Top 10 Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy

Have you found all the school records there are to be had for your ancestors? Most of us haven’t, and the chances are very good that there are still some gems out there waiting to be found. Here are ten solid strategies that will help you track them down for your genealogy research. 

10 strategies for finding school records

Watch episode 82 below.

Because the movement for compulsory public education didn’t begin until the 1920s, many people assume that there few records to be had for genealogical purposes prior to that time. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children attended school much earlier.

In fact, it may be surprising to learn that the first public school in what is now the United States opened in the 17th century. On April 23, 1635, the first public school was established in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Boston Latin School, established 1635 first school

Illustration of the Boston Latin School  by Ebenezer Thayer, courtesy of Wikimedia

It was a boys-only public secondary school called the Boston Latin School, and it was led by schoolmaster Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler. The school was strictly for college preparation, and produced well-known graduates including John Hancock and Samuel Adams. It’s most famous dropout? Benjamin Franklin! The school is still in operation today, though in a different location.

Thousands of schools serving millions of students have been established in the U.S. since the inception of the Boston Latin School. (According to 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there are 132,853 K-12 schools in the U.S.) This means that the chances of there being school records for your ancestors is great indeed!

10 Solid Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy 

Here are 10 proven ways to find your ancestors’ awkward yearbook photos, sports triumphs, and much, much more.

1. Establish a Timeline of your Ancestor’s Education

Check your genealogy software database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college. Keep in mind, as recently as the 1960s, children did not go to Kindergarten but may have started school at about 6 years old and beginning in First Grade.

To keep my search organized, I decided to create a simple worksheet form in a Word document. It allows me to identify the right time frames, locations, and other pertinent information for my search, and record my progress along the way. 

Premium Bonus Download: Click to download the blank school records worksheet for your own school research use. (Premium Membership required.)

2. Consult Family Papers and Books for School Records 

Go through old family papers and books looking for things like:

  • school photos
  • senior calling cards,
  • high school autograph books,
  • journals and diaries,
  • fraternity or sorority memorabilia,
  • yearbooks and more.

When I dug through boxes and my grandmother’s cedar chest I found several records like…

a Report Card:

Example of a report card school genealogy records

My grandmother’s brother’s 6th grade report card found among family papers.

Grandma’s class picture from the 7th grade in 1925, Chowchilla, California. She is in the back row on the far right, and her brother is the boy in the center of the back row:

School Records: 7th grade class

Grandma (back row, far right) with her 7th grade class.

And Grandma’s senior portrait, 1930:

School records: senior portrait

Grandma’s senior portrait from 1930

3. Google for Academic Family History

From the professional website of the state archives to the family history site cobbled together by a cousin you’ve never met, the potential for finding school records on the vast expanse of the internet is limitless! Google is the tool to help you locate websites that include school-related records with lightning speed. 

Since I’m not sure which school my grandmother attended, I started off my search for my grandmother’s school with a simple query for the history of schools in the county where she lived as a child:

google search for schools

Google search for the history of school’s in the county

I was pleasantly surprised at the first search result. It’s a newspaper article from the Madera Tribune literally outlining the history of how the schools evolved in the county! It details such things as the driving forces behind where schools were located, when they were founded, and which ones at the time of the article were no longer in existence. 

history of schools article - genealogy records

History of Madera Schools Outlined in the Madera Tribune, September 1955.

Next, I focused my attention on the grade school listed on Grandma’s brother’s 6th grade report card that I discovered during my search of family papers. I Googled the name of the school, county and state.

A search like this can literally deliver millions of results. In fact, this specific search brings up over 1 million search results.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa Louise Cooke’s book is available in the Genealogy Gems Store

You can typically reduce the unwanted search results by 90% by using search operators. These symbols and words give Google further instructions on what you want done with the words you are searching.

While I cover a large number of operators in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m going to use just one of the most popular to dramatically improve my search for the Sharon school. 

In the example below I put quotation marks around the name of the school. Doing this explains to Google that I want this phrase to appear exactly as I typed it in every single search result. You’ve probably noticed that when you search a phrase by itself, you’ll receive results that include only one of the words, or the words spelled differently, or in a different order. The quotation marks search operator prevents this from happening. It mandates that the phrase appear on every result exactly as you typed it.

google search for the school

Using Search Operators to Google the Grade School

Notice that I didn’t put quotation marks around the county name or the state. I recommend using search operators sparingly, at least in your initial search, to ensure that you don’t miss out on good results. If I were to put quotations marks around “Madera county” I would not receive any web pages that do mention Sharon School but just don’t happen to mention Madera County as a phrase. 

Notice also that this search resulted in just over 11,000 results, a small fraction of what I would have received had I not used the quotation marks! Even more important is that the results on the first few pages of are all very good matches. 

I could try a few more variations such as adding words like history, genealogy or records

My googling led me to the Internet Archive where I found old silent color movies shot in the 1940s. There were several films and one featured the local school in the area where my relatives lived. Many, many people were filmed! Could one of those faces be one of my relatives?! Learn more about finding genealogical information includes school records by watching and reading 10 Awesome Genealogy Finds at the Internet Archive.

using internet archive for genealogy

Click image to watch episode 43.

4. Search Newspapers

Historic newspaper are also a wonderful source of honor rolls, school sporting events and anything else having to do with school life.

While there are certainly more historic newspapers online than ever before, it’s still a fraction of what is available.

A visit to the Chronicling America website can help. At the home page click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button: 

Newspaper directory at Chronicling America

Click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button at Chronicling America

On the Directory search page, enter the state, county and town:

U.S. Newspaper Directory searching for the school town

Search the U.S. Newspaper Director for the school location.

On the results page, click the “View complete holding information” link: 

newspaper directory location Chronicling america

Click “View the holdings”

Now you can view all of the known available locations for this item:

U.S. Newspaper Director known holding locations

The item I searched for has three known locations.

In my case, the Chowchilla newspaper of the early 20th century has not been digitized and is not available online. However, the California State Archives in Sacramento has an extensive collection of microfilm. I was able to make the trip in person, and was certainly glad I did! They not only had the newspaper I needed but also countless other resources that were helpful for my genealogical research. 

School record: newspaper clipping

My Grandma listed by name in the newspaper for making the Freshman high school honor roll.

Here are additional resources to help you find newspapers for your school records research:

  • Local newspapers can also be found by searching for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the library’s online card catalog or contact them directly to see what newspapers they have and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through inter-library loan.
  • Click here to visit Newspapers.com by Ancestry website.  This is a subscription website with over 14,900+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s and millions of additional pages being added monthly.
  • Click here to search Genealogy Bank – (This page includes a 7 day free trial option.) This popular subscription website has over 11,000 newspaper, 95% of which Genealogy Bank says are exclusive to their website. 

5. Consult U.S. State Archives and Libraries

The public libraries and state archives across the country are a treasure trove of genealogical resources, and that includes school-related records.

While it’s easy to stop by your local library for a search, it may not be as easy to make your way to the public library in the town where your ancestors lived. Turn to the internet to do your homework regarding the repositories, their holdings, and the most convenient and economical way for you to access them. 

A great place to start is the WorldCat website.

Start by conducting a search. Once you find an item of interest, enter your zip code under the “Find a Copy in the Library” section to identify where it’s available. 

worldcat search for school records for genealogy

Enter your zip code to determine your proximity to the libraries and archives.

As you can see, the name of the libraries are hyperlinked so that you can click through to the item on their website. This makes requesting a look-up or photo copy very easy. 

I can’t stress the value of State Libraries enough. Gere are three more excellent resources:

  1. Click here for the List of U.S. state libraries and archives at Wikipedia.
  2. List of U.S. State Libraries and Archives at the National Archives. 
  3. Click here to read Archivist Melissa Barker’s article called Using Vertical Files in Archives.

6. Contact State Historical and Genealogical Societies

In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks, school photograph collections or other records. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large collection of Ohio school yearbooks.

Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia in their small or archived collections.

To find contact information for a local historical or genealogical society, Google the name of the county and state and add the words genealogy, history and / or society at the end. For example: Darke County Ohio genealogy society

7. Search for Online Yearbooks

One of the most exciting genealogical record collections to have come out in recent times is Ancestry.com’s U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999 collection. It is an indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks from across the United States.

Old school yearbooks for genealogy

In June of 2019 Ancestry replaced old records with new updated records for most of the yearbooks found on the site. They also added new records from 150,000 yearbooks that previously only had images available. Later in August of 2019 they improved the collection even further by adding a staggering 3.8 million new records. This update also included 30,000 new image-only books.

Ancestry also has an extensive indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks for Canada. Click here to search the Canadian collection. 

MyHeritage has an international collection of yearbooks. In the menu under Research go to the Collection Catalog and search for Schools & Universities.

Additional websites featuring yearbooks include:

Old-Yearbooks.com – According to the website, “Old-Yearbooks.com is a free genealogy site, displaying old yearbooks, class rosters, alumni lists, school photos and related school items. All materials on this site are the property of the submitter. You may not use the images, text or materials elsewhere, whether in print or electronically, without written permission from the submitter or this site.”

Classmates.com – “Register for free to browse hundreds of thousands of yearbooks! You’ll find classic photos of friends, family, and even your favorite celebrities. Viewing the books is always free, and you can purchase a high-quality reprint.”

E-Yearbook.com – Their goal is to digitize all old high school, college & military yearbooks. The site has millions of yearbook pictures digitized, they say they are adding thousands of new pictures every week. “From our estimates, we offer the largest collection of old high school, college and military yearbooks on the Internet today.”

8. Check Township Archives

You might be thinking you didn’t read that right, but you did. Townships are small areas within the county. These small townships may have their own archives or one room museums. They are often the holders of some pretty one-of-a-kind finds.

School Records found in the township records

The best way to determine what the township may have is to contact the township trustees. Google your township name, the county name, state name, and add the word trustee. You will likely need to give one of the trustees’ a phone call to ask what resources might be available.

Search for township trustees to find old school records

Google search example

9. Search ebay Auctions 

The auction website ebay is the perfect place to look for school record and memorabilia, particularly hard-to-find yearbooks. 

Conduct a search on the school or town you are looking for to see if anyone is selling a yearbook that you want. (You’ll need a free ebay account to do this.) Also, search for old photographs or postcards of the school building that you can add to your family history.

ebay search for school records

Initial search for school items at ebay

When I searched for Chowchilla California School, several auctions for school-related items from Grandma’s high school came up. Unfortunately, these are auctions for yearbooks after she had already graduated. But no worries! This search is only for today. Tomorrow someone could put up an auction for exactly what I want. There’s only one problem: no one has enough time to search every single day!

A way to save time and ensure that you don’t miss new auction items is to save your search.

Click the Save this search button toward the top of the page:

ebay saved search for school item auctions

Click the Save button to save the search you just ran.

By doing this, you will be sent an email any time a new auction comes up that meets your search criteria. You can learn more about setting up ebay saved searches for family history by listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #140

Here’s another one of my favorite strategies: After you run your initial search, check the box on the results page to include completed listings. 

ebay completed search for school records

Click the Completed search box in the left hand column

In the revised “Completed” search results you may see some items that are of interest. If the item has a green price, it means the item was sold. If the price is black, it did not sell.

Each item will also have a link that says View Similar Active Items. Click that to see a list of items currently for sale that are very similar to one that you wanted.

You can also contact the seller of any item to inquire about the unsold item or to ask whether they have related items.  

school records for genealogy

Bought on ebay: A yearbook from the school where my husband’s grandfather was a music teacher 

I bought the yearbook above on ebay several years ago. It includes several photographs of my husband’s grandfather who was a music teacher at the high school back in the 1940s.

10. Call the School

If the school is still in operation, try calling the main office of the administration office. They may have old yearbooks and scrapbooks in their library or on display. If they don’t, they may very well be able to tell you where they can be found. 

You can obtain contact information by Googling the name of the school and the location.

Good times to try calling a school are mid-morning after kids are settled into class, or between 3 and 4:00 pm local time, when many of the kids have gone home but the school office is still open.

Best school records for genealogy

Tell Us About the School Records You Find

Using these strategies you are bound to find more school records for your genealogical search. Please leave a comment below and share what you found, where you found it, and which strategy you used. It will inspire us all to keep looking! And if you have a favorite strategy that we didn’t mention here, please do share that too. 

Resources

How to Use Snagit for Genealogy

Episode 61 Show Notes 

Use Our Exclusive Code to Save 15%!

Here’s our link for purchasing your copy of Snagit (screen clipping tool) Thank you for using our link.  Use coupon code GENE15 to get 15% off.  (We will be compensated at no additional cost to you, which makes the free Elevenses with Lisa show and notes possible.)

You’re going to learn:

  • What Snagit does and the problems it can solve for you as a genealogist!
  • How to screen capture using Snagit
  • Amazing advanced new features you didn’t know Snagit had and how to use them.
  • How to do scrolling and panoramic screen clipping (perfect for family trees, historic maps, long web pages and so much more.)
  • How I specifically use it for my genealogy research.

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members can download the exclusive ad-free cheat sheet PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of the page. Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

Please share this episode with your friends:

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How to Use Snagit 

One of the things that we all work really hard to do is solve family history mysteries. And as we do that, we are finding all kinds of goodies. But the trick is that we have to capture them. Right? If we don’t, then we may end up losing the trail.

Last week, we talked about citing the sources that we find. This week, we’re going to be capturing our findings in a very visual way, and actually incorporating those source citations. And we’re going to be doing it with the tool that I really absolutely use every single day. And that’s Snagit.

And lots of people ask me about how I do my videos, my screen capturing and imagery and all that kind of stuff. It’s with Snagit©. It’s a fabulous product by a company called TechSmith. I also use their video product, Camtasia. Today we’re going to talk about Snagit because I really see this as being such an incredible tool for genealogy. I use it literally every day with my genealogy as well as in everything I do to put together this show for you each and every week.

The Image-Capturing Challenges that Genealogists Face

To understand the value of a tool we need to make identify the problems we face and see how it solves them. Here are some of the challenges genealogists face when it comes to capturing images:

  • We don’t need or want to save the whole page. (Why waste all that ink printing it or storage space saving it?) We may not want to download or copy an image from an unknown website. (No one wants to accidentally put a virus on their computer!)
  • The page in its entirety is blurred when printed. (This often happens with newspaper pages.)
  • We need to capture a very long or wide page that can’t be displayed in its entirety on the screen.
  • We want to annotate or add a citation to the source image.
  • It takes extra time to save to items to your computer and then add them to other documents in other programs.

Do you identify with some of these challenges? I sure do.

Let’s say that you find an article, a document, or something else, and you want to add an annotation. Maybe you want to add the source citation, a watermark, or just notes to yourself directly onto the image.

It would be time-consuming to clip the image with perhaps the free snipping tool that comes on your computer and save it to your hard drive, and then pull it into another program to annotate it. I don’t know about you, but there’s never enough time for family history so anything that we can do to save time, means we’re going to be able to spend more time with ancestors.

The solution is using Snagit.

Snagit Functionality

Here are just some of the things that Snagit can do:

  • “Capture” items that appear on your screen
  • Create videos with audio (Create > Video from Images)
  • Edit images (You can edit clipped and imported images and photos. You can also send screen shots automatically when using your computer’s snipping tool.)
  • Convert text on an image to typed text (Grab Text)
  • Create documents using templates (Create > Image from Template)
  • “Share” items to other programs with one click.

I have found that snag is so robust, and it has so many different options, I still can’t exhaust all the things that it offers me. But it’s also simple. It’s simple in the way that you use it. It certainly solves simple, everyday problems. And most importantly, it is a program that I can use not just for genealogy, but also for my business and personal use. I like to have tech tools that serve me across the board, if possible, because it takes time to get up to speed on any program. If you’re just getting programs that are only for genealogy, then you end up needing a second program to be able to do similar things in other parts of your life. Why not find tech tools that can serve you across the board. That’s what certainly Snagit does. So, while I’m focusing on showing you genealogical applications for using Snagit, just know that if you’re new to family history, or you stumbled across us this article, and you don’t do genealogy, you’re going to be able to use Snagit for just about everything.

How to Get Started with Snagit

  1. Purchase the software
  2. Download and install
  3. Open it and let it run in the background so you have easy access from your task bar

Yes, there may be a snipping tool built into your computer, and you can use Print Screen. Snagit can blow them away.

How to Capture a Screen Image with Snagit

  1. Display the desired page on your screen
  2. Click the orange Snagit icon in your task bar (Snagit should be running in the background on your computer.) This is the Capture If you don’t see it, click the blue Snagit icon to open the editor and then click the red circle Capture button at the top of the program. After your first capture, the orange Capture icon will then be open and available in your task bar.
  3. Select the Image tab
  4. Set the Selection to Region
  5. Click the large red Capture button
  6. Use your mouse to draw a box around the desired area. You may see flashing arrows. If you click one you will be ablet to scroll that direction to capture more of the page.
  7. When you release your mouse the image will appear in the Snagit editor.

Sometimes we find an item that is larger than is visible on the screen. The page may scroll side to side or up and down. Use Scrolling capture to capture everything in one piece.

How to Scrolling Capture with Snagit

  1. Display the desired page on your screen
  2. Click the orange Snagit icon in your task bar
  3. Select the Image tab
  4. Set Selection to Scrolling Window
  5. Click the large red Capture button
  6. You will see flashing arrows. Click the arrow pointing in the direction that you want to scroll in Snagit will automatically scroll down and capture. Click Stop at any time if you don’t want to capture the entire page.
  7. When you release your mouse the image will appear in the Snagit editor. You can then trim all sides by simply grabbing the handles and dragging.

In some situations you will need more flexibility in your scrolling. Panoramic capture allows you to select the region and then scroll manually, capturing exactly what you want to capture. Think of it as image capture and scrolling capture merged together. Panoramic capture allows you move both up and down and side to side.

How to Panoramic Capture with Snagit

  1. Display the desired page on your screen
  2. Click the orange Snagit icon in your task bar
  3. Select the Image tab
  4. Set Selection to Panoramic
  5. Use your mouse to draw a box around the desired area
  6. When you release your mouse a panoramic capture bar will appear. Click the Start button to being your panoramic capture.
  7. Click in the captured image area and drag the image as needed. The more precise you are in your movement the better the final image will be. You can move in any direction.
  8. When you release your mouse the image will appear in the Snagit editor. You can then trim all sides by simply grabbing the handles and dragging.

Panoramic captures work great for large items like maps, online family trees and newspaper articles just to name a few things. If you zoom out in order to capture these types of items in their entirety you will end up with a blurry item when you zoom in for a closer look. Panoramic solves this problem.

Let’s discuss a few more options for capturing hard to clip items like newspapers. Sometimes, the article you need is continued on a different page or column. With Snagit you can capture the individual pieces and then combine them.

How to Combine Captured Images with Snagit

  1. Capture each section of the article individual using Image Capture (Region)
  2. In the Snagit editor press Control / Command on your keyboard and click each item you want to be included in the combined image.
  3. Press Control + Alt + C on your keyboard or at the top of the screen click Create > Image from Template.
  4. Select the desired page layout. Custom Steps or Steps Portrait works well for articles.
  5. Click on any items (such as numbered steps) and press delete on your keyboard to remove them.
  6. The combined image can then be saved to your computer or shared to another program.

Editing and Highlighting Images

There are many ways to annotate and edit images (both captured and imported) in Snagit including adding:

  • arrows
  • text (perfect for adding source citations directly onto the image
  • call outs
  • shapes
  • stamps (Images on images)
  • lines
  • squiggles and drawing
  • step by step numbering
  • You can also modify images by cutting out portions, blurring and erasing areas, and even magnifying an area on the image!

Snagit Advanced Features and Strategies

Once you’ve mastered the basics there are many more ways to use this tool to power-up your genealogy research. Here are a few more ideas we covered in the video.

How to Grab Text from an Image with Snagit

Option 1 – Grab text from existing image:

  1. Select the image in the editor so that it is displayed in the editing area
  2. In the menu Edit > Grab Text. This will grab all of the text that appears in the image. If you only want a portion of it, click the Selection tool at the top of the screen and draw a box around the area you want to grab the text from.
  3. The converted text will appear in a pop-up window
  4. Copy the text to your computer’s clipboard by clicking Copy All.
  5. Paste wherever you want the text to appear (another document, etc.)

Option 2 – Grab Text While Clipping:

  1. Display the desired page / item on your screen
  2. Click the orange Snagit icon in your task bar
  3. Select the Image tab
  4. Set the Selection to Grab Text
  5. Click the large red Capture button
  6. Use your mouse to draw a box around the desired area. You may see flashing arrows. If you click one you will be ablet to scroll that direction to capture more of the page.
  7. When you release your mouse the image will appear in the Snagit editor. The converted text will appear in a pop-up window
  8. Copy the text to your computer’s clipboard by clicking Copy All.
  9. Paste wherever you want the text to appear (another document, etc.)

Grab Text from Windows Not Easily Copied

We’ll use the example of copying the titles of computer folders into an Excel spreadsheet. Open your file explorer and navigate to the desired folders. Since a mouse can’t be used to copy all the names in one swoop, we will use Option 2 – Grab Text While Clipping instructions above.

Create Videos with Snagit

You can compile separate images into a video and add voice narration.

  1. In the editor select Create > Video from Images
  2. Click to select the first image in the tray
  3. Click the microphone button in the video recording bar if you want to record narration.
  4. Click the Webcam button if you want to appear on screen
  5. Click the red Record button to begin recording.
  6. Click each image in the order desired for the amount of time you want it to appear on the screen.
  7. Press the Stop button when done.

How to Create a Timeline with Snagit Templates

  1. In the editor add images either by importing (File > Import) or capturing
  2. Select the images to be include by holding down the Control / Command key and clicking on them
  3. Create > Image from Template
  4. Select the timeline template
  5. Add a title and captions as desired
  6. Click the Combine button

Productivity with Snagit

One of my favorite features of Snagit is how easy it is to share items to other programs directly instead of having to save them first to my computer. It’s easy to do. Simply select and display the image to be shared and in the menu go to Share > and select the program.

Resources

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF.

Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

Leave a Comment

Do you have a favorite way to use Snagit for genealogy? Leave a comment below!

 

 

AncestryDNA Works Toward Genetics + Genealogy Integration

 

AncestryDNA Review GEDCOM DNA integrationThe ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.

The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.

I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.

For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.

With one exception.

AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product.  They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.

So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?

This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies.  I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party.  As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.

After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.

Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.

In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”

Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.

But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?

“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.

“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.

And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.

What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.

Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.

Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.

With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who might be on your pedigree chart.

Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?

As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.

Genetic Genealogy and DNAIn coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”

And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.

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