New to podcasts? Read Frequently Asked Questions(about the podcasts, how to listen and how to subscribe for free.) Welcome to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast, a step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 1: GettingStarted. Special Guest: Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland, California Family History Center. Her own family history journey started in her 20s with a visit to a relative’s house. She didn’t even know what to talk about! But it was a start. Years later, she visited the Northern Ireland home of her great-grandmother, and felt like she’d come home. Learn her tips for getting started and two inspiring stories of “genealogy serendipity.” Then you’ll learn why choosing a database for your family tree is your first essential step. Hear about some of my favorite databases—both free resources and products you can pay for. Don’t spend too much time fussing about software: I’ll tell you why you should just pick something and go with it.
Episode 2: Interviewing Skills. Special Guest: Cath Madden Trindle, a well-known family history instructor and certified genealogist. Cath talks about discovering dysfunction in her family (don’t we all have that?) and the new appreciation she gained for her family as a result. She also gives us some great tips on how to share what we find. Then we’ll talk about interviewing your relatives. That’s an important skill for any genealogist—beginner or more advanced—because you’ll need to interview people over and over again. Hear about you who you should interview, what to ask and how to ask it! You’ll also learn two important traps to avoid that will save you a lot of time and keep you from losing everything you learn.
Episode 3: Working Backwards, and Social Security Death Index. Special Guest: Miriam Robbins, a well-known genealogy blogger and teacher. She shares her best research tips, what motivates her to delve into her family history and how that discovery has enriched her life. In our second segment we answer the question “Why do we work backwards in genealogy?” and then fire up the Internet and go after your first genealogical record. We’re going to dig into the U.S. Social Security Death Index.
Episode 4: Conference and Vital Records.Special guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences. Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.
Episode 5: Unlocking the Past and Home Sources. Special guest is genealogy author and publisher David Fryxell. I’m going to be talking to him about locating valuable family resources and the importance of being tenacious in your research. Then in our second segment we’re going to help you along on your own genealogy journey by talking about the importance of scouring your home for family clues and creative and effective ways to get the words out to your relatives so that family history information finds you!
Episode 6: Sleuthing Techniques and Genealogical Records. A genealogy writer and educator talks to us about sleuthing Sherlock Holmes-style for our families. He says, “Stop looking for names and start looking for families!” Then I’ll give you an overview of the different kinds of historical records in which our ancestors may appear. Whenever a life event happened that involved the government or a church, paperwork was generated: vital records, land sales, wills and probates, baptisms and burials. There is often a ripple effect in which the event was reported in other sources, like newspapers. In future episodes, we’ll talk in depth about finding and using these different kinds of sources. But consider this episode your orientation to them!
Episode 7: Best Genealogy Websites Part 1. Special guest: Lisa Alzo, popular genealogy lecturer and writer (now the author of nine books and online genealogy instructor at Family Tree University and the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. We talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned in her genealogical journeys (which include international travel in Eastern Europe). Then we tackle an essential topic: the best subscription websites for genealogical data. This is a two-part topic: in this episode I talk about sites that require payment to access their core content. In Episode 8, we’ll talk about the fantastic free websites that are out there.
Episode 8: Best Genealogy Websites Part 2. In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success. In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Episode 9: Using Census Records.Let’s talk about a group of records critical to U.S. family history research: U.S. Federal Census Records. You’ll learn not only what to find in the regular schedules, but about the enumerators, the instructions they followed, and special sections like the economic census. Then we go straight to the source: Bill Maury, Chief of History Staff at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ll be talking to him about the History section of the Census Department’s website. Note the updated Genealogy tab on the site, as well as the Through the Decades tab, which is packed with historical information for each census.
Episode 10: Deeper into Census Records. We continue exploring U.S. Federal Census Records. Last episode we located relatives in the 1930 census, and today we’re going to push further back in time to follow the census bread crumb trail. We even explore some census enumerations that often go overlooked by family historians with Curt Witcher, the Manager of the nationally-recognized Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Curt has some great tips for tapping in to more obscure census resources. We’ll talk about nonpopulation schedules for the federal census, census substitutes for missing census data (like the 1890 census) and state censuses that may be available, too.
Episode 11: Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790. We welcome back genealogy researcher, author and lecturer Lisa Alzo. The author of Three Slovak Women, Baba’s Kitchen and Finding Your Slovak Ancestors talks about discovering family traits and putting them in perspective. Then we wrap up our three-episode coverage of U.S. census records with a decade-by-decade overview of censuses from 1880 back to 1790. We talk about special schedules taken during one or more censuses: mortality, slave, social statistics and supplemental, agricultural, manufacturing and the DDD (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) schedules.
Episode 12: Post an Online Family Tree. In this episode we focus on posting your family tree online. There’s no use in re-inventing the research wheel! By posting what you know about your family tree online you can easily connect with others who are researching people in your family tree. You can share information, collaborate and even get to know distant relatives.
Episode 13: Genetic Genealogy and Photo-Sharing. Episode 13 reviewed genetic genealogy and photo sharing products that are either now longer offered or are outdated. This episode is not being republished with the series. Click on the show page anyway to see some updated suggestions and links to some of the top services for genetic genealogy and photo sharing.
Episode 14: How to Contact Long-Lost Relatives. Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that first call. In this episode, we chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has mastered the art of “genealogical cold calling” by conducting hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.
Episode 15: More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives. In today’s episode we talk more about “genealogical cold calling” with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying.
Episode 16: The Family History Library Catalog. In this episode we get acquainted with the largest repository of genealogy materials in the world: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s free and available to the public and I’m going to get you ready to make good use of it through the online Family History Library catalog (and its companion collection of digital records). Podcast guest Don R. Anderson, Director of the Family History Library, describes the evolving direction of the Family History Library and its host site, FamilySearch.org.
Episode 17: Using Family History Centers, Part 1.This episode is the first of a series in which we answer questions about Family History Centers (now also known as FamilySearch Centers), the regional satellite facilities of the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I’m done with you, you won’t have a single excuse left for hesitating to use these wonderful family history research resources! My guest is Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland Family History Center in Oakland, California. In this episode she introduces us to the Family History Center, walks us through the process for ordering and using microfilm and discusses the wide range of resources at local Family History Centers. Even if you’ve already been to a Family History Center, you’re still going to learn some new things along the way!
Episode 18: Using Family History Centers, Part 2.Margery Bell returns to the show to keep talking about using Family History Centers. She preps us for our visit to a local center and reveals the subscription websites you can use for free while you’re there. Margery discusses making copies in all forms, the future of digitizing microfilm, and the future of Family History Centers. We also talk about tips for visiting the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Episode 19: Using Family History Centers, Part 3.In this final episode on Family History Centers, Margery Bell talks about the educational opportunities available through Family History Centers, including the new online Wiki. Margery gives us her Top 7 Tips for getting the most out of your visit to a Family History Center. Finally, she inspires us with some stories of genealogical serendipity that she has experienced over her many years working at Family History Centers.
Episode 20: The Genealogical Proof Standard.In this episode we talk about the Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS. My guest is Mark Tucker, a software architect and avid genealogist. Mark gives us an overview of the GPS and tells us how he got started using it. Then he shares a cool mapping tool he created to help us use the GPS. We’ll wrap by talking about how the GPS map can be effectively used for breaking down your research brick walls.
Episode 21: RootsMagic and Irish Genealogy Research. Lacey Cooke guest-hosts this double-feature episode on two big topics in family history: RootsMagic genealogy software and how to get started in Irish research. Bruce Buzbee, president and founder of RootsMagic Genealogy Software, talks about his industry-leading software. We also welcome Irish genealogy expert Judith Wight to talk to us about how to find those elusive Irish ancestors! Listen for her tips on finding Church of Ireland records, civil registrations, estate records and how history helps us understand gaps in the records.
Episode 22: Legend Seekers. Did you ever catch the PBS documentary Legend Seekers? It aired in 2009 and is now classic genealogy TV. Executive producer Ken Marks joins us on this episode of the podcast. He talks about the unique approach of this show for its time: the family history stories he brought to life were from everyday folks (not movie stars or rock stars) who have some very extraordinary stories in their family tree. Then Ken talks about the genealogical serendipity that he has his crew found themselves tapping into throughout the production.
Episode 23: Using the Genealogical Proof Standard. We put the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS – see Episode 20) into practice with an example from my own research. Researching by these standards now saves us time and work, and also from making avoidable mistakes. Some downloadable free tools that will help you use the GPS. In this episode we also follow up with a listener question on how to export your family tree from Ancestry.com.
Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History. Two types of marriage records are discussed in this episode: civil and church. Learn some great tips for finding and using U.S. marriage records, as well as the different types of government documents that might exist.
Episode 26: Using Church Birth Records in Family History Research. We finish up this two part series by talking about church birth records. Helping us in the hunt again is Arlene Eakle, PhD. Check out the show notes on the episode page for exciting updates to the original conversation–including how to chase down (online!) the original source of material in the International Genealogical Index.
Episode 27: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1.Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically. In this first in another 2-part series, Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society shares top tips for finding historical newspapers.
Episode 28: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2. In this episode, Jane Knowles Lindsay shares inspiring stories about the kinds of family items she’s found in newspapers. She offers a dozen more fantastic tips on researching old newspapers. You can find everything from birth, marriage and death announcements, to school and club event, crime stories, land transactions, sports activities and just about any other activity that your ancestors were part of that made the news!
Episode 32: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 1. Learn from my tried-and-true system for organizing your genealogy materials on your hard drive. First we talk organization–anyone can do it! there’s no magical gene for it–and then we talk some specifics: creating surname file folders and other types of file folders you’ll want for genealogy purposes.
Episode 33: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 2. The second in a series on organizing your genealogy materials on your computer. This episode walks you through a system for organizing family history on your hard drive. Creating a series of genealogy file folders, filenames you can find easily, where to file photos and other tips are here.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2. We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
Episode 36: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 1. This episode is all about YOU! It is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. I couldn’t do this podcast without you, and I definitely want it to be a two way conversation. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.
Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2. More Q&A with you! Topics include: downloading all the podcasts at once; keeping old family group sheets; how to know when records and indexes are complete; Google Alerts; comment on FamilySearch digital books collection; how to pronounce “genealogy” and who plays the music on the podcast.
Episode 38: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 1. The Footnote Maven, author of two popular blogs, joins us to talk about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, commenting on other people’s blogs and more. This is a fascinating inside look into the geneablogging community, whether you’re interested in starting your own or not!
Episode 39: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 2. This week we continue to explore of family history blogging. In this episode I interview TWO more successful genealogy bloggers, Denise Levenick (author of The Family Curator and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful” on the Shades of the Departed blog) and Schelly Tallalay Dardashti (author of the Tracing the Tribe blog).
Episode 42: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 5.In this concluding episode to the 5-part blogging series, I talk about adding a few more gadgets and details, pre-planning your blog posts, publishing your first article, and how your readers will subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.
Episode 43: The Julian Calendar and Genealogy. If you’re not familiar with how the calendar has changed through history, you might be recording incorrect dates in your family tree! In this episode, Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the RegionalFamily History Center in Oakland, Californiahelps us understand the “double-dating” we see in old documents and translate those dates from the Julian calendar to today’s Gregorian system.
Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy.Today’s episode is unlike any other I’ve done on the podcast. We are going to tackle some difficult subject matter: family secrets in genealogy. None of us have a perfect family tree. In fact, at some point each one of us who are delving into our family’s past will likely come across some sad and painful stories. An ancestor abandoned at an asylum, incarcerated for acts of violence, or perhaps who committed suicide. Crystal Bell, my guest on today’s show shares her story of finding her mother.
Episode 45: Genealogy Blogs Started by YOU! The Podcast Listeners.In recent episodes of this podcast, we’ve been discussing how and why to create a genealogy blog. In this episode I’m going to share some of the family history blogs that YOU—the listeners—have created. I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to blog by what others are doing, or that you’ll take note of any blogs that can help you or perhaps are relevant to your own family history. Being a community is what gives genealogists strengths and inspiration. Get your notepads out and get ready to jot down these terrific blogs!
The Genealogy Center: Elevenses with Lisa Episode 31
If you’re looking for a wide array of free online genealogical records for your family history, look no further than then Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s the second largest genealogy library in the country. In addition to the in-house collection, the Genealogy Center offers a vast amount of free digitized resources through their website and partnerships with other websites.
I invited Allison Singleton, Senior Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana to the show. She is taking us on our tour of the website and sharing her tips and strategies for finding genealogy gems. Watch the video and follow along the highlights with the show notes below:
What is the Genealogy Center?
The Genealogy Center has one of the largest genealogy research collections available, incorporating records from around the world. The staff specializes in genealogy and is always available to help. Visit the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne Indiana.
There’s a lot to explore at the Genealogy Center website. Let’s start with the top-level menu on the Home page. Here we’ll find links to important resources such as:
Let’s take a closer look to a few in addition to other free resources available through the large colored buttons on the home page.
The Genealogy Community is the place to ask questions, sign up for their e-newsletter, and follow them on social media. They are extremely active on Facebook. You can also learn more about and get in touch with the staff of seasoned family history librarians.
PathFinders is a great place to start your family history search. It provides very small snapshots of what the Genealogy Center has in their collection for any given location or topic. Snapshot categories include:
Click on the logo from any page to return to the website’s Home page.
Free Databases at the Genealogy Center Website
The Genealogy Center does not interlibrary loan materials. Their collection is reference only. The website is the perfect place to plan your next visit. That being said, much of their invaluable collection has and is being scanned by Internet Archive and FamilySearch. If it is out of copyright, they work to get it online. So there’s plenty to find from the comfort of your own home.
You can find their Free Databases by clicking Resources on the home page and then Free Databases. These are all searchable and include digitized images that can be viewed from home.
In the Free Databases section you’ll find gateways to other specific areas including African-American and Native American. These provide an excellent place to start your research.
Free databases at the genealogy center
Family Bibles at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Family Bibles The Genealogy Center actively collects scans of family bible records pages.
Learn more about researching family Bibles for family history in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 29.
Watch episode 29 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn how to find and analyze your family bible for genealogy
You can donate more than just money to the Genealogy Center. They are also looking for research donations. Donating is a great way to make your genealogy research materials easily accessible to your family and other researchers. You’ll find Donations in the main menu on the Home page.
Donated digitized materials are freely available online on their website.
They are actively digitize records.
You can even bring your materials into the library and they will digitize them. You can then keep the originals.
You can also send in your own digitized scans.
Military Records at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Our Military Heritage They are actively collecting military information for inclusion in their collection. The collection includes many unique items donated by other family historians.
Copyright and Usage
The materials on their website are under copyright. You can view one page at a time. However, you can copy and print like you would if you were visiting the library. Include a source citation including the donor name. If in doubt about usage, contact the Genealogy Center.
Searching for Genealogy Center Content
The website is new (in 2020) so Google may not pick up everything in search. Use the website search field to search the entire collection.
Allison’s Catalog Search Tips:
When search the Allen County Public Library catalog, don’t use common words such as county and city.
Also, don’t use the plural form of words. For example, use directory not directories.
After running the search, on the left side of the page under “I only want” filter your results to only the Genealogy Center by clicking Branch and then
If an item is digitized, you will see a Web Link under More Info.
Lisa’s Search Tip: Use Control + F (PC) or Command +F (Mac) to quickly find words in a long list on a results page.
On-Site Databases at the Genealogy Center
You can only access on-site databases while in the library. No library card is required. The library does not offer an online subscription service.
Getting Help Online for Offline Resources
Navigation: On the homepage click Genealogy Community > Ask a Librarian. Here you can send brief questions and requests.
Family History Archives
Navigation: Click Family History Archives on the Home page and you’ll find links to other websites hosting Genealogy Center digitized content. Partners include:
FamilySearch (Public Access)
The Internet Archive (over 110,000 items)
Over 110,000 Free records at the Internet Archive from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
City Directories at the Genealogy Center
City Directories are a wonderful way to fill in information between census years. The Genealogy Center has the largest collection of city directories in the country. They are in both book form and microfilm.
The city directory collection cover across North American and even includes some international directories.
Compiled Family Histories at the Genealogy Center
Compiled family histories help you stand on the shoulders of other accomplished researchers. They have approximately 70,000 physical books. There are also family histories digitized and on the website. Search for the surname and include the word family. On the results page, filter down to Branch > Genealogy.
Free Consultations and Paid Professional Services
Navigation: Home > Our Services > Consultations. The Genealogy Center offers free (yes, you read that right!) 30-minute consultations with a Genealogy Center librarian. Consultations are held by Zoom, phone or email. You don’t even have to be a library card holder! Prepare well to get the most from your consultation.
You can also hire staff at the Genealogy Center to do more extensive research for you. Another option is to request a list of local professional researchers. Visit Our Services > Forms > Research Form
PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)
Navigation: Home > Our Resources > Onsite Databases > PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) PERSI offers a very wide range of periodicals, some of which are very unique and niche. The PERSI index is hosted by Findmpast. Search the index for free from home at Findmypast. Some of the items require a subscription.
Allison provided some excellent insider strategies for searching PERSI:
Articles are indexed by title.
Don’t search by keyword or “Who”.
Most people aren’t named in the article titles. Focus on location.
You can order the articles from the Genealogy Center. $7.50 for each form which includes up to six articles. Go to Our Services > Forms > Article Fulfillment.
Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a Forensic Genetic Genealogist. Dr. Claire Glynn joins me to talk about the field of investigative genetic genealogy, criminal cold cases solved, and the new Forensic Genetic Genealogy certificate program she has developed at the Henry C. Lee (notable for his work on the OJ Simpson case and many others) College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.
Video: How to be a Forensic Genealogist
This video premiered live on YouTube on January 13, 2022 at 11:00 am CT. Click here to watch the video replayat the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Scroll down to read the complete show notes article.
Forensic genetic genealogists are continuing to make the news as they’re helping law enforcement solve cold cases. And some of these are really old cases! It’s an emerging career field, and there are courses online that can help you learn what it takes to be a forensic genealogist, and as well how to do it professionally.
One of those courses is the online graduate certificate in forensic genetic genealogy. It’s at the University of New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Claire Glen is the founder of that program. She’s an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven. CT. It’s really the first program of its kind in the country.
Dr. Glynn is a sought-after consultant and expert in this field. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and conducts extensive research focused on forensic biology, forensic DNA analysis, and forensic genetic genealogy. I’ve invited her to the show today to talk with us about what the forensic genetic genealogist does, how you might be able to become one and what we can look forward to in the future in this really exciting field.
(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
What is a Forensic Genetic Genealogist?
Lisa: I think we should probably start at the beginning and answer the question what is a forensic genetic genealogist?
Dr. Glynn: That’s a great question to start off with, because lots of people are always very curious about it, especially because it’s such a brand-new field. We can say that this field was established at the forefront of forensic investigations in early 2018. Now, the term forensic genealogy had actually been around since I think 2002. But forensic genealogy is really a different thing to forensic genetic genealogy.
Forensic genetic genealogy is all about taking everything that we know about genetic genealogy and applying that to a criminal investigation. Either into an investigation of what we call unidentified human remains or UHRs, or as the public more commonly known as Jane and John Doe cases. So, identifying unidentified human remains, or in what we call suspect cases, whereby we have DNA left behind at a crime scene by a perpetrator of a violent crime, such as homicide or sexual assault, and trying to identify who that perpetrator is by using our genetic genealogy skills.
It’s amazing how it just kind of burst onto the scene. And as you mentioned, it is quite different than forensic genealogy. So, this is all about the genetics, the DNA.
Forensic Genealogy used on criminal cold cases.
(3:36) You said that it kind of came out more around 2018 or so. The Golden State killer case really had a lot to do with bringing this to the forefront, didn’t it?
it certainly did. It’s what brought it to the forefront of the media for sure. And it’s certainly the most highly publicized case for forensic genetic genealogy. However, right at the exact same time as the Golden State killer case was announced, there was also the other application of forensic genetic genealogy to unidentified human remains cases.
The DNA Doe Project at that time, right before the announcement of the Golden State killer, had used successfully forensic genetic genealogy as we know it now, to identify the remains of the Buckskin Girl, which was a case from the early 1980s of unidentified human remains. So really, it was the kind of culmination of several people doing this all at once, but independently on different cases. And then it was the announcement of the Golden State killer that really brought it to the forefront of people’s minds. Because I mean, can you think of a more prolific serial homicide investigation in US history? I mean, there are several but that has certainly been one that’s been very high profile over the last four to five decades.
Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217 on the Golden State Killer case and Your DNA
What kind of background should a Forensic Genetic Genealogist have?
(5:15) Lisa: I’d love to hear a little bit more about your background and kind of how you got into this. I know that you’ve worked with law enforcement and things in the past. Tell us a little bit about where you come from.
Dr. Glynn: I was born and raised in the west of Ireland, in County Galway, the most beautiful part of Ireland the most beautiful place you’ll ever seen in the world. I come from a very education focused family. Both of my parents worked at a university. They’re both retired now, my father is a physicist. And so, I grew up on a university campus, essentially going there every day after from a very young age to do my homework. So when it came around to the time for me to be applying to university and things like that, my father actually brought me the front page of the Irish Times newspaper. And on that front page was an article about a brand-new bachelor’s degree program that was being brought into Ireland at BS in pharmaceutical and forensic science. There had never been a forensic science educational program in Ireland prior to that. My father said to me, I think you’d be a great forensic scientist.
Bear in mind, we’re talking 2000, at the turn of the millennium, when CSI had just come out on the TV, right, so it was just out, people were kind of enthralled with the show. So was I. I was like, “what is that? Is that actually a really a career?” Like, do people actually do that? And as the more I looked into it, it is indeed. It has been around for decades, as a career.
And so, I was very intrigued by this. And my father said to me, as well importantly, with his great insight, he said, you know, you should choose a degree program and a career based upon the qualities and characteristics that you have, not just because it sounds cool. He said a forensic scientist should be very good at science, which I was, that was where I was getting all my A’s in school – not many A’s and the other subjects -but also you should be very compassionate and wanting to help people which I was constantly rescuing animals off the street and bringing them home without my parent’s permission. And also, my dad said, importantly, you’re very nosy. So that would lend itself very well to the career as a forensic scientist.
I decided to become a forensic scientist based upon that. Though, coming from Ireland, where university education is completely free – well, it was at the time – my father said, you know, don’t be their guinea pig for this new program, let them kind of find their feet for a few years. Go do another undergraduate degree first, and then do that one. So, I went and did a BA in psychology because I thought it will be important to understand about human behavior, and the human mind and indeed, criminal behavior. That that would lend itself well to my future career as a forensic investigator. So, I did that degree, and then immediately afterwards, I did my bachelors of science in pharmaceutical and forensic science.
During the third year of that program, so in US terms, the junior year of that program, you have to do a six month industrial placement, which is kind of a fancy way of saying internship. For that internship, I went to the UK to a private company called LGC Forensics, because in the United Kingdom, all of the forensic science industry is completely privatized, it’s not government run at all. I managed to get a research position within that within that company. I worked my bought off for six months for them for free working on a research project in the forensic Biology Unit there.
(I went) home and finish my senior year, and then immediately returned to LGC Forensics, where I started working immediately as a full-time forensic biology examiner. That job entails working major crime, investigations of homicide and sexual assault that occur all over England and Wales. It was a very high volume lab. I think the biggest surprise I had in that job was the volume of major crime that comes into one lab. You know, you don’t see them all reported in the newspapers, so whenever you’re actually working in that laboratory, and you see the number of homicides, the number of sexual assaults that do occur, it really is quite shocking.
So then after a couple of years, and after amassing probably working 1000 Major Crimes during that time, I decided it was time to get my PhD because I had always wanted to get one. Because I wanted to kind of be a part of solving a big puzzle. I wanted to help the society in any way possible and, contribute to something important.
With that, there’s not many doctorate programs or PhD programs that are focused on forensic science across the world. It’s really due to a massive lack in funding for research topics such as that. So instead, I decided to enroll in a doctorate program that would teach me a lot about genetics, that would teach me a lot about molecular biology, because all of the skills that I would learn there would be transferable back to the forensic science or forensic DNA industry.
I did my PhD in breast cancer research. I did my PhD and one of the most phenomenal labs in the world. They are really truly making a huge impact in helping patients, patient outcomes and patients diagnosis for breast cancer research.
Then, I said it’s time to return back to the forensic science industry. I was thankfully offered a position at the University of New Haven as an assistant professor at the time. If any of your listeners know about forensic science, they’ll know that the University of New Haven is the number one university in the United States for forensic science education.
The captain of our ship is Dr. Henry C. Lee, one of the world’s most world renowned forensic scientists. And so just having that opportunity to even be associated with Dr. Lee and the University of New Haven, I jumped at it. So, I joined the faculty at the University of New Haven in August 2014. And I’ve been there ever since. I said I would move over across the pond to the United States to Connecticut to New England. I would give it a year, and if I didn’t like it, I’d move on elsewhere. And eight years later, I’m still there. So, it looks like I’m staying for the long haul. I’m very happy in my position there at the University of New Haven.
In terms of forensic genetic genealogy, bear in mind, I am and was at the time considered a forensic DNA expert. That was where all of my expertise lay and forensic biology. So, body fluids analysis, being able to correctly identify a particular body fluid from a crime scene, or from a piece of evidence, and then extracting a DNA profile from that and interpreting that DNA profile from that with our regular forensic (Short Term Repeat) STR profiling.
However, I had a long running history on passion for genealogy, it was my hobby, right, as many people’s hobby is genealogy. And so I’ve kind of been doing that all along on the side as my hobby. I had also worked several adoption cases and unknown parentage cases, including my own as I am also adopted, I knew who my biological mother was, but I didn’t have any idea of who my biological father was. Then using genetic genealogy, I made that identification. On the high of that I started to help other people do that. I’m sure you’ve felt that as well, in the past, you get those solves, and you get so excited that you just want to help more.
Then in April 2018 when the Golden State killer investigation was announced, and the prime suspect had been identified, I thought, oh my gosh, my two worlds have collided, my hobby of genetic genealogy, and then my career and expertise as a forensic DNA scientist. I was like, this is the perfect mesh for it. And ever since then, I’ve just been hooked.
So, with that in mind, and having been a self-taught, genetic genealogist, I thought, Okay, well, there’s a massive need out there for a coherent program of study for forensic genetic genealogy. Who better and where better else to establish that than at the University of New Haven?
Lisa: In hearing your background, what you’ve really done I think for our audience is kind of lay out the career path and also show that, to a certain extent, this is all new territory. You can kind of follow your passions and create the situation that works best for you.
The Origins of Forensic Genealogy in Criminal Cases
(15:30) I remember watching a TV series, I think it was on crime TV or something. They were talking about the Golden State killer case, and it was before it was solved. I remember just practically yelling at the television and saying, why don’t you go check the DNA databases! and then very quickly, all that started happening. So, it’s exciting to see these worlds colliding.
Dr. Glynn: Yeah, it really is! I wish I had been the one that came up with the idea to apply genetic genealogy to criminal investigations. I should have because of the industry that I work in, but I didn’t. Thankfully there were trailblazers ahead of me, such as Margaret Price, Colleen Fitzpatrick, CeCe Moore, and Barbara Ray Venter. Those individuals that were already doing it before many of us even had the idea to do it.
Lisa: Well, and we’ve had many of those distinguished women on the Genealogy Gems podcast, and I like you, I had some ideas about it. I’ve got all kinds of friends in the industry, and yet I never said anything to anybody. So, they all figured it out.
What is a Certificate Program?
(16:36) I love what you’re doing. It sounds like you’re really creating a structure so that more people can enter the field. I’d love to have you tell us about the program. You mentioned it’s a certificate. So, my guess is at this point, there’s not certification available yet, but there is a certificate and a field of study. Tell us about that.
Dr. Glynn: Yeah, absolutely. Well, with certification, and then doing a graduate certificate in anything, there are two very different things.
You can do a graduate certificate, or even an undergraduate certificate in many fields of study. Especially today, in the last three to five years, higher education has seen a huge demand for what we call micro credentials, which are certificates, because they’re not full degree programs. They aren’t 33 credits, or 120 credits for a bachelors, 30 plus credits for a master’s degree. A certificate here in the state of Connecticut by the Office of Higher Education, a certificate is 12 credits or more. It needs to be a minimum of 12 credits, 12 University credits. With our graduate certificate, the program itself is 12 credits. So, it’s four courses of three credits. There is an optional elective or additional elective that’s available as well, so could be 15 credits if you want.
How the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Program was developed.
(18:07) With the program, when I sat down to kind of say, ‘Okay, I need to plan a program, I need to develop a program in this,’ we have the infrastructure here at the University of New Haven to be able to do so. We have the Online Learning Management System. Also, we have kind of the prestige in the criminal justice and forensic science field that people would want to take a program like this with us.
So, I said, ‘Well, what would I include in a program such as this?’ What I was seeing, and I have to say a thanks to all of the online Facebook groups and forums and everything surrounding forensic or investigative genetic genealogy. I was reading the comments, and I was reading the questions of what people want to learn and what they’re lacking in their knowledge currently and what they’re hungry for.
I could see that there is a lot of not misinformation but confused information as to what already happens in a forensic DNA investigation. What do we currently do forensic genetic genealogy aside, when we have a crime? What is the physical evidence that is on a crime scene? How do we collect it? How do we preserve it? What do we do with it? How do we say that this red stain is blood, or this whitish stain is semen? How do we tell that what chemical tests do we use to do that?
Then importantly, what DNA information can we get out of that sample? What type of DNA analysis do we perform to either compare it from a suspect DNA profile that has been collected, or run it through our criminal DNA database such as CODIS, here in the United States, (or it’s called something else other countries), and what’s the process for all of that. What are the rules and the regulations and the criteria and the standards that we have to adhere to for analyzing all of those types of samples.
Also, things like touch or transfer DNA analysis, so minute quantities of DNA. Or recovering mean DNA from heavily compromised samples such as skeletal remains, highly decomposed bones, teeth, things like that. I could see that a large portion of the comments that I was seeing was people being curious about. ‘How do we do this? Why can’t we connect Gedmatch to CODIS? And I’m like, oh, no, they’re apples and oranges. They’re two very different things.
Forensic Genetic Genealogy Certificate Program Courses
(20:41) So, I thought the first course in the program should be a fundamentals of forensic biological evidence. (It would include) what do we currently do? What is our regular forensic DNA profiling process? What is CODIS? And what are what are our national criminal DNA databases? Then importantly, this is one people often get confused is, what is familial DNA searching? Because that is not forensic genetic genealogy at all. That is something else that we’ve been doing for years in the forensic community, whereby we’re comparing STR (short tandem repeat) forensic DNA profiles within a criminal DNA database looking for first order direct relatives, so aunts, uncles, parents, siblings.
So that’s the first course. That gets people up to speed of what do we do in a regular forensic investigation. Currently, as the Department of Justice interim policy regarding forensic genetic genealogy, all of that has to happen before and FGG investigation is even begun.
Then the second course is what is forensic genetic genealogy? What can we do with the results from consumer DNA testing? What are the databases that we are allowed to use, such as Gedmatch and Family Tree DNA? What can we do with the genetic data that we can harvest from those databases? What’s a centimorgan, what does share DNA mean, and what tools are out there to help us decipher this information. So, that’s the second course. It’s going through all of that in depth: going through the X chromosome, the Y chromosome, autosomal, consumer DNA testing. Also importantly, the ethical implications and privacy implications of doing this type of analysis.
Then, after the genetic genealogy component – so we’ve put it into our database, into Gedmatch or Family Tree DNA, we find our top 10 matches, we have our centimorgan value, we use our shared cm project tool to infer what potential relationship that is, then we start to build a family tree using that genetic data or genetic information. And then how do we build those trees out further of the non-genetic matches because they’re not in the database? And how do we use traditional genealogy, as I like to call it some people don’t like it when I call it traditional genealogy, though. I understand their reasoning, though, because it sort of makes it sound like that’s the old way of doing it. But it’s not. It’s what we currently do with our regular genealogy of finding those records, and also, importantly, verifying those records and making sure that they’re true and accurate. All of the different genealogy standards, and the genealogy proof standard, and adhering to all of essentially the rules, as I like to call them, from the board for the certification of genealogists. So, you’re taught, what are we doing forensic investigations? What’s genetic genealogy? What’s regular genealogy, so genealogy principles and methods.
The fourth course, the final course in the program, is our Forensic Genetic Genealogy Practicum. That practicum is not a traditional course. There’s no lecture material. There’s no videos to watch each week, there’s no readings for you to do. It’s “here’s a mock case, go solve it.” Everything that you’ve learned over the three previous courses, apply that to this case.
I create mock cases of Jane and John Doe’s or they could be suspect cases. And basically, I provide the student with a Gedmatch kit number that I’ve uploaded. I’ve gotten permission. It’s gone through our institutional review board approval for inclusion in this and the volunteer who gave me the DNA, their DNA dataset has provided informed consent, and I anonymized that sample. I provide the students with the kit numbers and I say, “Here’s your case. This is a Jane Doe, estimated aged 30 to 50 years, possibly Caucasian or possibly Latina or possibly African-American. Then they have to run with it. They have to apply everything that they’ve learned to try and solve the case.
And from this past cohort the results were phenomenal from the practicum. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed with the excellence of the students from our first cohort and their ability to correctly identify people within their practicum.
We have some internships available because we’ve established very collaborative partnerships with some of the forensic genetic genealogy providers out there. And many of them are reaching out to me now asking, “Can we take some of your students next year?” which is great to see. And so, this past year, we had some students intern with the DNA Doe Project where they were mentored by the excellent people at the DNA Doe Project, I have to give a shout out to Gabrielle Vargas, and also to Margaret Press there, they were truly phenomenal with our students. And they worked actual real cases on identified human remains. They successfully identified at least one, I think there’s been two now.
So, for that type of outcome, I mean, I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that. To know that the students have been trained to a professional level that they’re as successfully able to apply everything that they’ve learned. Similarly, with the mock cases that the other students were given to see that they were able to successfully identify really was just absolutely outstanding,
Lisa: It must have been exciting for you just as the instructor and seeing it all come together.
What type of student applies to the Forensic Genetic Genealogy certificate program?
(27:06) Did you find that the people who were signing up for that course, were they interested in trying to do this professionally, make a paid career out of it, or were there just lots of people who would give anything just to donate their time and be part of this kind of work?
The short answer to that Lisa is both. What I get asked quite a lot is like what type of student applies to this program? And I was just going through my spreadsheet this morning for the upcoming program that starts in just two weeks. The breakdown is pretty much the same as our first cohort. I like to look at it as there’s the law enforcement affiliated group. Then there’s the non-law enforcement affiliated group.
The law enforcement affiliated group of students are the ones that already work for law enforcement in some capacity or another, be it their death investigator, a DNA analyst in a crime state or federal or private Crime Lab. There are police officers, they’re detectives, they’re intelligence analysts, they’re already working in law enforcement in some capacity. And so, they’re enrolling in the program because they want to add this additional skillset to their portfolio or to their resume, and apply the knowledge that they learned through this program to their current work. They’re not looking for employment, right, they already have it. They’re just looking to add it. This is the whole kind of push that we see massively and demand for micro-credentials. People already in their career that want to add to their credentials to help them move further within the career, the current jobs that they have.
Then, the other side of it, where there’s non-law enforcement affiliated students, they come from such a diverse background, it’s fascinating to see. In last year’s cohort, I had a librarian I had an airline pilot, I had an attorney, non-criminal attorney, a business attorney, I had a lighting specialist. I remember thinking, I’m a little bit nervous accepting some of these students into the program, because where are they going to go with this? And are they going to be able to keep up with the program because of not already knowing the law enforcement side? I’ll tell you, they were some of the best program. They really were. They absolutely blew my mind away.
I’m seeing very similar backgrounds in the applicants and the accepted students into the program that I have for this coming 2022 cohort. Very, very, very diverse backgrounds. Some of the non-law-enforcement people are already working professionally as genealogists, not specifically forensic genealogists. I have a couple of already board-certified genealogists. I have some people that have been working as search angels for several years or are already working for one of the private forensic genetic genealogy providers. Once again, this credential is essentially to add to their resume.
Employment opportunities for Forensic Genetic Genealogists
(30:22) Whenever I get asked – I get emails on a near weekly basis – what are the employment opportunities? What are your statistics for employment upon graduation, you can’t really give statistics for a micro-credential such as a certificate program, because not everyone’s in it to get a job at the end. And also, as you mentioned, and this is true for certainly a handful of the students from last year’s cohort and probably for this coming year’s cohort is, people just want to add to their skill set and their knowledge and volunteer their time, as a retiree, or they’re taking a break from work for a while, and they just want to do this on a volunteer basis in the future. So really quite a diverse group.
Demographics of Forensic Genetic Genealogy Students
(31:08) I think it’s fascinating to know, and you probably won’t be surprised about this, but 95% of the students in this coming year’s cohort, 95% are female, and 5% are male. And interestingly, as well, the average age is exactly 45 years of age, with our youngest student being 21 years of age and our oldest being 72. So again, a very diverse demographic of students.
Lisa: Wow, that is fascinating.
Dr. Glynn: One last thing on the demographic, sorry, I forgot to mention. I just pulled it up this morning was going through it. We have nearly 30 states represented of students coming from nearly 30 different states, and then several from Australia, Canada, and also the UK.
Lisa: Not surprised. I know, there’s lots of genealogists down there. I’ve talked a lot of them.
Prerequisitesfor the program at the University of New Haven
(32:08) It’s an online course. Tell us a little about logistics. How long is the course? Do they need to have a particular background or particular degree in order to be accepted?
Dr. Glynn: The prerequisites for applying to the program is that you have a bachelors in anything. We will consider anything. We do prefer a bachelors in a scientific discipline just because it will help you with understanding a lot of the biological terms. We don’t have necessarily the time to explain ‘this is a cell and this is the mitochondria of the cell’. But I find that most adult learners already know all that, never mind what degree they already have. So, a bachelor’s degree is the first prerequisite because it is a graduate certificate. If you don’t have a bachelor already, you can’t be awarded a graduate certificate. It is just as simple as that.
Then I consider anyone with any background. It doesn’t matter if your bachelors was in sociology or your bachelors was in forensic science, everyone is considered for that.
With the application process, it is: submit your application online, submit your resume. Thankfully, we don’t require that dreaded GRE. That’s no longer required. Nor do we require letters of reference or anything like that. It’s resume, transcripts and your brief statement of purpose, the statement of purpose being so that I can get an idea of where you want to go with this. Why do you want to do this? If someone has ideas of ‘oh, I want to work for the FBI and be a DNA analyst for them’. I’m like, okay, but this isn’t your ticket into that, right? Because you need to have a degree in forensic science or traditional science first to do that.
The program is, as you mentioned, fully online. It’s taught asynchronously. I wouldn’t call it self-paced because it’s self-paced is that’s kind of interpreted as you just go at your own pace, and you do the work here and there. It’s not like that at all. It’s very much we have modules published on a weekly basis, the assignments for those need to be completed on a weekly basis. Each week a new module will publish in each course. That will have pre-recorded lectures. It will have assignments, both written and then practical assignments as well. There’s the usual end of term exam, online exam, or final paper. It really depends upon the course which one we’re doing that for.
I designed the program so that it would be four courses, but it would be sequential semesters that their delivered in. The first course, that fundamentals of forensic biological evidence, that’s delivered in spring one mini term. Many of your listeners may not be familiar with mini terms or accelerated terms, because certainly it’s a relatively new thing in higher education. Most of us there used to that 15 week semester of the fall for 15 weeks in the spring for 15 weeks. Whereas with online education, and especially for micro credentials, such as certificates, there’s much more of a demand for many terms. So, it’s 15 weeks worth of work, but it’s it delivered in seven and a half weeks, so it’s half the time. But the intention is to only take one course at a time, whereas in a traditional master’s program you’re taking four or five courses at one time.
The first course is delivered in the spring one mini-mester every year which runs from mid-January to mid-March. Then the spring mini term is mid-March to mid-May. That’s the second course forensic genetic genealogy. Then we have the summer semester, which makes it a little bit tricky, because the summer semester is typically about 12 weeks long. If you were to do a mini term, that would only be six weeks. And for that, it would be the traditional genealogy course, or we’ve renamed it Genealogy Principles and Methods. Six weeks is too short for that. Plus, it’s the summer, it’s the summer! People have vacations planned, or things like that. We found last year that six weeks was just too short of a time period, people were under way too much pressure, and were too overwhelmed with the volume of information that they were taking in, and just a six week period. So, what we’ve done for the 2022 cohort is that that same core same volume of work, same curriculum is just being delivered in a 12 week period, as opposed to six week period so that it gives people a little bit of breathing room and they’re not overwhelmed.
Then the final course, the practicum, that will be in the fall one mini-mester and it runs from end of August to mid-October. And that’s the completion of the course. You can do the whole program in 10 months, from beginning to end with one course per semester or mini-mester or however you want to call it.
Is a background in genealogy required to become Forensic Genetic Genealogist?
(37:44) Lisa: Did you find that most people had a background in genealogy? Or did you have some people who that was not something that they were into?
Dr. Glynn: No, I had a lot of complete novices. A lot of those people were law enforcement affiliated. The majority of those were. They had heard a genealogy, they’re a little bit interested that taken a 23andme test many years ago, but had never looked at the results. And they were fascinated by this new forensic field that we have, and so wanted to add it to their skill set.
Whereas it was really the non-law enforcement affiliated group that had already been doing a lot of them, not all of them, a lot of them have been doing genealogy for quite a number of years. So, we really do have quite a wide berth in terms of experience and skill level.
With that being said, for the third course in the program, the Genealogy Principles and Methods, which is kind of all the traditional genealogy stuff, there were a few people in last year’s program who had quite a bit of experience in genealogy themselves already. Some of them had taken Boston University’s certificate course in genealogy research. I was wondering at the time maybe they’re not going to find this extremely useful, but maybe they will. Whenever I asked those people afterwards, they’re like, oh, no, I learned a lot in this! It really supplemented what I already knew. And it really strengthened their foundation in that area. I was delighted to hear that.
How to Apply to the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Certificate Program
(39:24) Lisa: So everybody’s dying to know, where do they find you online? How do they learn more about the program and perhaps even apply?
Dr. Glynn: Sure. If you go into Google, and you type in University of New Haven, and my name Claire Glynn, I should be the first thing that pops up. Or if you just go to the University of New Haven website, which is www.newhaven.edu and in the search bar there, just type in forensic genetic genealogy, the program will pop up. You’ll learn more about the program there and more about the course descriptions, and the application process. On the right hand side of the page there is an Apply Now button, and you can go ahead and apply.
Bonus Video: Phenotyping and the Future of Forensic Genetic Genealogy
There was so much to discuss with Dr. Glynn in the video How to be a Forensic Genetic Genealogist that we kept the cameras rolling. The result is this bonus Premium video on Phenotyping and some predictions about the future of Forensic Genetic Genealogy.
Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like an encyclopedia of genealogy! It’s an invaluable free tool that every genealogist needs. However, many folks get frustrated when they try to search the Wiki. In this week’s video premiere I’m going to help you navigate with ease.
Video and Show Notes below
what the Wiki has to offer,
how to access the FamilySearch Wiki
how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki effectively
and how to overcome the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki!
(00:42) There are two ways to access the FamilySearch Wiki. The first is to visit the website direction at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. This will take you to the home page of the Wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.
The second way to access the Wiki is to go to the FamilySearch website. You will need to log into your FamilySearch account or sign up for a free account if you don’t already have one. Once you’re signed in, then in the menu under Search click Research Wiki. This will take you to the same FamilySearch Wiki home page. However, you will see that you are signed in and able to use some of the additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.
On the FamilySearch website: Search > Research Wiki
Searching the Wiki by Location
(01:21) On the home page, what you see a map of the world. This is a great way to search the Wiki because in genealogy, it’s really all about location. We need to know where geographically we want to search for ancestors, and from there we can narrow down the timeframe. Typically, you’ll have a sense of at least in which country you need to be researching. So, the map is typically the best way to start.
The FamilySearch Wiki Home Page
You’ll notice also on the home page, there is a search by place or topic search field. You could bypass using the map, and just start by typing in a place. If you do, you’ll notice that it starts to prompt you on the kinds of things that are commonly searched for. This could be kind of nice if you are really focused on a particular thing such as Italian census records. You can just start typing Italy and see if census is one of the prompts. If it is, simply click it and it will take you right there.
However, generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. Notice that if you go to click on the map itself, it isn’t an interactive map. You’ll need to actually click the button.
From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.
You’ll notice that the FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s like an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s genealogy specifically! This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches.
Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages
Oftentimes, our research ends up taking us to a new location where the next set of great grandparents came from. If we’re not familiar with that location, let alone familiar with what’s available from a genealogical standpoint, that can pose a real challenge. You might be asking questions like when did they start recording birth records? Or did that state conduct a state census? Every state, every country, and every county has different types of records available.
Start your orientation over on the right-hand side of the wiki page. There you’ll typically find an overview box.
(04:15) This is a great place to quickly see what’s available here, and what you could dig into further. If you’re really new to research in this particular area, you might want to start with the guided research link. You may also see links to research strategies, and a record finder.
In the next section of the box you’ll find record types. This is going to be different depending on the area that you’re researching. For example, if they don’t happen to have any military records available you might not see that listed under record types. You should expect to see the most commonly used records included in the list. Click the link to the page for more information on that type of record. It will provide more details on record availability, and where you access the records.
Further down the box you’ll find links to background information on the area. It’s really easy to skim over this in excitement over records. But if you don’t want to get stuck at a brick wall, getting to know the place that you’re researching can make all the difference. Learning the background of an area can help you prepare the right questions to ask. It can help prevent you from looking for something that doesn’t exist or that wasn’t applicable to that area. You may find links to more reading, gazetteers and maps, migration patterns, periodicals, and the law. Understanding the law is going to help you understand why records were created, and who they affected. For example, if your ancestor was under 18 there might be certain records that don’t apply to them. Understanding the parameters of who was affected by the law will help guide you through the records themselves.
Next you’ll see cultural groups that you might expect to find in this area, and links to more specific information about researching them.
Under Resources you’ll find links to archives, libraries, societies, and the family history centers that are available in this particular area.
At the top of the main part of the page you’ll find the Getting Started section. Here you’ll find links to beginning step-by-step research strategies and some of the most popular records for that location such as vital records.
(08:35) You might be wondering who is putting this information together. Well, it starts with experts at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These are people who have worked the reference desks and found answers to thousands of patron questions.
Locating and Using the County Wiki Page
(09:22) Back on the state landing page scroll down further to the map of counties. Navigating by location is still important, even when we’ve narrowed it down to the state. Unlike the map on the homepage, you can hover your mouse over each county and click.
County map on the state wiki page
The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. Here you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse.
One of the most common questions new genealogists ask is “should I be looking at the county where the town is located today, or the county that it was when my ancestors lived there?” Counties certainly do change over time. The answer to the question is that we go to the county at the time that are ancestors lived in the area. In fact, the Wiki page provides the history, or genealogy, of the county. Look for Boundary Changes on the page.
Because these pages are often quite long and dense, use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard. This gives you a nice little search box at the top of the page. Type in a keyword like Boundary and it will highlight all the locations on the page where the term appears. This is a great way to make quick use of the Wiki. This is also a good trick to use when you don’t see the record type or keyword that you’re looking for in the page’s table of contents. It may be called something else there, but if you search the page for your keyword, it should find it for you. An example of this is that you may not see Birth Records in the TOC because they list Vital Records. However, in the Vital Records section further down the page they definitely mention birth records.
Finding the Dates that Records Began
(14:45) Here’s another reason the wiki is so helpful, and it makes things go so quickly. Remember, we talked about that location is key, but also timeframe. Well, if we are looking for genealogical records, we don’t want to look for a record in this county before they actually started creating those records. The wiki typically provides a nice little chart on each county page showing then some of the most important civil records such as birth, marriage and death were first created.
County record dates at FamilySearch Wiki
Often times civil records began much later than church records. Sometimes you will see an asterisk indicating when statewide registration for these civil records began and then another date indicating when general compliance was enforced. All of this is guiding us to success in finding genealogy records, and it’s saving the headache of investing time looking for records that did not yet exist.
(17:42) Further down the page you’ll find links to places. These may link to town pages on the Wiki, but more likely they will take you to Wikipedia where this information already exists. There will be a small icon indicating that the link will open in a new tab and take you to another website.
Next you’ll likely see a Timeline section which gives you a sense of when the first people settled in the county and who those people were. Again, it provides you more context to better understand the records.
In addition to all these individual records, many of them linked over toFamilySearch, Ancestry or MyHeritage, we see Research Facilities. Why is that so important? Because not all records are going to be online. When we’ve exhausted online records and resources we need to go offline, and there are lots of resources here on the wiki to work with: county archives, family history centers in the local area, libraries, museums, and genealogical societies. The wiki provides contact information and links to their website where you may be able to see a listing of what they have onsite so you can plan your visit.
Other website links may take you sites like USGenWebwhich is a fantastic free genealogy website. It’s organized by location much like the FamilySearch wiki website. Drill down to the state and then the county. You may also see links to the State Archive, or the state’s Memory project, and, of course, the FamilySearch catalog.
How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem
(22:01) The wiki really should be one of your first stops when you’re going to be starting research in a new area. Let’s wrap up with a quick conversation about the wiki’s search box. You could go ahead and put a topic in there. Many people will come in here and they’ll type in marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. They don’t look as clear cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.
The wrong way to search at the FamilySearch Wiki
This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.
Pay attention to the pre-filled suggestions as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county level page and then look for the record type.
What if you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed? Well, it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record. That’s another reason why the find on page feature (Ctrl + F) is so helpful. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.
Learn more about using Family Search at Genealogy Gems