Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.
Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you.
I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:
“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.
Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”
That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.
How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared
I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!
Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!
The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!
Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:
1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites
1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.
If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.
You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.
One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.
This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages.
To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.
The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.
2. Google Your Question
You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it!And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google.
If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided.
Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.
Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:
When did world vital records close?
Sunset notice for World Vital Records
Who acquired World Vital Records?
As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details.
When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.
Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.
3. Google the Content
As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.
Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.
Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.
Here’s an example of how this works:
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)
Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.
Obvious, But Not Always
While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.
Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.
This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?
Maybe it’s as simple as having a ton of matches and not knowing what to do with them. How do you keep track of all those matches. How to you know which matches to focus on? How can you can use all your matches to do what you really want to do, which is learn more about my family history?
In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa we are visiting with someone who has worked past many of those problems. She uses her DNA matches to solve some of her genealogical questions and the questions of her patrons. Today she’s here to help you!
My special guest is Sara Allen, a librarian at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. I wanted to talk to Sara because she’s not a biologist, or a Genetic Genealogy Guru. She’s like you and me: she’s passionate about family history! She shares genetic genealogy with folks in a very practical, and easy-to-understand way.
As a side note, we were lucky to record this episode because the day Sara and I were to meet to record the library was closed due to a snow storm. I’m in Texas and we’re buried in a deep freeze with devastating power outages, and at our house, no water for a time. But we moved things around and got it done. However, in all the chaos I managed to put my microphone on the wrong setting, so I’m going to sound like I’m sitting in a Folgers coffee can. But that doesn’t matter because it is what Sara has to say that’s really important.
Oh, and they were also doing construction at the library the day we finally recorded, so it’ll sound occasionally like we use jack hammers on our DNA! However, neither snow nor ice nor lack of water nor construction zones will keep us (as your faithful genealogists) from the swift completion of this appointed show.
How to Start Solving Genealogical Problems with DNA
Sara shared her basic over-arching plan for using DNA to answer a genealogical question:
First, do comprehensive traditional genealogical research on the problem.
Then do DNA testing.
Follow the clues where they lead.
Use the genealogical proof standard to come to an accurate conclusion/solution. Also view the DNA standards.
Then she shared the specific steps for her research plan.
Research Plan for Solving Genealogical Problems with DNA
Identify your research problem.
Summarize genealogical research results.
Choose most relevant DNA test/tests to order.
Choose the most helpful family member(s) to test. These are people who carry the particular DNA that falls you will need.
Complete the rest of your family tree to at least 4th great grandparents (4GG) if possible.
Choosing the Right DNA Test
Step 3 was to choose the most relevant DNA test. This is important because there are three main kinds of tests out there. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding what each test is capable of is key to getting the results you need.
Autosomal test – autosomal DNA is inherited 50/50 from mother and father. Both men and women can be tested. Start with this test, unless your mystery goes farther back than 5-6 generations of great grandparents.
Y Chromosome test – only males can test. It tests a man’s direct paternal line.
Mitochondrial (mtDNA) test – Both men and women inherit Mitochondrial DNA and can be tested for it. However, it’s important to understand that only women can pass it on to the next generation. Follow the line of potential inheritance in order to identify the right person to test. The Mitochondrial test tests the direct maternal line only.
How to Choose the Best Family Member to DNA Test
If you’ve decided that an Autosomal DNA test is what you need, a relative one or two generations older (on the correct side of the family) is always better. Examples: Parents, Aunts/Uncles, Grandparents, Great-aunts/uncles, Parent’s first cousin
If you’re going to do a Y or mtDNA, choose a family member who falls within the correct path of DNA inheritance.
Sorting DNA Matches
Sort your matches out by family line or common ancestor couple.
View your match’s name, family tree or family names, and shared matches to help you sort into family lines.
Use known cousins to help you sort. If you are related to a cousin in only one way, then your “shared matches” with that cousin should be “relatives” on the same side of the family as the cousin.
Sara uses color coding dots to stay organized and detangle matches.
If there is a family tree, copy it, either electronically or print it out on paper. Compare and contrast trees looking for common names, common ancestor couples, common places. Work on establishing relationship between the different matches based on their trees. In other words, do genealogy!
Case #1: Who Were the Parents of Dovey Renolds Allen?
Here’s an outline of the case Sara covers in this episode so you can follow along.
Step 1: Define the Problem
Dovey Reynolds was born around 1822 in North Carolina and was married in 1846 in Owen County, Indiana to Phillip Allen. She died in 1901 in Jefferson County, Kansas. No records have been found naming her parents.
Step 2: Write a Research Summary
Records for Dovey as a married adult were found
Dovey’s obituary and death certificate from Kansas were sought. No death certificate found. Obituary did not name parents.
Owen County Library, Archives and Court house were searched. Extensive research was done, but not exhaustive; I did not document the sources that I used….so this work needs to be redone
1840 Census searched for Owen Co. Indiana Reynolds. 1 household found with female 15-19 years old (age Dovey would be), headed by William Reynolds.
William Reynolds died in 1856, leaving a widow Amy, and naming children Jane, Solomon and Edmond in his will. Dovey not mentioned
Possible father. No records found linking Dovey to this father
Step 3: Select the Right DNA Test
Autosomal DNA: Dovey was my 3rd great grandmother. I have inherited approximately 3% of my autosomal DNA from her.
Mitochondrial DNA is not relevant to this case due to inheritance path.
Since she is a female, Y-DNA is not relevant.
Step 4: Select the Right Relative to Test
Autosomal DNA – test the closest living person to the mystery ancestor: Test my father or his sister (aunt) to get one generation closer.
Step 5: Complete Family Tree for Other Family Lines
DNA Match Analysis Strategies
Search DNA matches’ trees for “Reynolds” surname.
Each DNA company has a tool for searching your matches (23andme is not as good as others.)
Results of our search for “Reynolds” in matches’ trees: Look for Reynolds in key locations in Dovey’s life such as NC and IN, especially Owen Co. IN, and maybe KS:
Matches with Reynolds in their trees from New England, Canada, England, etc. probably NOT related.
Create a note for yourself, saying, for instance, “Maine Reynolds family” so you don’t waste time on probable irrelevant matches.
24 matches to William Reynolds’ descendants (27 cM – 8 cM)
10 matches from daughter Lucy
4 matches from daughter Diana
1 match from daughter Temperance
3 from son Solomon
2 from son Edmond
4 from daughter Deborah
DNA Preliminary Conclusions
DNA links my aunt to descendants of 6 of William Reynold’s children.
This does not prove that Dovey was William’s daughter. She could have been his niece or other close relative.
Aunt shares the correct number of cMs with the matches to be 4th-5th cousins with them.
Aunt’s shared matches with these Reynolds matches are on her paternal line – which is the correct side of the family.
More genealogical research could provide the definite link.
Case #2: Mysterious Leroy Porter
Step 1: Define Problem:
Leroy Porter was born in 1897 in France or PA
Married Ina Hill and died in Michigan.
Leroy was a teller of tall tales; family wants to know his origins, his parentage, and was he really from France?
Step 2: Research Summary
Death certificate (informant wife) says parents were Daniel Porter and Mary Baschley of PA.
Leroy cannot be found on any census prior to 1920 as Leroy Porter.
No trace of parents of those names found
Step 3: DNA Testing Options
Granddaughter Kathy took the autosomal DNA test.
Y-chromosome test not applicable for Kathy (there may be a candidate for Y DNA testing within the family)
Mitochondrial DNA not applicable
Step 4: Test the correct person:
Several of Leroy’s daughters are alive, so if they took an autosomal test, would be one generation closer.
Ancestry DNA match sorting options:
“Add to Group” option
Allows you to name the group, and add colored dots, up to 24 different colors
Notes field = enter free text notes about matches
Evaluated trees of the possible matches from Leroy’s side. Two match groups identified:
Hedges family of PA
Crute family of PA
Can we find a marriage between these 2 families? Yes – Daniel Hedges married Alice Crute ca. 1894 probably Warren Co. PA.
More Genealogical Work
Sara found “LeRoy Hedges” in the 1900 Warren Co. PA Census!
She went through Kathy’s tree to find matches to Hedges/Crute family
Were the cMs within range for the relationships? Yes = 2nd DNA points to Leroy Hedges being Leroy Porter.
Leroy Hedges = Leroy Porter Summary
Family broken up by 1910
Siblings in orphanage
Leroy Hedges ran away and was not heard from again
Did he go to Michigan and marry Ina Hill as Leroy Porter?
No official name change document found
Could compare photographs if Hedges family has one…
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Welcome to this 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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 36: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 1
Today’s show is all about YOU! This episode 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.
Question: When do I use the GPS (genealogical proof standard) method? How do I know whether what I’ve found meets the genealogy research standard? Do I need a research report for every ancestor? When do I use the research worksheet? – Jenna in Kansas City
Answer: First, put priority on your direct ancestors. I write up research reports on each direct ancestor, but only after I’ve done the bulk of the research on them. Use the research worksheet when you have conflicting or unclear information that needs to be worked over a little more thoroughly. Learn more about navigating your research with the genealogical proof standard in the Family History Made Easy Podcast, Episode 20 andEpisode 23.
Question: I need help finding a newspaper article on the killing of my great-great grandfather Thomas Leonard Frazier that originally appeared in The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah. I didn’t cite the source when I first found it! – Kent Frazier
Answer: I found the article you’re looking for at GenealogyBank.com. Online newspapers are scattered all over the internet. I started at GenealogyBank because they have a lot and I have a subscription. If you have trouble finding newspaper article, review the episodes below. You may also want to try regional and state archives, public libraries, genealogical and historical societies and large genealogy or university libraries.
Comment: I just listened to Family History Podcast Episode 33 about hard buy medicine online gurgaon drive file organization, including organizing photos files, and I just listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 18 (not currently available online) on how to identify old photos by the cars that appear in them. My sister recently sent me a batch of old family photos, including one with the van in which I learned to drive. I decided to organize them according to your suggestions and it’s worked really well. I have one more suggestion: add a caption to each photo’s metadata. It’s like writing about the photo on the back of it.
To add a caption in Windows, right-click on the file, then click Properties. On a Mac, click on the File icon and then in the Finder menu, click on Get Info. I’m using Windows Vista, so this comes up with a window that has three tabs on it: General, Security and Details. Go to the Details tab and click to the right of the fields that are listed there to enable editing. On my computer, there are fields for Title, Subject, Tags and Comments as well as Authors, Date Taken and Date Acquired. There are a number of other fields that can be edited on this screen that have to do with the photographic equipment that was used, so scanned photos from your grandparents’ Kodak Brownie cameras can be updated too. The fields that I fill in are Subject, Tags and where known, the Authors and Date Taken. The Tags field can be very useful for the computer’s search function. If these fields are not available from the operating system itself, most modern photo editing software has functionality that will let you edit these same fields from within the photo software [for example, in Adobe Photoshop, this is under File -> File Info]. –Sean Lamb
Russ provides this link to his blog post about applying my hard drive organization strategies and incorporating Family Tree Maker software. For hard drive organization, see Family History Podcast Episode 32 and Episode 33.
Question: I’ve been doing genealogy for a couple of years on and off. I found your two podcasts and I’m almost caught up on Family History Made Easy. (Next will be the “Genealogy Gems” podcast!) Is there a “best practice” for which name should be used for a woman’s record? Maiden or married? Also, will you recap what a primary source is? –Bob Callahan
Answer: When I started the podcast, I wondered whether having two podcasts was overkill. I’m getting great feedback telling me that’s not the case! A primary source contains genealogical data collected at the time of the event reported by someone of authority and/or who was at the event and has first-hand knowledge. You may have several primary sources for each fact, like a family Bible and a government or church record for a birth or death. (A secondary source for that might be a birth announcement in a newspaper. The reporter obviously wasn’t there and doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of the event. If that’s all you have, dig a little deeper.)
As for your question about women’s names, a woman is listed in on a family tree with the name she was born with: her maiden name. She will be connected to any spouses later in life, and you can get her married name from there. They may appear in records with any of their surnames. A death record on Ancestry.com may have her listed by her married name, but in your family tree you should have her by her maiden name.
Comment: Let me first say that I am a new listener and have been on a Genealogy Gems and Family History Made Easy Podcast marathon! For the past month, I have listened to almost all of your podcasts and have gleaned quite a bit of information…to the point that it has almost overloaded my brain. But that is a good thing because I have a lot of new ideas for expanding the tree that my grandmother started forty plus years ago…
When setting up the surname folders and the sub-folders that go inside each, you set up one set of folders inside of one of the surname folders that are brand new with no documents inside of them. Then highlight each of them by first clicking on the first folder inside the surname folder, press and hold the shift key and click on the last folder and then right click on one of the highlighted folders and click copy from the drop down list. Then click and open the next surname folder, right click inside the folder and then click on paste from the drop down folder. –Eric Gomes
This is a GREAT suggestion! I constantly move multiple files at a time, but completely forgot that this can be done with file folders.
Question: Do you have any suggestions on what to look at when checking out and deciding on a society to join? –Eric Gomes
Answer: It depends on what your goals are. If your goals are camaraderie, education, involvement and community service, involve yourself with a local society. Go visit! See how welcoming they are, what kinds of programs they offer and whether they meet your needs. Don’t be shy about meeting the president and asking for a recent copy of their newsletter. Test drive it to see what’s a good fit for you.
If you’re trying to learn about where your ancestor lived, look for a society closest to that area. Look for societies near and far at the Federation of Genealogical Societies website on the Find a Society page. Or Google the name of the city and/or county/province and the keywords “genealogy society” to find what you’re looking for. Coming up dry? Contact a reference or local history/genealogy librarian at a local library or someone at a local historical society to ask for a recommendation.