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<November 2014>

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# Monday, November 24, 2014
17 Family History Questions to Ask Your Relatives at Thanksgiving
Posted by Diane

Happy Thanksgiving! Will you be spending part of this tradition-filled holiday with family? Perhaps you can turn the occasion to your genealogical advantage. All that nostalgia makes a great setup for talking about family history.

Baltimore and Ohio Employees Magazine, 1912, Internet Archive

You can use the holiday and the food as an opener, then delve deeper into family history. Here are some questions to get (and keep) the conversational ball rolling: 
  • How did your family celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What was your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal?
  • What was your childhood home like?
  • How did you get along with your brothers and sisters?
  • What did you do for fun as a child?
  • Did you have any pets?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What was your school like?
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • What was your first job? How did you get it?
  • How did World War II (or the Great Depression, or another significant event) affect your family?
  • Was your family religious? Where did you go to church (or synagogue)?
  • How did your parents meet?
  • What do you admire about your parents?
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • Tell me about getting your first (insert any technological innovation—radio, telephone, television, dishwasher, computer).
  • Who's the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
It might be fun to bring some old photos to spark memories, or even a family tree if you think people would be interested in seeing how the folks in the photos fit into your family.

Download our Oral History Made Easy e-book for more questions and prompts to interview relatives about family history, experts' secrets to interviewing success, help getting reticent family members to open up about the past, tips to use the information you learn, and more. 

Be ready for family history interview opportunities with our Instant Oral History Interview Kit, which contains a digital recorder, the above ebook and our Family Interview worksheet.

However you're spending Thanksgiving, and especially if you're away from loved ones, I wish you a day of warmth, contentment and much to be grateful for.

Oral History | Research Tips | saving and sharing family history
Monday, November 24, 2014 10:16:48 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, November 21, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Nov. 17-21
Posted by Diane

FamilySearch | findmypast | Genealogy Events | Genealogy for kids | Genealogy societies
Friday, November 21, 2014 12:25:25 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0] Study: Online Genealogy Research in the U.S. Has Grown by 14X in 10 Years
Posted by Diane

Here’s some news to warm a genealogist’s heart before Thanksgiving: According to the first chapter of’s new Global Family History Report, online family history research has grown in the United States by 14 times over the past decade, with 63 percent of respondents stating that family history has become more important than ever.

The study by the Future Foundation on behalf of examined trends in the family—both past and present—across six developed countries: the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden.

Overall, it indicates that generations are growing closer and families are increasingly interested in their history. Other findings include:

  • The number of grandchildren with a close relationship with a grandparent has risen from 60 percent in the 1950s to 1960s, to 78 percent today. family historian Michelle Ercanbreck attributes this to advances in technology and medicine: “As grand- and great-grandparents live longer and stay connected with social media, there are now unprecedented opportunities to engage with younger generations and pass on family stories.” 
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents reported feeling closer to older relatives, with half of older relatives saying they had drawn closer to young relatives as a result of learning more about their family.
  • Younger people (55 percent overall) are among those inspired most to learn more about their family history by talking with older family members.
  • The average family history for US respondents stretches back 184 years, compared to 149 years a generation ago.
  • Among Americans who’ve gone beyond talking to family to research their family history, three of the most commonly used resources are photographs (81 percent); birth, marriage and death records (66 percent); and letters (45 percent). 

Do you like the idea of bringing generations closer and passing on a family history legacy? Take a look at our book Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild. If you’re inspired to start tracing your family history, Discover Your Family History Online can point you to the best genealogy websites and online resources to start your search.  

You can see more details on these findings and the study methodology in’s press release. | Genealogy Industry | saving and sharing family history
Friday, November 21, 2014 12:05:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, November 19, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Features Greek Genealogy
Posted by Diane

I was struck by the strong Greek identities of the guests—comedian Tina Fey, author David Sedaris and journalist George Stephanopoulos—on last night's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." All grew up with a deep sense of being Greek, spent time with other Greeks, and went to Greek Orthodox churches.

A lot of this identity comes from the guests' relatively recent Greek heritage—each had grandparents who came from Greece in the early 20th century. Could it also be the food? My husband and I, and lots and lots of other people, go every year to a Greek festival in our area to get dinner and copious amounts of baklava. It's a good reason to be proud of one's culture.

Despite their strong ethnic identity, though, none of the guests knew much about their family histories. Gates pointed out that Greek roots can be hard to trace because of record losses suffered during the world wars and Greece's fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire—struggles that also took their toll on the Greek people. There's the language barrier and decentralized archive system, too.

Nonetheless, the show's researchers were able to discover quite a bit of family tree information for each guest. The highlights:
  • Tina Fey: Researchers found Fey's immigrant grandmother Vasiliki Kourekou on a 1921 passenger list "deep in the Ellis Island archives." (I had to chuckle over Gates' dramatic wording. Ellis Island passenger lists are readily available online, and the record "archives" at Ellis Island are on the computers in the first-floor Family History Center, which any visitor can use.) She was from Patrina, and researchers found an old family history with genealogies of the town's residents. Fey's third-great-grandfather escaped the Turks' massacre on the island of Chios, and went on to earn a medal for his service in the Greek Revolution.

    On her father's side of the family, Fey's English fifth-great-grandfather John Hewson was a manufacturer in the textile industry. He migrated to the American  Colonies with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin and became a prominent textile manufacturer here as well; quilts from his company now hang in museums. He also organized his workers to support the American Revolution.

    The ethnicity estimates from Fey's DNA test show she has 6 percent Asian ancestry, which breaks down to 3 percent Caucasus and 3 percent Middle Eastern—not surprising for a person of Greek heritage.
  • George Stephanopoulos: Both of Stephanopoulos' parents are Greek. His maternal grandmother Marguerite Nicodopoulos was born in Saravali. The town was the site of a WWI Nazi raid in January 1944, in which George's family, part of the local resistance, was rounded up and later released. Their home, though, was later burned down by German supporters.
His fourth great-grandfather was a Klepht, or anti-Ottoman rebel, leading up to the Greek Revolution, and later served in the war. Stephanopoulos' DNA revealed he's 98.9 percent European.
  • David Sedaris: When Sedaris was young, his Greek grandmother, who spoke no English, lived with his family.  She was born in Apidia, where Sedaris still has distant cousins who helped piece together the family history. In Greek military archives, researchers discovered that his third-great-grandfather Elias Sedaris, born in 1781, had a daughter seized by the invading Turkish army. Her fate is unknown.
Ancestors in Sedaris' maternal line were in the United States from colonial times. His fourth-great-grandfather was 16 when he enlisted for the Americans in the Revolutionary War. His DNA test revealed 4 percent Caucasus ancestry.

If you're researching Greek ancestors, let our downloadable Greek Genealogy guide lead you to records, websites and resources. It's available in

You can watch this episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website. Next week's episode will focus on genetic genealogy and the DNA results of guests such as Anderson Cooper, Jessica Alba, Gov. Deval Patrick and others.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:58:03 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
New Ancestry DNA Launch: "DNA Circles" of Matching Individuals
Posted by Diane

Ancestry DNA—the genetic genealogy services arm of—is launching major new updates for its customers today. I'll save what I think is the most interesting one for second:  

Improved matching
The number of tests that Ancestry DNA has processed—about 500,000—has allowed it to create a new algorithm to determine your matches. Customers will now see higher-quality matches and, for most people, a smaller list of matches as the lower-quality ones drop off. In the online demonstration I saw last week, Ancestry DNA Senior Product Manager Kenny Freestone said his own match list went from more than 100 pages of matches to 36 pages.

You'll still see the notes and stars you've added to the matches who stay on your list. For the time being, you can download your old match list, including any notes you added, via a link on the View All DNA Matches screen.

A link in the top corner will let you access help content including an article that explains your match "confidence score" (for example, a "very high" confidence level means it is very likely that you and your match share an ancestor within five or six generations).

Also here, a  white paper that explains matching in technical detail, including a process called "phasing." Freestone said Ancestry DNA is the only major testing company that performs this complicated, expensive process, which determines whether parts of DNA called SNPs came from the mother or the father. (See a more thorough description of phasing here.)

DNA Circles
This update, in beta right now, is potentially extremely helpful to genealogy researchers. Ancestry DNA will create DNA Circles—clusters of test-takers who all match the same ancestral individual. Each person in a circle matches at least one other person in the circle and has the same ancestral individual in his or public Ancestry Member Tree.

Circles will be constantly updated as DNA customers add and change family trees, and new people test.

Circle members can see a list of everyone in the circle, the confidence level of the person's membership in the circle, and how each person is related to the ancestral individual genetically and on his or her tree. Members can link to each tree to view the information and records they contain.

DNA Circles help customers put their DNA test results to work solving family mysteries—explaining how genetically matched people are related, leading to new relatives and verifying traditional research. 

To be in and view a DNA Circle, you must:
  • be an Ancestry DNA customer
  • have an member tree that's set as public (because your membership in a DNA Circle gives others access to your tree)
  • subscribe to
Here's what DNA Circles look like. William Gray is the ancestral individual at the center of this DNA Circle:

Circle members can see a list of other members:

This comparison shows two members of the William Gray DNA Circle (Kenny Freestone and L.S.) and how they're related to William—making Kenny and LS second cousins once removed. In this case, they're not a DNA match, which, due to the way DNA recombines over generations, isn't unexpected.

These updates will take effect automatically—no need to upgrade or take a new test. Ancestry DNA customers will receive an email message about the changes today. | Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:31:12 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, November 18, 2014
12 Kinds of Organizations Genealogists Should Follow on Facebook
Posted by Diane

This isn't an article about the genealogy organizations you should follow on Facebook and other social media. Nope. Instead, it's about the types of organizations you should seek out and follow, because they might lead you to important research information and resources.

As you'll find out in our Jumpstart Your Genealogy with Social Media webinar on Nov. 25, using social media for genealogy isn't just getting your research questions answered on Facebook (although that is a great use of social media).

It's also finding out about new resources, learning the history of your ancestral places and people, meeting folks who are researching the same ancestors you are, and answering other genealogists' questions. Start by finding and following these organizations:
  • Genealogical societies for the towns, counties and states where your ancestor lived and where you live
  • Public libraries where your ancestor lived and where you live (sometimes the genealogy department has its own Facebook page)
  • State libraries and archives for your ancestral states

  • Major genealogical societies, libraries and archives (such as the National Archives)
  • Alumni organizations for the places your relative attended school
  • Museums and historical sites related to your family history (such as the Coal Creek Miner's Museum if your great-grandfather worked in a mine)  
  • Still-extant social, religious, immigrant and other organizations your ancestor belonged to (such as the Freemasons)

  • Organizations and museums related to your relatives' military service
  • Genealogy websites and products you use, are considering using or subscribing to, or are interested in hearing about
On a Facebook page, click the Like button to follow it. For groups, click the Join button to join (or if it's a closed group, to ask to be added). You can see most pages even if you're not a member of Facebook, but you must be a member of Facebook to join a group.

You'll learn how to find these types of organizations and groups on social media sites in the Jumpstart Your Genealogy with Social Media webinar, taking place Tuesday, November 25, at 7 p.m. ET. You'll also learn strategies for using social media to do genealogy research, and discover social media sites especially for genealogy.

Webinar registrants receive a PDF of the presentation slides and access to view the webinar again whenever they want. Learn more about the Jumpstart Your Genealogy with Social Media webinar in

Research Tips | Social Networking
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 2:40:02 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, November 17, 2014
Free Global Records on Through Nov. 19
Posted by Diane

I just got word that is offering free access to select global records for a limited time.

The offer corresponds with this week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.," which features the Greek roots of Tina Fey and David Sedaris. It airs Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m./7 central on PBS. sponsors the show.

I ran a few test searches to get an idea of what's included, and it looks like mostly births and baptisms, marriages, and deaths and burials from FamilySearch (obtained as part of the records partnership announced last year). 

The free access ends Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 11:59 p.m. ET. You'll need a free basic account to view matching records. (If you don't already have a free account, run a search and you'll be prompted to set one up when you click to view a record.)

Click to start searching's free global records. | Free Databases
Monday, November 17, 2014 12:11:41 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, November 14, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Nov. 10-14
Posted by Diane

  • Fold3 is offering free access to the site's WWII Collection through November 30. This includes Missing Air Crew Reports, US Air Force photos, Old Man's Draft cards and WWII diaries. You'll need to set up a free basic account when prompted to view records that match your search. Start searching here.
  • FamilySearch International, an important driver of progress in genealogy research, is celebrating its 120th anniversary. Nov. 13, 1894, the Genealogical Society of Utah held its first meeting. It became the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1944. It was later renamed as the church's Genealogical Department, then the Family History Department. In the 1990s, as the concept of the website was being developed, it became known as FamilySearch.
The company has launched another advertising campaign in Norway.

Celebrity Roots | FamilySearch | Fold3 | Genealogy societies | MyHeritage
Friday, November 14, 2014 10:15:47 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Genealogy Research at the Courthouse: When Your Ancestor's Old Record is Missing
Posted by Diane

So you send a request for your ancestor's divorce or deed or criminal trial or other old record to the courthouse that should have it—or you go to that courthouse—and the record isn't there.

This happened to me when I requested case records of my great-grandfather's 1913 trial for bootlegging in Bowie, Texas, a dry county at the time. I didn't have a volume and page number, but I knew details including the county and the date of conviction. I laid it all out as succinctly as possible in my request, added that I'd pay any fees, and sent it off to the clerk (whose name and address I found on the county court's website).

A few weeks later, my letter came back with a note that said "searched, record not found." When this happens, it's possible the information in the request was incorrect or incomplete, that the record was misfiled or filed elsewhere, or that it no longer exists.

In addition to explaining what types of court records exist and helping you find your ancestor's court records, our Nov. 20 Courthouse Research Crash Course webinar will address what to do when records are missing. Here are some of the options I've tried:
  • Double-check your information: Were the names in your request spelled correctly? Did you give a woman's maiden name when the record should be under her married name? Did you transpose numbers in the date? If so, correct your request and resubmit it.
  • Find the volume and page number where the record is located: Some local genealogical societies have published indexes to court records. Otherwise, check the FamilySearch online catalog for microfilmed indexes: Run a Place search on the county or town and click the court records heading, then browse for index reels covering the right time period. Rent the film to view at your local FamilySearch Center (or, if the records are digitized online, you'll see a link to the collection at

    Court records indexes are usually handwritten and arranged by the first letter of the last name. Within each section, names may be partially or not at all alphabetized, so check the entire section.

  • Check the microfilmed records: Once you have a volume and page number, you could add it to your request, or you could see whether FamilySearch has microfilmed or digitized the records you need.

    At the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I searched the microfilmed index and court records for Bowie County. I could see why the clerk didn't find the records: The volume and page number the index gave for my great-grandfather's case corresponded with records from years before he was in the county. I also checked microfilmed records for the time his trial took place. Nothing. I noted from the index that his trial was one of a batch of consecutively numbered bootlegging cases, all of which seemed to be missing.

  • Look for courthouse disasters: Local research guides and genealogical societies also can tell you if a fire or other disaster destroyed records. If so, find out exactly which records were involved—some may have survived. Also look for reconstructed records and other substitute sources. (Find our guide to researching around record disasters in

  • Check local research guides: It's possible the records were misplaced or filed elsewhere. After all, we're talking about an entire county's worth of paperwork in a pre-computer era. Some time after my microfilm search, I found newspaper articles mentioning my ancestor's trial, and how a special court district was set up to handle the glut of bootlegging cases. I wonder if those records were kept elsewhere? Local research guides and societies might help in figuring out the answer.

    I could resubmit a more-detailed request, in the hopes a different clerk would know where to look. One thing to remember, though, is that a clerk won't be as highly invested in my genealogy search as I am, and regular duties would likely take precedence over my request.

    I would love to go to the courthouse to search the records myself (or I could hire someone if I had the budget for it). Not all courthouses let researchers access the original records, so if it's an option you're considering, call first.

Our Courthouse Research Crash Course webinar, presented by Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Sunny Jane Morton, is Thursday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. ET. Everyone who registers will receive a PDF of the presentation slides, as well as access to view the webinar again as often as desired.

See what you'll learn in the Courthouse Research Crash Course webinar and get registered at

court records | Webinars
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 1:01:55 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
"Finding Your Roots" Focuses on Ancestry in the British Empire
Posted by Diane

British roots was the theme for last night's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." That includes roots from all over the British Empire: As it revealed the family histories of guests Deepak Chopra, Sally Field and Sting, the show touched on research in England, Ireland, Canada, India, the American colonies and Australia.
  • Deepak Chopra: This alternative medicine guru and author came to America in 1970, where he eventually became chief of staff in a busy Boston hospital.

    Chopra's family had managed to avoid the desperate poverty rampant in India, Gates said, by aligning themselves with the British rulers. His father, a medic for the British Indian Army during World War II, served in the bloody Battle of Kohima. He later became an aide to Lord Mountbatten, viceroy of British India, who helped him secure a scholarship to study cardiology in Scotland.  
When Britain left India in 1947, the partition of India displaced  millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.  Chopra's grandparents managed to escape their hometown in the newly created Pakistan.
One of the most interesting parts of this segment was a record of visitors to the sacred city of Haridwar that allowed the show's researchers to document a branch of Chopra's tree back to his sixth-great-grandfather. You can find information about the Hindu Pilgrimage Records at FamilySearch, which has digitized versions available for the public to view at a FamilySearch Center, or for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints to view from home when logged into their FamilySearch accounts.
  • Sally Field: Actor Field was cut off from her father's family history after her parents divorced when she was 4. Gates' research team documented the family in Ontario, Canada, to her fifth-great-grandparents. How did they end up there? Ralph and Anne Morden lived in Pennsylvania in the 1770s. According to a letter written at the time, Ralph, a Loyalist, was taken prisoner and executed for treason. To protect her eight children, Anne moved her family to Ontario, where Britain granted her land as compensation for her loss. You can read more on Canadian land grant records here.
Fields' DNA test revealed a small amount of American Indian ancestry, which Gates suggested means her colonial American family had children with their Indian neighbors.
On her father's maternal side, researchers traced Field's ancestor back to William Bradford, a Mayflower pilgrim and governor of the Plymouth colony. Probably in the interest of time, Gates skipped over the Pilgrims' years in Leiden, Holland, when telling their story; you'll find those details here.
  • Sting: Sting was born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner in Wallsend, England (the show didn't mention this, but he got his name because he once performed in a black-and-yellow-striped sweater). A newspaper article reported how his great-grandfather, whose shipmate father had died at sea, was injured while working in the town shipyards at age 13.

    Another set of third-great-grandparents, laceworkers in Nottingham, England, moved to France to find work after steam-powered machines automated their jobs. An unidentified book referred to "the lace hands of Nottingham extraction" and the "great distress" caused by the French Revolution of 1848, which eliminated laceworkers' main clientele and prompted the family to move to Australia.
In Sting's paternal grandmother's line, a baptismal record of a great-great-grandfather in Ireland showed that the parents were too poor to make the customary donation to the church—a common occurrence during the Great Famine.  The family moved to England, among the roughly 1.5 million to emigrate between 1845 and 1855.
Our Empire Emigrants guide helps you research British ancestors in India, Australia and South Africa.

Ready to research ancestors in England? Family Tree University's English Genealogy 201 course will show you what old records to look for and how to find them. The next session starts Dec. 8.
Watch this episode of "Finding Your Roots" on the show's website.

Next week's episode will focus on the Greek roots of Tina Fey, George Stephanopoulos and David Sedaris.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 10:37:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]