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<2007 October>

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# Monday, 29 October 2007
StoryCorps: Capturing Oral History
Posted by Allison

You've probably heard of StoryCorps, a national project to record Americans' oral histories for the benefit of future generations. When a StoryCorps MobileBooth stopped in Indianapolis late this summer, Bryn Mooth, editor of our sister magazine HOW, took the opportunity to interview her grandmother. Here she reports on her experiences:

When my grandmother asked if I’d interview her for a project that the public radio station was hosting in her hometown of Indianapolis, I knew she meant StoryCorps. Naturally, I said yes.

I routinely linger in my car, listening to the StoryCorps excerpts aired weekly on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”—day-brightening audio clips of ordinary people reminiscing about their lives. While I’d often thought it would be neat to visit a StoryCorps recording booth with my 86-year-old grandmother, it seemed unlikely we’d get to the permanent studio in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. That is, until a StoryCorps MobileBooth rolled into town.

The gleaming Airstream trailer, one of two that travel the United States, was a surprisingly comfortable spot for our 40-minute conversation about Grandma’s life. We sat at a table with two large microphones in front of us; StoryCorps staffer Yuki Aizawa ran a sound check, and then we began.

As with any oral history project, the key is asking the right questions to engage the storyteller. So before our interview, I consulted StoryCorps’ online Question Generator. I typed in our names and our relationship to each other, and the site produced a list of questions about growing up, marriage and raising children, working, war experiences and more. I checked off a dozen questions, then edited and rearranged them. I shared them with Grandma in advance, so we were both comfortable with the direction of our chat.

We talked about her parents, her upbringing, her marriage, her three children. We talked about how she supported herself after my grandfather died. And we talked about her experiences as a “celebrity”: You may know my grandmother as Dave’s Mom, who puts her son firmly in his place during segments on “Late Show with David Letterman.” She described her trips to the Winter Olympic Games in Norway and Japan as a “Late Show correspondent, and her annual Thanksgiving Day appearances on the program.

Grandma couldn’t have imagined her life would take the unusual turns it has. And this 40-minute capsule hardly seems to capture her 86 years. But our StoryCorps session was an important way for us to connect and share. When our interview ended, we received a CD recording, a copy of which will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. What we really walked away with, though, was another fond memory.

Interested in learning more? The StoryCorps Web site offers great resources for gathering oral histories, including a do-it-yourself guide. The site’s Question Generator is helpful, even if you don’t participate. You also can find dates and locations for both MobileBooths.

Want to hear a snippet of the conversation with Dave's Mom? Bryn shares this clip:

story corps piece mengering.mp3 (1.48 MB)

You can hear more of the intriguing, inspiring and often touching interviews captured by StoryCorps on the project Web site or by subscribing to its podcast. Get more oral history tips at and in our March 2008 issue.

Oral History | Social History
Monday, 29 October 2007 09:14:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 26 October 2007
Social Networking Meets Genetic Genealogy
Posted by Diane

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) is combining two of the latest genealogical developments—DNA testing and online social networking—in its partnership with the GeneTree beta Web site.

Users can sign up for a free GeneTree account and create home pages with photos, family trees, multimedia and DNA results. All named ancestors automatically get pages, too, which families can add to. A niftily named tool called DNAvigator searches the SMGF mitochondrial (mt) DNA test results database for matches to yours, then compares the associated lineages and locations, and presents the results “in an intuitive visual representation” like the one here. Matching people can get in touch through GeneTree.

You also can order mtDNA tests, which both men and women can take, through GeneTree. Y-DNA tests will soon be available for men.

Some who contributed DNA samples to the SMGF databases—those who requested test kits before Oct. 22 of this year, and send in their samples before Nov. 22—are eligible to receive their test results for a processing fee. That includes participants back in the early days of the project, when it was hosted by Brigham Young University, says SMGF spokesperson Peggy Hayes. Learn more by calling (800) 344-7643 or e-mailing SMGF.

SMGF, the nonprofit arm of Sorenson Companies, has been collecting researchers’ DNA samples and associated family tree information for years to build its free Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA databases. GeneTree used to offer paternity testing, but now Sorenson's IdentiGene division has taken over that business.

Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy
Friday, 26 October 2007 14:11:32 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 25 October 2007
Find WWII Ancestors in Just-Opened Records
Posted by Diane

It just got easier to find information on your ancestor who served in World War II. This week, the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) opened Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of Army, Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel who were discharged, retired or died in the service prior to 1946.

That’s more than six million records documenting assignments, evaluations, awards and decorations, training, demographics, medical information and disciplinary actions. Some files also contain photos of the individual and official correspondence.

You can access your relative’s records by visiting or writing the NPRC in St. Louis, submitting Standard Form 180, or (if you're next of kin) using eVetRecs online ordering. See the NPRC announcement for more details.

The NPRC, a National Archives facility, holds service records of military personnel discharged after 1917. It plans to eventually open its entire collection 57 million OMPFs, with more available to the public each year through 2067.

Libraries and Archives | Military records
Thursday, 25 October 2007 08:43:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century, in pictures
Posted by Grace

In our Internet journeys last week, we stumbed across a very fun blog: Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century.

It's exactly what you think it is: lots of old-timey pictures of men with impressive mustaches. The photos come from the collections of the University of Kentucky Archives.

This site could be a great resource for putting a date range on your forefather's facial hair, but unfortunately, the dates of the photos aren't included in the daily blog posts. They are, however, categorized with humorous descriptions, like "Business Mustache," "Faceshelf," "Perfect Specimens" and "Battle Mustache."

Click here to visit the Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century blog:

Genealogy fun | Social History
Wednesday, 24 October 2007 09:09:23 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Civil War Widows' Pension Files to be Digitized
Posted by Diane

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and FamilySearch have announced a partnership to digitize case files of approved pension applications from widows of Civil War Union soldiers.

The agreement will kick off with a pilot project to digitize, index and provide access to 3,150 pension files. When that’s done, FamilySearch, along with records site, plans to digitize and index all 1,280,000 pensions in the series.

Oh, happy day!

That’s a huge step toward easing genealogists’ research and restoring their good will toward NARA, which recently doubled pension file ordering fees to $75. Pensions aren’t microfilmed, so paying the fee, visiting NARA in Washington, DC, or hiring an on-site researcher are currently your only options.

Widows' pension application files often include supporting documents such as affidavits, witnesses’ depositions, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, and pages from family Bibles.

According to the announcement, the digitized records will be free at Family History Centers, with an index free on the FamilySearch Web site. Images also may be available for a fee on a commercial site.

The digitized pension records also will be free at NARA facilities, and NARA will get gratis copies of the record images and associated indexes.

This is part of a broader partnership announced today, in which FamilySearch staff will camp out at NARA five days a week with high-speed digitization cameras. Ultimately, it'll mean you have ready access, through FamilySearch and Family History Centers, to court, military, land, and other government records dating as early as 1754.

FamilySearch | Footnote | Genealogy Industry | Military records
Tuesday, 23 October 2007 12:20:43 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Monday, 22 October 2007, Offer Joint Discount
Posted by Diane

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and The Generations Network (TGN) are are tying up a loose end left over from the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in August.

The two organizations announced a partnership at the conference, but until now, didn’t say what their partnership meant for you.

Here’s the answer: You can join both TGN's and NEHGS’ for a special annual price of $155.40, a savings of $75. ($155.40 is the regular price of’s US Deluxe records collection.)

The price, which gets you access to’s US records as well as NEHGS' vital, church, court and other New England records, is good until Dec. 31 and isn't open to those who already belong to both groups.

Additionally, members of can join NEHGS for $60 (a $15 discount), and members of NEHGS can join for $99.95.

Another part of the agreement: databases will include  indexes to NEHGS’ New England Historical and Genealogical Register from 1847 to 2002.

Genealogy Industry | Genealogy societies
Monday, 22 October 2007 13:39:17 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 19 October 2007
Resources for African-Americans, British Researchers and Facebook Fans
Posted by Diane

To get your weekend started right, here are a few updates from the genealogy world:
  • Starting next year, African-Americans will be able to research their ancestors free in an online genealogy database called AfriQuest.
The genealogy wiki WeRelate and the University of Southern Florida Africana Heritage Project (USAF) are among those behind the project. Researchers will be able to add images and records to the database, too.
According to the press release, "Every record readers add to the database will not only be preserved, but will be available to anyone for free, now and in years to come."
Look for a beta release early next spring. You can help get things off the ground by volunteering to add or index records and manage data. Contact USAF’s Toni Carrier or Dallan Quass of WeRelate.
Members can customize their home pages by picking a layout and adding a photograph and caption, along with information about their research interests. Uploaded photos go into a gallery, which can be public, private or available to family and friends. Users also can make announcements public or private.
Those services are free. For its records, FamilyRelatives offers subscription ($75 per year) and pay-per-view options.
You can use the new app, called We’re Related (no relation to WeRelate), to search your Facebook friends for your relatives. If those relatives also use We’re Related, it'll suggest who among their Facebook friends might be related to you. We’re Related also lets you upload your GEDCOM to your facebook profile.

You can get a little more info on the application and instructions for adding We're Related to your Facebook profile on the World Vital Records blog. It’s the 153rd most popular application on Facebook out of more than 5,000—not too shabby.

Friday, 19 October 2007 16:32:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 18 October 2007
Interview with's CEO Tim Sullivan
Posted by Diane

After yesterday’s announcement that Spectrum Equity Investors had purchased The Generations Network (TGN), parent company of, TGN CEO Tim Sullivan was busy working the phones talking to the media—including myself. The major points of our conversation:
• Your experience as an subscriber won’t change as a direct result of the sale, Sullivan states, “Other than the very rapid pace of innovation we’ve built into our cycle in the past year, and we hope to maintain that, even to accelerate it.” That innovation includes the Ancestry Press and DNA Ancestry services, international sites such as the Swedish, and a Web 2.0 platform for
“The firm that’s buying our company is buying our vision. They like what we’re doing and they want us to keep doing that,” Sullivan says.
• Sullivan said RootsWeb—the free, grassroots site TGN (then purchased in 2000—"is absolutely not going away. We will never charge for what’s on RootsWeb. We’re proud to be supporters of RootsWeb.”

He adds there’s only about a 20 percent overlap between RootsWeb users and users, a number his company would like to increase.
Spectrum Equity’s investment in TGN likely won’t change anything at (anyone remember that site?), which TGN purchased in 2003 and allowed to languish. “We continue to support, but we did make a decision that in a world of limited resources and limited hours in the day, that the best thing we could do was focus our resources as completely as we could on”
• TGN is focused on incorporating new technology, such as wireless photo uploads, into its services, and on globalizing genealogy research. “We just sent someone to China to open an office there and build a Web site for people in China,” Sullivan says.
• A few other upcoming changes to include a “pretty major” overhaul of the search interface, improved tree-building experience, and of course, more digitized records.
• Sullivan wouldn’t say whether TGN would go public, just that the company’s future holds many possibilities and his staff is taking things one step at a time.
Its domination of the genealogy industry often means TGN is the company people love to hate. Sullivan’s aware of that and says “I promise we don’t sit around thinking of ways to make people angry.”

I asked about his pre-TGN genealogical interest. He knew some oral history, including an ancestor who worked with Thomas Edison. “I, like probably everybody, was enamored and fascinated by the stories of those who preceded me,” he says, but he hadn’t yet done research.

Back when he ran the online dating service, Sullivan knew TGN’s then-CEO Tom Stockham and thought he’d check out “Before I knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning, and I had my laptop in bed showing my wife documents I discovered.”

“It was an instantaneous and very strong fascination, but like a lot of people, I didn’t have a lot of time and I didn’t follow up and get engaged right away.” His company’s challenge, he says, is engaging people like himself at that time, who face busy schedules and many choices for spending spare moments.

“We’re never going to make it easy, push-button genealogy. But we’re getting close to that tipping point, where the investment and the effort people put in, they see a return very quickly in terms of satisfaction.”

Update: What do you think of what Sullivan had to say? Join the discussion in the Hot Topics Forum.

Genealogy Industry
Thursday, 18 October 2007 08:40:02 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, 17 October 2007
The Generations Network Bought for $300 Million
Posted by Diane

A private equity firm has purchased a majority interest in The Generations Network (TGN, formerly, parent company of, DNA Ancestry,, RootsWeb and others.

Spectrum Equity Investors, already a partial stakeholder in TGN, will pay $300 million for its majority interest. Two of its partners will join TGN president and CEO Tim Sullivan on the new board of directors. Other terms of the purchase weren't disclosed.

Private equity firms buy companies hoping to make money off them, and that’s probably a good bet here. The Generations Network online properties have 900,000 paying subscribers, and receive 8.2 million unique visitors and more than 429 million page views a month. According to the Internet news site TechCrunch, TGN rakes in around $150 million in revenue annually.

Genealogy Industry
Wednesday, 17 October 2007 08:28:43 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 16 October 2007
DNA Ancestry Emerges From Beta
Posted by Diane’s DNA Ancestry site has emerged from beta offering Y-DNA and mitochondrial tests (ranging from $149 to $199) and promising Ancestry Member Tree users will soon be able to add their test results to the information in their trees.

Public trees are searchable, so theoretically, you could find the name of a candidate for your great-grandfather, take a DNA test and see if you’re a match to his descendant.

DNA Ancestry seems user-friendly, with streamlined test ordering, and genetic genealogy information (including sample test result reports) linked on the right side of the home page. You also can listen to Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak,’s chief family historian and co-author (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots With DNA (Rodale, $14.95), talk about genetic genealogy on NPR.

People who get tested with DNA Ancestry are automatically notified of matches in its DNA database. You’ll be able to enter results from other labs in the database, which isn’t yet available but will be free.

Of course, you’ll want to take the site’s marketing with a grain of salt. An ad on says “Looking for your ancestors? Just say ‘aah.’” Kind of gives the impression you take a test and boom, you know your missing ancestor’s name and place of birth.

Yes, you might take a test and immediately learn you unquestionably match a cousin who knows your family history back to the Dark Ages. But we’re not to the point where that’s possible for all. You’ll probably need to plug your test results into several databases before finding a match, and those matches may be iffy enough that you have to do more genealogical research before you can say for sure whether and how you’re related.

You can get more details on DNA Ancestry on its FAQ page and blog. Look in an upcoming Family Tree Magazine for our article featuring  answers to genealogists' pressing genetic genealogy questions.

Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy
Tuesday, 16 October 2007 11:15:36 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]