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<2016 November>

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# Thursday, 17 November 2016
FamilySearch Announces Property Brothers to Keynote 2017 RootsTech Conference
Posted by Diane

Madge Maril, associate editor of Family Tree Magazine, here with some exciting news: If you’re a fan of HGTV’s Property Brothers, you’ll be happy to hear that FamilySearch announced today that the two brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott, will keynote the 2017 RootsTech conference.

RootsTech is the largest genealogy conferences in the world, aptly held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Organized by FamilySearch, RootsTech is sponsored by Ancestry, Find My Past, MyHeritage and other beloved genealogy websites and organizations. Former First Lady Laura Bush, New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler and many well-known genealogists like Lisa Alzo, Lisa Louise Cooke and Judy Russell have all been speakers at RootsTech.

Jonathan and Drew shot to fame as the stars of the reality TV show Property Brothers. The show consists of the brothers guiding homebuyers through the process of renovating old homes, all while sticking to a budget. Due to the success of Property Brothers, the two have starred in spin-offs like Brother vs Brother, Property Brothers at Home, Buying and Selling and Property Brothers At Home on The Ranch. So… why are they speaking at RootsTech?

RootsTech notes in their press release that “the brothers will talk about their unique family ties, and the can-do attitudes it fostered, their positive outlooks, and childhoods, their careers, their shared passions for buying and renovating property, and for the entertainment industry.”

While it’s possible they can’t tell difference between microfilm and microfiche, hearing about “unique family ties” may prove to be inspirational for many genealogists. After all, half of researching your family history is the family part. The two may also tie in their knowledge of antique and vintage homes, along with the playful rapport that has made them so well known.

Learn more about other speakers and purchase tickets for RootsTech 2017 on the official website.

Thursday, 17 November 2016 16:02:17 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 16 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 15
Posted by Diane

November rolls on! We’re at the halfway point of our 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge, and guest editor Andrew Koch shares his response to today’s prompt in this guest post:

"Pick an ancestor from the 1800s, drop him into today, and (as your ancestor) write a letter to family members still in the 1800s. How would he describe today? What surprises him? What questions would he have?"

In this letter, my third great-grandfather, a 25-year-old clothing repairman named Henry Winter (1853–1926), writes to his wife, Isabella (1857–1894):

My dearest Isabella,

I’m writing to tell you of the most strange and marvelous adventure I’m having. I find myself in a new—and terrifying—world, full of people and inventions I’ve never even imagined.

Our city looks nothing like we know it. The buildings rise high into the sky, and I can hardly see the top without bending over backwards. The noises and smells are overwhelming…so many people, and so much movement. The streets are crowded with horseless coaches in all variety of colors and shapes, and people rush past each other without speaking to each other. Instead, they barely look up from their hands—Many of them carry strange devices that they speak into. I heard them called “sell fowns,” though it seems more than just salesmen carry them.

But what confounds me most are the people’s dress. Such indecency! Such scandal! Men strut through the streets in just a shirt and trousers, with garish ties and unshined shoes. And the women—why, they’re hardly dressed at all! Many wear men’s trousers, and some don only nightdresses as they go from place to place. And citizens of both sexes wear those new-fangled denim trousers—some with holes in them! You can imagine the fit my supervisor would have should he see how they are all dressed. You’d think they had never even heard of a clothing repairman!

I pray I will someday return to you and our familiar life and home.

I have the honor to be yours,


Follow along with our challenge on our website, and share your responses with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 14:24:12 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, 10 November 2016
Free Online Access To Genealogy Websites for Veteran's Day
Posted by Diane

In honor of Veteran’s day, some genealogy websites grant free access to online military records as well as other genealogy resources.

Image via Library of Congress

This year you can browse Findmypast's military category free in honor of Veteran’s day. Their collection of more than 70 million military records will be available starting 04:00 EST November 10th and ending 18:59 GMT November 13th.

The category on Findmypast is called “Military, Armed Forces and Conflict,” and includes 43 million US and Canadian military records, 89,000 Revolutionary War Pensions, 1.3 US Army enlistment records and more.

Findmypast will also be hosting a free Remembrance Day webinar on November 11th at 11:00 EST. You can register for “Unpicking the past: revealing secrets in old military photographs” now.

FamilySearch is hosting a photo gallery of veterans for the holiday, submitted by users on the site. Reading through the stories of the veterans is a great way to celebrate.

As with any genealogy website that allows free access to honor holidays, may need to create a free basic registration with the site in order to view records, and downloading record images may be restricted.

Madge Maril is the editorial intern at Family Tree Magazine

Thursday, 10 November 2016 12:53:19 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 07 November 2016
New! in Genetic Genealogy: MyHeritage DNA Autosomal Testing
Posted by Diane

MyHeritage today debuts MyHeritage DNA, an international, mass-market, home-testing autosomal DNA kit it says "is simple, affordable and will offer some of the best ethnicity reports in the world."

The $79 (plus shipping) kit includes a cheek swab to collect cells from the inside of your cheek. Testers mail the sample to the MyHeritage lab (located in the United States) for analysis, wait three to four weeks, and view results on the MyHeritage website.

This post includes a few screenshots of what results look like.

MyHeritage DNA Test Results
Results initially include ethnicity results, which map your ethnic origins, and DNA matches among other testers at MyHeritage DNA. Additional features are planned for the future.

Good news! When I asked whether a chromosome browser would be available, spokesperson Brandon Weinstock answered "Yes, sometime in the future."

DNA Matches & Family Trees

MyHeritage DNA match list

According to the press release, "MyHeritage provides its DNA customers with features not offered by most competing services including 23andMe, such as viewing family trees of the majority of their DNA Matches to pinpoint the connection path, and automatically identifying which surnames and geographical locations they have in common." Viewing family trees of matches will be free.

Until now, Ancestry DNA was the only service that combined DNA test results with test-takers' family trees, and test-takers on that site need an subscription to view their matches' trees.

DNA testers at MyHeritage DNA can add a family tree to the site and link it to their test results. MyHeritage trees are free for a limited size (250 people when I last looked); upgrading to a Premium or Premium Plus subscription lets you add more people and media storage.  

Illustration showing where a matching person might be on your family tree, based on the amount of shared DNA.

Ethnicity Results & Founder Population Project

Ethnicity map of your genetic origins

Ethnicity results currently can include 25 ethnicities, but MyHeritage expects to increase that number with its Founder Population Project, also unveiled today. "More than 5,000 participants have been hand-picked for this project by MyHeritage from its 85 million members, by virtue of their family trees exemplifying consistent ancestry from the same region or ethnicity for many generations."

Once the Founder's Project participants' DNA is analyzed over the next few months, MyHeritage will have a DNA data set for more than 100 ethnicities. By comparing this data to the DNA of new testers, MyHeritage will be able to provide testers with ethnicity results with greater resolution that what's currently available. When available, these improved ethnicity reports will be provided at no additional cost to current MyHeritage DNA customers.

What You Should Know
According to the site's Informed Consent agreement, MyHeritage testers can opt in to allowing their results and family tree data to be used for a study "intended to assist academics or researchers to better understand the human species, learn or confirm certain facts and make predictions about future trends."

MyHeritage DNA is integrated with the site's other services on its DNA and mobile platforms. A new, stand-alone mobile app called MyHeritage DNA also lets you explore your results.

If you've tested autosomal DNA with another service, such as Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you can add your results to your MyHeritage tree to find matches among the site's other members.

MyHeritage DNA is available in all major countries except France, Poland and Israel. Now that it has its own testing service, MyHeritage will no longer offer DNA tests from third-party companies.

Genetic Genealogy | MyHeritage
Monday, 07 November 2016 13:13:15 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, 06 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 6
Posted by Diane

We're six days into the NaNoWriMo-inspired 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.  Today's post is from guest editor, Vanessa Wieland, who writes in response to this prompt:

Select your favorite family photo, and write about the moments just before and/or after the photo was taken. Why was it taken? Was your ancestor happy to be in it?

This is a portrait of my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Samuels. The occasion of this photo is presumably a happy one. According to the note on the back, it was taken on her 80th birthday. She seems to be listening here, perhaps to the photographer directing her to tilt her head just so and look over his shoulder. Perhaps she’s reflecting on her birthday plans. Was there a party? Perhaps the thought of cake is inspiring that smile.

My grandfather instilled in me an appreciation for my Welsh heritage, but seeing this photo was the first time I felt such a strong connection to an ancestor I’ve never met. As it turns out, I was born on my great-great grandmother’s birthday.

My grandfather mentioned loving her accent as a child, but he didn’t talk about her that much; his family stories tended to revolve far more around his Uncle Dan. Yet it’s her voice that echoes through them both in the strong sense of family she instilled in them - and through them, to my mother, my sister, and myself. 

When we first found this photo, it was as we were cleaning out the house of another of her descendants. The occasion was not a happy one; my mother’s cousin had passed and my grandfather was the closest living relative, so it fell to him - and us - to sift through a near-stranger’s belongings and tie up any loose ends.

Yet within those belongings, we found two items of note that my mother claimed; a cameo brooch and this photo. My mother found the brooch first and recalled seeing it as a child, but could not remember where. It wasn’t until a few days later that we came across this photo, and saw the same brooch pinned to Elizabeth’s blouse. The brooch was surprise enough, but even now, I'm struck by how much my mother looks like her.

I love this photo not just because I was born on her birthday, and a few decades after this photo was taken, but because the smile on her face seems to reflect a genuine contentment along with a sense of anticipation. I imagine her thinking, "I'm really looking forward to celebrating with my family, and a nice piece of cake."

Writing about your family history
Sunday, 06 November 2016 16:50:02 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, 01 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 1
Posted by Diane

Inspired by November's National Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo online), the editors of Family Tree are kicking off the 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.

Each day in November, we'll share a writing prompt on the front page of that will help you use your research in a new, creative way. We will also post the prompt on this page. Spend as much or as little time on each prompt as you can—after all, it's your family's story! You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter, where you can share your writing with us and other genealogists.

For Day 1, the prompt is: Write a letter to an ancestor you've never met. Include questions you've always wanted to ask him or her, plus some that reflect what you've already learned about your ancestor (for example, "Do you enjoy your new job?" or "How are you coping with your father's death?").

Madge Maril, genealogy intern at Family Tree Magazine, wrote this letter to her Great-Grandfather:

Dear Harry Aaron Maril,

Your story is the one that began my lifelong interest in my genealogy. You were the Maril that was born in Europe but left in order to pursue a better life in America—or so the story goes. You and your wife Katherine bore one of my favorite people I have ever had the pleasure to know: my grandfather. Grandpa Bill was warm, loving, intelligent, kind, and most of all, absolutely hilarious with a sense of humor so dry it made you need a glass of water after talking to him.

Grandpa was always very shy about his upbringing, so I have so many questions about you. I know that growing up during the Great Depression was extremely hard on our family and that it was Great-Grandma Kate that urged her son to become a doctor in order to make a name for himself and generate some income. I’m still not sure exactly where you are even from, Harry! Where were you born?! In the 1915 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Germany. In the 1920 Census, it’s marked you were born in Russia. In the 1940 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Lithuania. Then, on your registration card, you wrote that you were born in “Alaes Lorine”, France.

The genealogists of the family think you may have been fibbing in order to cover up that you were German during the war. I think you spelled Alsace-Lorraine wrong on purpose, in a way to show you aren’t really from there at all… maybe as a clue to the future generations you knew would look into it. Which answers the question I’ve always had about where Grandpa Bill got his dry sense of humor.

Until you write back, I guess I’ll keep researching. I’m determined to figure out where your hometown is!

Your Great-Granddaughter,

Madge Maril

Genealogy fun
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 15:38:51 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
How to Learn What Your Ancestor's Life Was Really Like
Posted by Diane

Genealogists are increasingly interested in knowing not just their ancestors' names and important dates, but also what they did every day, where they went and what they saw. What their lives were really like

This will do (at least) two things for you:
  • It'll improve your research by helping you form theories about your ancestors' lives and figure out where to look for records. For example, learning about the history of German immigrants to your family's American hometown might help you see that the overwhelming majority came from a particular part of Germany. Maybe that's where your family came from, too.
  • It'll help you understand your family's story and put it together in a way that makes sense. This is an important step for writing your family history, as you'll learn in our Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop (it starts online Nov. 7!). 
Here are a few ways you can step into the shoes of your ancestors and learn more about their everyday lives.

Go beyond basic records
My great-great-grandfather's 1923 estate inventory lists the contents of the family cigar store and home, helping me picture how the family lived.

The cigar business' 1880 industrial census detailed the number of employees (three men, two women), their wages (.50 to $1 per day) and more.

As I've written about before, newspaper articles have given me great information about my grandfather's youth in an orphanage.

Visit the places
A bunch of years ago, I got to interview author Ian Frazier about writing his family history book Family (MacMillan). He advised going to places important to your ancestors, trying to get as close as possible to they way it was during their lives. Go to family homesteads, neighborhoods, churches and schools. If the places no longer exist or you can't get there, find similar places.  

Research buildings
Another way to virtually visit an ancestor's home is to learn everything you can about it: When it was built, when your family acquired it, who lived there before and after your family, what it looked like, how it changed over the years.

Peruse local histories and guides
Guides to area history help you learn where your family would've gone to church and school, and what they saw each day. I have book with self-guided walking tours of my Cincinnati German families' Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with pictures of buildings and descriptions of their former functions. Local histories published when your ancestor was alive give you a first-person account of places and events.

Find old photos and maps
Libraries, historical societies and online memory collections are full of historical photos of buildings, streets and neighborhoods. Try searching for a place in the Library of Congress online collections.

Maps also give you details on buildings and neighborhoods. This Sanborn map shows my Cincinnati ancestor's home and cigar business on the corner. You can see it was on the front of the lot, two rooms on the first floor, three stories, with a three-story side porch and two outbuildings in the back.

Gather relatives' memories

My grandma is gone now, but I treasure the times I sat with her and looked at old pictures on my phone. She'd reveal snippets of her life as a girl: How both of her grandmothers had player pianos (but favored different music). How she loved her one dress that wasn't a hand-me-down. How the family dog would ride along on the running board of the car, then walk home when the family got where they were going. 

Even if no relatives are around to ask, you might have home sources—letters, journals, photos—that share family memories of times gone by. 

Write it down
Interested in putting together your family history research into a written narrative?

Follow our 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge daily prompts (Family Tree Magazine editors will be sharing some of our own family stories here on the blog) and take it up a notch with the Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop at Nov. 7-13.

Research Tips | Social History
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 12:19:16 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 25 October 2016
Nine Kinds of Ancestor Death Records You Should Look For
Posted by Diane

Genealogists start with death—meaning that we generally research ancestors from their deaths and moving back in time. But death-record searches can be challenging for several reasons, including when relatives died before statewide vital record-keeping or their names were recorded oddly.

If you can't find a death certificate for a relative, look for other death records for the time and place he died. If you've found one death record, look for others. Different types of records might have different details, and they provide additional documentation that you have the right death date and place. 

You'll learn how to find and analyze death information in Family Tree University's three-day crash course, Tricks and Treats in Death Records.

Here are nine kinds of old death records to look for (including examples I've found in my research):

The State Death Certificate

Once statewide death recording began (in the early 1900s for most states), counties created standard-format death certificates and sent copies to the state vital records office. Our free downloadable Vital Records Chart lists when these official death certificates began for each state. You can order them from county and state vital record offices, possibly with privacy restrictions (such as proving a relationship to the deceased) if the death was less than 25 or 50 years ago.

The Local Death Record

You're not necessarily out of luck if your ancestor died before statewide death records. Many cities and towns issued their own death certificates, which varied in format. They may be available microfilmed or digitized via a local library or archive, the state archive, or online at a genealogy website such as FamilySearch or

The Death Register

Local jurisdictions may have recorded deaths in a table form, such as this register with the death date, cause and place, along with the deceased's name, age, birthplace, parents' names and address (all if known). The columns span two pages. Look for death registers in the same places as local death records.

Substitute Death Records

Before statewide vital records begin, death recording can be hit or miss. Luckily, many types of records can substitute for death records, providing similar information. That includes the cemetery record:

the census mortality schedule:

the church death record:

and the probate file and the obituary and the burial permit and more. I haven't even touched on indexes to all these records.

Learn all about the different types of death records, where to find them and how to analyze them for clues—and false leads!—in Family Tree University's three-day crash course, Tricks and Treats in Death Records.

This crash course runs Oct. 31-Nov. 2, and includes video classes and a conference message board for getting help from your instructor and fellow students. See the Tricks and Treats in Death Records crash course program at

Cemeteries | Research Tips | Vital Records
Tuesday, 25 October 2016 08:30:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 04 October 2016
9 Things You Can Learn About Your Ancestors From the Cemetery
Posted by Diane

Changing scenery and pleasant temperatures make Fall an especially good time to visit cemeteries (alongside a genealogy buddy for fun and safety). Seeing the gravestone and viewing records in the cemetery office may yield ancestry information you won't find in an online database of burials—although online databases are very helpful, too.

The latest issue of Family Tree Magazine, October/November 2016, has our Genealogy Workbook on cemetery research. You'll also find essential guidance in Family Tree University's two-week course on Doing Cemetery Research (your access to course materials starts as soon as you register).

Here are nine things you can learn about ancestors from the cemetery:
  • name and birth and death dates. Most tombstones have the deceased's name (although sometimes you get the dreaded "his wife") and at least a year of birth and death. But you also might learn parents' names. One of my family cemeteries has a searchable database that includes parents' names, if known. It's the only place I've found parents' names for my third-great-grandmother Elizabeth Butler Norris. (A visit to this cemetery is in order to view records—they may contain information beyond what's in the database.)

  • relationships, either named on the stone or deduced from nearby stones and further research. I found two "mystery men" buried in my family plot, and subsequent research led me to my third-great-grandmother's first marriage. Here's my post about that
  • babies you didn't know to look for, because they were born and died between censuses and/or before official birth records. Some of my family cemeteries have separate "infant" sections, and tiny stones are easily overgrown, so you might find clues by searching in a database or through records in the cemetery office, even if there's no telltale marker in a family plot.
  • maiden names. They may be on a woman's grave marker or on a burial record, if it names parents or if her father or another relative owned the plot. Or you may discover the maiden name by researching those buried near her. It's a bit hard to see in this photo, but my great-great-grandmother's stone has her maiden name, Ladenkoetter:
  • membership in fraternal societies, religious organizations or unions, revealed by symbols on the gravestone. Here's a nice collection of photos of gravestone symbols and their interpretations.  These can lead you to records of the fraternal society.

  • immigrant place of origin. This is one I haven't encountered in my own research, but genealogy experts recommend checking burial records and gravestones for immigrant birth places. I found a photo on the Everyone Has a Story blog of an Irish immigrant's tombstone with his county and parish of birth

  • religion, especially if the person is buried in a cemetery affiliated with a church. If not, a burial record might include a religion or the name of a church where services were held. 

  • cause of death. Rarely, it might be engraved on a headstone, like the examples on this Rootsweb page. They include "was killed by a fall from a building" and "while ... viewing a span of horses he was suddenly kicked by one of them in the lower part of his bowels."

    More likely, though, you'll get clues to point your research in a direction. The same death date on a woman's gravestone and a nearby child's could indicate a mother died in childbirth. Several deaths around the same time might indicate an epidemic. A young man's death during wartime could mean he died in service.

See an outline for Family Tree University's two-week Doing Cemetery Research course by clicking here, and check out the October/November Family Tree Magazine in (it's available in print or as a digital download).

Cemeteries | Family Tree Magazine articles | Family Tree University | Research Tips
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 10:26:33 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 03 October 2016
3 Ways to Use GEDmatch in Your DNA Research
Posted by Diane

You’ve spent money on a DNA test for yourself and possibly one or more relatives, but what do you do with those results once you've got them? How can you wring every bit of knowledge out of those results and get the most for your money?

Third-party tools (many of which are free) give genealogists more ways of exploring and analyzing their DNA test results. DNA expert and author of The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy Blaine Bettinger shares three ways you can analyze your results with GEDmatch, one of the most commonly used genetic genealogy tools:
  1. Find genetic cousins in the GEDmatch database. Unless you’ve tested at all three testing companies (23andMe, AncestryDNA, and Family Tree DNA), your DNA isn't being compared to all test-takers. GEDmatch, however, has thousands of test results from each of the testing companies, allowing your DNA to be compared to the DNA of those who had their DNA tested by other companies. After you’ve uploaded your own raw data to GEDmatch, you can compare your DNA to all those test-takers and (hopefully) identify even more genetic cousins.

  2. Identify shared segments of DNA. Not all the genetic genealogy testing companies provide information about shared segments. Each shared segment at GEDmatch, however, can be identified by chromosome number, start location, stop location, and total size. This can be helpful for genealogists interested in chromosome mapping and triangulation.

  3. Analyze your DNA with other ethnicity calculators. Biogeographical estimates, also called “ethnicity” estimates, aren't an exact determination of your genealogical ethnicity. Instead, these calculations are just estimates based on imperfect modern-day populations. Accordingly, you shouldn’t take these estimates to the bank.

    Instead, look for patterns or trends among multiple ethnicity calculators at the testing companies and at GEDmatch, and focus on estimates at the continental level (Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe), which tend to be more accurate.
The image above, a screenshot from GEDmatch's home page, displays some of the analyses GEDmatch can run. For more on tools available at GEDmatch and other third-party sites, check out The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, available in both print and e-book versions at

Genealogy books | Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy
Monday, 03 October 2016 13:55:22 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]