The Genealogy Gems Podcast helps you make the most of your family history research time by providing quick and easy-to-use research techniques. Producer and host Lisa Louise Cooke brings you the best websites, best practices, and best resources available. This podcast is 100% free! Just click an episode below to start listening right now.
New to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast?
Frequently Asked Questions
Writing and Publishing a Family History Book with author J.M. Phillips
1890 Census Substitutes
1950 census indexing update
Lisa’s Genealogy Data Workflow
10 Top Tips for German Research with Katherine Schober
Your Guide and UPDATE to the 1950 US Federal Census.
Very special audio version of New York Times best-selling author Tom Hegg reading his beloved Christmas stories set to the beautiful music of the season.
Strategies for solving genealogical problems with DNA. Guest: Sara Allen.
The top 10 types of genealogy content you can find for free at the Internet Archive.
Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of the Chester Creek Murders and The Sterling Affair.
How to find genealogy with the National Archives Online Catalog.
How to use Google Photos for family history.
How to find early American ancestors in New England. Special Guest: Lindsay Fulton, NEHGS and AmericanAncestors.org.
How to find family history related photos and images in old newspapers with Newspaper Navigator.
Free genealogy records online at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center website.
10 Surprising Genealogy Things You Can Find at Google Books.
10 questions you must ask for genealogy research success.
Filling in the blanks after a genealogy consultation.
How to tell your easily create family history videos for free with Adobe Spark Video.
How to tell your family history story with video. Special guest: Kathy Nielsen.
Ancestry Search Tips.
One Family’s Story: Lessons Learned from History. My special guest is Daniel Horowitz, Genealogy Expert at MyHeritage.
The importance of genealogy research questions and plans. Plus how to avoid research distractions.
Update to Google Search, How to reunite found items to their families, and 10 strategies for finding school records.
In this episode you’ll hear from genealogy experts on genealogical evidence & Proof, DNA, and organization.
Award-winning journalist Libby Copeland, author of the new book The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are discusses how DNA testing has changed our world.
Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery. The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises. Our second story is the mystery of a lost family scrapbook. It’s full of twists, turns and murder!
Interview with Andy McCarthy, Genealogy Reference Librarian on the New York Public Library’s Genealogy Collections. Also, David Fryxell, author of a new book on Scandinavian Genealogy.
Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.
Federal Court Records with professional forensic genealogists Michael Strauss. You’ll learn the history of federal records, where they are housed, and how you can search for them and access them. You’ll also hear about real examples of federal court records used for genealogical research. Don’t miss the show notes!
In this episode we take a look at a subject that is difficult, and yet ultimately faced by all genealogists: Downsizing. Whether you need to help a relative downsize, or it’s time for you to move into a smaller place or just carve out more room in your existing home, this episode is for you. You’ll hear specific action steps that you can follow to the make the job of downsizing easier and more productive. Also in this episode we’ll cover the latest genealogy news, and take a quick look at the 1830 census.
Professional genealogist Cari Taplin joins me for a conversation about the power lists and why careful examination is so important. Also: what I did on my summer vacation, the Gregorian Calendar, and the new MyHeritage Education Center (where you can also watch my presentation from the MyHeritage LIVE conference held in Oslo, Norway.)
Exploring what you can do to go deeper in your genealogy research for a more accurate family tree with Elissa Scalise Powell. Irish genealogy radio host Lorna Moloney, a professional genealogist with Merriman Research, discusses Irish genealogy.
We start off with tech news about Google Earth, FamilySearch and MyHeritage. Then we dig deep into the genealogical research Julianne Mangin did for “Alice’s Story.”
The story of Roy Thran and how his short life story is impacting lives today. Author Karen Dustman discusses writing your memoir. Lisa shares her adventures in England.
Two listeners shares an exciting find using Lisa’s research strategies. Lisa provides next steps on German research in response to a listener question. Your Master Family Tree, and Sharing Branches Online Explained. The unusual history of one of the earliest forms of the World Wide Web
More new feature enhancements announced by Ancestry.com; Listeners share their stories; Interview with Crista Cowan, The Barefoot Genealogist at Ancestry.com; 3 intriguing discoveries made while searching cemeteries; Women’s registration cards on the home front from 1917-1918 during World War I; RootsTech Film Festival semi-finalist Sydney Orton shares the touching story behind newly discovered precious audio and video tape, and how she and her sister honor their grandparent’s memories.
Research strategies and new resources, the history of your ancestors’ baby clothing, a tech tip that protects you, and the key to deciphering draft registration cards.
Get ready for a fun and inspiring start to your new genealogy year. In this episode, I’m going to bring you a talented lady who’s a sharp genealogist and just happens to be one of the hosts of the television series Genealogy Roadshow, Kenyatta Berry.
In this episode, we recap 2018, and explore additional ideas to help you organize your home movies. Whether you have 8MM film, VHS tapes, Mini DV tapes or DVDs, this episode has what you need to preserve and organize them.
We explore the notion that we are all just bit player’s in everyone else’s show, and how that could lead to video genealogical gold. David Haas MD shares his family’s history of filming home movies, and the tremendous impact they’ve had on countless other families. You’ll learn how to digitize and share your home movies too.
It’s family history month and who better to dedicate this episode to than you! You’ll hear from many of our wonderful listeners who share opinions, research strategies and more. Also, you’ll hear about the exciting new genealogy conference that will be held in Birmingham, England in 2019: THE Genealogy Show.
Lisa talks about vital records with Shannon Combs-Bennett and welcomes a drop-by guest, Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage.com, a great new resource from Library & Archives Canada; an update from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard on MyHeritage DNA tools; and the long-awaited conclusion of Project Lizzie.
An exclusive tip from one of two major upcoming genealogy events; Fun travel suggestion from The Archive Lady Melissa Barker: “Archive in a backpack”; DNA specificity from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard; Finding books about your ancestors’ experiences and Finding your German ancestor’s place of origin.
Episode 219: Lisa shares the stories of longtime researcher, librarian, and blogger Julianne Mangin, who has explored the tragic and twisted stories of her ancestors. The stories alone are worth the listen–but for Lisa, the real intrigue and inspiration comes from how Julianne shed light on confusing and contradictory records by finding news accounts that helped explain them.
Lisa Louise Cooke answers your questions and shares your comments. Hot topics on your minds that are covered in this episode include discovering new records online, best practices for working with other people’s online trees, hard-to-locate military records, and early Pennsylvania research with James Beidler.
Spend a thought-provoking hour with Lisa as she explores the Golden State Killer case and the investigator’s use of genetic genealogy websites, and the questions that it raises. Get ready for a deep dive into the questions we face, the reality of the current DNA environment, and what it all means for you.
Lisa shares her experiences at Rootstech and in Australia; an interview with Findmypast CEO Tamsin Todd and executive Ben Bennett; women who have served in the military, and how to use the new MyHeritage chromosome browser.
Blast from the Past: Family History and Silent Movies. An interview with Sam Gill former Archivist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Irish expert Donna Moughty joins Lisa to talk about Irish genealogy, helping you get a jump on yours before everyone starts talking about their Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day next month! Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard has DNA news. Also: Listeners write in with inspiring successes and Michael Strauss musters in with tips on finding your ancestors in the five branches of the U.S. military.
Lisa shares a moving family history video, inspired by a listener’s “Where I’m From” poem. Hear the latest RootsTech news and an excerpt from an interview with author Sylvia Brown. Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss explains the difference between different kinds of military service: regulars, volunteers and militia in Military Minutes.
Lisa talks with Sunny Morton about turning your fleeting memories into meaningful stories. Diahan Southard takes a look back at DNA advances in 2017. Finding missing ancestors: tips and success stories from Genealogy Gems fans. Ancestor found in a patent using Google Books. And Lisa shares Margaret Linford’s reflections on her “Genealogy Origins.” App Bonus: The history of Mince Pie at Christmas. Yum!
Ellis Island historian Barry Moreno shares the stories of workers at the leading U.S. immigration station (1892-1954). Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them “home;” the National Archives Citizen Archivist and British Library map geo-tagging projects; and Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women (hear what Michael Strauss found in his grandfather’s file).
Researching in a “burned city” (Chicago); the latest buzz and opinions about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history; news from the Genealogy Gems Book Club; get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury; accessing unprocessed archival records; and, five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on preparing for its release and researching your family in the 1940s.
David Ouimette of FamilySearch is known to his colleagues as “the Indiana Jones of genealogy” because of his globe-trotting adventures in curating record treasures. He joins us to talk about the millions of records being digitized around the world right now. Plus ,lots of excited emails from you, compiled military service records from Military Minutes expert Michael Strauss, and an historic newspaper Gem!
Hear the inspiring story of a genealogy hero who saved a life story–and a community’s history. Lisa shares an inspiring Google Books success story; how one listener gets her shy husband talking about his life story; and a listener’s “Where I’m From” poem. Learn tips for getting started in Swedish genealogy, using historical scrapbooks at archives, watching Lisa and Diahan’s new free webinar and getting ready for RootsTech 2018.
Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also: FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective); A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research. And the premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss.
In this Blast from the Past episode Lisa reprises a favorite research detour into vehicle forensics to identify an old family car and shares tips for creating short family history books like those she given as holiday gifts to loved ones. Hear letters from listeners on a special adoption discovery and a 1940 census mystery that now makes more sense. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with 4 reasons to take a DNA test, if you haven’t taken the plunge yet. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton spotlights the current Genealogy Gems Book Club title, Murder in Matera. The vehicle forensics and family book segments originally appeared in Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 18 and 13, respectively, and are being republished here for web audiences.
This double-header episode pairs two interviews and two huge pieces of industry news! Hear about the end of FamilySearch microfilm lending and how you can get the records you need. Get the scoop on the game-changing addition to RootsMagic: your Ancestry.com tree now syncs with the software! Melissa Barker shares tips on preserving heirlooms and visiting archives. Nicole Dyer shares a fun family history activity idea to do with kids—do you have a family gathering coming up that could use this inspiration?
Dave Obee returns with a poignant story about the Canadian Home Children and tips for newspaper research. Also: a new Catalog and improved DNA ethnicity analysis at MyHeritage (it’s free—upload your DNA!); an excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Fannie Flagg; a detailed get-started for British Isles research; and why so many weddings are traditionally held in June.
Renowned Canadian expert Dave Obee shares his favorite tips on researching the Canadian census—his insights are fascinating whether you have Canadian ancestors or not! Also: an inspiring adoption discovery, DNA testing news at 23andMe, the newly-updated Atlas for Historical County Boundaries, a tip for incorporating family history into a wedding, and a brand-new resource that can finally help you solve one of genealogy’s most perplexing questions.
Breaking news in this episode! Learn about AncestryDNA’s new Genetic Communities straight from Catherine Ball, Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer. This breakthrough helps us use DNA to follow family migration patterns. You’ll also Relative Race contestant Joe Greer and hear about the new Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title. Naming traditions tip from a listener can help you puzzle out ancestral pedigrees. And watch for a few great Google search strategies for genealogy.
Lisa chats with Angela Walton-Raji, expert in U.S. and African-American research, about tips for interviewing relatives and taking your African-American family tree back to the era of slavery; A RootsTech 2017 recap, with info on archived streaming sessions; Great news from Findmypast about its new Catholic Heritage Archive; A ground-breaking study from AncestryDNA that identifies specific migration patterns among genetically-related clusters of people; Follow-up mail from Lisa’s Episode 200 celebration; An expert Q&A on finding relatives who don’t appear in the census where you expect them to; A teaser clip from the upcoming Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us.
Our 200th episode and 10th anniversary episode!
A celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday with Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Claire Banton of Library and Archives Canada; DNA Testing with Kids; the announcement of the new title for the Genealogy Gems Book Club 1st quarter 2017; the awesome discovery made on YouTube by a listener; a new social networking platform for families called Famicity; Rootstech 2017.
Lisa Louise Cooke welcomes Genealogy Gems Book Club author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman to the show to talk about Victorian holiday traditions, some of which may still live on in your own life. Following that conversation, Lisa shares a fun description of Victorian-era scrap-booking: how it’s different than today’s scrap-booking hobby but also how it reminds her of modern social media. Also: Three success stories from Genealogy Gems listeners: a Google search with great results, a brick-wall busting marriage record and yet another YouTube find for family history (people keep telling us about those!). Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard chimes in with what she likes so far about MyHeritage’s new DNA testing service. An internationally-themed German research conference and a makeover for the Scotland’s People website.
A chat between Lisa and Genealogy Gems editor and author of the book Story of Your Life Sunny Morton discuss the value and importance of telling your own story. A reading by Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard discusses the next steps for your DNA results. Lisa walks a listener through several tips for learning more about her immigrant ancestors, and shows how to use today’s technology tools to help with traditional research skills. A spotlight on new marriage records online for the U.S. and around the world.
Professional genealogist Kate Eakman from Legacy Tree Genealogists shares tips and resources for those tracing their Irish ancestors into Ireland, and answers all your questions about how to hire a professional genealogist. Plus, we have an exclusive $100 discount code for you! Also in this episode: opinions on sharing gossip about our ancestors; new Genealogy Gems Book Club book announced and a past featured author has a new book out; big genealogy conferences in 2017; and organize your DNA test results and matches to help you get the most out of them.
This month, we’re celebrating the 100th episode of The Family Tree Magazine Podcast with one of my favorite segments on shaping up your research, and the 2 millionth download of the Genealogy Gems Podcast. Lisa Alzo gives us the back story on Czech records that have recently come online; and a YouTube search success story. You’ll also hear highlights of the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and our DNA correspondent Diahan Southard will discuss Gedmatch, a free resource you might be ready for if you’ve done some DNA testing.
This blast from the past episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration and updated show notes. Topics include: Google Images; Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history; Display your family history with an easy to create Decoupage plate.
Genealogy milestones, anniversaries, new records, upcoming conferences and new free video tutorials; Email response to episode #192: another tip on the U.S. Public Records Index, a family adoption story and his own research on the changing coastline of Sussex; More response to the “Where I’m From” poetry initiative; The NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club title is announced; A key principle in genetic genealogy.
Lisa shares a favorite new super easy-to-use tool for turning family photographs into captivating professional-looking videos and slideshows that you can share. Then you’ll meet the newest member of the Genealogy Gems team, Amie Bowser Tennant who shares insights into becoming a certified genealogist. A Gem shares a tip about a favorite genealogy database. An inspiring story of adoption and DNA, and a delightful excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Helen Simonson on The Summer Before the War.
Diahan gets us up to date on the changes at Ancestry DNA; Thom shares his success using Google Earth for Genealogy; Jim Beidler talks about new Germany records at FamilySearch, Amy Johnson Crow shares her favorite local history apps; Sunny shares her thoughts on our Book Club featured book.
Extreme Genes radio show Scott Fisher talks about his role in helping to solve a 30-year old missing persons case; Lisa advises a listener on a pesky Gmail problem; A whirlwind world tour of new genealogy records online; Searching out military service details with Google Books; One RootsTech attendee’s Google search success story; the new Genealogy Gems Book Club title, a brand-new, much-anticipated second novel by a breakout British novelist.
Visit with the Wrights, a couple for Alaska, who star in the new genealogy TV series Relative Race. Plus: Irish research tips, 3 very good reasons for testing your DNA for genealogy, and an excerpt from our Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with the author of Orchard House
RootsTech news and resources for everyone; New records online for Ireland and the United States; Two inspiring emails from listeners who unravel family mysteries with determination, skill and Google sleuthing; A Genealogy Gems Book Club update with more thoughts on the featured title Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow by Tara Austen Weaver and book recommendations from RootsTech attendees; A critique of a recent NPR article on genetic genealogy by Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard; and a great conversation with Cindy Cochran and Sabrina Riley of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society Library at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Lisa welcomes the Legal Genealogist Judy Russell to the podcast. Judy takes on a Genealogy Gems listener’s fantastic question about the bounty land his War of 1812 ancestor never claimed. Also in this episode: Life after Family Tree Maker software, New strategies for using Google to answer your genealogical research questions, the new Genealogy Gems Book Club title,and all about the upcoming RootsTech 2016 genealogy conference.
Celebrate upcoming holiday family time with a special segment on interviewing relatives. Diahan Southard offers her thanks for DNA connections that are helping fill holes left by adoption. We’ll cover a new resource from MyHeritage for connecting with other researchers, family history poetry from two Gems listeners, letters from the Gems mailbox, and an excerpt from our new Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Lalita Tademy (which appears in full in Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 130..
Genealogy Gems is celebrating reaching a milestone: 1000 genealogy-filled blog posts on our website! But we’re not just celebrating our own genealogy writing. We’re celebrating YOURS! In this episode we celebrate what you have shared with us about your adventures in family history blogging. I also have a short, fun family history writing challenge to share with everyone, not just those who blog, a writing contest, and the poet laureate of Kentucky.
Listeners thoughts on saving your genealogy from theft and a tip on digital preservation. I share An Open Letter to Grandma, and Sunny will join me to announce our next Genealogy Gems Book Club pick—and we may or may not digress a little to talk about other fun things on our minds. And Diahan will discus “empty-handed genealogists” and their DNA.
A digital expert joins us to talk about digitizing and storing your old movies, videos, and pictures. You’ll hear a juicy clip from our exclusive Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Pamela Smith Hill, the editor of the new Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, Pioneer Girl. And Your DNA Guide is here with a story of DNA and President Harding.
In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of young GIs landed in France to conduct a secret mission. They were to create an elaborate façade of military might for an audience, the German army. These 1100 men had one goal: to fool the enemy into believing they were an American army thousands strong, and draw their attention away from the actual fighting troops. Get ready to go behind the curtain of Twenty-third Headquarters Special Troops known as the Ghost Army with my special guest Rick Beyer, author of the book The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery
Researching your family in the 1950s, introduction to the 3rd Quarter 2015 Genealogy Gems Book Club featured book, a new patent by Google for an innovative solution, two new record collections online that fill in a hole in American documentary history, and email from listeners about the new Ancestry site and family history blogging.
Changes at Ancestry, books at FamilySearch, Canadian research, Google’s new device, getting the most from a trip to the state archives, Military records for sailors, Integrating Genetics and Genealogical Tools, Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
In this episode I’ll share inspirational story from listener Helen, and another amazing story about an adoption reunion. And we’ll check in with our Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton about this quarter’s featured book, The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And of course all kinds of other genealogy news and tips for you.
Niche record collections that might just be what you are looking for. Interview with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore about using DNA for genealogy research, adoption, and the Finding Your Roots TV show. Announcement of the Genealogy Gems Book Club book for the 2nd quarter of 2015. A listener shares an update on adoption records in Ohio.
This episode features part of our interview with Christina Baker Kline, the author of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured book Orphan Train. The book spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list as well as time at the top of The Bestsellers List in Canada, and by now after reading the book you know why. Christina will share how the book came in to being. And why she first hesitated to write it. And how, although this is a novel, in fact the details of Vivian’s story are true thanks to her extensive research. And Christina sheds light on the effect that being an orphan had on the children of yesterday and the children of today.
Get a Round Up of RootsTech Round, join Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton for more on our featured book Orphan Train, and some additional books you’ll want to add to your reading list that also provide insight in to how you can approach writing your own family’s history. Then Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, Diahan Southard, shares how to Social Network Your YDNA with Surname Projects.
Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton announces our new Book Club read for this first quarter of 2015. Then, professional genealogist Mary Tedesco from the Genealogy Roadshow television series will join Lisa to talk about her experience on the show and also about her specialty which is Italian research. Our Genealogy Gems DNA Guide will also be here. And we wrap with a very special announcement at the end of the show.
Season 9 – Episodes 161 – 174 (2013 – 2014)
Season 8 – Episodes 141 – 160 (2012 – 2013)
Season 7 – Episodes 121 – 140 (2011 – 2012)
Season 6 – Episodes 101 – 120 (2010 – 2011)
Season 5 – Episodes 81 – 100 (2010)
Season 4 – Episodes 61 – 80 (2009 – 2010)
Season 3 – Episodes 41 – 60 (2008 – 2009)
Season 2 – Episodes 21 – 40 (2007- 2008)
You’ll also love all the expert interviews that make the Genealogy Gems Podcast your own personal genealogy conference: Dick Eastman, DearMYRTLE, Curt Witcher, CeCe Moore, Arlene Eakle, the folks from Ancestry.com and celebrities such as Lisa Kudrow of Who Do You Think You Are?, Mary Tedesco of Genealogy Roadshow, Tukufu Zuberi of The History Detectives, Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters, Tim Russell of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and Darby Hinton of the Daniel Boone TV series from the 1960s.
Season 1 – Episode 1 – 20
The originals shows are no longer available in the iTunes feed. Episodes are being remastered and are being rebroadcast in current episodes as follows:
Episode 1 & 2 remastered and published in episode 134
Episode 3 & 4 remastered and published in episode 140
Episode 5 & 6 remastered and published in episode 145
Episode 7 & 8 remastered and published in episode 149
Episode 10 remastered and published in episode 153
Episode 11 & 12 remastered and published in episode 194
Episode 13 remastered and published in episode 206
Episode 14 remastered and published in episode 215
Episode 18 remastered and published in episode 206
One thing that many genealogists have in common is a connection to Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of your family tree branches extends back to the early founding of the Pennsylvania colony. Or it may be that one of your ancestors was one of the hundreds of thousands who arrived through the port of Philadelphia. Even if you don’ t have Pennsylvania ancestors the State Library of Pennsylvania has a lot to offer.
In this episode I’ll be sharing with you a video of my interview with two librarians from the State Library of Pennsylvania. We’ll discuss their collections and specifically what’s available through their website. After the interview I’ll show you some specific search techniques that you can use at the State Library of Pennsylvania website, including a trick that you can use with any state library website.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 46 Show Notes
My special Guests from the State Library of Pennsylvania:
Kathy Hale, Government Documents Librarian
Amy Woytovich, Genealogy Librarian
State Library of Pennsylvania Update
This interview was recorded in December 2020. Here’s the latest update (as of this writing) on the library closure and access:
- The State Library is currently closed to all visitors. However, staff is teleworking. People may send inquiries to email@example.com staff will answer questions as best they can.
- Renovations have begun on our library in the Forum Building. There may be times we cannot get to the materials requested because of the construction.
- Interlibrary loan services are available, but patrons must check if their home library has the equipment and are open for patrons to use that equipment. The Library still ships all over the U.S.
- Watch their website for instructions on how to access the State Library of Pennsylvania when it does reopen to the public.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Background
The library has been a federal repository library since 1858, and is one of the oldest in the country. The government printing office deposits materials here.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Collection
The State Library of Pennsylvania physical collection includes:
- 30,000 volumes
- 100,000 reels of microfilm
- A million pieces of microfiche
The State Library of Pennsylvania digitized items include:
- County and family histories
- Local histories
- Small church histories from rural areas
- City directories
- Passenger lists
- Regimental histories (Revolution to Spanish-American War)
- Pension Lists
- Pennsylvania Published Archives (collection of military, government, marriage, immigration records from colonial times)
- The 1940 U.S. Federal Census
Example: a report for Pennsylvania of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg. Includes information gathered at reunions including names, pictures, and more.
U.S. Government Documents – Serial Set
This collection includes reports to the legislature from agencies and institutions. Example: The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were compelled to provide to Congress a yearly report of the names of people approved by DAR. These can be accessed through many libraries, the federal government or by contacting the State Library of Pennsylvania via email: Rafirstname.lastname@example.org
State Library of Pennsylvania Research Guides
Amy discusses research guides available on the website. However, here is the link to the topics she specifically mentions such as Cemeteries and Zeamer collection – recorded information about Cumberland County PA cemeteries. General Research Guides page. These research guide pages include links to additional helpful websites.
State Library of Pennsylvania website’s Genealogy Page
At the top of the page look at the For General Public tab which will take you to all of the genealogy research guides. Visit the Genealogy page at the State Library of Pennsylvania.
Newspapers at the State Library of Pennsylvania
The library’s collection of newspapers includes papers from all 67 Pennsylvania counties on microfilm. They do have a lot of digitized newspapers at the Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.
The Power Library
You can find the Power Library by going to the libraries home page, and under the For General Public tab go to Our Collections > Power Library. Or visit the Power Library website at Powerlibrary.org.
- Electronic Databases: you have to be a resident with a library card.
- Digital Documents: you don’t have to be a Pennsylvanian to access this collection.
At the top of the Power Library home page on the right you’ll find Digital Docs and Photos:
There you will find many materials from Pennsylvania colleges including yearbooks. You can browse by subject area, with Genealogy being one of those areas.
Interlibrary Loan and Lookups
At the time of the interview the library was not open for interlibrary loan and lookups. Check the website for the latest updates.
The library does loan its newspaper microfilm. Up to 5 reels of microfilm per request. Kathy says that if you find a newspaper article at Newspapers.com and you see the title, date and the page that an article is on, you can provide the information to the interlibrary load reference librarian at your local library and place a request for a scan of the article from the State Library of PA microfilm. The article can then be returned to you digitally through interlibrary loan. The digitized scan is yours to keep.
The Librarians Favorite Collections
Amy’s Pick: Historic maps found at the library’s website Home > For General Public > Genealogy and Local History > Maps and Geographic Information. This includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Note: log in with a library card may be required. Contact the library with questions.
Kathy’s favorite collections include:
- Map Collection consisting of over 35,000 maps.
- The 5 generations from the Mayflower collection.
Usage of Materials
Usage rights and copyright are important considerations when utilizing library materials. Usage depends on the individual item’s copyright. It should be researched as much as possible. Check the meta data of digital images for copyright information.
How to Get Research Help from the State Library of Pennsylvania
“Think of Amy and I as your personal librarians.” Kathy Hale, Librarian
Contact State Library staff by phone at 717-787-2324 or by email at:
- Reference Questions: email@example.com
- Law Reference: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Interlibrary Loan: email@example.com
- Makerspace: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa’s Tips for Using the State Library of Pennsylvania Website
Maps for Genealogy
At the website go to Home page > General Public Tab > Our Collections > Search our Resources.
- Type in a location and the word map
- Use the filters on the right side of the page > Library > State Library
- Click to select a map
- Try filtering to Full Text Online
- Look for the Online Access link, just above Text Item Call Number.
On the map viewer page, click the thumbnail button (looks like a checkerboard) to see multiple pages at a time. You’ll find the Download button in the bottom right-hand corner. The Print button is in the upper right corner.
Cite your source: Go back to the result page, and scroll down. Click the red button called Cite This. This allows you to copy the source citation which you can then paste into other documents and programs.
Newspapers for Genealogy
The Library of Congress Chronicling America website has many Pennsylvania old newspapers, but it doesn’t include all of the newspaper that the library has in its collection. Here’s how to find old Pennsylvania newspapers at the State Library website:
- On the State Library website go to General Public > Research Guides > Newspapers
- Click the link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive
- Browse by title or date, or use the drop-down menus
- On the viewer page, zoom into the desired article. Then click Clip/Print Image
- Right-click on the clipped image to save it to your hard drive.
- The Persistent link is the URL address to your clipping.
Google Site Search Tip
Many websites have their own search engine. However, each search engine is only as good as it was programmed. If you can’t find what you want on a website like the State Library PA website, try using a Google site search. Site search tells Google to search for your search terms only on the website you specify.
In my example in the video, you can see that Google found the one page mentioning the surname in a listing of microfilms much faster than I would have found it digging around and navigating the website itself. This page was not a card catalog entry so it would not have come up in a search of the catalog on the website.
Learn More About the State Library of PA Collections
In episode 43 of Elevenses with Lisa we discussed genealogy records available for free at the Internet Archive. The State Library of Pennsylvania has been partnering with he Internet Archive to digitize many additional items from their collection. You can access these items for free at the State Library Internet Archive Collection. This collection includes a large number of World War I materials as well as a growing number of 19th and 20th century pamphlet volumes.
- Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.
- Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. (Not a Premium Member? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today.)
Here at Genealogy Gems we believe that genealogy is FUN, and finding great sources of information is part of that fun. But citing those sources may not be so much! My guest in Elevenses with Lisa episode 60 is going to make the case why source citation is a vital part of great genealogy research and she’s going to give us the resources to help get the job done right.
Watch Elevenses with Lisa Episode 60:
Click these buttons to share this episode with your friends:
Add my YouTube channel to your “Favorites” list on YouTube:
Click here to add my channel to your YouTube favorites. Subscribing for free to the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel will make it super easy to return to my channel and Elevenses with Lisa any time you’re on YouTube. Thanks!
Download the Elevenses with Lisa Genealogy Source Citation Cheat Sheet
Premium Members can download the BONUS 2 page Genealogy Source Citation Quick Reference Guidebased on today’s episode. (Not a member yet? Click here to learn more and join today. Premium members can find the full length 18 page show notes PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.
Episode 60 Show Notes
Lisa: Genealogy is FUN, and finding great sources of information is part of that fun. But citing those sources may not be so much! My guest in Elevenses with Lisa episode 60 is going to make the case why source citation is a vital part of great genealogy research and she’s going to give us the resources to help get the job done right. Gail Schaefer, Blankenau is a history and genealogy research expert, author and speaker. She specializes in German genealogy, reading old German script in Midwestern and Nebraska roots, land records, as well as lineage research.
The Pain of Citing Sources for Genealogy
(01:31) Connie from Port Orchard, Washington wrote in recently to say, “I started researching my family about four years ago and your podcasts are very helpful. Thank you. Like many people, I started with the census where I discovered that a great great grandfather had fought in the Civil War. So, from then on, I was hooked. The reason I’m writing is to ask if you would consider doing an Elevenses episode on source citations. I wanted to do the right thing. So, I started researching for how to cite the digital newspaper articles I’d found. I was quickly bogged down in a quagmire of styles, punctuation, and metallics. That’s all well and good for academia. But I’m not writing a thesis. Thankfully, I have Rootsmagic to handle most of that. However, I still have problems when I want to cite my sources. Anywhere else like online trees, I stare at their form for a while wondering what to put there. And then I usually give up, I know I’m making it harder than it is. But I have an irrational fear that if I do something wrong, Elizabeth Shown Mills is going to find out and scold me. (Editor’s note: She won’t. She’s very, very nice!) You’ve done such a wonderful job of taking the mystery out of so many things. So please consider helping us conquer our fears, of citations.” Gail, I know that you’re the person who can help us with this. Do you hear this quite often from other genealogists?
Gail: I do. And I actually share her pain because even though I’m a published author in several genealogical journals, as well as genealogical magazines, I don’t always cite the way the editor wants. I just did a master’s thesis in history and I had to change some of my citing, and I was using genealogy citations. So, she’s right, there is a mix of citation styles. It sounds like she’s doing a good job at the main thing, which is to do good research. But when you want to share your research, people have to be able to check it. I have some ideas for her to maybe consider that we can talk in a little bit more depth today.
Lisa: Excellent. And I like your title, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gail: And I’ve seen it all. I kind of call it the wild, wild west of citation of evidence because we have different citation styles. We as genealogists really enjoy the detective work. I mean, I love detective stories! And I like to solve puzzles. I think most of us who really get into genealogy are like that. So, when we get to the point where we have to maybe write it up or share it with others, we really need to cite our sources, even for ourselves. But you know what citation can be a little boring. And if you feel that way, you’re not alone at all.
Noel Coward Quote About Footnotes
(05:00) “Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.” (Goodreads, Noel Coward Quotes, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/185342-having-to-read-footnotes-resembles-having-to-go-downstairs-to : accessed 15 April 2017.)
Doing source citations feels like interrupting something that we’re enjoying, to do something really not that much fun. But I want to encourage you to cite as you go. And when I say cite as you go, it doesn’t have to be a perfect citation. But it’s important to have all the elements that you’ll need to massage it later. It’s a lot better than going back and redoing what you just did.
Anthony Grafton Quote about Source Citations
(05:35) Historians feel the same way. Anthony Grafton was a historian for Princeton. And he says, “Footnotes seem to rank among the most colorless and uninteresting features of historical practice.” I feel like genealogy is a subset of good history. He does, though, write about citations and their importance, because they counter skepticism from people who feel like there’s nothing that’s true. And there’s nothing that can ever be proven about the past. And so, although it might seem a little bit boring, the fact is, the evidence behind (the source citation) is not. So, we need to be really careful about citing sources, because sometimes we don’t have evidence for our assertions, or we have it but we’re not convincing people that we do.
Definition of a Source Citation
(06:32) I’m going to quote Elizabeth shone Mills because she is considered the Citation Maven for all genealogy. “Citations are statements in which we identify our source or sources for a particular assertion.” (Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, p. 42.)
I would add that almost more important is that the sources for an assertion actually say what we say it does. We’re going to share some examples where they don’t do that.
Resources for Genealogy Source Citations
(07:08) So here are just a couple of three of the style manuals that I’ve used both as a historian as, as a genealogist:
Source Citations Reference Manuals
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
- Evidence Explained: History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 3rd Edition Revised by Elizabeth Shown Mills
- A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Ninth Edition by Kate Turabian
I have to say that when I did my thesis, my professor was talking about the census citation. Well, I used this Ancestry.com quick guide. I think it’s really good. Quick Sheet: Your Stripped-Bare Guide to Citing Sources Pamphlet I used it in my thesis. I had to go back and redo every single citation of my senior thesis!
Preparing for Citing Sources
(07:42) I should have asked ahead of time of my thesis advisor, “how do you want me to do it?” So that’s just a lesson we might have to learn. Some people find evidence explained citations to be too long, especially people who are going to do something in print. So, we do need to strike a balance.
Lisa: I think you’re making such a great point that part of the equation is what you’re going to be using the source citation for. Your thesis is a great example. It’s important to find out what’s required and what the guidelines are before you begin your project.
It’s also important to think about who your audience is. I know that Connie was saying that she’s not doing it for a thesis paper, she’s just doing it for her friends and family. Although, of course, it’s super important because her friends and family may want to pick up the genealogy down the road. If they can’t make sense of where any of her information came from, they’ll have to start all over. Right?
The Problem with Source Citations
Gail: Right. And you don’t want to have to recreate the wheel. There are two problems that can occur with citations. One, that it’s not a good enough citation for people to find it. We’ll cover the elements that a good citation should have in just a moment. I’m not one of those people that gets really mad at you if you use a comma instead of a semi colon. I also don’t think there’s any one right way. But once you choose your way, whether it’s Chicago style or Elizabeth Shown Mills, be consistent.
There was an earlier book by Elizabeth Shawn meals that’s much slimmer that a lot of people use because they find Evidence Explained too much. They use her earlier book. I like A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Ninth Edition by Kate Turabian. They’re all based on Chicago style. Turabian gets it done for me most of the time. When I have a question that’s very specific to genealogy I might go to Evidence Explained. There’s no one right way.
Consider the Reader in Citing Sources
I always think about the reader as well as the editor. I find out what the editor wants, but I also think about the reader. We’re all readers of genealogies. Think about what you experienced that didn’t go so well. When you were trying to figure out what someone was doing or saying in an article, or especially in the old genealogies that are not well referenced. Think about that. Pretend you’re that person who wants to find that source.
Let’s start with some ugly examples of source citations, and this should convince you why you need to have good citations. Whatever form you use, they need to be good, and they need to be complete.
Fraudulent Source Citations
There’s a man named Gustave Anjou. We should know something about him just by the fact that he changed his name. This is kind of a pen name that he used. He was a professional genealogist in the early 1900s. His real name was Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg.
He was hired by some wealthy families who had colonial American roots. They hired him to write their genealogies. The reason why I don’t want people to get so hung up on citations is that they lose track of doing good genealogy. He had lots of citations! And they were formatted well, and they were looked good. And most of them were good. Robert Charles Anderson, who is one of the more famous genealogists looked at some of these old genealogies and he said a lot of the citations were went to legitimate sources. And they were. They said what he said they said, but interwoven into all of these beautiful citations he basically put in false information. He told these people that maybe they were related to a nobleman or the signer of the Declaration of Independence, because really, back then a lot of people were doing it for reasons like feeling their roots were maybe a little bit more glorious than they were. The thing is, he was a fraud. But he did cite his work thoroughly, and they were well put together. People can make stuff up. And appearances can be deceiving, which is why I want us to always keep our eye on the main ball of citations that are informational. It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if they aren’t going to be published. Your viewer Connie doesn’t need to really please anybody but herself. But I do want her to pretend that she’s the reader that might want to track down that citation and see the original. That’s mainly what we want to do.
Robert Charles Anderson did write an article (Fraudulent Lineages and More Fraudulent Lineages) about fraudulent lineages. If you Google Anderson fraudulent lineages you’ll see some of the early genealogies that were bogus. I have some families in there. When I was a beginner, I went to the genealogy library and I looked at some of these genealogies. I put them in my pedigree chart. And then later on when I went back to really do my real research, I had a lot of correcting to do! So, you might as well do it right the first time and know that there are some bad genealogies out there.
Genealogy Source Citation is a Balancing Act
What we have to balance is the importance of citing your sources and getting it right. Source citations are so critical to our own research. We’re running across these kinds of things all the time. So, in a sense, we’re doing them for the benefit of others and making the case that to the best of our knowledge, this is accurate, and this is where I got it.
Source Citations Help When Family Tree Questions Arise
We all at some point probably hear from somebody who says, ‘I don’t know that that’s right.’ They see our online family tree or they want to question something we did. It’s nice to be able to go back and quickly be able to reorient yourself to where you got that information and be able to make that case. It doesn’t make you a bad genealogist to discover ‘Oh, gosh, he’s right, that person isn’t correct, or that document isn’t right.’ Or it may eventually turn out that the information has been disproven. So, we all want those trails leading back so we can make the fixes.
Use Prestigious Genealogy Journals as Sources
(17:19) I’m not saying don’t look at genealogies ever. You might you want to know what’s already been produced. But that literature search should also include the more prestigious genealogy journals.
One of my first major genealogy articles was in the New England genealogical historical register. And it was correcting the Mead genealogy. I think Spencer Mead did a good job on his direct line. But this was a comprehensive genealogy. My line was so wrong that I didn’t even know where he got it. And it wasn’t well referenced. I wrote a three part article, and that journal rarely does three parters. But there were so many errors that I corrected that it merited that large of an article.
Another time a person asked me, “well, where did you get that? Because the tombstone doesn’t say that.” If you have a good citation, then you’re OK. Your citation can even talk about discrepancies. I certainly don’t remember 10 years ago what my thought process was about that. I know I did the analysis.
I’m doing a book right now for the Nickerson Family Association. When I have something that I really feel needs discussion, such as there are two different birth dates or they’re two different death dates for this person, I talked about those sources and the comparison I did in the footnote.
Lisa: Wow, that’s a wonderful piece of information for those who will come after you later down the road. They will be able to see that discussion. I love that idea. What you’ve shown us so far as the ugly. You’ve got some BAD citations, too, right?
An Example of a Bad Genealogy Source Citation
(19:00) Gail: I do. This is going to be my True Confessions. I started when I was really a teenager, and then I really got into genealogy in my teens. When I was in college, I was working at an office at college and taking classes. I ducked into the genealogy library on my lunch break. I’m interested in my second great grandfather, William Nicholas Johnson, and he was a civil war veteran. I’m just pulling everything off the genealogies shelf. That was back when they actually let you into the stacks. They don’t do that anymore. I had a little notebook that I would write things down in and then think “I’ll get back to it later.” And this was a note I had.
And I just laugh at myself, but kind of with the idea that I don’t want to cry about it. It says, “W N Johnson, Life Sketch Civil War.” Well, Johnson is a common, so I don’t know if it’s my guy or not. And it’s Maryville Tribune. I know, he’s from Missouri, but I left out Missouri. It would have been nice for other people to know, but I knew it. And it says February 18. No year? What book did I get it from? I have no idea. (I wrote it down quickly and then went onto other family lines.) Now it’s many years later, and I run across this cryptic, and I mean, cryptic little intro. That’s why I say cite your sources as you go.
I don’t care if you get them in the right order, but at least write it all down. Because you don’t want to go back to the library and try to figure out what book it came from. I finally did come across it in the Missouri Historical Review. And you can see I circled, basically, I wrote down what I circled.
The year was on the prior page, which I didn’t write down. Maybe I thought I’d get to it sooner, but I didn’t. I spent quite a bit of time in the library tracking down the Missouri Historical Review. What if I had done something more like this:
Example of a Proper Genealogy Source Citation
“Historical Articles in Missouri Newspapers, January-June 1925,” Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 21, no. 2 (January, 1927), 321, Nodaway County, Maryville Tribune, 18 Feb 1925, “Life Sketch of W N Johnson.”
It’s super easy for me to check now. So not only do you want to do it for other people, but you want to do it for yourself.
Lisa: It makes me realize that it’s important to know the pieces, the elements within the source citation. Like you said, even if you just jot it down, and you intend to put together the proper citation later back at home at your desk, you’ll have all the pieces that should be there.
Gail: I never would have been able to use that citation in an article. But now I have a proper citation. It also led me to find out whether this was really my guy. By the way, if you do have Missouri ancestors, the Missouri Historical Review is a really neat resource. It’s digitized online now.
That’s a bad citation but there’s another kind of bad citation. I had a Bennett Posey Family. I think he is my fourth great grandfather, maybe third. There are probably thousands of trees online because we’re very prolific. They all have his wife as Rhoda Hobart. As a professional looking back I’m saying this wasn’t really Rhoda Hobart. This Posey Genealogy had really good citations and it looked good. Now I don’t think he was like Gustav Anjou trying to fool anybody. But I took a look at the citation to his will (and wills sometimes do help you to figure out who married whom.) The will doesn’t say at all what he said it said. That’s the other kind of bad citation you can find. I didn’t have a problem finding it. But the citation didn’t support the assertion. I looked at another will and I thought, oh, this was the will he meant. Even though it was closer to supporting it, it turned out that Rhoda Posey was a guy, not a girl. So, I don’t think Bennett married Rhoda Posey the guy. I think he married some other woman that I saw. She’s still blank on my tree because these days I’m doing everybody else’s genealogy research except my own. But that’s an example of another bad citation that didn’t support the assertion.
The Cost of Bad Genealogy Source Citations
Lisa: That’s a great example. And it’s a lot easier to get help from other people, like a reference librarian, if you have a great source citation to offer them.
Gail: Yeah. I mean, they don’t even charge me which is nice. Other times they’ll charge five dollars. But a lot of times, they’ll say, “Well, unless you can give me a good citation I can’t help you.” Or you end up paying a professional to spend two hours chasing something down rather than just giving them where to look in the first place. They might be pulling a record for you that you don’t have access to online. There are a lot of things that can happen. So again, get all the elements, you can always massage it later, you can always check Turabian’s book or something later to get it right. So, source citations save us money! And time is money. No matter how you slice it, you really want to write as much down as possible and always think, “how am I going to find this again?”
Gail: I think I’ve convinced everyone not to get hung up completely on the format or wherever the comma goes. Just make sure you have all the elements that allow you and others to check it and make sure it really is saying what you think it says. I have a style guide for books that I use, so I copy and paste from there. Just be kind to yourself, but also be diligent. So, let’s talk about some good.
How to Create Good Genealogy Source Citations
(27:49) This is the best part! Number one, I want to talk about types.
Types of Source Citations:
- Source list entry
- Full reference note
- Subsequent reference note
Sometimes I notice that people kind of get them confused. There’s a source list entry, which is kind of like the bibliographical reference. This is the actual source. You can have a full reference note, and that is for the first time you cite that particular source. These are usually longer. That’s the one that’s going to allow you to find it.
If you’re writing up your genealogy, then you have following or subsequent reference notes. This is out of Evidence Explained. But they say the same thing that The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
says, and the same thing that A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Ninth Edition by Kate Turabian. They all say the same thing.
Some of you might be MLA, some of you might be MPA. It doesn’t matter. We all have these three different types that we may be using. And here are the elements:
Elements of a Good Source Citation
- Title or creator of the source
- Author(s), editors, or compilers
- Publisher (year published)
- What it is
- Page #
- Film #
- Record group name and #
- URL for online source
- Repository (sometimes)
Now, depending on what you’re looking at, the elements will differ. You’ll want the title of the source or the creator of the source, and sometimes both.
Author(s), editors, or compiles – If you’re citing a book, you will want all the editors, the authors or compilers and say whether it’s an edited work, or a compiled work. You’ll want the publisher if there is one. Some things are self-published, and then I just put in brackets [self published] and the year it was published.
What it is? Is it a marriage book? Is it a Bible? What is it?
Page Number – If it’s paginated, if it’s not page numbered you say unpaginated. Do tell people that it’s not. Don’t make people guess whether there’s a page number so that they don’t obsess about it.
Microfilm Number – If you’re using microfilm, you need to put the film number because that’s what you’re looking at.
Record group name and # – If you’re looking at primary sources include record groups if they’re pertinent. If I’m at the courthouse, I include the courthouse and where the courthouse is. Sometimes I’ll put such and such a county, because how many Washington counties are in the United States?! Make sure you’re sure you say the state. Say that it’s in Bellevue, Nebraska, not just Nebraska. There might be more than one place like that in a state, not necessarily the same named county, but there might be towns with the same name nearby.
URL for online source – Obviously, if the source is online, you need to give the URL.
Repository (sometimes) – And sometimes you will want to have the repository where it used to be located. If you look at a book, say what repository you found it. If I looked at a book, if it’s a famous book, you know, and every genealogy library has it, you don’t have to put the repository. But obviously, when I’m citing the fugitive slave warrant, that I found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, I need to say where it is because no one’s going to be able to find it unless they know where to look.
All of those elements mean there’s no one right way, but you do have to make sure all the elements are in it. Once you choose the style, be consistent. If you’re using A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, use it consistently. Don’t go off and do something else unless it really is an unusual thing that Turabian doesn’t seem to cover in her book and just try to do the best you can.
Lisa: I imagine it’s just like with naming your files on your hard drive. It’s probably more important to be consistent than to have it be somebody else’s view of perfection. You want it to include all the important pieces. So, that’s reassuring for folks to hear there isn’t just one right way. You’ve offered up some of the styles and things that we should be looking for. And I know you’ve got other resources as well that will help guide us in the right direction, right?
Gail: I do. The book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills is really good, but I don’t use it as much as I used to. And I do think it can be really daunting. There are people out there who will say your citation is wrong. They’ll say, “Well, if you want to stress the document, start with this, if you want to stress the person start with that.” I don’t know what they’re looking at. And I’m thinking “well, yes, it is actually that I wanted to stress the document, because this is a document and analysis. So, the purpose of what you’re using it for really, really matters. Just keep that in mind. Again, for your listener, she should stop stressing about it because she’s probably doing a good job.
Genealogy Software Source Citations & Style Guides
(30:00) By the way of some of those reports – I don’t want to use names – but their databases that we use, I don’t always like the output that they do for their citations. But at least they’re there. But a lot of them are a little jumbled. And they don’t seem to adopt any particular style, though they have all the elements usually that you need. So that’s good. But I’m not into doing that.
I usually do my citations in a separate Word file. I always make my own style guide for every project. I have one source that was in what’s now Poland, but it was Pomerania. And I had my own style guide for that, because I was using an online Polish website that had digitized records. The records were in German, so I could read them. So for my citations for that I had the Polish name, I had the German, and then I have the English translation. I just decided I don’t want to rewrite every citation every time I cite this. So, for my reference, I had a style guide. And that’s a really good idea. Put the work in at the beginning, in a Word file and say, “Okay, I’m gonna spend some time maybe a whole day figuring how I want to cite it, but that’s what I’m going to use.”
Lisa: I like that idea. Using a template, it speeds things up, and it keeps it consistent.
(31:51) Gail: Exactly, exactly. And again, this was something that a lot of people weren’t citing, because they’re really daunted by the Polish website. It took me a while to learn how to navigate it. I don’t speak Polish, I speak German and English in French, and some Spanish but I learned it because I’m a genealogist and that’s what we do. Right? Genealogists are great learners. They will power through the most difficult things to get to where they want to go. So, we don’t want to let the daunting nature of citations continue to stop us from doing it at all. Better to do it, do it in your own style, your own template that you’ve come up with, hopefully, based on these resources that you’re providing, but at least doable rather than saying “Oh, I’ll do that later.”
Like I said, you can always rearrange some things or add an element later. But you need the main things, and you need to be consistent. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later on if you cite what you see. And this is also in Evidence Explained, but all the other style guides say the same thing.
If I’m holding the death certificate, I cite the death certificate. If I have a Bible, I cite the Bible and where it is who owns the Bible. Sometimes you have to say as of the year you referenced it. I may not know where it is this year, but at least you’ve got breadcrumbs.
(In the video Gail shared an example of a photocopied of vital records for James Arnold of Rhode Island.) I’m citing the book because I’m not looking at it online. I always check the original whenever I can. The reason I looked at the original is because there was a discrepancy in two sources. And then Cirilo said, oh, by the way, this is a copy too. And we don’t know where the originals are, we think they were destroyed when they were copied. He even gave me who copied it, and when. So that made it into my citation because this is as original as it gets. Sometimes when people transcribe, they don’t mean to, but they make an error. But that wasn’t the case here. But you have to do your due diligence. Whenever you see something that doesn’t make sense, or you have a discrepancy, you’re going to have to track down the original. And I still think it’s better to have the original anyway.
In another case, another Rhode Island one, I had a Samuel Reiss Smith within the vital records. But when I tracked down that original, it said Samuel Royal Smith, so it was my guy. I knew my guy was saying Royal because I had the Bible Arnold had, he just had a hard time reading the handwriting. So I went back and looked at the handwriting. Nope, this is Royal. So, you do want to get the original as much as possible. It made my case.
Citing Genealogical Image Sources
Which brings us to the very important subject of images. Most of us are using lot of images online. Remember, images might be enhanced. And that’s sometimes a good thing. It’s also sometimes a bad thing because there might be some things left out. The other thing is that there may be another one out there, but it may not be the same, kind of like the editions of books. And the series might have a gap.
In my thesis, I’m citing lots of censuses, and slave schedules, because I’m exploring some enslaved women who left enslavement in 1858 from Nebraska territory. I’m using the 1860 territorial census, and it’s online at Ancestry. It’s also online at FamilySearch. When I go to the Nebraska State Library and Archive, there’s a page at the front of the census for their county that lists all these slaves, all the enslavers and the number of people they have enslaved. And that is not online. But it’s critical if you’re looking for African American ancestors. So the census enumerator didn’t follow the rules. They were supposed to fill out a slave schedule separately, but they didn’t because it was a territory. So, they made it up. And there is a record, but it’s not online. So remember, if you’re looking for something and you’re thinking, Oh my gosh, it’s not there, you might have to kind of dig and look at the film and maybe even have someone go to an archive and say, “can you look at this?” Sometimes people don’t mean to but when they’re filming, they miss a page and, of course, it’s going to be the page that your ancestors on!
Lisa: Of course, that’s always the way it works. You know, Gail, you mentioned that images might be enhanced. Tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that.
Citing Enhanced Images
(39:22) Gail: They might be enhanced by changing the colors so that it’s a little bit better and sharper, which is good. But for instance, I did a lot of my initial German research off of microfilms now at Matricula. For the Catholic records, they’re in color, and they’ve enhanced it by coloring it and sharpening them so they’re easier to read. There’s a lot of underlining done in German records, and sometimes the underlines are in red, and they didn’t show up on the microfilm and they show up on the digital image. So you do need to go back and kind of look at original images and see what you’re not seeing online.
Lisa: Being able to make a notation about this in the source citation. I mean, these days, my goodness, any digital image could be altered.
Gail: Exactly, and people can add things to them. And I have an example of why it’s important to say, even when you’re looking at what you think is an image of an original, (which is generally in genealogical standards considered almost as good as the original) But sometimes it’s not. So, this is where Evidence Explained is right. You do need to be really thorough. Are we doing good work? That’s always the question you need to ask yourself. Does that source that I’m citing actually support my assertion or not?
So this the top one, as you can see, it’s white on black. Now of course, that’s the microfilm. But we’re pretty sure the original wasn’t black on white. But they were having trouble getting a good image. So they changed it. I cited the film St. Andrews Verdan Evangelical Church. It’s unindexed. And it’s a baptism, 1800, and I give the FHL microfilm. And I added, thank goodness, citing film from a manuscript in Berlin. Now, she may not like that, she might want me to say what manuscript in Berlin it was. But you know what I feel like – and my history thesis person said – I cited too much. So can you find it? Yes, you can. That’s the question. But the reason it was important for me to put the extra thing about where the film and the manuscript is, is because Ancestry digitized it years later. And you start with Ancestry, usually, with the name of the database. You say that it’s a digital image, so that you know that you’re actually looking at a scan of some original. And in truth, St. Andrews Verdan Evangelical Church, and this manuscript is in the Niedersachsen, or Lower Saxony archive. And do you see any differences in those two things? Because I do right away. Number one, it’s a better image. But there’s a 42 on the lower one, and there’s no 42 on the other one, and the other one has page numbers, and the other one does not. They’re the same record, same church. If you don’t do a lot of German genealogy, what you don’t know is German parishes make duplicate records by law. So one is the duplicate and one is the original. The original is probably added to later by the actual parish person. Or the duplicate, they went back later and said, “This is hard to use, because we don’t have any page numbers or entry numbers, so we’re going to add them.” I love looking at originals, because you can see that it’s different ink, you can see whether it’s a different color. And with imagery, you can always see that. So that’s two, same person say project. One is easier to find the record than the other because they added the 42. And you know, all those stamps on your digital image at the census record. Those weren’t there originally. That’s why we say page numbers stamp or page number written.
Knowing the Genealogy Records Makes for Better Source Citations
Lisa: Exactly which can get very confusing when people are trying to go back and find things. You’re really also making the case of how important it is to familiarize yourself with the records that you are going to be using. You can discover things like the fact that in Germany they legally had to make these copies and they distributed them and that would be different in a different country where you’re researching. I love reading the full descriptions of the records, whatever I can get my hands on. Genealogy websites can tells you more about the background of the record, how they acquired it, etc. All of that could help support them making an even better source citation.
Learn more: Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 37 Provenance: The Story Behind Your Genealogy Records.
Citing Sources of Sources
(46:52) So the other thing, and I think I’ve kind of already alluded to it, is sources of sources. And this example is one from you know, the olden days. You can look at this in what they call the Massachusetts brown books. And this one is actually an image. So I’m going to add that I got it at AmericanAncestors.org.
Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016), https://www.americanancestors.org/DB190/i/7687/338/141204368, Danvers Births, Vol. 1:338, citing First Congregational Church (Salem Village), Danvers.
Notice at the very end I say citing First Congregational Church, Salem village, Danvers. So it’s in the Danvers VRs, but it doesn’t mean that they were in Danvers, proper. So a lot of people might stop with Danvers, but that CR1 means Congregational Church, Salem village.
How do we find that out? If you’re online, you go to the beginning of the book and look at the abbreviations. Always see what’s in here. Does it matter whether your ancestor was a Baptist, Unitarian, Universalist, Congregationalist or a Quaker? Absolutely! So do know that those little citation citing something else, you need to kind of run that down and put that in your citation. That’ll help you and other people to make sure you know which John Smith you’re talking about. How many John Smiths do I have in my background? Quite a few! Was my John Smith, a Quaker? Well then it may or may not be the person who was at Salem Village in Danvers. And look: there’s two congregational churches in Danvers, one is Salem village, and one is in Middle Precinct.
Discussing Discrepancies in Source Citations
(48:21) And again, talk about discrepancies. You know, my Bristol one? I had that said he was born 11th December, and one that said he was born ninth December. And both of them were copies of original records that can’t be found. So, I just say, I looked for the original records, did my due diligence can’t be found, here’s what may have happened, they’re two days apart, but it’s definitely the same guy, and here’s why. So always handle discrepancies in your source citations.
Most Commonly Used Source Citations
(48:42) Here are two source citations that are fine:
- Williams-Schultz Marriage License and Certificate, Saunders County, Nebraska, Marriage Book 5:162, RG204, Film #3B, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.
- Saunders County Clerk (Nebraska), Marriage Book 5:162, RG 204, Film 3B, Williams-Schultz Marriage License and certificate, NSHS, Lincoln.
Somebody might write to you later and say that I’m wrong about this. But I have looked in Evidence Explained, I’ve looked in The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition and either one of these is correct. But I wanted to show you why there’s no one right way.
I started with the first one William Shultz marriage license. And I like to use that format more where you say what it is, especially when you’re using end notes. I don’t know about you, but I really liked footnotes better because I could check right away. But a lot of editors and a lot of history books, you have to go to the end notes. So, if I want to check and there’s just tons and tons of footnotes, how much easier is it if you’re checking where I got the William Schultz marriage to start with a William Shultz marriage what it is? It’s easier to find for people, right? So, I always try to pretend I’m the reader who hasn’t been part of this big project that I know inside out.
Now, if it’s his license and certificate put that, because in some record sets the licenses are in separate books than the certificate. This one, the licenses is above and the certificate is below so it’s all one page. But I just let people know they’re both on here. But it’s not wrong for me to start with Saunders County Clerk who’s the creator, the marriage book, five 162, the record group because I’m looking at the archive. But I’m still looking at a film, I’m not at the courthouse. If I wanted to go to the Saunders County courthouse, then I would just say Saunders, county clerk marriage book five. And then I would say Wahoo, Nebraska, because that’s where Saunders county courthouse is. Now they know I went to the courthouse. You can do it either way. But make sure all the elements are there so people can check it.
Now I know some of your listeners might be wanting to publish an article or publish it for posterity, which is always good. I do encourage people, especially if you’ve done some really original research, that’s a breakthrough, I say get it published. Get credit for what you do, because people are going to take it from you, and they’re never going to cite you. I have a friend who’s done some incredible research. And I keep saying you got to write it up, you got to write it up! You are the expert witness. And it will actually help you to write it up, too. Because there’s where you see, “oh, maybe my train of thought was not as clean as I thought it was” or “Oh, I need to do a little bit more.”
The Right Way to Do Genealogy Source Citations
(51:45) You might be thinking, “just tell me the right way.” But when I’m writing, the right way is how the editor wants it. You have to study the publication. (In the case of writing it up for your family, you are the editor who gets to decide.)
For the footnotes for instance. 1790 census in this particular journal, which is peer reviewed by professional genealogists: 1790 U. S. Census, East Greenwich, Kent Co., R. I., p. 59.
Here’s a footnote that is a published footnote in there. It’s following footnote, but it’s a good footnote. Notice that they abbreviate County, they abbreviate Rhode Island. And as some people might not even put R. I., they might just do RI. That would be just as good, but that’s not how this editor wants it.
Here’s a very similar footnote for this journal, New England Historical Genealogical Register, another prestigious journal very well: 1790 U. S. Census, Norwalk and Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, roll 1, p. 326.
I mean, if you read it in there, it’s been well researched. It’s been well cited. That’s their footnote. Notice they spell county out.
Is one right, the other one wrong? No, they’re just different. And they’re both helpful. You can find them.
And here’s Evidence Explained: 1790 U. S. Census, Fairfield County, Norwalk and Stamford, digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : access date), entry for Smith Mead, p. 326 (written) line 22, citing NARA M637, Roll 1.
That very same one that I just showed you from New England. And you know, if you’re going to print it on a paper, paper is expensive. Ink is expensive. So they’re going to do the shorter one. It’s just how it is.
Access Dates in Genealogy Source Citations
(53:15) And now access date. There’s still a debate about that. There’s a debate about whether you have to do HTTPS www ancestry.com. Some people are just taking that out, because everybody’s so familiar with Ancestry.com now, we may not need that whole URL. We just put ancestry.com, and everybody knows that. Or familysearch.org, access date. I usually put the year at least, because I’m already noticing that Ancestry.com has re- titled some of their databases. Just handle explaining your decision in the beginning of your book or paper. Explain where you’re coming from.
What I’m asking for is balance. I feel like there’s been a pendulum swing, because genealogists used to be really looked down upon by professional historians. There was a lot of sloppy genealogy done in the old days. Now I feel like sometimes we swing too far, you know. I do not always put that it’s the NARA publication number, blah, blah, blah, I put that in the intro. And then I shorten it because it’s going to be printed up and we don’t have the paper to do it. We just can’t waste all that paper. I’m being an ecologist here. But most good editors do strike that balance. They understand that, you know, it’s all about sources. It’s all about supporting your assertions. And as long as you’re doing that, you’re doing well.
Lisa: I like that. That’s a wonderful note to end on, which is, as long as you’re keeping these your audience in mind, you’re being consistent. You’ve turned to really reliable source citation reference materials like you’ve given us here. And we know we’re going to do a good job.
Gail: I want you to focus on the evidence, and the citations are your help. They’re not an obstacle, they should be your help.
Lisa: I like that idea very, very much. And the evidence is really the fun part, isn’t it? And we have to make sure we’re not so stressed out about source citations that we aren’t thinking clearly and evaluating the evidence that we’re coming across.
Gail: Right, exactly. I mean, I do think there’s some people who get too hung up on that, and they’re spending time on it that they could be using to do a little bit more analysis.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s a great point. And it’s easy to want to hyper-focus on what you feel like you can control. And you know, a lot of times, you can’t control the evidence, you can’t control your access to things. But we want to keep that end goal in mind of just do the best research that we can do. And you’ve certainly helped us with that.
Gail, tell folks, if they want to learn more about what you do, if they want to talk to you about research, how do they find you online.
- Download the 18-page ad-free show notes and the BONUS 2-page Genealogy Source Citation Quick Reference Guide based on today’s episode. (Premium Member log in required. Not a Premium Member? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member.)
- Watch past free episodes of Elevenses with Lisa.
- Get your official Elevenses with Lisa mug
- Subscribe for free to our Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll never miss another episode.
- Subscribe to my free email newsletter to get notifications of new videos and articles.
Questions and Comments
Please leave your questions and comments below. Gail was kind enough to answer questions from the live chat:
Q: I’m used to APA citation format, is the citation format for genealogy a lot different?
A: Excellent question. It is similar, but different enough that you may want to use Turabian or Evidence Explained. Sometimes when I am in Worldcat.org I will look at the different style formats they have in a dropdown menu just to see what the differences are. Once you decide on a format, then be consistent.
Q: If we use Roots Magic, is it best to use their templates or should we create our own style? It is up to you.
A: The templates can be very helpful as we are less likely to leave important elements out. In my own experience, it takes me longer to input through templates, but the difference in time is probably not so much that it would be discouraging.
Q: Tips for using Ancestry’s citations?
A: Although they have improved their citations through the years, Ancestry’s citations do not always meet the genealogical standard. A resource I use is “QuickSheet: Citing Ancestry.com Databases & Images, Evidence Style*”
Q: How do you cite inherited genealogy scans like family Bible, letters, and documents that you don’t know where it came from?
A: I would consult Turabian for this. As far as you can trace provenance, you need to have that in the first entry citation. Here is an example:
When you have repetitive items do you use IBID only changing the date and page? Yes. If you are writing for an editor, check with their style guide first.
Q: Where is Gail inputting her style guide source information within her genealogy software? Am I misunderstanding, she has a quick reference sheet she’s created in word, but how is she inputting it into her software of choice?
A: You are not misunderstanding. I have style guides for big projects that have a lot of repetitive elements. I have these in Word. I copy and paste into the manuscript. If putting it into software, I still copy and paste, but not all at once, as different programs have you input titles, authors, etc., in different order. Example: Census (U. S.) 1850-1870
*year U.S. census, * Co., *state abbreviated, *township, p. #, image database, database URL, dwelling#/family #, *name of individual and/or head of household.
Q: What does it mean in a citation to say “citing ” (as in “citing film”)?
A: It is a good practice to mention what you are either looking at or holding in your hand. So, I might say “Washington Deaths,” image database, website URL, accessed date, entry for NAME, date of death, citing FHL microfilm, etc. This tells the reader that I am using an image database, but that the digital image is a copy of a microfilm, not the original paper death register. So, I cite the microfilm, because that is what the image represents. I do not always use the terminology, “citing” but often I do when I am dealing with digital image databases. Some researchers still use access dates, but for instance, in my Master’s thesis, they did not want so many dates and long citations, so we said accessed in 2020, or in some cases, “various dates in 2020,” rather than littering it up with long date formats.
Q: Are templates for sources to be done for each project? Can templates be used over and over?
A: I use my Word style guides over and over, regardless of project. However, I also have special projects where I have a separate one. What I normally do is take my “usual” style guide and adapt it or add to it. For instance, I have one for when I am using the Polish State Archive, with my “normal” citations, plus the idiosyncrasies of that archive, another for when I’m primarily using Archion, and another one for the large book project (mainly Massachusetts but ultimately nationwide and into Australia), and of course, I have a separate one for the book I am writing under contract.
Q: My mother wrote a lot of things down for the family historian (me), some were dictated and some in her handwriting and actually some from a previous generation. For my personal genealogy can I use these as a citation? I plan on scanning her notes and adding it to my computerized tree and the originals in my wonderful books of saved documentation. (The class you did many moons ago)? Thanks for a wonderful cl
A: I love this question. Yes, I would cite your mother’s work. If dictated and you were the writer, you may want to call it interview notes, and the date, if you have it. Her own notes you would cite her as the author/compiler. Again, I would consult Evidence Explained and/or Turabian for this situation, and then decide what format and order you want to use. Once you establish your “first entry” note, you can then use a short form note for any other references to that particular part of your mother’s research.
Deciding which genealogy website you should use doesn’t have to be difficult. Lisa Louise Cooke will show you how to figure out which genealogy site is right for you.
Watch the live show each week on Thursday mornings at 11 am Central.
(calculate your time zone)
Three ways to watch:
1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat.
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat.
Which genealogy website should I use? (Episode 80 Show Notes)
(Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.)
So, you’re intrigued by the idea of finding out more about your personal family tree and family history, and you’ve heard about genealogy websites like Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch. Pretty quickly, though, it can get confusing deciding between them. And frankly, it just may not be in your budget to try and use them all. So which genealogy website should you be using? In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa we’re going to answer that question!
(This article includes our affiliate links. When you make a purchase we are compensated at no additional charge to you. Thank you for supporting the show!)
Which genealogy website should I use?
So not too long ago I got a question from Seymour. See if identify with his situation:
“I have been a member of Ancestry.com for about 6+ years now & use them as my primary genealogy site for my family tree. I also last year became a subscriber to FamilySearch.com. I was able to merge my tree from Ancestry.com into my FamilySearch.com. Now here’s where I am second guessing myself. I am having some difficulty getting used to how FamilySearch works.”
I’ve read some posts on different sites that mention that they don’t have the most accurate information in their hints, etc.. But with that said, I understand that things change & technology can make some sights easier to operate within them than they were before.
I have kind of noticed lately that you seem to be referring to MyHeritage.com more & more so not knowing anything about MyHeritage.com
My big question is would it be advantageous, in your opinion, for me to switch over to MyHeritage.com now before I get too involved in FamilySearch.com? Or is it just that MyHeritage.com just has the newest technology working in their favor right now & this could change…”
I totally sympathize with Seymour’s concerns here. I’m going to share with you my opinions and strategies on this question of which genealogy website to use, and how they compare. But keep in mind there are no right and wrong answers. Everybody’s situation is a little different.
I’ve been at genealogy for a long time – since I was eight years old. I’ve been in the genealogy industry for over 15 years. Like all of us, I’ve made mistakes, so today I want to share with you what I’ve learned and how I do things in the hopes that it will help you have fun and be successful!
Is there one best genealogy website?
All the big genealogy websites would absolutely like you to use theirs as the primary if not sole website. But that’s not practical, because in reality, they all have strengths and weaknesses.
I think it helps a lot if we step outside the genealogy box and look at if from a different perspective.
Let’s think about a carpenter. A carpenter who’s really serious about building great furniture is going to have a shop full of tools! If you asked him which one is the best, he would probably come back at you with an important question: what are you trying to build?
That’s the right question because a hammer is perfect for driving a nail but terrible for determining if a shelf you are installing is level.
We’re trying to build out our family history. This involved many tasks and will require many tools. In the end you want to pass that family history onto the future generations. That’s why I’m an advocate or building your tree, saving the genealogical documents you find, writing the stories, creating videos and anything else you’re doing, on your own computer. If we just put that all on somebody else’s website – no matter how big they are right now – then we really don’t have control over it. We want to build family history that lives in our home. The genealogy websites are just tools to help us get that job done.
Keeping this in mind, the answer to the question “which genealogy website should I use?” becomes pretty clear. You use the right one for the task at hand.
What kinds to tasks do you need to accomplish as a genealogist? Here are just a few:
- Find genealogical records and information (evidence)
- Analyze what you find in order to get answers (conclusions)
- Create a family tree (pedigree and descendancy chart)
- Write up family stories
- Create shareable content (scrapbooks, videos, framed art, books, digital database.)
Resources for Budget-Friendly Genealogy Websites
Since the best website is for the task at hand, we could and often do end up using several genealogy sites. However, it isn’t practical to think we can subscribe to every genealogy website resource. Doing so would be cost prohibitive for most people. Therefore, we need to find a way to evaluate whether a website can meet our needs.
We also need to determine if the content provided by the subscription website might be available for free elsewhere. If you’re on a tight budget or just want to get the most for your money, there are definitely ways to do that in genealogy. Watch this video (Episode 21 Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records) which describes my strategy for first identifying if free records are available.
Once you have exhausted those avenues, it’s time to determine which of the biggest genealogy websites has what you need, and the costs involved.
Know Your Genealogy Website Options
You have several excellent genealogy website options to consider. I often refer to the large, popular genealogy websites as the Genealogy Giants. They are the largest and best-known genealogy websites in the industry. They include Ancestry and MyHeritage which are paid subscription websites, and FamilySearch which is free.
All of these websites offer historical records, online family trees, mobile apps and more. Some of the content that they offer overlaps with some of the other sites, but each also offers unique content available only at their site. And sometimes that’s going to be the deciding factor when picking which one to use. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
I do want to acknowledge that I often include Findmypast in this list of top genealogy websites because it is growing quickly and offers many of the same features. However, it is still primarily focused on British Isles genealogy although lately they’ve been working hard to add to their U.S. collection. The other three, (Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch) are much more international in scope while offering a primary focus on the U.S. if my task was to dig into my husband’s British roots, I would turn to Findmypast first for sure.
There are also excellent genealogy websites that focus on other countries too like Sweden, France and so on. But for this episode, we’re going to focus on comparing Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch.
All of these genealogy websites offer the following to their top-tier users:
- billions of historical records from around the world;
- powerful, flexible search interfaces with lots of extra features;
- family tree-building tools;
- automated record hinting (if you have a tree on the site);
- Help/tutorials for site users.
They also have unique strengths and weaknesses within these areas. Understanding them can help you make your decision today. But your genealogy research needs are bound to change over time as you research different parts of your family tree. You might be working on ancestors from North Carolina for the next 6 months, and then suddenly discover where they were from in Germany and find yourself looking for German records. And at some point you decide that DNA testing is the only way you’re going to be able to confirm a family relationship. Change is inevitable as you climb your family tree and that’s why it’s so important to stay flexible and know your options.
Comparing the Top Genealogy Website Subscriptions
Here’s a high-level comparison of Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch.
Ancestry is a US company that started as a publisher. Over the years it has grown tremendously, often through acquisition, and not it also owns Find A Grave, Fold3.com, and Newspapers.com. You’ll need to sign up for a free account to access a limited number of free collections, and they offer a variety of paid subscription tiers.
FamilySearch is a nonprofit sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and affiliated with the Family History Library in SLC, UT. The site is free but does require that you set up and log in with an account.
MyHeritage is an Israeli company that was started as a family tree website. It has a strong international user base. You’ll need to sign up for a free account to access a limited number of free collections, and they offer a variety of paid subscription tiers.
Each of the three largest genealogy websites offers free online family tree building tools. Online trees make it easy for others to search your tree, are convenient to refer to while on the website, and facilitate hints. These websites review your tree around the clock and suggests possible record matches. It’s really important to evaluate and verify each hint, and remember that hints do not cover all records. In fact, you only get hints from a small percentage of the entire historical record collection.
Ancestry, and MyHeritage users can build their family tree on the website and can set them to private or public. In fact, they can build multiple trees which many people do. This is in stark contrast to FamilySearch which has a single community tree where users contribute to common ancestral profiles and is entirely public.
I recommend building and keeping the master version of your tree on your own computer and set up an automated cloud backup service to protect it. (I use Backblaze cloud backup.) This is the only way to retain full and total control of your own family tree. That being said, online family trees are excellent research tools and can be used in conjunction with your master family tree. I cover this concept in-depth in the Premium Membership video How to Take Control of Preserving Your Family Tree Information.
Ancestry and MyHeritage both offer DNA testing, while FamilySearch does not. Ancestry entered the DNA industry first and therefore has the largest number of DNA profiles at well over 15 million. MyHeritage is growing quickly with several million DNA profiles.
All three have free mobile apps for iOS and Android. Just like on their websites, Ancestry and MyHeritage require paid subscriptions to access subscription content.
It’s not easy to compare historical records apples to apples. One of the main reasons is that each of the sites has a slightly different way of defining what constitutes an historical record and they don’t necessarily publish that information. This can make it very difficult to then compare how many records they have.
At first glance you might look at a death certificate and think “that’s an historical record.” However, one certificate may name several people – the person who died, the informant, the physician and so forth. The information provided about each could be considered a “record”.
The good news is that all three sites have such vast collections that include billions of records that the specific numbers aren’t as important. (And the numbers change quickly as new records are added daily.) What really matters is if they have the collections and records that will be helpful to your genealogy research.
MyHeritage offers some wonderful and unique tools for working with family photos including their enhancer and colorization. They also have a huge amount of international users so you have a better chance of making a connection with a distant cousin in another country through their family trees.
How to Determine if the Genealogy Website Has the Records You Need
1. Identify Your Research Goal
Start by identifying the family lines you want to work on and then determine when and where they lived.
2. Evaluate the Collections
When it comes to genealogy records, the bottom line is whether or not a particular website has what you need. By browsing the collection catalog of each website you can get a better sense of if what they have to offer is worth the subscription price.
A little-known secret about all three websites is that you can evaluate these website’s collections without having to even sign up for a free account! Here’s how:
- Ancestry search.ancestry.com > Explore by Location > click a place
- FamilySearch familysearch.org/search > Research by Location > click a place
- MyHeritage myheritage.com/research/catalog > click a place under Refine by Location
Subscribe to One, and Gain Free Access to Many
FamilySearch is free so it should automatically be on the top of your list to search when looking for historical records. However, if only one of the major subscription genealogy websites is in your budget, there are other creative ways to gain access to a variety at no cost. Here are my recommended strategies:
Free Access through Library Editions
Ask your local library if they have Library Editions of Ancestry, Findmypast and/or MyHeritage available. Library editions are typically available onsite at the library though you may be able to gain home access through with your library card. They provide free access to most records although exclusions may apply and tree-building is not available.
Free Access through Family History Centers
You may be able to gain access to all three websites at a Family History Center. You can find the Family History Center or Affiliate Library closest to you by visiting https://www.familysearch.org/fhcenters/locations/ and using the interactive map. Click on the location pin to get more details.
Free Collections at Ancestry
If you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here.
Free Collections at MyHeritage
To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria. (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags.
Schedule Specific Research Around Holidays
Many genealogy websites allow free access to specific historical record collections throughout the year. Typically, free access is tied to a holiday. For example, if you have some military research to conduct, schedule it around Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Need marriage records? Keep an eye out around Valentine’s Day. Subscribe to my free Genealogy Gems email newsletter and follow Genealogy Gems on Facebook for notifications of specials like these.
When One Website Subscription is Not Enough
Sometimes the free strategies we just mentioned just won’t meet your research needs. If you are really yearning to have a paid subscription to both websites at the same time, here are some strategies that may just help reduce the cost.
Call for Specials
If your account has expired or is about to renew, it might be worth taking the time to call and see if there is special reduced pricing available. You can find the phone number for MyHeritage by clicking the Contact Us link at the bottom of the home page. To reach Ancestry, the fastest way to find the phone number is by googling ancestry customer service phone.
Do you have a favorite way to save a few dollars on your genealogy subscriptions? Leave a comment below and share it with the Genealogy Gems community!
Additional Genealogy Giants Website Resources
- FREE TRIAL to Ancestry
- Click here for my step-by-step introduction to getting started on Ancestry.com.
- Click here to learn why everyone should have a free FamilySearch login–and use it!
- FREE TRIAL to MyHeritage
- Do your DNA with MyHeritage DNA! You can also upload your DNA results from other testing companies to MyHeritage for free and enjoy free matching and analysis tools!
- Click here to read what Genealogy Gems loves about MyHeritage.
- Download the ad-free show notes (Premium Member log in required. Not a Premium Member? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member.)
- Subscribe for free to our Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll never miss another episode.
- Subscribe to my free email newsletter to get notifications of new videos and articles.