Family History in the Annual Christmas Letter? What a Great Idea!

Why not share the gift of family history story in this year’s Christmas letter or holiday cards?

Genealogy Gems podcast listener Catherine just sent in this fantastic idea about including family history in her annual Christmas letter. I thought I’d share it while it can inspire those whose holiday cards or letters are still on their “to-do” list. (Already done? Think about it for next year!) Here’s what she wrote:

“I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of writing [family history]: where to begin, what to write about, what to include, how to say it. When it was time to sit down and write the family Christmas letter and not having much to report, it struck me.  Why not write a family history letter to the cousins about our common maternal Grandfather?

It may not be an original idea but it was new to me, so, deep breath, I took the plunge and the result was a letter that I truly enjoyed writing. I included some fun facts from immigration records and census information, family pictures, a couple of stories and even Google Earth pictures from my Gramp’s birthplace in ‘the Old Country.’ I sourced the letter and added webpage links in case I hooked someone into wanting to know more.”

Thank you Lisa for speaking about Google Earth Pro and my new best friend, Evernote for Genealogy! I can’t wait to see what the family reaction will be. I’m planning some follow up letters and may even go for the big one (gulp)–a blog! I was so inspired I even made two of your wreaths, one for my mother-in-law and one for my best friend, also a genealogy junkie.”

Wow, I love to see how Catherine has taken what I’ve been teaching–from keeping track of sources in Evernote to making wreaths–and RUNNING with it! She says, “Thanks for the great ideas, inspiration and support,” but I want to thank HER for writing in with her enthusiasm and clever ideas. I LOVE the idea of adding the gift of family history–complete with crowd-pleasing Google Earth pictures and proper citations–to your annual Christmas letter. That’s on MY list for next year!

Take These Ideas and Run with Them Yourself with These Helpful How-Tos:

cousin baitUsing Google Earth for Genealogy

Using Evernote for Genealogy

How to Start a Family History Blog

We All Have a Family History Story to Tell

Here’s an inspiring example of a quick and easy way to tell your story. Every one of us is deeply connected to history through our family stories. In fact, exploring your family history story can help you learn more about your place in history and what makes you, you. 

Tell Your Family History Story with Animoto

Were you one of those kids sitting in history class bored to tears? Was the common teenage mantra  “what’s this got to do with me?” running through your brain? While the teacher’s lecture may have seemed disconnected, nothing could have been further from the truth. Every one of us is deeply connected to history through our family stories. In fact, exploring your family history story can help you learn more about your place in history and what makes you, you.

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

We all have a story to tell about our place in history and Animoto is an easy and powerful way to tell that family history story. I’ve been sharing my thoughts on creating family history stories on my Genealogy Gems Podcast and in videos on my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. One of my listeners and viewers, Doug Shirton, has enthusiastically embraced the idea of video storytelling and recently shared his video with me.

Doug says “I have been wanting to do a video for a long time…Animoto was so easy.” Take a few minutes and get inspired by watching Doug’s video Genealogy Journey; Doug Shirton by clicking here.

family history story

I love the elements that Doug wove into his video. Not only did he include individual photographs of himself and his ancestors, but he also dragged and dropped into his Animoto timeline a full page family tree chart. Doug used the “Rustic” video style (one of my favorites) which is perfectly suited for his old-timey photos.

He also used music in an innovative way to tell his family history story. Rather than settling on just one song, he used portions of multiple tracks. This technique moves the viewer through the emotional levels he was striving to convey.

Adding Music to Your Family History Story

All great movies have a soundtrack! Animoto allows you to choose from their music library or add your own. Adding music to your family history video is very simple. To add additional songs, simply click the plus sign under the timeline. Animoto’s “edit song and pacing” feature makes it easy to get everything to fit perfectly.

we all have a story to tell

MUSIC SEARCH TIP: In addition to being able to upload your own songs, Animoto’s robust music library is brimming with songs that will help you hit just the right note. In addition to the filter boxes, don’t miss the handy search field at the very bottom of the list of filters. Enter a keyword to suit your mood and then scroll back up to the top of the page to pick from the results.

Choosing the Focus of Your Family History Story

Family trees are very far-reaching indeed. So many direct line and collateral lines, often spanning the globe. Doug was wise to select one family history story within his tree: his Ontario, Canada pioneer ancestors.

Focusing on a particular line of your family, or a single story makes creating your video more manageable for you and, frankly, more enjoyable to watch for your viewer. Keeping your video fairly short is also a good idea. Doug’s is just 4 minutes and I recommend going no longer than five. This is particularly important when you plan to share it on social media where attention-spans are short.

Family History Story Ideas

Here are a few ideas of stories you could explore:

  • The story of your most recent immigrant ancestor
  • A family history story that runs through your family tree, such as three generations of musicians
  • How one of your ancestral families survived a natural disaster like the Johnston Flood or the Great San Francisco Earthquake
  • The history of a first name that was used over multiple generations in your family

The idea here is to select a family history story that is short, thematic, and compelling to watch.

Need More Ideas?

Visit my How to Create Family History Videos page for more ideas and step-by-step instructions for videos with Animoto, There’s no better time than now to tell your story! We would love for you to share your family history story video on our Facebook page.

Here’s the book that will help you cultivate and record your story: Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy.

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!

7 Important Reasons Why (and How) to Start a Family History Blog

Here are the reasons every family historian should be writing a family history blog–and how can you get started NOW.

7 reasons to start a family history blog

Why Start a Family History Blog

Many of us want to write up our family stories, but with busy schedules, a 300-page book may not be in our future! 

You don’t have to have a lot of time to write and share your family history. Blogging about family history is a perfect alternative. Blogs are just simple websites that present articles in chronological order beginning with the most recent. This is a great format for telling a story that travels through time. 

Blogs also allow your readers to “subscribe” for free much like a podcast. In other words, your readers don’t have to remember to visit your blog and read the latest. Instead, they can receive email prompts when you publish new articles, or they can receive those new articles alongside their other favorite blogs and podcasts in a blog reader. Very convenient indeed!

Still not convinced it’s possible to start your own genealogy-themed blog? Here are 7 reasons why and how you can start a family history blog.

 

1. You can write a little bit at a time.

You don’t have to fill hundreds of pages or lay out an entire book. With a blog you can write as little as a paragraph at a time. There are no rules because it is your blog!

Over time, even a one-paragraph blog post, once a week, will eventually result in many pages. It’s a great way to pace yourself and still get your family’s story in writing.

2. Every word you write is searchable by Google.

Gone are the days of simply posting a query on a genealogy message board that only reaches genealogists.

By blogging about your family history, other people who are researching the same family lines can find and connect with you through their Google searches. You’ll be writing about the family they are searching for, so you’ll very likely be using many of the same keywords, dates and information that they will include in their search query. This means your blog should pop up high on their Google search results list!

Think of your family history blog as your own big message board. Your posts can be found by anyone in the world searching for the same information. The connection possibilities are endless. So essentially, family history blogs are your way to “fish for cousins.” This of it as “cousin bait!”

cousin bait how to start a family history blog

Blogs typically include a Comment section at the end of each of your articles, so encourage visitors to your blog to leave comments. Don’t worry, you can set your blog to only show the comments after you have reviewed and approved them.

 

3. You might bust your toughest brick wall.

I’ve heard and shared countless success stories here at Genealogy Gems from readers and listeners. By just “putting it out there” on a blog they have opened the door to a distant relative contacting them with a treasure trove of new information about their family tree.

“Your encouragement to blog genealogy has given me courage and a vehicle for which I can share the stories of our family’s common history. So, over the past month I’ve been posting digital images of each day (from my great grandfather’s) journal from 50 years ago, the transcription of the journal and an historical image that gives context to what he was writing about.  I plan to include family photos and other documents as I expand this blog.”

– Chris C.

4. You’re more likely to spot your mistakes and missing links. 

Have you ever told a story out loud and discovered in telling it that something in the story didn’t quite jive? A blog can help you tell your family’s story “out loud” too.

The process of writing up your family history discoveries can often reveal gaps, errors, or bad assumptions in your research. And that’s a good thing! Use it to your advantage to identify further research that needs to be done. But those items on your research to do list. 

And don’t be afraid to let your reader know what your gaps are and where you’re stuck. They just might be able to help!

 

5. Your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, etc. are online.

 

Your descendants probably prefer to read quick and easy stories on-the-go on their smart phones and tablets, and a blog fits the bill perfectly.

Putting your research on a blog provides your relatives with an easy way to digest the family heritage. And of course they can subscribe to it, since blogs can be delivered to their email inbox or to a blog reader like Feedly.

Blog posts are also super easy to share to Facebook, which means your post can get even more traction. 

Chris continues:

The family response has been amazing.  The cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles think it is cool and want to see more!  They love the stories and can’t wait for subsequent postings so they can hear detailed history about (him) that they never knew about.  

I believe this blog will be part of how our family begins healing and comes back together again.”

6. Because there are no excuses.

You can start a blog for free, so cost is not a barrier.

There are no rules, so you can decide how often and how much you write at once.

There is just one thing you have to do to successfully blog about your family history: begin.

 

7. Because your blog continues to share even when you aren’t researching.

The best news of all is that your family history blog will be out there working online for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Even when life gets in the way and you need to take a sabbatical from blogging and genealogy, your blog is still out there ready to be found. You will still be sharing your family’s story, and attracting relatives to it. And when you’re ready, your blog will be ready for you to add the next chapter.

family history blogging

How to Start a Family History Blog

Starting a family history blog isn’t hard. But some people find it intimidating. So I’ve created two entire series to help you get started.

blog your family history video series youtubeClick to watch this free series of videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel These videos show you how to set up a family history blog. They are a few years old, but will give you the basic idea. You’ll see how to get started for free in Blogger, with your Google account.

(I use WordPress for my website and my blog. They have a free version at wordpress.com.) Need more encouragement? Click here to hear from other readers who are very glad they got started.

 

Learn More About Blogging on the Family History Podcast

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastClick to listen to a free series from our Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast(an online radio show).

Starting with episode 38, you’ll learn:

Part 1: What to Consider when Starting a Genealogy Blog.

The “Footnote Maven,” author of two popular blogs, talks about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, tips for getting people to comment on your blog posts and more.

Part 2: Insights from Popular Genealogy Bloggers. 

We hear from two additional popular genealogy bloggers, Denise Levenick (author of The Family Curator and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful” on the Shades of the Departed blog) and  Schelly Tallalay Dardashti (author of the Tracing the Tribe blog).

Part 3: Step by Step on Blogger.com.

How to create your own free family history blog on Blogger.com. Learn tricks for designing a simple, useful blog and how NOT to overdo it!

Final tips: Wrap-up and inspiration.

In this concluding episode, learn how to add a few more gadgets and details to your blog; pre-plan your blog posts, publish your first article, and how to help your readers subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.

 

Share the Blogging Adventure!

thank you for sharingInvite someone you know to start a family history blog of their own. Send them a link to this webpage or share it through social media. They’ll thank you for it later!

And if you have started a family history blog, please comment below and share your experience. 

 

Snagit Part 2 – Advanced Clipping Techniques

Even if you don’t use Snagit, or if you’re a newbie or still deciding whether you want to use it, this video will give you tangible examples of what it can do for you. If you are already using Snagit, this session will definitely take your skills to the next level.

snagit part 2

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Use coupon code GENE15 to get 15% off.  Thank you for using my link for purchasing your copy of Snagit. (We will be compensated at no additional cost to you, which makes the free Elevenses with Lisa show and notes possible.) Don’t worry if it initially shows as Euros in the cart. When you enter your address including country, it will convert the currency appropriately.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 66 Lisa Louise Cooke will discuss how to use Snagit:

  • for problem-solving, such as errors in your Ancestry family tree
  • capturing unique records
  • creating family history videos
  • PLUS: answers to your Snagit questions

You can also watch at the  Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. 

Episode 66 Show Notes 

Elevenses with Lisa episode 61 was a tutorial for beginners on how to use Snagit, and specifically how I use it for genealogy. I think it really resonated with genealogists because accurately and completely capturing the family information that we’re finding is absolutely essential for good source documentation. It’s one of the most important things we do as genealogists.

So, this video is sort of a “Part 2” session where we dig into more ways to use this amazing screen capture tool and I answer some of your most pressing questions.

Save 15% on Snagit with Code GENEALOGY15

Even if you use a different snipping tool, I’m going to give you tangible examples of how you can clip more effectively.

I received the following email from Anne W.: “I very much enjoyed your recent Elevenses with Lisa episode on how to use Snagit. I love the screen clipper on my Mac but this does so much more.  I used your link to purchase Snagit and I have found the tutorials very helpful as I figure out how to use it on my Mac with my files.  The first thing I did was go back to several newspaper pages I clipped recently in chunks and used Snagit to capture the whole page.  It worked like magic!  I would love to see another episode about the features of Snagit. Thank you for your regular and premium podcasts.  I listen to both regularly.  I have learned so much that I can apply to my genealogy research.”

Oh I love hearing how you’re using what we talk about here at Genealogy Gems! And yes, Snagit is fantastic for clipping those squirrely newspaper pages, and so much more!

Let’s get started –  I’m excited to show you 5 more problem-solving screen capture projects that you can do with Snagit, and then we’ll wrap up with answers to your Snagit questions.

 Using Snagit for Problem Solving

Bill in San Antonio, TX wrote me last week and told me about a problem that he was having with his online family tree at Ancestry  It turns out that some ancestors had duplicate profiles. He didn’t put them there. He asked Ancestry about it but was getting what he called “boiler plate” answers that didn’t solve the problem.

In situations where you’re trying to communicate a complicated problem to someone else, or you’re just trying to work through it yourself, it can really help to visualize the problem, and Snagit can help you do that very effectively.

Bill says: “I am seeing duplicate FACTS in profiles of siblings, parents, and children of a person and cannot figure out where they originate. I go to the profile which seems to be generating duplicate information, but it is not there.”

As I read through all the details that he wrote up about the problem, I found myself getting confused. I asked his for access to his family tree so I could take a look and he wrote back

Bill went on to say, “The duplications I see are all in my tree. I have reviewed each of them to be certain that the data is not coming from a profile, even though it appears in duplicated form elsewhere. 

Here is a screenshot of one such issue, showing two siblings with repeated data. Note that in each case, the birth location is slightly different, as in “Texas” vs. “Concho County, Texas”.

ancestry tree problem of duplication

Ancestry Profile –  problem of duplication

Bill had annotated his screen clipping to help me zero in on the problem. “(I used SnagIt for the screenshot — thanks for suggesting it!) I see this issue in other profiles, so your suggestions for solving it will be useful in other parts of the tree.”

Here are just three examples of ways you can highlight or call out an item in an image:

  • Lines
  • Highlighter
  • Shape (set to transparent center, red outline)

Styles

After you select and customization a style (such as a red outline shape) you will see that Snagit provides a “ghost” version of it in your list. It’s greyed out and ready to add. Simply click the plus sign to add the style to a theme. There are several themes available and you can create new themes.

Favorites

I like to make it even faster to find the styles I use the most by adding them to my Favorites. It’s super easy to do. Just click the star on the style. You’ll find your Favorites in the star menu at the top of the screen. 

As a side note, I  do think this is a bug in Ancestry’s system. I recommended that he do the following to zero in on the problem: 

  1. Search the tree – is the person duplicated in the pedigree view somewhere. Answer: No.
  2. Check the URLs – Are the tree and person numbers in the URLs the same for each “Fact”? Answer: Yes.

Again, you can use Snagit to help work through things like this. Here’s how to see if you’re indeed looking at the same person: Right-click on each ancestor profile to open it in a new tab so you can compare and capture them. In this case it was Willie (the ancestor) and James and the duplicate of James. Each will have a URL address in your browser bar that will end in person/420009496764/facts. The number in red is the unique number for that person.

Had the tree number or person numbers been different, that would be the likely source of the problem. However, in Bill’s case, they are the same, so that’s more evidence that it’s a bug in Ancestry’s displaying of the information. 

After screen capturing each profile they can be combined into one step-by-step document that can then be shared.

How to Combine Captured Images with Snagit

  1. Click on the first image in the tray at the bottom of the page.
  2. Hold down your shift key and click the last image. (If you need to pick from the tray, hold down the Control key on your keyboard and click each desired image.)
  3. Right-click on the selected images and click Combine in Template – or – at the top of the screen click Create and select Image from Template – or – Press Control + Alt + Con your keyboard.
  1. Select the desired page layout. Custom Steps or Steps Portrait.
  2. Click the Next button.
  3. Give your document a title, captions, etc.
  4. Click the Combine button.
  5. Remove steps if desired, add annotations, etc. as desired.
  6. The combined image can then be saved to your computer and shared such as by email.

My guess is that at some point Bill viewed someone else’s tree or a hint that included this conflicting information, or he may have attached a record that had conflicting information, or rejected information from a record. In any case, some sort of action may have gotten “stuck” in the virtual stratosphere. The system has hung on to something it should not have. Bill says he’s finding more instances of this happening in the same tree, so it definitely needs to be addressed. It would be a shame to keep adding to the tree only to have that glitch continue to duplicate itself in other profiles. 

I suggested looking through the records he has attached to James Kalloup Sparks to see if any of the attached records mention Concho, TX as his birthplace. I doubt there is one, but if there is, it is likely somehow linked to the problem.

It’s very odd that on Willie’s profile it shows James Kalloup Sparks’ birthplace as Concho in the duplication, but when you click that profile it doesn’t say Concho. It’s must surely be an Ancestry glitch.

If it were me, I would try downloading your tree and then creating a second tree by uploading it and seeing if the error still occurs. Here’s the Ancestry Help page

Also, if by chance Bill was syncing his Ancestry online tree with genealogy software on his computer, there’s a possibility that could cause the problem. 

Annotations

Questions from Kelly: “Hi Lisa!, I would LOVE for you to create a very simple tutorial for adding in arrows and any text in “bubbles or boxes”. I have tried to do this and am missing something – I just LOVE Snagit but I am so technically challenged and would love to not become so annoyed when I am missing the simplest of steps.”

The most important thing to remember as you use annotations like text bubbles, shapes and text is you must select what you are working on. The font, color, sizing and other formatting features can be applied to every kind of annotation. You must select the item before applying the formatting.

If you’re ever confused about what “mode” you’re in, look at the top of the screen and note which tab is selected. In the example below, we are in “Shape” mode.

And if you try and try to make a change to an annotation and nothing seems to happen, you probably haven’t selected it. Click on the item to select it before attempting to make any changes.

If you want to move a item such as a shape or a selection of text, again you will need to click it to select it. You should see the “Move” selector handle that looks like this:

If you don’t or you’re having trouble, click “Move” in the toolbar at the top of the screen and then click on the item.

Most of the time if working with annotations or formatting them is presenting a challenge, it’s because the item hasn’t been properly selected before you begin.

Using Snagit to Capture Unique Sources

Many of the most popular genealogy records websites offer a hinting feature that suggests records to you based on the information in your online family tree. Many of those “records” are quite unique. I recently came across a Photo Hint at Ancestry that was a screen capture of a story in a public Facebook group of the descendants of a particular couple. It was interesting information but I didn’t really want everything that was captured in the image. I used Snagit to capture and then edit the image the way I wanted it so I could then save it to my computer. This included erasing or removing unwanted areas. The following Snagit features can help you accomplish this easily:

  • Select and delete
  • Shapes recolored to match the background
  • The Eraser tool under the More menu in the toolbar

 Answers to Your Questions about Snagit

Answers to your questions from episode 61 which was my beginning tutorial on Snagit. If you haven’t used it before stick with us in this video to see all the cool things it can do and then go back and watch that episode which is perfect for beginners.

Pat M.: ​Will OCR work for non-English newspapers?
Answer: Snagit doesn’t translate, but the OCR will Grab non-English text. Learn more here. You can then copy and paste it into Google Translate.

SHB:​ Don’t see Evernote on the list, how easy is it to save to EN?
Answer: If you have Evernote installed on your computer you should see it in the Share list. You can also download Evernote to add it as a Share destination. In fact, there are loads of programs you can download.

Cyndy B.: ​Are all these features in older versions?
Answer: No, like all software, each version introduces additional features.

SHB: Curious about printing… if you print a long article, will it print out readable?
Answer: Yes! You can set the resolution. And use Print Preview to make adjustments so it prints exactly the way you want it.

CA Sanders​: if I bring a photo into Snagit and work with it will save IN Snagit, not in my original placement…so I would have to “save” or “move” to the folder it was in to begin with my changes.
Answer: After making your edits, use File > Save As to save it in the desired format to the desired location on your computer hard drive. You can also save it to replace the original if that’s your goal.

B Latham​: How do we keep the SnagIt program up to date? It sounds as if other viewers here are saying they purchased the program a few years ago and may be outdated. Isn’t there a way to keep it up to date?
Answer:  Yes, you can buy a maintenance plant that will include future updates at a reduced fee. Use our link and discount code, and the option will be available at checkout.

Barbara C.​: For 2 different laptops, would we need to purchase Snagit twice?
Answer: TechSmith software is licensed per user, so how many computers can I install it on?
Each user may install and use one copy of the software product on up to two computers for their sole use, provided only one computer is in use at any given time. This includes home and work, or a laptop and desktop.

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Here’s our link for purchasing your copy of Snagit (screen clipping tool) Thank you for using our link.  Use coupon code: GENE15 (We will be compensated at no additional cost to you, which makes the free Elevenses with Lisa show and notes possible.)

Resources

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