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!
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Originally published 2009
Republished January 21, 2014
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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 15: Genealogy Cold Calling II: 14 Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives
Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that call.
In today’s episode we talk about the skill of “genealogical cold calling.” Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying. We’ll chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.
But first, we do some follow up with an email from a listener about family trees. Then, I share a little story that puts into practice what we’ve learned so far in this podcast series.
14 Steps to Genealogical Cold Calling Success
#1. Identify the person you want to call.
#2. Locate the person’s phone number. Below are some great websites for locating people you don’t know. The list is updated from the one given in the show. And Whowhere.com now has an app for Android, iPhone and other mobile devices. Check it out
Don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers. If all else fails consider posting on a message board for the surname
#3. Prepare ahead for making the call.
Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first. Follow these tips:
- Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
- Choose a time when you are not too rushed
- Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
- Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
- Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips.
#4. Get up the “nerve” to call.
Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself: “I can do this. This is important!” And be positive and remember, all they can do is say “no thank you.”
#5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first & last name & tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share, and tell them who referred them to you or how you located them before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.
#6. Overcome reluctant relatives.
Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest.
If they are very hesitant you could offer to mail them some information and offer to call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can sort of get their bearings too.
#7. What to do during the call
You’ll want to take notes during the phone call. Try a headset which will help to free up your hands for writing. Handwriting is preferably over typing.
Take the opportunity to not just get new information but also to confirm information that you already have–just to make sure it’s correct.
If you have a way to record the call, you don’t have to take notes and focus all of your attention on the conversation, and then transcribe the recording later. If you want to record, ask permission: in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without permission and it’s common courtesy to say you’re taping them. But it might put off a stranger; perhaps taping could wait until a second call.
#8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back.
Be sure and keep track in your genealogy database each time you call and what messages you leave. Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you keep track.
#9. “Must-ask” questions.
- “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs, or a family Bible?
- (Reassure the person that you would only be interested in obtaining copies of any pictures or mementos they might have.)
- “Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
- “May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
- “Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time?”
#10. Wrap up the call.
- Ask for their mailing address and email address.
- Offer to give them your address and phone number.
- Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.
#11. Document the call.
Sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number and date of conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. At the bottom of the page list the ACTION items that come to mind that you want to follow up on based on the conversation. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.
#12. Enter new information Into your genealogy database.
This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind.
#13. Create an action item list.
Create action items based on what you learned. Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end result, it’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.
#14. Follow up.
Send the person a written note or email thanking them for taking the time to talk with you. If the person mentioned that they would look for pictures or would look up something in a family Bible etc., mention in your note that you would still be interested in anything they can help you with and that you would be glad to pay any copying expenses, postage etc. Offer to provide copies of your information or copies of pictures you have etc. You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!
Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. It’s another way of keeping the connection going and expressing that you really do appreciate all their help. Try this service: Birthday Alarm.
Occasionally make a follow up call to check in and see how they are doing, share any new family items she’s come across recently, and ask if they have they heard or found anything else.
The official RootsTech 2014 app is available for downloading from the App Store or Google Play! There’s also a web version for those who don’t use an iPhone, iPad or Android device. Like last year’s app, the RootsTech 2014 lets you create your own class schedule, learn about speakers, connect with other attendees and more. For example, here’s my speaker page, below: it tells all about me and Genealogy Gems and lists all my speaking sessions. If you click on the titles of individual sessions you see below, you’ll see more details: the length of the session, a description of it, what track and level the content is and what room the class is in. You can click right from that screen to add my classes (or any others) to your should you buy medication online schedule in the app.
But wait, there’s more you can do with this app! Access maps of the venue, which is enormous. Chime into social media conversations and check for daily news posts. Look up more about specific exhibitors so you can plan which booths to visit. (My booth is filed under “Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems”–I hope you’ll come say hi!)
RootsTech 2014 will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA from February 6-8, 2014 at the Salt Palace. It’s a huge event that focuses on harnessing today’s technologies to discover and share our family history. Whether you’re brand new to genealogy or a professional researcher, there will be something for you there! Early bird pricing is available until January 6, 2014.
One of the great things about presenting at genealogy conferences like RootsTech is the FREE swag they give you. Well, I’m going to pass this gotta-have-it swag along: a free all-access pass to RootsTech 2014.
RootsTech is shaping up to become the biggest annual family history event in the U.S. There’s nothing quite like it. RootsTech combines the cutting-edge excitement of a technology industry conference with learn-it-from-the-experts classes and hands-on workshops of leading genealogy educators. Whether you’re new-ish to genealogy or an expert researcher, there’s something for you at RootsTech. Check out the full agenda here, which includes a keynote by The Pioneer Woman and over 200 sessions.
RootsTech is next week in Salt Lake City. If you can be there, enter to win this way:
1. Go to the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. Like it (if you haven’t already).
2. Post a comment with the hashtag “giveaway” (#giveaway) and WHY you want to attend RootsTech. You’ll be automatically entered to win.
3. Enter by midnight on Sunday, February 2 and I’ll announce a winner on Monday, February 3, 2014.
No purchase is necessary, but please only enter if you can use the pass or know someone who can.
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):