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Wednesday, 10 September 2014
17 Genealogy Things To Do If You Have Only a Few Minutes
Posted by Diane
Sometimes life gets in the way, and you can't find a decent stretch
of time to sit at your computer or go to the library and do some
genealogy. Our Sept. 30 webinar Weekend
Genealogy Breakthroughs will show you 13 shorter projects you
can accomplish in an evening or on a weekend.
In the mean time: 5 or 15 minutes might not be enough to delve
into the life and times of your most stubborn brick wall ancestor, but it is
enough time to do one of these quick genealogy tasks:
Genealogy Breakthroughs: 13 Things You Can Accomplish in Two Days,
Gena Philibert-Ortega will show you time-saving strategies to
complete 13 essential genealogy projects, such as
- Check your tree and make sure you have a 1940 census entry
for everyone alive at the time. For the missing ones, you can search the 1940
census for free.
- Search the
Social Security Death Index for US folks who died after
- Run a Google Books
search for an ancestor you don't have much on.
- Open mystery genealogy files on your computer, see what they
are, and rename them according to a system. Now you know what
the file is without opening it.
- File the loose genealogy files on your computer desktop, or
the papers on your actual desktop.
- Write two paragraphs about an ancestor's life.
- Any relative you don't have burial information for, search
for him or her on Find A Grave,
BillionGraves and/or Interment.net.
- Transcribe a record into your family tree software (or
wherever you keep record transcriptions).
- Add to Great-grandma's or another relative's life timeline,
using your family tree software or our free,
downloadable Biographical Outline.
- Read a few pages of a county or family history.
- Check your favorite genealogy blogs for the latest news.
- Call an older relative and make an appointment to visit and
talk about family history.
- Scan several photos.
- Write a journal entry or blog post.
- Share a genealogy find with your family on Facebook.
- Think of all the crazy ways last names in your family could
be spelled, and write them all down so you can try them when you
search genealogy websites. We have a free
Surname Variants chart you can download, print and fill out.
- Tag photos in your photo-organizing software.
out more about the Weekend Genealogy Breakthroughs webinar and get
registered on ShopFamilyTree.com.
- formulating a research plan
- finding and ordering Family History Library microfilm
- searching free online books and newspapers
- and more
Research Tips | Webinars
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 14:34:54 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, 05 September 2014
First Look: Relauched Ellis Island Immigration Passenger Search Website
Posted by Diane
The free Ellis Island passenger search website has undergone a dramatic
makeover. The old, early 2000s site has been replaced by a modern,
slick-looking site with lots of graphics and photos.
EllisIsland.org now redirects to www.libertyellisfoundation.org,
which combines the contents of
the former Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Wall of Honor and Flag
of Faces websites.
The site, in beta, also is adding new passenger records from the
years 1925 through 1957. The previous site stopped at 1924, when
immigration slowed due to restrictive quotas. About two-thirds of
the later records are already searchable on the site, with the rest coming
closer to the end of the year.
Registered users of the old EllisIsland.org will need to select a
new password by clicking the login link in the top right corner and
choosing Forgot Password, or you can opt to log in with Facebook.
You'll find the passenger and ship records search under Ellis Island
in the navigation menu (or at <www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger>).
Here, you'll see a basic search, with name search options below the
The "last name as first" option is new (I think), and awesome—on my
great-grandfather's manifest, the ship's clerk went from
last-name-first to first-name-first, causing his name to be switched
in some indexes (though as I remember, the Ellis Island indexer got
The results look like this:
Use these icons at the top right to switch between grid view and list view.
The options at the top let you sort your results by first name, last
name or arrival date. You can use the Filter button to select or
deselect exact matches, close matches, sounds like matches, etc., or
click on one of those labels to view only close matches, sounds like
The link you'll probably want to use first though, is Narrow Your
That's where you'll find options to narrow results by
For the options before Name of Town, you click a button or move a
slider to set your parameters. The options from Name of Town to
Place of Birth are type-in fields. For Ethnicity, you click the plus
sign and check boxes.
- marital status
- year of birth
- current age (at immigration)
- age range at arrival
- year of arrival (I personally would like to see this option
get more prominence, perhaps moved to the basic search)
- month of arrival
- day of arrival
- name of town
- ship name
- port of departure
- arrival port (I'm not sure why this one's here, because the
only possible port for Ellis Island records should be New York,
right? I tried typing a few other ports into the space provided,
and got "no results found." Makes me wonder if this is a
placeholder and the site plans to add records of other ports?)
- passenger ID
- companion's first name
- place of birth
Click Passenger Record, Ship Image, or Ship manifest below a passenger's name to see a summary of his passenger record, a picture of the ship, or the manifest itself.
You also can use the tabs at the top of this page to see the manifest, ship information and more. As with the old site, you can view manifest images online, but you must pay for copies of them.
Read more about the updated Ellis Island website here. I'm looking forward spending more time getting used to the new
site. What do you think?
PS: The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation tweaked some of the new site's features and posted an update about the tweaks to its Facebook page.
Free Databases | immigration records
Friday, 05 September 2014 16:47:11 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Genealogy News Corral: Sept. 1-5
Posted by Diane
- The International Society of
Family History Writers & Editors (ISFHWE) has
announced the 2014 winners of the Excellence in Writing
competition. Can I just brag that several have
been featured in the pages of Family Tree Magazine?
Shelley K. Bishop and Schelly Talalay Dardashti took first place
in the Columns and Articles categories, respectively (Shelley
Bishop also took second in the articles category); James M.
Beidler placed second in Newsletters; and Shannon Combs-Bennett
earned honorable mention in Columns. Congratulations to all the winners—they're
all listed at GeneaPress.
- Ancestry.com has
relaunched the Ancestry App on version 6.0 for iPhone, iPad and
iPod touch devices. New features include a section for
viewing all your hints for a given tree from a single place, the
ability to comment on shared photos and stories right from the
app, a list view for your family tree (in addition to the
existing family and pedigree views), and more. Read
more about the Ancestry App here.
Ancestry.com | FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Historic preservation
Friday, 05 September 2014 14:19:08 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, 04 September 2014
Ways to Celebrate Grandparents Day This Sunday, Sept. 7
Posted by Diane
This Sunday, Sept. 7, is National
Grandparents Day in the United States. Do something to honor
your grandparents—and if you are a grandparent, to honor
your bond with your grandchildren.
My two rugrats with my grandma, their great-grandma.
Here are a few National Grandparents Day ideas:
- Pass down old family stories to your grandchild. You could
fill a notebook, record yourself talking, or fill in a book of
prompts such as Stories
From My Grandparent.
- You might know a lot about the lives of your own grandparents,
a relatively recent generation, genealogically speaking. Even
so, you could focus on fleshing out what you know with newspaper
research and local histories, and/or sum up your research and
your memories about your grandparent in an essay.
How will you celebrate Grandparents' Day?
- Create a "generations" photo like
this one, with a member of your family's oldest generation
holding a photo of his or her child, who's holding a photo of
his or her child. In most cases, the photo is "faked": You take
a picture of each person holding an empty frame, then use
photo-editing software to add a picture into the frame. Lots of
tutorials are available online; here's
saving and sharing family history
Thursday, 04 September 2014 09:50:37 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, 03 September 2014
12 Tips to Have an Awesome Family Tree University Virtual Conference
Posted by Diane
Tree University Virtual Conference is coming up Sept. 19-21!
Some booth visitors at last week's Federation
of Genealogical Societies conference saw our Virtual
Conference sign and asked how it works. For anyone wondering the
same thing, here's the lowdown:
- Once you complete your registration,
you'll receive 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 (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
Thinking about registering? Here are some Virtual
Conference tips I've gathered over the years of participating
- 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 do happen at
scheduled times, although we post chat transcripts to the
discussion board for anyone who missed them—valuable genealogy
tips emerge from these chats!
- You can 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
- 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
- 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.
- Since you'll be spending a little time in front of the
computer, keep your favorite snacks handy. Break out your comfy slippers, too.
- 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 out some 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
- 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
the Virtual Conference program of video classes and live chats on
Family Tree University.com.
- No need to scribble notes during a chat—we'll make the
transcript available on the message board.
Family Tree University | Genealogy Events | Research Tips
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 13:58:38 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Four Pointers to Preserve Your Family Heirlooms in a Disaster
Posted by Diane
As a natural worrier, I do my share of worst-case-scenario
thinking—natural disasters, economic ruin, environmental
destruction, etc. Uplifting, I know.
But the good thing about National
Preparedness Month, which happens each September in the United
States, is the abundance of information about how to minimize harm
to your family and your stuff if one of those scary scenarios
When it comes to stuff, genealogists often prize heirlooms above all
else. What would happen to your family treasures in a fire or a
natural disaster? Prepare them for the worst with these four tips
from Family Curator Denise Levenick, author of How
to Archive Family Keepsakes:
- Inventory: Create an heirloom inventory with pictures
of each item and information about it, including its location in
your home. You can do this in a document to keep digitally
(store the photo files along with the document) or on paper in a
binder. However you do this, keep a copy of the inventory in an
- Prioritize: If you have several heirlooms, prioritize
them in order of what to save in an emergency—say, if you had to
evacuate your home or escape a fire. (Obviously, after any
family members or friends in your home at the time.) Make a list
of priority items and where they are.
- Insure: Talk to your insurance agent, especially
about valuable heirlooms. Would loss or damage be covered in a
cases of fire, flood, tornado, earthquake, theft or accident?
You may need to purchase additional coverage.
Find more disaster preparation help for the genealogist in our Disaster
Preparedness for Genealogists on-demand webinar, presented by
- Plan: Make sure your wishes for heirlooms are known
in case something happens to you. Put this information in your
will or give it to a trusted friend or family member. Along with
this, list login details for any family tree or photo storage
Research Tips | saving and sharing family history
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 12:40:40 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Internet Archive Uploads Giant Collection of Old Photos & Images to Flickr
Posted by Diane
Genealogists know the Internet
Archive as a free online repository of digitized books (as
well as the home of the Wayback
Machine archive of cached websites).
Now, Internet Archive has made itself a resource for old photos,
too. The site recently posted
several million images from digitized books to Flickr.
If you click on an image in the photo stream and scroll down a
little, you'll see the publication title and page number where the
image came from, in addition to links to the book page on
Internet Archive, the book's catalog listing on Internet Archive,
and the rest of the images from that book.
You'll also find tags that other Flickr viewers have added for the
book year, century (1800, 1900), subjects, etc. If you click a
tag, you'll see other images with the same tag.
To search the Internet Archive collection, type your terms into
the search box at the top right. As you type, a dropdown menu will
appear with options to search all photo streams or just Internet
Archives' photo stream. Choose that one.
(With subsequent searches,
I found that I had to return to the Internet Archive collection
home to get the option to limit my results to that
Here are some of my results from my Cincinnati Germans
The image below is St. John's Evangelical German Protestant Church,
197 of the 1892 Centennial Anniversary of the City of
I can see this collection being useful for finding images related
to your family history, such as the places your family lived or
their jobs and activities. It's also another entry to search and
view the digitized pages at Internet Archive. Read
more about the Internet Archive collection on the Flickr blog.
the Internet Archive Book Images collection here.
Free Databases | Photos
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 09:53:35 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, 28 August 2014
Ancestry.com Free Access Weekend Through Sept. 1
Posted by Diane
We hear that subscription genealogy website Ancestry.com is having a free access weekend!
You can search and view a billion new genealogy records from 67 countries around the world, from now through Sept. 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
You’ll need to register for a free basic Ancestry.com account (if you don’t already have one) to view records.
Thursday, 28 August 2014 13:20:15 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Registration Opens for FGS 2015 Conference Feb. 11-14 in Salt Lake City
Posted by Diane
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), whose 2014 annual conference is going on now in San Antonio, just opened registration for the 2015 FGS conference.
What's special about the FGS 2015 conference, and the reason that registration is already open, is that it'll be held in conjunction with FamilySearch's 2015 RootsTech conference Feb. 11-14 in Salt Lake City.
The two conferences will have joint general sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and will share an exhibit hall. They'll have separate classes. See the FGS 2015 program here.
You can take advantage of a special early bird registration fee for FGS 2015 of $139, which expires Sept. 12. Add on a pass to the RootsTech conference for $39.
Separate Rootstech registration will open Aug. 29.
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 22:53:50 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Interview With "Who Do You Think You Are?" Producer Dan Bucatinsky
Posted by Diane
I had the chance recently to interview Dan Bucatinsky, coproducer (with Lisa Kudrow) of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Is or Isn't Entertainment
We talked about why the show researches celebrities instead of average-Joe genealogists, how casting and filming happen, and his wish list. My questions were inspired by comments we've heard from many of you on social media, by my own impressions of the show, and by the conversation.
You can listen to the whole thing by clicking here, and/or you can read the synopsis below. If you listen, know a few things first:
- It's about a half hour, so get comfy.
- You can barely hear me ask my questions (stupid recording device) (it’s probably something I did), but Bucatinsky comes through loud and clear, so I don't think that harms what you can learn about the show. I hate my voice in recordings anyway.
- His kids run into the room about halfway through, which I thought was cute (much more so than when my kids do this to me).
- You can tell this was just after the Jesse Tyler Ferguson episode, because he talks about the upcoming shows with the McAdamses, Valerie Bertinelli and Kelsey Grammer. Yes, it took me awhile to get this together for you.
If you can’t listen, or you just want to know what you’re in for, here’s the gist:
Why profile just celebrities?
The comment/question we at Family Tree Magazine most often hear about "Who Do You Think You Are?" is "Why doesn't the show trace the roots of someone who isn't famous?" ("Like me?" is usually implied.) So I asked.
Basically, the explanation is what I thought it would be: In order to stay on TV, the show needs to attract a general audience—not just a genealogical one. To do that, it needs the celebrity "hook."
While the show certainly is meant to inspire, Bucatinsky says, "There is a reality about television ... in order to get the high volume of viewership on any network or any website, you need to find a very, very high level of public interest, one that crosses many circles of demographics."
"The casting process is extremely intense, and if we didn't have the well-known ‘tour guides,’ we would have probably a very difficult time getting people to engage, even though it doesn't mean the stories would be any less interesting. Even if you get maybe 100,000 people who are interested in genealogy, which is a big number, it's not a big number for television."
He said the producers’ ratings research bears out this statement: The higher the profile of the celebrity featured, the higher the ratings numbers.
How are the celebrities selected?
Casting the celebrity guests can be surprisingly difficult. In the first couple of years, Bucatinsky and Kudrow reached out to people they knew personally. Now that word is out in celebrity circles, stars' representatives tell producers they're willing to participate, and they go on a list.
"Any celebrity who has done the show has raved about their experience on it," Bucatinsky says.
But that’s not all: Although it’s hard to tell when research begins where an ancestral story will go, producers aim for variety. TLC gets a say, too. “One thing we do, when we have control over it, is try to create as much diversity as possible,” Bucatinsky says. “We'll try to see if the preliminary research makes the story feel like it will be diverse. We get approval from the network ... [the talent] has to coincide with what they know their viewership wants to see.”
The guest’s schedule also has to mesh with the show’s production schedule. “I can't even imagine another show that's as complicated to produce. The Rubik's cube of getting the talent approved, getting a story that actually feels like it's gonna break and be interesting enough to shoot, and getting a celebrity's schedule to tie in with our production schedule and the release dates is—I can't begin to tell you how complicated it is.”
How was the transition to TLC?
I also asked Bucatinsky about the show’s move from NBC to TLC before last season, and whether he feels it fits on a network that’s also home to shows like "Honey Boo Boo." (No offense to "Honey Boo Boo" fans out there—it's just a different kind of show from "Who Do You Think You Are?")
He thinks family history has a broad enough appeal that “Who Do You Think You Are?” is interesting to a range of audiences. "We certainly had our trepidation about 'hmm, I wonder if the audience for those shows is the same as our audience?' But there's no question there's a very wide audience for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’”
He added that TLC has been supportive of the show, and hasn’t asked for changes in the formula.
What’s the most popular kind of story?
I’ve seen a lot of “types” of “Who Do You Think You Are?” episodes. Some focus on one ancestor; some cover two or more. Some stay in the United States; some globe-trot. I like stories that stick with one person, but others might think that slows the pace too much. I wondered which approach is most popular with viewers.
All of the above, Bucatinsky says. It’s the emotional connection that matters. "I feel like we've had really good success with stories where there's an emotional tie to the protagonist. Christina Applegate's episode last season was quite popular. It was partly because Christina herself has a wide audience, and partly because she was making the journey for her father, who never really knew his mother. And to come to so many amazing conclusions about his mother, and be able to bring her father to the gravesite of his mother—it’s hugely cathartic stuff. "
“I love an episode that really is emotional and bring insight into somebody's grandparents, who they remember as a kid but didn't know anything about," he adds. "And I also love the stories that take you back and you don't even realize that you had relatives that are part of the Mayflower or the Civil War or the Gold Rush—things you only learn about in history books, and the context makes it much more relevant.”
“It's some combination of the popularity of the celebrity and the strength of the story.” He also pointed out that how engaged the celebrity guest is plays a role.
Are the celebrity guests coached to do or say certain things?
Sometimes, I think, the celebrity seems to ask just the right question to segue into the surprise discovery—almost as if the person was told what to say. That's not the case, says Bucatinsky. "They may be prodded to find the information that we need them to find. We know that they need to hit a page of a particular document that they're wearing gloves to look at, so they will get guided to it, but the discovery itself is always organic and authentic. There's very little coaching in the moment.”
The celebrity doesn’t know what he’ll find or where he’s going next, but the archivists usually does. "Our archivist is someone who we've spoken to and found out information from ... they're there ready to meet our celebrity, and when the celebrity arrives, they will never have met before. ... Every bit of it that films our subject is filmed originally and in the order of the journey. It's not rehearsed. It's a documentary."
How long does it take to film an episode?
“A whole journey would be anywhere between 8 and 23 days, but that includes travel days,” Bucatinsky says. “We've had episodes that could probably have made really good two-hour episodes. We try to do the best we can. If we think the season's going to wind up on DVD, we'll put the scenes [there].”
Interestingly, an entire story line from Gwenyth Paltrow's episode didn't even make it on the show.
Who’s your dream guest? (and other things he’d love to do with the show)
“I don't really focus on the person, I focus on plans and stories that we haven't told before. I really want to tell a Latin American story.” (His family is from Argentina.)
“We haven't been to Asia, and it looks as though we're going to this season,” he added. (Although the season finale is tonight, with Minnie Driver, and they stay in England. Did I miss a trip to Asia?)
Although it seemed like he was going to evade the question, he later added, “If one of the Obamas wanted to do it, that would be dreamy.”
I also asked about the possibility of a follow-up show that would tie up some of the loose ends—such as what happened to the former spouses of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s great-grandfather. Bucatinsky mentioned the scheduling difficulties as an obstacle, but added, “What I would want to try to do down the line is just start with one: One person who wants to come back and revisit a story and see how it goes. There are other stories to be explored, and it would be fun to have someone that people love come back.”
You can listen to my interview with “Who Do You Think You Are?” co-producer Dan Bucantinsky here.
Want to hear more? Here are a couple of Bucatinsy's interviews with other bloggers:
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 15:06:45 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)