How to Find Family History on YouTube in 5 Steps

Family history can be found in many places. We turn to steadfast repositories such as libraries, archives and historical societies. And these days we can also search online at free genealogy websites like FamilySearch, and subscription websites like MyHeritage and Ancestry. All have something unique to offer. 

Most importantly, we start our search at home, talking to our oldest relatives and combing through old family papers. We then turn our attention to the family photo albums and scrapbook on the bookshelf, and old home movies if we are lucky enough to have them.

The great news is that the closets in your home are not the only place where you can potentially find old film footage pertaining to your family’s past. The largest online video repository in the world is YouTube (which is owned by Google), and it is the perfect place to look for film. That’s why I’m so excited to share some of my YouTube search strategies from my new book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 3rd Edition. These strategies can help you find old home movies (from your family or someone else’s family that came in contact with your family), news and newsreel films, documentaries, amateur and professional film footage, and countless other subjects that can shed more light on your family’s history. 

5 Easy steps to find your family history on YouTube

How to Find Family History on YouTube in 5 Steps

Does finding your family history on YouTube sound unlikely? Believe me, it’s not. YouTube is a treasure trove if you know how to search it. Here are 5 steps from my Google Search Methodology for Genealogy and how to apply them specifically to YouTube. 

Step #1. Create a Search Plan

Just like genealogy research, successful Googling, even on YouTube, requires a plan. Rather than searching willy-nilly, take a few moments to determine what it is you hope to find. Having a search plan will save you a lot of time and frustration!

The key to a good research question and plan is to be specific. This means that instead of just searching for family names or places, you have a specific event, place, and / or time frame in mind.

Below is a great example of searching with a specific plan in mind that I received from one of my Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners a while back. I have bolded the keywords that she incorporated into her YouTube search.

From Carol K.:
“I really enjoyed (Genealogy Gems) Podcast (episode) #223, particularly the segment with David Haas MD. (Editor’s note: that episode covers Dr. Haas’ vast collection of old home movies and his quest to upload them all to YouTube.)

I had tried researching YouTube for something about my family, including where they settled in Connecticut. I had not come up with much when I decide to search my dad’s ship, The USS Tuscaloosa (Image 1).

USS Tuscaloosa CA 37 P. 31 Wautur Clooses Photo Mario D

Image 1: Carol’s father, Mario Ponte, served on the USS Tuscaloosa

My dad, Mario Ponte, served in the Navy from 1936-1939 (Image 2).

  Image 2: Mario DaRin Ponte beside the USS Tuscaloosa – July 27, 1937

I knew he had been on a Goodwill South American Cruise in 1939 (Image 3) as he talked about it often and I even have the Cruise Book from that voyage.

Mario D. Ponte Goodwill Tour

image 3: U.S.S. Tuscaloosa South American Good Will Cruise route April – June 1939

Well, I’ll be if I didn’t find this story and film (on YouTube).

(Here’s the video’s description:)

On a goodwill tour of South America in 1939, three US cruisers found little goodwill in this angry sea. Newsreel cameras aboard the USS San Francisco recorded this epic struggle of the ships which included the USS Quincy and USS Tuscaloosa.

I don’t recall my father ever mentioning this to me, but my husband said he had heard the story. I only wish my dad were here to share this memory with me. At least, I have been able to share this treacherous event with many in my family.

When you see the tossing, turning and huge waves in the video, I feel they were lucky to have survived. Just think, if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here to tell this story today. 

Thanks Lisa and David. I’m now convinced that YouTube can be used for genealogy and to add to our stories.”

Carol’s fascinating success can be directly tied to the fact that she developed a research plan focused on specific information.

2. Craft Your YouTube Search Query

As you can see, Carol didn’t just search YouTube for her Dad’s name. In fact, unless your ancestor was famous in some way, that is likely not a strategy that will pay off.

Instead, she assembled the pertinent information and used that in her query. Here are the keywords and phrases I pulled from her email:

  • The USS Tuscaloosa
  • Goodwill South American Cruise in 1939
  • Mario Ponte 
  • Navy from 1936-1939

I included her dad’s name in this list because it never hurts to run your ancestor’s name through a search just in case something pops up. You never know what might be on YouTube. For example, perhaps a childhood friend has uploaded an old home movie to YouTube and named him as being in the movie too!

When conducting your initial YouTube search, include all the important information. If the results are unsatisfactory, you can always remove or add search terms. Since we can’t be sure what if anything is on YouTube pertaining to our research subject, we have to be flexible, and that means expecting to run several variations of our search. We’ll talk more about that in step 3. 

In Carol’s case, her research plan was focused on finding a video pertaining to the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa’s Goodwill cruise that her father participated in. She could start with a search such as:

USS Tuscaloosa Goodwill South American Cruise in 1939

The results for this search query are excellent and include the video that Carol found:

YouTube search for family history

Image 4: YouTube search for family history

3. Analyze Your YouTube Search Results

Even though these results successfully delivered the video that satisfied our research plan, we would miss tremendous opportunity if we didn’t take a few extra moments to further analyze the results. You never know what else might be out there!

Here are just a few of the things you should be looking for when reviewing your YouTube results:

LOOK FOR: Should I be more specific in my search query?
Look at our search results (Image 4 above). What stands out to me is that there appear to be many different videos on YouTube about war time ships and cruisers. This is great for family historians, but it means that there are more results to look through than we might have expected.

As you have probably experienced in the past, not all the words in our search query are included in every search result we receive. There is a way to quickly and easily find only videos that specifically mention the words and phrases we want to find. By putting quotation marks around “U.S.S. Tuscaloosa” we can tell YouTube to only give us videos that mention that exact phrase.

When Google searching (and Google is the search engine under the hood of YouTube), quotation marks function as a search operator. They tell Google specific instructions about what to do with our word or phrase. In this case, they tell Google that the phrase is mandatory, and must appear exactly as typed and spelled. The one exception is the periods in U.S.S.  Generally speaking, Google disregards punctuation, so it ignores the periods. It doesn’t matter whether you include them or not.

It is important to note that operators don’t always work as consistently in YouTube as they do in regular searches at Google.com. That being said, it’s great to have a variety of tools that we can use to improve our searches, and they are definitely worth a try. My book includes a wide range of additional search operators and how to use them. 

Running a second search on “USS Tuscaloosa” opens many new video opportunities (Image 5):

Quotation marks search on YouTube

Image 5: Search results for a query containing the quotation marks search operator.

This search not only includes the 1939 tour, but also other videos of the ship that may also be applicable to the family’s history. As you can see, sometimes less words in a search is more!

LOOK FOR: What do the unwanted video results have in common?
Sometimes you may notice that you are receiving many results that are not a good match for what you are looking for. When this happens, take a look at your results and try to come up with words that are associated with the unwanted videos, and have no relevance to your goal. 

Image 6 (below) is an example of search results in YouTube for the following query:

USS Tuscaloosa Goodwill Cruise in 1939

Identify unwanted videos and words in the YouTube search results

Image 6: Identify unwanted videos and words in the YouTube search results

While the results page includes a few good matches, it also includes current videos about quarantines on ships which is a viral topic at the time of this writing. Since these are not applicable to our search plan, we will want to eliminate them, and we will do that in Step 4. 

4. Improve Upon Your YouTube Search Results

In a case like the one above (Image 6) where you are receiving several video results not applicable to your research goal, you can try literally subtract the unwanted words that you identified in Step 3 from your search. In most cases, this should remove the videos that contain those words in their title or description.

To do this, use the minus sign (-) search operator in conjunction with the word. Here’s an example of how we can do that with this search:

USS Tuscaloosa Goodwill Cruise in 1939 -quarantine

This search will remove the results that mention quarantine.

You can subtract multiple words from your query if you wish. Each word should have a minus sign touching it, and there should be a space between each subtracted word as in this example:

USS Tuscaloosa Goodwill Cruise in 1939 -quarantine  -princess  -coronavirus

Googling, whether at YouTube, Google.com or any of the other free Google tools, is an art form, not a black and white science. We need to try variations in order to learn from what works and what doesn’t. To reach our goals, we need to try adding in more of what we want, and removing what we don’t want. In this case I would also try adding to my query that that cruise was in South America, and that the phrase USS Tuscaloosa is mandatory. Here’s what that search query would look like:

“USS Tuscaloosa” Goodwill South American Cruise in 1939 -quarantine

Remember, we’re not going for perfect results, we’re mining all the different “veins” in the YouTube gold mine by running multiple versions of the same basic query. Feel free to experiment with mixing and matching keywords and operators.  The results may be worth it!

Learn more about Google Search operators in my video:

GOOGLE GURU TIP: 
Conduct each variation of your search in a new browser tab. This allows you to compare the results side-by-side while retaining each query, making it easy to return to the queries that are performing the best.

You can also potentially improve upon your YouTube search results by using the Tools button to reveal the secondary filter menu. (Image 7)

YouTube search filter

Image 7: Click “Filter” to reveal the YouTube search filter options

These filters won’t prove useful in every case, but they do offer some handy options for narrowing the scope of your search. 

5. Capitalize on Your Results

When you find a video that meets your research goals, there’s a good chance that the person or company that uploaded and published the video (publishers are called “Creators” by YouTube) may have more videos on that subject. Here’s a quick and easy way to find out. 

On the video page, you will see the name of the Creator right below the video in the left corner. (Image 9)

More videos found on YouTube

Image 9: More videos found on YouTube

Click the YouTube Creator’s name. This will take you to their YouTube channel. Every Creator who has published a video has a YouTube channel. It’s sort of like their own home page for their videos. There you will be able to see and search any additional videos they have published. Click Videos to see all their videos. (Image 10)

More videos on the Creator's YouTube channel

Image 10: More videos on the Creator’s YouTube channel

If the channel has a lot of videos, click Playlists in the channel’s menu to see how they are grouped by topic. You can also search the channel for keywords and phrases by clicking the small magnifying glass icon on the far right end of the menu.

A Bright Future for Family History on YouTube

In Step 3 we analyzed the search results for Carol’s YouTube search. Let’s take another look at those results:

YouTube search results for family history

Image 8: Over time new videos are uploaded to YouTube waiting to be found.

It’s interesting to note that in addition to the video that Carol found which was published 4 years ago, another video on this topic was published a year later. 

It’s estimated that more than 500 hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube every minute. This is up from the 400 hours per minute announced in 2015 by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. 

Among that vast storehouse of film footage I’ve found countless videos that have enhanced my family’s story. And readers just like you email me the gems they unearth. I love receiving these success stories. Thank you to Carol for sharing hers! If you make an exciting discovery using these strategies please share them in the Comments. It will inspire us all to continue our search. 

The bottom line is that the potential for finding your family history on YouTube grows dramatically minute by minute, so don’t wait another minute! 

Resources

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 3rd Edition (book)
by Lisa Louise Cooke, print book available at the Genealogy Gems store here.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa’s new book is available at STORE in the menu or go to shopgenealogygems.com

The Google Search Methodology for a New Decade (video class)
1 hour video class and downloadable handout, part of Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. Learn more or subscribe here

Watch the Google Search Methodology for Genealogy

Watch the Premium video class Google Search Methodology for Genealogy

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 249

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the Elevenses with Lisa show notes page here.  

Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy research? I’ve got 10 important questions you need to ask yourself to rate your readiness for genealogy success this year. 

Click below to listen: 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members Exclusive Download:

This audio from this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa episode 39. Log into your membership and then click here to download the handy PDF show notes that compliment this podcast episode. 

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Podcast Resources

Download the episode mp3
Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39. Visit the show notes page here

 

What is WikiTree with Founder Chris Whitten

Show Notes: When it comes to choosing an online family tree, there are lots of different options. It can be a challenging decision as to where to put yours. In this video and show notes article we’re going to take a look at WikiTree.com. You’ll learn what it is, how you to use it effectively, and how you can use it in conjunction with your own private family tree on your own computer. My guest is Chris Witten, the President and Founder of WikiTree.

Watch the Video

Download the Show Notes Cheat Sheet (Premium Membership required) 

What is Wiki Tree?

Lisa: We are always interested in those websites that are going to help us build out our family tree, and learn more about our family history. WikiTree has been doing that for several years now. Please tell people about what you do at WikiTree.

Chris: WikiTree is completely free. It’s open to everybody. It’s a genealogy community. So, it’s all for collaboration. We’re growing a single-family tree.

We like to say it’s not your tree or my tree, it’s our tree that we all share. A lot of people are familiar with the FamilySearch tree, and it’s somewhat like that. There’s also Genie and a few others around the world that are doing the single family tree idea where everybody collaborates in one environment.

What sets WikiTree apart, I think, is really that we are a community. It’s very much a supportive group. We place a big emphasis on sourcing. So, we’re the most accurate, single-family tree available. And we have a lot of fun.

Is the WikiTree Family Tree Accurate?

Lisa: I know that for many people it makes them happy when they hear that there is an emphasis on sourcing. Of course, if we get connected with a tree that isn’t correct, then we have more problems than we started with. Tell us a little bit more about that. What are the some of the mechanisms on your website that help and facilitate the sourcing of the information that is going into the trees?

Chris: Well, first and foremost, we ask that every piece of information that somebody puts on WikiTree has a source. So even if you’re saying this is from my Aunt Sally, or this is the family tree that was handed down to me, you have to at least say where it came from. And then that gives people a starting point for the collaboration. If somebody else then comes along and says, “Well, you know what, I have different information. What’s your source?” You can then compare and come to a conclusion.

Lisa: That does sound a bit like the FamilySearch tree in terms of it being one tree. Does that create any other challenges? What do people disagree about when it comes to the information that they’re putting on the website?

Chris: Oh, yeah, people disagree all the time. I mean, that’s what happens when human beings get together and try to work together. They will argue and have problems.

Probably one of the most really special things about WikiTree is this culture that we’ve developed over the years, because we’ve been around 14 years. It’s very much community based, like I don’t know, if I mentioned, it’s totally free, free for everybody. And we don’t have any full time employees. This isn’t run by this big team of people. It’s almost entirely volunteer based. The team we have is just part time and they are there to support the community. So there is a whole set of policies and procedures that’s developed over the years from the ground up to work out problems like this.

How Can WikiTree be Free?

Lisa: How did you decide from the beginning that free was going to be the price? And how do you keep the lights on when you do it for free? What’s the model there?

Chris: It has been challenging at times. For the first seven years I did this, and it was a struggle. We quite honestly lost money. But we figured out and had to reach a point where we’re getting enough visitors that we can pay for ourselves with advertising. We now get about a million and a half visitors a month. So, we do have the big advertisers. Like if you come on WikiTree, you’ll see MyHeritage and Ancestry ads, and ads for DNA tests. But if you sign our honor code, and you register as a member, the ads essentially disappear. Members don’t even see ads. And for non-members, the ads they see are not as offensive as what you see in a lot of places out there on the internet. So really, it’s just a balance that we had to reach. And we reached it years ago. So now it’s quite comfortable where the community doesn’t even have to see the ads. It’s all free for everybody.

How to Get Started with WikiTree

Lisa: What do you recommend is the best way to get engaged with the website?

Chris: Yeah, that’s a good question. The biggest complaint about WikiTree is that it can be overwhelming, because it’s a very large community. And it’s evolved over a long time. It’s very elaborate, like, there are just thousands of little corners of WikiTree where you have people collaborating on their Mayflower ancestors over here, and working on translating obscure Latin documents over there. There are also a lot of independent developers who have created tools that work with WikiTree. And so some of those can be a little bit complicated and intimidating. We try to keep it all simple, but we do realize that it can be a bit much for the new user. So, the first thing you do is you just register, just log in, and you get that free Guest account.

What is the WikiTree Honor Code?

If you want to put something on your profile, you upgrade that to what we call a family member account. A lot of us have family member accounts for our family members. So, the third step is to sign that honor code that I mentioned before, and that’s just these 10 basic principles. Things like saying, we cite sources, that’s number one. We collaborate, we work together, we give credit, when credit is due, we respect copyrights, we respect privacy. So, it’s this very simple 10 point Honor Code. Read it in two minutes. And as long as you agree with that, you say yes, and then you move forward to the next step.

How to Get Help with WikiTree

If you want help, it’s there. There’s this really vibrant community in the discussion forum. There’s live online chat or video chats you can do. There are one on one personal mentors you can get. There are training programs in various projects. So you can be as involved as you want to be in whatever areas you want to be involved in. I just recommend taking it one step at a time and trying not to get overwhelmed.

Can I Export WikiTree and Import it into my Genealogy Software?

Lisa: Right. I know many people will have software that they use on their computer that they use to build their family tree. What’s the balance between using your own personally controlled software to build your family and using the collaborative online WikiTree? It sounds like you can benefit from the collective knowledge. Is there a way to export portions of the tree that you want to have in your own database? How do they interact with each other?

Chris: Well, we do have a GEDCOM, and import / export capability. I’m sure a lot of your listeners know what GEDCOM is. It’s a terrific, standardized format developed many years ago by Family Search. So that that standard is almost universal.

Watch and read: All About GEDCOM (interview with Gordon Clarke,  FamilySearch’s GEDCOM Developer Relations Manager)

What GEDCOM stands for

Whatever program you’re using, or website you’re using, will almost certainly allow you to import and export trees in this format. Because it’s a completely collaborative environment where we’re all working together, you can’t simply keep your tree in sync with WikiTree, because that would involve overriding what other people have done really. Like if you could just click a button and import your whole tree that would end up creating these records that would overwrite the collaborative work.

The export is just like it works anywhere else. If you want to download a tree, you can. If you want to upload, you just have to do it one profile at a time. What we do is, you would upload your GEDCOM and it would say, “this it looks like of the thousand people in your tree, 100 seem to already exist on WikiTree.” So take a look at these potential matches.

And by the way, that’s a great way to do a quick search if you want to see if your ancestors are already on WikiTree. So, you get this GED Compare process we call it, and you can look one at a time, left and right side. You know, here’s what’s on WikiTree, here’s what’s in your system. Do you want to move this? Do you want to move that? And then you would cite your sources at the bottom.

WikiTree Search Strategies

Lisa: You mentioned search. When we go to the homepage, we see that we can search. There’s a first name, last name, there’s letters for the last name, we can do surname searches, etc. Does WikiTree support any other kind of searching or search operators? Is there a Search Help page to help us make sure that we’re finding what we want to find?

Chris: Sure. If you go ahead and just try a search on WikiTree.com, you’ll see it right there. If you don’t enter anything, if you just click the search button, you would be taken to the search page that has more advanced options on it and has all kinds of help links. And if you’re looking for somebody, and you can’t find them, or you’re unclear on how to use the search engine, click over to the forum and just ask.

DNA on WikiTree

Lisa: I also noticed that on the homepage, it said something about DNA connections, and people are definitely interested in DNA, and it’s the way it intersects with genealogy. How does that work on WikiTree? What should we be looking for in terms of our DNA tree test connections?

Chris: DNA for us is a way to verify the tree that we’re growing, The basic work always has to be done in the traditional way, right? Like, genealogy has grown in the way we’ve always done it through records. That’s the only way you’re going to get names. But that traditional genealogy research can then be verified, or disproven with DNA. So, that’s what a lot of members do on WikiTree.

We do use DNA, and we facilitate this in some interesting ways that are done nowhere else. For example, on every single profile, every person profile, every ancestor, every cousin, were a DNA test, or more than one DNA test has been taken, which could help verify connections to that ancestor, it’ll show that. It’ll say, Lisa Louise Cooke has taken an Ancestry.com test. And it’s on GedMatch. And Chris witness taken a DNA test that I got from MyHeritage, and it’s also on GedMatch, click here. And you can compare those two. And that’ll take you right to GedMatch, where you can look to see if we match the way that we should. And on that profile on like, let’s say we’re first cousins, and so we share grandparent. It’ll say then that we would expect to share 12% of our DNA. So, if we then go to GedMatch and we don’t share 12% that’s a red flag. Or if we do, that’s a big step to confirmation.

Privacy Controls on WikiTree

Lisa: Finally, I want to ask you about privacy because it mentions privacy on your site as well. I know that’s on the forefront of people’s minds. What kind of privacy controls can people expect a WikiTree?

Chris: We take privacy really seriously. To me, and especially to the non-genealogist family members, if you can’t connect living people to the tree, it loses a lot of its family history and a lot of its interest. So, we need to be able to connect living people. And we want to include family photos. Photos of living people. But if you’re doing that, you need privacy controls.

Profiles have seven different levels. And you have some options for customizing. If you have somebody who is not a WikiTree member, but they’re living, they have to be unlisted. We have this privacy level called unlisted. That essentially means that their information cannot be found on WikiTree, except by you and your family members that you specifically put on what we call the trusted list. And then we have four different levels of private, but with a public biography. Private but with a public tree. And so, these are all levels that you can choose.

If you’re a member, there’s privacy around your own profile. And then for every non-living person, the recently deceased can be private but once somebody was born 100 years ago or died 100 years ago born 150 years ago, they have to be fully open. They have to be fully collaborative. So, every profile has those seven privacy levels. You have a fair amount of control on your modern family history about what’s private and what isn’t. But then for the sake of collaboration, the deeper ancestry is meant to be broad collaboration, because that’s really what WikiTree is all about.

How to Get the Most Out of WikiTree

Lisa: I can’t let you go without asking you, what is your best advice for us as we make the most out of using the website?

Chris: Just come try it. It’s free. You have nothing to lose. And there’s a community of people to support you.

Lisa:  Sounds like folks are going to find other friendly genealogists who have the same interest in family history as we do. That’s a nice place to be. Chris Witten, thank you so much for joining us here today. I appreciate it.

Chris: Thanks, Lisa.

Resources

Comments:

I’d love to hear from you. Have you used WikiTree? Do you have a success story? Do you have a problem story? We’d love to learn from each other. So head down to the comments below and leave us a comment and let us know what your experience with WikiTree.com is.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 250

10 Surprising Things You Can Find at Google Books

You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the Elevenses with Lisa show notes page here.  

Google Books is a free online catalog of over 25 million books, 10 million of which are digitized and searchable. While you would expect to find books at Google Books, you may be surprised to discover there it also includes many other types of published materials. In this episode I’ll explain how to find 10 of my favorite surprising items at Google Books. 

Click below to listen: 

Learn More About Google Books for Genealogy

My book includes everything you need to know about improving your Google searches in Google Books:

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

Premium Video mentioned in this episode: Google Books, the Tool You Should Use Every Day. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members Exclusive Download:

This audio from this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa episode 30. Log into your membership and then click here to download the handy PDF show notes that compliment this podcast episode. 

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member

Premium Members have exclusive access to:

  • Video classes and downloadable handouts
  • The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast
  • Elevenses with Lisa downloadable show notes PDF

Become a member here.

Genealogy Gems Podcast App

Don’t miss the Bonus audio for this episode. In the app, tap the gift box icon just under the media player. Get the app here

Get the Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter

The Genealogy Gems email newsletter is the best way to stay informed about what’s available with your Premium eLearning Membership. Sign up today here.

Get Unlimited Photo Enhancement and Colorization at MyHeritage

Get genealogy records and unlimited Enhanced and Colorized photos as a MyHeritage PremiumPlus or Complete Plan Subscriber. Click here to start a free trial.

Follow Lisa and Genealogy Gems on Social Media:

Podcast Resources

Download the episode mp3
Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 30. Visit the show notes page here. 

 

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