A Tip for Harnessing New Technologies for Genealogy

Lisa BYU Keynote

Photo courtesy of The Ancestry Insider

New technologies don’t stay new. They keep evolving. Here’s a tip for harnessing new and emerging technologies to advance family history research and stay connected with living relatives. 

Last week, I was at the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy in Provo, Utah. What a friendly, welcoming group! (Be sure to check out the BYU Family History Library here.) All week, I taught sessions and gave a keynote address on various technologies that help our research. The week’s discussions reminded me how quickly technology moves–and how enthusiastically genealogists continue to embrace new opportunities given them by technology.

It’s part of my job to learn about these new technologies and pass the best ones–the “gems” along to you. But here’s a tip I shared during my keynote address that will help you focus on the technologies you care most about: Think about which tasks you want to accomplish with technology, rather than just learning genealogy-specific technology. Then keep up with developments in the technologies that accomplish those tasks.

For example, by now, many of us have used (or at least heard of) Google Translate. We can use it with foreign-language documents and to correspond with overseas relatives and archives. But Google Translate’s functionality keeps improving. “By the audible gasps of the audience” (during my keynote address) reported the FamilySearch blog, “most were not aware that the Google Translate app enables you to literally hold up your phone to the computer screen or typeset document, and it will translate foreign text on the fly for you—a must have free tool when dabbling in nonnative language content.”

Genealogists are really thinking about these issues. The Ancestry Insider blogged about my keynote talk, too, and my observation that genealogists haven’t been embracing digital video at the same speed at which they embrace other forms of digital media. In the comments section of that post Cathy added, “Now what we need to do is get FamilySearch to figure out a way to let us upload our URL YOUTube videos, not only for our deceased, but for our living….Our children and grandchildren don’t write letters, they email, text, instagram. They don’t write journals, they blog. They make videos of current history….We all need to look to the future and [learn] how to save the new technologies.” Cathy gets it!

A special thanks to conference organizers Stephen Young and John Best, who welcomed me and Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton all week long. They did a fantastic job of organizing a large event while retaining a warm, personal environment.

Continue reading about applying technology to your family history here.

Tell Your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy

Do you wish you knew more about your ancestor’s everyday life experience? Use social history for genealogy: to fill in the gaps between documented events.

social history for genealogy family history

Recently we heard from Barbara Starmans, a social historian, genealogist and longtime listener of three of Lisa’s podcasts. She wrote to share a new blog she started.

“While I’ve maintained my Out of My Tree Genealogy blog for many years, I’ve just launched The Social Historian, a longform story website featuring social history themed articles from across the centuries and around the world.”

Social history is about “the lives of ordinary people,” explains Barbara. “It is a view of history from the bottom up, rather than from the top down…. [It’s about] understanding…how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. It is often the minutia of someone’s life that tells the story of who they were and what they believed in.”

“By exploring social history, you will be able to research all the circumstances of your ancestors’ lives and to build their life stories from the details you find.” Barbara send us a great list that we adapted and boiled down to a few core topics:

  • Life cycle: Birth and birthing customs, health and lifestyle practices, medicine, diseases and epidemics, mental health, mortality rates, death and burial customs.
  • Life at home: Clothing and fashion, food and cooking, housekeeping, land and property, alcohol and drug use.
  • Life at work: Economy (prices, cost of living and salaries), occupations, working conditions and the labor movement, businesses and employers, social welfare and relief.
  • Relationships: Morality, marriage and divorce, children and childhood, ethnicity and prejudices,
  • Community life: Celebrations and holidays, traditions, education, language and literacy, religion/church, faith, crime and punishment, societal unrest, leisure pursuits.
  • Game changers: War, emigration, inventions, transportation, communication, slavery and emancipation.

Barbara’s social history blog gives lots of great examples of her belief that “beyond just names and dates, those who came before us have a story to tell….By learning about their time and place and how they lived in it, you can add to your understanding of who they were.”

Resources

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition cover

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke is packed with strategies for learning about your ancestors’ lives online. There’s an entire chapter on using Google Scholar for genealogy!

Where can you look for social history online? I’d start with these sites:

1. Make sure you’re using all of Google’s fantastic resources, including Google Books and Google Scholar

2. Click to find Social history resources at the Library of Congress

3. American Social History Project at the City University of New York

Have fun! I think learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors is one of the most fascinating parts of family history.

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Organize Digital Family Photos: Free Podcast Interview with Denise Levenick

organize digital family photosI love Denise Levenick’s “getting started” strategies for digital photo organization in the free May 2015 Family Tree Magazine podcast. I have thousands of digital photos on my computer–and that’s just from the past few years!

Denise Levenick is the author of The Family Curator blog and the book How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally. Her approach is so practical and forgiving: start where you are. Start small. Take your time. Do a few at a time. Use a consistent and simple file naming and digital file organizing scheme!

Also in this podcast, Editor Diane Haddad chimes into the conversation with 25 keepsake family photo projects. Then host Lisa Louise Cooke wraps up the photo theme with her favorite strategies for navigating the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy PodcastAre you ready for some serious hard drive organization? We can help with that! In our free 2-part series, “Organize Your Genealogy Files,” Lisa shares the system she developed about a decade ago to keep her computer hard drive organized. Her system has withstood the test of time: she’s added thousands more files to her genealogy folders as well as folders that organize “the rest of her life.” Click here to go to these episodes of the Family History Made Easy Podcast, episodes 32-33. Genealogy Gems Premium members can also watch the 2-part Premium video series, “Hard Drive Organization.” You’ll learn similar principles but you can watch Lisa do all that digital organizing right on her computer screen!

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!

3 Things This Gems Follower Loves About the New Ancestry Site

Ancestry what I love about the new siteRecently we reported changes in the Ancestry.com site, now available to all U.S. customers. Genealogy Gems follower Nora then emailed us with three things she loves about the new Ancestry experience, and her instructions for merging facts related to the same life event. Below are her comments; I’ve added screen shots for the sake of illustration that don’t pertain to Nora’s ancestors.

“I’ve been playing around with the new version of Ancestry.com, and have the following comments:

Yes No Maybe Ancestry1. YES, NO, MAYBE SO. “I LOVE that in the “hints”, it now asks you if the facts match your ancestor, and you have “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe” options.

In some cases, it is clearly not your ancestor, but sometimes you just aren’t sure. If you click “Yes,” you get the usual screen where you compare the items in the record to your tree and decide which points you want to use as “preferred” before you save the source to the individual in your tree.

If you click “No”, the hint gets put in the “Ignored” list. Yes, you could always go back and review these again, but you had to dig through all the entries that clearly did not relate to your ancestor. With the addition of “Maybe” there is now an “Undecided” list.  If you think it is possible that this is your ancestor, but don’t yet have any additional information that would support an unconditional “Yes, save this to my ancestor” reaction, you can click “Maybe.” Then, when something else shows up in your research that supports that hint, you can search back through the “Undecided” list under hints for that ancestor, and maybe go ahead and save the info to them in your tree.

Ancestry LifeStory viewTHUMBS-UP ON LIFESTORY VIEW. “I quite like the LifeStory view, especially as it gives the option to remove items you don’t want to include. For instance, the 1860 U.S. Federal census shows my ancestor as residing in New York, NY.  She was actually visiting her parents with her firstborn, a toddler son named for her father. Her actual home at the time was in California.

Because I entered the census info on Ancestry, her LifeStory suddenly included “current event” items for New York in the years between the 1860 and 1870 censuses. While these are appropriate in her parents’ records, they are not applicable to her, as she returned to California and her husband.

EASIER TO MERGE FACTS. “On each ancestor’s Facts tab, it is now so easy to combine duplicates of life events that came from different sources! I’ve been doing editing there and then syncing with my Family Tree Maker tree. The page shows the list of facts for the individual, the list of sources for that individual’s facts, and the list of immediate family members.

For the ancestor [mentioned] above, there were four separate marriage “facts.”  All of the documentation of the marriage date came from other members’ trees. Two of these trees had the information entered in exactly the same format, so they were both linked to the same fact. The other three trees each had the information entered slightly differently from any of the other trees. In order to consolidate down to just one “fact” with multiple “sources,” I did the following:

  1. Chose which “fact” I wanted to keep (in this case, it was the one with the most detailed information about the event). I’ll call this the “Master Fact.”  My “Master Fact” was showing one source.  The “duplicate facts” were showing 2, 1, and 1 source respectively.
  2. Clicked on the first “duplicate fact.”  This drew a connector line to the associated “sources.”
  3. Allowed my mouse to hover over the associated source, and clicked on the EDIT button that appears. At the top of the resulting screen, it listed the “facts” that this particular source is currently associated with. Below, it listed all the other “facts” for the individual.
  4. In the lower list, I clicked the plus sign next to the Master Fact that I wanted to keep. This associated the current “source” with the Master Fact.
  5. Next, in the upper section, I checked the “X” next to the “duplicate fact” that I intended to delete.  This unlinked the current “source” from that “fact.”
  6. I repeated these steps for all the “sources” associated with the “duplicate facts.”
  7. Lastly, I went back to the Facts tab for this particular ancestor. My “Master Fact” was now showing 5 associated sources, and each of the “duplicate facts” showed no associated sources. I was able to click on each “duplicate fact,” select “Delete” from the “Edit” menu associated with that “fact,” and wind up with just the “Master Fact” for my ancestor’s marriage. Doing this really cleaned up the LifeStory view without having to “hide” a bunch of entries.”

Thank you, Nora! I appreciate hearing from you about the “gems” you’re finding in the new Ancestry site experience–and especially thanks for those instructions on associating several sources with the same life event.

podcast logo 180The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 has tips for backing up your Ancestry data (not just your tree, but sources and DNA), as does this blog post. Make sure you’re always backed up, whether your data lives online or on your home computer. I rely on Backblaze as the official Genealogy Gems backup data provider. Click here to learn why

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