20 May 2011 ~ 0 Comments

News! Get Your News Here! (While it lasts)

A fantastic free resource that has helped thousands of genealogists is about to stop being updated. I speak of the Google Newspaper Archive. Google has been scanning old newspaper from microfilm and even running them through an OCR so that they are searchable. And I’m not talking about the big papers. I am talking about the little towns and areas with local papers all the way back to the 19th century. This has been an incredible resource for finding obituaries and stories about ancestors that appeared in the papers. It was a great way to avoid paying for NewspaperArchive.com or other sources.

The archives of several hundred newspapers will continue to be available at news.google.com/archivesearch, but Google is “no longer accepting new microfilm or digital files for processing,” a Google spokesperson confirmed in an email to Mashable.

I know that I found a lot of great information in these archives. It might not be the easiest way to search and sometimes the OCR process doesn’t catch everything, but it sure beats having to go across country to a library and dig through microfilm. Have you used Google’s newspaper archive with any success?

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05 October 2010 ~ 3 Comments

Going Digital – Online Family Trees

So you’ve been gathering all this valuable information about your ancestors and carefully filling out your family group sheets and pedigree charts. I bet you’re starting to get a little overwhelmed with the amount of data you’ve accumulated, right? Well, technology is here to save the day (and all your valuable information as well). There are so many place online to create and share your family tree these days. The biggest problem is figuring out which site is the best. I’ll try to give you some suggestions from my experience so far.

When I started to trace my family tree I went about it the wrong way. Instead of starting slowly I became what is known as a name collector. I just wanted to build a tree and fill it with names. That is obviously not the way to do things. But, you learn from your mistakes and in this case you can learn from mine. I found a simple site that let you easily create a tree by adding names and other information. I didn’t do any research and just started filling in names. It wasn’t that long ago and just to show you how bad it was – I don’t even remember what the name of that site was!

Since then I have used three different online family trees: Geni.com, MyHeritage.com and of course Ancestry.com – Let’s discuss each one in detail.

Geni.com is a fantastic site that is completely web based and allows you not only to build a tree, but is also a family social network. Inviting your family members is as simple as adding their email address. You start out by entering your first and last names, your email address and whether you are male or female. Yep, it’s that simple. You can also log in with your Facebook account if you wish. You can easily add parents, children, siblings and other family members and any information you have about them. You can add pictures, videos, stories and more. You can search for people who have a profile on the site and see if they are your relatives. If you find a profile (there are currently 90 million of these on the site) you can add it to your tree or ask the profile owner to merge your trees. This way you can create a much bigger tree with additional connections.

The user interface is very easy to navigate and while there are a lot of features and options, the basic use of the site is free of charge. Geni is obviously trying to somehow monetize their business and is doing so with ‘Pro’ accounts that have some additional benefits. I have a pretty big tree on Geni and have never used the ‘Pro’ features yet.

One thing that applies to all these online tree sites is that you have to make sure you set up your profile correctly and verify that your privacy settings are at your level of comfort. Most people don’t want complete strangers to be able to see their information and there are several levels of security that you can configure. It’s not hard, but worth doing.

MyHeritage.com – This is another collaborative online family tree website. Once again, you can invite your family members to join and add their relatives. It’s very large and boasts 633 million profiles and 16 million family trees. Don’t let these numbers scare or impress you, all you need to do to start is enter some very basic details about yourself and your parents. In my experience many of the profiles on this site are duplicates and there are a lot of small trees that have been abandoned by their users. Their tremendous growth has been mostly through acquisitions of other websites.

Some of the cool features that this site has is the ability to automatically recognize people in pictures you upload and tag them with the correct name. It’s a facial recognition technology that is fun to work with and makes it easy to find people in photos. And it works very well. Another big plus to this site is that there is an offline version that you can use on your computer as your family tree database and it will sync up to the online tree any time you want it to. This makes it very convenient to do your research and then update your shared online tree.

There are a lot of other great features like 35 languages, maps and smart matching technology which looks at your tree and tries to find similar trees in the system for you to merge with or grab information from. There’s also a smart research option that will try to find your ancestors in over 100 of the best genealogy websites on the internet.

The only drawback in my opinion is that the basic free account type is limited to 250 people in a tree. After that you need to start paying.

Disclosure: I have a Premium Plus account, which gives me unlimited use of the site. I helped the company with some user testing and recommendations and they enabled this account level for me in return. But since I already had my entire family on Geni.com, I was not in a position to move everyone over to MyHeritage. I wrote a blog article comparing MyHeritage vs Geni on my other blog. It’s a couple of years old at this point but it is still pretty valid today.

Ancestry.com Trees – I have several trees on Ancestry that I created during my research through my membership on the site. There is also another site called MyFamily.com that offers a similar service to Geni and MyHeritage, which I have not used but seems to be full featured and integrated into the rest of Ancestry.com.

Ancestry is a paid site but you can create a tree for free. The thing is, as soon as you create your tree, Ancestry will look through it’s billions of records and if it find information that matches your tree it will display a little green shaking leaf on that profile. By clicking the leaf you will be able to search that vast paid databases available to members – for a fee. You can get a free trial of the Ancestry.com US Deluxe Membership and see if you like it or not. Check out the membership page and see if this meets your budget. Or do all your research and cancel your membership before the 14-day trial runs out. Most US researchers will be able to find everything they need without paying for the World Edition.

Ancestry also has an offline version and the latest version is called Family Tree Maker 2011. It is a very powerful genealogy database tool and if your serious about your research you should definitely consider getting it. I will discuss other genealogy software programs in another post.

So that’s it for now. There are many other online family tree websites out there, but in my opinion these are the best three. It is becoming hard to differentiate between all these offerings so check before you commit to one of them because making the switch when you have a family network in place is going to be hard. You should check out Cyndi’s List under the Collaborative Family Tree section for a complete list of what’s out there.

What is your favorite online family tree site? Let us know in the comments.

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20 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Using Google Books to Trace My Family Tree

Some of your ancestors might be hiding in books. And Google will help you find them from the comfort of your own home.

If you didn’t know, Google has decided to scan every book it can get it’s hands on and allow users to perform a full text search in all these books. Then they can either display a ‘Full View’ of the book, a ‘Preview’ or nothing at all. It all depends on copyright laws and agreements with publishers. But I’m getting into too much detail already.

I use Google Books to trace my family tree all the time. I just head over to Google Books and enter a name. For this post I’ll use another one of my wife’s 2nd-great-grandfathers for this example – Conrad Auth. The same search parameters apply as with any other Google search so this time I just went ahead and entered his name in quotes. The first result is a book written by James Conrad Auth in 1976 and published by Iowa State University. A quick look at my database shows me that there are several matches for this name and I quickly add this to my to do list.

But the second result is fantastic! The book “Sons and Daughters of Labor: Class and Clerical Work in Turn-Of-The-Century Pittsburgh” is in preview mode which means that sometimes if you’re lucky you will get to see complete sections of the book, but sometimes just snippets. I got lucky this time because this book has a whole section about Charles Auth, Conrad’s son:

From here, I can add the book to my library which makes it easy to find next time or if the book is in ‘Full View’ I can even save it as a PDF to my hard drive. in ‘Full View’ you can clip  a piece of the page or convert it to plain text, which makes it easy to copy in and paste into your records. There are also links to places where you can buy the book or find it in a library near you.

Here’s another tip. Sometimes when your search results bring up a preview or a ‘Snippet View’ the results page will show some information from the book when the actual text can’t be displayed. What you can do there is search around these results to see other snippets of the text that will give you a better view of what you are looking for and perhaps some additional information. Michael John Neill, in his fantastic weekly newsletter Casefile Clues (Volume 1 Number 26) does a great job of explaining this better than I ever would.

I would also suggest that you watch this short video by Miriam Midkiff (and don’t miss her awesome blog as well) about using Google Book Search:

Google says there are around 130 million books in the world (they have a great post on the official Google Books Blog about it) so the chances that some of your ancestors are in one of them is pretty high. Try it out and tell us what you found in the comments!

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18 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

My Ancestors Are Online?

Yes! They are and actually, they are all over the place!

One of the reasons genealogy has become such a popular hobby is that so much information is now available online. In fact, when I began to trace my family tree I did most of the initial research online. Eventually you will need to get your lazy butt to a county courthouse or a cemetery, but the internet will probably be your best source for information and collaboration opportunities with other researchers.

While there are some commercial ventures out there that make a tidy profit from all this web traffic, there are also a lot of free sites with fantastic information. They might not have the best search engines (if at all) and it might take a little longer to get to what you were looking for, but most of the time you will find what you need. The obvious first place to go to is FamilySearch.org which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or also knwon as the Mormons). One place to start is the pedigree resource file. Another great resource is RootsWeb (which is owned by Ancestry.com but is free to use). By the way, you can always get a free trial of Ancestry.com US Deluxe Membership and then cancel it before your subscription goes into effect.

Another great place to start (and once again, totally free) are message boards. You can find a lot of information as well as connect with other researchers who are working on the same surnames. One of the best boards is GenForum – it is very easy to navigate and you can easily find your surname and search within that board. Some of the posts tend to be on the ancient side and getting in touch with the researchers might be tough at times, but there is too much good information to pass it up. You should also check out the Ancestry.com message boards.

Keep a log of your searches and boards you have visited so that you don’t waste your time on redundant work. It’s also a wise idea to bookmark your favorite places or even sign up to an RSS feed if one is available for your board (if this is too technical for you right now, don’t worry about it, I’ll try to expand on this later). Don’t forget to save everything you find!

And of course there’s Google. But that’s a topic for a different time.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more step by step instructions to using online resources. Good luck!

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06 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Start with a Single Surname

So now that you’re busy filling out pedigree charts, you might come across a problem. You have too many ancestors! Don’t worry we all have the same issue. Since every person has two parents and not taking into consideration that there are several ancestors with the same surname, this means that in a 9 generation family tree (as you can see on the image on the left) you will have 256 surnames and 511 people, including yourself. And this doesn’t take into account spelling variations or people who’ve had name changes. Yikes!

So the tip for today is to stay focused and start with a single surname. When I began to trace my family tree I was pretty much all over the map (or tree). That caused a lot of holes and missed information, lots of to-do lists and so on. Avoid that headache and stay focused. Don’t  work on too many parts of your family tree at once. Resist the urge to wander down (or up) other branches. Everyone will get a turn. I promise.

The easiest surnames to start with are the ones on your paternal side. In the fan chart they are the one shaded in blue. “Why?” I hear you asking. Because those surnames tend to stay in the family and don’t change due to marriage like the maternal side.

So there you have it. Let’s set this plan in motion.

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03 September 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Filling Out Pedigree Charts

Download Pedigree Chart

Now that you’ve collected everything you can about your family and interviewed family members, it’s time to make some sense of all the information you have. That means you’re going to start filling out genealogical forms. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds!

Most people start with what’s called a pedigree chart. This form gives you a quick overview of your family and makes it easy to track your research progress. You will usually start with yourself and then go back in time filling up the branches as you go and eventually you’ll have a family tree showing your direct ancestors. By clicking the image on the left you will be able to download a five-generation pedigree chart.
Pedigree charts will normally have room for four-six generations, and will include have room to enter names (first middle last) as well as important dates and places of birth, marriage and death for each person.

So start with yourself in the number 1 spot (or whoever the person is that you are researching). This should be a snap since you probably know most of this information, right? From there, the male lines follow the upper track and the females follow the lower track. The idea is to enter biological parents and while there are all sort of discussions about same-sex partnerships, adoptions and other relationships, I won’t get into that here.

So your dad goes in box number 2 and your mom in box number 3. Other than the first person, all the males will have odd numbers and women will have even numbers. Makes it easy to remember, right?

After filling out the chart with 4 or 5 generations, you’ll need to create additional charts for each of the individuals included in the last generation on your first chart. Each person will become the first ancestor on a brand new chart and you’ll reference their number on the original chart so it will be easy to go back and figure out where everyone fits and follow the family through all generations. Don’t forget to give the new charts new numbers and this way when you want to reference the other charts fill out the bottom where it says “Person 1 appears on page __”.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the information or even all the people who are supposed to be on the chart. That’s what you’re going to be doing later when you try to find your elusive ancestors. When I started to trace my family tree I had huge holes in my charts which I am still slowly filling out today. Each new find makes you do a little genealogy happy dance!

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18 August 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Trace My Family Tree – First Step: Collect

So you’ve decided to figure out who everyone is in your family tree. “How do I trace my family tree?” you may ask yourself. “What is the first step?”

Well, start out by collecting anything and everything you have about the family. Here’s a quick list:

Photos & Postcards
Family Bibles
Other Family Heirlooms

Everything you gather may hold valuable clues to the identity and lives of your ancestors. Get into that basement or attic and look for old boxes that may have been left there when a relatives passed away. Check the closets and filing cabinets. You might have a lot of stuff or very little, but don’t be discouraged. You can get started with just your memory!

Don’t worry too much about identifying or sorting through everything right away. Just make sure you know where everything came from because you’re going to want to keep that in mind when you cite your sources later on.

Since these are supposed to be quick tips, that’s it for right now. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the next step!

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