Are You a Cookie Cutter Genealogist?

Two of my favorite things, cookies and genealogy, have more in common than you might think! Follow me down this genealogy rabbit hole and discover how you can take you family tree further!

cookie cutter genealogist

Cookies for My Descendants!

My grandson loves Super Mario games and specifically the mascot Mario. (Actually both of my grandsons do!) So, when it came time to create a sweet treat for his birthday, I opted for sugar cookies decorated as Mario.

Normally I would use a cookie cutter to create a decorated character cookie. Unfortunately, the local craft stories didn’t carry the Mario cutter, and I didn’t have time to get it ordered and delivered.

I hit a cookie decorating brick wall.

But brick walls, whether in genealogy or cookie decorating can often be overcome.

When we come face to face with a brick wall, we need to assess the situation, seek additional advice, and assemble the appropriate tools.

In the case of ole Mario, I first found a drinking glass just slightly larger than the size I wanted the cookie to be. It worked well as a cookie cutter, but I later decided to improvise a cookie cutter of my own.

To create the cookie cutter, I copied an image of his face into a Word document, and then enlarged it to the size of a cookie and printed it out on a sheet of paper. I carefully cut the image out, and then placed the cut-out on a sheet of wax paper, drawing around the edges and then cutting it out.

Next I found a good, sharp paring knife. I placed the wax paper template on the rolled-out cookie dough and carefully cut around it with the paring knife. Brick wall busted!

cookies

The finished cookies for my grandson’s birthday

Are you a cookie cutter genealogist?

All this cookie cutting and problem solving got me thinking about genealogy. (Ok, I admit it – I’m always thinking about genealogy!) It brought to mind an email I received just the other day from a listener, Kristine, who described herself as a “cookie-cutter” researcher.

Kristine's email

Hi Lisa,
I just retired and guess what is first on my list of things I WANT to do? 🙂  I jumped in with both feet listening to your
Premium podcasts and realized a few times that I am the ‘cookie-cutter’ researcher.  But, no more. You are the Captain of my ship now. Thank you!

After binging on your podcasts the last two weeks, the first bit of advice I took was changing the way I searched on Newspapers.com. My family’s everyday life’s treasures were buried in the pages of the local news! You made me take a second look after I dismissed the possibility of ever reading about them. 

Thank you so much for your dedicated work on behalf of all the genealogists. My Premium subscription will NEVER run out.  When a family member says “I don’t know what to get you” I’m prepared to solve that dilemma!

A listener for life
Kristine

I really admire how Kristine took an honest look at her current research techniques. She was open to acknowledging that she had more to learn. It’s just  icing on the cake for me that she started listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast.

It’s easy to become a cookie-cutter genealogist in today’s automated world.

Every day more and more is being done for us automatically. Genealogy record hints and matches on genealogy websites is just one example. These can be very effective tools, but they can also lull you into a false sense that the work is done or correct.

An accepted record hint can in no way be considered as work that is done or correct. It is only the beginning.

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #232 professional genealogist and lecturer Elissa Scalise Powell and I discussed the pitfalls of “shallow research,” or as Kristine described it, being a “cookie-cutter” researcher.

Elissa says that while we will find a lot of “low-hanging fruit” in the early days of our genealogical search, there always comes a time when we need to dig deeper. All genealogists will need to stretch and reach for other sources. These types of sources are:

  • not straightforward,
  • possibly unknown to you at this time,
  • not easily accessible,
  • time-consuming to explore,
  • take study to understand it,
  • not self-explanatory.

Moving Beyond Cookie Cutter Genealogy

I also recently I received a question from a reader that provides a great example of a scenario where it’s time to move on to these rich and yet more challenging sources. Harold writes:

I have a totally “back to basics” question. 

Since I started seriously doing genealogy about 8 months ago, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about my ancestors…families going back as far as those covered in the 1850 census and since then. 

But once you get to the 1840 census and earlier, I do not understand how any genealogist can use the meager records in the census, that only identify the head of the family and the number of adults and children living in the household, to any sense prove that they are your ancestors, or to find their predecessors who are likely to have lived in another state.

After all, in those days, often maiden aunts, grandparents, and others stayed with families, so you can never be sure who all the people are.

And they had a dozen kids, not all of whom survived.

So you cannot count on just the “number” of people listed in the 1840 census to prove anything.  Even worse, my ancestors, and I think most people’s, seemed to be moving westward every generation from the establishment of the colonies, so there are dozens of states to choose from, and hundreds or thousands of people with the same surnames in them.

I believe I have found the name of my great-grandfather on an 1840 census in Ohio (though it is possible it is just a duplicate name), but there is no telling where he lived in 1830 or earlier. 

As far as I can tell, my ancestors were all poor dirt farmers, moved westward every generation, and didn’t have any records of stores or businesses they might have owned that would have those kinds of records. Yet, there are people who claim they can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower and the like, but I do not understand how anyone can legitimately trace their ancestry back prior to 1840 unless they have something like a family Bible or similar transcription kept in the family.

Sure, you can find names on earlier census, but lots of people have the same name, and lots of names are spelled wrong, etc. and there are a lot of states and territories to choose from.

So how can ANYONE claim they can PROVE their ancestry from 1840 and before? 

The “cookie cutter” Harold was using was the U.S. Federal Census. Cookie cutters provide great, consistent results, but over the decades the census cookie cutter shape changes. The check marks don’t provide the same level of details that we find in later enumerations.

For example, the 1850 U.S. Federal Census provided the name, age, and gender of everyone in the family. It also provided valuable and identifying information such as occupations and place of birth.

1850 census

Information provided on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census

Just ten years earlier, the 1840 enumeration looked dramatically different:

1840 census

1840 U.S. Federal Census

As Harold lamented, in 1840 we only find the name of the head of household, followed by the number of people in the household who fell within a certain age range. There’s still valuable information here, but clearly not as detailed as later enumerations.

So, the general answer to his question is that he is right, from 1840 on back you typically cannot rely just on census records. 

However, it is indeed often possible to reliably take your family tree further back in time.

Genealogical research at this point in history requires deeper cross-referencing of the types of sources that Elissa referred to in the podcast episode. Examples of these sources include wills and probate records, land deeds, homestead records, tax records, marriage records, old newspapers, compiled genealogies and more. They all play a part in piecing together a family tree.

Some of these records are available online. However, in many cases, you will use only the internet to help you determine where the records are held. Then you must access the records in person, by contacting the repository, asking a friend or fellow researcher in the area to copy it for you, or hire a professional genealogist in the area where they are held. 

Regarding Harold’s question regarding genealogists who are able to tie their family tree to the Mayflower, this is indeed possible. There is a lot of excellent documentation over the last few centuries on descendants of the Mayflower, so it is sometimes not that difficult to connect up an ancestor in your own tree with the descendant of the Mayflower. This can indeed take your own tree back much further. However, that’s a topic for another article.

A Sweet Tool that Can Help

In addition to discussing the sources and strategies that you can use to avoid being a cookie cutter genealogist, Elissa and I also discuss the Genealogical Proof Standard (also known as the GPS) in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #232.

The Genealogical Proof Standard was created to help genealogists gain confidence in their research conclusions by providing criteria that can be followed. A genealogical conclusion is considered proved when it meets all five GPS components.

You can learn more about the GPS in episode #20 of my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast.

Family History Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Sweet Rewards

It’s normal for new genealogists to follow the basic cookie-cutter approach of birth, marriage, death and census records. But these standard sources can only take you so far (as Harold discovered!)

Reaching further back in your family tree by embracing more challenging sources and digging deeper offers a much sweeter reward!

ancestor fortune cookie

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Are you worried about access to your online tree if you let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse? The tree should still be there. But take these steps to be sure your Ancestry family tree remains accessible and secure–along with the records you’ve attached to it.

What happens to my ancestry tree if my ancestry subscription expires?

 

What Happens if Your Ancestry Subscription Expires

Many people start researching their genealogy with an Ancestry subscription. They build their family tree on the web site, adding details about their relatives. 

Then they sift through Ancestry’s billions of historical records and add hundreds or even thousands of new names, dates, relationships and other facts to their family trees. Along the way, they attach records to each ancestor as evidence of what they’ve learned.

All of this adds up to a unique family tree that is precious to your family. 

However, it is very common for the busyness of life to call them away from their genealogy research for a while. This is what happened to Genealogy Gems reader Beverly. She wrote to me, concerned about what will happen to all her hard work on that Ancestry tree:

“I have been a member of Ancestry.com for a long time and have worked on several trees. I love to work on my genealogy but lately have not had time. Can I drop my membership and still retain my trees? I plan to get my membership back at a later day. Right now I am wasting $20 a month.”

Beverly, I hear your pain!

We all go through busy seasons. It’s easy to cringe at the thought of paying for genealogy website subscriptions we aren’t currently using. 

But the idea of losing all our progress on those web sites if we let our subscription lapse is worse. Your Ancestry subscription has not only included your online family tree, but also all of the records that you found and attached to that tree. 

I did a little research along with Sunny Morton, Genealogy Gems Editor and our resident expert on the Genealogy Giants” websites” (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage). Here’s what we can tell Beverly and everyone else who is wondering what will happen to their family tree and all that research if their Ancestry account expires:

According to Ancestry, the answer is yes, you can still access your trees with your login credentials after your subscription lapses. The most important thing is that you don’t delete the tree or the account altogether. 

Ancestry continues to host people’s trees because they want our tree data to share with others, and to give people a reason to come back!

But be aware that if you do not renew your Ancestry subscription, your account will revert to a free guest account. (Your user name and password will remain the same.) This means that you will not be able to access most of Ancestry’s historical records, including the ones you’ve already attached to your trees. And I say “trees” because many people have multiple family trees on Ancestry to be concerned about. 

To see the historical genealogy records that you have attached to an ancestor in your online tree, click on a person in your family tree, and then click Profile:

How to find genealogy records attached to a person in your Ancestry tree

How to find genealogy records attached to a person in your Ancestry tree.

You will be taken to their profile page where you will see the genealogical sources you have attached. 

 

If your Ancestry account expires you can't access records attached to your tree.

If your Ancestry account expires you can’t access records attached to your tree.

These are records that you will not be able to access when your subscription expires.

If Your Ancestry Subscription Expires: Tree Preservation Strategy 

If you plan to let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse for a while, but you want to continue to work with your online trees, consider taking these steps:

1. Download a copy of every record.

The first thing to do is download a copy of every record that you’ve attached to your ancestors’ individual files on Ancestry.com.

You can do this by opening the image of the record, clicking on the Save/Saved button at the upper right, and clicking Save to your computer. I suggest doing this even if you don’t foresee letting your subscription go in the near future.

Saving document from Ancestry before subscription expires

Saving a document to your computer from Ancestry before your subscription expires

2. Save each record in an organized way on your computer.

I recommend using a consistent system to organize these, which I explain in the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, in episodes 32-33. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members have access to a 2-part video tutorial on organizing their hard drives.)

If you don’t have a consistent way to organize these document images, you’ll soon become overwhelmed with files that all sort of look the same and you won’t be sure what year they are or which ancestors they pertain to without opening each one!

You may be wondering “What about cloud storage options, such as Google Drive or Dropbox?” These type of cloud storage solutions are ok too. However, I recommend using these platforms more as temporary or backup storage or to share with relatives, rather than as your primary storage.

A better alternative would be to invest in cloud-based backup for your home computer. I use Backblaze personally and for my business.

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

3. Download copies of your Ancestry.com trees

Click here for instructions; it’s really easy.

Yes, Ancestry does continue to maintain your trees, but what guarantees do you have?

Data loss does happen even on big websites, and sites change their practices and policies sometimes. If that happens, you could lose all the information you’ve carefully added to your tree.

4. Start using computer software for your “master family tree.”

Don’t just keep your family tree online where you don’t have complete control.

A “master family tree” is your most complete, up-to-date version of your tree (or trees, if you build separate ones for separate family lines).

master family tree

Keeping your master tree on your own computer keeps all your tree data at your fingertips without any subscription required. Having one master file matters even more once you start sharing your tree on other websites or with relatives.

I use RootsMagic, and that is why I happily agreed to them sponsoring my Genealogy Gems Podcast. It works for Mac and the PC.

RootsMagic the Master Genealogist

I like its affordability: there’s a free version you can try for as long as you like, and the full software will cost you the same as about 90 days of access to Ancestry.com.

RootsMagic also has solid relationships with the major genealogy sites: it now syncs with your trees on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, and you can research records on MyHeritage.com and Findmypast.com.

RootsMagic has tons of advanced features to help you create family history charts, books, and reports, and a great user support community online.

Learn More about Ancestry and the Other Genealogy Giants

Keep up with news and changes on the “genealogy giants” websites with our ongoing coverage of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com here.

Disclosure: this post recommends carefully-chosen products and services for which we receive compensation. Click here to read my full disclosure statement, and thank you for supporting the free content we provide at Genealogy Gems.

Episode 144 – Digitize, Organize, and Archive

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Today’s gem focuses on a challenge that we all face as family historians – getting organized, archiving all of our stuff, and digitizing materials an d photos. I know that’s biting off a big chunk, but it’s such an important one. And in this episode I’m going to start to break it down for your with the help of the Family Curator, Denise Levenick who has written a book called How to Archive Family Keepsakes.  She’s got lots of practical advice to share.

NEWS:

FamilySearch recently announced that their U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project is Half-way to its 2012 Goal of 30 Million Records

In August of this year, FamilySearch announced its next major U.S. community project-U.S. Immigration and Naturalization. The project will create an extensive, free, online collection of U.S. passenger lists, border crossing records, naturalization records, and more-invaluable to genealogy researchers. See what U.S. Immigration and Naturalization projects are currently underway, or check on their status at FamilySearch.org/immigration.

You can join the community of online indexers and arbitrators helping to make passenger lists and naturalization records freely searchable on familysearch.org.

Current and Completed Projects
To view a list of currently available indexing projects, along with their record language and completion percentage, visit the FamilySearch indexing updates page. To learn more about individual projects, view the FamilySearch projects page.

Canadian Military Records
Ancestry.ca has also announced that they have launched some New Canadian Military Records Collections
Read about it on my Blog: Limited Time Free Access to Canadian Military Records, and New Records Online

Google recently announced that  Google Maps just got the biggest Street View update ever, doubling the number of special collections and updating over 250,000 miles of roads around the world. Google has increased Street View coverage in Macau, Singapore, Sweden, the U.S., Thailand, Taiwan, Italy, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway and Canada. And they are launching special collections in South Africa, Japan, Spain, France, Brazil and Mexico, among others. .

They’ve also recently updated the Google Earth satellite imagery database. This refresh to the imagery has now been updated for 17 cities and 112 countries/regions.  So Google Earth has never been better for genealogy research. And of course if you would like to learn more about what Google Earth can do for you as a genealogist, check out my free YouTube videos which show you what you can learn in Google Earth for Genealogy Video Tutorial Series.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership Update
I’m happy to let all of you Premium members know that I’ve put together a quick little video that will walk you through the process of setting up your Premium podcast feed in iTunes.You’ll find a link on the premium episodes page once you’ve signed in that will take you to the video and instructions for setting up your Premium iTunes subscription.

I have also added a video recording of one my most popular classes to the Premium Videos collection. It’s called How the Genealogist Can Remember Everything with Evernote.

From Premium Member Kelly: “Thank you so much for your podcast on Evernote. I’ve been on YouTube watching videos about it but they were hard to follow and more advanced or to techie. Your podcast was easy to follow and went over the basics and I really appreciate that. I think I finally ready to try it.”

If you would like to be able to watch the Evernote class from the comfort of your own home please join us as a Genealogy Gems Premium Member which you can do at www.genealogygems.com 

MAILBOX:

From Patience: “I have noticed in your podcast, other’s podcasts, blogs, and at workshops I have attended that there is a concern about the next generation.  I do understand, but I wanted to share with you my experience in hopes of easing everyone’s worries.  I am 23 years old, and let me tell you I stick out like a sore thumb at workshops as I usually am the youngest by at least 30 years.  That being said when I started researching I met one of my cousins on ancestry.com, and we really hit it off we have all the same interests and are like long lost twins.  For a while, I assumed that she was retired, and much much older than I, but after several emails, I found out she is only two years older than me!!!

I too worry about my generation, but I think after some maturing, most will at least have an appreciation for the past, and everything it has to offer, or at least I hope…But all I know is that there are two very pretty twenty-something girls thousands of miles apart that would rather research and learn that go to parties…so that seems pretty hopeful I think.”

Jennifer Takes the iPad on the Road
“Kudos for turning me on to a nifty iPad shortcut. Your latest book has some tips in the back, which is where, of course, I skipped to after dutifully reading the first three chapters or so. The tips about swiping the comma/exclamation point to create an apostrophe, and the other shortcut for quotation marks, are so great! I will no doubt find many other useful items when I return to reading. Honestly, your books are so full of wonderful information, I have to take a break before my head explodes (not pretty).”

Pat Oxley, a Genealogist on Facebook posted her review of my new book on Facebook last week.  “Despite another day of coughing and basically feeling yuk, I bought and downloaded Lisa Louise Cooke‘s new book “Turn your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse.” It is FABULOUS! I worked my way through the book, taking notes and then downloaded and played with some of the apps she suggested! Thank you Lisa Louise! I will say it’s a terrific book even if you’re NOT a genealogist. Many of her suggested apps could be applied to many different hobbies and interests. You can buy it through Lulu.com.”

GEM: Interview with author Denise Levenick, The Family Curator

Archiving, organizing and digitizing family treasures is one of the greatest challenges for genealogists. In her book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records, Denise Levenick presents a game plan that breaks down the steps and provides a clear picture of the end goal. The worksheets and checklists provide the kind of practical advice I look for in “how to” books. No fluff, just common sense, and usable information that lead to success.

Get your copy of Denise’s book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records and start getting organized now! 

     

Denise May Levenick is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes and creator of The Family Curator blog http://www.TheFamilyCurator.com, voted one of the 40 Best Genealogy Blogs in 2010 and 2011.

Gem: One More Thing
From Tina in the UK: “Your recent blog post about items found when clearing out a house reminded me of my most significant find in my stepfather’s attic. He died in July 2009 and my mother wanted to clear out and sell their big house and move to a retirement flat to be near the family in Bristol. I should explain that my mother and father divorced when I was a baby and my stepfather was like a father to me.  We threw out masses of stuff – he never did, EVER! – but this was mostly correspondence, company reports for all his shares etc which we sifted through without much of note being found. Then, in the attic there were two extraordinary finds:

(1) a box full of the small notebooks he kept from his schooldays till a few years before he died…early ones and especially the ones of his years in the Army in India and Burma…The later notebooks are a record of his expenses – with dates, items and expenses which brought back many memories (eg doll for Tina – bought  in New York on holiday in 1958 – I remember it well, it was a sort of pre-Barbie!). Every ice-cream he ever bought us – there was a LOT of ice-cream (he loved it)!

(2) my grandfather’s old attache case – full of letters from my stepfather’s mother between about 1978 and her death in 1993. There were hundreds of them – and yes, I read every single one and they have formed the basis of the story of her life (yes, she also left a small diary, a collection of her own recipes of family favourites, and a very simple family tree), which I am now writing…what VERY little there was seemed to be in answer to some of his questions…It just shows how the smallest things can provide clues.”

Thank you Tina for sharing this – it certainly does remind us that clues can come from anywhere. But it also reminds us of something else – that while it’s wonderful to have our history recorded so it can be remembered, sometimes it’s the smallest things that are remembered most:  Like ice cream.  I think I’m going to sign off now and take my grandson Davy out for a cone. I hope he remembers it, because I know I will. Who will you invite out for a an ice cream and spend your precious time with today?

Check out this episode

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Genealogy Gems is Now Mobile-Friendly! Here are the Highlights

Genealogy Gems mobile friendly websiteThe Genealogy Gems website is now mobile-friendly. Your go-to family history resource just got a whole lot easier to read on-the-go!

Here at Genealogy Gems we are working hard every day to create a compelling resource for genealogy inspiration, tips, tech tools and news you can use RIGHT NOW. That’s why we are pleased as punch to let you know that our new mobile-friendly site design makes it easier to soak up all the ideas on our pages regardless of the size of your device’s screen.

Here are some of our website highlights that are especially mobile-friendly:

  • The free Genealogy Gems podcast (with over 1.75 million downloads) has been entertaining and educating family history lovers around the world for almost 10 years. Back in the “old” days (circa 2007) the only way to get your hands on a podcast (recorded “radio” show) was to download iTunes, subscribe to the podcast, and listen through your computer speakers. If you were lucky enough to have an iPod you could plug it in and figure out how to transfer the audio files so you could listen untethered from your computer. Today, smartphones make it oh-so-easy to take us with you when commuting, exercising, gardening and more. You can subscribe to the free show through the Podcasts app (iOS) or better yet download the Genealogy Gems app (in the iTunes Store and for Android) and you’ll also get access to great bonus content.
  • Our daily blog keeps readers up to date on new genealogy record collections, industry news, the genetic genealogy industry and technology tools. We boost your research skills, take you to must-see news articles and more. Mobile readers can get their daily dose of genealogy gems from our website or by following our Facebook page (See us First on Facebook to stay current on our posts). Our convenient category search (you’ll find it in the upper left corner of our home page) makes it easy to target posts on your favorite topics.
  • The free Family History Made Easy podcast teaches listeners step-by-step, episode by episode, how to start their genealogy research off right–and keep it going. Refresh your skills with the entire series or catch individual episodes for a targeted brush-up.
  • Premium Members-Only videos and podcast. Genealogy Gems Premium members can access over 2 dozen instructional videos on Lisa’s most popular topics (the same standing-room-only content Lisa delivers at top conferences). The premium podcast delivers more of Lisa’s signature brand of warm conversation, expert interviews, how-tos and more. Click here to learn more about Premium membership and take the best of Lisa Louise Cooke along wherever you go.

tablet mobile premium subscribeResources

Mobile-Friendly Search Results Come to Google

Compare Look-Alikes in Your Family with this Web App

Ancestry App for Apple Watch

 

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