How to Research Your Ancestors’ Occupations

Tracing your ancestors’ occupations can be one of the best ways to learn more about their everyday lives, skills, financial status and even their social status. Follow these tips and record types into the working lives of your relatives to enrich your family history.

One of my favorite things to learn about my ancestors is the kind of work they did. Whether they were laborers, owned a business, worked on a farm or clerked in a store, there are often records that can tell you more about what their working conditions would have been like; what skills they likely had; and what kind of perks (or lack of) came with the job, like wealth or social status.

Not long ago I heard from Deidre, who was thinking along the same lines. She’s already explored many records that can tell you about an ancestor’s occupation, and now she wants to take things a little further:

“Hi, Lisa! I have listened to most of your podcasts…and have come across something I need some help with. I don’t remember any episodes on business owners and how to research them. I have been recently been researching a new part of the family and they were business owners. One of these family members had a taxi business in Parkersburg, WV then moved to Indianapolis (where I live) to open a restaurant in our downtown, then owned an apartment/business building and leased it out. One of his sons owned drug stores and another was a lawyer.

By using city directories I have found some information about the business, but still wondering if I might be missing more record types. I have used censuses, city directories and local newspapers so far, but are there official legal documents filed for businesses and where would I look? And were there censuses conducted for businesses that would have some detail about the business? The time period I am referring to is 1900 to 1960’s.

It seems this family were entrepreneurial types and tried a lot of business ventures. I had also thought of going down the deed record way for looking at buildings they may have bought, but wondered if these are typically stored in the same place as land deed records at the courthouse. LOTS OF QUESTIONS TO KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT! Any insight is much appreciated! Thank you so much for your show!”

Deidre’s family sounds fascinating—no wonder she wants to learn more about their work! She’s already off to a great start, having learned what kind of work they did. If you need to start from square one, turn to the same kinds of records she already has.

How to research your ancestors’ occupations

1. Identify their line of work

A host of records created about your ancestors may reveal what kind of work they did and who employed them. Census records, obituaries, marriage or death records, city directory entries, draft registration records, pension records, local or county histories: all might mention an occupation.

A photo may reveal an occupation, too. Here’s one that does: see the H.R. Cooke’s Carriage and Motor Works sign in the upper left corner of this photo? It’s from my husband’s Cooke family.

So may a notation on a local map, which might identify an ancestor’s mill, store, school, a factory or hospital that employed him, etc. Remember, our ancestors’ jobs changed over time. A young man may have progressed from a laborer in a mine to the brake man on the coal train to a shift supervisor. Relatives may have changed career paths altogether, too.

When looking through these old records, watch for the name of an employer. The name of a business is just as researchable as an industry or type of work! (More tips on researching the business below.)

2. Learn more about the trade

Depending on the time period and the trade itself, you may be able to learn various details about what the work typically involved (even if you don’t learn specifics about your ancestor’s experience).

Many terms we see in old records today apply to jobs that no longer exist. Googling an obsolete occupation may help you identify it. For example, if you Google the question, “What is a fuller?” you’ll see a definition at the top and, below that, a clickable explanation at Wikipedia. (For the sake of accuracy, you’ll want to verify that in more scholarly sources.)

I saw once on Facebook that someone was trying to figure out what an occupation was that was on a 1910 census. It turned out to be “Topper” at a Stocking Mill. I guess they added the top band to socks or stockings! (Here’s a fun article done by the folks at MyHeritage.com: 10 jobs that no longer exist. And here’s a list of now-obsolete occupations taken from a U.S. census. If your ancestor’s UK census entry is abbreviated, click here to see what that notation might mean.)

These dictionaries of obsolete occupations may help, too:

You can learn more details about historical occupations in history books and documentaries, some of which you can find online. Use smart Google search methodologies to discover what resources are right at your fingertips.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you discover from a census entry that your great-grandmother was running a boarding-house (or perhaps her husband was listed as the proprietor, but you are guessing she probably did a lot of the daily work for it). Googling the phrase running a boarding house gets you top search results about the modern practice of running a boarding house. Instead, add two more words to your search: historical and census (the latter will capture results about this occupation as it appears in the census). As you can see from this revised search, the top results are exactly the kind of thing you want to read.

Note that the second and third search results are from Google Books (the URL in the search result starts with “books.google”). The first appears to be a history book and the second an academic study. Books written by experts in their field and packed with citations are just the kinds of high-quality research sources you want to find. (Click here to learn more about using Google Books.)

Historical documentaries and old film footage can show you an occupation at work, such as mining, working on the railroad, logging, working at a textile mill, sharecrop-farming. Look for these on YouTube. For example, Contributing Editor Sunny Morton was curious after learning from a city directory that her grandmother was a telephone operator in the 1940s. What did that involve?

She went to YouTube and found some fantastic 1940s-era training videos showing operators at work. While some of these may be staged performances, with every operator smiling for the camera and doing her job in tip-top shape, they do show long rows of operators at their stations and give an idea of what their responsibilities were. Sunny could see how they were expected to dress and behave and what their daily tasks looked like. Here’s a quick example of the kinds of short training videos she found:

The idea that telephone operators handled emergency calls surprised Sunny, who grew up in the 9-1-1 era. As a young woman just past high school, Sunny’s grandmother would have been coached to respond to frantic callers and dispatch first responders. Sunny’s grandma would also have received training on how to handle different kinds of calls, such as party lines and long-distance routing through multiple switchboards.

Click here for tips on finding old film footage online. Just for inspiration and proof that this really does work, here’s a video Sunny found after following my tips: it’s her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire engine in 1937! (Click here to read Sunny’s story about that amazing discovery.)

3: Look for any records created by or about the business itself

If your relative worked at a major factory or mill, such as The Ford Motor Company or Lowell Mill, you may find historical books, documentaries and even museum exhibits specifically about them. But smaller businesses often received a shout-out in local history books, too. So it can pay off to run Google searches with the names of family businesses (or even the type of business, such as tailor, hotel or restaurant) and the name of the town and state. (Add the word history to narrow search results.)

Here’s an example an ecstatic Genealogy Gems listener sent in. He was tipped off by an old map about a place called Todd Pond in his ancestor’s small town. His ancestors were surnamed Todd and lived right there. So he Googled Todds Pond North Attleboro and found a real gem! His family’s business was mentioned in a local history:

“In the days before electric refrigeration, North Attleborough’s homes and stores relied upon ice harvested from either Whiting’s Pond or Todd’s Pond (depicted here). By the time this 1906 photograph was taken, farmers George, Henry, James, and William Todd found selling ice more profitable than farming and founded the Oldham Ice Co.”

(For copyright reasons, we can’t show the picture here. But click here to read more about Thom’s discovery and access the book for yourself.)

Businesses themselves often created records. Stores kept ledgers. Factories and other businesses may have kept personnel records and employee pay cards. They may have published newsletters or histories. Sunny shared the following two fun examples with me:

City directories from the 1950s state that her grandfather worked at the Sinton Dairy (he was the husband of the telephone operator, who by this time was a stay-at-home mom). Among the family papers handed down to one of their children was a company brochure. A picture in the brochure shows him standing next to a vat of ice cream.

The father of the ice cream man, Sunny’s great-grandpa, worked at Colorado Fuel & Iron for most of his life. Her mom Cheryl, a professional genealogy librarian, visited the Steelworks Center of the West, which holds the records of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in its archive. Cheryl was able to get a copy of her grandfather’s employment application and work record. Though it’s partly illegible, this work record summarizes his dates of employment and steady progress through the ranks to become a foreman.

It’s possible you’ll find museum or archival collections like the one mentioned above by doing Google searches on the name of the company, place and industry. But you may need to search more specifically in ArchiveGrid, which is an enormous catalog of the original manuscript holdings of thousands of archives, libraries, museums and societies. Click here to learn more about using ArchiveGrid.

Now back to Deidre’s question

Deidre’s email shows she was thinking outside the box already about records that might document her family’s business, such as deeds for business properties. In addition to the above strategies, Deidre may next want to start hunting for the following:

  • Local histories that may mention her family’s businesses
  • Original archival records pertaining to the businesses
  • Maps showing her family’s neighborhood at the time, specifically Sanborn maps, which often identified businesses and included some detailed information about properties.

Deidre specifically asked about legal documents or censuses conducted for businesses for the period 1900-1960s. The special U.S. census schedules relating to specific businesses and industries largely only exist with individual data before this time period. Legal documents would need to be researched on a case-by-case basis: it’s very possible at least one of those businesses faced lawsuits, bankruptcy or other issues that would have taken them into court. Click here to read up on researching on courthouses.

Another possibility is professional directories that could have been published specific to her relatives’ line of work. Here’s a link to an Ancestry.com wiki article on professional directories: the first category mentioned is law directories.

Finally, it might be helpful to contact the local genealogical and historical societies for the areas they lived. Often, a longtime local may know about gems that may only be on library shelves or tucked into a manuscript collection that isn’t listed in ArchiveGrid.

Learn more about ancestors’ occupations

Now that you’ve finished reading, I encourage you to go back and click on links provided to learn MORE about discovering ancestors’ occupations. If you’re ready to learn advanced online research skills (like mastering Google searching and Google Books) please consider becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium member. You’ll have access to full-length video tutorials on these topics and more–for a full year! To give you a taste of Premium, here’s a preview of my Google Books class.

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Wills and Probate Records are Genealogy Riches!

Using wills and probate records for genealogy can lead to unexpected “inheritances” of your own: clues about relatives’ identities, wealth, personal belongings, and family relationships. Wills can reveal great family stories, too: researcher Margaret Linford entertains her mother with them during trips to the courthouse. Here’s how wills can help your family history—and Margaret’s tips for finding and using them.

Using Wills and Probate Records in Genealogy Research

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” to find out more about your family’s history. Wills are legal records created to direct the settlement of a person’s property and other final affairs after his or her death. Probate (or estate) records are created after an individual’s death as part of the legal distribution of the estate and payment of debts. You’ll often find wills as one of many kinds of the documents included in probate records.

Wills and other probate records are valuable research tools, but are frequently neglected as sources of genealogical information. People often focus strictly on birth, marriage, and death records when searching out their family histories. If you rely solely on those records, your research will encounter many brick walls in the early 1800’s. Probate records and land records were often the only official documents left behind to tell the stories of ancestors who lived prior to the legal requirement for the registry of births and deaths.

Wills of slaveholders can also be valuable tools in conducting African-American genealogical research. Before the Civil War, enslaved people were listed in wills because they were valuable property of slaveholders. For instance, in the 1863 Smyth County property tax records, it is noted that Abijah Thomas owned 56 slaves, which were valued at $53,800. Some were given their freedom within wills, while others were transferred to other members of the family or sold. For instance, one of the first wills recorded in Smyth County is that of Hugh Cole. Within his will, he says the following: “I bequeath to my beloved wife Martha Cole a negro girl named Amanda which she is to hold during her natural life.” The mention of an enslaved person in a will—along with any personal description of him or her—may be the only surviving document to mention that person by name.

Within another Smyth County will, recorded on February 20, 1835, a woman named Elizabeth Blessing left the following directive: “I will and desire that my negro woman Betty be free at my decease, and must see to her own support during her life, as I shall not make any provision for her out of any part of my estate.”

What’s in a will? Just about anything

One organ, one compass, chain and plotting instruments, two chests, one hat rack, one music rack, one old United States map. These are some of the items found in the appraisement bill of the personal property belonging to the estate of Abijah Thomas, who lived in the well-known Octagon House in Marion, Virginia. Here is a photo of that home, now in a dilapidated state, from a Wikipedia file image (click to view image and source information).

Also included in his personal property is a church bell. The story behind the bell is intriguing and illustrates the significance of the probate process. Abijah Thomas utilized the bell at his foundry works in Marion, Virginia, to indicate shift changes. For decades, the oral history surrounding the bell indicated that he had donated it to the Wytheville Presbyterian Church before he died. The court documents reveal a different story.

Since Abijah died intestate, the court appointed three men to appraise his personal property. During this process, the bell was valued at $75. It was sold on September 1, 1877, to the Presbyterian Church in the town of Wytheville, Virginia, as shown in the above list of items sold from his estate. This document dispels the family myth surrounding the church bell. This is just one of many examples of the types of stories you find in probate records in courthouses all across the United States.

What you may find in a will or probate records

Wills and probate records can pass along unexpected genealogical wealth to you. You may find the following information in them: date of death (or approximate date of death), name of spouse, children, parents, siblings and their place of residence, adoption or guardianship of minor children, ancestor’s previous residence, occupation, land ownership, and household items.

Probate records also contain such interesting stories that they can even be read for entertainment! Whenever I go on a research trip, I usually drag some poor, unsuspecting soul along with me. That person is usually my Mom. While she enjoys the scenery on our drive to different courthouses, she rarely enjoys the time spent at the courthouse. Some of the research I do requires me to stay at the courthouse for several hours. That has posed a problem in the past since I haven’t known how to keep Mom occupied. But I have found the perfect solution. When we arrive at the courthouse, I find an old will book and let her start reading.

My mom enjoys reading the stories in these old—and sometimes tattered—books. One of her favorite stories came from a will in Henry County, Virginia. It is the will of Addie T. Thornton and reads as follows: “I also give to my nephew Thomas T. Earles, fifty ($50) in cash to be deposited in some safe Banking Institution, on interest until he arrives at the age of twenty-one (21) years old and then the principal to be invested in a watch and I request that a monogram with both his and my name, one on inside and the other on outside of watch.” Obviously, Addie Thornton cared deeply for her nephew, Thomas, and wanted to make sure he remembered her for the rest of his life.

Here’s part of Addie’s will, followed by a closeup image of the lines about the watch:

Stories like these are so much more meaningful than just a date of birth, marriage or death. Wills can help us know who these people were, how they lived and what was important to them during their sojourn here on earth. We can learn of their struggles and their successes. We can tell what their lives were like by reading through the lists of household items included in the inventories that are recorded. And with stories like Addie’s bequest of the watch, we can also learn about ancestors’ personalities and how they expressed (or occasionally withheld) love for others through the final disposition of their belongings.

How is a will created?

Before beginning probate record research, it is important to be familiar with the probate process and legal terminology associated with these records. It is estimated that, prior to 1900, about half of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one. Those who died having left a will are said to have died “testate.” Those who died without leaving a valid will died “intestate.”

A typical, legally-recognized will contains certain critical elements. It should be in written form and it must have signatures of the person leaving the will (“testator”) and witnesses, who attest to the validity of the document. A codicil is a document created by the testator to amend the will.

Once the testator dies, the will is presented to the judicial authority by a family member or executor/executrix (person appointed by the testator to see that his/her wishes are carried out), accompanied by a written application or petition for probate. These petitions include names and addresses of the closest living relatives. The court then admits the will to probate and sets a hearing, providing an opportunity for interested parties to contest the will. The will is then recorded and the executor is given the authority to settle the estate. During this process, an inventory of the estate is made.

Some wills contain detailed information, regarding the testator’s final wishes. At times, these requests will shed light on relationships that might not otherwise be discovered. This was the case for a will on file at my local courthouse. Due to the nature of the requests made by the testator, I have changed the last name of the family to Smith. This wife was, obviously, upset with her husband and the circumstances of their marriage, providing clear details of her grievances for future generations.

“Since my husband has never made me a part of his family and has completely cut me out of ever living in Chihowie, Virginia [the husband’s hometown], or never provided me with a home or paid any of my bills and has broken all marriage contracts that we agreed to—I hereby decree that I be buried in Round Hill Cemetery at Marion, Virginia, where I own a lot—that my body or anything I own or possess will never be taken into Chilhowie or the Smith household. My husband has never taken me into his own home, and furthermore stated, backed up by his nephew and his wife, whom he turned everything over to shortly after our marriage—that I would never own or live on a foot of the Smith ground, even though I have tried to build or buy or remodel a home in Chilhowie, Virginia, at my own expense.

“I give all books and material things pertaining to books to the Smyth County Library, Marion, Virginia, as I am sure that my family would not want anything to fall into the hands of anyone who has mistreated me.

“My husband has kept our marriage strictly on a time clock basis since his nephew and his wife moved back to Smyth County, and under their influence he comes at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. (whichever is convenient to them) or later, and leaves promptly in the morning by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., never calling during the day or show[ing] any sign of caring. He changed completely after they returned to Chilhowie to break up the marriage. Therefore, if I am still his wife, or otherwise, see that my wishes are carried out and that my remains and possessions remain in Marion.”

Where you can find wills and probate records

The best place to search for a will is at the courthouse where your ancestor lived, if you can reasonably go there yourself. Since the probate process is a function of state governments, the laws governing the maintenance of these records and their location will vary by state and should be researched before making a trip to the courthouse. For example, in Virginia, probate records are maintained within the Circuit Courts and independent cities. In Massachusetts, probate records are found in county Probate Courts. A useful resource for figuring out how U.S. probate records are organized state-by-state is free on the Ancestry.com wiki: Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. Scroll down to click on the name of the state in question. Then go to the right side and click on the probate records link for that state to read about these records.

Once you have determined where the wills for your state/county are housed, the next step in the research process is to locate the Index for Wills. Even–perhaps especially–if you are unsure of the date of death for one of your ancestors, you may want to look through the index of wills (an example is shown here). Even when no specific death record exists, you may be surprised to find probate records that reveal the date of death, a list of heirs and more.

There will, most likely, be several index books, organized by year spans. These books serve as a compass, pointing you to any available probate records that may include your ancestors. The index is divided by devisor (the person making the will) and devisee (any person who is named in the will, as the recipient of property). The research process will be incomplete if you do not conduct a search for your ancestors among the list of devisees. Even if you fail to find their names among the devisors, they could have inherited property from someone else.

Probate records include more than just the will of an individual. You may find letters of administration, lists of heirs, inventories, bills of appraisement, guardianships and other documents related to the settlement of an estate. In some counties, all these documents are found in the same collection. Other counties maintain these records in separate collections. It is important to understand the manner in which probate records are organized for your particular county.

The probate research process should not be rushed. Valuable records may be overlooked when time dictates the quality of your research. For this reason, it is important that you set aside ample time to comb through the probate records. If you find yourself confused about abbreviations or the location of records within the courthouse, there is usually someone in the records vault who would be happy to assist you. Never be afraid (or embarrassed) to ask for help.

Fortunately for many of us who can’t easily get to every ancestor’s courthouse, there are some wills available online on genealogy websites, including two of the genealogy giants, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com. For example:

  • Subscription website Ancestry.com has made it a priority to curate an enormous collection of wills and probate records from all 50 states. At last count, this collection has more than 170 million records—and they keep adding to it.
  • The free FamilySearch.org hosts millions of probate records from the U.S. and around the world (click here to browse their probate and court record collections). Many of these collections are marked “browse-only,” which means they are not yet searchable by name online. You just have to page through them. Click here for instructions on reading browse-only records on the site (it’s not that difficult—and did I mention they’re free?).

Additionally, libraries or genealogical societies in your ancestor’s hometown or county may have books with abstracts from local wills or other resources related to local probate record research.

Well worth the effort to find

Finding the will of one of your ancestors is an amazing experience. Walking into the vault of a courthouse sometimes feels like walking into a time machine. As you read through the pages that tell of people who lived so long ago, you feel like for even just a small moment that you have gone back in time. You are sitting with them and hearing their stories whispered through the aging and brittle pages that have been left behind. They are all there just waiting to tell their stories. So take the opportunity to go to the courthouse and “meet” your ancestors through the one of the last—and perhaps one of the most revealing—documents they may ever have written: their wills.

Researching wills and probate records: Your next steps

Take your genealogy research to the next level by planning a trip to a courthouse to retrieve records like wills and probate records. These resources will help you get ready:

Why you should be researching court records

Success story: Genealogy research trip produced amazing family history find

Premium Podcast Episode 128: Courthouse research tips (for Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers)

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!

Margaret Linford

Margaret Linford

Margaret Linford is a professional genealogist who specializes in the Mid-South Region of United States research and has logged over 20,000 research hours. Born and raised in Virginia, she has enjoyed traveling the world, and now lives in her childhood hometown with her husband and children. She enjoys teaching her children about heritage, taking them along on research trips and serving as President of the Smyth County Genealogical Society.

How to Find a Missing Webpage: Quick and Easy Video Tutorial

It’s important to know how to find a missing webpage when you’re a genealogy researcher. Clues to your family history are all over the Internet, and so are must-use research tools, directories, maps and how-tos. This free 2-minute video tutorial shows you an easy solution to those frustrating “page not found” messages.

How to find a missing webpage

Recently I went looking for my favorite (free!) downloadable genealogy forms at a particular webpage on Ancestry.com. I was not happy to discover that the webpage wasn’t there any more–at least under that name. So I used a little trick that often helps me find a missing webpage. This trick works when a webpage has been renamed or put into a different place on the website (which has the effect of changing the link). Here’s a short video demonstration of how it works.

Summary: 3 Google search strategies to try

  1. Go to Google and paste the URL you have in to the search box. Remove the tail end of the URL, back to the original folder name. Click Enter. The new page will likely appear at the top of the results.
  2. If this doesn’t work, try a Google search for the name of the original webpage. This would likely be the title that was across the top of the page, if you can recall what it was.
  3. Finally, try a Google site search by entering site: followed by the name of the website and the keywords you want to search within that website. For example: the search site:lisalouisecooke.com episode 154 will search for episodes 154 from the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast on my website.

How to find a missing webpage that’s not online anymore

If a webpage or an entire website has actually been removed (not just moved), you’ll need to use another free search tool: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. For example, the free genealogy website RootsWeb recently had some security problems and site host Ancestry.com shut it down for repair. Click here to read instructions on how to use the Wayback Machine to search for RootsWeb or other absent webpages.

Watch more tech tip videos

It’s so essential to be able to find what you need online! Boost your everyday (and genealogy) web sleuthing skills with quick, free tech tip videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. While you’re there, check out my must-watch series of free videos on Google searching for your genealogy. Click here to visit my YouTube channel and start watching! Then hit ‘Subscribe’ at the top of the page so you can keep up with the newest tech tips for genealogy.

About the Author

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

RootsTech questions: Tips for attending world’s biggest genealogy event

Your RootsTech questions answered here! Attending RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah for the largest genealogy conference in the world can be a bit overwhelming. First-time attendees have questions and we have answers. Learn what to expect, where to go, and other must-know details to make the most of this extraordinary family history event.

RootsTech questions from a first-time attendee

I recently received some RootsTech questions via Facebook from a Genealogy Gems listener in Melbourne, Australia. Lesley-Anne has decided to make the overseas trip to attend RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. How exciting–and a little daunting! She says:

Morning Lisa, As a result of the many years of listening [to your podcast], my husband and I have decided to attend the Rootstech conference this year. I am wondering if you can advise this first time-attendee on any tips on how to get the most out of this conference? I have been trying to find a list of keynote and breakout sessions available but haven’t had much luck. I know there are huge numbers that attend the Rootstech conference so would prefer not to be queuing on the day for sessions. I’m hoping there will be pre-booking for the sessions?? Keep up your great work. I don’t know how you do all the work that you do plus be a Nanna, mother and wife and also research your own tree. Kind regards, Lesley-Anne

I’m sure Lesley-Anne and her husband won’t be the only newbies at RootsTech 2018. And they’ll all have similar questions on their minds. Here we answer FAQs for her and other first-time RootsTech attendees.

RootsTech 2018 Answers from Lisa Louise Cooke

What’s happening this year at RootsTech?

RootsTech 2018 offers four jam-packed days of fun and learning: Wednesday, February 28 to Saturday, March 3, 2018. Don’t miss the first day! Wednesday is all about technology. There will be classes for all audiences, whether you’re a tech expert or newbie or (like most people) somewhere in-between. At 4:30 pm, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwoodl will give a keynote, followed by a new event called Innovation Showcase. Prepare for a high-tech “show and tell” of what’s new–and what’s coming–in genealogy technology.

As soon as that’s over, the Expo Hall opens (6:00 – 8:00 pm) for a special Preview, and then remains open all week. At the Expo Hall, meet the biggest names in the genealogy industry and hundreds of other vendors, societies, and services. It’s a stunning, not-to-miss experience, whether you love the energy of the crowd, the glamorous displays, or the chance to talk one-on-one with people from your favorite genealogy companies and services.

The Genealogy Gems booth is known for hosting the ultimate Expo Hall experience! We have our own free class lineup all week long from your favorite presenters. We host great giveaways with valuable prizes you can put right to work for your family history. Click here for the latest updates on our classes, book signings and giveaways. And come by our booth to take advantage of RootsTech specials on our most popular products, including the Genealogy Gems Premium membership (our on-demand Premium video lineup is like having a year’s access to your very own private RootsTech event!).

Throughout the rest of the week, you can expect:

  • World-class keynote speakers: Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton; famed scholar and PBS family history documentary host Henry Louis Gates, Jr; “Humans of New York” writer Brandon Stanton and Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Natalia Lafourcade. (Click here to watch a 2017 keynote by LaVar Burton.)
  • Over 300 RootsTech classes: Classes at all skill levels are offered on traditional family history research skills, DNA, tech tools for genealogy, photos, stories, organizing and more. (Click here to view a fantastic class you missed from 2017: Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s “Genealogy Giants” class comparing Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.
  • Free things to do at night, from dazzling entertainment sponsored by RootsTech to late-night research sessions at the Family History Library—the world’s biggest genealogy library is just down the street. (On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during RootsTech, the library will stay open until 9:00 pm.)

What are the RootsTech 2018 registration details?

You have lots of registration options–from a free Family Discovery Day experience on Saturday to a budget-friendly “Getting Started” four-day pass ($69 promotional price) to the full RootsTech Pass ($199). Click here for a description of all your options.

How do I get the most out of my RootsTech experience?

Best tip from a conference veteran: plan ahead! If you haven’t made your hotel reservation yet, do it right away. The official RootsTech hotels have all sold out, so you’ll need to look a little further afield. Salt Lake City offers excellent public transportation to the downtown RootsTech location at the Salt Palace.

The Salt Palace does have a concession area with several affordable meal options. There are also a few small vendors with sandwiches, coffee, and candy, just outside the hall. You might also like to know that there are several nice restaurants just across the street or within minimal walking distance. The lines are a bit long at times; consider eating a little early or late, so you’re not caught in a “rush hour” for your meal.

Once your basic needs are met, plan your genealogy learning and fun! An online master schedule makes it easy to browse all the official RootsTech sessions and plan the ones you most want to attend. Classes are typically one hour, with a 30-minute break in-between. Don’t forget to include the Genealogy Gems Expo Hall classes in your lineup. An important tip for newbies: at some point, your brain will need a little rest from all the learning. Give yourself breaks to walk around the Expo Hall and visit with new friends you meet.

What about pre-registering for classes?

Lesley-Anne asked about pre-registering for specific classes to avoid long lines and disappointment for filled-up sessions. You must pre-register for any labs you want to take when you register for RootsTech. These are smaller, hands-on classes. If this is your first year, I think you will be more than busy (and happy) with all the sessions included in the regular registration and the exhibit hall. Personally, I would save the extra cost of labs for a return visit. One exception: I definitely recommend Diahan Southard’s lab: “From Click to DNA Connection” (Fri 1:30 pm, taught with Angie Bush).

Unfortunately, you can’t pre-register for the general sessions (keynotes) or regular classes. Seating is first-come, first-served. Classes that are expected to have high demand generally have hundreds of seats available. But if there’s a class or presenter you must see, get to the classroom as early as possible, go right to a seat and stay in it. Since some classes will fill up, have a back-up plan for each hour.

Another helpful tip when deciding what to do: you will receive a digital syllabus with your RootsTech registration. It has all the handouts for the classes that are part of your registration package. So even if the class you want is full—or you’re ready to take a break and tour the Expo Hall—you can still learn from RootsTech presenters. You may wish to print your desired class handouts before coming so that you can take notes on them. Come by the Genealogy Gems booth (#1203) to get the handouts for all our lectures, too!

As Lesley-Anne mentioned, the RootsTech venue is huge. It’s easy to get lost. They do post tons of signs. As the event draws nearer, we will post a map of the Expo Hall to help you navigate to your favorite vendors and societies. Additionally, you will have a map provided to you when you pick up your things at registration.

We hope this has given Lesley-Anne (and you) a better picture of what it will be like to attend RootsTech 2018. It really is an amazing experience! For even more information about RootsTech, view their website and our Genealogy Gems RootsTech page. While you wait, here’s a link to several video interviews I have done over the years at RootsTech. See you there, friends!

About the Author

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Declutter Your House: 3 Questions for the Family Archivist

To declutter your house, you may have to ask yourself hard questions–especially if you’re the family archivist. Is that old apron or state fair ribbon just clutter or is it history? If it’s a nice piece of history but you can’t keep it, where can you donate it? Professional archivist Melissa Barker takes on these important questions for genealogists.

Before you declutter your house, ask yourself these 3 questions.

1. Will this item help to tell my ancestor’s story?

So many of our ancestor’s stories have been lost to time or by people throwing things away. Many of the artifacts and memorabilia that we own help to tell our ancestor’s story. A first place ribbon from the State Fair where Grandma won for her apple pie recipe tells a story. Because Grandma won a ribbon, her pie was the best of all the pies submitted and she was a great cook! A great idea would be to keep the ribbon and write up a story about how she won the ribbon so that your descendants will have this story. A bonus would be if you have the actual apple pie recipe to put with the ribbon and story. If the item helps to tell your ancestor’s story, maybe it should be kept and preserved.

declutter your house

2. SHOULD I DONATE THE ITEM TO A LOCAL ARCHIVE?

Before tossing those genealogical records, photographs, or artifacts, consider contacting an archive where the family is from and see if they would be interested in the items. Many of our libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, archives, and museums accept records donations to add to their collections. This way, if a researcher contacts or visits the archive and is researching the same surnames you are, they could benefit from the items you donate. Make sure to call ahead and find out if the archive takes donations and set a time to take your items to them. (TIP: Click here to see how to use ArchiveGrid to search for repositories in specific locations.)

declutter your house

3. ARE THE ITEMS VALUABLE?

Many times we don’t know the value of what we have in our genealogical collections. The value could be monetary and what we own could be worth money. It’s always a good idea to get objects and memorabilia appraised by an expert if you think they could have a monetary value. But maybe your items have historical value and if you toss these items, you would be throwing away history. Many genealogists have one-of-a-kind documents and artifacts that help to tell the story of an historical event. That event could have taken place at the local level, state level, or even the national level. Checking into the monetary value and historical value of an item before tossing it just might change your mind!

So, if you are considering cleaning out that closet and tossing items that you don’t think mean anything to anyone and are just taking up space, ask yourself these questions and make sure you are making the right decision.

Declutter your house by repurposing old family heirlooms

You can often transform the family “gems” from your piles or boxes of clutter into meaningful items to use or display. Get inspired by these upcycled heirloom projects:

A New Heritage Quilt from Old Family Fabrics

An Old Earring Gets New Life as a Wearable Conversation Piece

Create a Heritage Scrapbook

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker

The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and bi-weekly advice column The Archive Lady. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

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