Santa Genealogists – Beneficial Tips from the Jolly Old Elf


Genealogists need to take a tip from Santa Claus – we should be “making a list and checking it twice!” No, not to find out who’s naughty or nice, although that does make family history interesting and more entertaining to pass on to relatives. The list making and checking is critical, especially when you acquire information from someone else. Here’s what recently happened to me…
Through this blog, I made contact with a second cousin I had never met. He put me in contact with several other cousins and we all shared info on a brick wall ancestor to see if putting our heads together could resolve the dead end.
Three of us live far away from where the ancestor had resided; one of us lives within reasonable driving distance. That individual had gone to the courthouse and pulled the probate records years ago. As I reviewed the paperwork making a list of all that we had discovered, it struck me that our common ancestor would have been left an orphan. I decided to go on FamilySearch.org to see if records were available for the area as the driving distance cousin, with family commitments and the approaching holidays, couldn’t find the time to make another visit.
I must have been a good genealogist this year as oh, what a wonderful early present I found! The probate file was now online and contained the guardianship information. The file was 40 pages – the cousin had only 3 pages. I’m not sure if the courthouse employee only copied the last 3 pages or my cousin only had cash for those pages but the entire packet was a gem for me because I discovered my 3rd great grandfather in another line was the appraiser. His signature was all over the documents.
Lesson learned – ALWAYS go back to the source to see if the information is accurate and complete. By my making a list of what records we had found, I was able to identify other places to check. We haven’t climbed over that brick wall yet but we’re getting closer!
Have a wonderful holiday – I’ll be writing again after New Year’s Day.

Genealogy Evolution


One of my local libraries was spring cleaning and decided to give away back issues of old magazines. I picked up a few of Ancestry from the late 1990’s and last weekend, decided to sit outside to enjoy our beautiful weather and page through the September/October 1999, Vol. 17, No. 5 issue. Holy Smokes did it jar me!
The main feature was a story entitled “Victorian Rites of Passage” which focused on changing burial practices. Interesting but nothing new. In fact, I remember reading the article back in the day. I was about to just move on to the next magazine when I decided to thumb through the rest of the issue. Glad I did as I paused at “FamilySearch Online: The New LDS Web Site.” I had to stop and think for a moment. Has it really been 18 years since FamilySearch has been active online?! That was my go to place then and continues to be so today.
Genealogy has moved by leaps and bounds since home computers became a norm and we have continued to adapt to the changes. Prior to 1983 when my husband purchased our first home computer, a TI/99 with a genealogy program on a cartridge, all my work was handwritten group sheets and pedigree charts. I diligently typed the information into the computer program while I was pregnant with my first child. We had no printer so I don’t have a printout of those records but it did help me neatly organize names and dates.
By the time our second child was born a few years later, we had moved on to a Compaq system with a printer. Genealogy software in the late 1980’s and 90’s was primarily CD-ROMs which were pricy and always on my birthday/Christmas list.
As educators, my husband and I had FIRN accounts, a text only email and list serv, that we had used beginning in 1994. That was strictly for the education world and no genealogy information was available. Thanks to the free software at Kmart while back to school shopping, my family went America Online (AOL) in August 1995. I remember the date because our oldest had started middle school and wanted to know if we could also get a fax machine so she could fax group assignments to peers. We bought a HP printer-fax-scanner that lasted for years. That was the machine I used to scan all my family photos and documents.
There was little genealogy information available online during those days and I used the internet mostly for the AOL interest groups or emailing distant relatives mining for information. Most of that was done late at night as we had dial-up and if we were online, the home phone was out of service. We got our first mobile phone about that time but it was hardwired into our car and looked like a home phone of the day – cord and all!
I’m not sure when I first downloaded the LDS’ free Personal Ancestral File (PAF) but I remember grumbling about having to re-enter all the data that was stored in the old cartridge program. The Ancestry article mentions the release of PAF 4.0. I used PAF, World Family Tree and Ancestry Family Tree at the time. These were pre-Gedcom days. These were pre-smart phone days. These were limited search engine days. These were pre-gotomeeting days. These were pre-facebook-twitter-linkedin, etc. days.
Wow, isn’t it amazing how far the genealogy world has progressed in less than 20 years? Think about how far we’ve yet to grow. How exciting!

Saving Your Gedcom

Spring is just around the corner and at the top of your “to do” list, make sure you backup a copy of your gedcom. Yesterday, while hubby and I were painting away as the home renovations continue, I got a call from a former Client I had done some consulting work regarding his Irish ancestry. He called to thank me for making this year’s St. Patrick’s Day even more memorable as I had pointed him in directions that saved him time and money.

I had also recommended that he always save his Ancestry.com tree in another location and we had discussed several options. Why do I recommend that? I’m definitely not trying to start a malicious rumor here as I believe there is no problem at all with Ancestry.com but in this crazy world, you just never know. I’m a planner (and a little paranoid) so I think about the what ifs in life – what if I can’t pay for the service any longer, what if they get hacked and I can’t access my lifelong work, what if they get sold and the service becomes deplorable? (On a side note, my hubby thinks this is a little irrational and he’s probably right. I say some people fear immigrants and I fear losing mine!) So my concern led me to find alternatives for my trees.

My Client decided to download the free standard edition of Legacy Family Tree but he had difficulty following my Ancestry.com download instructions. I talked him through it remotely and understand why he had a problem which you, dear reader, may also encounter.

If you’re new to this process it’s quite simple, just follow these steps:
Log on to Ancestry.com
Click “Trees” on the Ribbon and scroll and click on “Create & Manage Trees”
Click “Manage Tree”
Under “Manage Tree” in the green box on the left, click “Download your gedcom file”

Be patient, it may take some time, depending on the size of your tree.
Once downloaded, if you open the file it will be gibberish so you must install a program that can read a gedcom. You have several options; I’ve listed those that I’ve used that allow you to save the program to your own computer and/or place in your own Cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) so you have complete control over the data:
Legacy Family Tree – free with the standard edition; small cost for a program that does more.
Rootsmagic – small cost and by mid-April it will sink with Ancestry.com
Family Tree Maker – small cost, used to synch with Ancestry.com but I experienced problems; supposedly works now.

Or, you can join another organization like Ancestry.com and save your tree there. I’ve used My Heritage as an alternative.

There are lots more options that I’m not familiar with – for a review of the opinion based Top 10 click here.

I haven’t done this but am exploring these as other options some day:
Familysearch – free, however, you are donating your tree to their genealogical community and although it is a backup, you don’t control it any longer. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and follow the directions under “Contribute Your Research”
Wiki Tree – free, however, when I tried to upload several years ago my tree was too large for them. Haven’t checked back to see if their system will take it.

Whatever you choose is your personal decision but you have to select one so you can access your data.

Here’s where my Client got stuck – on Ancestry.com, step 4 above, he clicked “Download Tips” and got information on deleting his tree so he panicked and stopped. That was wise as you DON’T WANT TO DELETE THE TREE!!!! Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

When I click on download instructions I get the following:

“If the “File Download” window does not appear and Windows automatically downloads a text file:
Right click on the “Download your GEDCOM file” button.
Select “Save Target As…”
A “Save As” dialog box will display. Select a location for the file that you will be able to find later, such as “Desktop.” Then give the file a name and click on Save.”

He didn’t need to follow the 3 steps above. Once he clicked “Download your gedcom file” he was able to successfully save it to his hard drive. He selected to install the free Legacy Family Tree program and I listened as he followed the Legacy prompts and uploaded the gedcom. He was quite happy when it was finished.

You’ll be really happy, too, when you know you’re hard work is safe and accessible. Personally, I think sitting on my derriere to download and upload a gedcom is the easiest spring cleanup to do!

Thank You Familysearch.org!

I love Familysearch.org for so many reasons – the wiki, the records, the tutorials, the ease of use, I could go on and on. I mentioned this at a recent local genealogy conference I attended to my tablemates and was surprised to learn that they had not signed up for a free account. Then yesterday, I was volunteering at an Ask-A-Genealogist Day at a library where I met several folks who had never heard of the site.

One gentleman was so excited he called his wife and brother to tell them about the records we found on his grandparents. A very sweet woman teared up when I showed her a marriage license her grandfather had signed – she had never seen his childlike signature before. He died before she was born and had been uneducated but her grandmother made sure she had the money to go to college so she’d have a better life. I forwarded the link originally sent out by Thomas MacEntee about the upcoming Irish research workshops that Familysearch is offering all week that I bet St. Pat would have attended if he were alive! Another man told me his wife will be so happy as he wanted to make a trip to Ireland ala WDYTYA and she told him that was ridiculous since he wouldn’t have archivists drop everything for him. So he’s tuning in, learning and planning to save time and money. Can’t get better than that! Interested and want more info on this event? Click on this for the flyer.

Trust me, Familysearch has not solicited for money or sent beaucoup annoying emails as many other genealogy based groups do. Why should you register on the site? After creating an account you’re able to connect with others who are pursuing the same lines you are. BillionGraves is now synching with Familysearch so there’s another reason. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s a valuable genealogical tool. You’ve lost an hour today so insure you don’t lose more time – sign up at Familysearch.org today.

A New Way to Identify Name Variations

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 Sep 2016.

I was reading the article Guild of One-Name Studies Is Now Available at FamilySearch.org  in The Genealogy News recently and thought I’d  check out the database on Familysearch.  On a few lines, I trace everyone who has that name in the US in an attempt to make a connection across the pond.  Stop and read the article and then come back to my blog.

If you followed the articles link to Familysearch, (added here in case you didn’t), and you enter a surname in the search field, you probably were disappointed.  I know I was!  I first added HARBAUGH and got links to everything but Guild Of One-Name Studies.  I know family historians, some quite renown, have traced the name back to a HARBO who was a court scribe in the 1200’s in Denmark.  I expected to find that and more but all I got were records of Harbaughs.

I then typed in LEININGER and got lots of IGI records but nothing for the Guild of One-Name Studies.

Then it hit me!  On the left hand side, I should have scrolled down and filtered out everything but Guild of One-Name Studies.

I still got nothing for Harbaugh and Leininger but when I entered KOS I got Cass and Coss,

Next I tried KABLE and that’s when it occurred to me – duh – this could be an innovative way to come up with surname variations!  My Kables were listed as Cable, Cabel, Kabel, Cobbold and Cabot.  I would have never come up with Cobbold and Cabot.

Next I tried DUER and got Dewhurst.  Now that was very interesting to me as I’ve been heavy into deeds and wills of my John Duer in Trumbull/Mahoning Counties, Ohio who died in 1831 after his son, Thomas, and I keep seeing Dewhurst in the records.  I pronounce Dewhurst as doo’ herst but I guess it could be pronounced doo’ ers.  Hmm.

We’ve all seen creatively spelled names, likely recorded from pronunciations, in records but I’ve never been really good at coming up with more than obvious variations.  I’m adding this tool to my genealogy tool box!

Pursuing Genealogy on a Shoestring Budget Part 2 – Genealogical Websites

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 2 June 2016.

Last blog we looked at ways to cut costs on genealogical memberships.  We’ll keep a running tab of expenses; for full membership in genealogical organizations the cost would be about $409.00 annually and on a limited budget, less than $100.00.  Today we’re going to explore how to cut costs for those must have online databases.

AmericanAncestors.org is a database offering “hundreds of millions of valuable records.”  For home access, the cost is $89.95 annually but it is free through many public libraries.  Check out the link I’ve provided – it’s to the 453 databases in the collection.  I have found this site very useful for my New England and Long Island ancestors but if you aren’t researching those areas or are on a tight budget, save by using it at the library.

Ancestry.com is most likely available at your local library, too, but I must caution you that not all records are available on the library edition.  It is also only available for use in the library so you are limiting the time you can spend searching.  That’s okay if you’re on a tight budget as there are other sites you can use while you’re at home.  If you are a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) you can get a one time discount of 30% off an annual Ancestry membership.  You must have your AARP card number when you call Ancestry Customer Service and it will extend a current membership so wait until a day or two before your expiration before you renew to take full advantage of the offer.  Call Member Services at 1-800-ANCESTRY.  Cost depends on what membership you’re purchasing (U.S., World., or All).  There’s always the 14 day free trial but if you do that, make sure you’re saving what you find on your computer so you can access it when the trial ends.


Billion Graves is FREE so check it out.  Personally, I’ve never found anything different than what is available 

elsewhere but I still look and so should you.  


Familysearch.org is FREE and if you haven’t created a login you need to.  The caveat here is if you are building 

your tree on this site ANYONE can change what you’ve entered.  Wikis are wonderful and in a perfect world this would not be an issue.  I have had well meaning but not knowledgeable folks change data and make links that are not right.  I know of the changes because they nicely email you when someone has done something to what you’ve entered.  I don’t have the time to keep undoing what someone else does so my skeletal tree is going to remain that.  That’s not to say that the rest of the website is a wonderful FREE source for you to use at home.

Find-a-Grave.com is affiliated with Ancestry.com but remains FREE.  Not all information on the site is accurate so be careful, just as you would if you were researching anywhere else!

FindMyPast is awesome if you’re researching Great Britain.  They boast 8 million records and I have found some info but not enough with the lines I am currently researching to make it worthwhile if money was an issue.  They do have a blog and send lots of emails a week with updated news. Like every other competitor, they want you to save your tree to their site. This increases the number of records they can claim they have while you do all the work.  The benefits, though, are that you can connect with others who are interested in the same lines and you can access the information anywhere you have connectivity.  Fourteen day FREE trial available.

Fold3 -now part of Ancestry.com, has a basic membership for free.  That allows you to search and browse but not access all images.  Kind of like letting you look in the bakery window but not enter to taste!  Specials are offered frequently, such as join for 7 days for free or $49.95 for a premium yearly access.  Fold3 is mostly thought about in regards to military records but they are building on other areas, such as Project Blue Book (I believe this is the first genealogy website to include nonearthling alien information!) to African and Native American collections.

GenealogyBank – I call it the newspaper place.  Check out where they have records before you buy; with over 100 million records you most likely will find something valuable here, especially obits.  Free 30 day FREE trial that’s well worth it so give it a try.

MyHeritage is a not only a place to save your tree online but you can scroll all the way to the bottom of their longggggg page, click search, and use their database.  They have a Nordic Census that I’ve found helpful.  It’s FREE.

Today’s costs – if you are using a library for Ancestry and you’ve taken advantage of the free trials – $0.00. Our running total for the budget concern – still less than $100.00/year.  Next time we’ll look at free additional resources available.

Twelve+ Genealogy Gems for a Whole Year of Fun!

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 16 Dec 2015.

I’ve been asked lately by colleagues and students what are some of my favorite genealogy sites so in keeping with the holidays (and having the 12 Days of Christmas stuck in my head!) here are my favorite free go to sites for quick genealogy answers.  They are listed in alphabetical order because they are all valuable in their own way.  I’ve also included the sites’ own description, when available:

  1. AncestorCloud – “is a community that connects family researchers with willing helpers and professional genealogists. Connect with helpers to pick up records, take local photographs, translate documents, help with research questions or conduct custom research. It’s free to join and post a request. Connect with researchers in over 52 countries”.  I have never been contacted to provide research assistance so I can’t vouch for how that works but I did post a request for help that was picked up by a genealogist in Croatia. AncestorCloud acts as an intermediary so I never communicated directly with the researcher.  She did provide valuable assistance in how to locate my maternal great grandmother’s gravesite,  The process isn’t anywhere online so the information was extremely valuable to me.  I had tried Find-A-Grave and Billion Graves but no one ever responded.  I volunteered to pay the researcher $25.00 US dollars for her help – that was my choice.  If you are going to hire someone the price is negotiated before hand.  Additionally, AncestorCloud emails helpful genealogical articles.
  2. Crestleaf – “is for people who want to preserve their family’s legacy in a chronological timeline and digital archive for both current and future generations to enjoy.”  I don’t use Crestleaf as an archive.  Instead, I scroll to the bottom of the page and check the All Surname search.  You can also browse by state or decade. The absolute best part of Crestleaf, though, is the weekly emailed Genealogy Tips and News.  One of my favorite reads!
  3. Cyndi’s List -“A comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online.”  Cyndi has been a wonderful resource for me for a long time!  Amazing that her links always work and are current.
  4. Family Search – “Search for a deceased ancestor in historical records to uncover vital information from their life.”  Besides searching records, check out the genealogies (that may be inaccurate so look for citations), catalog, books and the wiki.  I love the wiki and find it’s extremely useful if I need information about a region that I’m don’t typically research.  The only cost is if you want to view microfilm that hasn’t been placed online. You can order and have it sent to a local Family History Center to view.
  5. Find-A-Grave – “Find the graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials, add ‘virtual flowers’ and a note to a loved one’s grave”  It’s owned by Ancestry.com but remains free.
  6. Billion Graves – “Collect photos of the headstones in your local cemetery with our iPhone/Android camera app. Then upload the mapped-out photos here. Transcribe information from uploaded headstone photos – then descendants everywhere can easily search for their ancestors. Search for your ancestors’ graves using our easy search. You can access their headstone records, photos of headstones, and accurate locations of all the graves.”  (Both Find-a-Grave and Billion Graves have helped me find children that may have been born and died in between census years)
  7. Geneabloggers – “The ultimate site for your genealogy blog – an online community created by Thomas MacEntee”.  There’s alot of blogs here but the features I like the most are Tom’s genealogy special offers and his webinars (which have a nominal charge).  Subscribe for free to Geneabloggers and you’ll receive emails with give aways (such as genealogy e-books), discounts and helpful hints.
  8. Genealogy in Time (online) Magazine -“We have the tools and resources to help you discover your ancestors for free. Let us help you find your story”.  There’s also a search engine, rare book search and the magazine includes new records placed online each week.
  9. Geneanet News – “More than 1.5 billion indexed individuals  The Genealogy Library gives access to hundreds of thousands documents indexed for genealogy research.”  They will email you periodically any surname updates you’ve identified to follow.
  10. Genealogy News – Every Sunday, I receive this awesome newsletter filled with links of recent genealogy news from Genealogy Today LLC.  Love to read it with my morning coffee as it often gives me ideas that I use to plan my research for the upcoming week.
  11. Legacy Family Tree – “Genealogy News, Legacy tricks and technology tips”.  Some webinars are not free but many are. The Standard Edition of Legacy is free to download if you want to save your tree to your hard drive, desktop or cloud.  If you do use their tree, you can also subscribe free to their techie list and you’ll get emails with updates and hints.  They’re also on Facebook.
  12. Rootsweb – A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… no, not Star Wars, I’m referring to circa 2000 before Ancestry.com owned everything – Rootsweb was the most awesome site in the genealogy universe.  I still use it although it’s not current and it’s now owned by Ancestry.  It remains free, however, and if I’m stuck I use the site to see if someone has created a tree in the past that may be helpful.

Next time I’ll write about my favorite NON FREE sites.  Happy Hunting!