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# Monday, 22 February 2016
Google Retires Its Free Picasa Photo-editing Software
Posted by Diane

Have you been relying on Google's free Picasa software to edit, store and share your digital photos and scans of old family photos? Then you've probably heard that Google has announced Picasa'a retirement. Photo-editing will still work if you have Picasa installed on your computer, but support ends March 15.

Photos you've uploaded to Picasa Web Albums will be automatically transferred to Google Photos on May 1. There, storage is free as long as your photos don't surpass the upper limits set on resolution. Google Photos has tools to enhance and edit your photos, though not as extensively as other options. Sharing also is limited.

You can read more about Google Photos in this PC Mag review (which says it's "not the best option out there").

On the lookout for new options to edit and preserve digitized family photos? Want to learn how you can digitally repair tears, spots, fading and other photo damage at home—inexpensively? In Family Tree University's Photo-Editing for Genealogists one-week online workshop, How To Archive Family Photographs author Denise Levenick will show you a range of editing tools and techniques including Photoshop Elements, PicMonkey and others.

The Photo-Editing for Genealogists workshop takes place online Feb. 29-March 6, and includes educational videos, as well as written lessons and a conference message board for asking Denise questions. See a workshop program and register at

Monday, 22 February 2016 10:41:33 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 17 February 2016
"Finding Your Roots" Reveals Family Tree Surprises for LL Cool J & Sean Combs
Posted by Diane

This week's episode of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." showed the power of genetic genealogy in revealing answers about family history.

Gates revealed the family histories of two African-American hip-hop artists, LL Cool J (whose real name is James Todd Smith) and Sean John "P. Diddy" Combs. The genetic genealogy surprises came in LL Cool J's family tree.

(Spoilers ahead if you haven't watched yet!)

LL Cool J's mother, Ondrea, ended up genetically matching a woman whose last name didn't show up anywhere in the family tree. The amount of shared DNA indicated a first cousin relationship. Researchers tested Ondrea's cousins on both sides of her family and found no first cousin relationship.

Ondrea's parents Ellen Hightower and Eugene Smith—the loving grandparents who helped raise LL Cool J—weren't her biological parents. Gates delivered this news in a private phone call that wasn't part of the show.

The match's nieces also took DNA tests, and one shared enough DNA with Ondrea to be half-sibling. So researchers knew the name of her biological father: Nathaniel Christie Lewis, a professional boxer in the 1930s. But there was no Ondrea Lewis in New York City birth records.

Ondrea's birth certificate didn't name any parents, and it was issued a year after her birth, but it did contain the number of her original birth record. Back in New York City's birth register, that certificate number belonged to an Ondra Jolly, born to a woman named Ethel Mae Jolly.

If you've tested your DNA and you're ready to use your results to explore your genealogy, get the guidance you need in Family Tree University's Genetic Genealogy 201 online course, starting Feb. 2.

Although all the research was condensed into a single episode, genetic genealogist CeCe Moore said on Facebook that her part alone took hundreds of hours of work to sort out the DNA evidence. Moore also shared an interview Gates gave about LL Cool J's family tree.

In Combs' family tree, the show's research team discovered a long line of free black ancestors in Maryland, which Gates said is extremely unusual for an African-American. One man, who was captured and accused of being a runaway slave, later volunteered for the US Colored Troops in the Civil War (see our tips on researching US Colored Troops soldiers here).

Watch this episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 10:48:42 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 12 February 2016
Searchable Irish Catholic Parish Registers Coming to
Posted by Diane

Those searchable Irish Catholic parish registers that are coming to Findmypast in March also will be available on that month.

That includes 10 million baptism, marriage and burial records from 1,000 parishes in what's now the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The collection consists of mostly mostly baptisms and marriages; the handful of burials are largely from northern areas. already has some Roman Catholic parish records, accounting for the "55 million Irish records" total cited in yesterday's press release. 

Both companies' announcements say it's the first time the record images have been linked with a searchable index online.

Trying to trace your Irish roots? Our Irish Genealogy Crash Course on-demand webinar will help you find genealogy records and  tackle challenges unique to ancestry research in Ireland. It's available from as a download you can watch immediately. | findmypast | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 12 February 2016 10:17:24 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 10 February 2016
How Did "Finding Your Roots" Find the Military Ancestry of John McCain, Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette?
Posted by Diane

This week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." focused on military service in the ancestry of Sen. John McCain and actors Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette. (And it just so happens that our military records webinar is next week—I'll tell you more about that in a minute.)
  • McCain followed the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals in the Navy. Researchers discovered that McCain's Confederate second-great-grandfather William Alexander McCane served under the brutal Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, deserted, was captured by the Union, and was imprisoned in the notorious Irving Block Prison in Memphis. Gates pointed out the similarities to McCain's own horrific experience as a POW in Vietnam.
  • Moore (whose real name is Julie Anne Smith), grew up in what she described as a "peripatetic" military family. Her ancestor Peter M. Smith fought in the Mexican War, and was among the troops who successfully stormed  Chapultepec Castle Sept. 13, 1847.
  • Arquette was surprised to learn she had a Civil War ancestor, one of the "Hundred Days Men" who enlisted for short periods to serve as guards and laborers, freeing up more-experienced soldiers for combat duty. Her sixth- and seventh-great-grandfathers, respectively, served in the American Revolution and the French and Indian War.
The episode didn't go deeply into the historical records that provided the information, but we did get a glimpse of a Civil War muster roll for Pvt. McCane.

The basic record type for learning about your ancestor's military service from the Revolutionary War up through the Philippine Insurrection is the Compiled Military Service Record, or CMSR. According to professional genealogist Shelley K. Bishop, author of a service records guide in the upcoming May/June 2016 Family Tree Magazine, the War Department created CMSRs for enlisted men to facilitate processing later military pension applications.

A CMSR consists of a jacket with cards that summarize information from muster rolls, hospital rolls, prison records, payment vouchers and more.

Depending on the war, you might find indexes to CMSRs and/or digitized CMSRs on genealogy websites such as and Fold3. CMSRs that aren't imaged online might be available on microfilm, or you might need to order copies from the National Archives.

From there, you can look for military pension applications, regimental histories, state adjutant general records, battlefield maps and other records.

Shelley's article will help you find CMSRs, and even before that issue comes out, learn how to research several types of military records in our Feb. 25 webinar How to Find Ancestor Military Records (see more details about it and register in

You can watch the full military heritage episode of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." on the PBS website.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Military records | Webinars
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 10:51:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, 09 February 2016
MyHeritage Releases Update to Free Family Tree Builder Software
Posted by Diane

MyHeritage launched version 8 of its free Family Builder desktop genealogy software, which syncs to your online tree on the MyHeritage website (you also can edit your online tree on your smartphone with the MyHeritage app).

Version 8 looks similar to the previous version, but the infrastructure of the program has been totally rewritten. That has made Family Tree Builder faster and more efficient, and it now supports trees of up to 500,000 individuals.

Read more about the new Family Tree Builder features on the MyHeritage blog. You can download Family Tree Builder for Windows or Mac from the MyHeritage website.

Genealogy Software | MyHeritage
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 10:36:39 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
Findmypast News From RootsTech: Searchable Irish Catholic Parish Registers and More
Posted by Diane

Remember the National Library of Ireland's Irish Catholic parish registers that went online for free in July, and how the digital images on that site aren't searchable? Genealogy website Findmypast just announced it will launch an indexed, searchable collection of these records in March. I can't wait! I'm hoping this will help me find a place of origin for my Irish immigrant ancestors. See more details on the Irish Genealogy News blog.

Findmypast also has released 33 million US marriage records in partnership with FamilySearch (so you also can search these records on the free FamilySearch website). Findmypast will continue to add to this collection, which eventually will contain more than 450 million names from 2,800 US counties. This first installment of the collection is free to search through Monday, Feb. 15. Read more details here.

At last week's RootsTech conference, Findmypast announced it has formed partnerships with several other genealogy companies so the sites' record collections can be embedded within the partner products. Partners include:

Want to take advantage of the growing genealogy record collections at Findmypast? Our Findmypast web guide can help!

findmypast | Genealogy Industry | Genealogy Software | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 10:31:10 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 02 February 2016
Family Tree Maker Returns PLUS Ancestry Partners With RootsMagic
Posted by Diane

Those of you wondering what you'll do with your family tree now that has discontinued Family Tree Maker genealogy software will probably welcome these two new options for storing your computerized family tree data and records:

  • announced today it has sold Family Tree Maker software to a company called Software MacKiev (which has been the developer of Family Tree Maker for Mac for six years). Family Tree Maker owners will receive updates and be able to purchase new versions from Software MacKiev, and they'll continue to be able to save their trees to, use hints and search from within the software. (The announcement doesn't specifically mention syncing, though.)

    Update: Here's how responded to my question about syncing: "Family Tree Maker will continue to have syncing capability with Ancestry trees, however this feature may evolve as Software MacKiev updates the software.

    "It will use different underlying technology than our current TreeSync but it effectively provides the same basic functionality of allowing the user to keep data in their online tree and data in their desktop tree consistent." 
  • also announced a new agreement with RootsMagic to connect the website to RootsMagic genealogy software by the end of 2016. That means you'll be able to use RootsMagic as your desktop software while using your Ancestry Member Tree as your online version.
RootsMagic does say its software will sync with Ancestry trees, as well as directly import Family Tree Maker files (no need to export a GEDCOM first). Read more details and a Q&A on the RootsMagic website.

"We have heard your concerns and are working to provide the solutions you requested," states the announcement from "These new agreements will make it possible to preserve your work on Ancestry and Family Tree Maker and enable future features and benefits to help you discover your family history."

Wondering whether all the fuss could've been avoided when Family Tree Maker's retirement was announced in December? You're not alone. spokesperson Matthew Deighton says that the software purchase contract wasn't yet signed when the announcement was made.

For more details on these agreements, see the blog. | Genealogy Software
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 20:44:24 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
3 Reasons to Travel to the Old Country
Posted by Diane

No matter how convenient it may be these days to research ancestors without leaving home, you probably still dream of visiting your family’s homeland. Heritage travel is a booming industry and can provide you with an opportunity to go beyond the same old research strategies and discover those details you can’t get from online databases, books or microfilmed records.

Lisa A. Alzo, guest blogger and author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide shares three reasons you should do onsite research in your ancestral homeland:

  1. Meet up with long-lost cousins. We often start our research by tracing  immigrant ancestors, but what about those ancestors who remained in Europe and didn’t make the journey across the ocean? By simply visiting an ancestral town or village, you can run into descendants who still live there and can show you around. And with blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to find and make plans with long-lost cousins, then stay connected with them once you return home.

  2. Walk in ancestors’ footsteps. If you’re yearning to see where your ancestors lived, stand in the church where Great-grandpa was baptized, enjoy traditional cuisine and understand what life was like for your ancestors before they made the journey to America, then practicing immersion genealogy can provide an opportunity like no other. With a trip to your ancestral homeland, you can experience firsthand the customs and traditions of your heritage, as well as discover more details about where and how your ancestors lived, worked and worshiped.

  3. Locate hard-to-get records. Contrary to popular belief, not all genealogical documents are online. The proof of your grandmother’s date of birth or details about the death of her parents could be physically stored in the dusty old church books or in the village’s civil registration office or archives. By visiting such repositories in person, you can get information that might not be easily accessible otherwise. When planning for onsite research, always contact the priest or staff in advance so they can better assist you during your visit and inform you of their availability or any planned closings or scheduling conflicts. And, if you aren’t comfortable with the language, hire a professional researcher who can assist with navigating the policies and procedures and help you communicate with staff or villagers who don’t speak English; look for recommendations from ethnic genealogical societies.

Learn more about heritage travel and get tips and resources for preparing a visit to Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia in The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide.

Czech roots | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 13:55:50 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
Find Ancestors in Fold3's Free Black History Records in February
Posted by Diane

In honor of African-American History Month this month, genealogy website Fold3 is offering free access to its Black History Collection of records through the end of February. That includes:
  • Washington, DC court slave and emancipation records
  • South Carolina estate inventories and bills of sale (1732-1872)
  • US Colored Troops Civil War service records
  • Southern Claims Commission records (read about this collections' contents here)
  • War Department Military Intelligence Division records on "Negro subversion"
... and more titles. You'll need to set up a free Fold3 registration to take advantage of this offer. Start searching the free African-American genealogy records on Fold3 here.

If you're researching black ancestors, you'll find helpful websites listed on A few of my favorite guide we've printed in Family Tree Magazine for researching African-American roots include:
  • The African-American Great Migration, which helps you locate ancestors who were part of the mass population shift from the rural South to Northern cities from 1910 to 1940
  • Slave Ancestors Research Guide, which offers a strategy and resources for discovering enslaved African-Americans
  • Using Black Newspapers, a guide to finding and researching ancestors in historical newspapers that were published primarily for an African-American audience

Watching a show like PBS' "Finding Your Roots" can be helpful because you see what records might exist for your ancestors. Here's a link to our post about the season premiere.

African-American roots
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 13:17:38 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]