How Artificial Intelligence AI and Machine Learning Impact Genealogy

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 32

In this episode we tackle a few small geeky tech questions about artificial intelligence, better known as AI, that may have a pretty big impact on your genealogy life. Questions like:

  • Is artificial intelligence the same thing as machine learning?
    And if not how are they related?
  • And am I using AI, maybe without even being aware of it?
  • And what impact is AI really having on our lives? Is it all good, or are there some pitfalls we need to know about?

We’re going to approach these with a focus on family history, but pretty quickly I think we’ll discover it’s a much more far-reaching subject. And that means this episode is for everyone.

Free Webinar AI Machine learning and Genealogy

Watch the free video below.

While I’ve done my own homework on this subject and written about it in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m smart enough to call in an expert in the field. So, my special guest is Benjamin Lee. He is the developer of the Newspaper Navigator, the new free tool that uses artificial intelligence to help you find and extract images from the free historical newspaper collection at The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America. I covered Newspaper Navigator extensively in Elevenses with Lisa episode 26.

Ben  is a 2020 Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress, as well as a third year Ph.D. Student in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he studies human-AI interaction with his advisor, Professor Daniel Weld.

He graduated from Harvard College in 2017 and has served as the inaugural Digital Humanities Associate Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,  as well as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s History Department. And currently he’s a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Thank you so much to Ben Lee for a really interesting discussion and for making Newspaper Navigator available to researchers. I am really looking forward to hearing from him about his future updates and improvements.

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy

Covering technology and its application to genealogy is always a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be exciting and helpful, and also problematic in its invasiveness.

Tools like family tree hints, the Newspaper Navigator and Google Lens (learn more about that in Elevenses with Lisa episode 27) all have a lot to offer our genealogy research. But on a personal level, you may be concerned about the long reaching effects of artificial intelligence on the future, and most importantly your descendants. In today’s deeply concerning cancel culture and online censorship, AI can seriously impact our privacy, security and even our freedom.

As I did my research for this episode I discovered a few things. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is having the same kind of massive and disrupting impact that DNA has had on genealogy, with almost none of the same publicity. (For background on DNA data usage, listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217. That episode covers the use of DNA in criminal cases and how our data potentially has wide-reaching appeal to many other entities and industries.)

A quick search of artificial intelligence ancestry.com in Google Patents reveals that work continues on ways to apply AI to DNA and genealogy. (See image below)

Patents for AI machine learning and DNA

Patent search result: a pending patent involving AI and DNA by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

AI now makes our genealogical research and family tree data just as valuable to others outside of genealogy.

This begs the question, who else might be interested in our family tree research and data?

Who Is Interested in Your Genealogy Data

One answer to this question is academic researchers. During my research on this subject The Record Linking Lab at Brigham Young University surfaced as just one example. It’s run by a BYU Economics Professor who published a research paper on their work called Combining Family History and Machine Learning to Link Historical Records. The paper was co-authored with a Notre Dame Economics and Women’s Studies professor.

In this example, their goals are driven by economic, social, and political issues rather than genealogy. Their published paper does offer an eye-opening look at the value that those outside the genealogy community place on all of the personal data we’re collecting and the genealogical records we are linking. Our work is about our ancestors, and therefore it is about ourselves. Even if living people are not named on our tree, they are named in the records we are linking to it. We are making it all publicly available.

In the past, historical records like birth and death, military and the census have been available to these researchers, but on an individual basis. This made them difficult to work with. Academic (and industry) researchers couldn’t easily follow these records for individual people, families, and generations of families through time in order to draw meaningful conclusions. But for the first-time machine learning is being applied to online genealogy research data making it possible to link these records to living and deceased individuals and their families.  

It’s a lot to think about, but it’s important because it is our family history data.  We need to understand how our data is being used inside and outside the genealogy sandbox.

Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About AI

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

Elevenses with Lisa Q&A on AI and Genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com/Elevenses

From Linda J: ​What about all the “people search” sites (not genealogy) that have all, or a lot of, our personal date?
Lisa’s Answer: My understanding is that much of the information provided on many of the “people search” websites comes from public information. So while the information is much easier to access these days, it’s been publicly available for years. That information isn’t as accessible to projects like the one discussed in this episode because those websites don’t make their Application Programming Interface (known as API) publicly available like FamilySearch does.

From Doug H: Wouldn’t that potentially find errors in our trees?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes.

From Sheryl T: ​Do these academic researchers have access to the living people on the trees? Or are those protected from them as it is to the public?
Lisa’s Answer: They have access to all information attached to people marked as “Living Person.” Therefore, if the attached record names them, their identity would then be known. Click a hint on your tree at Ancestry for example, and the found records clearly spell out the name of the person they believe is your “Living” person.

From Nancy M: ​How long do the show notes stay available? am looking for Google Books two weeks ago and last week’s Allen Co Library.
Lisa’s Answer: The show notes remain available until the episode is archived in Premium Membership. You can find all of the currently available free Elevenses with Lisa episodes on our website in the menu under VIDEOS click Elevenses with Lisa.

Nannie A: I heard a rumor that Ancestry .com has been sold. Do you know if that’s true?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, they were sold again this year. Read:
Private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. buying Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion
Private equity wants to own your DNA by CBS News.

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. 

 

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39 Show Notes

Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!

Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

1. Have you selected a place to start?

I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play. 

For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)

At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not  stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.

In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.

It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.

2. Have you developed a project research question?

Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?

In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”

The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)

3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?

The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:

  • Where exactly was Washington from in England? 
  • When did he come to the United States?
  • Why/how did he end up out West?
  • Did he work on the railroad?
  • When and where did he marry?
  • When was their oldest child born?
  • Did he join the LDS church?

And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.

The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.

4. Do you have the research forms you need?

There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.

Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!

Free Genealogy Forms at Family Tree Magazine
Family Tree Magazine offers a plethora of free genealogy forms. You’ll need to register for a free website account to download the forms.

Free Genealogy Forms at Ancestry
Here you’ll find several common and helpful genealogy forms including:

  • Ancestral Chart
  • Research Calendar
  • Research Extract
  • Correspondence Record
  • Family Group Sheet
  • Source Summary
  • US, UK And Canadian Census Forms

5. Have you established Your Filing System?

Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.

Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.

In Elevenses with Lisa Episode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)

As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:

  • Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
  • Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)

Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:

  • Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
  • Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.

7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?

Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.

Here’s what my shopping list looks like:

  • 3” 3-Ring View Binders
    (allow you to customize covers & spines)
  • 1” 3-Ring View Binder
  • 1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
  • 3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers

8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?

How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.

Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:

  • Year (will force chronological order)
  • First Name (filed in surname folder)
  • Location

Example: 1920_robert_m_springfield_oh

Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.

8. Are you prepared to make copies?

Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data. 

Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off  from its cloud hosting service.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”

Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.

My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:

The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.

While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.

Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.

We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.

Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.

Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:

  • a good printer
  • extra ink
  • a stock of paper
  • a portable terabyte hard drive

Ideas for saving paper and ink:

  • Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
  • Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
  • Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
  • Make double-sided copies.
  • When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.

 

9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?

I use and recommend Backblaze for computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:

backblaze server podcast

Image courtesy of Backblaze.

I am also an affiliate of Backblaze so I appreciate when you use my link if you decided to make a purchase. I will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that supports this free show. https://www.backblaze.com/landing/podcast-lisa.html 

Learn more: Premium Members can watch the Premium video Your Guide to Cloud Backup and download the PDF handout. You’ll get answers to questions like:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Pick one area you want to improve your genealogy skills and knowledge and make time each week to learn something new about it.

Thank you for making Elevenses with Lisa and Genealogy Gems one of your places for genealogy learning, laughing and getting refilled!

On the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

  • Click the Subscribe button
  • Click the bell for notifications.
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    https://www.youtube.com/GenealogyGems
    enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.

Recap: 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

  1. Have you selected a place to start?
  2. Have you developed a project research question?
  3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
  4. Do you have the research forms you need?
  5. Have you established Your Filing System?
  6. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
  7. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
  8. Are you prepared to make copies?
  9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
  10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive

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Resources

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

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. I’d also like to hear from you about the topics you would like to learn more about in future episodes. Thanks!

 

Episode 200

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode 200
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Listen Now

It’s finally here – the 200th episode of the free Genealogy Gems podcast, also celebrating its 10th year.

In this special episode, Lisa invites Professor Mark Auslander to share his discoveries about a mother and young daughter separated by slavery. Learn how he pieced together their story from a poignant family heirloom found at a flea market.

Throughout the episode, you will hear from several listeners, past podcast guests, Gems staffers and supporters in the genealogy industry with congratulations, memories, stories, and favorite Gems tips. Listen for the DNA success story of an adoptee who never gave up his search for his biological roots.

Thanks to all listeners and friends who sent congratulations! Among them are:

Allison Dolan, Publisher, Family Tree Magazine. She mentioned the Family Tree Magazine Podcast

Bruce Buzbee, RootsMagic family history software

DearMYRTLE, veteran online genealogy educator and author of the award-winning DearMYRTLE blog. She mentioned Lisa’s Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast; her all-day seminars at societies; and classes at her booth during conferences.

Geoff Rasmussen, Legacy Family Tree webinars, and author of Kindred Voices: Listening for Our Ancestors

Jim Shaughnessy, Findmypast.com

Mary Tedesco, host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow, founder of Origins Italy, co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors and a guest on Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #175, talking about Italian research and her work on Genealogy Roadshow

Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. Listen to Lisa’s conversation with him in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 120 and 121. This book and interview planted the seed for the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Yev Pusin, Social Marketing Marketer, Backblaze online computer backup service, also celebrating its 10th anniversary

 

MAILBOX: LISA AND SUNNY

The following were mentioned in listener emails and voicemails:

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. This is a FREE step-by-step series for beginning genealogists?and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. One listener mentioned the series on naturalization records in episodes 29-31.

The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. Monthly episodes?and the full archive of past episodes?are available to Genealogy Gems Premium website subscribers. This podcast takes what you love about the free Genealogy Gems podcast and goes deeper, broader and more exclusively into topics of interest for U.S. and international audiences.

The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Using Evernote to organize your family history research: free tips and great resources to help you make the most of this free app (or its Premium version) to keep all your genealogy research notes and links organized and at your fingertips.

Netvibes computer dashboard tool and mobile apps for genealogy

Computer backup story from Kathy: “I was robbed! They took the computer AND the backup drive!”

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 http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

DNA WITH YOUR DNA GUIDE DIAHAN SOUTHARD

Diahan’s series of how-to videos, available to Gems fans for a special price.

Diahan’s series of DNA quick guides, available in print or as digital downloads

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your buy medicine online worldwide ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

INTERVIEW: MARK AUSLANDER

Mark Auslander is an Associate Professor and Museum Director at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA and the author of The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding An American Family.

“Slave Mother’s Love in 56 Carefully-Stitched Words”

Mark’s path to the probable family of this artifact used these techniques:

Look closely at all clues from the artifact: the fabric, stitching, colors, facts conveyed in the text, etc. Look at both the historical clues and the artistic or symbolic aspects of it.

Create a profile for the people mentioned based on what is known. Probable age for Ruth Middleton in 1921, etc.

Use contextual and social history clues to hypothesize a scenario. The inclusion of “South Carolina” hints that the seamstress didn’t live in South Carolina, so he guessed that she was part of the Great Migration of millions of African-Americans in the early 1900s who headed from the rural South to the industrial Midwest and other urban cities.

Take advantage of unusual clues. Rose is a common name for an enslaved woman, but not Ashley.

Look through all available records. Possible census listings for Ruth Middleton in 1920 didn’t seem likely candidates. He dug through marriage records for Northern states until he found a woman named Ruth who married a man named Middleton who fit the profile he’d created.

Use specialized sources for African-American research, especially records created by and about the slaveholder that relate to the holding, sale or transfer of enslaved people.

Mark says that some researchers describe the search process as “guided by some force larger than yourself that keeps you going through those endless hours in microfilm rooms or online. But it does connect us all in very profound ways to those who came before and those who come after?.Through genealogical work, in a sense we can triumph over death itself and we can move back and forth in time in the most remarkable way.”

Coming up next month in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 201: An interview with Angela Walton-Raji on finding African-American ancestors. She shares tons of resources! Even if you haven’t found any African-Americans on your family tree, the challenges and rewards of African-American genealogical research are both fascinating and moving to learn about.

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. GENEALOGY GEMS EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Go to www.legacytree.com/genealogygems and use coupon code GEMS100 to save $100 off your purchase of research services (expires 4/30/17).

CONVERSATIONS WITH MORE GEMS

Amie Tennant, Gems Content Contributor: see the Genealogy Gems blog

Lacey Cooke, Gems Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer and Audio Editor; she mentioned a favorite Genealogy Gems Book Club title and interview were with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

   

The Truth According to Us by internationally bestselling author Annie Barrows

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with?and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Click here to read an introduction to using WPA records for genealogy.

Annie Barrows is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel takes place after World War II in a London recovering from the Blitz and an island recovering from German occupation. At the heart of Guernsey is an unlikely love story and the inspiring tale of a community that took care of each other in their darkest days with humor, compassion and good books.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

Music from this episode is from the band Venice

The song played at the opening was “We’re Still Here,” from the album Born and Raised.

The song played at the closing was “The Family Tree” from the album 2 Meter Sessies; click to purchase the album or download the song as a single.

 

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