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<September 2015>

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# Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Bookworm Genealogy: How to Find Digitized Books on
Posted by Diane

Census and vital records are important for family researchers, but resources originally published in book form can be incredibly valuable for genealogists willing to dig for them. Guest writer and author of the Unofficial Guide to Dana McCullough shares her thoughts about searching for digitized books:

Numerous books compiling town, county, and church vital records have been published over the years—and they are increasingly being digitized. You can search about 150,000 of these digitized genealogies, family histories, county and local histories, genealogy periodicals, gazetteers, and school yearbooks through the FamilySearch Books collection. 

When searching for digital books on, make use of the Advanced Search form (see image above) and with these four helpful strategies:

  • Start broadly. It's usually best to start your search broadly, then narrow if you get too many results so you don't miss out on relevant resources.
  • Try different search terms. Enter any word or phrase as a search term. Try searching for a surname only, or a surname and a location where an ancestor lived to find genealogies. Experiment with spelling variations of surnames or search for a location to find local and county histories.
  • Use wildcards. The same wildcards that work for searching Historical Records collections work for Family History Books. An asterisk (*) will replace multiple characters, and a question mark (?) will replace a single character. See an August 25, 2015, post on wildcard searches for more.
  • Refine search results. Currently, there are limited ways to refine your results, but that could change as and its search capabilities evolve. To the left of the search results, you'll see a column with several options. Click the down arrow next to a category to check the appropriate boxes to narrow your search.

Learn more about digitized books and other records on in the Unofficial Guide to

FamilySearch | Genealogy books
Tuesday, September 01, 2015 11:24:27 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 31, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Tom Bergeron's French Canadian Ancestry
Posted by Diane

Today, our “Who Do You Think You Are?” guest blogger Shannon Combs Bennett shares highlights and tips from the final episode of the summer season (sniff).

In TLC's season finale of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, comedian and TV host Tom Bergeron discovered the origins for his father’s French Canadian roots. I found it a powerful show filled with history, adventure and more than one emotional discovery.

Bergeron started near his home in New England, where genealogist Kyle Betit showed Bergeron a family tree he’d already researched (wouldn’t it be great if all ancestral journeys started that way?). I had to rewind to make sure I heard correctly—those names and dates were all from Quebec church records. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I wish my family had church records going back nine generations.

To me, this show helped prove why just collecting names and dates shouldn’t be all we do with genealogy resources. Mining them for history can really help you fill out your ancestral story. The search focused on Marguerite Ardion, born in La Rochelle, France, in 1636, and why she migrated to Quebec. The number of original records used was phenomenal.

For example, the account of the siege of La Rochelle was an example of using period sources to understand a family’s experiences at a point in time. Bergeron’s 10th-great-grandparents were in La Rochelle when French forces held the city. Bergeron viewed a firsthand account of the siege in A Journal of the Last Siege of the City of Rochel: Begun the 20 of July 1627 by Pierre Mervault. This moving and graphic account of the circumstances inside the city gave Bergeron a glimpse into what his ancestors would’ve experienced.

Learning where to look to discover more on your ancestor’s family history can be hard, but so very rewarding. There's a great video in, Top Ten Tools for Social History, that will help you get started.

In Quebec, Bergeron learns about Marguerite’s important status as a Filles du Roi, literally, “daughter of the King.” These unmarried women, about 800 in total, came to New France from 1663 to 1673 to start families in the new colony. Marguerite was among the first to arrive. These women are held in high regard today; Bergeron learned that being a Filles du Roi descendant is similar to having a Mayflower ancestor in the United States.

This episode made me a little jealous. I don’t have French Canadian ancestors that I know of. If you do, Family Tree Magazine’s French Canadian genealogy guide can help you find the right resources. 

Now the waiting game starts for next season. I DVRed the summer episodes, and I’ll be spending the fall reliving my favorite moments waiting impatiently for “WDYTYA?” to return.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | French Canadian roots
Monday, August 31, 2015 3:02:32 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, August 30, 2015
Genealogy Organization: My Problem and How I Can Solve It
Posted by Diane

What’s your genealogy organization problem? Keeping your workspace uncluttered? Forgetting about the research leads you've set on the back burner for the time being? Losing dates and data you know you once had? Not pairing up pieces of information with their sources?

Our Organize Your Genealogy class will help with these and other organization problems, including mine: managing information I find online. I tend to do research here and there at work, as I write blog posts and edit articles. I’ll find some details and download some records or take some screenshots, then tell myself I better focus on work because the Genealogy Insider weekly newsletter isn’t going to write itself.

Then I rush to plop source details into a Google Drive spreadsheet and dump everything into a folder on my hard drive that looks like this:

Messy, right? Clues I missed in my haste are probably buried in here.

My goal is to pause finding new things (which may be the hardest part) and focus on what I already have. I need to transfer files to my home computer, name them appropriately, make sure the finds are recorded in my online tree, and file the records on my hard drive (where I have folders for each of my grandparents' lines and each of my husband's grandparents' lines, and surname folders within those). 

The Organize Your Genealogy online course starts Sept. 7 and runs four weeks, covering paper and digital organization, as well as developing organized workflows (this is what I need). Learn more about it on

Family Tree University | Research Tips
Sunday, August 30, 2015 3:07:40 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, August 27, 2015
AncestryDNA Adds Shared Matches Tool
Posted by Diane

AncestryDNA has released a new match-viewing tool called Shared Matches. When you look at a match, you can click on the Shared Matches tab to see the other matches (if any) you have in common with that person. It looks like this (I've blurred names and other potential identifying info):

The name of the match I'm viewing is at the top. Below that are the people this person and I both match.

This helps alleviate some of the frustration that comes when your matches have few people in their trees, or don't have public trees linked to their test results. Either situation makes it harder to determine your relationship, and could keep you from being put into a "DNA Circle" with those matches.

But if you can see a list of folks who all genetically match each other, even if your trees don't name the same people, you can look for commonalities in any or all of their trees and begin to narrow down where the match might be.

I'm not in any ancestor circles, but Shared Matches have helped me notice an interesting connection:

I have a match (call her cousin A) whom I already knew is a cousin on my mom's paternal side. But cousin A and I both match a person (cousin B) whose tree has a surname that also belongs to my great-great-grandmother on my dad's maternal line.

Furthermore, cousin B and I both match a cousin C, who's a third cousin on my dad's side through this same great-great-grandmother. But cousin C doesn't appear to match cousin A.

So it looks like cousin B could be related to cousin A through cousin B's other parent (the one not descended from our common ancestor) and cousin A's father's side (cousin A's mom is the one she and I are related through). Can you think of any other scenarios that would explain this?

One quibble with the Shared Matches tool is that it looks like you have to click on each match individually and then click the Shared Matches tab to see if anyone's listed there. I have 28 pages of matches. I can't find a way to filter matches so I see only the ones with shared matches. has a video about Shared Matches here. | Genetic Genealogy
Thursday, August 27, 2015 1:17:17 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 25, 2015
How I Found "My" Name on
Posted by Diane

Written by Family Tree Magazine Editorial Intern Patrick Phillips

If you read my last blog post, you already know that I am a genealogy newbie. I’m happy to report that my fiancé’s grandfather appreciated my beginner’s tips on researching Scottish ancestry so thank you all for your support. After this little genealogical success, I thought I’d take the time to delve into my own family history and see what I can find. And fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of the Unofficial Guide to and got to searching.


I have always been interested in my Irish roots, namely my mother’s father’s extended family. I have never met any of my grandfather’s brothers or sisters nor have I seen a picture of my grandfather’s family.  However, I feel an unspoken obligation to find out more about my grandfather’s family because I am fortunate to share his name. Well, for the most part…


My parents named me Patrick Earl Phillips. Patrick is the name of my mother’s father, Patrick Moran, and Earl is my dad’s father’s name, Earl Phillips. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet Earl Phillips or his wife, so I have always felt a greater sense of connection to my mother’s parents.


So I set out on my first, epic genealogy quest to find the names of grandpa Moran’s siblings and parents. I set off on the recently updated and made my profile. I started digging through census records, obituaries and marriage licenses and discovered an interesting tidbit about grandpa Moran’s history.


I knew my grandfather was born in 1919 so I was very interested in finding the first census form where he appears. To my surprise, I didn’t find a Patrick Moran but a McLellan Moran. I confirmed this McLellan was my grandfather since the older siblings had the same names and birth years and the parents were also correct. In every subsequent census, my grandfather is named Patrick Moran. The reason as to why my grandfather was listed under his middle name on his first census is unknown to me, but it is was my first lesson in name changes in genealogical research. I could have easily passed this census up and ignored an interesting tidbit in the life of my greatest role model. And, who knows. My name could have been McLellan as well!

Here are some other quick, useful tips and reminders from the Unofficial Guide to for ancestors’ whose names may be inconsistent in records:


1.     Play with the “Exact” box when searching. Try a search with exact-spelling search to lower the number of results and do another with a non-exact search.

2.     Use initial for a middle name with one search and spell it out in another.

3.     Use wildcards. Using a special character such as an asterisk (*) or a question mark (?) can help search for ancestors when you are unsure of the spelling of their name.

4.     Adjust the search filters to narrow down or broaden search results.

5.     Add the names of known family members such as parents or siblings to searches to tailor your search.


I am very excited for the upcoming Family Tree University course on, Become and Power User. This is one of many genealogical challenges I’m sure to face as I research more!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 3:45:38 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
Born to Be Wild: How to Use Wildcards in Searches
Posted by Diane

We all love using the free and its many resources, but how can we find our ancestors or their hometowns when we’re not sure how their names are spelled in records? Guest writer and author of the Unofficial Guide to Dana McCullough shares how to use wildcard characters like ? and * to find our ancestors in records:

Decades or centuries ago, when many of the historical records on were originally created, the clerks and record keepers weren’t perfect. The volunteer indexers who transcribe records for aren’t infallible, either. That means spelling errors will almost certainly appear in your ancestors’ records. For example, I’ve seen my ancestor Blasius Schwer’s first name appear in records as Bliss, Bloes, and Blassius.

To account for spelling errors or other variations of names, you can use wildcards. Wildcards are special characters you enter in a search box in place of certain letters.

On, you can use a question mark (?) to represent one missing letter. An asterisk (*) can replace zero or more characters. You can use both wildcards in the same search if desired. You must have at least one letter in the search box, and you can place the wildcard at the beginning, middle, or end of a search field. For example, if I want to account for all of the different first name spellings I’ve seen for Blasius, I might enter his name as Bl*s Schwer. This pulls up results for people with the last name Schwer who have the first name spellings I’ve seen, plus several more, including Blazius and Blausis. Apparently he had a difficult name to spell!

Even if your ancestors had easy-to-spell names, expect spelling discrepancies. For example, if your ancestor’s last name was Henderson, it could appear in records as Hendersen. To account for this difference, you could enter Henders?n in the Last Names search box.

Many search engines, including Google, also support Boolean search techniques, such as enclosing terms in quotation marks or using the word and between terms, to help you focus searches. Unfortunately, does not support Boolean techniques, so don’t worry about using quotation marks or operators (and,or) in your searches.

Learn more tips and strategies for searching historical records on by ordering your copy of the Unofficial Guide to today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 10:13:48 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 24, 2015
“Who Do You Think You Are:” Bryan Cranston Discovers Military Service & Family Secrets
Posted by Diane

Our "Who Do You Think You Are?" blogger Shannon Combs Bennett shares highlights and tips from last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" with actor Bryan Cranston.

Award winning actor Bryan Cranston’s journey covered two countries and uncovered some family secrets.  Cranston wanted to know more about the ancestry of his father, who left the family when Cranston was 11.  He discovered a pattern of paternal abandonment and military service, calling these ancestors “men born with suitcases in their hands.”

The first revelation—that his grandfather, Edward Cranston, was married once before—came through a 1930 census detail that’s easy to overlook: The couples’ ages didn’t match up with each of their ages in the “age at first marriage” column. Edward’s age was for his first marriage not his second. This made me think I should re-evaluate some census records!

The divorce records, found among court records, detailed why the split happened. Find records of divorces in your family tree with Family Tree Magazine’s guide to discovering ancestors’ divorce records.

Edward and Cranston’s great-great-grandfather Joseph both volunteered for US military service, in World War I and the Civil War, respectively.  Military records are some of my favorite sources. Look for these if you have anyone in your tree who could’ve served, or registered for a draft (this chart will help you determine whether an ancestor may have served, based on his year of birth).

Our  webinar Online Military Records: Document Your Family’s Service can show you what types of military records to look for. In addition to records from federal-level sources such as the National Archives, state archives may have state-level military records. The Illinois State Archives, for example, had Edward Cranston’s application for WWI veterans’ bonus payments.

Archivist Christopher Capozzla said that 80 percent of these records were destroyed in a 1930s fire, making Cranston lucky that his grandfather’s application survived, though singed on the edges.

Joseph Henry Cranston was the great-great-grandfather who served in the Civil War. He was born in Ireland, immigrated to Canada and enlisted three times, serving to the end of the war. He spent the end of his life in The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldier in Dayton, Ohio. 

Cranston visited the home, read from a newspaper article (this is shown in the photo above) about his suicide, and visited his grave. What we didn’t see in this episode is that he also went to the National Archives, to see Joseph’s pension file. It provided details about Joseph’s military career, the units he served with, and even that he was at one point taken prisoner.

Next Sunday at 9/8c on TLC is the final episode of this season. Tune in to watch TV host and comedian Tom Bergeron’s journey into his French-Canadian roots.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Military records
Monday, August 24, 2015 2:32:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Cloud Genealogy: A Short Glossary
Posted by Diane

We were joking here in the office yesterday that "cloud genealogy," a nebulous term (haha—see what I did there?) you might've heard tossed around, is when you're having bad luck in your genealogy life.  

But what cloud genealogy really means is that your research is stored online, so you can access it from anywhere using any device (such as your laptop, desktop, smart phone or tablet), and you're always working on the most-updated version of your research.

This also means your family tree, research notes, images and other files are always backed up online and protected from a computer crash or other tech disaster. Some types of cloud services you might use for genealogy are:
  • family tree building
  • note-taking
  • file backup
  • file transfer
  • photo storage

Our Cloud Genealogy Bootcamp workshop, coming up Aug. 24-31, has classes and expert advice to get you started doing cloud genealogy, help you find the best tools for the way you do research, and devise an easy-to-use cloud genealogy workflow, and decipher nebulous terms like these:
  • the Cloud: basically, the internet, where you can store information to access from anywhere, on any device that's connected to the internet.
  • app: an application (such as the Evernote app or the MyHeritage app)  you install on your smart phone, computer or other device; many applications will let you connect to the internet and access your files and data stored on cloud services
  • sync: short for synchronize, this is the act of updating a file or other data on all your devices, so you're always working on the same, most-recently updated version; this generally happens automatically on cloud services
  • file transfer service: a service, such as Dropbox, intended to help you share files between devices or users; these sites aren't intended for long-term storage of file backups
  • backup service: an online service that helps you back up files on your computer, either automatically (the backup just happens on a regular schedule, or whenever you connect to the internet) or manually (you must start the backup and designate files to be backed up)
Learn more about our Cloud Genealogy Bootcamp and see the workshop program at

Family Tree University | Genealogy Apps | Tech Advice
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 9:51:44 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 17, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Two Top Genealogical Resources
Posted by Diane

Here, our "Who Do You Think You Are?" reporter Shannon Combs Bennett shares her favorite genealogical resources highlighted in last night's "best of" episode:

Sunday’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode was a first for the series. As the narrator explains at the beginning, “This is the best of 'Who Do You Think You Are?'… the most shocking discoveries … most moving moments … never-before-seen clips… secrets, intrigues and lots of white gloves.”

And it was. I laughed. I cried. I gasped. I relived some of my favorite moments over the last six seasons and was excited to see new ones.

The show touched on so many episodes that it would be difficult to capture them all here. (You can see all the Genealogy Insider's posts about past episodes; just note that some of the videos embedded in these old posts are no longer available.)

But I did notice the educational moments inserted into the series, which makes my genealogist heart happy. While episodes usually have segments giving historical background to help viewers place guests' ancestors in context, we don't hear a lot of background about how to use the records shown. Two of my favorite pointers from last night's episode discussed:
  • Census records: The show called the census the “workhorse of documents.”  It's easy to agree with him on that description. Usually the first record set genealogists consult, censuses can be extremely useful. In addition to the annual US population schedule, enumerators sometimes recorded population subsets (such as manufacturers or those who'd died in the year prior to the census) in nonpopulation censuses. Our US Census Workbook is a thorough guide to finding and using your ancestors' US census records.
  • Newspaper research: Newspapers can give you hard-to-find information on everything from scandals to marriage dates, and they can show you the communities your ancestors lived in. You see old newspapers in episode after edpisode. It's like looking through a window into your predecessors' society and times. The free Chronicling American website is a good place to start newspaper research, and try our video class Three Cool Tools for Finding Your Family History in Newspapers
Other segments reviewed episodes involving slavery, military endeavors and royal connections (with quite a few parchment scrolls unrolled). Over the past six seasons, there certainly were many of these stories sprinkled in. Many were shocking. Many were jaw dropping. All reminding us that we can have amazing stories in our family sprinkled with the unsavory and shocking.

The show's website now has a cool interactive map (shown above) you can use to retrace celebrity guests' journeys through video highlights, recaps and photos.

The show closed with some of the most moving reunions of celebrities with long lost relatives. My two favorites were Lisa Kudrow and Rita Wilson, who met family members in their ancestral homelands. Capturing such joy was the best of endings. I think many of us want to have reunions like this.

Next week at 9/8 Central on TLC, we'll watch actor Bryan Cranston’s journey to discover his paternal roots.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Research Tips
Monday, August 17, 2015 2:29:11 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, August 13, 2015
Six Hidden Gems on
Posted by Diane

Written by Guest Writer and Associate Editor, Andrew Koch

When you’re researching a branch of your family tree, the first (and easiest) place to start looking for your ancestors is the US census, and thrifty genealogists know that the free has indexed every surviving, pre-1940 US census. But don’t think that censuses are all that the massive site has to offer. boasts thousands of niche collections that can contain treasures about your ancestors, plus records from more than 90 countries all around the world—Canada, South Africa, Korea, Uruguay and even Iran, to name a few.

While not all are indexed and keyword searchable, these resources can pull through for your research in ways that others can’t. Here are six collections that you might be missing:

  • China Collection of Genealogies, 1239–2014: If you have ancestors from the Middle Kingdom, be sure to browse this massive stockpile of family histories dating to medieval times. The collection is organized by family name, then by country in historic China (e.g. China, Korea, Mongolia).
  • Ireland Tithe Applotment Books, 1814–1855: A 1922 fire razed the Public Records Office in Dublin to the ground, taking with it centuries of your Irish ancestors’ records. You can take some comfort in this source, however, as it accounts for roughly 40 percent of Irish households.
  • Mexico Baptisms, 1560–1950: Most censuses taken by the Mexican government vary in their coverage, availability and usefulness to genealogists, but church records provide a thorough look at your ancestors’ lives throughout the centuries. also has indexed collections of marriage and death records.
  • Puerto Rico, Catholic Church Records, 1645–1969: Puerto Rico wasn’t included in a US census until 1910, but you can fill in research gaps with more than 600,000 records of baptism (bautismos), confirmation (confirmaciones), marriage (matrimonios) and death (defunciones).
  • United States Confederate Officers Card Index, 1861–1865: The Civil War is be a touchy subject for some families, and resource can be hard to come by. But this resource has images of more than 200,000 Civil War veterans and their ranks. You can’t search it by keyword, but the collection is organized by officers’ last names.
  • United States Public Records, 1970–2009: We (and our ancestors) leave behind plenty of records without even realizing it. This indexed collection culls together names, addresses and phone numbers from public documents that you may have never thought to check like phone books and property tax assessments.

You can read about more resources on, plus ways to become a FamilySearch power-user, in the Unofficial Guide to, which comes out on Tuesday. Order your copy here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 12:45:43 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]