Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 212

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #212
with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode, Lisa Louise Cooke speaks with Contributing Editor Sunny Morton about turning our fleeting scraps of recollections into meaningful memories.Also:

Genealogist Margaret Linford tells us how she got started in family history. Like many of our best stories, it’s not just about her, but someone who inspired her.

2017 could be called “the year of DNA.” Diahan Southard looks back with a special DNA news digest.

Finding missing ancestors: tips and success stories from Genealogy Gems fans

NEWS: WIKITREE HONOR CODE

WikiTree.com

WikiTree Press Release on 100,000 signatures

Learn more about using individual v. global/community family trees on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com in Sunny Morton’s quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.

NEWS: FAMICITY ADDS GEDCOM UPLOAD

Famicity.com

NEWS: DNA YEAR IN REVIEW WITH DIAHAN SOUTHARD

As evidence of its now proven usefulness in genealogy research, the genetic genealogy industry is growing at a fast pace. Ancestry.com has amassed the largest database, now boasting over 6 million people tested, and is growing at breakneck speeds, having doubled the size of its database in 2017. As the databases grow larger and our genealogy finds become more frequent, we can’t ignore that this kind of data, the correlated genetic and genealogical data, amassed by these companies, has great value.

In November, MyHeritage announced an effort by their scientific team to “study the relationship between genetics and behavior, personal characteristics, and culture.” These studies are not new, as 23andMe is in open hot pursuit of the connections between genetics and our health, and always has been.

All of our genetic genealogy companies are involved in research on one level or another and every person who swabs or spits has the opportunity to participate in other research projects (click here to read up on the consent policies at each company). At the time of testing, you have the option to opt in or out of this research, and the ability to alter that decision at any time after you test, by accessing your settings. According to an article in Fast Company, it seems we as a community are very interested in helping with research: 23andMe reports an over 80% opt-in-to-research rate among their customers. And I’ve got some breaking news for you: Family Tree DNA just started a consumer awareness campaign to reinforce the message that they will never sell your genetic data. That’s another important topic worth talking about in a future episode, so stay tuned!

All our genetic genealogy companies realize that you might want to do more with your data than just look for your ancestors. This year Family Tree DNA has partnered with Vitagene in an effort to provide insight into your health via your genetic genealogy test results. Of course 23andMe is the leader in health testing when we look at our top genetic genealogy companies. This year 23andMe finally succeeded ipassing several of their health tests through the FDA, a huge leap forward in their efforts to provide health testing directly to consumers.

While health testing has certainly seen an explosion of interest this year, it is not the only way that our companies are using the data they have amassed. AncestryDNA took the DNA and pedigree charts of two million customers who consented to research and, using some really fancy science, were able to provide amazing insight into our recent ancestral past with the creation of their genetic communities. These genetic communities enhance our understanding of our heritage by showing us where our ancestors may have been between 1750 and 1850, the genealogical “sweet spot” that most of us are trying to fill in.

Living DNA, a relative newcomer to the genetic genealogy arena, announced in October of 2017 their intention to use their database to help create a One World Family Tree. To do so, they are collecting DNA samples from all over the world, specifically those who four grandparents lived in close proximity to each other. Along with this announcement, Living DNA is allowing individuals who have results from other companies and want to help with this project, to transfer into their database.

So it seems that with growing databases come growing options, whether to opt-in to research, to pursue health information from your DNA test results, or to help build global databases for health or genealogy purposes. Recognizing the growing appeal to non-genealogists as well, AncestryDNA added to their list of options the ability to opt-out of the match page, and there are rumors that Living DNA will soon be adding the option to opt-in to matching (they do not currently have a cousin-matching feature as part of their offering). It can be tricky to keep up with all that goes on, but be sure we at Genealogy Gems are doing our best to keep you up-to-date with any news that might help you make better decisions about your genealogy, and ultimately better equipped to find your ancestors.

GENEALOGY GEMS NEWS

Premium Podcast Episode 154 (publishing later this month)

NEW Premium Video: “Your Guide to Cloud Backup

This video answers the questions:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

Click here to subscribe to Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning membership

BONUS CONTENT in the Genealogy Gems App

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode a reading of an excerpt of the Book of Christmas: Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions by Thomas Kibble Hervey (The chapter Signs of the Season) published in 1845 ? available for free in Google Books.

The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

MAILBOX

Genealogy Gems blog post on finding missing ancestors

Learn more about using Google Books and Google Patents in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox

 

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

Lovepop Cards

Unlock special pricing for 5 or more cards AND get free shipping on any order by going to https://www.lovepopcards.com/gems

 

GEM: MARGARET LINFORD’S GENEALOGICAL ORIGINS

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #208

Click here to read Margaret’s memories and see her pictures of Grandma Overbay

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

 

INTERVIEW: TURN MEMORY FRAGMENTS INTO MEANINGFUL STORIES

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Genealogy Gems and presenter of the new Premium Video, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” (click here to watch a quick preview). She is also author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy (use coupon code GEMS17 for an extra 10% off by December 31, 2017).

Strategies for turning memory fragments into meaningful stories (learn more about all of these in the Premium Video, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully”):

Gather together even the smallest fragments of your memories together by writing them down.

Think about what missing details you could research by finding pictures, books, chronologies, maps and other resources (both online and offline).

Look for common patterns or recurring themes in groups of memory fragments. (For example, Sunny shared memories of swimming in this episode.) What kind of story do these memories tell over time about your personality, circumstances, relationships or other aspects of your life?

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This page 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 this free podcast and blog!

 

FREE NEWSLETTER:
Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.


Download the episode

Download the show notes

 

 

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 201

with Lisa Louise Cooke

  

In this episode, I chat with Angela Walton-Raji, expert in U.S. and African-American research, about tips for interviewing relatives and taking your African-American family tree back to the era of slavery.

Other highlights of this episode include:

  • A RootsTech 2017 recap, with info on archived streaming sessions;
  • Great news from Findmypast about its new Catholic Heritage Archive;
  • A ground-breaking study from AncestryDNA that identifies specific migration patterns among genetically-related clusters of people;
  • Follow-up mail from Lisa’s Episode 200 celebration;
  • An expert Q&A on finding relatives who don’t appear in the census where you expect them to;
  • A teaser clip from the upcoming Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us.

ROOTSTECH 2017 RECAP

Genealogy Gems booth streaming sessions are on the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook page. “Like” our page, and then scroll down to Videos and click See all (shown here).

You’ll find:

  1. Lisa Louise Cooke: Google search methodology for genealogy, using Google Earth for genealogy and creating memorable, easy family history videos;
  2. Diahan Southard: Understanding your DNA ethnic pie chart;
  3. Amie Tennant: Digital journaling and scrapbooking;
  4. Sunny Morton: Jogging your memories and “Genealogy Jackpot” (on researching her ancestors’ survival of the Great Johnstown flood of 1889.

 

POPULAR ROOTSTECH STREAMING LECTURE “THE BIG 4” NOW ONLINE

Watch “The Big 4: Comparing Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage” by Gems Editor Sunny Morton and catch a summary of its main points

Catch our future free Genealogy Gems streaming sessions on Facebook!

You can also Like and follow the Genealogy Gems Facebook page to hear about (and sometimes watch) streaming sessions.

 

GENEALOGY GEMS APP BONUS MATERIAL

If you listen through the Genealogy Gems app (FREE in Google Play) and $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users), your bonus material for this episode is a short video clip showing a time-lapse perspective on RootsTech 2017 from the exhibitor hall.

 

NEWS: FINDMYPAST CATHOLIC HERITAGE ARCHIVE

Catholic Heritage Archive at Findmypast.com

In the Boston Globe: Archdiocese of Boston and New England Historic Genealogical Society plans to bring 10 million+ parish records online

MAILBOX:

Robin mentioned she’s learned so much from Lisa on these topics:

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

INTERVIEW: ANGELA WALTON-RAJI

Angela Walton-Raji instructs the African-American Genealogy Research Essentials webinar.

Angela’s oral history questions: What to ask your elders

Did they happen to know anyone who had been born a slave when they were a child?

Who was the oldest person that you remember when you were a child? And did that person ever talk about anyone who may have been enslaved?

What do you know about where the family was from? (Were we always from Georgia, or, were we always from Pennsylvania, or was there a time when we came from another place? (Read more about the Great Migration she mentioned.) Why did we move? Who remembers that journey?

Were people involved in the Civil Rights movement, in the Garvey era, with the Freedom Riders, or other important events in their lifetime? What kinds of things did they see?

Who in the family participated in the military (in World War II, I, the Spanish-American War)? African-American military units through the mid-20th century were still referred to as Buffalo soldiers. (She mentioned the Triple Nickel, a unit of all-black World War II paratroopers.

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

 

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

 

 

 

EXPERT TIP ON FINDING ANCESTORS “MISSING” IN CENSUSES

Read their Q&A: Kate Eakman takes on a Gems listener question from someone who has already done a lot of work trying to locate a relative in the 1940 U.S. census

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance.

DNA WITH YOUR DNA GUIDE DIAHAN SOUTHARD: ANCESTRYDNA STUDY BREAKTHROUGH

There is no doubt that this is an exciting time to be a genealogist. Here at Genealogy Gems, we are announcing new record collections online every month, advances in genealogy databases and their ability to retrieve the information we are looking for, and of course, DNA testing. There really has been no time in history where such a wealth of information about our past has been so readily available to so many.

In another ground-breaking development in the DNA world has been a recent publication in a scientific journal by the scientific team at AnccestryDNA. It is titled, “Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America.” Or, in more understandable terms, “Your DNA can tell us where you came from in America in the last 500 years.”

Wow, right? So how did they do this?

Well, the power really is in the numbers. In this particular paper they used 770,000 people, but now that they are approaching having testing 4 million people, you can bet the same principles will be applied to a larger data set and we will see even more as a result. But even though it takes a large data set to accomplish this, it really all still comes down to the relationship of two people.

To start, Ancestry determines how just two people are genetically related. Then they find how those two are related to a third, again, looking only at pairs of people. This goes on and on and on until everyone in the group as been compared. Then we use a graph to plot those relationships, with those more closely related clustering around each other.  Then the real key, the point where we see the marriage of genetics and genealogy: they add in the family history information for each of these individuals in the cluster. What they found was astounding. They have displayed the data in Figure 3 in the paper:

Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America. Summary map from Nature Communications; click to see article with full explanation of map data. Image used with permission of Ancestry.com.

It is a map of the United States with colored dots scattered across the landscape. The location of the dots corresponds to the genealogy of those tested, while the color of the dots relates to their genetic clustering. Those who clustered closest together are the same color. The result is a nearly perfect rainbow, with each color holding its respective spot on the map, with very little overlap between groups. (There are actually two maps in the paper, just to make things easier to see.)

We might be tempted when looking at the maps to think, oh, well, of course there is a large population of European Jews in New York, everyone knows that, no breakthrough there. But it IS!! This isn’t their family history, or their accent or their culture that is telling us this, it is their genetics!

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, further on in the paper they describe how we can trace migration patterns of different groups over just a few generations. In the paper they specifically mention French Canadians and Cajuns/Acadians, but this same principle can theoretically be applied to dozens of other groups.

For example, let’s say you have an ancestor in Texas about 4 generations ago, but you aren’t sure where she came from. If technology like what is published in this paper ever reaches your testing company, your DNA could tell you that you fit into the Lower South group, meaning that your ancestor likely hails from, well, the South!

This is just a glimpse into what the advances in genetics are bringing to your genealogy toolbox. So hang on to your hats, and keep tuned in here at Genealogy Gems for all of the latest updates.

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

 

The Truth According to Us by internationally bestselling author Annie Barrows

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Annie Barrows is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel takes place after World War II in a London recovering from the Blitz and an island recovering from German occupation. At the heart of Guernsey is an unlikely love story and the inspiring tale of a community that took care of each other in their darkest days with humor, compassion and good books.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Amie Tennant, Content Contributor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer

Hannah Fullerton: Production Assistance

Check out this new episode!

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!

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 199

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode 199
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Click the player below to listen:

In this episode, Lisa celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary with Claire Banton from Library and Archives Canada. You’ll also hear how Lisa will be marking another anniversary in 2017: the 10th year of this Genealogy Gems podcast.

More episode highlights:

  • An inspiring follow-up email from Gay, whose YouTube discovery Lisa shared in episode 198, and a great conference tip from Barbara just in time for RootsTech.
  • Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton announces the new Book Club title.
  • Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares thoughts about DNA testing with kids.

JOIN THE CELEBRATION! 10th ANNIVERSARY AND 200th EPISODE

 

You’re invited to send in well-wishes and win a chance at a prize!

Email Lisa by January 31, 2017 at genealogygemspodcast @ gmail.com OR call her voicemail line at 925-272-4021.

Share your first name and where you live.

Share a memory of listening to this podcast, such as: When did you start listening? What’s one of your favorite things you’ve learned from this show?

Lisa will randomly select one response to receive a free year of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. Thanks for helping all of us here at Genealogy Gems celebrate 10 years of doing something we love!

 

NEWS: ROOTSTECH 2017

RootsTech will be held on February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, UT: learn more and register.

Genealogy Gems events at RootsTech

Lisa will be live-streaming FREE sessions the marked session via the free Periscope app. Get it in Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Sign up for a free account and follow Lisa Louise Cooke to tune in. Sign up for notifications in Periscope, and your phone will “ping” whenever Lisa starts streaming! Broadcasts stay in the Periscope app for 24 hours. Like and follow the Genealogy Gems Facebook page to hear about more streaming sessions!

Rootstech Booth #1039 Schedule Free Classes

NEWS: FAMICITY KICK-STARTER

Famicity is a free, private website for families to share pictures, videos, memories, family activities and the family tree. The company has been very successful in France where it was launched, and the founder is working to bring the new English platform to the United States. He’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to support their U.S. launch. Click here to support it.

 

BONUS CONTENT FOR GENEALOGY GEMS APP USERS
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a tutorial on Feedly, an easy way to consume just the online content you want. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

 

 

 

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

MAILBOX: YOUTUBE DISCOVERY FOLLOW-UP

Remember the YouTube success story from Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 198? Gay as a young woman attended a dedication ceremony for the saline water treatment in Freeport, Texas?and with Lisa’s tips she found video footage on YouTube.

 

Gay wrote back to send us more about that, including this page from her diary that day and this news clipping. Check out the news clipping to see why that plant was so important, Pres. John F. Kennedy gave the dedication speech. (See what newspapers can tell you?!)

Find your own family history on YouTube. Click here to learn how or read an entire chapter on YouTube in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd revised edition.

Click here to learn how to turn family stories and artifacts like these into videos to share with relatives.

Learn to find articles such as this one that can put your family’s story in context?locally and even nationally. Read How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke.

 

INTERVIEW: CLAIRE BANTON, LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA (LAC)

Claire Banton obtained her Masters of Library and Information Studies degree in 2006. She has worked in Reference Services at LAC for 10 years, where she has enjoyed learning something new every day. She is currently Chief, Orientation Services, where she works with an awesome team who help people search for information. She loves being an information detective and helping people overcome their research challenges.

Claire’s tips for genealogy research with LAC:

LAC is very different from the average library. It is both a national library (search the library catalog here) and a a national archive (search the archival catalog here). You don’t have to have an account to search.

Start with the LAC website (genealogy resources page) whether you are visiting in person or not. There are loads of free databases and some unindexed digitized records. The Topics page will tell you what they do and don’t have.

There was no border control from the US to Canada prior to 1908, so there are no Canadian records of earlier crossings. [Tip: see border crossings to the US, 1895-1956 at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.]

Call LAC directly for quick answers. Schedule a Skype call with a genealogy expert to get more in-depth answers: provide background information ahead of time.

Click here to explore (and join) Canada’s 150th birthday celebration.

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

The Truth According to Us by internationally best-selling author Annie Barrows (co-author, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and author, Ivy and Bean, children’s book series)

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with?and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Click here to read an introduction to using WPA records for genealogy.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

 

DNA WITH DIAHAN: DNA TESTING FOR KIDS?!

I was talking with a fellow mom the other day about all the demands that are placed on kids’ time today. They have school and homework, many have after school sports and clubs, religious meetings, some have jobs or at least chores at home, not to mention all the time required to text, check social media, and hang out with friends. As parents and grandparents, we want our children to spend time on things that matter, things that will prepare them for their future lives and mold them into their future selves.

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported that “children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But I share this in the hope that it will push you over the edge and this will erase any hesitancy you have about sharing this love with your children and grandchildren.

Now, since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. First of all, there is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results.

Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who got what bit of where. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

If there are parts of the ethnicity report that you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or south east Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with you, their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, a discussion on identity?wherever you want to go with it! DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children who are so good at wondering.

Click here to learn more about Diahan’s series of how-to videos, available to Gems fans for a special price. Or start your DNA journey with the guide that will help you get started with kids’ genetic genealogy:

Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist

 

PROFILE AMERICA: ELLIS ISLAND

Click here to watch the official, award-winning documentary shown at Ellis Island free online at YouTube.

 

PRODUCTION CREDITSGenealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Amie Tennant, Content Contributor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer


Check out this new episode!

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!

“I Found 130 Letters by My Ancestor!” Why Use Google Books for Genealogy

Betty has at least 130 good reasons to use Google Books for genealogy! She used this powerful Google tool to find her ancestor’s name in a book–which led to a treasure trove of his original letters in an archive. Here’s what happened–and how to try this with your own family history research. 

You’ve heard me say that Google Books is the tool I turn to every day. Now, you may be thinking, “But my ancestors wouldn’t be in history books!” Resist the temptation to make assumptions about sources, and about your ancestors. With over 25 million books, Google Books is more likely to have something pertinent to your genealogy research than you think. And as I often tell my audiences, those books can include source citations, providing a trail to even more treasures.

Why to Use Google Books for Genealogy: Success Story!

At the National Genealogical Society conference this past spring, Betty attended my class and then stopped by the Genealogy Gems booth to share her story. I recorded it, and here’s a transcription:

Betty: I was stuck on my Duncan Mackenzie ancestor, so I put his name in Google Books, because when you’re stuck, that’s what you do!

Lisa: Yes, I do!

Betty: So, up popped this history of Mississippi, it was sort of a specific history, and it said Duncan Mackenzie had written a letter to his brother-in-law in North Carolina from Covington County, Mississippi. And of course I already had my tax records and my census records that placed him in Covington County. This was in the 1840s. I thought, this just couldn’t be him! Why would any of my relatives be in a book? [Sound familiar?]

So, finally, weeks later, it occurred to me to go back and look at the footnotes in the book, and I found that the letters could be found in the Duncan McLarin papers at Duke University. So, I didn’t even think to even borrow the microfilm. I just told my husband, “next time you go East for work, we need to go by Duke University.” So I set up a time, and I went, and it WAS my great-great-grandfather who wrote those letters! I have now transcribed 130 letters from that collection. They let me scan them all, and I’ve been back again to scan the rest of the legal papers.

Lisa: So, an online search into Google Books not only help you find something online, but it led you to the offline gems!

Betty: And it just changed my life! Because I spend all my time on these letters. It’s distracted me from other lines! [LOL! I get that!]

How to Use Google Books for Genealogy

Are you ready to put Google Books to work in your own research and discover some genealogy gems of your own? Here, I re-create Betty’s search for you, so you can see how to get started:

1. Go to Google Books (books.google.com). Enter search terms that would pertain to your ancestor, like a name and a place.

2. Browse the search results. The first three that show up here all look promising. Click on the first one.

3. Review the text that comes up in the text screen. As you can see here, Duncan McKenzie of Covington County is mentioned–and the source note at the bottom of the page tells you that the original letter cited in the book is at Duke University.

Learn More about Using Google Books for Genealogy

Learn more by watching my free Google Books video series at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Click the video below to watch the first one. (And be sure to subscribe while you’re there, because there are more videos to come!)

Then, watch the video below for a quick preview of my full one hour video class (and downloadable handout) called Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day!, available to all Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

Family History Episode 3 – Working Backward and the SSDI

Family History PodcastTune in Tuesday: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Published October 15, 2013

by Lisa Louise Cooke

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

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. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 3: Working Backward and the SSDI

In our first segment in this episode my guest is Miriam Robbins Midkiff, a well-known genealogy blogger and teacher. She shares her best research tips, what motivates her to delve into her family history and how that discovery has enriched her life.

Then in our second segment we answer the question, “Why do we work backwards in genealogy?” and then fire up the Internet and go after your first genealogical record. Below, find current links to the record sources I talk about in the show. Also, when I recently checked, the Social Security Death Index was no longer free at WorldVitalRecords as I mention in the podcast and some of the site features I mention may have changed. I’ve given you links below to more options for searching, including plenty of FREE options!

Working Backward

When it comes to tracing your family history, there are standard methods that will help you build a solid family tree. Starting with yourself and working backwards is a cornerstone of genealogical research. It will be tempting to start with a great grandparent that you just got some juicy information on after interviewing Aunt Martha, but resist the temptation to start with that great grandparent, and go back to the beginning – and that’s YOU!

There’s a very good reason why working backward is so effective. Let’s say you have filled in info on yourself, and then recorded everything about your parents and now it’s time to work on one of your grandfathers and all you have is the date he died and the date he was born. If you are lucky enough to have his birth date and birthplace and you get his birth certificate it will tell you who his parents were, but it can’t predict his future can it? Where he went to school, where he lived over the years, etc. Documents can only tell you what has occurred in the past, not what will occur in that person’s future.

But if you get his death certificate it will give you key information at the end of his life that can lead you to the various events throughout his life. If you don’t have his birthdate and birthplace, you’ll probably find it on the death certificate. It will also likely name his parents and his spouse. A birth record can’t tell you who he will marry, but a death record can tell you who he did marry. You can start to see how starting at the end of someone’s life and working backwards will be the most efficient and accurate way to research.

Records are like the bread crumb trail of your family tree! If you don’t work systematically backwards, it will be very easy to miss a crucial piece of evidence, and you might end up relying on guesswork and end up building a false history on it. Believe me you don’t want to invest time in a tree that you’re going to have to chop down and replant!

So now that you understand and are committed to following this cornerstone concept of systematically starting with yourself and working backwards, it’s time to fire up the Internet and put it into practice by finding your first record. What type of record will we be looking for? A death record of course!

Is one of your parents deceased? If so, you’re going to start with them. If they are still living, and you’ve got their information entered into your genealogy database choose one of their parents, your grandparents, who is deceased – or if you’re lucky enough to be starting at a young age you may have to go back to a deceased great grandparent! (And good for you for starting now while you’re young!)

The SSDI

Chances are the person that you’ve chosen, for this example let’s say it’s your grandfather, he most likely had a social security card. And there is a wonderful free database online in the United States called the Social Security Death Index, what is commonly referred to as the SSDI, that you can use to find that grandparent.

In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.

Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! As with all records it provides clues that you should try to verify through an additional record source.

There are many websites that feature this database, as seen in the UPDATED links below. This database is free at most sites, even sites that charge for access to other data.

On the Search page, enter your grandparent’s given name which is their first name, the family name which is their last name or surname, the place of their death – this could just be the state – and the year they died, and click the Search button. Hopefully you will get back a result that includes your grandparent.

Now remember you’re looking at an index, not an original record or primary source. We talked about sources in Episode 2. A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event by an authoritative source, usually someone with direct personal knowledge of the event that’s being documented, like a death certificate is completed at the time of death by the attending physician. These are the best and usually most accurate types of sources you can find. And that’s what we want!

The really key information in this search result is the county information. In order to get an original death certificate which would be your primary source you have to know which county they died in. You may already know that for your grandparent, but keep this in mind because the further back we go, the more crucial it will be to know the county involved since that’s where death certificates are recorded.

By any chance did your grandparent not show up in the results even though you know they worked after 1937 when the Social Security got rolling, and you know they have passed away? Don’t fret – We have other ways to try and find the info!

This brings us to what I think is a really important concept to keep in mind whenever you’re researching your family on the Internet. Each search is conducted at a specific moment in time. Running an SSDI search or a Google search tomorrow might give you results different than the one you ran today. The Internet is being updated second by second, and the SSDI has been updated several times over the years.

In the case of the SSDI database, you can’t be absolutely sure that the website you are using to search the SSDI has the most current version available. Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated.

Here’s a perfect example of that: When I searched for my grandfather on my dad’s side from the Family Tree Legends website, I got no results. Now I KNOW he died in 1971 and I KNOW he worked his entire life so he had to have been registered with Social Security. Then I went to Ancestry.com and searched for him in their SSDI database and he popped right up.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother shows up on all three websites I’ve mentioned. In most cases, you’ll find who you’re looking for, but occasionally, like with my grandfather, you may have to dig in your heels and try the SSDI on a couple of different websites to find who them. Never give up, never surrender. That’s my motto!

And of course, each website offers just a little different variation on the terms that you can search on.

So just in case you have a stubborn ancestor who eludes your first SSDI search, try finding them  at several of the SSDI databases. If you do have luck on World Vital Records, be sure and click the More Details link next to your search results because it includes some fun extras like a link called Historical Events next to their birth year and death year that will take you to a list of important historical events that were happening those particular years. It’s kind of fun to see what was going on in the world when your grandparent was born.

You’ll also find a link called Neighbors which will take you to a listing of folks who lived in the same county as your ancestor and died in within a year or two of them.

But most helpful is that your research results on World Vital Records will include a listing of nearby cemeteries which are good possibilities for where your ancestor may have been buried. (Again, just clues to hopefully send you in the right direction.) But as I said, the death certificate is going to be your best and primary source and almost always includes the name and address of the cemetery where the person was buried.

Here are a few more search tips if you don’t find your ancestor right away:

1. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.

2. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.

3. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.

4. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE! Go figure!

5. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.

6. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.

While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there. I admit it, in the past I’ve managed to check out books I’ve already looked through and order a record or two that I already had. Lesson learned!

So here’s your assignment for this week: Go through your genealogy database and do a Social Security Death Index search on every deceased person who was living after 1937. Hopefully you will be able to fill in several more blanks in your genealogy database and family tree!

Up next: Episode 4: Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU