Some genealogists–actually, most genealogists–need help being organized. These genealogy gift ideas are the perfect gift to give yourself: the gift of helping you keep track of your research, your sources and everything else in your family history world.
These ideas include those for gathering and organizing your research materials but also precious memories and original artifacts. When you shop, and click on the links from this post your purchases help support the free Genealogy Gems podcast. Thank you!
Evernote. Ok, this program is FREE so maybe it doesn’t count as a holiday gift. But sometimes the most important gifts we can give someone (including ourselves) are TIME and a FRESH START. That’s what you’ll give when you install Evernote on your computer or a loved one’s, then learn or teach someone how to use it.
Some of my most popular classes now are on how to harness Evernote to keep track of genealogy sources, online and print content, photos, research notes and all those other essential bits that can haunt you when you can’t put your hands on them. And all the options available for Evernote mean you can synch and access your stuff across several devices and computers: it’s available for Windows and Mac systems and there are apps for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry. PRICE: Free.
Evernote Smart Notebook.
Even the most paper-free researchers still need to take handwritten notes sometimes. Make your notes easy to scan and integrate into your Evernote software with this notebook. The notebook paper is lightly gridded to make it easier to scan the pages nice and straight. But the real genius of this notebook is the accompanying “smart stickers” you can put on each page. These stickers have icons that become searchable digital tags when scanned. These tags make it easier to identify and synch your notes with other material you’ve tagged in Evernote (by surname, location, person’s name, etc). PRICE: $19.95.
Evernote for Windows for Genealogists Quick Reference Guide
This is my newest publication! Evernote users (and those who want to be) appreciate having an at-a-glance tutorial, tricks and shortcuts for using this free and essential software for genealogy. Evernote helps genealogists keep track of their source material–and my laminated Quick Reference Guide helps genealogists do it smarter and faster.
My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.
This gorgeously-designed book by Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton helps the user capture their own life story or someone else’s. The book is organized into natural sections like childhood, family life, career, etc. Each section is filled with thoughtful memory-jogging questions about the past: relationships, events, growing experiences. A spiral-bound format with a bonus CD with extra printable pages makes the book flexible to anyone’s life: remove or add additional as needed to tell your unique story. The introduction and the beginning of each section offers compassionate and sound advice on topics like how to improve the quality of memories, understanding memories, what to do with difficult memories and more. PRICE: $29.99 (but last I checked it was on sale for $19.99 at Amazon the link above).
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!
Family history organizations and studies based on individual surnames have been around for years. They are now integrating YDNA research into their efforts. Use surname projects to enhance your paternal DNA research!
Surnames are the flagships of our genealogical research. We name our files after them and we tag our research with them. We wear our last names proudly on pins and necklaces and T-shirts.
But surnames can also be misleading. Illiteracy, language barriers, and just plain carelessness led to misspellings and alterations, not to mention those ancestors who blatantly changed their name to avoid detection.
The advent of YDNA testing has changed the way many genealogists view surnames and their role in their genealogy. Because a man’s YDNA is the same as the YDNA carried by each of the ancestors in his direct paternal line, the YDNA can act like a filter, clearly indicating which men with a particular surname, or variant, truly share a direct paternal line.
So how has YDNA testing affected family organizations that do surname research? I asked Debbie Kennett, a regular contributor to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki and Facebook page who is also involved with the Guild of One Name Studies. The Guild of One Name Studies was established in 1979 to promote public understanding of one-name studies and preserve the information obtained by those studies.
“Virtually every common surname is now the subject of a DNA project,” says Debbie, including “just over 500 Guild members who are running a DNA project. That number has jumped up considerably just in the last couple of years.”
The quality of those projects varies. Debbie tells us that a quality YDNA project includes three elements: “presenting the DNA data, recruiting people from different countries and also correlating all of the genealogy information.”
Jean Morrison, a member of the Morrison surname project, says that because of DNA testing, “identifying where in Scotland this family originated prior to coming to America ca 1728 has become a realistic goal. The Morrison Q Group has identified through Y line testing at 111 markers, 22 individuals with an MRCA (most recent common ancestor) within eight generations.” In plain English, this means that a definite YDNA pattern has been associated with her Morrison surname and with a common ancestor eight generations back.
Noel and Ron Taylor were two early adopters of YDNA testing for their Taylor family project. Their first samples were submitted to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in 2000. The former president and currently the head of the board of trustees for the Taylor Family Society, Noel says that using DNA “caught the attention of many people in our organization….It renewed great interest in the hearts of many people who had been doing research for many years [who may have] lost interest and were somewhat discouraged.” The Taylors have made significant breakthroughs with their DNA testing. They have connected several Taylor lines back to a common ancestor, verified their paper trails, and even found a line of Hodges that were actually Taylors!
It appears that YDNA is becoming part of the research plan for most family societies. But Debbie tells us that there is still much room for improvement in her organization. “Not all Guild members are running [DNA] projects. We have something like 2,700 Guild members so we are still not at the stage where the majority of Guild members are running projects.”
Besides The Guild, other organizations have been created to assist genealogists with their surname research, including a new organization just launched in November. The Surname Society’s goal is to “to build a collaborative environment where members are encouraged to develop their own approach to the investigation of their surname.”
Kirsty Grey, chairman of the Surname Society, says that DNA testing has taken a front seat role in the research of one of their founders as well as several early members. “DNA is one of the many strands of family history research (and to a greater extent, surname studies) which can connect individuals, often where genealogical research cannot.”
That really is the bottom line. DNA, especially YDNA, can tell you things about the surnames in your pedigree that you can’t learn in any other way. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to jump on the YDNA bandwagon and see what your DNA has to tell you.
I can help you! Check out my series of quick guides (purchase all 4 laminated guides or the digital download bundle for the best deal):
RootsMagic, the makers of award-winning family history software, now offers free guides for users of PAF (Personal Ancestral File, the free family tree software that is becoming obsolete), FamilySearch Family Tree and their own RootsMagic software.
“RootsMagic for PAF Users: A Quick Start Guide” is a 16-page, full-color booklet that guides PAF users through the transition to RootsMagic. It addresses common questions and is available as a free download here.
In addition, RootsMagic hosts several tutorial videos on its own You Tube channel, RootsMagicTV.com. Dozens of short videos are organized by the most popular and recent videos and by topic: installing and using RootsMagic; using RootsMagic with PAF; and using RootsMagic with FamilySearch’s Family Tree.
If you’re a RootsMagic user (or are thinking about becoming one), check these out.
As you may have already noticed, a lot of websites these days host millions of family trees: MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Geni.com, FindMyPast.com, Archives.com and more. There are virtual forests and forests of family trees out there! How can you find a tree that includes your family? How can you be sure it’s yours? How do you know that what you see is accurate?
Get started with these 7 Steps: How to Find Your Family Tree Online:
1. Choose a site from the list above and create a free log in.
Which should you choose?
- FamilySearch.org is the only one that offers totally free access to all user-submitted family trees as well as the historical records that can help you with your research. However, the other sites offer a variety of free access options, especially to user-submitted trees.
- MyHeritage is known for its international user base (check out its user map here) and multi-language access.
- Some sites have different portals that specialize in records from different countries. For example, Ancestry.com (with a U.S. focus) owns Ancestry.ca for Canadian genealogy, Ancestry.co.uk for the United Kingdom and Ancestry.com.au for Australian records. Similarly, FindMyPast.co.uk (U.K. focus) also hosts FindMyPast.com (U.S.), FindMyPast.ie (Ireland) and FindMyPast.com.au (Australia). Check out additional sites for specific countries (including non-English-speaking) here. If your family recently immigrated, look for a site about “the old country.’ If you have pretty deep roots in your current country, or you’re not sure, pick a site that specializes in your current home.
2. Enter the name of one of your relatives in the Search bar.
Each site files its family trees a little differently: some with historical records and some separately. Search trees at FamilySearch here. On Ancestry.com, look under the Search option for Public Member Trees. Enter names of your relatives, along with any other details you know (like a birth date and place or a spouse’s name). Try different combinations, sometimes using the person’s first and middle name, trying a maiden name, entering a nickname, etc. Increase your odds of finding people by entering a range of years (like 1880-1890) for a date and a more general place, like a state, rather than the name of a little town. If you get too many results, enter more specific information.
Which relative(s) should you choose?
- One who is deceased, if possible. Records about living people may be restricted for some places (but not all).
- If possible, one with a relatively unusual name. They may be easier to spot.
- One you know several things about: a full name (including maiden for women), dates and places of birth, marriage and death; burial place; where they lived during their lifetime; names of their spouse(s), sibling(s) and/or child(ren).
- One who lived as long ago as possible, to increase the chance that someone has posted a tree. But a grandparent is a great starting point, if that’s as far back as you know. If your grandparent is still alive, ask them their parents’ names, and start with your great-grandparent.
- Need to learn more about your relatives first? Read this article on how to gather information about your family.
3. Click on results labeled as “family trees.” Are they “yours?”
Browse the search results. Do any of these names and details look familiar? Everything doesn’t have to be a perfect match for a tree to include your roots. Sometimes different information is handed down through different branches of a family. Sometimes people get their information from sources that don’t match yours. Sometimes people just guess or patch together parts of different family trees without looking closely to see if they’re right.
Tech tutorial: What exactly are you looking at when you look at a family tree online? Before the days of internet genealogy, researchers organized family history findings on their home computers in one of several specially-designed software programs. These programs could generate .GED files (often referred to as GEDCOMs) that would allow researchers using different software to share their findings. Many people have now uploaded their GED files to genealogy sites like the ones we’re talking about–or they’ve just built a family tree from scratch right on the site.
4. Evaluate the accuracy of what you find.
The best way to judge the accuracy of a family tree without researching it yourself is to see what proof is offered. Do you see any records mentioned (like footnotes) or attached to the tree? Common records include tombstone images; government or church vital records (birth, marriage or death records) and census listings. Do you see photos attached? Photos may indicate the submitter has access to family records or albums (bonus!).
If a tree mentions lots of sources, it’s more likely to be accurate–at least for the pieces of information that are sourced. If a tree doesn’t have sources, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means you don’t know if it’s right.
Sometimes you’ll find a “branch” on a tree that goes back many generations without a single source mentioned. Beware! Sometimes these branches are just copied from other trees. This may particularly be true if a branch is connected to a royal line. Royal lines are well-documented in history and some people have created family trees with the hope of running into royal relatives. These connections may not have been thoroughly researched–they might just represent “wishful thinking.” Again, look for sources.
5. Optional step: reach out to the submitter of promising-looking family trees.
Some sites allow you to contact them through confidential email routed through the site (you may have to purchase a subscription first). You might contact a submitter to meet a possible cousin, share information you have or ask for more details about what they posted. If you contact them, be polite–don’t open with “you got my grandfather’s birthday wrong” or you may never hear back. You may not hear back anyway, if the submitter is no longer researching, their email changed or they have passed away.
6. Google your surname along with the phrase “family tree” or “genealogy.”
See if any personal websites pop up with your family tree (or other family history information) in them. Evaluate the information by looking for accurate details (as far as you know) and lots of sources mentioned. Look for an “About” or “Contact” page to learn more about the submitter of this information.
7. Verify it yourself.
Wandering through forests of online family trees may give you the urge to create your own tree. An accurate, and sourced tree! If so, good for you. Keep reading the articles suggested below to learn how to get started!
Up next, read:
Get Started: How to Find Your Family History for Free. Perfect for the beginner!
Explore the Genealogy Gems website for more tools, tips and resources that can help you put together your family’s “bigger picture.”
Sign up for our free e-newsletter and receive my FREE ebook on using Google to find your family history.
Check out my step-by-step Family History podcast for beginning genealogists.
Post an Online Family Tree. Listen to a podcast episode (or just read the show notes) on how to post your own family tree online.
Easy or complicated genealogy for the folks on this remote island? Tristan da Cunha, Wikipedia image.
Small, isolated populations should mean it’s easy to do their genealogy, right? Well, I wonder.
I came across this Wikipedia article on Tristan da Cunha, described as “the most remote inhabited island in the world, lying 1,750 miles from the nearest landfall in South Africa, and 2,088 miles from South America. Its current population of 264 is thought to have descended from 15 ancestors, 8 males and 7 females, who arrived on the island at various times between 1816 and 1908. The male founders originated from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, United States and Italy and the island’s 80 families share just eight surnames: Glass, Green, Hagan, Lavarello, Patterson, Repetto, Rogers, and Swain.”
Of course, success in doing family history on this island depends a lot on how strong their record-keeping and preservation has been. (Consider what one natural disaster could do to written history) Barriers to migration should certainly mean it’s easy to find ancestors. But what does that family tree look like? How many people will show up in multiple places on the tree?
Have you ever done genealogy research on an isolated or insular group? What are the challenges? What’s easier? Feel free to share on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. Feel free to share your tales of complicated genealogy!