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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
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.
Ancestry.com | Genetic Genealogy
Thursday, August 27, 2015 1:17:17 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
How I Found "My" Name on Ancestry.com
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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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
Guide to Ancestry.com for ancestors’ whose names may be inconsistent in
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.
Use initial for a middle name with one search
and spell it out in another.
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.
Adjust the search filters to narrow down or
broaden search results.
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 Ancestry.com, Become
and Ancestr.com 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)
Born to Be Wild: How to Use Wildcards in FamilySearch.org Searches
Posted by Diane
We all love using the free FamilySearch.org 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 FamilySearch.org
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 FamilySearch.org were originally created,
the clerks and record keepers weren’t perfect. The volunteer indexers who
transcribe records for FamilySearch.org 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 FamilySearch.org, 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, FamilySearch.org
does not support Boolean techniques, so don’t worry about using quotation marks
or operators (and,or) in your FamilySearch.org searches.
more tips and strategies for searching historical records on FamilySearch.org by
ordering your copy of the Unofficial
Guide to FamilySearch.org today.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 10:13:48 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
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
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
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
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Military records
Monday, August 24, 2015 2:32:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
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
- file backup
- file transfer
- photo storage
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
- 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
Learn more about our Cloud
Genealogy Bootcamp and see the workshop program at
- 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)
Family Tree University | Genealogy Apps | Tech Advice
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 9:51:44 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
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:
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
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
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
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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)
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Six Hidden Gems on FamilySearch.org
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 FamilySearch.org has indexed every surviving, pre-1940 US census. But don’t think that censuses are all that the massive site has to offer. FamilySearch.org 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. FamilySearch.org 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 FamilySearch.org, plus ways to become a FamilySearch power-user, in the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, which comes out on Tuesday. Order your copy here.
Thursday, August 13, 2015 12:45:43 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
10 Tips for Finding Scottish Ancestry
Posted by Diane
Written by Guest Writer and Editorial Intern, Patrick
I don’t have a drop of Scottish in my blood. I’m primarily
Irish, German and Italian. However in my fiancé’s house, you can find bagpipes,
kilts and plenty of plaid to go around (don’t tell her I said that).
Having worked for Family Tree Magazine for only about a
month or so, I have already been dubbed the genealogical expert among Julia’s
extended family, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. When I told Julia’s
grandfather that I would be working for Family Tree Magazine for a while, he
told (ordered) me to let him know of any tips or tools for him to expand his
own genealogical research.
So in a desperate effort to ensure that I’m in his family’s
favor, I’ve been keeping an eye out for useful resources on Scottish ancestry
for my future grandfather-in-law, taking notes from what experts have said. I
thought a little post of some of the interesting things I’ve found would
coincide nicely with the upcoming Tracing Your Scottish Immigrant
Ancestors Live Webinar on
August 25 for anyone who has already registered or is thinking of registering.
So here we go:
Scotland’s useful genealogical records can
almost all be found entirely online on both subscription sites (Ancestry.com and ScotlandsPeople)
and free databases (FreeCen and Scotland Census Finder).
Censuses were taken every 10 years since 1841
and are closed to the public for 100 years. The most recent census you can view
is the 1911 census. ScotlandsPeople
is the only website with images of census records from 1841 to 1911.
The Church of Scotland’s historical records are
called the Old Parochial Registers or Old Parish Registers for short (OPR). and
each local parish kept records.
Scottish parishes rarely kept death or burial
records, but you may be able to find some on Extant
OPRs and death/burial event years for each parish at OPR Death
is a great resource for information on each county in Scotland, giving you
access to county-specific resources to narrow your searches.
Each clan has its own tartan pattern,
and is generally identified with a geographical area originally controlled by
the chiefs (see map). Today, clan associations are much like family history groups. To
learn more about clans and link to a clan search, got to VisitScotland.
Find out as much as you can about your
ancestors in the records of the area in which they settled. Don’t assume that
when you find someone with the same name that it is your ancestor. He or she
may have been a member of a different clan.
Determine when exactly your ancestor
immigrated to the US. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer's Passenger and
Immigration Lists Index: A Guide to Published Arrival Records is a series of
books that contain indexes of immigration lists that are in print.
There are four major languages in
Scotland: English, Gaelic, Scots and Latin. English is the most common, but in
the Scottish Highlands, people would have spoken Gaelic. Outside of the
Highlands, you might encounter the Scots language in one or more of its
in the home. Look for heirlooms or stories among family members to help
solidify whether or not you have found someone who is truly your ancestor.
while I’m fresh, I think these are some pretty useful tips for not only my future
wife’s grandfather, but for anyone looking to pass a roadblock and continue
searching for their Scottish ancestors.
I just hope that this was enough to make ol’ Don
Research Tips | UK and Irish roots | Webinars
Thursday, August 13, 2015 10:03:50 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, August 10, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Alfre Woodard's African-American Slave Ancestry
Posted by Diane
Today, our "Who Do You Think You Are?" blogger Shannon Combs Bennett walks
you through last night's riveting episode featuring actor Alfre Woodard:
Sunday’s episode of "Who
Do You Think You Are?" was an amazing journey to see—a
not-to-be-missed episode. It was the first show in several seasons
to focus on African-American genealogy research—specifically,
Woodard's enslaved great-grandfather.
Woodard's paternal grandfather, Alex Woodard, died when her father
was three. She knew nothing concrete about that side of the family
and she wanted to take this journey for her father because, she said, “family
She quickly discovered in US census records that her
great-grandfather Alex (also called Alec) Woodard was of the right
age—born about 1841 in Georgia—to have been a slave. It's common in
African-American genealogy research for entire lines to come to a
screeching halt because of a scarcity of records identifying slaves.
After using this
strategy to discover Alex's slaveowner, a Georgia man named John Woodard,
the show's historical and archival experts (one is shown with Alfre Woodard in the image
above) guided Woodard in using the owners' tax and estate records to
Alex in several states.
Ancestors Research Guide describes these and other records
that can help you shed light on the names and lives of
African-American slave ancestors. You'l find in-depth help and
examples in the digital book A
Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American
Seeing her ancestor listed as a 10-year-old boy among John Woodard's
estate was an emotional experience for Woodard. Driving to the land
her great-grandfather worked, she turned onto Woodard Road. She
walked the land barefoot, as her ancestor likely did.
Freedmen's Bureau and other post-slavery records—including tax
assessments and deed books—revealed that this man, born a slave,
eventually became a land owner in Louisiana. Woodard was proud to
learn that in 1867, Alex paid a poll tax of $1, a day’s wages at the
time, so he could register to vote. Unfortunately, an
agricultural depression forced him to sell some of his land.
The archivist compared his economic situation to buying a house just
before the housing market crashed in 2007.
Tax records can reveal your ancestors' financial successes and
hardships year over year. The video class Using
Tax Records to Trace Your Ancestors or our Tax
Records Workbook guide are helpful with these underused
The last record Woodard saw was a deed showing Alec and his wife
Lizzie selling their land in Louisiana to an Arron Stell for the
surprisingly low price of $35 for 80 acres. The researcher revealed
that Arron was Lizzie’s brother.
Next Sunday won't being a regular "Who Do You Think You Are?" show.
Instead, tune in to TLC at 9/8c for a special "Into The Archives"
episode ("archives" referring to the show's video archive, not
historical archives) that'll highlight viewers' favorite stories and
never-before-seen footage. Sounds interesting!
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Monday, August 10, 2015 10:21:00 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, August 06, 2015
How Your Scandinavian Ancestors Got Their Surnames
Posted by Diane
Most of the time in genealogy, you can rely on a child to have the
same surname as his or her father. A big exception—one that's often
frustrating for those of you tracing Scandinavian ancestors—is
the patronymic surname.
Starting Monday, Aug. 10, our Family Tree University four-week
Genealogy 101 will help you overcome surname, language,
record-finding and other challenges in researching ancestors from
Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Here are some Scandinavian surname
The people of Scandinavia gradually began using surnames around the 15th or 16th
century. Most of the population used the patronymic system, in which a
child's surname was formed from the father's given name plus a
suffix (in some other cultures, a prefix would form the patronymic). Commonly used suffixes in each Scandinavian country are
shown in the chart above.
The patronymic system continued at least through the 19th
century, and sometimes into the 20th. A number of laws mandated
fixed surnames, but especially in rural areas, populations were
slow to adopt them.
Not everyone stuck to this system, though. Merchants and craftsmen sometimes
used German surnames or names reflecting their occupations, so you
may find Scandinavians with names such as Schmidt (German for
“smith”). The clergy often Latinized their surnames. Other methods that might be used for determining a surname include:
- Military names, primarily in Sweden. Only one man with a
particular name could be in a unit, so the next arrival with the
same name would use another surname, which he might keep after
his service ended.
- Farm names, primarily in Denmark and parts of Norway. A
family might take the name of their farm and carry the name to a
- Geographic names, primarily in Sweden and sometimes Norway.
The name might represent some physical attribute of the land,
such as Lindberg (“tree” plus “mountain”), or be the name of a
Need information on tracing your Norwegian, Swedish and Danish
family tree? See a Scandinavian Genealogy 101 course outline on
starts Aug. 10!
Family Tree University | Scandinavian Roots
Thursday, August 06, 2015 9:17:05 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)