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Tuesday, 02 August 2016
How to Mine Family Memories for Genealogy Clues
Posted by Diane
Your family history begins with your own memories—and what you remember can serve as a useful springboard for learning more about your whole family's history, connecting you emotionally to past generations.
Your memories also can provide critical research clues for genealogy research. When's the last time you mined your own memories for details you can use to research your family tree? Story of My Life author Sunny Morton is here with a guest post on three focuses for your dive into your memories:
- People. Who do you recall—even vaguely—in connection with your family? The neighbors across the street from your grandparents? Your mother’s sorority sister? Dad’s business partner? Memories of people can lead to more memories, and even to research resources.
Mention your grandparents’ neighbors—the ones who always came to play cards—to your cousins or an aunt and see what stories come to light. Does anyone know how they came to be good friends? How did your grandparents act around their friends? What else do relatives recall about the neighborhood? Did anyone stay in contact with that neighbor’s family?If Mom’s sorority sister is still alive, her memories or memorabilia may give you fresh perspective on your mother’s younger years. Recalling the name of the sorority can lead to its records, photo collections and more insight into your mother’s time at college. A similar line of thinking about a father’s business partner may lead you to that family’s recollections, business records, ads or listings in city directories, or news articles about your father or his business partner.
- Places. What places were part of your childhood, or your parents’ lives? Think about where you (or they) went for family gatherings, and about family cemeteries, churches, funeral homes, schools, places of business, vacation destinations and other locations that figure in family memories. Consider your old neighborhood, your grandparents’ ranch or farm, or your mother’s description of her childhood home. What can these memories tell you about your family history? Mention them to relatives and see what recollections they prompt. Look for Sanborn or other maps of old neighborhoods. See if you can find old images of the cottages at Lake Erie. And definitely look for records connected with these places, such as membership records for Grandma’s Methodist church or burial information from a cemetery or funeral home.
Use the same line of thinking to explore the “researchability” of other memories: a sporting event you attended with your dad (find news coverage to flesh out the memory), or
an annual trip to the state fair to see Grandpa’s prize-winning livestock (look for state fair award lists and photos).
- Objects. The "stuff" you associate with your family, such as an automobile or household appliance, provides another piece of the family puzzle that can jog memories. Did your mother use only one brand of detergent? Was your brother obsessed with Superman comics? These details provide insight into daily lives, personalities and values. Memorabilia such as photos and heirlooms can further inspire your memory of people and places. What pictures or descriptions can you find, and what meaning did they have? Share these and other treasured family artifacts with relatives—you never know what they might remember.
My new book Story of My Life can help you remember and document memories of the people, places, events and objects associated with your family history. The book provides a place for you to organize your thoughts and tie them to a certain time, place or person.
Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.
Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 02 August 2016 09:53:32 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, 01 August 2016
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Family Tree Craft
Posted by Diane
Hi there! My name is Madge
Maril and I’m working with Family Tree Magazine this summer. You might have seen my photo in September's issue of Family Tree Magazine. Working with FTM’s editorial team has been a
blast. Today, they let me pop onto this blog to talk about two of my
favorite things: DIY crafts and Harry Potter.
"While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to
stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of
a family legacy he never wanted," reads the official description of Harry
Potter and the Cursed Child, the newest book in the Harry Potter series. Those
problems might sound familiar to some of us genealogists!
Harry Potter has taught the world the importance of
family and genealogy for over a decade. One of my earliest memories is
listening to my dad read the books to my brother and I before bedtime. Harry
fought for the first seven books to protect his adopted family, the Weasleys,
from the dark forces at play in the magical world. Each family in the Harry
Potter books boasts their family trees and lineage. Harry works as hard as any
modern genealogist to find out the story of his deceased parents, Lily and
The Cursed Child follows the life
of Harry’s son, Albus. Like many kids, Albus is insecure about his place in his
family. With plenty of magic and fun, this book delivers the same important
lesson: You are who you are because of the people who came before you.
If your kid or grand-kid has already finished the book—or you
have—and wants to keep exploring the Potters’ world, try this Harry
Potter family tree craft to spark their interest in the genealogy of the series.
It’s DIY and easy as can be. All you need is:
- Windows Word
- A printer
- A cookie sheet or other shallow pan
1. Type out the
Weasley family tree on your computer in Windows Word. For more fun, download
our free family tree templates <http://ftu.familytreemagazine.com/free-family-tree-templates/>
to add a creative spark to the project.
We found this
easy-to-follow harry Potter family tree on Tumblr, from user –harrypotter:
Tip: Need to see this family tree bigger? Right-click on it with your mouse, then click "View Image" for a larger version of the Harry Potter family trees to open in your browser.
2. Print out your
family tree on regular printer paper.
3. Next, put a
third of a cup of coffee (instant works as well) in a cookie sheet or other
shallow pan. Add a full cup of boiling water to the cookie sheet. There’s
plenty of wiggle room here, though. Use more coffee grounds to make your paper
darker and more antique looking. Allow the coffee and water to rest in the pan
for at least five and a half minutes, which will allow the coffee to steep and
the water to cool.
Tip: Do you have
leftover coffee from this morning? Use it! Cold coffee will also add a
weathered patina to paper.
4. Take your
printed out Weasley family tree and place it in the coffee for at least five
minutes. The longer the paper is in the mixture, the darker it will become. The
paper will also darken as it dries.
5. Remove the
Weasley family tree from the coffee when you’re happy with the color. Carefully
hang the paper to dry somewhere safe6. For an even
more antique look, after the paper is completely dry, crumple the Weasley family
tree in your hands then smooth it out. Do this as many times as you want to make
it look like the family tree has been passed down through Weasley and Potter
Once your craft is finished, it might look a bit like this:
Have fun with your DIY Harry Potter family tree craft! If the paper
rips a little when it’s wet, don’t worry. A few tiny tears will only make the
Weasley family tree look cooler. After all, a family tree should be just as unique as the family it represents.
Monday, 01 August 2016 14:20:25 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, 25 July 2016
To Write or Not to Write: Respecting Privacy in Family-History Storytelling
Posted by Diane
When you start writing your life’s stories, you may wonder what to put in and what to leave out. Should you mention that time you got arrested, or when your best friend betrayed you? What about your difficult relationship with your dad? What if telling your stories will reveal someone else’s secrets?
Writing your life story can raise questions about how to be fair and honest, and what stories of your life should keep private. Story of My Life workbook author and guest blogger Sunny Morton has three quick things to consider when you start writing your family history:
- Everyone has a right to privacy. Writing about your life doesn’t obligate you to share all your stories. Chances are there are some events, relationships, failures or disappointments in your past you’d rather not write about.
While you should consider acknowledging all life-changing events (even if you choose not to dwell on details), you don’t have to write about everything. For painful events that prompted major changes in your relationships, career, living circumstances or way of life, a passing mention—along with the results—may be sufficient: “After my divorce, I moved to Seattle, where my sister lived. I wanted to leave painful memories behind.”
- Honesty is key. You don’t need to tell everything—but everything you tell should be true. Of course, you won’t intend to write falsehoods, but it can be tempting to downplay your role in a big family argument or skip over the nice things your “worthless” baby brother actually has done for you. Nobody is all good or all bad, including yourself. Try to write about everyone fairly. In doing so, you may discover some new truths in the process of writing: how you felt about someone, what you learned from a situation, how you feel now.
Consider including at least some of these insights in your life-story writings. You may think it’s obvious what the past taught you or how you might feel, but that may not be the case. And your insights or life lessons may turn out to be the most valuable part of sharing your memories (for you and others).
- Think twice before revealing someone else’s secrets. Many who write their life stories have to decide whether to divulge confidential or sensitive information about someone else. Should you write about a relative’s addiction, debts, temper or marital problems? Consider the answers to three questions:
- First, is this your story to tell? If it didn’t significantly affect your life, it doesn’t really belong in your life story.
- Second, what are your motives? Revenge, or an unfortunate but real need to set the record straight?
- Finally, who may be hurt by your revelation? Even if the person with the secret is dead, that person may have living loved ones who may suffer.
After considering these questions, you may still see the need to reveal confidences, but you may approach it more sensitively.
My new book Story of My Life guides you through the process of deciding what stories to tell, telling them (including lessons learned) honestly, and focusing on what’s most important. You’ll find hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions about the people and events of your past.
Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a preformatted document you can print or share as you like.
Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Monday, 25 July 2016 10:54:01 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, 22 July 2016
Why Your Ancestry.com and Other Online Genealogy Searches Don't Work
Posted by Diane
Chances are you've become frustrated at times when searching
for ancestors online at genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com,
MyHeritage and FamilySearch. Knowing why genealogy searches sometimes fail can
help you figure out how to fix them.
Below is our cheat sheet of common issues that trip up your
searches, plus tips to fix them.
Get expert guidance on using Ancestry.com in our Become
an Ancestry.com Power User online course, starting Monday,
Aug. 1, at Family Tree University. This four-week course will help
you delve into the Ancestry's rich resources and pull out records where
you came up empty before.
|Why it Happens
not actually searching the documents on genealogy websites. Instead, you're
searching a textual index created by a person (or sometimes, software) who transcribed what he or she thought the
documents said. Illegible records, poor-quality digital
images and human error cause a mismatch between the index and
your search terms.
• Use filters and wildcards to find variant names, enter
date ranges, and broaden the geographic area
• Search for variant and incorrect name spellings
• Search with fewer terms, i.e., leave the name blank
• Try another site with the same data set (the index may be
• Browse the records
||Enumerators and clerks who created
records may have recorded wrong information, your
ancestor may have reported it wrong, or another informant
(such as neighbor) may have taken a guess. The index
accurately reflects the record, but it doesn't match your
Same as above
|Incorrect search terms
||You might be wrong about details such as when
your immigrant arrived or when Great-great-grandma was born,
so your search terms don't match the record you want.
• Same as above
• Double-check your research and information sources.
Disregard family stories that lack a basis in records.
|The record doesn’t exist
||Disasters such as fire, flood or custodial
neglect may have destroyed the records. Or maybe they were
never created in the first place, such as for early vital
records in much of the US. It's also possible
your ancestor wasn't enumerated in the census, or no one
reported his birth.
• Check the collection search page and local genealogy
guides for information on record gaps.
• Look for substitute sources, such as church records for
|The record isn't online
|Libraries and archives are full of valuable
records that exist only on paper or microfilm. Occasionally, one or more documents might be missed during digitization.
• Check local library websites and genealogy guides for record locations. Visit
the archive, hire a researcher to visit for you, or
request a copy by mail or email.
• Look for other, more-accessible records with the
information you need.
|The record is online, but isn't indexed
||A collection may be digitized and browsable
online, but no searchable index exists.
|| Figure out how the collection is organized (such as by state
and county, chronologically, etc.) and browse to the record
Register for our four-week Become an Ancestry.com Power User
course at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Ancestry.com | Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Genealogy Web Sites | MyHeritage | Research Tips
Friday, 22 July 2016 10:38:36 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, 19 July 2016
4 Ways to Jog Your Memories & Preserve Your History
Posted by Diane
Struggling to remember part of your past? Check out these four quick ways to spark memories from guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook, Sunny Jane Morton:
Recording your own history can be a rewarding experience, both personally and for your genealogy research—you never know what clues you’ll recall! But it can be frustrating when you don’t remember certain things as clearly as you’d like. Below are four strategies to jog your memories. Use these to evoke the feelings and facts of specific time periods, people, places or events in your past:
- Listen to music. Music can be especially powerful for evoking emotional memories. Play songs from the time period in question and see what feelings and memories surface. Pull out your old music albums, cassette tapes or CDs to remind yourself of your old “must-listen” albums. If you no longer own a device that can play these (or the cassette tape has deteriorated too much), look for updated formats at your local library. You could also use YouTube to look for individual songs or playlists of popular songs for a certain time period. Use search terms to bring up the name of a singer, band, song or album. Try a phrase like songs from the 40s or 1960s music, or do similar searches in your web browser. Billboard Top 100 songs 1955 brings up lists of hits you can then track down individually. If that search doesn’t work for you, try searching the Internet Archive. Its Live Music Archive is strongest for music recorded since the mid-1980s, but there is an enormous collection of Grateful Dead music (for example) that you can stream or download. Browse or search for the recording artists and songs you listened to. Or go way back into your family’s music memories with a digital collection of more than 3000 78rpm records and cylinder recordings from the early 20th century.
- Visit a place. Travel back to the setting of an event or time period. Walk through your old neighborhood, visit your alma mater or stop at the church or courthouse where you were married. If you can’t go to the actual place you want to remember, find a local surrogate to recreate the ambience. Visit a local beach, suburban street, high school football game or neighborhood street festival. The sights, sounds and smells (funnel cake!) may trigger memories. Or make a virtual visit to that place via Google Earth; try the Street View to see the place at eye level. Even things that have changed may make you better recall what was there before.
- Look at pictures and memorabilia. Get out your old photo albums, yearbooks, date books, letters, documents, clothing, jewelry, collections, awards, trophies and other mementoes of the past. Spend some time studying them in detail. Who appears in your memorabilia? What event or memory does it represent? Why did you keep it? What was going on in the background? What related memories does the sight of that person/object/place bring to mind?
- Reminisce. Contact someone who was part of your life during the time you’re trying to recall. After reconnecting, see if they’re willing to talk about “old times.” Compare memories: It can be both interesting and revealing when you recall things differently. Ask if they recall the things you’re trying to remember—why you all did something, or the name of the person on the left in a photo you can share. A couple words of advice: Be considerate of those whose memories of that time may be unpleasant or who may not want to bring up the past. And don’t argue when your memories conflict.
In the end, you still may not remember every detail as crisply as you’d like. But life-story writing is rewarding when it’s about your feelings and thoughts about the past, not just the memories themselves. Take special note of how your perceptions of the past may have changed (or not).
Reflect on how an event or person changed you—even if you don’t recall them perfectly. Note life lessons you took away with you, particularly those that have guided your life since. Write these things down.
A guided journal such as my new book Story of My Life is the perfect place to capture your thoughts and memories. It’s organized by time period and contains hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions.
There are plenty of places to record specific memories and celebrate special relationships. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.
Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 11:33:23 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
FamilySearch Power-User Tip: Find New & Updated Genealogy Collections
Posted by Diane
Recently I followed our own advice (from the popular Unofficial
Guide to FamilySearch book, and now our Become
a FamilySearch.org Power User online course) to check for
recently added or updated record collections at the free
FamilySearch website. It's easy to do:
1. On the FamilySearch home page, hover over Search and
2. On the Search page, choose Browse All Published
Collections. (This link may appear below the gray box, depending how wide your browser window is.)
3. Finally, click Last Updated to bring all the new or newly
updated collections to the top.
I discovered a new collection with record images, Kentucky, County
Marriages, 1797-1954. I found marriage registers or certificates for
a bunch of relatives, including my great-great-grandparents, married the day before Thanksgiving, 1900:
And this register clued me into a missing person in my tree:
I didn't have Josephine, born when her mother was 48, in my tree.
She married Herman H. Brink Sept. 22, 1885.
a FamilySearch.org Power User online course gives you in-depth
guidance using this free, rich genealogy website, with input from
our expert instructor and your fellow researchers.
You'll learn how to find your ancestors in FamilySearch's billions
of historical records (even the ones that aren't indexed), digitized
books and family trees. You'll also learn how to upload and manage
your family tree on FamilySearch, and use features such as the free
fan chart. The course starts Monday, July 25—hurry
up and register at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Family Tree University | FamilySearch | Research Tips
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 10:49:06 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, 12 July 2016
3 Tips for Preserving Childhood Memories
Posted by Diane
Want to dig into your past? Guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook Sunny Jane Morton shares three quick tips for recalling childhood memories:
What do you remember from your childhood? If you’re like most people, the answer may be, “Not much.” The older you get, the more remote and vague your youngest years may seem. That can be so frustrating when you want to document your life story (and the first chapter is missing!) or bring to mind clues from your childhood that would help you research your family history.
When starting to piece together your childhood memories, try following these three steps:
- Capture your memories as they are. You may not have many clear, consistent memories before about age 10. The ones you do have may seem fragmented. That’s because you experienced the world as a child, with a child’s emotions and perceptions, and you stored them away in the same fashion. But these memories still have value. Write them down. Then think about them over the course of several days or weeks. You may find bits of memory or explanation resurfacing. Add them to your written account.
- “Borrow” memories from loved ones. It’s not cheating to gather memories about your youngest years from those who remember them better. Ask parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, old neighbors and longtime friends about specific events or your childhood generally. Their memories will have limitations, too, but it’s worth asking.
- Research your past to fill in the blanks. Once you’ve compiled your memories alongside those of your loved ones, you may still identify gaps in the stories. Consider what missing details may be researched, particularly those that would bring the story back alive for you. Perhaps you could look up the specs on the 1950 Oldsmobile your father bought, the names of your grandparents’ neighbors or the route you would have taken on that road trip the summer you turned 12.
Learn more about each of these steps—from writing down and fleshing out vague memories to researching their contexts—in the Story of My Life workbook by Sunny Jane Morton. This life-story writing guide is packed with memory-jogging journaling prompts and more tips for fleshing out your life’s most meaningful stories. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.
saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 12 July 2016 10:35:24 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, 01 July 2016
Fascinating Genealogy Finds in Online Newspapers
Posted by Diane
Hi all, our Find
Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers weeklong workshop starts
July 11! You
might know old newspapers are my favorite record type. To show
you what kind of fascinating finds you might be missing out on if
you're not using digitized online newspapers, here are a few of my
recent newspaper discoveries (including on free websites):
This profile of my husband's great-grandfather, then 87 years old (not the man pictured—that's the reporter),
is in the Jan. 8, 1960, Buffalo Courier-Express (digitized
on the free Old
Fulton NY Postcards site). It tells of his early life and career as a bricklayer. He used to haul lime in a wooden cart, stirring
it to keep the cart from catching fire.
My paternal grandfather, a star student in a Texas orphanage, was
in the papers frequently (due in part, I think, to the
superintendent's PR efforts). Several articles, like this one from the Aug. 10, 1919, San Antonio Express, include
pictures. My grandfather is on the left and my
dad looks just like him. This paper also was free, in the Portal to Texas History.
Before reliable birth and death records, it's difficult to know
to look for a child who died at two hours old, but newspapers can
clue you in. The Cincinnati
Daily Star s free to search from 1875 to 1880 on Chronicling America. (This is the August 5, 1878, edition.)
The Cincinnati Enquirer, available on subscription site
Newspapers.com, has been a goldmine of information about my local
family. This article from April 16, 1894, relates the sudden death of my
cousin three times removed.
More saloon trouble: The Aug. 31, 1880, Cincinnati Daily Gazette,
available through subscription site GenealogyBank, told of my
fourth-great-uncle's troublemaking due to his dissatisfaction with
There's also the coverage of my third-great-grandparents'
divorce, my Federal
League baseball player, and other finds I haven't blogged
Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers workshop will help you get
around online newspaper site frustrations such as locating online
newspaper sources in the first place, overcoming poor OCR indexing,
finding ancestors with common names, and working with search options
on specific websites.
It includes seven video classes you can watch whenever you want
during the week (and download to watch later), message board
discussions and advice from workshop instructor James M. Beidler.
for this valuable workshop today at FamilyTreeUniversity.com!
Family Tree University | Newspapers | Research Tips
Friday, 01 July 2016 12:13:07 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
MyHeritage News: Interactive Family Tree Maps & DNA Matching
Posted by Diane
I wanted to update you all on a couple of cool updates to the
MyHeritage genealogy website:
- First is something I've been wishing someone would come up
with an easy way to do. PedigreeMap
is a free tool that automatically generates an interactive world map
that plots events in your MyHeritage family tree (such as
births, marriages and deaths), as well as digitized images. You
can see a screenshot above.
This is a helpful way to get a big picture of where your
family branches migrated over time, see where families connected
or branched off, and note geographic similarities (in my research,
for example, I've noticed that most of my Germans on Mom's and
Dad's side came from the same area in what's now Germany).
PedigreeMap is located under the Apps tab in your MyHeritage tree.
You can zoom in and out on the map, click a location to see a list
of all the events or photos associated with it, view all the
places associated with a particular individual or subset of
individuals (a person's extended family, immediate family, etc.),
and more. Read
more about this tool and get tips for using it on the MyHeritage
The Geni world family tree website, which is owned by
MyHeritage, announced today that it's partnering with Family Tree
DNA to integrate autosomal, Y and mitochondrial DNA test results
into Geni trees. Read
more about this on the Geni blog.
Genetic Genealogy | Maps | MyHeritage
Friday, 01 July 2016 10:35:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Digital Public Library of America to Catalog FamilySearch Online Genealogy Books Collection
Posted by Diane
The Digital Public Library of America
(DPLA) and FamilySearch have signed an agreement that will make FamilySearch.org’s
growing, free digital historical book collection accessible
through the DPLA website.
The DPLA website catalogs more than 13 million digital resources
from libraries, archives and museums across America. You can keyword
search the site's catalog listings (but not the digitized items
themselves) for names, places, military regiments, employers, social
clubs and other terms from your family tree.
From search results on DPLA, you can click to view—and usually,
keyword search—the digitized item on the holding library's website.
With this new partnership, DPLA will incorporate metadata from
FamilySearch.org’s online digital book collection, making more than
200,000 family history books discoverable through DPLA’s search
portal later this year. Users who find a FamilySearch book via DPLA
will be able to click to see the digital book on FamilySearch.org.
The digitized historical book collection at FamilySearch.org
includes genealogy and family history publications from some of the
most important family history libraries in the world. You already
the collection on the FamilySearch website, but listing its
contents in DPLA will make the books easier for a broader audience
2016 Family Tree Magazine has our how-to
guide for finding ancestors in the free FamilySearch digitized
books, and our Unofficial
Guide to FamilySearch.org book helps you make the most
of all the site's free genealogy resources.
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Wednesday, 22 June 2016 09:29:47 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)