Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that a little thing called “Life” can get in the way!
Getting back into genealogy can actually be a bit daunting. Where did you leave off? Where should you start back up?
If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this video, we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently get back on the trail of your ancestors.
Get your Genealogy Restart checklist in the Resources section.
And by the way, perhaps you haven’t taken a break, but you feel like you’ve gotten a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This process also works very nicely as a quick audit to help you get back on track.
How to Jump Back into Your Genealogy
Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that that little thing called life can get in the way.
In my case, my daughter got married earlier this year. There were plans to make, bridal shows to throw, and the wedding itself which meant planning a trip because it was a destination wedding. Needless to say, I didn’t work on family history for several months.
If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this article and companion video we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently gets back on the trail of your ancestors.
Even if you haven’t taken a break, you might be feeling a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This quick genealogy audit can help you get back on track too!
Genealogy Restart Checklist
I love a good to-do list where I can have the satisfaction of checking things off and knowing that at the end of it I have accomplished something. Some of the things on this list may not apply depending on how long your genealogy hiatus has been. If that’s the case you get to check them off right away!
Step 1: Find Out Where You Left Off in Your Research
Do you remember where you left off the last time you were researching your family tree? If not, your search history is a great place to start. For example, if you used the popular genealogy website Ancestry.com you can pull up your past search history.
How to find your search history at Ancestry.com
At the Ancestry® home page you will see a box at the top that highlights the recently modified items in your family tree. According to one source at Ancestry.com, this “shows a list of last modified nodes in the tree. For a shared tree – any user who has access to the hint can modify the nodes and it will show up in that list. It (also) shows a hint leaf for the nodes that have at least one undecided hint.”
This could be a place to start, but I recommend reviewing Your Recent Searches if you want to pick up where you left off.
You’ll find your search history in the menu under Search. Click All Collections. Toward the top of the All Collections page you’ll see Your Recent Searches. It’s just above the map. You’ll see a few buttons listed for the most recent names you searched. Next, click the View All button to get a more comprehensive view of your activity history, starting with the most recent activity.
On the Recent Activity page, you’ll see the names you searched for and the details you included such as a place and time frame. Ancestry also tells you the date you ran the search.
Recent Search History page at Ancestry®
If you see searches in the list that you don’t need anymore, click the trash can button to delete them.
Notice over on the left that you are viewing Recent Searches, but you do have other options:
All Recent (activity)
Viewed Content (records you’ve viewed)
Viewed Collections (record collections you accessed)
All Recent provides the best overall picture of your past search history. This is a great tool for jogging your memory and helping you decide where to pick back up.
Review your activity history in your genealogy software.
You can also review your most recently activity in your genealogy database software.
In RootsMagic for example, in the menu go to Search > History or click the History tab at the top of the side bar on the left side of the screen.
Step 2: Identify Gaps that Need to be Filled
Many people enjoy focusing their research on their direct ancestors (grandparents, great grandparents, etc.) While you may have traced back many generations, you may have missed a few things along the way. This is a good time to start with yourself and work backwards through the direct ancestors in your family tree. Look for gaps in your timelines and information, and then start back up by researching to fill them in. Of course, you can also do with any relative that you want to learn more about.
Once you’ve identified the person you want to work on, create a research plan. If you’ve never created a research plan before, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You create and track it on paper, a spreadsheet or any number of notetaking programs. The important thing is that you identify:
your specific research question,
the records you think you’ll need to answer it
the locations where you think those records may be housed.
Step 3: Prepare for Genealogy Research Success Going Forward:
Since you’re picking your genealogy back up, this is the perfect time to check to make sure you’re set up for success going forward. These remaining items will help ensure that your new discoveries will be well-documented, organized, and protected from loss.
Genealogy software database
If you already have genealogy database software, open it up and see if there’s a newer version available. Look for Check for Updates in the menu.
If you don’t have a genealogy database software program on your computer, go get one now! We’re talking about a software program that you install on your computer. It’s a database specifically designed to record all the information you find. It keeps it organized and searchable, allows for source citations, photos, links, and more. It also gives you tremendous flexibility in running reports. This is something with which an online tree can’t compete. And most importantly all your data resides on your computer hard drive. This means it’s completely within your control and not subject to a paid subscription, or problems with a website such as the site being closed or sold off. The tree you build can be synced to an online tree if you wish to do so. Back in the old days (early 2000s) a database on your computer was the only option, and it remains your best option today.
Genealogy software is typically very affordable. You can even download Family Tree Builder at MyHeritage for free. If you’re willing to invest a few dollars there are several excellent programs to choose from such as RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, etc. I use RootsMagic but all of these programs have been around a long time and are great. The one you pick really depends which user interface you like, and to what extent you may want to sync your tree online.
If you don’t have a cloud backup program running on your computer, now is the time to get one. What’s the point of restarting your genealogy research if you’re going to risk losing everything if your computer is damaged or stolen? I’ve used Backblaze for years because it’s reliable, affordable, has an app, and automatically backs up all my files including video. There are several out there to choose from. The important thing is to pick one and get it installed on your computer. It will run automatically in the background, giving you peace of mind that your files are backed up offsite on the cloud in a secure location.
Status of Genealogy Website Subscriptions
Now that you have the tools you need to restart your genealogy research, it’s time to check genealogy websites. Did you have subscriptions to some of the popular genealogy websites like MyHeritage or Ancestry? Log in and go to your account to see if they are still active, and if they are, when they are set to renew. This will help you decide where to spend your time first. Start with the subscription that is up for renewal first. Then you can determine if you want to allow it to renew or cancel and try another genealogy website subscription to round out your research.
If you don’t have any current subscriptions, consider focusing first on familysearch, the largest free genealogy website. Then, depending on your research goals, you can select the paid subscription(s) that will support your research plan.
A Paper Filing System
While we don’t generate as much paper these days as we used to, some paper is inevitable. Don’t add to the paper clutter. If you don’t have a paper filing system in place, take a moment and set one up. Pick a filing system and stick to it. Then as you start your genealogy research you’ll always have a place to put things.
Filing Digital Content
The same goes for digital files as goes for paper files. Don’t jump back into your research without a filing system in place. It’s important to download the digital records you find so that you have access to them even when your subscriptions run out. Avoid a messy computer and commit to a digital filing system and filing name convention.
Were you citing your sources consistently when you last worked on your family history research? If not, STOP EVERYTHING and watch my video Source Citations for Genealogy. Citing your sources will save you headache down the road. You may discover that a previous conclusion was incorrect, and you’ll want to review the source where you got that information. A downloaded record usually doesn’t include specific details as to where you go it. Going forward, as you download records and add the details into your database be sure to also add the source citation.
With this in mind, familiarize yourself with the source citation tool in your genealogy program. If it looks daunting, don’t panic. Head to the menu and click Help, and then search for source citation. There you’ll find the instructions you need to once and for all get a handle on how to cite sources in your software.
Now’s the Time to Restart Your Genealogy
Don’t let the passing of time stop you from getting back into your favorite hobby. By following this checklist you will quickly get back into goal-oriented research and exciting discoveries about your family.
David Ouimette of FamilySearch is known to his colleagues as “the Indiana Jones of genealogy” because of his globe-trotting adventures in curating record treasures. He joins us to talk about the millions of records being digitized around the world right now.
Lots of excited emails from you!
Compiled military service records from Military Minutes expert Michael Strauss
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Thanks for a great seminar, Texas Czech Genealogical Society!(shown right: the beautiful items you see in the foreground are Czech crystal and other traditional items)
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Develop your search superpowers to uncover information about your family history on the web with Google at lightning speed! Explore tools like Image search, facial recognition, finding specific types of files, how to find the answers you need, and more. Click here to watch a class preview; click here to become a Genealogy Gems Premium member.
David Ouimette, CG, manages Content Strategy at FamilySearch. He has conducted research and analyzed archival materials in dozens of countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. David lectures regularly and has written for genealogists, including Finding Your Irish Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide.
Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton is the author of “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.” (discontinued) Use this jammed-packed cheat sheet to quickly and easily compare the most important features of the four biggest international genealogy records membership websites: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Consult it every time your research budget, needs or goals change!
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MILITARY MINUTES: COMPILED MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS
If a clue found in your ancestor’s US draft registration records listed military service you will want next to search for his Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR).
The Compiled Military Service Records (often abbreviated at CMSR or CSR) record the name, unit, and period of service of the veteran along with information related to military service from the Revolutionary War to the end of the hostilities of the Philippine Insurrection after the turn of the 20th century.
The information varies greatly from each of the war periods that recorded this information. Besides the identifying features listed above, they typically contain muster in/out information, rank in/out details and further highlight the soldier career by recording promotions, prisoner of war memorandums, casualties, and a number of personnel papers which may include enlistment papers and other related documents. Several of the war periods also provide physical descriptions of the soldiers including; name, age, nativity, occupation, height, hair, eyes, and complexion information. This set of records represents the volunteer Army and doesn’t include regular Army enlistments. Except for limited records of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 for the Navy, the other branches of the military (including Navy, Marines, and Revenue Cutter Service) all have their equivalent set of records.
Your ancestor may have multiple entries in the CMSR. This could occur if a soldier served in more than one unit, or in the case of John LeMaster, who enlisted in two different armies. The Civil War divided our nation, testing the loyalty of all persons who lived during this time. Lemaster chose the Confederacy (as least initially) when in 1861 in Charlestown, VA he enlisted with the 2nd VA Infantry fighting alongside of his Brigade commander Thomas J. Jackson who later would be known as “Stonewall Jackson.” (Photos: John H. Lemaster and his family in Martinsburg, WV. Photos courtesy of Michael Strauss.)
After the Confederate loss at the battle of Gettysburg he deserted and lived in Martinsburg in what was now West Virginia where on his Draft Registration he was listed as a deserter from the Rebel Army. In 1864 he enlisted in the United States Army with the 3rd WV Cavalry, serving out the duration of the war until 1865. After the war he was granted a federal pension, with no mention of his former service in the Confederacy.
Shown on following pages: his military service records for both the Confederate and Union armies.
Access various CMSR indexes and images online at the following:
Revolutionary War.Compiled Military Service Record images are online for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. Genealogists should also search the local state where their ancestors were from as some Militia isn’t included in these records.
During the Revolutionary War additional Compiled Service Records were completed for the Navy, which was broken down to include Naval Personnel, Quartermaster General, and Commissary General Departments.
One additional set of CMSR images covered Revolutionary War service along with Imprisonment Cards. Click here
Old Wars (1784-1811). After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States government sought to maintain a regular Army. However, volunteer soldiers who served from 1784-1811 were recorded. (One of the reasons for volunteers to be called up would have included the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793.) Their Compiled Military Service Record full images are available online here.
War of 1812. Compiled Military Service Records Indexes are online for CT, DE, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA and also the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Shawanoe Indians along with United States Volunteers. Full copies of CMSR are online for the Chickasaw and Creek Indians, along with the men from Lake Erie and Mississippi.
Mexican War. Compiled Military Service Record indexes are online for AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, MD, DC, MA, MI, MS, MO, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, and the Mormon Battalion and the United States Volunteers. Full copies of the CMSR are online for AR, MS, PA, TN, TX, and the Mormon Battalion.
Union: Indexes are online for AZ, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI, United States Veteran Volunteers, and Veteran Reserve Corps. Full copies of CMSR for AL, AR, CA, CO, Dakota Territory, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MA, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, NC, OR, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WV, United States Colored Troops, United States Volunteers, and 1st NY Engineers.
Confederate: indexes are online for AL, and VA. Full copies of CMSR are online for AL, AZ, AK, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, Miscellaneous, Volunteers, Indians, and Officers.
Spanish American War. Compiled Military Service Record Indexes are online for AL, AR, CA, CO, CT, Dakota Territory, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, PR, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, and United States Volunteers.
Revolutionary War. Full copies of the Compiled Military Service Records for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. This database often doesn’t list the local militia as most of the men listed were part of the continental line. Researchers can access this group of records and search by keyword or location. Search here
Old Wars. This database is an index and full images of the Compiled Military Service Records of those men who served after the Revolutionary War and before the War of 1812, covering the years of 1784-1811.
War of 1812. Abstracted lists of names, state, and military units from the Compiled Service Records (no images). Search here
Mexican War. Full copies of the CMSR are online for MS, PA, TN, TX, and the Mormon Battalion. Search here
Union:Compiled Military Service Records are searchable, with a link to the collection on Fold3 here
Confederate: Compiled Military Service Records are searchable, with a link to Fold3 to view original images here. An additional set of Service Records comes from units that were raised by the Confederate Government and not from any of the states that comprised the Confederacy. The CMSR are available online to view the images and searchable by military unit here.
Spanish American War. Compiled Military Service Record Indexes are online that cover the same geographical areas as on Fold3 here. Full copies of CMSR are online on Ancestry for Florida here.
Free at FamilySearch.org:
Family Search has fewer Compiled Military Service Records available online that include images. One of the major collections includes the Revolutionary War CMSR’s that when searched here, the images provide a direct link to Fold3.
Most of the other major war periods are microfilmed and available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. With online access through both Fold3 and Ancestry provided on the computers in the library, accessing the film is less desirable.
Suzanne’s comment: “Did you realize that this site from the Georgia Tech Research Institute is actually a wonderful search engine for Chronicling America.loc.gov. website? I have used the LOC site often, but found it cumbersome sometimes. This is a real time saver. Thanks for the Genealogy Gem.”
Lisa’s tip: In the timeline you can specify a date, like 1860 (date and month too!), then press play and it will play back and reveal the locations on mentions of your search query coming forward in time. It would be really interesting to take a word or phrase and see when it first occurred. This is a very feature-rich website!
Listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast twice a month! Check in on or after October 26, 2017 for Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 210. What’s coming? Paul Woodbury of Legacy Tree Genealogists will share some great tips for beginning Swedish genealogy?and much more!
Disclosure: This article 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 Genealogy Gems!
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
As evidence of its now proven usefulness in genealogy research, the genetic genealogy industry is growing at a fast pace. Ancestry.com has amassed the largest database, now boasting over 6 million people tested, and is growing at breakneck speeds, having doubled the size of its database in 2017. As the databases grow larger and our genealogy finds become more frequent, we can’t ignore that this kind of data, the correlated genetic and genealogical data, amassed by these companies, has great value.
In November, MyHeritageannounced an effort by their scientific team to “study the relationship between genetics and behavior, personal characteristics, and culture.” These studies are not new, as 23andMeis in open hot pursuit of the connections between genetics and our health, and always has been.
All of our genetic genealogy companies are involved in research on one level or another and every person who swabs or spits has the opportunity to participate in other research projects (clickhereto read up on the consent policies at each company). At the time of testing, you have the option to opt in or out of this research, and the ability to alter that decision at any time after you test, by accessing your settings. According to an article in FastCompany, it seems we as a community are very interested in helping with research: 23andMe reports an over 80% opt-in-to-research rate among their customers. And I’ve got some breaking news for you: Family Tree DNA just started a consumer awareness campaign to reinforce the message that they will never sell your genetic data. That’s another important topic worth talking about in a future episode, so stay tuned!
All our genetic genealogy companies realize that you might want to do more with your data than just look for your ancestors. This year FamilyTree DNAhas partnered with Vitagene in an effort to provide insight into your health via your genetic genealogy test results. Of course 23andMeis the leader in health testing when we look at our top genetic genealogy companies. This year 23andMefinally succeeded in passing several of their health tests through the FDA, a huge leap forward in their efforts to provide health testing directly to consumers.
While health testing has certainly seen an explosion of interest this year, it is not the only way that our companies are using the data they have amassed. AncestryDNA took the DNA and pedigree charts of two million customers who consented to research and, using some really fancy science, were able to provide amazing insight into our recent ancestral past with the creation of their genetic communities. These genetic communities enhance our understanding of our heritage by showing us where our ancestors may have been between 1750 and 1850, the genealogical “sweet spot” that most of us are trying to fill in.
LivingDNA, a relative newcomer to the genetic genealogy arena, announced in October of 2017 their intention to use their database to help create a One World Family Tree. To do so, they are collecting DNA samples from all over the world, specifically those who four grandparents lived in close proximity to each other. Along with this announcement, Living DNA is allowing individuals who have results from other companies and want to help with this project, to transfer into their database.
So it seems that with growing databases come growing options, whether to opt-in to research, to pursue health information from your DNA test results, or to help build global databases for health or genealogy purposes. Recognizing the growing appeal to non-genealogists as well, AncestryDNAadded to their list of options the ability to opt-out of the match page, and there are rumors that Living DNA will soon be adding the option to opt-in to matching (they do not currently have a cousin-matching feature as part of their offering). It can be tricky to keep up with all that goes on, but be sure we at Genealogy Gems are doing our best to keep you up-to-date with any news that might help you make better decisions about your genealogy, and ultimately better equipped to find your ancestors.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
Click here to read Margaret’s memories and see her pictures of Grandma Overbay
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.
INTERVIEW: TURN MEMORY FRAGMENTS INTO MEANINGFUL STORIES
Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Genealogy Gems and presenter of the new Premium Video, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” (click here to watch a quick preview). She is also author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy (use coupon code GEMS17 for an extra 10% off by December 31, 2017).
Gather together even the smallest fragments of your memories together by writing them down.
Think about what missing details you could research by finding pictures, books, chronologies, maps and other resources (both online and offline).
Look for common patterns or recurring themes in groups of memory fragments. (For example, Sunny shared memories of swimming in this episode.) What kind of story do these memories tell over time about your personality, circumstances, relationships or other aspects of your life?
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
Disclosure: This page 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!
This week, I’m researching at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has one of the best public library genealogy collections in the United States. They’ve got more than half a million items on microfilm and fiche and 350,000 more in print. Among these items are nearly 50,00o city directories; 55,000 compiled family histories; most National Archives microfilmed military service and pension records….Okay, I’ll stop before you get jealous.
But in fact, MOST public libraries have some good genealogy resources. Have you checked out the library near you lately? OR the local history and genealogy collection in a public library near where your ancestors lived? You may likely find these 5 great resources:
Access to paid subscription genealogy websites like Ancestry.com Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, Fold3 and other genealogy databases.
Local historical newspapers–or at least obituaries from them. ALSO access to historical newspaper websites like GenealogyBank.com which may have papers you’ll never travel to see in person.
City directories, old maps and/or local histories for that town.
Surname files. These aren’t at every public library, but you’ll often find them in libraries that have dedicated genealogy rooms. These likely won’t be neatly organized files with perfect family trees in them, but collections of documents, bibliographic references and correspondence relating to anyone with that surname.
Other surprising local history resources. For example, my hometown library in Euclid, Ohio, has online collections of Euclid newspapers, history, yearbooks and oral histories!
What does your library have? Browse its website or call and ask about its local history and genealogy collections. You might even Google the name of the county with the phrases “public library” and “local history” or “genealogy.” Another branch of the same library system (not in your own or ancestor’s town but nearby) might have just what you need to find your family history!
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Want to learn more about doing genealogy at the public library? Check out two recently republished episodes of Lisa’s Family History Made Easy podcast:
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
Local and state genealogy records can be some of the best resources for tracing your family history in the United States. Check out these new or updated collections from 15 different states: AR, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, MD, MA, NE, NJ, NM, NC, SC, TX and WY. State...