Jewish Genealogy Research

Each area of genealogy research comes with a unique set of challenges. Jewish genealogy is no exception, but thankfully there are fantastic websites and online resources available to help. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, these resources may prove very helpful for researching Eastern European branches of your family tree. Many provide detailed maps and information about towns that have long since vanished. 
 
In this week’s Elevenses with Lisa episode professional genealogist Ellen Shindelman Kowitt (Director of JewishGen’s USA Research Division and National Vice Chair of a DAR Specialty Research Jewish Task Force) joins us to share:
  • unique features that JewishGen.org has to offer
  • the best regional websites
  • what you need to do before you dig into these websites


You can watch here, or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel where you can also view the live chat by signing into YouTube with a free Google account. 

Episode 57 Show Notes

Interview Transcript

Lisa Louise Cooke: When I think of Jewish genealogy, immediately my mind goes to JewishGen.org, and I was hoping you could start us off with an overview of that. I know that you’re involved with them and boy, do they have a lot to offer!

Ellen Kowitt: JewishGen is really the premier main source for Jewish records on the internet today.

It’s run as a non-profit and it’s actually a part of a museum on the lower side of Manhattan called the Museum of Jewish Living Heritage. It’s run by a professional executive director, Abraham Grohl, but then there are thousands of volunteers that participate as research division directors, who help to identify records, index records, and translate records because language is a big issue in Jewish genealogy.

They’ve developed some really great data sets that can be searched for free by anyone. There is no charge to search JewishGen. Similar to FamilySearch, they ask that you register for a username and a password, but they don’t sell your name and it’s not going to go anywhere past accessing that website.

JewishGen

They have different tools they have developed that are unique to searching Jewish records.

I think there are a lot of entry points into JewishGen. For a novice, particularly beginners who have not done a lot of research anywhere on the internet, it can be a little overwhelming. They have a unified search, which combines the data sets from hundreds of records into one search function, because you can search each of these data sets separately. But if you’re just browsing and curious, and just want to throw your names in, the unified search is a great place to start.

Something that is really exciting about it is that they’ve had these special algorithms developed that are unique to Jewish names and Jewish languages. I’ll mention the Jewish languages in a minute, but it’s similar to the National Archives in the United States, which developed what we call the Soundex, which is an alpha-numeric code assigned to your name. It helps you navigate other spellings to your name that are similar, but maybe your family didn’t spell it that way, but it could be found in a record that way. The American Soundex doesn’t always work on Jewish or mostly Eastern-European names, so these special Soundexes were developed on JewishGen that are now used throughout the Jewish genealogy world on other databases as well. One is called the Daitch–Mokotoff. Another is called the Beider-Morse, but JewishGen doesn’t call them that. When you go in, it’s blind to you.

You’ll put your name or your town name into the search engine and there is a form with fields that you can populate. It doesn’t matter if you’re spelling the names of your given name, your surname, or your town name correctly, because you’re going to be able to pick a couple of different ways to search in a drop-down menu.

The first one will be called “Sounds Like,” the second is “Phonetically Like,” and then it goes into “Starts With,” “Is Exactly,” “Fuzzy Match,” “Fuzzier Match,” and “Fuzziest Match.” My recommendation is always search on “Sounds Like” and “Phonetically Like” because those are Daitch–Mokotoff and Beider-Morse Jewish algorithms for Jewish names and places. So that’s really, really helpful.

Many times people coming to Jewish genealogy are just hung up on names, where they come from, and figuring out an immigrant’s place of origin. Because, think about it: nobody spoke English in the Russian Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where a majority of Jews came from after 1880. So, they’re speaking languages like German and Russian, Lithuanian and Polish, and even Yiddish, which is linguistically more like German although it is written with Hebrew letters.

These immigrants come to American ports and there could be an immigrant from another part of the world with a different kind of accent, like an Irishman. So, an Irishman in America listening to a Yiddish speaker from Russia – of course they’re going to butcher spelling the names. It’s just par for the course.

People can’t get hung up on the spellings of Jewish names, particularly the surnames and the towns of origin where they are emigrating from. Of course, those towns are important to narrow down and understand where they were, because that’s where you’re going to look for the records.

JewishGen’s Communities Database

That’s a second point about JewishGen that’s so helpful. They have a Communities Database, and that lists over 6,000 places where Jews mostly lived in the largest populations around Eastern Europe. In many of those places, Jews don’t live there anymore, but they will outline for you in different time periods where the records are or where they were.

We always refer to Jews coming from Russia because we see that on passenger manifests or census records. But a lot of times when you see Russia as a place of origin for a Jewish family, if they came before 1917, that was Russian Empire. The Russian Empire doesn’t exist anymore, and what was the Russian Empire pre-1975 is not Russia-proper today.

There are a lot of countries where your family could have come from, including Poland, because part of Poland was in the Russian Empire. Your family might actually be from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, or Ukraine, or even some places in the south that don’t exist anymore. There used to be an area referred to as Bessarabia, and another one, Bukovina. These don’t exist anymore. Even Prussia, when you talk about the German Jews who came over, and this is true for non-Jews, too. There is no Prussian Empire anymore, and what was the Prussian Empire is now largely Poland, parts of Russia, and Germany of course. But it’s misleading that if your family spoke German and said that were Prussian, that they were German the way we think of Germany today. A lot of Jews came from Prussia, so that’s why I mention it.

Those are the key things about JewishGen. It helps with you the name complications and determining what other spellings there might be in records. It also helps you with locating these towns and what the administrative districts today would be.

How to Get Started in Jewish Genealogy Research

If you’re researching a Jewish family, it’s no different than any other American family, if you’re starting in America. You start with the civil records, the vital records, the census records, and the passenger manifests. None of these American records are divided by faith or ethnic group. So, a Jewish person, or if you’re researching a Jewish branch, should be starting the same way as any other American research. Start with yourself, work backwards, go through and exhaust all of the American records that you can, which will help you determine what those original names and place they came from are. That’s where JewishGen really helps you. It’s kind of like a 102 class. You have to do the American 101 records, and then when you’ve exhausted all of that, you jump to the Jewish records, which are largely available through JewishGen.

JewishGen Networking

And the big point about JewishGen is the networking, because there’s this huge discussion group. They are now on Facebook with a group.

They have something called the JewishGen Family Finder, where you can register the names you’re looking for and/or the towns. Likewise, you can search to see whom else is researching the same names and towns that you are.

Through the messaging on JewishGen, you can get in touch with them and say, “Hey this is my story. Can I see your tree?” or “Do you have any family photos?” or “Have you had any success finding records for the little town in the middle of Ukraine?” Or even, “Have you hired a researcher that was helpful in pushing your research back in this particular archive in Lithuania?” It’s a fantastic way to find people researching the same obscure, small areas of the world that you are.

Lisa Louise Cooke – That’s an amazing resource, and you’re so right that we still have to follow the basic genealogy methodology. We still need to go through those records here. It’s tempting – I know people will say, “Well I know they were Jewish” so they’ll want to jump into that, and yet you miss so many clues that would probably come in super handy once you get over to JewishGen and you’re ready for that.

Ellen Kowitt: Absolutely…I find people who come to Jewish genealogy as beginners have not done that. I’m often backtracking and teaching American research before I ever get to a single Jewish record. I think that it’s really important that people take a look at (American records).

If they’re not in the United States and they’re listening, Canadian records or British records, wherever you might be starting from. You need to start in the country where your person that you’re researching is located, with those records first.

JewishGen Research Divisions

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great point. I know for my own Sporowskis who were German-East Prussians, really they’re out of Belarus. I’m pretty sure that even though my great-grandfather later was going to the Lutheran church in America, I think they were a Jewish family back in Belarus. JewishGen has been one of the few places to find information about some of these locations that have changed names and boundaries. It’s just an amazing resource in that way.

Ellen Kowitt: Belarus is a good example. JewishGen has maybe over 20 research divisions. I happen to be the director for what’s called the USA Research Division, and just to define that, it’s not census records and passenger manifests. It’s looking at records held at Jewish repositories that are in the US, like the American Jewish Archives or the Southern Jewish Historical Society.

There are research divisions geographically all throughout Eastern Europe and there is one for Belarus called the Belarus Research Division. If you click on their link from JewishGen’s drop-down menu, they have their own website and they give a lot of maps, from now and then, of what Belarus was, and lists of towns divided by province, or what was gubernia. There are ways to connect with people and search what their records are.

Here’s a little tip I have about Research Divisions and any project on JewishGen. If you don’t find what you’re looking for and you really think it might be there, or you’re spelling it wrong and it’s not showing up in the Soundex, contact whoever the person is on that record set or who the Research Division director is, or who the town leader is.

In Ukraine, there are hundreds of town leaders for these little towns and what we find is that the town leaders and the Research Division leaders often know or are holding onto records that are not online. If you’re not finding something, it’s free to send an email! Just inquire and say, “Do you know anything else about Grodno, Belarus in 1854? Or the name Cohen?” or whatever it is, and you just never know what these folks have because I have found there are a lot of offline lists that the experts know about.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s very good insider information. It’s true, as you go into your genealogy research you get more and more daring and send that email. All they can do is just not be available. But it sounds like those folks are more than happy to help. What a wonderful idea.

Regional Jewish Genealogy Resources

Lisa Louise Cooke: We were talking about specific regions and I’m sure there are all kinds of different things here, but what other types of websites might be out there for regional Jewish genealogy?

Ellen Kowitt: It’s a little confusing. There is kind of a hierarchy. It’s not coordinated by any organizing body, but there are three independently run Jewish database sites. When I say the names, sometimes people say, “Oh that’s part of JewishGen.” They’re not. They are run independently. The three are:

  • JRI-Poland which stands for Jewish Records Indexing Poland,
  • Gesher Galicia, and I’ll define that for you.
  • And what we used to call LitvakSIG, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.

All three of these groups kind of have roots in JewishGen and then for different organizing reasons all wanted to organize as independent non-profits. But they share their data. Now, do they share all of their data? Do they share their data at the same time? Are they sharing it in the same place? The answers really vary. This is why, I always say, if you’re brand new, check out Unified Search on JewishGen.

Ancestry actually has some of LitvakSIG, some of JRI-Poland, and some of JewishGen’s records. Just recently LitvakSIG released some of their records to MyHeritage. So, there is some overlap back and forth on the data sets. But if you’re from these three particular geographic regions, I would not only be looking on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and JewishGen. I would always go to their original databases on each of their original websites.

LitvakSIG

LitvakSIG really stands for Lithuania, but Lithuania today is really different than the geographic borders of Lithuania a hundred years ago. When you look at modern-day Lithuania on a map, if your family is coming from a part of Latvia or Belarus or an area of Russia that surrounds that area, you might want to look there. I have this corner of southwestern Lithuania that part of my family came from, but it has also been Prussian, it has been Suwalki, Poland, and it’s right near Belarus, but yet I found records in Lithuania in LitvakSIG. I have also found them in Suwalki from JRI-Poland. So, loosely when you define your location, consider what’s geographically around the modern-day borders. But LitvakSIG is predominantly Lithuania and a lot of Jews came from Vilnius and Kaunus and all these places up there.

JRI-Poland

The second one is JRI-Poland. They are fantastic in their records acquisition. They’ve had partnerships with the Polish state archives. They give locations of microfilm that are for Polish municipalities at the FamilySearch digital collection. They have tons of volunteers who have worked there for 30 years. It’s extremely extensive.

For listeners who don’t know, the Polish State Archives has largely gone online, so a lot of vital records are digitized and you can go right to the record. Now, it may be in Polish or Russian, but you can get to those records for free, just like you can on FamilySearch sometimes.

JRI-Poland is just a powerhouse for getting access, using their indexes first to locate if there are records for your family in a town, using the Soundexes that are the Jewish Soundexes, and then getting to the original record. I just love JRI-Poland.

And be loose on those borders because it’s going to include Suwalki and those areas north on the Lithuanian-Russian border. Even the Belarus border and that Prussian border on the other side. For JRI-Poland, ‘cast a broad net’ is areas that were ever considered Poland, even on the southern side, too.

Gesher Galicia

The third one is called Gesher Galicia, also run independently, and also shares data with JewishGen. Galicia does not exist anymore. It was a designation for an area that today you would think of on a map as western Ukraine and eastern Poland, and a lot of Jews lived in Galicia. Unique to that area is that it was Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point, so the records are in German, not so much in Russian or in Polish.

But Gesher Galicia has got a fantastic search engine on their database, and they are another powerhouse that is just continuing with their volunteer army of adding so many great data sets.

They’re really good, too, at allowing you to list what towns you’re researching if you join, and I think they have a small membership fee. In fact, each of them have a membership fee that they’ve added on, and I think that just gives you access to records maybe a little bit sooner.

These three are often lumped in with JewishGen but are really organized as separate organizations and they acquire records and index them in a different way.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great overview and it reminds us, like with all genealogy, that when you see partners working together and they end up with records on multiple sites, I find myself wanting to look at those records, even if they’re the same, on every site. You never know what the nuances are. You never know if their image is clear. There are so many different possible variations.

Jewish Records at Ancestry.com

Ellen Kowitt: There are! I have taken a deep dive on Ancestry’s records of JewishGen. They started an arrangement awhile back, I think in 2008, and JewishGen gave them a bunch of records in return for Ancestry housing their servers. So a great business arrangement for a little non-profit like JewishGen, but confusing for people like researchers that only use Ancestry and never look any further. 

Certainly if you’re finding things on Ancestry (Jewish Records at Ancestry) that are JewishGen, you want to go to JewishGen and search also because JewishGen has not updated all the records that they sent to Ancestry ten or more years ago. There are unique records that were never sent to Ancestry, and you pick up those Jewish Soundex search capacities on JewishGen.

Now, Ancestry’s search has definitely advanced in recent years but it’s not the Beider-Morse the Daitch–Mokotoff Jewish algorithms for searching Jewish names. If you can’t find somebody on the JewishGen collection at Ancestry, go to JewishGen and try running the search there.

Holocaust Research

Lisa Louise Cooke: Another area I can think of as a roadblock area for folks in their research is around the Holocaust. What kinds of resources do we have to conduct research when it comes to the Holocaust?

Ellen Kowitt: I started doing this about 25 years ago and it used to be that either the records were not released by some of the archives in Russia or in the East, or they weren’t in English, or they weren’t indexed. You would put in these requests and it would take literally years for certain repositories to answer a basic inquiry with “Yes” or “No” if they have a card on your family.

I think there was a lot of mythology build around ‘you can’t document the Holocaust and what happened to people’ and what we’re finding all these years is later is that there are so many records. Plenty of people are documenting their families. We are continuing to find more resources available online, even from repositories that are traditionally not in English.

It’s hard to say where to start, because the story of the Holocaust has also evolved. It used to be we learned in school, if we even learned at all about the story of the Holocaust, that it was the story of the concentration camps and the Jews being gassed, and that’s certainly true. But there are so many other elements of the Holocaust like the story of the 1 ½ million Jews killed in Ukraine before anyone ever was killed at Auschwitz. We call this “the Holocaust by bullets” (and the story and most of what was the Soviet Union at that time), was the Jews were rounded up and, this is gruesome, but they were executed and left in mass graves that are unmarked, largely, throughout what was the Soviet Union.

Even Jews who knew their family was tied up in those kinds of stories thought there was no way to figure out what happened to their family or the town. But we do have records. The Russians kept records. It turns out the Germans kept records. A lot of this has become available online that you can search in English.

It really depends, for a family that knows they have a Holocaust story, where they were, what country they originated in, if you know the story that they went to a camp, or if they were in a small town where there was a mass grave. You’re going to be looking at very different resources.

I would say, if you only had to look at one and you wanted to just start this process, Yad Vashem’s website in Israel, in English, would be the place to do a general top-level search. The reason is because Yad Vashem is like the US version of the (United States) Holocaust (Memorial) Museum in DC, and they have resources too, but the one in Israel is called Yad Vashem and it has a larger collection.

They have also collected these pages of testimony from survivors who talk about their family members and where they last saw them, or if they know the exact story about what happened to them or their whereabouts throughout the war. Thousands of these pages have been submitted and they’re searchable. You can see the original pages that people submit and you can even get in contact with the people submitting them. It’s a great networking opportunity for people looking to connect. Yad Vashem has these great success stories, less and less because the survivors are aging out, where they connected people who still had living relatives in Argentina, Australia, or in Europe, and they’re just fantastic renewal stories.

But yes, complicated topic. It is possible to learn what happened to a community, hopefully to an individual. Records are at Bad Arolsen, the Arolsen archives in Germany, in addition to Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Museum.

JewishGen does have a Holocaust collection worth searching, although it’s smaller than these other larger repositories. There are all kinds of things on the internet – webinars, speakers, and even books that have been published on how to track down victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

And non-Jewish, too. I recently was looking into someone who came from a Ukrainian Orthodox family and they were shipped out of Ukraine to what would be now the Czech Republic, and they were in a work camp. Sometimes these repositories you think of as Jewish record repositories for Jews in the Holocaust also tell the story of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I so appreciate your vast knowledge on this. I know you teach people about genealogy, Jewish genealogy – tell us a little bit about you got started in genealogy and then into it professionally.

Ellen Kowitt: I guess like everybody out there, I just have that gene. Even from a young age, I was the one who just gobbled up the stories at the holiday tables and remembered the names and connected the relationships and just kept track of it in my head, long before I realized that was not normal, it was unusual and not everyone does that.

There is a woman, Sallyann Sack, who writes a lot of books on Jewish genealogy and she’s one of the publishers of Avotanyu, which is both a journal on Jewish genealogy and also a publishing company on books about Jewish genealogy. In my twenties, I happened to go to a lecture she gave at a synagogue in Washington DC, 25 or more years ago. She said “Hey we have this club! It’s a Jewish genealogy society and we’re doing a beginners workshop. Do you want to come?” I went and there was no looking back. I just got the bug. I started interviewing relatives like we all are taught, to talk to the oldest people first and the records can wait.

It just went from there. I got super involved as a volunteer. I actually think volunteering is a great way when you’re a beginner to learn about record sets. I have seen probate records, naturalizations, and Jewish records that I would never have found in my own family by helping index through a project with a local society. That was fascinating to me.

Then one day a friend insisted on paying me money to do some research on his mother, and I actually liked it. I thought, wow, if I can make a few extra dollars to pay for my genealogy obsession – and these websites can be expensive, the conferences cost money – but if I can make money and help to pay for my obsession, then I’m going to be a professional. So, that’s how I fell into that and it’s grown from there.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I think those of us who caught the bug when we were young are really fortunate because we got opportunities and I think had a focus on talking to and recording some of those stories. I know that’s probably people’s biggest regret, when they didn’t think about it back when they had an opportunity to interview some of the older relatives. I know in my case I just treasure the few interviews that I did do and I still have.

Ellen Kowitt: Me too.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I really appreciate you sharing all these wonderful resources. And of course, folks can visit you at your website at EllenKowitt.com, and I know that you do lecturing and all kinds of professional work on genealogy, and the wonderful article, Find Your Jewish Roots Online, in the May/June 2021 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Ellen, it’s been a delight to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us here on the show.

Ellen Kowitt: Thank you so much for having me, I enjoyed it!

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How to Edit Home Movies

Show Notes: Getting your old home movies into shape so that they can be easily enjoyed by audiences today can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right video editing tool and  a little bit of know-how you can turn digitized home movies into family history fare for all your relations. It’s time to get your home movies out of the closet and onto a screen near you. 

 

how to edit old home movies

Video and show notes

In this video, I’ll show you how to edit digitized home movies in my favorite video editing software program, Camtasia by Techsmith. (Use our affiliate link now through 8/26/22 to get 20% off Camtasia and / or Snagit. We will be compensated which helps support free videos like this one.)

If you already have another program, you can still follow along and learn best practices for great edited home movies that are easy to share and enjoyable to watch. 

Don’t have old home movies? You can also use Camtasia to create videos using static images and photos.  

Discounts:

Larsen Digital: I got my family video (and audio) tapes digitized at Larsen Digital, a family-owned business that cares about family history. Click here to get 15% off on your Larsen Digital order when you use our exclusive coupon code GenGem.

Camtasia: Use this link to Camtasia and our coupon code GENE15 to get 15% off for a limited time. (Note: Maintenance and asset add-ons are optional and can be opted out of if desired during checkout. Discount applies to Snagit as well! )

Watch the video How to Edit Home Movies:

Show Notes

Have you gotten some of your old home movies digitized, only to have them just sit on your computer. It’s it can happen really easily. It’s certainly happened to me. And in this video, what I’m going to do is show you how easy it is to edit your old home movies yourself, so that you can get them cleaned up and ready to share with your family.

I had a ton of movies that I got digitized a couple of years ago, and they just sat on my computer. Now, all I can say is I’ve been busy making videos for this channel. I guess that’s my excuse for not getting around to them.

Larsen Digital Exclusive Discount on Digitization

Recently, I found another batch of videotapes. I found VHS, High 8, and I even had an audio tape that needed to get digitized. So, I sent it off to my favorite place, Larsen Digital, a family-owned business that cares about family history. Click here to get 15% off on your Larsen Digital order when you use our exclusive coupon code GenGem.

Larson has done an amazing job getting my tapes digitized in the past. They send them back quickly, and you get them on DVD as well as mp4. Larsen Digital is graciously offering all of us a great discount on digitization. If you haven’t gotten your tapes done yet, they will take care of it for you.

When you get those mp4 videos back, they can be fairly large files. That’s because some of those VHS tapes can be six hours long. Therefore, we need to do some editing. If we don’t, they’re going to be really unwatchable. Typically, we have lots of stops and starts and fingers in front of cameras and blank spots on our videos. On our tapes we had lots of chunks where we had filmed TV shows. Then we started filming home movies again! So, home movie videos typically need to be cleaned up because our relatives are not going to want to sit around and watch six hours of random, chaotic stuff.

As family historians it is our job to edit the video into something watchable and enjoyable. The good news is these days it’s not a hard job thanks to the great tools that are available. I’m going to explain how I use my favorite video editing tool called Camtasia. In the video, I’ll show you how easy this is to do. I think if you see it, you will feel like this is something you can do. I really enjoyed editing my own films.

Camtasia Software Discount 

Use this link to Camtasia and get 20% off now through 8/26/22. After that you can use our exclusive coupon code for 15% off: Gene15 (works on Snagit too!)

Camtasia is definitely a terrific product and easy to use. I use it to create my Genealogy Gems videos, and I also use it for home movies and all kinds of other projects. If you have your own video editing tool already and maybe you just haven’t gotten started working on your home movies, I think you’re still in the right spot because I’m going to show you how quick and easy it can be to get these tapes cleaned up and made usable. If you don’t happen to have home movies, you might still want to keep watching because Camtasia does a terrific job taking photographs, images, other pieces of content you can add narration and music and all kinds of stuff making your own version of home movies.

Step 1: How to Import video files into Camtasia

In Camtasia you will see the media bin, I’m going to import my media which is my mp4 video file.

You can see on the left side that there are lots of different things we can do. We’re going to touch on the most important for you for editing your home movies. Whatever you have selected, that’s what shows in this column just to the right of the menu. Make sure you’re in Media. (You can also import media through the menu at the top of the screen.) Click the Import Media button and navigate to your video file on your computer and open it. This will bring it into the Media bin.

Step 2: How to Select the Correct Project Size in Camtasia

The second step is to select your project size based on what it is you want to do. It’s really important to think about what is going to be the final purpose of the video. Do you want to be able to Airplay this up onto your TV screen on a big screen and be able to see it? If so, then you’re going to need a pretty high-resolution (large) file. Or are you really interested in getting lots of fun clips that you can share out on social media? If that’s the case, you don’t need as big of a file to be able to have it viewed on a mobile device or on the web.

Camtasia makes it super easy for you to find the right project size. At the top, click the down arrow next to the percentage number (called Canvas Options) and select Project Settings. Here you can see the current project size. What we want to do is pick from the standardized dimensions for the product (output) that we need. Here are some examples:

  • Social media: 1280 by 720 px. That’s a very standard size that would look great on anybody’s tablet or phone.
  • Full size computer screen or TV: 1920 by 1080 px (HD). That’s a very standard format

You probably don’t have 4k home movies. If you sent your tapes to a very specialized company, they might have the ability to give you 4k output. But it’s really overkill for what you’re trying to do. Typically, the 1080 HD is going to be what you want.

When you click to select the size, it is populated in width and the height. Click Apply. Now you have that exact project size. I think probably one of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my editing career was not checking project size as the first step.

Step 3: Drop the Video onto the Timeline

Next, we’re going to bring the whole movie onto the timeline where can then edit it.

When we hover our mouse over the video in the media bin, we can see all the different shots (this is called scrubbing,) When you start to drag the video out of the bin blue lines appear around the screen areas where the video can be place: the video canvas at the top of the screen and the Timeline at the bottom of the screen where the editing actually is done.

If when you drag the video into your project it looks smaller than the canvas, that means the film is a lower resolution (size) than the project size you selected. You don’t want to get too far apart in those two things. If I had a very small film (low quality) I might want to think about making my project size a little smaller because I don’t want it to look blurry when it’s done. Typically, I think you’ll find that your video file will be a standard size and will fit pretty nicely.

Using Multiple Tracks in Camtasia

I usually drop video directly onto the timeline. The reason is because usually I’ll end up adding stuff additional content to the timeline, and that’s where tracks come into play.

Your project will have two tracks at first. However, you can add many more by clicking the plus sign. Each track gives me the ability to have a piece of content on there. So, I might have my home movie on track one, narration audio on track two, annotations (text) on track three, etc. Each track gives me the chance to have different pieces of content so that I can edit them without cutting up the other items. It’s really convenient having each item on its own track.

Moving Content on a Track

You can easily move your video around on the timeline to position it exactly where you want it. Click on the content (in this case the home movie file) and drag it to the desired location. You’ll see that Camtasia will sort of allow you to “snap” items into the best position. For example, pushing the video up to the beginning of the timeline  (the zero mark).

Editing a Video in Camtasia

How do you know where you’re going to be editing? Well, that’s where the playhead comes into play. The playhead is the marker on the timeline that shows us where we are at any point in the video. You can drag the playhead across the video – called scrubbing – to review it.  

If you want to see your entire video on the timeline, you will likely need to zoom out. Click the minus sign to zoom out, and the plus sign to zoom in. Keep clicking until you can see the entire bar of video. Hover your mouse on the video and you can see how long it is. My video is 32 minutes, and seven seconds. So, this is the whole film that I’m going to work on. As we do our editing, we’re going to want to be zoomed in because we want to be really precise with our cuts and clean up.

Initial Types of Editing

So, what kind of editing would you be doing? Well, first and foremost, I like to go through and just clean up stuff that I don’t want things like blank spots, damaged footage, and mistakes in filming. As you scrub through the video look for these areas.  

Clean-up makes watching home movies much easier on the viewer. Everything comes back to the experience of the viewer that you want to share your videos with. If you want to share home movies with your family, you got to make them easy to watch, right? We want to make them enjoyable. We don’t want them getting seasick or bored. That way when they watch the finished films, they’re going to really enjoy them. And they’re going to want to see more and talk about family history.

Scrub very slowly until you see something you don’t want. Zoom in a little bit more if necessary to see exactly where you want to make your cut. On the playhead grab the red handle and drag it. Then drag the green handle. This identifies the area you want to cut. Press play and the grey playhead will jump to the beginning of the section you marked and play it for you so you can make sure it’s what you want to cut. Review and adjust the handles as needed.

To cut the section, click the Cut button with the scissors icon. (Control X) Review the section one more time to ensure you like the cut. You will see a stitch mark where you made you cut.

These small cuts may not seem like much, but when you do this throughout a 32-minute film, you may end up with a 20-minute film that’s much more watchable.

Adding Transitions to Video in Camtasia

One of the other things that you might want to do to make your video even more watchable is to create some transitions between scenes or clips. To do this, bring the playhead back to the stitch mark where you made your cut, and zoom in to make sure you’re right on top of it.  Click the video to select it so that Camtasia knows this is the content you are working on. In the menu on the left, click to select Transitions.

There are many to choose from, however most people don’t really enjoy watching lots of wild crazy transitions. It can actually make them feel seasick. It’s better to go with something simpler and smoother. The whole point is to make it enjoyable and watchable for your family members. I really like Fade, and Fade to black. You can add these to your Favorites bin by clicking the Star. That will save you time, so you don’t have to dig through all of the Transitions every time.

  • Use Fade when cutting within the same scene or clip.
  • Use Fade to black when cutting between two different scenes or clips.

Place the playhead on the stitched cut, and then click the Split button. Now you can drag the transition onto that spot on the timeline. Camtasia will create a standard-length transition, but you can adjust it by dragging the transition. Move the playhead to a spot just before the transition and press play (or tap your keyboard’s space bar) to review it.

You can change the transition by dragging and dropping a different transition onto it. It will turn red indicating that you are changing it.

Camtasia Undo / Redo

You can undo or Redo in the menu at the top of the screen under Edit.

How to Create a Video Clip

If your film is a hodge-podge of different scenes or a mix of TV shows and home movies (like some of my VHS tapes were) then you’ll want to create clips of just the sections you want so that you can use them in another project. It’s easy to Produce / Export clips from your full-length video without creating a new project.

How to create a clip:

  1. Zoom in on the desired area
  2. Drag the green and red playhead handles to identify the desired clip.
  3. Right-click on the area and select Produce As
  4. This brings up the Camtasia production wizard. Select the desired production size. In other words, you can export the clip at any resolution you choose. It doesn’t have to be the same as your project size that you selected when you started.
  5. Name the clip and save it to the desired location on your computer hard drive.
  6. Click The clip will display on your screen when it’s done.

Additional Content that can be Added to Your Home Movies

Music and Audio files

You can import audio files such as MP3 and WAV into your media bin and then drop them onto a new track in your project. These files can be edited much like you edit video. You can get free music MP3 files from YouTube. Sign in with a free YouTube (Google) account, click on your account icon in the upper right corner of the screen and select YouTube Studio. In the studio, scroll down the menu on the left side of the screen and select Audio Library. Here you can search for and download music tracks.

Voice Narration

If you have a microphone hooked up to your computer you can narrate all or just sections of your home movie. This is a great feature particularly when working with older silent home movies. Select Voice Narration from the menu on the left, and then click the Start Voice Recording button. The recorded narration will appear on a new track on the timeline. You can even write your script and then copy and paste it into the Voice Narration tool.

Annotations

Annotations are a great way to provide more information about what the viewer is watching. For example, you can add text boxes to the video. Choose from a wide range of annotations. Drag and drop the annotation on the timeline. Drag the edges of the annotation to make it the desired length. Click on it to select it and then you move it anywhere on the timeline. When selected, you will see the annotation Properties on the right side of the screen which allow you to customize it. (Font, color, line thickness, etc.)

Our final step here is going to be to export this video. Now, clearly, I haven’t finished on my editing, I’m going to finish up my editing and we’ll come back and we will export the video as a finished cleaned-up film.

Step 4: Save and Export (Produce) a Video in Camtasia

After my initial clean up my 32-minute video is now 19 minutes and four seconds. I’ve saved my family from 12 minutes of video that just wasn’t worth watching and might have gotten them discouraged about watching home movies.

Now it’s time to save your work. In the menu go to File > Save As. Hopefully, you have already created a folder on your computer where you know you’re going to keep your project and all your content. That way, you can work on it again later if you want to make more changes or export more clips.

Next, we’re going to produce the actual edited film. Another way to say it is that we are going to export the edited video. In the menu go to Export and then select where you want to send your video. You can upload directly to locations such as Vimeo or YouTube or Google Drive. If you want to export to your computer select Local File. You will again get the wizard. The wizard is going to remember the last export you did, so be careful to review that and change it if desired. Select MP4 and then click Next and select the folder on your computer and click Finish.  Depending on the size of your video, it may take several minutes to render.

Edit Your Home Movies: Wrap Up

I hope that helps you feel empowered to get started editing your home movies. It’s really worth doing and it doesn’t have to be that time-consuming. The trick is to just set aside a little bit of time every week and start doing it right away because they’re not doing anybody any good sitting on your computer where they can’t be seen. Let’s get him out in front of our family and share that family history.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

10 Top Tips for Breaking Down Your Genealogy Brick Wall

“One of the most incredible and likely true stories I’ve ever seen!” announced Dave Obee as he met with Genealogy Gems Listener Sarah Stout, the winner of our #RootsTech 2013 conference registration contest.

The question to contestant was “who’s class would you most like to attend at RootsTech?” Sarah’s answer was Dave Obee, and that was because she was running up against a Canadian brick wall in her family history research, and Dave is a Canadian Research Guru!

Read more about Sarah’s incredible genealogical brick wall:

WATCH THE VIDEO

In my new video at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel I get the two together and Dave dishes up 10 terrific tips that will not only help Sarah, but are sure to prove their worth in your own family tree climbing.

Dave Obee’s Top 10 Tips:

1. Create a Timeline – “plot her life…it’s easier to see the holes.”
2. Understand Geography – “plot movements”
3. Find Every Possible Record
4. Understand How Records Were Created
5. Read Every Local Story in Newspapers at that Time
6. Tap into Local Knowledge – “Locals know more” (historical and genealogical societies)
7. Go There if You Can in Person
8. Look for Negative Proof
9. Collaborate with Other Researchers
10. Be Diligent About Proof

Resources Mentioned in the video:

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel for free to receive instant updates of all of my latest videos from RootsTech 2013 and beyond.

 

Season Eight

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes

2012 – 2013 Season Eight

Episode 141
Behind the Scenes at the Antiques Roadshow. And what you should and should not include in your family tree.

Episode 142
Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners who are blogging about their genealogy!

Episode 143
Hear how one man’s passion for geography and history were saved from destruction, and find out what a portable scanner can do for your genealogy research and mobility.

Episode 144
Get ready to get organized! We’re going to talk about how to digitize, organize and archive your family history with Denise Levenick.

Episode 145
Blast from the Past: Episodes 5 and 6. Gems: YouTube, Bring Back Sites from the Dead, Spice Up Your Genealogy Database, Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors, US GenWeb

Episode 146
In this episode we discuss the latest genealogy news, one listener’s fabulous use of Google Alerts, and Maureen Taylor’s new history film project.

Episode 147
Jump on the sleigh and make the rounds with me to friends of the podcast. We’ll making surprise stops at listener’s homes, drinking hot cocoa with long time friends of the show and genealogy experts, visiting with the newest member to the Genealogy Gems team, and my Grandson Davy will even make a guest starring appearance!

Episode 148
Genealogy Quick Gems: New RootsMagic App, 5 reasons you need the new YouTube app for family history, new digitized records online, sound preservation, Ancestry search tips video, and more.

Episode 149
A Blast from the Past: Episodes 7 and 8. Civil War Research and the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System Website, A Swedish-American genealogy podcast, The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and Shake Up Your Family History research strategies!

Episode 150
Lisa celebrates her 50th birthday and the 150th episode with 50 Fabulous Family History Favorites!

Episode 151
Part 2 of 50 Fabulous Family History Favorites.

Episode 152
Highlights from Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013 in London including an interview with Dr. Turi King who confirmed the identity of the remains of King Richard III through DNA

Episode 153
Enjoy a blast from the past with episode #10 featuring Steve Morse and his One-Step website. Then delight in Darius Gray, a genealogist and storyteller who provides tips on sharing your family history stories with your family, (recorded at #RootsTech 2013.)

Episode 154
Travel back to #RootsTech – You’ll hear 10 Top Tips for How to Bust Through Your Genealogy Brick Wall, and get the scoop on the new partnership between OCLC / WorldCat and FamilySearch.

Episode 155
Catching Up on Everything Genealogy, and WikiTree Update

Episode 156
What to do when technological changes create mayhem in your life.  Also, get a sneak peek at new changes coming in Ancestry search, and women in naturalization records.

Episode 157
Blast from the Past:  First up is Genealogy Gems Episode #11, first published May 07, 2007, (How to Find Pictures from the Past with Google.com, and a Family History Decoupage Plate Project) and Episode #12 (Top 10 Tips for Finding the Graduation Gems in Your Family History.)

Episode 158
Exclusive interview with Allie Orton, Producer of the U.S. TV series Who Do You Think You Are? Also in this episode: the new Genealogy Gems Windows 8 App, Update on Fold3, OCLC and FamilySearch partnership, and British Research Resources.

Episode 159
Come along as we solve a family history mystery with high-tech and low-tech tools, discuss how to begin African-American research, explore newly available Canadian records, and contemplate the value of work as well as the values we want to pass on to our kids and grandkids.

Episode 160
In this episode you will meet other listeners who are getting the word out about their family history through blogging as well as give you some genealogy blogging pointers,and I will introduce you to my first “Favorite Genealogy Gems.”

Lisa in the Press

Lisa Louise Cooke Genealogy Gems PodcastPodcaster Interview
August 2018
Oscar Hamilton

How They Do It: Lisa Louise Cooke 
March 4, 2017
Organize Your Family History blog

Interview with the Queen of Genealogy Podcasts
March 4, 2017
Road to Family History blog

YouTube Offers Genealogy Education in Your Pocket
Sept. 2, 2016
NJ.com True New Jersey

Tips for using Google searches to help with family history
Feb. 14, 2016
The Desert News

Family Stories and Google Cousin Bait with Lisa Louise Cooke
November 18, 2015
Write of Your Life Podcast

Strategies for Using Technology in Family History Research
August 6, 2015
Deseret News/ LDS Church News

The Paperclipping Roundtable
May 26, 2015
Paperclipping Scrapbooking Podcast

(NERGC) Presenter Interview: Lisa Louise Cooke
March 9, 2015
Heritage Zen blog

Podcaster News: Women in Podcasting Interview with Lisa Louise Cooke
November 5, 2014
Podcaster News Podcast

The Genealogy Professional Podcast
June 16, 2014
Interview / Profile

48 in 24: Tips for discovering and sharing family history through video with Lisa Louise Cooke
April 1, 2014
Interview with Techsmith

Utilizing YouTube for family history work
February 8, 2014
Deseret News

Capturing your past with Technology: Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems
February 5, 2014
Techsmith (Blog)

Fast Class: How to reopen a genealogical cold case
January 15, 2014
Santa Rosa – Press Democrat

21st Century Genealogy: Snagit and Camtasia Help Family Historians Bring the Past to Life
May 10, 2013
Techsmith blog

Technology Making Genealogy Easier
February 7, 2013
By The Deseret News

Interview: Lisa Louise Cooke – Genealogy Gems
February 5, 2013
By The Passionate Genealogist

Tuesday’s Tip – Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Website
July 10, 2012
By Genea-Musings

Genealogy and Personal History: Lisa Louise Cooke
March 12, 2012
By Association of Personal Historians

Interview with Lisa Louise Cooke Part II
Le Maison Duchamp blog
By Kim von Aspern-Parker
January 2012

Interview with Lisa Louise Cooke Part I
Le Maison Duchamp blog
By Kim von Aspern-Parker
January 2012

Flip-Pal Interviews Lisa Louise Cooke
September 20, 2011

Rootstech Interview: Lisa Louise Cooke
By Joan Miller, Luxegen Genealogy and Family History Blog
February 2011

Lisa Louise Cooke – Creator and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast – Episode 12
Marion Vermazen Podcast and Blog
August 30, 2010

Voices of the Past Video Netcast: Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke on establishing roots in the social web
By Jeff Guin
Nov. 11, 2009

MNM Interview: Lisa Louise Cooke Hobbyist Turned National Expert through Leveraging New Media
By Jason Van Orden
April 10, 2009

Lisa Louise Cooke on Pursuing Your Dreams
Change Nation with Ariane de Bonvoisin
March 5, 2009

Family Tree Magazine Launches Genealogy Podcast
Desert News
June 8, 2008

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