Category Archives: Research Tips/Tricks/Hints

To Publish Or Not To Publish – That Is The Question

Eventually, every genealogist gets to the question of whether or not to publish their hard work onto the internet (or even in book form, although I will only briefly discuss this because I don’t think it is something that is not cost effective these days…well, you’ll see what I mean).

There are so many pros and cons to publishing your work that is makes it difficult to decide. But I think the key here is to decide whether or not you want to share your work (despite the risks), and in what form you want to do this.

I personally made the choice to share my work on the internet. My main motivation for this was that I wanted other researchers to find me so that we could exchange information just like so many wonderful people had done with me (Well, I didn’t really have anything that they didn’t have, but that is beside the point). Their kindness helped me get through long stressful hours of confusion. Mind you, they shared their information with me but they also helped me find the information on my own, which is especially helpful because my skill at finding the records I was looking for improved.

So, when you’re at the point in your genealogy where you aren’t sure if you want to share your hard earned family tree – here are some things to consider:

Pros:

  • Other researchers that have similiar research interests, either with someone in your tree or in a particular area you are researching, can find you and your information.
  • If you include your email address, you’ll be able to be contacted by another researcher who might have some information you don’t have.
  • You are building genealogical-karma points by helping out a researcher who may be just starting their tree. Maybe they’ll find their great-great uncle in your family tree, giving you the opportunity to not only help this person out with their tree, but you also just found a long lost cousin who might have those pictures of Uncle Joe you’ve been dieing to get your hands on.

Cons:

  • Some people will take your work and just steal it. They’ll take you’re hours of blood, sweat, and tears and place it in their own tree without crediting you. They’ll forget who/where they got it from and pretty soon – they are claiming that they found the information on their own. Trust me, nothing is worse.
  • Or they’ll take your work and place it all over the internet, incorrectly, and cite only your name or that email address you had 5 years ago. Oh well, so maybe this one is the worst of the two cons.

Alright – so let’s say you make the decision to put your family tree up on the web. Now the question becomes – where do you put it?

Well, a lot of people put their trees on Ancestry.com – which does have the benefit of having a good chance that it’ll be seen. Since Ancestry.com is such a popular site in the world of genealogy, you will probably have your work seen. The downside is that Ancestry.com likes to make a seperate database (OneWorldTree) that combines trees submitted by its users that include the same people into one tree. In theory, this is a great idea. In practice – its a disaster. I can’t tell you how many trees I have seen that have incorrect information, no sources, no records, nothing! The information in most of this database is just plain wrong. But – people can still find the individual tree that you uploaded and contact you either through your email or through Ancestry.com’s service that keeps your email private. Plus – they have some pretty cool things that you can add to your tree such as audio stories, pictures, videos, and it has the ability to just add a record that you find in one of their databases directly into your tree.

A lot of people also try creating a website, either on their own or through a website such as Tribalpages.com or MyFamily.com. Creating a website is a great idea because you’ll be found in the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Plus, you can upload exactly what you want to share and you control pretty much everything. These can also be a great way to stay in touch with family that may live far away (as long as they are tech savvy – if they aren’t it won’t work much. Trust me, I’ve tried!).

There is also Genealogy.com – a sister site to Ancestry.com. People like to also upload their trees there. It doesn’t have as many cool features as Ancestry.com – but it still will be visited.

When you have a good amount of information (I’m talking several generations, full of legitimate sources, and you are confident in your work) then you might want to consider uploading your gedcom onto FamilySearch.org. Your work will then be taken to a huge vault in Salt Lake City. I also believe that your work will be accessible to others on their website and in LDS sponsored Family History Centers.

Not to mention – there are a TON of other websites where you could upload it – and I don’t have the time to mention every single one of them.

So the bottom line is that you need to weigh the pros and cons of posting your tree to the internet. Then, if you decide to put your information on the web, figure out where you think it would be best to put your information.

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How To Fix Your Newbie Mistakes

So, like nearly every genealogist out there, I jumped into the pool of genealogy and made a ton of newbie mistakes. I didn’t bother reading books to learn about citing your sources, how to keep your paperwork organized, or even about the census!

No…instead of doing my homework, I jumped right in.

When I began spending time on Ancestry.com, I found a family tree that someone had created and shared with my ancestry going back to the 1600s…Great I thought to myself. Now I just have to enter it into this PAF program and TA-DA I’m done!!

Well, I was so focused on getting the information into PAF, printing out the fancy charts, and then dragging it all along with me to show off to my family – Oh look everyone, look at the wonderful job I did. What I missed during my excitement was that there were no sources (or horribly cited sources), the dates didn’t make sense (There is no way she was married and had a child at 12), and I honestly think some people must of been made up.

So – once you make this mistake – How in the world do you fix it?

Well, here are some helpful hints:

  1. Create a brand new tree in your genealogy program (Most programs will allow you to do this, even the free ones). Print a basic pedigree chart from your old tree, with yourself (or you’re kids) as the first person, working its way back.
  2. Now, go through the census abstracts, photocopies from books, print-outs of other trees, etc and double check to make sure that the source is credible (For example, a random person’s family tree with no email or address to contact them and no sources is not credible…try contacting the person, they might be willing to give you their sources or a step in the right direction). If you find that something is not credible, but you think the information might still be correct, then jot it down so you can try to find a credible source that supports it.
  3. Now, double check that you have the correct information down for all of your credible sources. Go to the actual source and view it with your own eyes again…make sure that what you have matches it. Be sure to write down any questions or comments that come to mind. You’ll probably want those questions later for reference.
  4. Now – cite your sources correctly – and do it for everything! (For example: Censuses give you a ton of information – like where the person was born and the person’s occupation. Make sure you list that source for the occupation, the census, and where/when the person was born). In order to know how to do this, you are going to need to do your homework and learn how to do this correctly. Remember, without your sources, your information is not credible…you want to make sure that other people can check your work.
  5. Finally, the fun part – entering it all into your brand new tree….it is kind of like having a fresh start.
  6. Next, you are going to want to print your pedigree/family group sheets so that you can figure out where you are lacking information. Then you can start researching credible sources to find the missing information.
  7. And lastly – Learn from your mistakes…

Remember, mistakes happen…and they are okay as long as you learn from them.

Genealogy is not a one stop complete. There are always more ancestors to find, more cousins to contact, and more information to discover.

*Note*: Sometimes uncredible sources can seem very credible (like Ancestry’s OneWorldTree). A good rule of thumb is that the information should be recorded around the time it occured (Birth certificates are more credible than a census record), there should be as little of the “telephone effect” (Indexes are a perfect example of how we can misread, mistype, misinterpret things from the original document…Is that a B or a P?), and not just anyone should be able to contribute to it (For example, FamilySearch allows anyone to submit their tree – which seems like a good idea, until you’ve realized you’ve submitted wrong information). The best thing to do is to communicate with other genealogists and to do your homework so that way you make a few mistakes as possible.

Good luck everyone!

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Interviewing Older Relatives

A few days ago, I visited the 24/7 Family History Circle (http://blogs.ancestry.com/circle/?p=2777) and one of their main articles is entitled “Call A Family Member”. After I read the short article, I realized that I hadn’t called my family members in Washington in a very long time. The generation that still lives up there is getting older and I knew I better call, even if it was just to talk, before it was too late.

Often times, we don’t ask questions about our family history or even just about everyday life until it is too late. Little clues and stories that can be so valuable to your genealogy can disappear if you don’t act fast.

So, I decided to get on the phone and call my Auntie Shirley. Auntie Shirley is actually my great aunt who lives in a Seattle apartment all by herself. She is getting near 90 now and she is blind, but she refuses to give up her independence. While she sometimes gets lonely, she fills her time by volunteering at the Seattle Science Center, where she runs a spinning art exhibit (That is the best way to describe it) and she stays with any kids that get lost.

My Auntie Shirley is a very interesting person and has lived a life that is more full than I could’ve imagined. She has never been married – and honestly, she is too much of a free spirit to be held down. As we got to talking, she told me stories of the 1940s, when swing music ruled the night clubs. She told me stories of singing and dancing with the soldiers as they came home from World War II. As it sounds, she was the life of the party – and parties didn’t really start until she walked into the room.

She told me a story about her being in a parade (what the parade was for, she can’t remember). She said that as she was sitting in a nice car, waving to the crowd, Frank Sinatra pulled up very close behind her car. He asked if she wanted to dance and she accepted. They had the music turned up real loud and they jumped out of their cars and began dancing – right in the middle of the street! She said that he had wonderful rhythm…and while I wonder if this story is true, it really doesn’t matter to me.

I don’t care if the story is just her imagination gone wild or if the story really has some accuracy because just listening to her voice light up as she told the story made the entire thing worth it. The story means something to her, and that is truely what I was going for.

See, interviews with older relatives don’t have to be just dates and places and names. They can be stories that, while sometimes exaggerated, bring your family to life. The names, dates, and places are wonderful – but nothing makes your family history more rewarding that finding out how your ancestors lived their lives.

So – where exactly do you start when interviewing relatives? Good question, and there are a bunch of different approaches that you can take.

First, you’re going to need some supplies…

  • The number one thing I suggest is some sort of recording device – the most widely used of which is probably a basic tape recorder. These are especially helpful if you are doing the interview face to face. Make sure you test it a few times to make sure that you hear everyone on the tape and make sure you bring extra tapes!
  • The next thing you are going to need are a pen/pencil and paper. You’re going to want to take notes as you go along, because you never know when you’ll think of a good question for someone else or a special note you’d like to include in your family tree.
  • A copy of your pedigree and maybe even a family group sheet or two so that you can understand how all the names fit in.
  • Lots and lots of patience!! Don’t make family members feel rushed or pushed. Sometimes, they truly don’t know something – so don’t make them feel ashamed for it.

Next, you’re going to need to figure out how you’d to conduct your interview. Do you want it to be a casual conversation or do you want it to be more formal and with a focus?

If it is going to be more formal, remember not to make it an interrogation. All I mean by formal, is that you have questions carefully laid out.

Now – how do you go about picking questions. Well, that really depends on how the person fits into your family tree, the information that you have missing in your family tree, and the time period for which they lived and would probably remember.

You can always stick with the tried and true basics:

  • When and where were you born?
  • When were your parents married? How did they meet?
  • What schools (if any) did you go to and did you graduate?
  • Can you remember any wars in your lifetime – how did they affect you?
  • What was it like living in the {insert blank decade or time period here; example: the 60s}?
  • When did you get married? How did you meet
  • When were your parents born? Where?

The list of questions that you can ask could go on and on…they really are limitless.

Warning: Don’t ask questions that could make people uncomfortable. Generally, you’ll be able to find the answers to such questions through some other way. For example, I tried asking my grandfather what his parents were like – he instantly tensed up and told me not to concern myself with such things. Through census records and the information I could gather from other people, my great-grandparents had been married and had a few children, the last of which was my grandfather. Shortly after, my great-grandmother came down with TB and died, causing my great-grandfather to immediately remarry. This hurt my grandfather although he will never admit it. He quit school and spent most of his time away from his house. Once he was of age, he immediately joined the Navy and left home…never speaking to his father or step mother again.

If you are going with the casual route for the interview, the pick a few general questions and let the conversation flow naturally. Ask questions when it seems appropriate or for clarification.

After the interview – enter the information into your family tree and made transcripts of any tapes that you have.

But the number one thing I can offer as advice would be to enjoy the moment and to enjoy your family member. You never know when you won’t be able to do it again.

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Research Binders

So as many of you know, I have already made a video on Youtube specifically describing the uses of a research binder. (Find the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdYrTedddkw).

So the first thing you want to do is figure out how you are going to store and organize it. What I suggest is using a 3 ring binder. From there you can use dividers to make it nice and neat. Or you could use a filing cabinet and various file folders to keep it organized, but I don’t suggest that because the papers can fall out rather easily. (Trust me, in the heat of the moment when you are on a hot search, you are not going to want to waste time neatly searching through things…or atleast I don’t!). You could even keep it on the computer if you are really computer savy – although this is not very effective for going on research trips.

So what you have established the means of storage and basic idea with organization, you can begin to either collect things to put in the binder and/or create categories to organize the information you have. In other words, take a step back and try to figure out a logical way to organize all the stuff you have.

For example, I have a lot of how-to articles in my research binder because I love to reference them and refresh my memory every once in a while. But because I have so many, I don’t like to put them only under the category of “how-to”. Instead I have “How-to Organize”, “How-to Cite Sources”, “How-to use Legacy V.7″…and various other ones. By breaking down a large category even further, you can more easily find the information you are looking for.

A lot of people break their research binders into categories based on location or a specific type of record. For example, I have a TON of relatives from eastern Tennessee, which has gone through a lot of boundary changes over the years. So what I have is “General [insert state here]“. In there, I have the research guides that FamilySearch provides because those are always a good stepping stone. Then I have seperate sections that are all about a specific county like “Carter Co., TN [insert dates here]” or “Washington Co., NC [insert dates here]“.

Another great idea is to have a section based on where to order records. I have a huge list of the major archives I send for and it lists the cost of the record, the address, and the name of the archive. It is an easy way to figure out how much it’ll cost to get what you need and where to send your request.

I also have a section just for people that are researching the same lines or are historians for the area. I call this section “Cousins/Genealogy Buddies”. I go to these people when I just need someone else’s advice or when I want to get some more detailed information on a area.

As for good places to go to get information to put into your research binder, here are some links:

1.) This article includes a lot of the useful informationt that is based on the mistakes that a lot of genealogists make. It is a a great resource to make sure you don’t take these wrong turns! http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=854&cj=1&o_xid=0001029688&o_lid=0001029688

2.) This one just has a lot of genealogically helpful articles and links. So check this one out, and use the ones you like. http://www.genealogybranches.com/

3.) I love this one because it gives you the links to a lot of great genealogy articles posted all over the net – no more searching for you: http://www.knowledgehound.com/topics/genealog.htm

4.) This guy is really very kind and has a lot of useful information on his site. So check him out. http://amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/

5.) This one is just stockpiled with useful information. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/tips.html

6.) This one, while rather plain looking, has some pretty cool articles; like 101 Ways To Research Your Family History for Free! http://genealogy.about.com/

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Write Down Your Life

So tonight I went to my boyfriend’s cousin’s 30th birthday party. It was a lot of fun. I really do enjoy being around such wonderful people and all the little kids.

Then I realized that I don’t have any of the old traditions that my grandparents and great grandparents used to do. I don’t know when they got together with family (or IF they got together with family). I don’t know how they celebrated birthdays or the way they celebrated weddings. I don’t know any Christmas traditions or first day of school traditions. I have none of that.

So it got me thinking – maybe I should write down the little things that happen in my family life so that later, when I’m gone, my ancestors know what life was like. I mean – this is a rather amazing time. In the 20th century a lone so many things happened: 2 World Wars, The Great Depression, political scandals, genocide, civil rights movements, MAJOR advancements with technology, medical advancements, the list goes on and on.

And to think – I LIVED through some of that. Mind you, I can’t remember everything, but I can certainly remember a lot.

I remember exactly where I was when September 11th happened (My very first day at my brand new middle school – living in a town right next to the Los Angeles Harbor – the second or third largest harbor in the world and a place that many people suspected could be next). I remember exactly where I was when we entered the War on Terror in Afghanistan/Iraq (On a school field trip in Yosemite). I remember learning about Stem Cell research (My cousin with scleroderma received a stem cell transplant). I even remember just a few months ago – voting for the first time, in a primary, with a black man and a woman on the ballot. Wow – and I still haven’t written all of this down why?

Honestly – as morbid as it sounds we won’t all be here forever. And even if our bodies are, in this day and age where so many people come down with some form of dementia in their older years – you might not be able to say it. Yet, I am not writing this down. And a lot of these important events that I remember are going to be historical.

Someday, my grandchildren will ask me about September 11th and the war that followed, just like I asked my grandfather about World War II and his military service that followed. I want to be able to have something to say.

So I guess the bottom line of this blog, is to sit back and take a long thought about the questions you would ask your current self 10, 20, even 30 years from now. And then, I suggest you answer them, in writing.

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Creating a Family Newsletter

Hi everyone,
So after some long thinking over many weeks, I’ve decided to finally face my fear and attempt to create a family newsletter that can be mailed out for all my family to see.
I’ve kinda tried to do something similiar before except I had it all on the internet. Needless to say, it did not go well because many of my family members are not computer literate. So after no one reading it for months, I finally gave up.

So now, I figure that I will create one that I can mail it out. That way, everyone can see it.

As a genealogist who is so incredibly interested in everything genealogy, it is typical for me to forget that not everyone else is the same. Not everyone else feels a rush when they find that census record that they have been looking so hard for. Not everyone feels on top of the world when they find a maiden name of an ancestor. I understand that.

But at the same time, with my family scattered all over the country, I would like us to all keep in some contact somehow.

What better way to keep contact than to have something that connects us all – like our history?

However, I don’t really know much about creating a newsletter like this. So I started searching through old mailing lists and message boards and it seems to be a rather big thing. I had no idea that some people write 8 page newsletters, front and back. I cannot even imagine that!

I have a few ideas that I am considering and trying out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy Hunting!
Elyse

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General Genealogy Tips

So I started asking some of my genealogy friends about the number one tip they would give to a beginning genealogist. I have gathered them here so that you can look them over and hopefully not make the same rookie mistakes that a lot of us fellow genealogists have done and if you are a seasoned genealogist then these might just serve as some good reminders!

1.) The number one thing that everyone told me was “Cite Your Sources”. Everyone kept telling me various stories, some way worse than others. I made this mistake the first two years or so of my research. I kept taking everything that I saw as the truth and I never questioned a single thing. I cannot tell you how much of a HUGE mistake that was. I am still paying for it!

2.) Alot of people also mentioned this advice, which I think a lot of people don’t follow for one reason or another: Interview Your Living Relatives. Your relatives are a wealth of knowledge. They are the first stepping stone to get you started. And don’t forget to ask them to look in the attic for baby books, old letters, pictures, military dogtags, etc. Relatives hold a wealth of information.

3.) When you ask a genealogy what one of their genealogical problems/issues are – pretty much everyone besides the neat freak will tell you this: Keeping Organized. This is a huge challenge for almost everyone in every part of life. There are a ton of options and methods when it comes to this – so the bottom line is to pick one that works for you and stick with it until it no longer works for you. Because if you don’t – you’re house will soon be covered in piles.

4.) Many people didn’t mention this but I think it is still rather important: Use the Resources Around You. For example, many public libraries offer free access to Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest. Some even have wonderful genealogy sections. If you are lucky enough to live near Salt Lake City (A genealogists Mecca) then for heavens sake – go the the Family History Library over there. Join a mailing list – you might find that there are a lot of nice people out there willing to do a free lookup for you. Use igoogle or yahoo or anything like that to organize all of your blogs onto one place. There are a million options just like these – all you gotta do is look for them.

Alrighty – so that is it for now. I just wanted to share some of these tips because I feel that they are really important and rather helpful.

Also – if you
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