Serial podcast, 83% of Americans still aren’t listening on a weekly basis.
Pandora, the largest streaming music provider entered the game today and plans to change all that. And thanks to you, our loyal listeners, The Genealogy Gems Podcast has been selected by Pandora as part of their initial offering of podcasts!
Read below how this music giant is going to tap technology and human curation to recommend podcasts to those who are sure to love them. I’m sure that once Americans discover through Pandora that their family history is just waiting to be discovered, and that The Genealogy Gems Podcast is here to help them do just that, we’ll be welcoming many new listeners. Keep reading for all the details from Pandora. And, be sure to sign up for the early access offering here. You can expect to start seeing our show on Pandora sometime in December.
Thanks for listening friend! Lisa Louise Cooke
OAKLAND, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Pandora (NYSE:P), the largest streaming music provider in the U.S., today unveiled its podcast offering, powered by the Podcast Genome Project, a cataloging system and discovery algorithm that uses a combination of technology and human curation to deliver personalized content recommendations. Beginning today, Pandora will roll out beta access to select listeners on mobile devices. Those interested in early access to the offering can sign-up here, with general availability in the coming weeks.
“It might feel like podcasts are ubiquitous, but, eighty-three percent of Americans aren’t yet listening to podcasts on a weekly basis, and a majority of them report that’s because they simply don’t know where to start,” said Roger Lynch, Chief Executive Officer, Pandora. “Making podcasts – both individual episodes and series – easy to discover and simple to experience is how we plan to greatly grow podcast listening while simultaneously creating new and more sustainable ways to monetize them.”
Similar to how its namesake the Music Genome Project has helped Pandora become the best and easiest way to discover music online since 2005, the Podcast Genome Project recommends the right podcasts to the right listeners at the right time, solving the questions, “is there a podcast that’s right for me?” and “what should I listen to next?” It evaluates content based on more than 1500 attributes – spanning MPAA ratings, timely and evergreen topics, production style, content type, host profile, etc – and listener signals including thumbs, skips and replays. It also utilizes machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, and collaborative filtering methods for listener preferences. And, similar to the Music Genome Project, the Podcast Genome Project combines these techniques with our expert in-house curation team to offer episode-level podcast recommendations that reflect who you are today and evolve with you tomorrow.
“With the introduction of podcasts, listeners can now easily enjoy all of their audio interests – music, comedy, news, sports, or politics – on Pandora, the streaming service that knows their individual listening habits the best,” said Chris Phillips, Chief Product Officer, Pandora. “The Podcast Genome Project’s unique episode-level understanding of content knows exactly what podcast you’ll want to discover next, and will serve it up through a seamless in-product experience that is uniquely personalized to each listener and will continue to grow with their tastes over time.”
At launch, Pandora has partnered with top-tier publishers including APM, Gimlet, HeadGum, Libsyn, Maximum Fun, NPR, Parcast, PRX+PRI, reVolver, Slate, The New York Times, The Ramsey Network, The Ringer, WNYC Studios, and Wondery, and will continue to feature existing podcast content including Serial, This American Life and Pandora’s original Questlove Supreme, with many more to come in the future. These partnerships introduce hundreds of popular podcasts across a wide variety of genres including News, Sports, Comedy, Music, Business, Technology, Entertainment, True Crime, Kids, Health and Science, offering inspiring audio experiences for a variety of diverse interests.
Pandora is the world’s most powerful music discovery platform – a place where artists find their fans and listeners find music they love. We are driven by a single purpose: unleashing the infinite power of music by connecting artists and fans, whether through earbuds, car speakers, live on stage or anywhere fans want to experience it. Our team of highly trained musicologists analyze hundreds of attributes for each recording which powers our proprietary Music Genome Project®, delivering billions of hours of personalized music tailored to the tastes of each music listener, full of discovery, making artist/fan connections at unprecedented scale. Founded by musicians, Pandora empowers artists with valuable data and tools to help grow their careers and connect with their fans.