Why not share the gift of family history story in this year’s Christmas letter or holiday cards?
Genealogy Gems podcast listener Catherine just sent in this fantastic idea about including family history in her annual Christmas letter. I thought I’d share it while it can inspire those whose holiday cards or letters are still on their “to-do” list. (Already done? Think about it for next year!) Here’s what she wrote:
“I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of writing [family history]: where to begin, what to write about, what to include, how to say it. When it was time to sit down and write the family Christmas letter and not having much to report, it struck me. Why not write a family history letter to the cousins about our common maternal Grandfather?
It may not be an original idea but it was new to me, so, deep breath, I took the plunge and the result was a letter that I truly enjoyed writing. I included some fun facts from immigration records and census information, family pictures, a couple of stories and even Google Earth pictures from my Gramp’s birthplace in ‘the Old Country.’ I sourced the letter and added webpage links in case I hooked someone into wanting to know more.”
Thank you Lisa for speaking about Google Earth Pro and my new best friend, Evernote for Genealogy! I can’t wait to see what the family reaction will be. I’m planning some follow up letters and may even go for the big one (gulp)–a blog! I was so inspired I even made two of your wreaths, one for my mother-in-law and one for my best friend, also a genealogy junkie.”
Wow, I love to see how Catherine has taken what I’ve been teaching–from keeping track of sources in Evernote to making wreaths–and RUNNING with it! She says, “Thanks for the great ideas, inspiration and support,” but I want to thank HER for writing in with her enthusiasm and clever ideas. I LOVE the idea of adding the gift of family history–complete with crowd-pleasing Google Earth pictures and proper citations–to your annual Christmas letter. That’s on MY list for next year!
Take These Ideas and Run with Them Yourself with These Helpful How-Tos:
Using Google Earth for Genealogy
Using Evernote for Genealogy
How to Start a Family History Blog
McClellan Family Reunion, Summer 2014, Cleveland, Ohio.
A couple weeks ago, I helped host 47 people at my family reunion here in Cleveland, Ohio. Local relatives made up about half the group: the rest flew and drove in from Arkansas, Nevada and Washington state. We spent 4 days splashing in Lake Erie, driving through the countryside, visiting an Amish-run cheese house and local historic sites, kayaking, hiking in the woods, wading in the sparkling shallows of the Cuyahoga River, and visiting, eating, and visiting some more (and then eating some more). The fundraising auction in my backyard raised such an ruckus that neighbors at the other end of the block asked what in the WORLD was going on at our house that night.
One of the most surprising things about the reunion–other than my brother’s natural gifts as a comedian-auctioneer–was the degree to which it worked to communicate on Facebook. My grandparents were the only ones we needed to actually call about all the reunion plans. We sent no letters–not one!
Here are my 9 tips for organizing your family reunion on Facebook (mostly.) Some of these we did well and others we’ll do better in the future:
1. Make sure at least one member of each nuclear family is active on Facebook. You want a significant percent of relatives participating. If you’re family just isn’t on Facebook, look for other ways to be in touch (group text?).
2. Create a family Facebook page. Click here to learn how. This lets your family post reunion- and family-related items in your own secure group.
3. Reserve the date up to a year in advance. Suggest a time frame and/or a few specific dates on Facebook. Tag everyone on the post to get them to notice and respond. However, you may not get much response. At least in our family, people tend not to volunteer or comment if they’re not personally, directly being asked about something urgent. Once you’ve given people a reasonable amount of time to comment on your suggested dates (and consulted those not on Facebook), JUST PICK A DATE. Then post it (and call the non-Facebookers). Again, tag everyone so you know they see it.
4. Start advertising immediately. Those who travel some distance may need more incentive to come. It’s especially helpful when you can convince the in-laws that they want to come. Do this by catering to people’s interests and hobbies. Post pictures of places you plan to visit together, images of recipes you plan to serve, the website of the local golf course/shopping district/historic site/art gallery/amusement park or any other local attraction that might persuade people to make the trip (whether this is officially part of the reunion activities or not). Tag people in those posts and include URLs to attraction websites: “Uncle Albert, I know how much you love to golf. Why don’t you stay for an extra day and play 18 holes on this championship course?” In the media world, this is called creating “buzz.”
5. Encourage long-distance relatives to introduce themselves and their families. My aunts and uncles were amazed at how much the kids had all grown. They see us so infrequently that it was super helpful to post the kids’ names, updated pix and interests before the reunion. That way, they could talk to my son about his cello playing and my daughter about her upcoming 8th birthday. We’ve asked everyone to start sharing family news and events on the family page, not just their own page. That way we can capture the highlights of all the big family milestones before the next reunion.
6. Play travel agent. Post information about the local airport, bus route, hotels, etc, several months in advance. Encourage relatives to share their hotel information so they can stay together (hotel pool party!) or coordinate travel plans.
7. Post details about the upcoming gathering. What should people plan to bring, wear and do? Do they need to bring beach wear, walking shoes, an umbrella, a baby picture of themselves, or a T-shirt to decorate? Tell them on Facebook ahead of time. Post the initial meeting place and time, along with its address (almost EVERYONE, including the over-60s used GPS to get around while they were here). You can hand out the rest of the itinerary at the reunion, if you need to.
8. Post DURING the reunion. Offer a prize for the best picture posted during the reunion (or the most pictures posted). That tells everyone at home what they’re missing while building excitement among attendees and preserving memories for the future. When uncles are tagging their nephews in photos (and vice versa), they’re building relationships. Remembering names. “Friend-ing.” I don’t suggest posting last-minute changes in plans: when traveling, not everyone makes Facebook-checking a priority. Only do this if everyone knows to check the Facebook page frequently during your gathering.
9. Follow up. Is everyone supposed to send a donation to the reunion fund afterward, mail a card to the great-aunt who couldn’t make it, or share all their reunion pictures on a photo-sharing site? Thank the reunion hosts, planners and those who sacrificed a lot (in time or money) to be present. When is the next reunion? Whoever’s planning the next one can pick up where you left off.
Have you used Facebook to get the word out about a family reunion? Share your experiences and learning at our the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook Page.
If you’re doing DNA tests for family history, you may see lots of predicted cousin matches: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…..But what does that predicted genetic relationship actually mean? Learn about centimorgans, the powerful genetic genealogy unit of measure, and how it helps your research.
How DNA Tests Measure Genetic Relationships
When we are looking at genetic relationships, there are also many ways we can measure them. But ultimately, we want the testing company to tell us how likely it is that a particular individual shares a single, recent common ancestor with us. One factor in this calculation is to take into account the total amount of DNA we share with that match.
Currently, all the testing companies are reporting this sum in centimorgans (cMs). Every company reports to you the total number of shared cMs, as outlined below.
- AncestryDNA: Click on the match to access the personal profile page for that match. In the second section, under Predicted Relationship, you will see the confidence level. To the right of the confidence level, you will see a grey circle with a little “i” in it. Clicking there will show you the total amount of shared cMs as well as how many pieces of DNA you share.
- Family Tree DNA: On the main match page for your Family Finder results, you will see the total amount of shared cMs in the third column.
- 23andMe: You can see the percentage of shared DNA from the main DNA Relatives home page. To convert the percentage into centimorgans, just multiply your percentage by 68 (that will at least get you close). You can also see total shared cMs in the chromosome browser tool (go to Tools > DNA Relatives > DNA).
- MyHeritageDNA: The total amount of shared DNA is shown on the main match page under the title Match Quality. MyHeritage also has a new DNA Match Review page. Click here to read more about that.
Centimorgan: A Genetic “Crystal Ball”
It is very tempting to think of a cM just like you would think of an inch or a centimeter, and for all practical purposes, that is okay. But it is actually much more complicated than that.
A cM is actually more like a crystal ball: it helps us predict how likely a piece of DNA looks exactly as it did a generation ago. This, in turn, helps us calculate how far back we should be looking for the common ancestor between two people.
But for our practical purposes, you can use the total amount of shared DNA, in combination with this chart compiled by Blaine Bettinger and the Shared cM Project, to better assess your genealogical relationship with your match based on your genetics.
To use the chart, take the total amount of shared DNA you have with a match, and look up that number in the chart to get an idea of what kind of genealogical relationship might best fit the genetics that you see. For example, if I share 69 cM with my match, we might be third cousins. But we might also be second cousins once or twice removed.
How do you figure out which one? Simply put: do genealogy research! It’s time to use traditional records and research skills to better understand the genetic clues in your family history mysteries.
My series of DNA quick reference guides can help you get the most out of your DNA tests for family history. I definitely recommend the value-priced bundle of all 10 guides. But I especially recommend the guides listed below if you’re to the point where you’re trying to understand what genetic relationships mean:
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A recent blog post at slate.com caught my eye because it features a map from the genealogists-love-it David Rumsey map collection. But what captured my attention was the story the unfolded behind the foldable map itself. I think you’ll love it!
Blogger Rebecca Onion uses a 1929 souvenir map of the United States to tell the story of early commercial air traffic–specifically the story of the origins
Rumsey TAT map
of airline giant TWA. Apparently early “transcontinental flights,” as they were advertised, were sight-seeing tours with short flights interspersed by train rides to the next flight location. The map featured in her blog post was a souvenir of one of these passengers, who added his own colorful comments on his experience.
This fun post is part aviation history, part map-lover trivia. The story unfolds even more in a short video documentary on Transcontinental Air Transport I’ve added below. It includes cool aerial shots and more on how the early air transport industry, er, got off the ground.
And don’t forget to use maps (storied or just the plain informational types) in your family history research! These can help you find your way around ancestral hometowns, chart migration routes as they would have and otherwise see the world (literally) in the same ways they did. David Rumsey’s map collection is one of the best online collections out there, with free access to over 44,000 high-resolution historical maps.
Learn more about how to use the David Rumsey historic map collection in conjunction with Google Earth by watching my free video class Google Earth for Genealogy.
My Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Kit, is a value bundle that includes my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and Volumes I and II of Google Earth for Genealogy (on video CD). And right now the kit is available for 20% off!