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<2011 February>

More Links

# Wednesday, 09 February 2011
New "Life in Civil War America" Book
Posted by jamie

Whether your fourth-great-grandfather served in the Civil War or your ancestors watched from the sidelines, gain insight into their experiences with Life in Civil War America by historian Michael O. Varhola.

His new book takes readers back to the war between the states, illuminating the sweeping changes and cultural norms that shaped the everyday lives of soldiers and civilians. Discover what it was like to sit around the campfire cooking hellfire stew and "throwing the papers" with fellow soldiers. Or see how it was on the home front, passing the time with war worries at a starvation party, where the only refreshment served was water.

Inside the cover you'll find:
  • a look at the social and economic realities of daily life in the Union and Confederacy, from big cities and small towns to plantations and communes
  • an explanation of military life in the army and navy, from rankings and regiments to duties and dress
  • the typical diets of soldiers and civilians, including period recipes, food preparation and the impact of shortages and inflation on rations
  • definitions of common terms, slang and idioms of the era
  • dozens of Civil War photographs and illustrations plus an appendix on the role photography played during the war
  • a quick-reference timeline detailing the events of the war
  • tips for researching ancestors who fought in the Civil War
  • information on Civil War resources, books, periodicals, websites and historic sites
Life in Civil War America is now available on at a special 33 percent discount.

Civil War | Sales
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 14:53:01 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
RootsTech Will Broadcast Select Conference Sessions Online
Posted by jamie

RootsTech, a family history and technology conference organized by FamilySearch, starts Thursday in Salt Lake City. If you can't make it to RootsTech in person, you're in luck — eight of the sessions will be broadcast free online.

The digital sessions include some of the keynote speakers and a sampling of technology and family history presentations. The available sessions are:
Thursday, Feb. 10:
  • 8:30-9:00 a.m (MST): A world of Information, presented by Shane Robison, chief technology officer of Hewlett Packard
  • 9:00-9:30 a.m. (MST): Turning Roots, Branches, Trees into Nodes, Links, Graphs, presented Jay L. Verkler, chief executive officer of FamilySearch International
  • 3:00-4:00 p.m. (MST): Digitally Preserving Your Family Heritage, presented by Barry Ewell, founder of
Friday, Feb. 11:
  • 8:30-9:30 a.m. (MST): The Changing Face of Genealogy, presented by Curt Witcher, manager of the Historical Genealogy Department of Allen County Public Library
  • 9:45-10:45 a.m. (MST): Cloud Computing: What is it and How it has Been Used to Create the Next, presented by Brian Pugh, senior engineer at FamilySearch International              
Saturday, Feb. 12:
  • 8:30-9:30 a.m. (MST): Personal Archiving and Primary Documents, presented by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archives
  • 1:45-2:45 p.m. (MST): Virtual Presentations Round Table and Collaborative Panel Discussion, presented by Thomas MacEntee, professional genealogist and technology specialist
  • 3:00-4:00 p.m. (MST): The Power of PDF: Tools for Every Genealogist, presented by D. Josh Taylor, director of Education and Programs at New England Historical Genealogical Society.  
Interested viewers can watch the live presentations at

Our very own Lisa Louise Cook will be at RootsTech. Check back here for her updates from the weekend.

Genealogy Industry
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 13:20:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
Last Call for African-American Ancestors FTU Course Discount
Posted by jamie

Family Tree University's next session commences Feb. 14. That means there's only a few days left to register for the Finding Your African-American Ancestors in Newspapers course for $24.99—75 percent off the regular price of $99.99.

This deep discount is made possible through a partnership with GenealogyBank, a subscription website with one of the largest online collections of historical African-American newspapers, for Black History Month.

The Finding Your African-American Ancestors in Newspapers course will equip students with key background information for newspaper research, expose myths pertaining to the use of white newspapers, give students the skill and confidence to seek out and utilize African-American newspapers, and provide invaluable tips and strategies designed to optimize search success.

Sign up for the class on Family Tree University's website.

African-American roots | Family Tree University
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 10:45:10 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Library Utilizes Online Gaming to Digitize Records
Posted by jamie

The National Library of Finland has launched Digitalkoot (digital volunteers), an online crowdsourcing project to digitize the nation's historical records. 

“We have millions and millions of pages of historically and culturally valuable magazines, newspapers and journals online. The challenge is that the optical character recognition often contains errors and omissions, which hamper for example searches,” said Kai Ekholm, director of the National Library of Finland. “Manual correction is needed to weed out these mistakes so that the texts become machine readable, enabling scholars and archivists to search the material for the information they need.”

The program currently consists of two online games developed by Microtask. In Mole Hunt (Myyräjahti), the player is shown two different words, and he must determine as quickly as possible if the words are the same. This uncovers erroneous words in archived material. In Mole Bridge (Myyräsilta), players have to correctly spell the words appearing on the screen. Correct answers help beavers build a bridge across a river.

The online gaming experience enables anyone to contribute to the conversion portions of Finnish cultural heritage into a lasting format. The aim is to crowdsource thousands of volunteers to participate online utilizing modern technology developed in Finland.

“In the Digitalkoot program, participants can do as much, or as little, work they want, where they want and when they want." says Harri Holopainen, Microtask managing director. "We help turn routine work into fun, almost a parlor game.”

Click here to participate in the project.

Libraries and Archives
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 09:31:18 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 08 February 2011
Behind the Scenes of Rosie O'Donnell's "Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode
Posted by jamie

Exploring ancestry can be a difficult experience, especially if the researcher's family history is riddled with hardships and pain. Actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell's genealogical journey on season two of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" is no exception.

Her mother died of breast cancer when O'Donnell was still a child. After her death, the family never really spoke of her mother again, resulting in emotional pain and disharmony between O'Donnell's siblings. This led O'Donnell to focus on her mother's side of the family while filming "WDYTYA?" because she didn't know much about them.

She enlisted her brother Ed, the one sibling with whom O'Donnell is in contact, to help search for her family history. The experience of "WDYTYA?" was not only therapeutic and healed their relationship, but also gave her insight into her own life. "It definitely changed the view of my own history, my own childhood, and it also helped explain to my children where their grandmother was from and what she was about," O'Donnell said. "They have never met her, because she died when I was 10, and they often ask questions about her. It was nice to be able to fill in some of those blanks."

The information found in records about her mother is somewhat limited. O'Donnell really wants to know more about her adult life, so she is working with playwright Dick Scanlan to produce a one woman show about her. To find out more about her, Scanlan tracked down a few of O'Donnell's mother's friends and her classmates at Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School. "I’ve been able to sit down and talk with some of them and that’s been really interesting see my mother through adult eyes as opposed to a child’s eyes," O'Donnell said.

With the aid of professional genealogists, O'Donnell utilized photographs, work records, censuses, baptismal certificates and newspaper articles in her research. "It was a pretty intensive research project, and I was very impressed with the staff [at] and what they were able to find—things that I couldn’t believe that they found," O'Donnell said. "It was pretty intense and pretty surprising for me to know that many details still exist."

On the show, O'Donnell was also able to explore her Irish heritage. She compared her Irish ancestors living conditions to that of Frank McCourt's in his memoir Angela's Ashes. The extreme poverty and hardships endured by her family shocked O'Donnell, changing the view of her own history and completely reframing her life.

"I didn’t know the history of my family and the struggles that brought them to the United States and what they had to endure," O'Donnell said. "You take your own reality and put the frame around it as the most difficult thing that anyone can survive, when you come to find out that your life is pretty blessed comparatively."

O'Donnell's episode of "WDYTYA" airs Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:53:43 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [6]
Our First Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Winner
Posted by jamie

We're celebrating the return of NBC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" with a giveaway. While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

Each week in February we will announce a lucky winner on our Facebook fan page and the Genealogy Insider blog. Our first winner:

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook—a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. 

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun
Tuesday, 08 February 2011 10:04:49 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [30]
# Saturday, 05 February 2011
“Who Do You Think You Are?” Episode 1 Recap
Posted by Grace

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Vanessa Williams’ episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Actress Vanessa Williams’ ancestors’ lives make for an interesting episode of NBC’s “WDYTYA.” She traces her roots back to two of her great-great-grandfathers, exploring their remarkable lives.

Williams starts her research by visiting her father’s grave in Oyster Bay, NY. She jots down information she finds on the headstones of her father’s family, including that of David Carll, her great-great-grandfather and a member of the 26th New York Colored Infantry in the Civil War.

According to the 1870 census, Carll was a free mulatto married to a white woman named Louisa. Williams is absolutely amazed that her ancestors were an interracial couple in the post-Civil War era.

Her research then jumps to National Archives in Washington, DC, where Williams gets her hands on Carll’s Compiled Military Service Record. National Archives researcher Vonnie Zullo pulls out an original tintype from Carll’s CMSR, saying it's the only one she's come across in her 20-plus years at the depository.

From Carll’s pension record, Williams learns he was never a slave and that he worked as a crew member on steamships. Zullo then explains that he was taking a big risk enlisting in the Union Army, as the Confederacy would put a captured black Union soldiers in slavery.

Carll was deployed in Beaufort, S.C. Williams continues her search there, meeting with Hari Jones, curator of the African American Civil War Museum. They tour the site of the Battle of Bloody Bridge, where Williams is shocked to hear her great-great-grandfather’s regiment enforced the Emancipation Proclamation, liberating slaves in the South.

Williams then heads to Baltimore to visit her Uncle Earl, looking for more clues about her father’s side of her family. He directs her to Tennessee to pursue John Hill Williams, her great-grandfather.

In the 1910 census, Williams finds her great-grandfather’s wife’s name, Mary Williams. She then reads Mary’s obituary, which reveals her father’s name -- William A. Fields. The 1880 census indicates Fields was a “mulatto” schoolteacher.

Heading to Nashville Williams meets with Kathy Lauder, archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Lauder shows Williams a bust in state legislature building devoted to early African American legislators, and Williams is shocked to find Field’s name engraved on it.

Fields served in the Tennessee legislature from 1885 to 1886, drafting an education bill that would require all children age 7 to 16 to attend school. That bill, and bills similar to it, died in committee. Lauder also shows her Fields’ photo in the legislature composite and where he sat in the chamber.

Williams wonders how Fields could have been elected so soon after the Civil war. Lauder explains that slaves made up about 40 percent of the population of Tennessee; once they were freed, some districts had more black residents than white, and they elected black politicians.

“And here they come, right out of slavery, no one even believes they are human yet -- there are people who don’t think that they’re people.” Lauder said to Williams. “It was a spectacular thing to have black people in the legislature.”

Fields was one of the last black lawmakers in Tennessee, as white men composed the legislature from 1888 to 1965. Tennessee changed its constitution to make it more difficult for blacks to vote with poll taxes, literacy tests and residency requirements.

Through court records, Williams later discovers that Fields was born a slave. Williams finds Fields’ story to be similar to her father’s she breaks down in tears before traveling home to relay her new-found roots to her family.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Saturday, 05 February 2011 09:06:58 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [8]
# Friday, 04 February 2011
Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Opens Tonight!
Posted by Grace

You're watching NBC’s new episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight, right? While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook -- a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. Good luck, and happy watching!

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun

Friday, 04 February 2011 14:13:25 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [59]
Genealogy News Corral: Feb. 4
Posted by Grace

  • In honor of Black History Month, launched five new historical collections containing details about the lives of African-Americans who fought in the Civil War, the transportation of slaves to and from the prominent slave ports of New Orleans and Savannah, GA, and first-person accounts from former slaves. Click here to access these collections.

  • The former Oregon state mental hospital, where the Jack Nicholson flick One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest was filmed, is trying to match cremated the remains of 3,500 former patients and inmates with surviving relatives. The remains were discovered in 2004 in corroding copper canisters, and officials have been able to identify all but four of the canisters. The names, birthdays and dates of death for the former patients and prison inmates have been published online.

  • The Library of Congress will display, starting in early spring, one of the few existing copies of the first map printed in North America. The map depicts the boundaries of the new American nation -- read about it here.

  • has created a synthesized report of online history trends illustrated in a fun infographic. The findings:

    • by far has the most website visitors, clocking in at more than 7 million per year. and come in a distant second and third.
    • Google has digitized nearly 15 million books since 2004.
    • indexed 160 million records in 2010.
    • Sixty-two percent of members are over 45; by comparison, 41 percent of internet users are over 45.

    Read over the entire report on the blog.

African-American roots | Genealogy Industry | Historic preservation
Friday, 04 February 2011 13:29:42 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 03 February 2011
Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cooke
Posted by jamie

If "Who Do You Think You Are?" had aired 20 years ago, I probably would have missed half the episodes because I never did figure out how to set the clock and timer on my VCR!

Technology can sometimes be as frustrating as it is helpful. But one thing is for sure—technology will continue to change. For the next eight weeks I guest blog for new mommy Diane Haddad, bringing you Tech Tips that I hope will keep you from pulling out your hair in frustration and lead you to more ancestors.

The technology bug bit me about 10 years ago, much the same way the genealogy bug did years before—hard. An online search delivered up a database that held the answers to years of questions about my Prussian ancestors, and I was hooked. There’s nothing like having a need and seeing the direct application of technology to meet that need to give you “gumption,” as Grandma used to say, to pursue it further.

The Pursuit of Answers

In the end it’s not really technology we are pursuing, but rather answers to questions and problems that plague our family history research. In my keynote presentation at the recent Family History Expo in Mesa, AZ, I tried to drive home the concept that if you focus on your needs, and then look for and find answers in the technology arena, you will also find the motivation to learn how to use that technology. And as you learn what is technologically possible, you can pursue it when a need arises.

That’s sort of how I fell into podcasting. In 2006, I visited my local Family History Center and shared a discovery I made. The center’s director was so excited she took a photocopy of the pages in my hand and posted them on the office bulletin board. “What a genealogy gem that is!” she squealed. I stood there looking at the paper held in place with a pushpin and thought to myself: There’s got to be a better way to share something like this. It could help so many more people than just those who visit this center.

Fast forward to February 2007, when I received an iPod from my daughters for a birthday present. I immediately went snooping around the iTunes store to see if there was anything free I could download and quickly came across podcasts, which had only come in to being about a year and a half before—talk about new technology! I downloaded a couple of podcasts on a variety of topics and really enjoyed them. Then I remembered that paper stuck to the bulletin board. A quick search for “how to podcast” led me to a great little show, and a month later the Genealogy Gems Podcast was born. I’ve been posting genealogy gems ever since for listeners around the world in over 80 countries.

Not long after I began hosting the Family Tree Magazine Podcast. The budding new RSS technology filled a need and solved a problem. I wondered what else might be out there that could help the genealogist.

A prime example of technology power boosting the family historian’s research is the big daddy of them all—Google. Let’s wrap up this first installment of Tech Tips with a search tip from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Lulu Press, 2011) that consistently delivers excellent results: the suspension point better known as “dot dot dot.” (...)

In search terms, a suspension point is used to indicate a range of numbers.

Problem: When did my ancestor die? I know it was sometime between 1790 and 1830.

Answer: The suspension point

Search Query: “Jehu Burkhart” 1790...1830

Here’s the results page:

The beauty of the suspension point (...) is that it tells the search engine to retrieve webpages that mention Jehu Burkhart (the quotation marks indicate we want the exact phrase) between the years of 1790 and 1830. And Google takes the added step of bolding the year mentioned on the webpage so that you can quickly assess from the results list if the page is the result you need. This tip has limitless genealogical search applications, and can thin that massive list of results you often get saddled with down to a manageable lot.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more tips with you as well as bringing you the latest from such conferences as "Who Do You Think You Are?" LIVE in London, and the brand new Roots Tech conference in Salt Lake City. It’s an exciting time for genealogists as technology and family history merge!

—Lisa Louise Cook

Tech Advice
Thursday, 03 February 2011 14:28:34 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]