Think it’s too hard to create your own family history video? Think again! You may already have the foundation already poured!
Video is one of the best ways to tell your family’s story. Imagery, text and music comes together to quickly capture the attention of all ages. But whether it’s a blank computer screen or a blank page, getting started is often the hardest part of any creative project.
That’s why when I wanted to whip up a tribute video to my husband’s father’s Naval service, I didn’t start from scratch. Instead, I turned to small book I created over ten years ago for inspiration and content. My research of his military career has certainly evolved since I first put those pages together. Creating a new video on the subject gave it a nice facelift in a modern medium that everyone in our family loves!
Back in 2006 Kodak Gallery offered one of the first print-on-demand services to the public. It was a tantalizing idea to think of being able to create my own full color, hard cover book. And what would I write about? Family history, of course!
My husband’s father’s military service records had recently come into our possession, and one afternoon I sat down and scanned all of the photographs and documents at a fairly high resolution (about 600 dpi). I created my first book that day using that imagery, and added text where I had more details. The end result was a mighty nice coffee table styled book. Just 20 full color glossy pages double sided, for a total of 40 pages. This was just about all I could expect of the average attention span of my non-genealogist relatives. To my happy surprise, the book was devoured, with many exclamations of “I’ve never seen that!”, and “oh, isn’t that great!
Fast forward to today. Kodak Gallery is long gone, and today’s relatives rarely have the desire to sit and even flip through pages of a book. What are they willing to spend time on? Video! Brief video, albeit, but video is the book come to life. And so, when in search of a new project to get family history out in front of the clan, I decided to do just that: breathe life into that book I created 11 years ago.
First, I located the computer file folder containing all of the original scanned images, both photos and documents. I renamed the files to start with a two-digit number so that they would appear in chronological order in the folder on my hard drive. Before I knew it, the story began to emerge on my screen.
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Then it was off to Animoto, the online video creation tool. Animoto doesn’t require any special skills to create professional looking videos. If you can click, drag and drop you can create fabulous family history videos.
I started by selecting choosing to create a “Slideshow Video” and selecting the video style called Old Glory. Being a patriotic theme it already included the perfect music called Presidential Welcome. If I had wanted something a little different, it would have been easy enough pick another tune out of their vast music library, or upload one of my own.
Next, I dragged and dropped the images into my new project. I already had about 25 images from my original folder, and I was able to add 5 newly discovered scanned documents and photos that really fleshed out the story. One click of the Preview button showed me that I already had an awesome video in the works. All that was left was to add a bit of text to the story
The Video Text
The text part of this project actually turned into a great way to pull my youngest daughter Hannah into family history a bit. She loves making videos on her phone, and during a recent visit she became intrigued by my project. I asked her if she would help me out and use the book as her guide and type captions onto the video images. She obliged, and the next thing I knew she was in the family room, computer in lap, talking with her Dad about his Dad. (This genealogist’s dream come true!) It was easy to add the text to tell the story by adding titles and captions to the video in Animoto.
Time to Produce Your Video
With all the content added, we hit the Preview button, and were amazed how Animoto timed everything to the music nearly perfectly. After a few final tweaks, we hit the Produce button. I must say, I’m really pleased with the results! Watch below, and then leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Make Your Own Video Project
What do you already have lying around the house that would make a terrific video? A scrapbook, or a drawer full of letters and photos? Click here to try out Animoto. I’ve been so thrilled with what I’ve been able to create for my family, that I proudly accepted Animoto as a sponsor of my free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and I happily recommend them. I think you’re going to love how quickly and easily you can bring your family history to life with video too.
As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.
County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.
But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:
I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?
Birth Records in the 1800s
The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. 
Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)
West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level
Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.
There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.
Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries
I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!
- 1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
- 1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
- 1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
- 1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
- 1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
- 1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
- 1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier
As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.
Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)
There is also a free guide at Family Tree Magazine for West Virginia genealogy research that we highly recommend.
More on Advanced Research Strategies
Changing county boundaries is just one area that must be mastered to ensure accurate genealogy research. Here are 3 more articles that will help you beef up your genealogy research skills:
The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls
Missing Census or Missing Family: Legacy Tree Genealogists Answer
Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy
 Johni Cerny, “Births and Deaths in Public Records,” originally written in “The Source: A Genealogist’s Guidebook to American Genealogy,” online article, Ancestry Wiki, accessed 20 Feb 2017.
MyHeritage is a leading resource for Scandinavian genealogy research. Now they are offering a free webinar for those researching Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic ancestry.
On Wednesday, April 15, Mike Mansfield, MyHeritage Director of Content and Jason Oler, MyHeritage Senior Program Manager, will host a program packed with research tips and strategies for navigating the millions of Scandinavian genealogy records now on MyHeritage. Click here to register.
Ready to learn about Scandinavian genealogy NOW? Genealogy Gems Premium members can access Premium Podcast Episode #15, in which Lisa interviews Scandinavian research expert Ruth Mannis at the Family History Library. Ruth simplifies and clarifies the process and reassures us that everyone can have success finding their Scandinavian roots. If you’re not a Premium member yet, you’re missing out on gems like Ruth Mannis’ interview–and more than 100 more premium podcasts like these and dozens of genealogy video tutorials. Get a year’s access
to all of this for one low price. Click here to learn more.
Lydia thinks her great-grandfather was murdered–perhaps even by her grandfather! Here’s some advice for her and everyone researching “cold cases” for criminal ancestors on your family tree.
I heard recently from Lydia with these intriguing questions:
My great great grandpa William John Gabriel Nelson disappeared one day, never coming home from work. It was family lore that he had been “shanghai’d.” But even as a child the story didn’t add up. [Through a] few other mentions of the account throughout the years, and recently reconnecting with cousins through Ancestry.com/DNA and your advice to just email DNA matches, I have a growing reason to believe my great-grandfather was murdered. An even bigger fear is that my grandfather may have been the one to do it.
All parties involved with this are now dead, so follow-up is impossible with them. But I’m wondering about contacting the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the library to determine if indeed there was a cold case, missing persons report or John Doe. Since this happened in the mid 1940’s, would I contact the LAPD or is this now a job for a historian?
As a citizen, Lydia can certainly contact the LAPD here. It might take a bit of persistence to get to the right person or resource. I would start by asking for how you can find out the status of a cold case from the year in question.
Here are 4 ways to follow up on your own criminal ancestors’ cold cases:
1. Look for cold case files online.
As I often say, all good searches start online because they will help you prepare to go offline. In other words, not everything is online, but searching online first will give you a lay of the land, revealing what is available, who to contact, and where to go in person. Start with a Google search such as LAPD cold cases. The search results include several good leads:
With a case like Lydia’s that is over 70 years old, I wouldn’t expect to pull it up in an online database (though you never know!) But I do see several sites here that provide phone numbers to gain access to those who can lead you in the right direction.
2. Search Google for clues.
Use Google’s powerful search technology to look for online mentions of the names, places, and dates of your particular case.
In Lydia’s case, she might begin with keywords relating to her great-grandfather’s disappearance, with his name, year, and the place he was last seen. Including descriptive keywords such as disappear, mystery, vanished or murder might also yield helpful results.
Learn more about effective search techniques in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.
3. Check old newspapers.
Newspapers in your ancestor’s hometown (or further afield) may have mentioned the incident. With a common name like William (or Bill) Nelson, you may need to weed out the overabundance of unwanted results you get. Let me show you how I did this in GenealogyBank
, a popular genealogical newspaper website:
The initial results of searching GenealogyBank (above) for the terms William Nelson and Los Angeles brought up over 1,000 search results! (The red arrow points to the tally.) Since I don’t like wasting valuable research time on irrelevant results (who’s with me?!), I refined the search. I specified Nelson as a last name, William as a first name, Los Angeles as a keyword, and I added a date range: the decade during which he disappeared. Next, I limited my search to Los Angeles-area newspapers, shown below:
This search narrows results down to under 200: a robust number, but at least manageable to look through for relevant material.
I want to be able to use these same search parameters in the future, so I click Save My Search.
The search now appears in My Folder
for future reference.
4. Look for criminal records.
If you knew (or suspected) that a relative was prosecuted for a crime, it’s time to start looking for records relating to the criminal case. There may be several kinds:
- In cases of suspicious death (where there was a body, unlike Lydia’s case), look for any surviving coroner’s records.
- If a trial may have occurred, research the jurisdiction to find out what court would have handled it, and then look for files relating to the case.
- If an ancestor may have served time, look for prison records. Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 29 is devoted to the topic of prison records.
Read this article about a woman who was researching not one but two mysterious deaths on her family tree.
Want to help investigators lay to rest their own cold cases?
Click here to read about the Unclaimed Persons Project and how you can help.