This blast from the past episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration and updated show notes. Topics include: Google Images; Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history; Display your family history with an easy to create Decoupage plate.
Did you know you can use Google to help identify images, to find more images like them online, and even to track down images that have been moved to a different place online? Find these great Google tech tips in this episode, along with 10 tech-savvy tricks for finding an ancestor’s school records. You will also hear how to create a family history photo decoupage plate: a perfect craft to give as a gift or create with children.
This “blast from the past” episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration; below you’ll find all-new show notes.
Google Image searches: Updated tips
Click here to watch a short new tutorial video on using Google Images to find images for your genealogy research.
Conduct an initial search using the search terms you want. The Image category (along with other categories) will appear on the screen along with your search results. For images of people: enter name as search term in quotes: “Mark Twain.” If you have an unusual name or if you have extra time to scroll through results, enter the name without quotation marks. Other search terms to try: ancestral place names, tombstone, name of a building (school, church, etc.), the make and model of Grandpa’s car, etc.
Click on one of the image thumbnails to get to a highlight page (shown here) where you can visit the full webpage or view the image. If you click View images, you’ll get the web address.
To retrieve images that no longer appear at the expected URL: Click on View image to get the image URL. Copy the image’s URL (Ctrl+C in Windows) and paste it (Ctrl+V) into your web browser to go to that image’s page. When you click through, you’re back in Web view. The first few search results should be from the website with the image you want. Click on a link that says “cache.” A cached version is an older version of the website (hopefully a version dated before the image was moved or removed). Browse that version of the site to find the image.
NEW Tip: Use Google Chrome to identify an image and find additional images showing the same subject, such as a place, person or subject.
From the Google home page, click Images.
In the Google search box, you’ll see a little camera icon. Click on it.
If you have an image from a website, insert the URL for that image. If you have an image on your computer, click Upload an image. Choose the file you want.
Google will identify the image as best it can, whether a location, person, or object, and it will show you image search results that seem comparable.
Click here to watch a free video tutorial on this topic.
GEM: Decoupage a Family Photo Plate
Clear glass plate with a smooth finish (available at
kitchen outlet and craft stores)
Sponge craft brush
Fine paper-cutting scissors (Cuticle scissors work well)
Small bottle of acrylic craft paint in a color you would like for the back
A flat paintbrush
Brush-on clear acrylic varnish for a glossy finish on the back of the plate
A selection of photos (including other images that complement the photos)
Assembling your plate:
Lay out your design to fit the plate
Add words if desired. You can draw directly on the copy or print it out and cut it to fit.
Put an even coat of glue on the front of each photo. Don’t worry about brush strokes, but be careful not to go over it too many times which could cause the ink to run.
Apply the photos to the back of the plate, working in reverse order (the first images placed on the plate will be in the foreground of the design). Glue the edges firmly. Turn the plate over to check the placement of images. Smooth using craft brush.
Brush glue over the back of each photo.
Turn the plate around so you can see the image from the front and work out the air bubbles.
Continue to place the images until the entire plate is covered. Let it dry 24 hours.
Use painters’ tape to tape off the edges before you apply the acrylic paint to the back of the plate. Paint the back and let dry. Apply a second coat. Let dry.
Apply an acrylic varnish for a glossy finish on the back. Let dry.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. And it is in the works for RootsMagic to be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze.com/Lisa, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Our current book is Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Follow the story of Mary North, a wealthy young Londoner who signs up for the war effort when the Great War reaches England. Originally assigned as a schoolteacher, she turns to other tasks after her students evacuate to the countryside, but not before beginning a relationship that leads to a love triangle and long-distance war-time romance. As her love interest dodges air raids on Malta, she dodges danger in London driving ambulances during air raids in the Blitz.
This story is intense, eye-opening and full of insights into the human experience of living and loving in a war zone?and afterward. Everyone Brave is Forgiven is inspired by love letters exchanged between the author’s grandparents during World War II.
Click here for more Genealogy Gems Book Club titles
GEM: Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history
Establish a timeline. Check your genealogy database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college.
Consult family papers and books. Go through old family papers & books looking for senior calling cards, high school autograph books, journals and diaries, senior portraits, fraternity or sorority memorabilia and yearbooks.
Search newspapers. Look for school announcements, honor rolls, sports coverage, end-of-year activities and related articles. Updated tips and online resources:
Ancestry.com has moved the bulk of its historical newspaper collection to its sister subscription website, Newpapers.com.
Search your browser for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the online card catalogue, look for a local history or genealogy webpage, or contact them to see what newspapers they have, and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through interlibrary loan.
Search the Library of Congress’ newspaper website, Chronicling America, for digitized newspaper content relating your ancestor’s school years. Also, search its U.S. Newspaper Directory since 1690 for the names and library holdings of local newspapers.
Contact local historical and genealogical societies for newspaper holdings.
Consult the websites of U.S. state archives and libraries: click here to find a directory of state libraries
State historical and genealogical societies. In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks or school photograph collections. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large (and growing) collection of Ohio school yearbooks. Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia collections.
RootsWeb, now at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Check the message board for the county and state you’re looking for. Post a message asking if anyone has access to yearbooks or other school info.
TIP: Use Google site search operator to find mentions of yearbooks on the county page you’re looking at. Add site: to the front of the Rootsweb page for the locale, then the word yearbook after it. For example:
Yearbookgenealogy.com and the National Yearbook Project, mentioned in the show, no longer exist as such
US GenWeb at www.usgenweb.org. Search on the county website where the school was located. Is there anyone willing to do a lookup? Is there a place to post which yearbooks you’re looking for?
Call the school, if it’s still open. If they don’t have old yearbooks, they may be able to put you in touch with a local librarian or historian who does.
TIP: Go to www.whowhere.com and type the school name in “Business Name.” Call around 4:00 pm local time, when the kids are gone but the school office is still open.
ebay: Do a search on the school or town you’re looking for to see if anyone out there is selling a yearbook that you need. Also search for old photographs or postcards of the school. Here’s my extra trick: From the results page, check the box to include completed listings and email potential sellers to inquire about the books you are looking for.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask ? ebay sellers want to sell! And if all else fails, set up an ebay Favorite Search to keep a look out for you. Go to and check out Episode #3 for instructions on how to do this.
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.
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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!
This episode’s got a bit of holiday sparkle! Lisa Louise Cooke welcomes Genealogy Gems Book Club author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman to the show to talk about Victorian holiday traditions, some of which may still live on in your own life. Following that conversation, Lisa shares a fun description of Victorian-era scrapbooking: how it’s different than today’s scrapbooking hobby but also how it reminds her of modern social media.
More episode highlights:
Three success stories from Genealogy Gems listeners: a Google search with great results, a brick-wall busting marriage record and yet another YouTube find for family history (people keep telling us about those!).
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard chimes in with what she likes so far about MyHeritage’s new DNA testing service.
An internationally-themed German research conference and a makeover for the Scotland’s People website.
More than 150,000 baptism entries from Scottish Presbyterian churches (other than the Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland) have been added and more are coming, as well as marriages and burials;
More types of records held by National Records of Scotland are coming, including records of kirk sessions and other church courts;
Explore the site for free, including handy how-to guides for using Scottish records such as statutory records, church registers and census returns.
MAILBOX: GOOGLE SEARCH SUCCESS STORY
From Joan: “I used one of the handy hints from your presentation at the South Orange County California Genealogical Society’s all day seminar in Mission Viejo, CA. I entered some of my common named ancestors, used the quotes, added a time frame and included some key words, like locations. Most of what I found were my own queries and posts. That shows it works!….
One thing I was amazed at was a multi-page article I found: ‘The Lincoln Kinsman,’ written in 1938. It included a lot of information on the Bush family [which is another of her family lines]. The article even included what I think is my ancestor Hannah Bush Radley.” (Click here or on the image above to see a copy of “The Lincoln Kinsman” at Internet Archive.)
Listen to a free 2-part series on cold-calling distant relatives or others as part of your genealogy research: “Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14 and 15.”
Gay entered “Freeport Texas history” in YouTube and found historical newsreel footage of the opening ceremony of a local water treatment plant. She and the women in her family were seated on the front row. Here’s a screenshot from that footage: maybe this is a stylish young Gay in sunglasses? (Watch the video here.)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. By the end of 2016, RootsMagic expects to be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
INTERVIEW: VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS WITH SARAH CHRISMAN
Sarah Chrisman lives her life every day as if it’s the Victorian era. Her clothing, household, pastimes, chores and more all reflect the time period.
Listen as Lisa and Sarah talk about the Victorian Christmas tree; gift-giving, crafts, decorating and things that might surprise us about holiday celebrations during that time.
Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.
The Victorians coined the phrase “scrapbooking:” they literally pasted paper scraps into books. As an embellishment, those who could afford to bought “relief scraps,” such as the ones shown here. These were like the precursors of modern sticker sheets or die cuts, printed just for the scrapbooking hobby. You could buy colorful images of everything from flowers or children to animals, or angels or Father Christmas. These images were raised or embossed on the paper, which is why they called them reliefs.
Relief scraps could be used as embellishments around other items on scrapbook pages, but sometimes they were the only decoration on a page, arranged in pretty patterns.
I don’t think there is any dispute that the four major online resources for genealogy include Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Find My Past, and My Heritage. Of those four, only Ancestry.com has attempted any real integration of DNA test results into traditional genealogy.
That is, until recently. On May 19, 2016 MyHeritage announced that they will be adding a DNA matching service to their offering, and then on November 7th announced they would be conducting DNA tests themselves. Now, MyHeritage has enjoyed partnerships with 23andMe and Family Tree DNA for quite some time now, but those partnerships have been woefully underutilized and are little more than an affiliate service, where MyHeritage provides a discounted rate to test at those companies.
There is no question that the launch of DNA Heritage fully into the genetic genealogy market is exciting news. In fact, it is something I have been pushing for ? we absolutely need someone to challenge AncestryDNA. Competition is good.
In September they began to provide matching results for individuals who had uploaded their results. As of today, uploading your results is still free, so if you have been thinking about it, you may want to take advantage sooner rather than later. As expected, the matches are only as good as the depth of the database, and it is early in the game, so their database is small, but even now we can get an idea of what to expect from MyHeritage as they take their first steps into genetic genealogy.
One of the most exciting elements of their November 7th announcement is their development of a Founder Population project where they have handpicked individuals to represent their reference population for calculating ethnicities. They plan to launch with 25 population groups, but will likely increase to 100 in a fairly short amount of time. This is a far more advanced ethnicity report than is currently offered anywhere else.
After you have figured out how to download your raw data from your testing company (see my instructions here: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring), and then managed to add it to My Heritage (you have to add a family tree to MyHeritage to do this, see further instructions in their May press release), and waited the requisite time to process, you will receive a notice that you have new DNA matches.
As for my favorite features, I like how they list all the possible relationships that make sense between you and your match taking into account multiple factors like your age, gender, and your genetics instead of a simple, generic range like 2nd-4th cousins. The accompanying chart that visually shows you all possible relationships is also very helpful. You can access it by clicking on the little question mark icon next to the relationship suggestions. I like that these suggestions remind us that our genetic relationships have different genealogical interpretations. Meaning that genetically, a 2nd cousin once removed, a first cousin twice removed, and a second cousin, all fall within a similar genetic range and it is impossible to determine your exact relationship based on the genetics alone.
I also like that they are providing all three genetic descriptors of your relationship: total amount of shared DNA, how many segments are shared, and the size of the longest piece of shared DNA. While this more of an intermediate to advanced piece of your results, it can be important as your relationship analysis becomes more involved.
One unique claim made by MyHeritage in their press release about their matching feature addresses a main concern that genetic genealogists have: the lack of pedigree information provided by their matches. MyHeritage claims that 95% of their DNA samples have pedigrees attached. That is remarkable! However, from my own quick calculation of my matches, the number with pedigrees is more like 60%.
They also indicated that they will soon be doing a bit of pedigree analysis for you by providing a list of shared surnames and locations between you and your match based on the pedigrees you have both submitted. This will certainly be a welcome addition.
According to the November 9th Q and A they haven’t decided yet if the ethnicity features will be available to those who only transfer, and they hint at many more features they have in the works that may only be offered to those who purchase their test.
In short, the MyHeritage site is currently functioning much like the top three genetic genealogy sites (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) and like the free tool Gedmatch, offers a meeting place for those who have been tested at one company to meet those who have tested at another, with the added bonus of a promise of new features on the horizon.
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!
It’s a Scandinavian genealogy dream come true: over 135 million new free records at FamilySearch! Also new (and free): church records for England, France, Germany; Italian and Mexican civil registration; archival indexes for The Netherlands; South African court...
When you’re working on our genealogy, you’ve got data and records coming from all directions: websites, interviews, archives, downloadable documents, and more. Some of it you’re actively working on, some of it you need to save for later, and the rest has already been analyzed and is ready for archiving. This variety of data requires a variety of storage locations.
Watch episode 71
In this week’s special episode of Elevenses with Lisa (episode 71) I’m going to share with you my genealogy data workflow. We’ll talk about how it all fits together to ensure an uncluttered desk and the ability to instantly put my hands on what I need when I need it. If that sounds like something that you need help with, please join me this week.
Three ways to watch: 1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above. 2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat.
Episode 71 Show Notes
Barbara left a comment saying she found our recent videos that we called How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole helpful (episode 68 and episode 69), but she did had a question about Evernote. She asks, “Once you have processed (the genealogy record) and extracted the information you need, do you remove them from Evernote and place them in your digital genealogy filing system? I get a bit confused in thinking about what the other purposes of Evernote might be. Wouldn’t I just save my documents, newspaper clippings, etc. to my digital files on the hard drive and also to my Google Drive folders? Is there any need to also have them in Evernote?”
This is a great question, and I think the best way to answer it is to talk about my entire genealogy workflow in which programs like Evernote play a part.
It really helps to have a consistent way to capture and find what you’re actively working on. My workflow works great for me, but its just one way. Follow along with me and see if this might be a flow that will work for you.
The Genealogy Data Flow
Let’s start off with an overview of my workflow. And there are really 5 major workstations, if you will, that your data flows through. Some of these we’ve discussed previously here and also in several Premium Member videos:
Active Genealogy Work
This is the stuff we are working on currently. I several different tools to capture and work on these items: Evernote, genealogy website subscriptions, “pending” folders on my computer, pending tabs in my 3 ring notebooks and physical pending box on my desk. We discussed this in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 7.
Conclusions added to Master Genealogy Database (Software on your computer)
Archival Digital Storage (your computer.) See episode 8 (Digital Archiving) You can certainly keep archival items in Evernote as well.
Archival Paper Storage (your binders.) See episode 6(Paper Archiving)
Not everything I find while researching is ready to be archived the moment I find it. Some items are actively being found and worked with such as:
Items I’m exploring for the potential application to my current research project
Items pending analysis
Items playing a role in a bigger research question that I want all together for now.
Bright Shiny Objects (BSOs) – stuff I found along the way that doesn’t relate to my current research goals
Not everything is captured on my computer. Many items (photos, audio and video records, typed notes) are captured on my phone and my iPad. So, I need an easy way to funnel everything back to one active workspace. A cloud-based notetaking service allows me to do this because it’s available as software on my computer and an app on my mobile devices. All synchronize through my account on the cloud. I use Evernote (affiliate link – thank you for your support of our free content) so I’ll refer to that, but there are others out there like OneNote, and Google Keep. (Learn more about how to user Evernote in episode 70.)
Evernote allows me to:
Capture and hold items
search and retrieve more effectively than on my computer thanks to OCR (subscription)
work my genealogy research plan
easily collaborate with another researcher by sharing a single link
Store and share media such as audio and video recordings
OK, so does everything go straight into Evernote? The answer is no. So let’s take a look at what happens to a digital item when I get it. I’m going to call it data, but it could be a downloaded genealogy record, a web clipping from a website, a photo of a gravesite I took with my phone, or anything else that includes information I want to use.
Working Your Genealogy Research Plan
When we work our genealogy research plan, we will inevitably locate documents. Typically, these are digital, but sometimes we find a physical document and make a digital copy of it.
Before a digital item is deemed relevant and ready to archive, we have a lot of work to do. We need to evaluate and analyze the document to determine its value and its possible application to our family history. If deemed reliable and applicable, we then need to extract the data and enter it into our family tree software. We may also decide to add some or all of the information to other places such as our online tree if we have one.
Many times, all of this work can’t happen in one sitting. We may need to be able to review and work with the item several times before we’re finished with it. I call this “processing” the document.
Even after its processed, we may still need the item nearby for reference as we work our research plan in the hopes of reaching our goal. At this stage, I consider this item to be “Active.” The opposite of that would be items I consider to be “Archived.” An archived item has been fully utilized and is no longer playing an active role in my research plan. That’s not to say I may not need to reference it again in the future, which is why it must be archived where I can retrieve it. The point is that the item is not relevant to my current active research. For example, perhaps it pertains to my mother’s side of the family and right now I’m working on my father’s side of the family.
My active digital items are typically added to Evernote, which I consider to be my Active workspace. It is not my archival space. However, this is not to say that you can’t store everything in Evernote forever if that’s what you want to do. You certainly could. I’ve given this a lot of thought and there are a few reasons why I don’t store everything in Evernote.
The main reason I don’t store everything in Evernote is that I’m a firm believer in retaining control of my data. If we store everything on a website or in a cloud service (which Evernote is), they (or their hosting provider) could pull the plug tomorrow and it would all be gone. I certainly don’t think that would happen overnight, although there are real cases of that happening. But I don’t want to take the risk, and I don’t want to have to scramble in a panic to move a mountain of data because I’ve been given a 30 day notice that a service is ending or has been sold to another company. (And let’s not even think about the possibility that the email notification of that happening went to my Spam folder!)
In order to retain control of my family history data, my long-term data storage needs to be within my control: my computer, external hard drives (both backed up with Backblaze) and paper print outs. That being said, when it comes to my active research project, I’m willing to trade the risk for the speed and convenience of using an online tool or service such as Evernote. My active research is a small fraction of my total research, most of which has been archived on my computer.
So, when I first find an item, I have a decision to make: where am I going to put it? Will I save it to my computer or to Evernote? It depends on what it is.
Items I save to Evernote:
Items needing OCR to be most useful. Examples: Newspaper articles, web clippings
Items created with my phone or tablet. Examples: Photos of gravesites and documents, interview audio recordings, videos of research trips
Items needing analysis before confirmed as pertaining to my family. Examples: Record downloaded from a genealogy website. I want these in Evernote because everything is together in one place. Tags and the search feature allow me to instantly retrieve any combination of records I need at any given time for cross reference. And if I need to share any or all of the items with another researcher it’s easy to do with just one share link. A cloud notetaking service make working your research plan much easier. (Premium Members watch my video class Collaborative Genealogy with Evernote.
Example:Items pertains to my family but not part of my current research project.
Downloaded genealogy records I don’t have time to process right now.
All items are tagged with relevant information to make them quick and easy to find in addition to keyword searching.
Items I save to my computer hard drive:
Items to I want to keep that have been processed.
Digital scans of visual items. Examples: Family Photos, old postcards
Large files created on my computer (audio, video).
I have a solid system for organizing my folders and file on my computer so it’s quick and easy to find them. If you’re a Premium Member you can watch my step-by-step classes on how to set that up for yourself on my website GenealogyGems.com.
The bottom line is that whenever I need to find something for my active research project I’m going to search my notetaking service first, and then my computer hard drive.
Archiving Processed Items
Once I reach my research goal and I’m done actively using those sources, I’m ready to archive them. I could just leave everything in Evernote, but I want to make sure that all genealogical documents that I referenced as a source in my master database, are archived on my computer for long-term storage that I control, and that is being automatically backed up.
An important thing to understand about Evernote is that you can’t just download everything with one click in its original file format. However, you can save individual digitized items in your note, such as genealogical records, to your hard drive. Since there is no lifetime storage limit, I leave the note intact in Evernote, and I save the image to my computer hard drive. Save the image by right-clicking on it (in Windows, & I think it is Command click on a Mac) select Save As and save it to the appropriate archival folder. I do this at the end of the research project. Now you may feel like your “research project” never ends! But I’m referring to a genealogy research plan.
How to save a document image to your hard drive from Evernote.
You can learn how to create one in Evernote by watching my Premium video class Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan. (Premium membership required.) Of course, after I’ve answered my research question I quickly develop the next one and build a plan around it. So, you’re right, it never actually ends – thank goodness!
How Do I Find It Later?
My software database is the brain of my genealogy operations. I may have family tree information on various genealogy websites, on my computer, in Evernote and maybe even on my own family history website. But my database is the final word on what I have found and believe to be accurate. As I draw conclusions and add data to my family tree in my database, I cite my source. Therefore, everything I need to know about my tree is in one location I control on my own computer. If someone asks me a question about someone in my family tree, I can quickly look up the information and also see where I got it (the source).
“Your genealogy database software is the brain of the organization.” Lisa Louise Cooke
When I want to refer back to one of those sources I would look in one of three places:
My computer archival digital files (especially if it’s not part of my active research plan). This is easy to do because I know my folder system well, and it guides me. I’ve never lost anything yet!
Evernote (particularly if the source is part of my current research plan.)
The surname binder (if my citation tells me or I suspect it would be an archived piece of paper.)
Because I stick to my system, I usually instinctively know where to look. And because of they way each is set up, I can find things FAST!
Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, and there may be an item or situation that doesn’t fall perfectly neatly into a category or activity. Use your own best judgement on how to handle those. OCR search capability and great systems for digital and paper items will make it possible to find what you need when you need it. And most importantly, you’ll retain control over your family history legacy.
Be sure to share your Evernote credentials in a secure place and share them with a trusted relative so that the account can be passed on in the future. Learn more about protecting your legacy by watching my video class Saving Your Research from Destruction. (Premium membership required.)
Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.
Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you.
I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:
“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.
Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”
That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.
How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared
I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!
Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!
The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!
Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:
1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites
1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.
If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.
You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.
One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.
This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages.
To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.
The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.
2. Google Your Question
You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it!And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google.
If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided.
Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.
Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:
When did world vital records close?
Sunset notice for World Vital Records
Who acquired World Vital Records?
As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details.
When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.
Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.
3. Google the Content
As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.
Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.
Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.
Here’s an example of how this works:
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)
Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.
Obvious, But Not Always
While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.
Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.
This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?