Improvements to MyHeritage DNAYou’ve taken your DNA test for genealogy and anxiously waited for your results. When they arrive, you dive into the ethnicity pie chart. Then matches start rolling in and it can become a little overwhelming to make sense of it all and the benefit it can provide...
Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes
Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
How to Find Free Genealogy Resources
In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”
The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:
- If the materials are available at a more convenient location
- If the materials are available somewhere online for free
- The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
- Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.
The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.
New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.
The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.
The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy
Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.
Here’s our path of least resistance:
- Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
- Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
- Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
- Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
Free Genealogy Records Online
FamilySearch is a free genealogy website.
The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.
The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.
Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:
- Log in with your free FamilySearch account
- navigate to the desired page
- click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.
You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.
Get all of the Elevenses with Lisa episodes here.
Find More Free Genealogy with these Google Search Strategies
The most comprehensive and best-selling book on the topic of using Google for genealogy:
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke.
Google Alerts Finds Free Genealogy for You
Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.
How to Create a Google Alert:
- Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
- Go to www.google.com/alerts
- Sign into your free Google account
- Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
- Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
- Select how often you wish to receive alerts
- Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
- Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
- Click the Create Alert button
Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available
Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.
17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.
Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:
- Run your search
- Click an item
- Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
- The library closest to you will be listed at the top
Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like Downloadable Article. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.
How to Find Free Records at Genealogy Websites
If you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here. Then read my article Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber for more tips of free stuff at Ancestry.
To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria. (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags.
To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to https://tinyurl.com/FMPLisa.
(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)
Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy
A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.
Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:
- you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
- you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
- the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.
Here’s an example of a Site search:
Free Pennsylvania site:ancestry.com
Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.
Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.
Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information
To find what’s local and free:
- Search WorldCat.org (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
- Use Google to search.
- Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.
When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:
- Databases they offer
- Their online catalog to plan your research
- Other associated libraries
- Details on planning a visit
Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook
Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook.
Learn More with these Resources
- Genealogy Gems Premium Membership: Genealogy & DNA video classes.
- The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke.
- Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites Quick Reference Guide.
Free Tools at MyHeritage for a Limited Time
Now through Sept. 10, 2020 you can get free access to Myheritage Photo Enhancer and MyHeritage In Color here.
Resources for this Episode
- Live show chat log
- Premium Members: Download the show notes handout
How to Test DNA for Family History (and get more from your results!)
Anyone can Test DNA for Family History
From Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems: DNA testing is one of the most personal ways to get involved in your family history. You have DNA from your parents, who have DNA from their parents, and so it goes, back into your greats and great-greats. The technology of genetic genealogy is all about tapping into that DNA record and pulling out information that might be useful in your family history. DNA can do this for you in two ways:
- First, it connects you to places. These are places where your ancestors came from a hundred, a thousand, or tens of thousands of years ago.
- Second, it connects you to people. These people are your genetic cousins, other living people who have taken the same DNA test that you took. The similarities in your DNA tell you that you share a common ancestor. You can then examine the pedigree of your match and work with them to help verify your family history, or give you new ideas about who your ancestors might be.
Types of DNA Tests for Family History
You have three choices of DNA tests, each with its own unique purpose.
YDNA – Essentially, if you want to know about a male ancestor, you need to find a direct male descendant to be tested. So if I want to know about my 3X great grandfather Morris Mitchell, I need to find Morris’s son’s son’s son, etc. until I find a living male with the Mitchell surname who can be tested on the Y chromosome DNA (mtDNA) test at Family Tree DNA.
mtDNA – If I want to know about a female ancestor, let’s say Mary West, I need to find Mary’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s etc. child (male or female) to take the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Family Tree DNA.
Autosomal DNA – For any ancestor, male or female, who is fewer than 5 generations from you, you can take the autosomal DNA test at either Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage to find out more about that individual. Remember with the autosomal DNA that you always want to test the oldest generation first. So anyone who does not have both of their parents living should take the autosomal DNA test.
Companies that can Test DNA for Family History
There are several companies that test DNA for family history including:
Each of these companies is offering a very similar kind of test, but each has their own unique tools and databases. Decide which company you want to test with by evaluating things like:
- their website accessibility
- their company goals
- and especially the size of their database
You can see a table comparing these companies here. The MyHeritage test is new, and is not on the chart yet, but will be soon.
Great (DNA) Expectations
The best thing you can do when setting out on your genetic genealogy journey is set good expectations. You can expect that the test will document the personal genetics of the person who takes it. By so doing, you are creating another genealogy record that will last for generations. This test will link you to your ancestors via your cousins. That means that you may take the test looking for ancestors, but what you get are cousins. It will take traditional genealogy work to turn those cousin connections into ancestral connections. Above buy prescription medicine overseas all, expect that this is a growing industry, and what we know today is different than what we will know tomorrow, so enjoy the journey!
There are several comprehensive books on Genetic Genealogy out there. However, for the layman who just wants to understand their DNA test results and get some additional value from them, an entire book full of scientific explanations can be overwhelming and daunting. The following email is one we receive regularly:
Could you direct me to an understandable publication which explains dna results in layman’ terms ?
Genetic Genealogy for the Layman
I encouraged Diahan to immediately get to work putting her easy-to-follow explanations into a new series of quick reference guides. Genealogy Gems Publications is proud to publish her wonderful series of DNA quick reference guides for understanding your DNA results in plain language, and helping you get the most out of the investment you made in testing.
Start Here to Jump into Using DNA for Genealogy
Diahan has a regular segment on my free Genealogy Gems Podcast where she answers your questions and provides invaluable insights into the latest in genetic genealogy. You can also find the complete archive of DNA articles at Genealogy Gems by clicking here. The most recent will appear first and then scroll down to read through the past articles.
For those who have tested with Ancestry DNA
- Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
- Understanding Ancestry DNA
- Organizing Your DNA Matches
- Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal Matches
Mix and Match for Genetic Genealogy
The beauty of the DNA quick reference guide series is that you can mix and match the guides to perfectly suit the testing you have done. We’ve published Diahan’s guides that delve into the testing companies FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe, as well as the other tests available such as Mitochondrial (for your maternal line – both men and women can take this test) and YDNA (for your paternal line – only men take this test.)
Take Your DNA Test Results to the Next Level
If you’ve already tested and feel like you have a good foundation, then I highly recommend Diahan’s Advanced DNA Bundle. It will take your DNA test results to the next level by instructing you on the heart of what matters in plain English.
DNA in the News
As of March 28, 2017, AncestryDNA customers can see if their ancestors belonged to about 300 different Genetic Communities, small migratory groups that can be identified by DNA. In the next free Genealogy Gems podcast episode #202, you will learn more about it straight from Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball. For more information on Genetic Communities, watch the video below:
Want to get tested? Get your AncestryDNA test here.
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 210
with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode:
- You’ve heard of “burned counties,” a phrase used to describe places where courthouse fires or other disasters have destroyed key genealogy records? In this episode, a listener presents the problem of her burned city?Chicago.
- Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares some of the latest buzz about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history?and some opinions about them
- News from the Genealogy Gems Book Club
- Get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury
- The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shines the spotlight on archival collections that haven’t even been processed yet (and suggestions for getting to them)
- Five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on researching your family in the 1940s and preparing for its release
MAILBOX: GEMS FOR YOU AND YOUR SOCIETY
Gail mentioned the free step-by-step Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
Great news! Your genealogy society or group may reprint articles from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems blog! Click here to learn more.
MAILBOX: GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Shannon by Frank Delaney and Ireland by Frank Delaney
(Thank you for supporting the free podcast by using our links to get your copies of these books.)
Book Club Guru Sunny Morton recommends the novels of Frank Delaney, beginning with Shannon (and now she’s reading Ireland). Frank is a master storyteller, and family history themes wind throughout his stories. Tip: he narrates his audiobooks himself. They are well worth listening to! But they’re so beautifully written Sunny is buying them in print, too.
MAILBOX: THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE
“Burned county” research tips
Sam Fink’s list (an index of Cook County marriages and deaths)
- Family History Podcast episode #37: “I discussed a book specifically on Chicago research: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide To Family History In The City Of Chicago by Grace DuMelle. As I recall, it was a very comprehensive book and could give you good leads on where to look.”
- Premium Podcast Episode 143: Johnstown Flood story
- Premium Podcast episode 145: Eastland disaster story and tips on researching disasters in your family history
- Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History (includes mention of GenDisasters)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
ARCHIVE LADY: UNPROCESSED RECORDS
As an archivist, working in an archive every day, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the genealogical and historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Archives receive donations of documents, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts almost on a daily basis.
Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.
Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.
Many times record collections haven’t even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn’t allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help you decide if a particular collection will be of help to you and your genealogy research.
The answer to your genealogical question could be sitting in a box of unprocessed records. I like to always encourage genealogists to put “unprocessed records” on their to-do list. As genealogists, we should leave no stone or box of records, unturned.
DNA WITH DIAHAN: MORE DNA HEALTH REPORTS
Recently, Family Tree DNA offered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.
How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder test with Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”
At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard:
There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:
Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports: Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”
Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”
Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”
And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”
This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these. Click here to read about their health reports, and click here and here to read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)
Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.
Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.
When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.
Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report?based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report?that includes some nutritional factors. (I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports. Click here to read it!) Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.
GEM: COUNTDOWN TO THE 1950 CENSUS: 5 TIPS
Get a copy of a census record for yourself or a relative (1950-2010). This costs $65 per person, per census year. In addition to genealogy uses, census records are legally-recognized documents to prove your identity, citizenship or age if you’re applying for a passport and you’ve lost your birth certificate or other situations like that. Order it through the “Age Search Service” offered through the US Census Bureau.
Video tutorial: How to obtain a copy of your census record
Find your family in all possible records before and during WWII
- City directories, WWII draft registrations, military yearbooks, the US Public Records Index, military enlistments, and even alien registrations or internment camp records for foreign-born residents during WWII.
- WWII-era newspapers: Searching for coverage
- Finding family history in WWII-era newspapers: Narrowing the results
5 places to find city directories:
- “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995” at Ancestry.com (subscription required)
- City Directories of the United States
- Library of Congress
- WorldCat.org to see holdings at different libraries (may require copy service request, since originals may not circulate through interlibrary loan)
- Local public libraries/societies
Find your family in all possible records AFTER the war
- City directories, yearbooks, deeds, divorce records (the divorce rate went up after WWII)
- Post-WWII draft registrations: Click here to order copies of draft registration records for men born 1897-1957. Requires full name of applicant, address at time of registration (tip: get it from a city directory).
Help create location tools for the 1950 US Census
Google your family’s history during the 1940s and 1950s
- Google Earth for Genealogy (FREE)
- Premium video: Ultimate Google Search Strategies for the Family Historian
- The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke (there’s an entire chapter on YouTube) Available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
Follow-up your discoveries with Google and YouTube search questions. Example: You find your grandmother working as a telephone operator in the 1940s in a city directory. What would her job have been like? Search YouTube:
YouTube videos on 1940s telephone operators
LEGACY TREE TIP: START YOUR SWEDISH GENEALOGY
Click here to read Paul Woodbury’s tips on the Genealogy Gems website.
PROFILE AMERICA: THE OPEN ROAD
“The busiest spot on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Library of Congress photograph; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see full citation.
BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a lightning-quick tech tip from Lisa Louise Cooke on how to undo that last browser you just closed and didn’t mean to! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
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