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Monday, July 25, 2016
To Write or Not to Write: Respecting Privacy in Family-History Storytelling
Posted by Diane
When you start writing your life’s stories, you may wonder what to put in and what to leave out. Should you mention that time you got arrested, or when your best friend betrayed you? What about your difficult relationship with your dad? What if telling your stories will reveal someone else’s secrets?
Writing your life story can raise questions about how to be fair and honest, and what stories of your life should keep private. Story of My Life workbook author and guest blogger Sunny Morton has three quick things to consider when you start writing your family history:
- Everyone has a right to privacy. Writing about your life doesn’t obligate you to share all your stories. Chances are there are some events, relationships, failures or disappointments in your past you’d rather not write about.
While you should consider acknowledging all life-changing events (even if you choose not to dwell on details), you don’t have to write about everything. For painful events that prompted major changes in your relationships, career, living circumstances or way of life, a passing mention—along with the results—may be sufficient: “After my divorce, I moved to Seattle, where my sister lived. I wanted to leave painful memories behind.”
- Honesty is key. You don’t need to tell everything—but everything you tell should be true. Of course, you won’t intend to write falsehoods, but it can be tempting to downplay your role in a big family argument or skip over the nice things your “worthless” baby brother actually has done for you. Nobody is all good or all bad, including yourself. Try to write about everyone fairly. In doing so, you may discover some new truths in the process of writing: how you felt about someone, what you learned from a situation, how you feel now.
Consider including at least some of these insights in your life-story writings. You may think it’s obvious what the past taught you or how you might feel, but that may not be the case. And your insights or life lessons may turn out to be the most valuable part of sharing your memories (for you and others).
- Think twice before revealing someone else’s secrets. Many who write their life stories have to decide whether to divulge confidential or sensitive information about someone else. Should you write about a relative’s addiction, debts, temper or marital problems? Consider the answers to three questions:
- First, is this your story to tell? If it didn’t significantly affect your life, it doesn’t really belong in your life story.
- Second, what are your motives? Revenge, or an unfortunate but real need to set the record straight?
- Finally, who may be hurt by your revelation? Even if the person with the secret is dead, that person may have living loved ones who may suffer.
After considering these questions, you may still see the need to reveal confidences, but you may approach it more sensitively.
My new book Story of My Life guides you through the process of deciding what stories to tell, telling them (including lessons learned) honestly, and focusing on what’s most important. You’ll find hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions about the people and events of your past.
Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a preformatted document you can print or share as you like.
Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Monday, July 25, 2016 10:54:01 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, July 22, 2016
Why Your Ancestry.com and Other Online Genealogy Searches Don't Work
Posted by Diane
Chances are you've become frustrated at times when searching
for ancestors online at genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com,
MyHeritage and FamilySearch. Knowing why genealogy searches sometimes fail can
help you figure out how to fix them.
Below is our cheat sheet of common issues that trip up your
searches, plus tips to fix them.
Get expert guidance on using Ancestry.com in our Become
an Ancestry.com Power User online course, starting Monday,
Aug. 1, at Family Tree University. This four-week course will help
you delve into the Ancestry's rich resources and pull out records where
you came up empty before.
|Why it Happens
not actually searching the documents on genealogy websites. Instead, you're
searching a textual index created by a person (or sometimes, software) who transcribed what he or she thought the
documents said. Illegible records, poor-quality digital
images and human error cause a mismatch between the index and
your search terms.
• Use filters and wildcards to find variant names, enter
date ranges, and broaden the geographic area
• Search for variant and incorrect name spellings
• Search with fewer terms, i.e., leave the name blank
• Try another site with the same data set (the index may be
• Browse the records
||Enumerators and clerks who created
records may have recorded wrong information, your
ancestor may have reported it wrong, or another informant
(such as neighbor) may have taken a guess. The index
accurately reflects the record, but it doesn't match your
Same as above
|Incorrect search terms
||You might be wrong about details such as when
your immigrant arrived or when Great-great-grandma was born,
so your search terms don't match the record you want.
• Same as above
• Double-check your research and information sources.
Disregard family stories that lack a basis in records.
|The record doesn’t exist
||Disasters such as fire, flood or custodial
neglect may have destroyed the records. Or maybe they were
never created in the first place, such as for early vital
records in much of the US. It's also possible
your ancestor wasn't enumerated in the census, or no one
reported his birth.
• Check the collection search page and local genealogy
guides for information on record gaps.
• Look for substitute sources, such as church records for
|The record isn't online
|Libraries and archives are full of valuable
records that exist only on paper or microfilm. Occasionally, one or more documents might be missed during digitization.
• Check local library websites and genealogy guides for record locations. Visit
the archive, hire a researcher to visit for you, or
request a copy by mail or email.
• Look for other, more-accessible records with the
information you need.
|The record is online, but isn't indexed
||A collection may be digitized and browsable
online, but no searchable index exists.
|| Figure out how the collection is organized (such as by state
and county, chronologically, etc.) and browse to the record
Register for our four-week Become an Ancestry.com Power User
course at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Ancestry.com | Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Genealogy Web Sites | MyHeritage | Research Tips
Friday, July 22, 2016 10:38:36 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
4 Ways to Jog Your Memories & Preserve Your History
Posted by Diane
Struggling to remember part of your past? Check out these four quick ways to spark memories from guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook, Sunny Jane Morton:
Recording your own history can be a rewarding experience, both personally and for your genealogy research—you never know what clues you’ll recall! But it can be frustrating when you don’t remember certain things as clearly as you’d like. Below are four strategies to jog your memories. Use these to evoke the feelings and facts of specific time periods, people, places or events in your past:
- Listen to music. Music can be especially powerful for evoking emotional memories. Play songs from the time period in question and see what feelings and memories surface. Pull out your old music albums, cassette tapes or CDs to remind yourself of your old “must-listen” albums. If you no longer own a device that can play these (or the cassette tape has deteriorated too much), look for updated formats at your local library. You could also use YouTube to look for individual songs or playlists of popular songs for a certain time period. Use search terms to bring up the name of a singer, band, song or album. Try a phrase like songs from the 40s or 1960s music, or do similar searches in your web browser. Billboard Top 100 songs 1955 brings up lists of hits you can then track down individually. If that search doesn’t work for you, try searching the Internet Archive. Its Live Music Archive is strongest for music recorded since the mid-1980s, but there is an enormous collection of Grateful Dead music (for example) that you can stream or download. Browse or search for the recording artists and songs you listened to. Or go way back into your family’s music memories with a digital collection of more than 3000 78rpm records and cylinder recordings from the early 20th century.
- Visit a place. Travel back to the setting of an event or time period. Walk through your old neighborhood, visit your alma mater or stop at the church or courthouse where you were married. If you can’t go to the actual place you want to remember, find a local surrogate to recreate the ambience. Visit a local beach, suburban street, high school football game or neighborhood street festival. The sights, sounds and smells (funnel cake!) may trigger memories. Or make a virtual visit to that place via Google Earth; try the Street View to see the place at eye level. Even things that have changed may make you better recall what was there before.
- Look at pictures and memorabilia. Get out your old photo albums, yearbooks, date books, letters, documents, clothing, jewelry, collections, awards, trophies and other mementoes of the past. Spend some time studying them in detail. Who appears in your memorabilia? What event or memory does it represent? Why did you keep it? What was going on in the background? What related memories does the sight of that person/object/place bring to mind?
- Reminisce. Contact someone who was part of your life during the time you’re trying to recall. After reconnecting, see if they’re willing to talk about “old times.” Compare memories: It can be both interesting and revealing when you recall things differently. Ask if they recall the things you’re trying to remember—why you all did something, or the name of the person on the left in a photo you can share. A couple words of advice: Be considerate of those whose memories of that time may be unpleasant or who may not want to bring up the past. And don’t argue when your memories conflict.
In the end, you still may not remember every detail as crisply as you’d like. But life-story writing is rewarding when it’s about your feelings and thoughts about the past, not just the memories themselves. Take special note of how your perceptions of the past may have changed (or not).
Reflect on how an event or person changed you—even if you don’t recall them perfectly. Note life lessons you took away with you, particularly those that have guided your life since. Write these things down.
A guided journal such as my new book Story of My Life is the perfect place to capture your thoughts and memories. It’s organized by time period and contains hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions.
There are plenty of places to record specific memories and celebrate special relationships. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.
Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, July 19, 2016 11:33:23 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
FamilySearch Power-User Tip: Find New & Updated Genealogy Collections
Posted by Diane
Recently I followed our own advice (from the popular Unofficial
Guide to FamilySearch book, and now our Become
a FamilySearch.org Power User online course) to check for
recently added or updated record collections at the free
FamilySearch website. It's easy to do:
1. On the FamilySearch home page, hover over Search and
2. On the Search page, choose Browse All Published
Collections. (This link may appear below the gray box, depending how wide your browser window is.)
3. Finally, click Last Updated to bring all the new or newly
updated collections to the top.
I discovered a new collection with record images, Kentucky, County
Marriages, 1797-1954. I found marriage registers or certificates for
a bunch of relatives, including my great-great-grandparents, married the day before Thanksgiving, 1900:
And this register clued me into a missing person in my tree:
I didn't have Josephine, born when her mother was 48, in my tree.
She married Herman H. Brink Sept. 22, 1885.
a FamilySearch.org Power User online course gives you in-depth
guidance using this free, rich genealogy website, with input from
our expert instructor and your fellow researchers.
You'll learn how to find your ancestors in FamilySearch's billions
of historical records (even the ones that aren't indexed), digitized
books and family trees. You'll also learn how to upload and manage
your family tree on FamilySearch, and use features such as the free
fan chart. The course starts Monday, July 25—hurry
up and register at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Research Tips
Tuesday, July 19, 2016 10:49:06 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
3 Tips for Preserving Childhood Memories
Posted by Diane
Want to dig into your past? Guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook Sunny Jane Morton shares three quick tips for recalling childhood memories:
What do you remember from your childhood? If you’re like most people, the answer may be, “Not much.” The older you get, the more remote and vague your youngest years may seem. That can be so frustrating when you want to document your life story (and the first chapter is missing!) or bring to mind clues from your childhood that would help you research your family history.
When starting to piece together your childhood memories, try following these three steps:
- Capture your memories as they are. You may not have many clear, consistent memories before about age 10. The ones you do have may seem fragmented. That’s because you experienced the world as a child, with a child’s emotions and perceptions, and you stored them away in the same fashion. But these memories still have value. Write them down. Then think about them over the course of several days or weeks. You may find bits of memory or explanation resurfacing. Add them to your written account.
- “Borrow” memories from loved ones. It’s not cheating to gather memories about your youngest years from those who remember them better. Ask parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, old neighbors and longtime friends about specific events or your childhood generally. Their memories will have limitations, too, but it’s worth asking.
- Research your past to fill in the blanks. Once you’ve compiled your memories alongside those of your loved ones, you may still identify gaps in the stories. Consider what missing details may be researched, particularly those that would bring the story back alive for you. Perhaps you could look up the specs on the 1950 Oldsmobile your father bought, the names of your grandparents’ neighbors or the route you would have taken on that road trip the summer you turned 12.
Learn more about each of these steps—from writing down and fleshing out vague memories to researching their contexts—in the Story of My Life workbook by Sunny Jane Morton. This life-story writing guide is packed with memory-jogging journaling prompts and more tips for fleshing out your life’s most meaningful stories. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.
saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, July 12, 2016 10:35:24 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, July 01, 2016
Fascinating Genealogy Finds in Online Newspapers
Posted by Diane
Hi all, our Find
Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers weeklong workshop starts
July 11! You
might know old newspapers are my favorite record type. To show
you what kind of fascinating finds you might be missing out on if
you're not using digitized online newspapers, here are a few of my
recent newspaper discoveries (including on free websites):
This profile of my husband's great-grandfather, then 87 years old (not the man pictured—that's the reporter),
is in the Jan. 8, 1960, Buffalo Courier-Express (digitized
on the free Old
Fulton NY Postcards site). It tells of his early life and career as a bricklayer. He used to haul lime in a wooden cart, stirring
it to keep the cart from catching fire.
My paternal grandfather, a star student in a Texas orphanage, was
in the papers frequently (due in part, I think, to the
superintendent's PR efforts). Several articles, like this one from the Aug. 10, 1919, San Antonio Express, include
pictures. My grandfather is on the left and my
dad looks just like him. This paper also was free, in the Portal to Texas History.
Before reliable birth and death records, it's difficult to know
to look for a child who died at two hours old, but newspapers can
clue you in. The Cincinnati
Daily Star s free to search from 1875 to 1880 on Chronicling America. (This is the August 5, 1878, edition.)
The Cincinnati Enquirer, available on subscription site
Newspapers.com, has been a goldmine of information about my local
family. This article from April 16, 1894, relates the sudden death of my
cousin three times removed.
More saloon trouble: The Aug. 31, 1880, Cincinnati Daily Gazette,
available through subscription site GenealogyBank, told of my
fourth-great-uncle's troublemaking due to his dissatisfaction with
There's also the coverage of my third-great-grandparents'
divorce, my Federal
League baseball player, and other finds I haven't blogged
Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers workshop will help you get
around online newspaper site frustrations such as locating online
newspaper sources in the first place, overcoming poor OCR indexing,
finding ancestors with common names, and working with search options
on specific websites.
It includes seven video classes you can watch whenever you want
during the week (and download to watch later), message board
discussions and advice from workshop instructor James M. Beidler.
for this valuable workshop today at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Family Tree University | Newspapers | Research Tips
Friday, July 01, 2016 12:13:07 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
MyHeritage News: Interactive Family Tree Maps & DNA Matching
Posted by Diane
I wanted to update you all on a couple of cool updates to the
MyHeritage genealogy website:
- First is something I've been wishing someone would come up
with an easy way to do. PedigreeMap
is a free tool that automatically generates an interactive world map
that plots events in your MyHeritage family tree (such as
births, marriages and deaths), as well as digitized images. You
can see a screenshot above.
This is a helpful way to get a big picture of where your
family branches migrated over time, see where families connected
or branched off, and note geographic similarities (in my research,
for example, I've noticed that most of my Germans on Mom's and
Dad's side came from the same area in what's now Germany).
PedigreeMap is located under the Apps tab in your MyHeritage tree.
You can zoom in and out on the map, click a location to see a list
of all the events or photos associated with it, view all the
places associated with a particular individual or subset of
individuals (a person's extended family, immediate family, etc.),
and more. Read
more about this tool and get tips for using it on the MyHeritage
The Geni world family tree website, which is owned by
MyHeritage, announced today that it's partnering with Family Tree
DNA to integrate autosomal, Y and mitochondrial DNA test results
into Geni trees. Read
more about this on the Geni blog.
Genetic Genealogy | Maps | MyHeritage
Friday, July 01, 2016 10:35:56 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Digital Public Library of America to Catalog FamilySearch Online Genealogy Books Collection
Posted by Diane
The Digital Public Library of America
(DPLA) and FamilySearch have signed an agreement that will make FamilySearch.org’s
growing, free digital historical book collection accessible
through the DPLA website.
The DPLA website catalogs more than 13 million digital resources
from libraries, archives and museums across America. You can keyword
search the site's catalog listings (but not the digitized items
themselves) for names, places, military regiments, employers, social
clubs and other terms from your family tree.
From search results on DPLA, you can click to view—and usually,
keyword search—the digitized item on the holding library's website.
With this new partnership, DPLA will incorporate metadata from
FamilySearch.org’s online digital book collection, making more than
200,000 family history books discoverable through DPLA’s search
portal later this year. Users who find a FamilySearch book via DPLA
will be able to click to see the digital book on FamilySearch.org.
The digitized historical book collection at FamilySearch.org
includes genealogy and family history publications from some of the
most important family history libraries in the world. You already
the collection on the FamilySearch website, but listing its
contents in DPLA will make the books easier for a broader audience
2016 Family Tree Magazine has our how-to
guide for finding ancestors in the free FamilySearch digitized
books, and our Unofficial
Guide to FamilySearch.org book helps you make the most
of all the site's free genealogy resources.
Genealogy books | Genealogy Industry | Genealogy Web Sites
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 9:29:47 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Braving the Inbox: Five Steps for Organizing Your Email
Posted by Diane
If you’re like many people, your email resembles Pandora’s box: full of unknown content that you might be afraid of opening. The scary part isn’t so much each individual message, but the unending stream of new content filling your inbox faster than you can deal with.
While some productivity gurus preach the elusive concept of “inbox zero,” you actually have a few practical ways to better manage your inbox. Co-host of The Genealogy Guys podcast and author of Organize Your Genealogy Drew Smith shares a few quick steps for organizing your mess of an email inbox:
- Set up an email account just for your genealogical research. This minimizes losing important personal and financial messages amidst genealogical correspondence. If you’ve been doing genealogical research a while and are reluctant to start over with a new email address, reverse the situation and create a new email address just for your non-genealogy work.
- Check your spam folder on a regular basis. You don’t have to do it every day—just do it often enough so that you won’t lose something due to the automatic spam-deleting system or when you were expecting something but couldn’t find it in your regular inbox. If you’re worried about forgetting to check your spam folder, add that (and any other research tasks) to your calendar.
- Learn as much as you can about your email software’s filters. This will allow you to automatically move low-importance email out of your inbox and into another folder, to be read when you have more time. Email that fits into this category might include messages from mailing lists and society newsletters.
- Use email filtering to identify important email and move it to a high-priority folder. This might include email coming from specific correspondents, such as another genealogist you are working with on a research project.
- Scan through the remaining items. Use the subject line to see if you can delete the item without opening it. In some cases, you’ll want to read the contents, but you’ll still be able to delete it after reading. In a few other cases, you can forward the email to someone else who can do a better job of dealing with it. If the email is something that you yourself can deal with in just a few minutes, reply right away (or do whatever quick task the email is asking you to do).
What remains are items that you want to save for reference (get this content into a note-taking system, such as Evernote) and items that will take some time to deal with (move these into a folder to be dealt with when you’ve scheduled a block of time to work on them).
Learn more about organizing your correspondence and genealogy research by purchasing your copy of Drew's Organize Your Genealogy today.
organizing your research
Tuesday, June 14, 2016 10:04:02 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, June 13, 2016
Three Ways to Get a Closer Look at Your Genealogy With Evernote
Posted by Diane
Evernote isn't just a great tool for organizing your genealogy, it's
also makes a good tool for analyzing the information you find.
Kerry Scott, who wrote How
to Use Evernote for Genealogy and who will be on hand to
answer questions in next week's online Evernote
for Genealogy Bootcamp, has a ton of ways you can use Evernote
to take a closer look at your genealogy research. Here's a quick
look at three of them:
Want to be more organized about your genealogy research? To have
your information and records about each ancestor or family gathered
into one place, where there easy to find and view wherever you are,
and to know what your next research steps for each person should be?
- Create a table of contents: This is an easy way to see
a list of certain notes at a glance. Simply select a number of
related notes—here, we've chosen census notes for an ancestor—by holding down Control or Command and clicking
(or you can use Control+A or Command+A to select all of them)
and click Create a Table of Contents Note. Now, you have one
note that lets you see at a glance a list of all the notes you
selected. Just click on one of the notes in your list to link to
Use tags to find patterns: When you create a note in
Evernote, you can assign tags for the name, hometown,
occupation, record type, etc. So you might have tags called
Smith, Abigail St., Occupation: Railroad, WWII, Public School
No. 52, and Census: 1910. Searching for all the notes with the same tag can be a helpful way to reveal
hidden commonalities and details. Did two of your ancestors go
to the same school or serve together in the military? Did all
your farming ancestors turn to different work in the early
1900s? With information like this, you can form new theories and
problems to investigate.
Save notes with the Evernote Web Clipper: With the web
clipper, you can save screenshots of your search queries,
websites that contain great historical background for your
relatives' lives, and leads you want to follow up on.
It would be difficult to keep these items together using another method. (This feature also is great for everyday life: Clip receipts for
online orders, recipes to try, items for your holiday shopping
You can do this with Evernote—learn how in Family Tree University's Evernote
for Genealogy Bootcamp, taking place online from June 20-26. See
how the bootcamp works and what's included at
Family Tree University | organizing your research | Research Tips
Monday, June 13, 2016 4:36:34 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)