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<October 2015>

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# Tuesday, October 06, 2015
7 Ways to Celebrate Family History Month in October 2015
Posted by Diane

Cake made by me at Virtual Cake Decorator

In 2001, Congress first passed a resolution to make that October Family History Month in the United States. Since then, although there haven't been official resolutions, genealogy businesses and organizations have continued to observe Family History Month in October.

We love a reason to celebrate! Break out the party supplies and do something genealogical, such as:
  • Pick your favorite ancestor or ancestral family and write about him/her/them, drawing on your genealogical research (here are some tips to get started). This could be a few paragraphs, an essay or an all-out book.
  • Use copies of old photos and records, along with genealogical information you've gathered, for one of these crafty family history projects. Time and skill requirements range from quick and easy to more involved.
  • Have your kids and grandkids help you with a genealogy project, such as going to a cemetery, visiting old family homes, organizing photos, or making a slideshow to share. Little kids might like an activity book such as one of the Zap the Grandma Gap books.

It's a great month for genealogy. Enjoy!

saving and sharing family history
Tuesday, October 06, 2015 11:43:09 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Banish the "But"s: Top 5 Excuses for Not Writing Your Family History
Posted by Diane

A lot of us genealogists have a goal to not just gather names of ancestors, but to weave together all the records, newspaper articles, family papers, memories, local history, photos and random facts into a family history—one that summarizes our research, tells a meaningful story and shares a legacy.

But not a lot of us have actually started doing that. Why? Below are the five excuses I hear most often, which I offer along with what you can tell yourself to banish them from your brain.

And if you're eager to finally launch your family history writing project, you'll find a stronger (but still gentle) push in Family Tree University's Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop, happening online Oct. 19-25.

1. But I don't have time.
If writing your family's story is important to you, you'll find time for it just as you would for anything else that's that important. Start with a modest writing goal, such as 15 minutes a day or an hour every Sunday before bed. PS: If you time your project to start with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, you can put in a month of concentrated effort with the support of thousands of other aspiring writers.

2. But I'd rather spend my time researching.
Back when you were in school, what did every research project include? A report! Believe me, I understand wanting to look for records forever and ever, but writing is actually an important step in doing family history research. Think of it as a way to take stock of where you are in your search and analyze the information you've gathered. You'll spot holes, work through problems and formulate research plans.

3. But my tree isn't finished yet.
And it probably never will be. If you wait until you find every record and answer every question, you'll never start writing. Give yourself permission to start, even though there's research left to do.

4. But I don't know where to begin.
I hear two problems: The first one is "I don't know how to organize all this information, whether to write about my entire family tree or just one branch, what order to put everything in, what to include and what to leave out ..." and I could go on. It can be overwhelming. The Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop will help you break it all down into smaller decisions and create an outline to serve as your writing project plan.

The second problem is "How do I start my story?" The first instinct often is with the serviceable-but-not-very-interesting "Fred Smith was born Jan. 15, 1834 ... ." If you're having trouble with your first sentence, go ahead and start this way, then go back and change it once you've done more of the writing. You also could start somewhere in the middle, then do the beginning later. Or start with your most interesting ancestral story.

5. But I'm not a writer.
Then it's a good thing that, unless you want to sell your story, you don't have to be a great writer. Pretend you're writing a letter or talking to a friend. Later on, you can edit that first draft or ask a genealogy friend to take a look at it.

The Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop is designed to help you develop a full outline of your family history tale. You'll finish the workshop more organized and confident in your ability to see your project through. It includes video classes, written lessons, message board discussions and consultations with published author and family historian Sunny Jane Morton.

See a workshop program and register at

Family Tree University | Research Tips | saving and sharing family history
Wednesday, September 30, 2015 3:59:47 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 29, 2015 Genealogy Trick: Find Missing Children
Posted by Diane

Are you missing a child? An ancestor’s child, I mean.

Here’s a search trick to use on when you 1) don’t know all the children’s names in a family, 2) think there might be children you haven’t found or 3) think you can’t find a person because his or her name was mistranscribed.

This FamilySearch power-user tip is courtesy of our Family Tree University online course Become a Power User, which starts Oct. 5 and runs four weeks.

First, on the Record Search page, look under Search With a Relationship and click Parents. Enter the names of the father and mother, including her maiden name if you know it (otherwise, leave her last name blank). You also can add a place by clicking Search With a Life Event, then Any, like so:

David Norris is my third-great-uncle, the brother of my great-great-grandfather Edward Norris. I knew his wife’s first name, Catherine, from his death record.

Matches come from digital collections that include parents’ names, which might be birth, marriage or death records. This search found records for four children (three of them shown below) of a David Norris and Katherine Hines (or simply “Kate”) in Cincinnati: Elizabeth, Edna K., Mary and M. Kate.

Comparing the details in these records, such as addresses and birth, marriage and death dates, with information in other records can help me confirm that the parents are the right David and Catherine.

If so, not only will I have the names of several children (including one who was born and died in the “census gap” between 1880 and 1900), but I’ll also have a maiden name for Catherine. won’t find matches to your parents search if it doesn’t have a record with the right names in the parent spots. For example, marriage or death records for some of David and Catherine’s children may not include parents’ names, or the children might’ve married or died in a place not covered in a collection.

You can try this type of search on any site that lets you search with a relationship, including and MyHeritage.

Learn more strategies for making the most of all’s free genealogy resources in our Become a Power-user course. Learn more at

FamilySearch | Research Tips
Tuesday, September 29, 2015 9:51:01 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, September 23, 2015
An Interview With Tabitha Almquist of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Posted by Diane

The chief of staff at the National Trust for Historic Preservation was destined for the job: Tabitha Almquist was raised by historic home rehabbers and considers herself “a preservationist since birth.”

Old places, like those Almquist works to preserve, serve to connect us with our ancestors in a profound way. Our Genealogy Insider columnist Sunny Jane Morton interviewed Almquist for the October/November 2015 Family Tree Magazine, and we're sharing the full interview here:

FTM: What’s your earliest memory of swinging a hammer?

TA: When I was 10 years old, my mother was the manager of a small town that had recently acquired a Victorian house to be renovated for its new town hall. My mom wanted the whole community to understand the importance of preserving old and special places, so she devised a contest for residents to suggest paint colors for the soon-to-be town hall. This was my first taste of community engagement for preservation, and, at the time, I had no idea what kind of impact it would have on my life and my career.

FTM: How did your family’s interest in historic preservation affect your childhood?

TA: My parents’ hobby is to renovate old homes and they do all of the work themselves—while living in the houses. So many weekends were spent on a house project, while dinners were sometimes eaten sitting around a makeshift table. We washed a lot of dishes in bathtubs, cooked on outside grills in freezing temperatures and wielded sledgehammers for after-dinner entertainment.

Small sacrifices, though, for being able to live in a house that quite literally was revived on our blood, sweat, tears and lots of laughter.

FTM: Tell us about a project that didn’t quite proceed on plan.
TA: My father was sustainable and green long before it was hip to be. He thought it would be a terrific idea to use some old wood and other materials that had been taken out of our house to build a pen for peacocks he recently purchased. Unfortunately, even as a trained architect, his execution of the pen was far from desirable for the peacocks, who eventually flew away to find a better home. My dad was devastated.

FTM: What’s your favorite (or least favorite) phase of a fix-up project?

TA: I love the concept phase, when everything is on the table and you really have to spend time in a place to determine what you want to do and what the house is calling for you to do. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and try hard to be respectful of the era when a structure was built, but I also like to acknowledge that historic houses should be lived in and enjoyed. Historic preservation isn’t about re-creating rooms with velvet ropes to keep people out. To me it is about mixing today and yesterday and creating an atmosphere of comfort and wonderment.

FTM: What’s something you took away from your recent preservation sabbatical in Rome? (Lucky you!) 

TA: It was very humbling to be reminded that the places we try to save everyday here in the US are so very young compared to many of the places in Roma. But, we must remember that at one point in time, the Coliseum was only 200 years old, as was the Ponte Sisto (my favorite bridge in Roma first built in 700s and rebuilt in 1400s) and also Santa Maria in Trastevere (portions of it dating back to the 1100s). All of these places are here today because people loved them, used them and recognized their importance in an ever-changing society.

FTM: Tell us about your house.

TA: It’s my favorite old place: an 1830 vernacular house on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I remember vividly walking through my front door for the first time and knew instantly it was the place for me. I have had a terrific time making it my own refuge.

FTM: Tell us about a place you love that’s connected with your own family history.

TA: I am a ninth-generation Washingtonian. There's a place on Capitol Hill called Congressional Cemetery. The National Trust actually included it on our "America’s 11 Most Endangered Places" list in the 1990s. At that time it was in need of major landscape maintenance and many of the headstones were crumbling.

The cemetery is now a popular haven for dogs and their owners, who have brought the place back to life, while being respectful of its inhabitants. When I was serving on the board of the nonprofit that oversees the cemetery, my grandmother informed me that our family has more than 70 relatives buried at Congressional. I take my dog there now and am often overwhelmed at my many connections to this unique place.

* * * *

The October/November 2015 Family Tree Magazine is available in print or as a digital download from

In addition to help preserving historic places, it has expert advice on using your DNA matches, organizing your genealogy with Evernote, finding old marriage records, researching Welsh ancestry and more.

5 Questions Plus | Family Tree Magazine articles | Historic preservation
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 11:35:07 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 22, 2015
5 Cool, Free History Apps
Posted by Diane

Next week's Genealogst's iPad Crash Course webinar will include genealogy app recommendations and demos from presenter Lisa Louse Cooke, but today I wanted to share a few cool history apps that'll help you view your ancestor's world.
  • Today In History from Downshift LLC provides headlines, quotes and images of important historical events from today's date in history. It's available for iPad and Android (A note if you go looking for it: I had to search on Downshift LLC to find it in the Android App Store).
  • Streetmuseum from the Museum of London lets you see the streets of your London ancestors. Select a destination from a London map or use your GPS to locate an image near you. Hold your camera up to the present day street scene and see the same London location, except years ago, on your screen. Information buttons give you historical facts. It's available for iPad and Android.
  • Civil War Battle Apps from the Civil War Trust are GPS-enabled guides to 17 well-known Civil War battles. You can use them at the battlefield or from home. The battle maps show your location on the battlefield, and many have time-phased maps that show where Union and Confederate units were located at key moments. You also can see videos with experts and hear accounts from those who fought. These are available for iPad and Android.
  • Biblion: The Boundless Library from the New York Public Library draws on the library's records, photos, ephemera and other archival collections to take you on a tour of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. (A second edition of Biblion covers the writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.)  Available for iPad.
  • History Here, a location-based app from the History Channel, lets you learn about thousands of historical places all over the United States. You can let your GPS set your location to learn about nearby historic sites, or choose any location in the app. Available for iPad and Android.
For other history app recommendations see the Best History Apps and 10 Best History Apps for iPhone and iPad.

The Genealogist's iPad Crash Course webinar on Tuesday, Sept. 29, will help you take advantage of the features and apps for your iPad that can turn it into a powerful research tool. You'll be learning from the best—presenter Lisa Louise Cooke wrote the book on using the iPad for genealogy. (Though examples in the webinar will focus on the iPad, you can apply many of the tips and techniques to your Android tablet.) 

See what all the Genealogist's iPad Crash Course webinar will teach you in

Genealogy Apps | Webinars
Tuesday, September 22, 2015 2:28:14 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, September 16, 2015
FREE Genealogy Research Weekend at!
Posted by Diane

Genealogy data website Findmypast is having a free weekend this weekend! It started as a UK-focused site, so it's particularly strong for British and Irish ancestry research, but it also has branched out into US records.

Free access runs from 7 a.m. Eastern on Friday, Sept. 18, to 7 a.m. Eastern on Monday, Sept. 21. You'll need to set up a free basic registration (or log in if you already have one) to get started—use the Sign Up Now button on the Free Weekend Landing page.

Findmypast has US and British censuses; newspapers from the United States, England, Ireland and elsewhere; the Periodical Source Index, aka PERSI (with some results linked to digitized article images); British and US military records and directories; and Irish resources including poverty relief loan and petty sessions records.

Looking for help finding your ancestors' record on Findmypast? Family Tree Magazine's Findmypast Web Guide is available as a download from—so you can start using it right away.

Genealogy Web Sites | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 10:57:18 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Which is Which?: Genealogies and Family Trees on
Posted by Diane

To beginner users—and even to those with more experience—it can be confusing to distinguish the various types of user-submitted pedigree information on

So what’s the difference between the Genealogies and Family Tree sections on the site? Guest writer and author of the Unofficial Guide to Dana McCullough has the answer with this comparison guide.

Many people use’s Family Tree function, but it’s not the only way to submit and record your family information for later reference and for other people to see.

The Genealogies section of the site is sort of like a repository for family trees. Here, you can find databases of genealogies that has acquired throughout the years. It’s made up of the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, and Community Trees. These records have come to in a variety of ways, and some of them are even user-submitted. One of these collections, the Pedigree Resource File, is a searchable database with, in addition to resources from multiple genealogies, more than 200 million records submitted by website users and LDS members. You can contribute to this resource by uploading your family information in a GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) file, a standard file for genealogical information.

When you submit a GEDCOM file (the universal genealogy computer file format) of your family tree to the Pedigree Resource File, FamilySearch preserves a copy of it forever. Because this record is now an archival copy, you can’t change any of the information in it. But you can submit a new, updated GEDCOM file in the future. After you submit your GEDCOM file, you and other users can search for and through it in the Genealogies section of (see image above).

By contrast, FamilySearch Family Trees, a separate feature from the user-submitted genealogies, aren’t locked in time. You can edit your Family Tree at any time, and anyone searching for your Family Tree will see the most recently updated version (see image above). As a result, you can add new records to your Family Tree as you find them and make changes to the information on it if you find new or different information.

Unlike Genealogies, you’ll use the Family Tree Find tool (under the Family Tree tab, then Find) to search information you and other have posted to FamilySearch Family Trees.

To put it another way: Think of FamilySearch Family Tree as your evolving family tree that’s a living, breathing organism, while Genealogies (like those in the Pedigree Resource File) are more like fossils that have been carefully preserved in a collection. You'll want to stick with your Family Tree as you're conducting your research, but you can create a GEDCOM version of your genealogy and upload it to Pedigree Resource File when your research is "final."

Learn more about the differences between Genealogies and Family Trees on and how to find them by ordering your copy of the Unofficial Guide to today.

Family Tree Firsts | FamilySearch
Tuesday, September 15, 2015 1:14:38 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
Chapman Codes and Why They Matter for English Genealogy Research
Posted by Diane

England and Wales, 1864, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Researching English ancestors? When you're trying to figure out where your ancestor came from (which our upcoming Family Tree University class will help with), keep in mind that England reorganized its counties in 1974, so you'll need to know the historical English county. (But be familiar with modern jurisdictions, too, so you can contact local records offices.)

Genealogists often refer to these counties with three-letter shorthand called Chapman codes, named after the man who invented the coding system. Here's a list of pre-1974 British counties and their Chapman codes (including the three major subdivisions of Yorkshire):

  • Bedfordshire: BDF
  • Berkshire: BRK
  • Buckinghamshire: BKM
  • Cambridgeshire: CAM
  • Cheshire: CHS
  • Cornwall: CON
  • Cumberland: CUL
  • Derbyshire: DBY
  • Devon: DEV
  • Dorset: DOR
  • Durham: DUR
  • Essex: ESS
  • Gloucestershire: GLS
  • Hampshire: HAM
  • Herefordshire: HEF
  • Hertfordshire: HRT
  • Huntingdonshire: HUN
  • Kent: KEN
  • Lancashire: LAN
  • Leicestershire: LEI
  • Lincolnshire: LIN
  • London (city): LND
  • Middlesex: MDX
  • Norfolk: NFK
  • Northamptonshire: NTH
  • Northumberland: NBL
  • Nottinghamshire: NTT
  • Oxfordshire: OXF
  • Rutland: RUT
  • Shropshire (Salop): SAL
  • Somerset: SOM
  • Staffordshire: STS
  • Suffolk: SFK
  • Surrey: SRY
  • Sussex: SSX
  • Warwickshire: WAR
  • Westmorland: WES
  • Wiltshire: WIL
  • Worcestershire: WOR
  • Yorkshire: YKS
  • Yorkshire-East Riding: ERY
  • Yorkshire-North Riding: NRY
  • Yorkshire-West Riding: WRY
You can find more on the historical counties of England here.

Look here for Chapman codes for Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Ireland.

And once you know your ancestors' county, be sure to join the county's family history society. The Federation of Family History Societies and GENUKI (the UK & Ireland Genealogy website) link to local societies.

The aforementioned Family Tree University class is English Genealogy Research: Step-by-Step Strategies to Use English Records and Find Your British Roots. This four-week course is designed to help you pinpoint where in England your family came from and trace them in English records. Read more about it at

Family Tree University | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, September 15, 2015 11:16:30 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, September 09, 2015
They Were Soldiers Once: Searching Military Records on
Posted by Diane

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Military records—such as service records, pensions, and draft registration cards (see above)—can provide valuable information about your ancestors and their military service. But what's the key to finding military records on Guest writer and author of the Unofficial Guide to Dana McCullough shares three search strategies for searching's military records collections.

Learn military history.

The United States has been involved in many military incursions throughout the years. By learning about them and when they took place, you can identify which conflict your ancestor may have served in. See the table below for a list of major US military conflicts. Note that your ancestors may have draft records available even if they weren’t deployed.

Revolutionary War 1775–1783
War of 1812 1812–1815
Mexican-American War 1846–1848
Civil War 1861–1865
Spanish American War 1898
Philippine Insurrection 1899–1902
World War I 1917–1918
World War II 1941–1945
Korean War 1950–1953
Vietnam War 1959–1973

Include residence in search criteria.

Including where your ancestor lived will help you determine whether the John Smith listed is your John Smith. In addition, many military records were recorded or arranged by state, and most military records include the soldier's place of residence.

Add a family relationship.

Particularly when searching for pensions records, try adding a family relationship. Why? Pensions included family members such as the soldier's widow or children. Other military records may also include family members' name, since soldiers often had to provide information about their next of kin or a contact person back home.

Learn more tips and strategies for searching military records on by ordering your copy of the Unofficial Guide to today.

FamilySearch | Military records
Wednesday, September 09, 2015 11:56:03 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 08, 2015
12 Tips to Make the Most of the Virtual Genealogy Conference Sept. 18-20
Posted by Diane

Today I'm republishing a previously loved post about how our Family Tree University Virtual Conference, coming up Sept. 18-20, works, and tips for getting the most out of it.
  • Once you complete your Virtual Conference registration, you'll get an email with instructions on logging in to participate. When you log in, you'll see the welcome page with links to each track of video classes (Genetic Genealogy, Genealogy Technology, Research Strategies and Ethnic Research), live chats, the discussion board, the exhibit hall, and FAQs. Click on a link to visit that area of the conference.
  • The video classes are recorded, so you can watch them whenever you want during the conference, and/or download them to your computer to watch later. You also can visit the discussion board any time during the conference.

  • Live chats happen at scheduled times, and we post chat transcripts to the discussion board for anyone who missed them. Valuable genealogy tips emerge from these chats!
Thinking about registering? Here are some Virtual Conference tips I've gathered over the years of participating in these:
  • Log in any time over the weekend to access videos or the discussion board—even in the middle of the night. If you have kids, you might need to call Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins into service when you attend the scheduled live chats.
  • You can download videos to watch later, but if you're especially interested in one, try to watch it during the conference so you can post any follow-up questions to the message board.

  • To download a video or a PDF directly from a link, right-click on the link and choose Save As, Save Target As or Save Link As (depending on your browser). Choose to save to your desktop, allow a minute for downloading, then open directly from your computer.

  • Print out a PDF of the presentation slides before sitting down to watch a video. Then, if there is a particular part of the video that you want to revisit, you can jot down the time signature next to the corresponding slide so that you can go back and re-watch later.
  • The message board is great for posting brick walls and research questions, and getting to know people. We also usually have threads for introductions, surnames (I'll post names with places, such as "Depenbrock: Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Ky."), favorite genealogy books and websites, old family recipes, and more. Feel free to start a thread.
  • Keep your favorite snacks handy, since you'll be spending some time in front of the computer. Break out your comfy slippers, too.
  • Don't forget to account for time zones when planning to attend live chats. Topics include tricks, organizing your genealogy, analyzing genealogical evidence and more.
  • Live chats can be fast-paced. Usually, the moderator opens things by asking a question of the group. Don't be shy about jumping in—that breaks the ice and makes it easier later in the chat, when you want to ask a research question or comment on someone else's question.

  • Write down questions you have about the topic before entering a live chat. That way you’ll feel less pressure to come up with questions on the fly, and you can engage in the conversation instead of racking your brain to make sure you ask everything you need to.
  • In a busy live chat, if you respond to another person's comment, it helps to start with their name: "Diane, I hear passport records are..." Other comments will appear between the original comment and your response, so this helps connect the two.
  • Don't worry about typos in chats. If you think your typo will confuse people, just post another comment "Oops, that should be ..." (Once I was in a chat while holding a baby, and his foot rested on the Return key for a few seconds. I just typed a quick "Sorry about that" to explain my 14 blank comments, and no one minded.)
  • No need to scribble notes during a chat—we'll make the transcript available on the message board.

Family Tree University | Genealogy Events
Tuesday, September 08, 2015 1:26:59 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]