10 Top Tips for Beginning German Genealogy

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Episode 52 Show Notes 

Researching ancestors in another country can be a little daunting. Challenges include foreign languages, moving boundaries, and spelling variations. This is certainly true for German genealogy.

If you’re new to German genealogy or your research has stalled, this episode of Elevenses with Lisa is for you. In fact, even if you don’t have German ancestors I think you will still find the principles and ideas covered very helpful.

Translator, author and German handwriting expert Katherine Schober shares her 10 Top Tips for Beginning Germany Genealogy. These tips are packed with tools and resources that you can start using right away.

Katherine Schober is a German / English translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” And this year she will be one of the featured speakers at this year’s virtual International German Genealogy Conference.

Click the video below to watch the show. Then scroll down below to get all of the show notes. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Mentioned in this video:

International German Genealogy Conference July 17-24, 2021.
Use special code EARLY until April 30 to get $50 off the package of your choice.
Registration here

Reading the Old German Handwriting Course online with Katherine Schober
Register for the course here

Use Coupon Code GEMS for 10% off the course.

Watch the video Finding German Villages for Genealogy and Family History with James M. Beidler ​  at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel

BOOK: The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James Beidler at Amazon.

10 Top Tips for Beginning Germany Genealogy

1. Start with What You Know about Your German Ancestor

Resist the temptation to start searching online immediately. Take the time to talk to your relatives, starting with the oldest. Review family documents, photo albums and other materials around your home. You may be surprised how much you already have, and the light that other relatives can shed on the family tree. Every step of the way its critically important to document everything!   

2. Look for Resources in America Before Jumping Over to Germany

  • Photos
  • Family Bibles (Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 29)
  • Census Records
  • Local church records
  • Passenger Lists (Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 34)
  • Newspapers
  • People

Read Katherine Schober’s article Before You Cross the Pond: Five Places to Find Your Ancestor in America.

3. Identify the Correct German Town

Records in Germany are kept at the local level. Make sure you have the right town in the right state.

Meyers Gazetteer
About the Meyers Gazetteer from the website: Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs “is the most important of all German gazetteers. The goal of the Meyer’s compilers was to list every place name in the German Empire (1871-1918). It gives the location, i.e. the state and other jurisdictions, where the civil registry office was and parishes if that town had them. It also gives lots of other information about each place. The only drawback to Meyer’s is that if a town did not have a parish, it does not tell where the parish was, making reference to other works necessary.”

Learn more at Genealogy Gems about Meyers Gazetteer – read 5 Expert Tips for Using Meyers Gazetteer for Your German Genealogy

The Historic Gazetteer at The Genealogical Gazetteer provides “The precise identification of places is essential in genealogy. Unfortunately, too few researchers care in identifying places. The project “GOV” was initiated to help historians and genealogists with the management of place references and to provide high quality data for anyone.”

4. Identify Available Records for the Town in Germany

  • FamilySearch Library Catalog
  • FamilySearch Wiki – click on region and see what is available.

5. Take Advantage of German Resources at the FamilySearch Wiki

6. Get Familiar with the Old German Handwriting.

  • Books
  • Reading the Old German Handwriting Online Course: https://german-handwriting.teachable.com/

7. Use German Church Records.

Katherine mentioned these websites:

8. Search for Vital Records

Vital records began nationwide in 1876, though it may be possible to find earlier records in certain locales.

9. Be Prepared for “Creative” Spellings.

Some pairs of letters can find themselves interchanged in German words. Understanding which ones were commonly swapped can save you a lot of frustration as you attempt to interpret documents. Examples of commonly switch letters include B and P, and K and G.

For help with common German spelling variations read Katherine’s article called Think Like a German: Spelling Variations in Genealogy Documents.

Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently. Type in your ancestor’s German surname and press Enter on your keyboard. Try variations that you have come across in records to compare the results.

geogen v4

Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently. 

10. Use the Genealogy FAN CLUB

If you get stuck, use the FAN CLUB principle by looking at Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. These are the people who interacted with your ancestors in important ways. They will come in particularly handy when you run out of records for your German ancestor. By reviewing the records of those closest to your ancestor you may find new clues that can move your search forward and lead back to your family tree.

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Visit the archive of free Elevenses with Lisa episodes. 
Visit the archive of Premium Elevenses with Lisa episodes. 
You can also find them through the menu: Premium > Premium Videos > Elevenses with Lisa.

Learn More at Genealogy Gems

Lisa’s Guest: 

Katherine Schober is a German-English genealogy speaker, author, and translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” Katherine lives in St. Louis with her Austrian husband, and can be reached via e-mail at language@sktranslations.com or via her website, www.sktranslations.com.

Resources

 

 

SHOCKING RESULTS! Should you use AI Chatbots for Genealogy?

Show Notes: It seems like everyone is talking about ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) driven search tools. Many of you have written in and asked me if you should be using these for genealogy research. In today’s new video, we’ll tackle questions like:

  • What are AI chatbots?
  • What are the top chatbots?
  • Are they private?
  • Why are they free and will they stay free?
  • Should you trust the results?

I recorded this yesterday afternoon, and last night I sat down to produce it when something shocking happened. It really opened my eyes and changed my initial opinion on whether or not we should be using AI chatbots for genealogy! Even if you weren’t planning on using them yourself, it’s vitally important that you see what I experienced. Other people are going to use this technology. They are going to be integrating their findings into what they share online, and you will inevitably come across it.

Watch the Video

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

We’ve talked about artificial intelligence here at Genealogy Gems. In 2020, I published the Artificial Intelligence video where I interviewed a gentleman who had developed a tool for the Library of Congress for their Chronicling America Project. In fact, we did that in another video called Newspaper Navigator. He was using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a tool that could help you search for photos and images in newspapers. This was something we weren’t doing before. We were limited to text or keyword searches. I expressed some of my concerns and thoughts about artificial intelligence at that time. We also produced a video about the MyHeritage AI Time Machine tool. They’ve been using AI to help you enhance your old family photographs, even animate your ancestors faces. It’s amazing!

Now, the big viral craze is ChatGPT. It’s using a technology that you can find at Open AI. They’re using this technology in an interactive chatbot of sorts. Users enter questions and requests trying to see what ChatGPT would do. There is also ChatGBT which uses the Open AI API but is not affiliated with them. Both are chatbots. 

Top Popular AI Chatbots

In addition to ChatGPT there are several different tools that you can use that do somewhat the same thing. I think the most popular ones are:

They’re a little bit different, and yet the same in many ways. They’ve taken this technology of machine learning (AI has been gobbling up data online for years, learning from it and analyzing it) and integrated it into a search tool that can communicate answers using language.

Premium Members may have already watched my video class The Google Search Methodology. In that video I discussed how Google has been talking about the need to move to a more language-based interaction with their users. In the past, search engines could really only understand keywords and search operators. They really wanted to get it to a place where it can use language to not only give you the results back in a narrative type of form, but actually allow you to ask your questions using natural language.

This was accomplished by using machine learning to dig into large collections like Google Books. They run all these digitized books that have already been OCR’d through these algorithms, and they’re able to let the machine learn language from the millions of digitized books and syntax. And it did. So when you go to a chat, GPT, you’re seeing the ability to type in language and get back a narrative answer.

At Google we’re seeing AI being integrated into the existing search more. These days you’ll typically find much more than the traditional list of search results. We’re seeing “Answer boxes” and “Related Topics” and other drop-down boxes. Bing has been incorporating this as well. However, the AI chat tools are currently separate from standard search.

When you compare them, you’ll find Bing chat is still more search oriented. It doesn’t do as much as far as giving you creative answers. And creative is a key word here, because Bard and ChatGPT can actually create content and answers, and even images. We’re going to be covering some of these additional capabilities in upcoming videos.

Are AI Chatbots Private?

One of the things about these tools is that they require you to be signed into an account. ChatGPT requires that you sign up for a free account. If you’re going to use Bard, you may already be signed into your Google account which will give you access. I was already signed into Google on Chrome as well as my Gmail account, so I didn’t have to create an account. And as soon as I used Bard, I got an email saying, “welcome to Bard”. Bing Chat currently requires that you use Microsoft’s Edge browser. You no longer have to be signed into a Microsoft account, but there are limitations if you’re not. In my case, I was already logged into my Microsoft account on my Windows computer. I’m sure Edge “talks” to my computer, I’m sure Edge “talks” to Chat. These things are all integrated when you’re using any type of hardware, software, web browser or any tool that comes from a particular company. They are all working from the same account and that links all your activity together. That means they’re tracking you.

Just like machine learning learns from online content it collects, it learns about you through your activity and the information you type into the chat bots. It is being recorded and stored. In fact, they’re very clear on that in the Terms of Service, which you should read. It’s much like back in the day when DNA first came out. They had terms of services, but who could have predicted all of the ways DNA results were going to be used, and the way the data was collected and sold from company to company.

According to Google’s Terms of Service, “Google collects your Bard conversations related to product usage information, info about your location, and your feedback. Google uses this data consistent with our Privacy Policy to provide, improve and develop Google products and services and machine learning technologies, including Google’s enterprise products, such as Google Cloud.

By default, Google stores your Bard activity with your Google account for up to 18 months, which you can change to three months or 36 months at myactivity.google.com/product/bard. Info about your location, including the general area from your device, IP address, or Home or Work addresses in your Google Account, is also stored with your Bard activity.”

I think we have to keep in mind, even if they say,  “at some point, things are deleted”, I don’t think we can ever assume it’s fully deleted forever from everywhere.

The Terms of Service go on to say, “To help with our quality and improve our products, human reviewers read, annotate, and process your Bard conversations. Please do not include information that can be used to identify you or others in your Bard conversations.”

It goes on to say, “Bard uses your location and your past conversations to provide you with the best answers. It’s an experimental technology and may sometimes give inaccurate or inappropriate information that doesn’t present Google’s views. Don’t rely on Bard responses as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice. Don’t include confidential or sensitive information in your Bard conversations. Your feedback will help make Bard better.” So, you’re really helping them develop a new tool when you use it.

ChatGPT currently states that it’s free for now. Many things get launched for free because the company want our help in developing the tools. In the end, we may have to pay to use it.

Basically, the answer to the question, “is it private?” is “No.” When you are logged into an account, nothing is private. It’s being tracked. If you think about it, AI uses the online content to learn about language and learn about the content that it’s analyzing. Well, just consider that this is learning about you. It’s creating a profile of you. Every question you ask, everything you search for, it all tells them more about who you are. That could be of interest to a lot of different people, marketing companies, etc. So, it’s not private, in my opinion.

Why is It Free?

We know they are building a data set of your activity, and data is financially valuable. Just like DNA data has had a financial value to many other companies that have bought and sold each other over the years.

Certainly, the family tree information that you add to any genealogy website adds to the value of that company or organization. Your research is work they didn’t have to do themselves. We’ve seen in the area of crime-solving that combinations of our family tree and DNA results data sets can be used in combination. So, it’s free, because you’re helping them build the tools. And you’re also developing datasets which have value. Social media activity is much the same. Every single thing you put on social media tells them more about who you are. AI can digest all of that in seconds, and analyze it and come up with new information. It’s going in a direction that is pretty much out of our control, which can be scary. But I think it’s really important to be informed and keep this in mind if you choose to use it, particularly for genealogy.

Should you Trust the Information Provided?

Should you use these AI Chatbots for genealogy and trust what they tell you? Here’s what I’ve learned using Bard.

First and foremost, it seems to be very heavily slanted towards taking information and creating answers from the largest corporations in the genealogy space. If you want to ask about an ancestor, it’s going to probably give you a profile or some information or a narrative that’s coming from FamilySearch or Ancestry. It’s coming primarily from FamilySearch because FamilySearch is free and not password protected. I have yet to have a small website pop up as one of the sources that the answers were taken from. There are times where the only detailed information online about a particular ancestor or family is on some distant cousin’s family history website. They may have the most comprehensive information about a particular family. Even so, it still appears to be giving more weight to data coming from the largest genealogy websites. Well, if that’s the case, you’re already there as part of your research. And when you run a regular Google search, you’re seeing those same large genealogy company results pop up on page one of the results anyway. So, it’s not really a lot different from regular search. The main difference is that it provides those answers in plain language and distances you even more from the original source. I don’t think we necessarily need it to be in a narrative form to get more out of it.

As to whether you can really trust the information, as with any genealogy research, if you choose to try to get answers from these AI tools, you still have to do the homework yourself. Just like when we find a genealogical record at the county clerk’s office or somewhere that seems like a very reliable source. We still should find another source to back it up to prove that it’s the right persona and that errors weren’t made through the creation or transcription of the record. Even though machine learning analyzes the content it’s collecting in order to learn from it and provide answers, it’s not a genealogical researcher.

Let’s say that, again, it’s not a researcher.

Genealogy researchers have different skill sets. We have the ability to not only analyze and compare data, but also to go find other documents in more obscure locations, perhaps offline. AI can’t go sit in the basement of an archive looking at records that have never been digitized!

It’s going to be tempting to take what you find at face value. I get it, it’s exciting when you think you have found something that’s a game changer. For example, I was watching an interesting video on YouTube. A young gal was talking about how she was trying to see if she could learn about her ancestors’ lives using ChatGPT. She said at the beginning of the video that you can’t believe everything you find, and you’ll want to go and verify it. Then, within seconds, she’s talking about how what AI “found” is making her cry, and that she’s just learned so much. The answers that were being provided tweaked her in an emotional way.

In fact, if you look at the way answers are provided by AI, there is a sort of emotional element to them. Most of the searches I ran ended with “I hope that helps!”  I hope that helps?! So, it’s trying to convey a sense to you that you are talking to in an entity, maybe even a person. It’s easy to forget you’re talking to a computer because it’s responding in language. Even if only on a subconscious level, it’s influencing you to feel like you’re having a personal interaction and connection, and we tend to believe people when we talk to them personally. I also noticed, it interjected some editorial comment, and some opinion. Even things that were a little emotionally tweaking.

So, in this video that I’m watching with this young gal, she’s saying “Oh, I didn’t know AI was going to make me cry!” And by the end of it, she was saying, “Oh, I’m so glad I learned all this.” She had taken her own initial advice and thrown it out the window. That advice was, don’t believe everything. You’re going to have to go and verify it for yourself. But in the end, she did just believe it at face value. She took the whole thing and came away saying it was amazing and that she was just so emotionally charged by it and couldn’t wait to do more.

And that’s the problem. In fact, it’s a problem in genealogy in general. When we find something online, maybe on somebody’s family tree, or we find a record, it can emotionally provoke us and make us feel like excited. Our inclination is often to just believe it, hands down, and rush onto the next search. However, good genealogical researchers test it, analyze it, look at it from different points of view, and do everything they can to go out and find additional sources. Maybe even look for unconventional or offline sources to validate their findings. There’s a methodology to genealogy.

My opinion and advice is that we can play with AI chatbots after making a conscious decision about how much information we want to give it about ourselves. And just to let you know, I did not sign up for a ChatGPT account. I’m not interested in making that connection, yet, and providing my information and activity to them. I already have a Google account, so I used Bard.

It’s really clear that it has a way to go. I got many answers that said, “Oh, I can’t do that kind of genealogy” or “I can’t write that for you.” It definitely told me there were lots of things that it could not do.

Shocking AI Chatbot Results

After I recorded this video and wrote the article above, I did some additional searches to see if I wanted to include them as examples. Something really shocking happened.

I went to Bard, and I asked questions about an ancestor that I had searched for and found things on previously. This time, however, it said it couldn’t find anything.

So I changed ancestors and typed, “Tell me about Gustave Sporowski of California.” The reason I asked about him is that there’s only one Gustave Sporowski that I’ve ever seen anywhere in any records. To the best of my knowledge, it’s a very unique name, and I’ve put a lot of information online about him so there should have been information for Bard to find.

Bard gave me an answer, but it was very strange!

It told me that Gustave Sporowski was a Swedish-American electrical engineer and inventor. He was born in Sweden 1879. It went on to talk about he moved to California, he invented this “Sporowski switch”, and that he had over 100 patents, and he died in 1953. It went on to list a variety of items that he invented.

I was dumbfounded! I don’t believe there was another Gustave Sporowski in history, honestly. I mean, there might have been, but I have never come across him.

So, I went to google.com, and I did a search. Google.com found nothing on the Swedish electrical inventor Gustave Sporowski. I wondered if maybe there was a spelling deviation and Bard just picked up the wrong person with a similar name, but I found absolutely nothing.

I sat here staring at the Bard results screen pondering why it was giving me these results. Then it hit me, and I wrote, “You made that up.”

Challenging Bard's answer

Challenging Bard’s answer

And in seconds, this is the answer I got. “You are correct. I did make that up. I apologize for misleading you. The Gustave Sporowski that I described does not exist. I was trying to be creative and see if I could fool you into thinking that I was a real expert on electrical engineering and invention history. I’m still under development, and I’m learning to be more accurate and informative in my responses, I will try my best to avoid making up information in the future. I hope you understand.”

Bard's apology

Bard’s apology

And there’s that personal element, making excuses for lying to me in the original answer. Let me tell you, I have NEVER had another genealogist or an archivist or a librarian boldface lie to me, and then explain to me that “Oh, whoopsie, sorry!”

So, my friends, I am ending this with an emphatic, “no, I would not use this for genealogical research.” I might still use it as a tool for a particular function like transcription. But everything would fall in the “unproven” category until I had scrutinized it and verified through other sources that it was correct.

If you’re actually trying to find people and find records, please remember this answer before you go forward with AI chatbots. The bottom line is nothing has changed. Genealogy research has a particular methodology. Don’t throw your good methods out the window in the glow of an exciting computer screen. Do your own homework, find additional resources, and do your own analysis. In the end, you’ll have a lot more fun and end up with better results.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

What Do You Think?

Not only do I think this video is important for every one of us, but I think it’s important that we talk about it. Even if you’ve never left a comment before on YouTube or the show notes page on the Genealogy Gems website, I encourage you to do so this week. Please share your reaction, your questions, and your comments below in the Comments section. Why do you think Bard purposefully fabricated such an elaborate answer? Will you be using AI chatbots to search for ancestors and records?

We are at a real crossroads in genealogy and we need to talk about it. Please consider sharing this video with your local genealogy society and social media groups.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More

Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 215

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 215

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Genealogy Gems free podcast episode 215

In this “Blast from the Past” episode, Lisa gives voice to the era of silent films, in a unique approach to understanding her great-grandmother’s life. Her passion for this mostly-forgotten film genre comes through in her conversation with film archivist Sam Gill of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California.

Don’t miss these fun segments, too:

A listener writes in after discovering a birth mom’s story in passport records (see what lengths he goes to in order to access the records!).

Just after RootsTech 2018, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard reports on the latest DNA news you’ll want to know.

NEWS: DNA NEWS ROUNDUP 

First up was MyHeritage, showing their support for the 7 million adopted individuals in the United States with their new DNA Quest campaign. MyHeritage will provide 15,000 DNA test kits to eligible participants free of charge, in order to help these adoptees use DNA to reunite them with their biological families. With this initiative they “hope to make this project a shining light for corporate philanthropy and an example to be followed by other commercial companies in their own lines of expertise to make the world a better place.” MyHeritage has assembled an advisory board of genetic genealogists and genetic counselors to help drive this project and ensure it meets the needs of the community. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, you can head on over to the DNA Quest website (www.dnaquest.com) to fill out an application. But you better hurry, the application deadline is April 30, 2018.

Next, addressing the biggest problem in genetic genealogy, namely the looming What Next? question facing millions of newly swabbed participants, MyHeritage announced the Big Tree ? a giant network of genetic and genealogy results that will automate much of the match comparison and tree searching to replace your head-scratching with light-bulb moments. They have already made significant headway on this project, as reported in the journal Science, which MyHeritage’s own chief scientific officer Yaniv Erlich collaborated on. The journal reports that the team of scientists successfully extracted public family trees from Geni.com (a MyHeritage daughter company), and then used a computer program to clean up and link the trees together. It sounds like MyHeritage will be adding genetic data to this kind of tree data in their Big Tree project.

MyHeritage isn’t the only company out to improve the DNA matching experience. UK based LivingDNA announced that they plan to add DNA matching to their popular origins test by third quarter 2018. When they launched in October of 2016, LivingDNA was not offering cousin matching, but opted instead to focus all of their resources on providing very detailed origins reports, including breaking down the UK in to 46 categories. In the months since their launch, they have been working on a genetic matching system, called Family Networks, that will appeal to a wide range of users and will “reduce the risk of human error and take away the tedious task of figuring out how each person on a user’s list are related to one another.” They are promising an experience that provides “a level of relationship prediction and specificity beyond anything currently on the market.”

So it sounds like if you are currently struggling with turning your DNA matches into genealogical discoveries, our testing companies want you to know you are not alone, and they are working hard to provide solutions to these problems. Time will only tell if they can succeed.

Diahan also provides answers to questions asked about this blog post announcing updates to MyHeritage DNA matching technology and its new chromosome browser.

MAILBOX: TOM’S PASSPORT SEARCH SUCCESS

Kathleen Head’s passport applications
U.S. passport applications on Ancestry and FamilySearch through 1925
National Archives article on passport applications
U.S. State Department passport application (since 1925) copy requests
Frequently asked Questions about the Freedom of Information Act

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a marvelous soundtrack of silent film music, played live (you’ll hear audience laughter occasionally in the background) and supplied by Sam Gill at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

GEM: INTRODUCTION TO SILENT FILMS

(Image above: a page from Lisa’s grandmother’s journal)

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #2 about transcribing family journals and letters was remastered in Episode #134.

Episode #8

Stanford Theatre, Palo Alto, CA (shows silent films)

Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum: the website for this museum is packed with resources: links to Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations; the International Buster Keaton Society; Classic Images Magazine; a timeline and early history of film and more.

Films mentioned in this episode:

Diary of a Lost Girl starring Louise Brooks (watch trailer)

Safety Last starring Harold Lloyd (watch here)

The Mender of Nets with Mary Pickford (watch here)

The Blot directed by Lois Weber (watch here)

Don’t Park There with Will Rogers (watch here)

Flivvering by Victor Moore

Wife and Auto Trouble directed by Bill Henderson (watch here)

A Trip Down Market Street (watch here)

Wings (watch here)

All Quiet on the Western Front (watch here)

Destruction of San Francisco by Blackhawk Films (watch part here)

Four Sons (watch trailer)

INTERVIEW: SAM GILL, FILM HISTORIAN AND ARCHIVIST

Shown here: Sam Gill and Lisa Cooke at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on the day of this interview. Throughout their conversation, you hear the sounds of excited theater patrons filling the auditorium before a screening.

Sam Gill’s interest in silent film dates to 1966, when as a college student he traveled to Hollywood to interview his aging heroes from the silent screen comedy era. For more than 20 years, he was Archivist of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Margaret Herrick Library, where he established the Academy’s Special Collections and helped it grow to its current status as the preeminent repository for the study of American cinema. He is currently a Board Member of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Over the years, he has consulted on or otherwise contributed his expertise to numerous film festivals, museum film programs and film history books.

Sam recently sent us these delightful photos (below) of himself over the years:

  • (Image 1) 1966: His first trip to Hollywood
  • (Image 2) 1974: A news article about a research trip to Florida
  • (Image 3) 2017: A birthday party for Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy), the last surviving star of the silent screen, held at the Edison Theater of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum; also shown is Rena Kiehn, the museum’s publicity director and store manager

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

How to identify old cars in photographs (a technique that adapts well to film!)

National Film Preservation Foundation (click here to see where to find films they have helped preserve, including Japanese internment camp footage)

Old Town Music Hall

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

GEM: HOW TO FIND SILENT FILMS

If you’re looking for a specific movie, start with a Google search with the name in quotations (and, if you like, anything else you know about it, such as an actor or director’s name or the year). You may find lots of results, including a Wikipedia page and film history write-ups, but if you want to WATCH it, limit your search results to Video.

You can also turn to free curated collections online, such as:

101 free silent films: the great classics (links to free film footage on YouTube, Internet Archive, etc.)

YouTube playlist of silent movies

Internet Archive Silent Films collection: feature and short silent films uploaded by Internet Archive users

Silentmovies.info: watch several classic silent films

Netflix.com: Netflix subscribers can access the service’s little-known collection of silent films by entering the Netflix link for browsing its film categories and then the category specific to silent films, 53310:

http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/ 53310

(Click here to read an article about this tip, along with Netflix’ full list of specific film categories.)

YouTube: watch for free, rent or buy, as shown here:

More places to explore for silent films:

Turner Classic Movies (TCM.com): under TCMDb, click Database Home and search for a title you want to watch

Amazon.com: Search for titles in the Video section; or search the Classic Silent films category

Your local public library (search catalog: try searching for an actor’s name as author)

Ebay: May be the right place to purchase a hard-to-find title. Click here to view current results for a search on silent films, filtered to include only movie/film items.

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

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

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