What to do with Inherited Genealogy – Episode 74

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 74 Lisa Louise Cooke answers the question “I inherited the family genealogy – NOW WHAT?!”

what to do with inherited genealogy

You’ll learn:

  • how to get started dealing with genealogy research that’s been given to you
  • organizational strategies
  • incorporating the inherited genealogy into your research
  • what to do with inherited genealogy materials you don’t want to (or can’t) keep

Original air date: Oct. 14, 2021.

Episode 74 Show Notes 

(Get your ad-free cheat sheet download in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.)

I Got Handed the Family Genealogy, Now What?

Inheriting genealogy is a big responsibility and can be a bit overwhelming. Even if you haven’t been fortunate enough to receive much from other researchers in your family, chances are your descendants will be faced with inheriting your research. That’s why this week’s Elevenses with Lisa episode 74 is for everyone!

As exciting as it can be to receive new genealogical information, it presents challenges such as:

  • figuring out if each piece of information is correct,
  • finding a way to process it and blend it into what you already have (or if you’re new to genealogy, what you DON’T have!)
  • finding a place to put it,
  • and making the hard decisions about what you can’t keep.

So in this video I’m going to share with you my top strategies that I’ve used myself more than a few times. So take a deep breath, grab a soothing cup of Chamomile tea, and let’s get started.

I’ve received many emails over the years from folks who have faced the challenge of inheriting genealogy research done by another family member.

Jim R wrote me to say:

“I am going through my family tree and have a question. My aunt spent a lot of time back in about 1985 and had a huge hardback book of printed up of the family tree. But I was told by a few family members that some of the information in it isn’t true. How do I go about doing my own research, and properly compare the info? I need to figure out what is right and what is wrong. This is fun, but frustrating at the same time. Thanks.”

Don’t Take Inherited Genealogy at Face Value

Accuracy (or lack thereof) can a real issue when we receive someone else’s work. We can’t just take it at face value, especially if the researcher did not cite their sources. There’s no way to know if an ancestor on their tree is truly your ancestor until you look at the genealogical source documents for yourself. If they haven’t listed which sources they used, you’ll have to go find them. The good news is that it should be a little easier to find them based on the information provided about the ancestor. Usually when you get a family tree from a relative, it will at a minimum include important dates like birth, marriage and death, and hopefully some of the places where those events occurred.

Jim inherited a large, compiled history book, but you may be fortunate enough to receive an entire lifetime’s worth of research. Well, some folks would feel fortunate, others may not! No matter how much you’ve inherited, the genealogical process remains the same: start with yourself and work backwards. It may be tempting to start focusing on new ancestors you see in the family tree you just acquired, but resist the temptation. We must always prove the relationships connecting us to each generation going back in time so we don’t end up adding someone to the tree who doesn’t belong there.

So let’s stop for a moment and go back to the beginning, when you first inherit your relative’s genealogy research. What do we do first?

Assess what you have inherited.

Jim received one big book. But if you’re like me you may have received boxes of items, many loose and unorganized.

I like to divide it up by families and place each pile into a separate bin, in chronological order as much as possible. I use clear stackable bins because you can see what’s inside. I’ve used these for years and never detected an ounce of damage. Damage is more likely to come from heat,  moisture and mishandling than stored undisturbed in a plain storage bin in a room temperature stable environment such as a closet.

Use 3×5 white index cards to label each bin. Use a medium black sharpie pen to write the family surname in large bold letters, and place the card inside the box at one end facing out. You will be able to see it through the clear bin. You can also simply tape it on the outside of the bin.

You’ll also need one location where all the bins can be stored until you’re ready to work on them. A spare closet or even under a bed can work. The important thing is they are all together undisturbed and easily accessible. Once items are sorted and stored, you can then pull out one bin at a time to work on.

If your inherited genealogy appears to be well organized, such as in scrapbooks, keep it in context. Don’t take it apart and divide it up. There’s something to be learned from the order in which things were added to the book.

divide inherited genealogy into bins

my spare closet with bins of inherited genealogy awaiting processing.

Take inventory and prepare to track your progress.

It’s important to recognize that it isn’t likely that all of the materials and information will be digestible in one sitting. And it helps tremendously when you set up a process that makes it easy to pick up the project and put it down easily while keeping track of where you left off.

You can track your progress in a variety of ways:

  • a project log spreadsheet,
  • Word document
  • Evernote or One Note
  • A spiral notebook

Take a moment up front to put your tracking mechanism in place and be as consistent as possible in using it.

I use Excel spreadsheets for my tracking. I find it very helpful to create a separate tab for each item within the collection (book, scrapbook, computer disk, address book, etc.) This helps provide me with a complete inventory at a glance. On each tab I add columns applicable to the type of item and information it contains.

Get a genealogy software program.

If you’re new to genealogy, or you’ve only had your family tree online, now is the time to get a genealogy software program. It will not only help you stay organized, but it will also give you a mechanism for consistently adding source citations. Your genealogy software database while also serve as the “brain” of all your efforts. The database gives you one place to focus your efforts and systematically add information. Also, it puts all of it in your control on your own computer, not solely in the hands of a genealogy website that could be gone tomorrow.

There are a handful of genealogy software database programs on the market. Family Tree Maker, Legacy and RootsMagic are all good and reliable. MyHeritage offers Family Tree Builder for free

No matter which one you choose, download and install it on your computer. Then make sure that you have an automatic cloud backup service installed and running on that computer. I have used Backblaze for years. You can get a free 15 day trial here which will give you an opportunity to see how easy it is to get up and running. (Disclosure: this is an affiliate link.)

Learn more by watching my video classes on databases and organizing your genealogical materials.

organizing genealogy video classes by Lisa Louise Cooke

Learn more with my Premium Member classes on organizing genealogy.

Start processing the inherited genealogical information.

Whether you are new to genealogy or a longer time researcher, start by entering the information you inherited starting with yourself or your parents and then add family members going back in time generation by generation. As I said previously, I know it can be tempting to jump to older generations to work on, but you must methodically prove each generational connection in order to have an accurate family tree.

In Jim’s case, he inherited a compiled history book from his aunt, so he will want to start by turning to the page that contains himself or his closest ancestor (probably his parents.) On his tracking spreadsheet he could include columns for ancestor’s name, page number and notes, and enter that information as he works on each person’s record. By doing so, he will always know where he left off.

A compiled history is just one source, and in fact, it is not even a primary source. This means that even if sources have been cited in the book, it’s important to locate and review those sources to confirm that you agree that the conclusion is accurate. After all, this is your tree and research now.

Never enter a new ancestor without cited sources. If the book or paperwork names someone, and even provides some specific information about them, your job is to go find the records to prove it. Once you are satisfied you are ready to enter the person and their information into your database, and of course, cite your sources.

A few decades ago, back when I was doing genealogy strictly as a hobby and not professionally, I found an amazing compiled family history on my Wolf family line. It contained thousands of people, was meticulously compiled and full of details, and did not include a single source!

Since the book wasn’t an heirloom or one of a kind, I found it very helpful and simple to make a small pencil tick mark next to each person as I worked on them. I set about painstakingly finding sources for every piece of information that was new or conflicting with what I had. As you can imagine, that’s a very big job. Since time is always at a premium I didn’t research everything, particularly information that was not critical to the identification of the ancestor, or perhaps was about a collateral individual. However, I did not enter anything into my database that was not researched and proven. This means you’ll need a way to keep track of what has not yet been researched. I used a red pencil to place a tick mark next to items yet to be researched about an ancestor. You could also opt to add a column to your spreadsheet to track it and then return to it later.

Did I add everyone listed in the book in my database? Absolutely not! I focused specifically on direct ancestors and included their children. Once I made my way as far back as I could go in the book, I selectively filled in additional people from collateral lines that were of particular interest or closely associated with areas that I wanted to research further. Rest assured there is no right or wrong way to do this. Do what is most important to you in the most accurate and methodical way you can.

Cite your sources every step of the way.

Talk to any experienced genealogist and you’ll probably hear some regrets about not citing their sources when they first began doing genealogy. Source citations are like an insurance policy. It’s not very satisfying to invest in it now when everything is fine, but down the road when trouble arises you’ll be glad you did.

So what kind of trouble are we talking about? No family tree is immune from occasional problems such as:

  • discovering an inconsistency in your family tree
  • uncovering a new source that directly contradicts one of your conclusions
  • being contacted by another researcher who is challenging something you have posted or published about your family tree.

The only way to address these situations is to review the sources you used. And that’s where your source citation comes in mighty handy! They help answer the questions and also prevent timewasting duplication of effort.

If the only source for a particular event is the book, go out and find the original record to verify it is correct, and cite both in your database. 

Learn more about citing your sources by watching my free video Source Citations for Genealogy (episode 60 of Elevenses with Lisa).

How to do Source Citations for Genealogy

Elevenses with Lisa episode 60

What to do when you can’t keep all the genealogy you inherited.

As painful as it is to say, it isn’t always possible to keep all of the genealogical items that come your way. The reality is that shelf and closet space have limits, and our collection can grow unmanageable when added to the research of previous generations.

Start by seeing if you can reduce it. Strive to digitize all items that you want to save that are not originals, heirlooms or not readily available somewhere else.

Need help digitizing? I use Larsen Digital. Click our link and use the discount coupon codes found on the webpage. 

Once digitized and recorded in your database, you can toss them. Recently I went through boxes of photographs I inherited from my paternal grandmother. Many were from the late 1970s and early 1980s when double prints were all the rage. By simply tossing duplicates and low quality photos (such as half of grandma’s hand over the camera lens) I was able to reduce the collection by almost a third!

Donation is also an excellent option. Digitize and take photos of the items and then they can be donated to a library, archive, genealogical society or other organization with an interest in them. Sometimes the shared interest is not as much in the particular families as the locations from which they hailed. One woman told me at a recent seminar that when she asked her local archive about her materials, they were ecstatic. They immediately spotted old buildings in the photos that no longer exist but held an important place in the town’s history. You never know what may be meaningful to others.

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne is an excellent resource for both free digitization and donation. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 to learn more.

free records at the genealogy center allen county public library

Learn more about donating your genealogy in episode 31.

I recently heard from a Hal Horrocks, a long-time member of the Orange County California Genealogical Society. In 2017 they started a program called Rescue the Research. They strive to preserve the research done by their past members. It’s a great example of making hard-won genealogy research more accessible to others while reducing the burden on closet space.

Donation isn’t for everybody. However, sadly it is sometimes the only option when you don’t have descendants or relatives interested in retaining your research. Don’t despair. Donating your research is bound to elicit a genealogy happy dance from some future genealogist who comes across your research!

You can learn more about protecting, preserving and donating your genealogy research by watching my video class Save Your Research from Destruction (Elevenses with Lisa episode 10, available exclusively as part of Premium Membership.)

Your ancestors and your descendants will thank you.

It’s been famously said that “you can’t take it with you” when you leave this earth.

You can't take inherited genealogy with you

“You can’t take it with you”

By following these strategies and addressing that reality now, there’s one very important thing you will be leaving behind: the legacy of family history. One that avoids burdening the next generation while providing a lasting connection between all of the generations of your family tree.

Resources

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

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Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 239 DNA and The Lost Family

The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast features genealogy news, interviews, stories and how-to instruction. It can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content.

Click below to listen to this episode:

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
March 2020
Download the episode mp3

In this episode we’re going to delve into how DNA testing has changed our world with award-winning journalist Libby Copeland, author of the new book The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are.  

Lisa Louise Cooke Roots Tech 2020 Photo Identification Class

Lisa Louise Cooke presenting her new class “3 Cool Cases Solved: How to Identify Your Photos” at RootsTech 2020. Video coming soon to Genealogy Gems Premium Membership!

Genealogy Gems Mailbox

Jenn shares her journey into genealogy and her brand new family history blog.

Jenn writes:

You even inspired me to start my own blog! This is something I thought I would never do, but with your helpful tutorials and encouragement I got started last month and I already have 7 posts!

My question is about getting my blog to show up in Google Search. I am using Blogspot. I have used Google’s Search Console to request indexing for my url’s (they are all indexed). I have included labels and pictures. I use the key words often that I think folks will search for. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Can you help me?

I have tried the following searches in Google to no avail:

“William” “Poland” 1788…1856 ~genealogy -Polish -Russian -Austrian
“William * Poland” 1788…1856 “Ohio” “Indiana” -Polish -Russian -Austrian -China ~genealogy 

Here is a link to my blog: Poland Family History

Jenn has crafted some great Google search queries to see if her blog will come up in the search results. However, the query does need a few adjustments.

Numrange Search: 1788…1856

Use two periods – not three. 

Synonym Search: The tilde (~genealogy)
This search is no longer supported by Google, and in reality really isn’t necessary due to the updates and improvements it has made to its search algorithm.

Simply include the word genealogy at the end of your query and it should provide search results for words like ancestry, family tree, and family history.

It can take Google up to around a month to index your site so that it will appear in search results. Give it a little more time. In the meantime, I would recommend setting up Google Analytics and Google Console for additional traffic data. 

Run this search to verify your family history blog has been indexed:

site:https://polandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/ 

This blog post by Neil Patel is a great source of additional information about how to get your site found and showing up in search results.

Lisa’s Recommended Strategy:

  • Be Patient
  • Keep Consistently Blogging
  • Use free tools like Google Analytics and Google Console.

Genealogy Gems Book Club: Libby Copeland, author of The Lost Family

From the book: “In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, and delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests.”

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 239 DNA

You’re listening to episode 239.

Get your copy of the book here.
Thank you for using our affiliate link. We will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that makes it possible for us to be bring more interviews to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast.

The Lost Family How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland

Click image to order “The Lost Family”

Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Washington PostNew York magazine, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and many other publications. Copeland was a reporter and editor at the Post for eleven years, has been a media fellow and guest lecturer, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.

Libby Copeland author of The Lost Family

Libby Copeland author of The Lost Family

Quotes from Libby Copeland:

‘I think that America in many ways because of commercial genetic testing is becoming a nation of seekers, and we’re all sort of seeking out our origins.”

“It’s hard to tell your story when you don’t have a beginning.”

“So, we’re sort of operating in the dark in a way. It’s like we have a flashlight and it only illuminates what’s directly in front of us.”

“We have all this information that’s available with the intention for it to be used for one thing, and we cannot anticipate the ways in which it might be used in coming years.”

“So, DNA is…really causing in many ways, the past to collide with the present. And that’s what I find so fascinating.”

Quotes from Lisa Louise Cooke:

“When you say, ‘what’s coming in the future?’ and he (Yaniv Erlich) says ‘oh, I don’t have a crystal ball, but you don’t need one because you look to the past.’ This is what we as genealogists do all the time!”

Get your copy of the book here.
Thank you for using our link and supporting author interviews and the free Genealogy Gems Podcast.

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox , 3rd Edition

By Lisa Louise Cooke

    • Fully Updated and Revised!
  • Brand New Chapters
  • Featuring Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google Search Methodology for 2020

A lot has changed and it’s time to update your search strategy for genealogy!

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Click to order your copy of “The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Third edition” by Lisa Louise Cooke

Discover the answers to your family history mysteries using the newest cutting-edge Google search strategies. A comprehensive resource for the best Google tools, this easy-to-follow book provides the how-to information you need in plain English.

This book features:

  • Step-by-step clear instructions
  • quick reference pages.
  • Strategies for searching faster and achieving better results.
  • How to use exciting new tools like Google Photos and Google Earth.

Visit the Genealogy Gems Store here to order your copy.

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Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 248

Free Genealogy!

You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the show notes page here

This episode is brought to you by:

In this episode we cover a plethora of strategies that will give you access to loads of free genealogy records and resources. We cover:

  • How to follow the path of least resistance to find what you need for your genealogy research.
  • The best ways to find free genealogy records online.
  • What you need to know about the genealogy industry that will help you save money.
  • How you can bee-line your way to the free records that are to be found at each of the big subscription genealogy websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast).
  • Two Google secret searches that can help you locate free genealogy resources.
  • How to search online to find free records offline.
  • A clever way to get free help with your genealogy brick wall.

Companion Video and Show Notes

This topic comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisa episode 21. You can find all the free Elevenses with Lisa videos and show notes at https://lisalouisecooke.com/elevenses.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members have exclusive access to the 5-page downloadable show notes handout in the Resources section of the Elevenses with Lisa episode 21 show notes page here.

Premium Members also have access to all of the archived earlier episodes. To access the Elevenses with Lisa Premium Member archive, log in to your membership at https://genealogygems.com and under in the main menu under Premium go to Premium Videos and click on Elevenses with Lisa.

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 – Free Genealogy! Watch the video and read the full show notes here.

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Getting Your Old Home Movies Digitized with Larsen Digital

I use Larsen Digital and have been extremely pleased with the service and results. The folks at Larsen Digital have put together special and exclusive discounts for Genealogy Gems listeners and readers. Click here to learn more and receive exclusive discounts and coupon codes.

Podcast Resources

Download the episode mp3
Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21

 

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