by Lisa Cooke | Jan 21, 2014 | 01 What's New, Family History Podcast, Interviewing
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.
Originally published 2009
Republished January 21, 2014
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 15: Genealogy Cold Calling II: 14 Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives
Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that call.
In today’s episode we talk about the skill of “genealogical cold calling.” Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying. We’ll chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.
But first, we do some follow up with an email from a listener about family trees. Then, I share a little story that puts into practice what we’ve learned so far in this podcast series.
14 Steps to Genealogical Cold Calling Success
#1. Identify the person you want to call.
#2. Locate the person’s phone number. Below are some great websites for locating people you don’t know. The list is updated from the one given in the show. And Whowhere.com now has an app for Android, iPhone and other mobile devices. Check it out
Don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers. If all else fails consider posting on a message board for the surname
#3. Prepare ahead for making the call.
Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first. Follow these tips:
- Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
- Choose a time when you are not too rushed
- Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
- Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
- Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips.
#4. Get up the “nerve” to call.
Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself: “I can do this. This is important!” And be positive and remember, all they can do is say “no thank you.”
#5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first & last name & tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share, and tell them who referred them to you or how you located them before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.
#6. Overcome reluctant relatives.
Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest.
If they are very hesitant you could offer to mail them some information and offer to call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can sort of get their bearings too.
#7. What to do during the call
You’ll want to take notes during the phone call. Try a headset which will help to free up your hands for writing. Handwriting is preferably over typing.
Take the opportunity to not just get new information but also to confirm information that you already have–just to make sure it’s correct.
If you have a way to record the call, you don’t have to take notes and focus all of your attention on the conversation, and then transcribe the recording later. If you want to record, ask permission: in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without permission and it’s common courtesy to say you’re taping them. But it might put off a stranger; perhaps taping could wait until a second call.
#8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back.
Be sure and keep track in your genealogy database each time you call and what messages you leave. Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you keep track.
#9. “Must-ask” questions.
- “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs, or a family Bible?
- (Reassure the person that you would only be interested in obtaining copies of any pictures or mementos they might have.)
- “Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
- “May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
- “Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time?”
#10. Wrap up the call.
- Ask for their mailing address and email address.
- Offer to give them your address and phone number.
- Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.
#11. Document the call.
Sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number and date of conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. At the bottom of the page list the ACTION items that come to mind that you want to follow up on based on the conversation. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.
#12. Enter new information Into your genealogy database.
This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind.
#13. Create an action item list.
Create action items based on what you learned. Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end result, it’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.
#14. Follow up.
Send the person a written note or email thanking them for taking the time to talk with you. If the person mentioned that they would look for pictures or would look up something in a family Bible etc., mention in your note that you would still be interested in anything they can help you with and that you would be glad to pay any copying expenses, postage etc. Offer to provide copies of your information or copies of pictures you have etc. You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!
Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. It’s another way of keeping the connection going and expressing that you really do appreciate all their help. Try this service: Birthday Alarm.
Occasionally make a follow up call to check in and see how they are doing, share any new family items she’s come across recently, and ask if they have they heard or found anything else.
by Lisa Cooke | Sep 20, 2015 | 01 What's New, images, Technology
Millions of us already rely on Siri (that disembodied voice on our iPhones) to find us the nearest gas station, make hands-free calls and answer random questions. Amazon Echo now offers that same kind of voice-activated help throughout your house.
There’s a lot of good gadgetry in the Iron Man movies, but my favorite is Jarvis, the virtual butler in Tony Stark’s house. He anticipates Tony’s every need, controls his home technology, even comments on his personal life.
Jarvis immediately came to mind when I heard about the new Amazon Echo from longtime Premium Member Jennifer from California. She raved about it so enthusiastically I bought one!
For $179, the Amazon Echo gives you “an always-listening Siri for your living room,”as FastCompany.com describes it. “It’s Amazon’s vision of the platform of the future, one that gives you the ability to control your home by voice.”
So why am I, a genealogy podcaster, blogging about the Amazon Echo? Well, it works as a whole-house sound system for listening to music, audio books and–you guessed it–podcasts! Thanks to the smartphone, podcast listening has become much more convenient thanks to native podcast apps like Apple’s “Podcasts”and our own Genealogy Gems Podcast app. But when it comes to listening at home, you may not always want to be tethered to your smartphone or iPod. Now, with the Echo, you don’t have to be.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast is now on the Echo. To the best of my knowledge, podcasts are only available on the Echo via TuneIn. I knew as soon as I fell in love with Amazon Echo that The Genealogy Gems Podcast needed to be there. And now it is! TuneIn has added the Genealogy Gems podcast to its lineup so you can listen with the Amazon Echo. Click here to visit our TuneIn page.
But using the Echo for listening is just the beginning! “The key is what’s inside: Alexa, an always-listening Siri for your living room,” says that same Fastcompany.com article. “It’s Amazon’s vision of the platform of the future, one that gives you the ability to control your home by voice.”
my Amazon Echo fresh out of the box
For example? It syncs with Google Calendar. Sweet! When I need to know the next deadline coming up, I ask Alexa. When I get an inspiration for the next podcast episode in the middle of making dinner (with marinade up to my elbows) I just tell Alexa to add it to my To Do list. And when I use that last clove of garlic, I just say “Alexa, add garlic to the shopping list.”
The Echo can also read you breaking headlines, tell you the weather forecast, set a timer or alarm for you, and interact with other home technologies that are gradually gaining that capacity. And of course it can answer your random questions, too. (Try these fun questions and commands from other Echo owners.)
The most challenging part of installation: “Where does the plug go?” Right here in the bottom of the Echo!
I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of Echo! I just call her name and give her a command and she does it. I’m surprised how much I enjoy having her in the kitchen.
If you decide to purchase Amazon Echo, thanks for using our links! Your purchases support the free Genealogy Gems podcast and all the free content on our website.
My dog Howie listening to Alexa (you can tell Alexa is talking because the top lights up)
by Lisa Cooke | Aug 13, 2015 | 01 What's New, Beginner, Blogs, images, Writing Family History
More and more people are blogging about their family history. Here’s why!
When it comes right down to it, many of us want to write up our family stories, but we don’t really want to write or publish a 300-page book. Blogging your family history in short snippets is a perfect alternative! Why?
1. Its shorter, flexible format is much less intimidating for many people. You don’t have to lay out a book or fill hundreds of pages. You can write a little bit at a time, as your time and mood permit.
2. A blog is like your own family history message board. Every word you write is searchable by Google–which means others researching the same family lines can find and connect with you.
3. A family history blog can help bust your toughest brick wall. I’ve heard and shared countless stories here at Genealogy Gems from readers and listeners of how just “putting it out there” on a blog led to someone contacting them with a treasure trove of new information about their family tree.
4. Writing a narrative about your research will help you identify gaps in your research. Sometimes errors or bad assumptions you made will jump out at you.
5. Your kids and grandkids are (or will be) online. They will more likely want to read quick and easy stories on the go on their smart phones and tablets. Putting your research out there on a blog provides them with an easy way to digest the family heritage and subscribe to it, since blogs can be delivered to their email inbox or to a blog reader.
6. Because there are no excuses. You can start a blog for free. There are no rules, so you can decide how often and how much you write at once.
7. If you leave the blog online, it will still be there even when you’re not actively blogging. You will continue to share–and you may continue to attract relatives to it.
Start a family history blog with this free series from our Family History Made Easy podcast (an online radio show)
Part 1: What to Consider when Starting a Genealogy Blog. The “Footnote Maven,” author of two popular blogs, talks about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, commenting on other people’s blogs and more.
Part 2: Insights from Popular Genealogy Bloggers. We hear from two additional popular genealogy bloggers, Denise Levenick (author of The Family Curator and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful” on the Shades of the Departed blog) and Schelly Tallalay Dardashti (author of the Tracing the Tribe blog).
Part 3: Step by Step on Blogger.com. How to create your own free family history blog on Blogger.com. Learn tricks for designing a simple, useful blog and how NOT to overdo it!
Final tips: Wrap-up and inspiration. In this concluding episode, learn how to add a few more gadgets and details to your blog; pre-plan your blog posts, publish your first article, and how to help your readers subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.
SHARE! Invite someone you know to start a family history blog by sending them this post. They’ll thank you for it later!
by Lisa Cooke | Mar 8, 2014 | 01 What's New, Inspiration
Everyone’s families have a little bit of mystery in their past–or a lot!
TheBlaze.com recently posted this great story about a woman who was able to solve a longtime family history mystery by posting it online at Metafilter.com, a crowd-source blog. She posted this query:
“In my grandmother’s final days battling brain cancer, she became unable to speak and she filled dozens of index cards with random letters of the alphabet. I’m beginning to think that they are the first letters in the words of song lyrics, and would love to know what song this was. This is a crazy long shot, but I’ve seen Mefites [other site users] pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!” Then she posted the “code” from one of the cards.
Within 15 minutes someone solved part of the puzzle: a section of the code was the first letters of the prayer from the New Testament, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”
Have YOU ever been faced with indecipherable notes left behind by a family member? What family history mystery do you wish an online community could help you solve? Share this on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and leave your answers.
by Lisa Cooke | Apr 6, 2020 | 01 What's New, Legacy Tree Genealogists, Research Skills |
The Genealogical Proof Standard tells us that we need to conduct reasonably exhaustive research in order for our work to be credible. If you’ve ever wondered just what constitutes “reasonable” (and if your family tree is up to snuff) my guest author Kate Eakman, professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists, has answers.
Professional Genealogist Kate Eakman explains evidence on the Genealogy Gems blog.
Genealogical Evidence: Have You Got What It Takes?
How do we know when we have compiled enough evidence to constitute proof?
Is a birth certificate or an autosomal DNA test result sufficient to declare this person is the child of that person?
Must we collect every record regarding an individual – the deeds, the tax lists, the newspaper clippings, the census reports – before we can declare a familial connection?
The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)
The Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) directs us to perform reasonably exhaustive research, which requires that we identify and review all available records related to an individual. This is being as thorough and accurate as possible and is a goal toward which we should all aspire in our genealogical research.
But, let’s be honest: most of us do not want to spend weeks or months (or even years) documenting one person before moving on to the next individual. We don’t want to know every detail of grandpa’s life before we turn to grandma.
We want to build a family tree which accurately provides us with the names of our ancestors so that we can identify our immigrant ancestor, or join a lineage society, or enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a balanced tree extending back a hundred years or more.
We want to be thorough and accurate, but we also want to make some progress. How do we balance the need for accuracy with the desire for results? How do we determine the necessary quality and quantity of evidence for our research?
Below are some guidelines to demonstrate how we can go about compiling the necessary information to say with confidence “this person is my ancestor.”
Genealogical Evidence Guidelines
1. One record/source is never enough.
Any one piece of data can say anything. A mother might lie on her child’s birth certificate for a number of reasons. A grieving spouse might not correctly recall the information for a husband or wife’s death certificate. There are typos and omissions and messy handwriting with which to contend. Even a lone DNA test is not sufficient evidence to prove a family connection.
We need multiple sources, and different kinds of sources, which corroborate the details of the others.
A single source is not enough. A marriage license does not guarantee that John and Griselda married. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
A census report and autosomal DNA test results.
A deed and a will.
A birth certificate and an obituary.
Or, better still, a birth certificate, a census report, a deed, a will, an obituary, and autosomal DNA test results.
2. The more contemporary the source is to the person or event in question, the better.
Records of events made immediately after the event tend to be more accurate, and provide better details, than records created months or years later. As time passes, details become fuzzy, two events can be confused with each other, and our memories fade.
The passage of time between an event and the record of the event also allows for some revisionist history to creep in.
Here are some examples:
A birth year is adjusted to make someone appear older or younger in order to avoid the draft, enlist in the military, mask a dramatic age difference between spouses, or conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.
An obituary ignores the deceased’s first marriage because of some embarrassment associated with that marriage.
A census report enumerates everyone in the household as natives of Stepney, London, when they really were born in Stepney, and Hackney, and Whitechapel, which explains why the baptismal records can’t be found in Stepney.
According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.
This is particularly true when it comes to autosomal DNA testing. My autosomal DNA is more useful for identifying my ancestors than is my son’s because I am one generation closer to those ancestors. This is the reason we encourage people to test the oldest members of their family first: their DNA has the potential to be the most useful simply because they are from an earlier generation (or two).
3. It is okay to make appropriate assumptions, but be careful!
In genealogical research we must sometimes make assumptions. When research theories are based on logical reasoning, it is perfectly acceptable to make those appropriate suppositions.
Determining which assumptions are appropriate can be simple: the two-year-old child enumerated in the home of a 90-year-old woman in the 1850 census can safely be eliminated as a biological child of that woman; the man born in 1745 could not have been buried in 1739; the person with whom I share 3150 cM of DNA is my sibling.
The challenge is to avoid making what seems like an appropriate assumption but is really based on faulty reasoning or bias. For instance, we presume that every child listed in a household in the 1860 U.S. Census is son or daughter of the two adults listed first. However, the household could include step-children, cousins, or individuals not even related to the family who were erroneously assigned the same surname.
Other inappropriate assumptions can include:
- the notion that a baby was born within a week of his baptismal date;
- a woman’s reported surname on her marriage certificate is her maiden name;
- there is only one person in any village, town, or city with the name of your ancestor;
- someone who shares 2000 cM of DNA with you must be your grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, half sibling, or grandchild (they could be a ¾ sibling, the child of one of your parents and the sibling of the other parent).
4. All of the data from the various sources must correlate, and there can be no unresolved contradictions.
When the birth certificate says Richard was born in 1914, the 1938 newspaper article about his wedding reports Richard was 24 years old and the 1942 World War II Draft Registration card notes Richard’s date of birth occurred in 1914, we can confidently declare Richard was born in 1914.
If the wedding article declared the groom was 23 years old the contradiction could be explained by the time of year in which the wedding occurred – before or after Richard’s birthday.
But if his birth certificate reported a 1914 birth, and the newspaper article noted Richard was 32 years old, while the World War II Draft Registration listed his year of birth as 1920, we have some important contradictions. It is most likely the records are for three different men with the same name.
By collecting additional evidence, we finally learn that Griselda and John Wise did marry, and after his death Griselda married Willis Tenney. If we had collected only one of these four records we would not have had the most accurate information regarding Griselda Paul. Photos courtesy https://familysearch.org.
It’s important to remember that once we have accomplished that initial goal of building out our tree a few generations (or identifying our immigrant ancestor, or determining if we are related to that historical person) we can – and should – go back and collect other sources related to that person. This will result in uncovering a more complete story of their lives in the process.
As we can see from the four documents regarding Griselda Paul’s marriages, her story is much more than a simple list of birth, marriage, and death dates. As we identify, review, and analyze the other available sources, Griselda’s story will come alive with the facts and details we uncover.
A Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Genealogy Brick Wall
Sometimes the wrong evidence or assumptions can push us into a brick wall. A fresh set of expert eyes can help you identify the problem, and recommend the sources you need to pursue in order to compile trustworthy evidence.
If you are looking for some assistance in your genealogical research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our affordable ($100 USD) Genealogist-on-DemandTM Virtual Consultation service provides you with the opportunity for a 45 minute one-on-one discussion of your research with one of our expert genealogists. We can help guide you in evaluating evidence and determining research strategies to move forward with your research confidently.
About the Author: Kate Eckman
Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.
Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman
 “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.