Sunday, March 16, 2014

Finding your ancestors through prayer

You type in "Grizelda Crowell", search. Nothing comes up. There aren't any records for that person. She's lost.

I teach the 3 year old children at church. It would take them about two seconds to solve this problem. When something is lost, say a prayer and look again.

Family history research involves searching. Prayer is the best way to direct the search.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." Matt 7:7-8

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why doesn't have the record I'm looking for?

It's usually pretty easy to find answers to questions on the internet. Type in "what is the state flag of California" and you'll get a picture of it, even if you can't spell California. So why can't I find someone's death certificate by typing their name into 

The record you're looking for might not be on the site. It seems obvious, but I'm still surprised every time it happens to me.

Sites like can only search records in their own databases. They build their databases by asking for records from the agencies who own the records (often governments and churches). The record-holders can say no. And then the record doesn't end up on the website. Simple. 

Or if they say yes, it can take a really long time to become available. Search engines can't search the text in the original records because they are pictures, so someone has to type every individual record. It takes forever.

When the American government released the 1940 census, millions of people helped type it out (they indexed it) and it still took several months to finish. You couldn't find anybody on the 1940 United States census until the government released it to the public and it was indexed.

Check out which collections each site has available to see which records you are searching. And keep checking back because they're adding new collections all the time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Inheriting Genealogy: 5 steps for new genealogists in genealogy-savvy families

Just because you’re a beginner genealogist doesn’t mean you are the first one to begin. Lots of families already have a great uncle or a grandma who has “done” the family history. No matter how much work they’ve done, there’s a lot more to do. I promise. But there’s no reason to start from scratch if you don’t have to. Here are 5 steps you can take to get started.
My mom inherited most of our genealogy information from her Aunt

1. Get files from the other family genealogists

Family Tree and other genealogy-sharing websites have made this step a lot easier. In Family Tree you can just log on and input information for your living relatives starting with your parents. You shouldn’t be able to find living people, so just add them as new people even if you know they have their own account. As soon as you get back far enough to input a deceased person just switch from add person to find person. If you add a "found" person to your tree, all of their ancestors are added too. It’s great because you can get all the information you need without actually talking to anyone in your family.

Just kidding! You still have to talk to them. Ask around your family for PAF, GEDCOM, and other genealogy files that are not posted on the internet. While a lot of information is posted on genealogy-sharing sites, most genealogists keep their records off the internet so that they can have more control over them (or because they’re still on dial-up). Even if they’ve shared what they have on Family Tree, they probably have a lot more information buried on their computer somewhere. You may have to help them find it. Bring a flash drive with you to get the files, though, because some of them are too big to e-mail and it may take a really long time to upload them onto cloud storage like Dropbox.

2. Compare

If you can find more than one source for your genealogy (i.e. you found stuff on Family Tree and in Aunt Min’s old binder), they probably won’t match. Don’t automatically assume that one source is right and the other one is wrong. More likely, they’re both right and wrong in different places. Don’t start correcting until you’ve done some research. Please don’t call up Aunt Min and tell her that her life’s work is all wrong. Genealogies represent hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of hours of work and probably a fair bit of money too. Treat it with respect.

What you can do is start to make a list of discrepancies. If your sources have different places of birth for someone, you want to remember to find out which one is correct, later, when you’re researching. Keep in mind that the answer may be more complicated than it seems, though. A person can only be born in one place, but the place can change names, they can write down the county instead of the city, and other people can write down the wrong place on official records (especially death records. Relatives that fill out death records aren’t always super acquainted with the deceased).

3. Interview your family

But you already talked to them, I know. Now that you’ve looked at their files hopefully you have other questions. Bring a paper pedigree (or make sure you have your genealogy stuff in front of you when you call) so that you both know which ancestor you’re talking about. Family history conversations can be confusing without a reference point.

Ask about one of the discrepancies you found. You may be able to solve it without doing any further research. Your experienced genealogist relative can probably tell you if one of your ancestors had aliases, or if two places with different names are really the same place. They keep this information in their heads, though, so you have to ask.

It’s a good idea to interview family members that don’t consider themselves genealogists too. You may be the first one to ever ask them about what they know about their family and they probably know more than you’d think.

4. Start your research

When your pedigree goes back to Hans King of Denmark, where do you start? With your closest ancestors, just like everybody else. There are so many more records available now than when your grandma started so start at the beginning. You probably won’t be able to find much for people born after about 1930, though, so don’t get discouraged with a slow start. Just keep looking.

5. Share what you find with the other family genealogists

It’s really important to maintain contact amongst genealogists in the family. Older relatives can help you know what to look for and they can teach you how to read confusing records. You can help them too. Find a way to consistently share the records and information you find with your interested family, through e-mail, or cloud-sharing, or a website. You may have to print out the records and mail them. Choose something that’s easy for your relative. Genealogists keep so much of what they know in their head and your only way to access that information is to keep in contact. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Genealogy for Youth

Family history is often considered a hobby for the elderly. I've never understood why. I was interested in genealogy at a young age. At 16 I went into my local family history center on my own to see what I could find. And at 16 I was hooked. But I mostly had to figure it all out on my own.

Me at the age I became interested in genealogy
This blog operates on the assumption that there are teens and twenty-somethings out there who are already interested in genealogy. It's easy to love and they don't need to be convinced. They just need support.

Most family history resources are not aimed at young people. Youth don't need help logging in to a website; they need help developing research skills! And they need a place to find each other.

I would love for this blog to be a place where youth can come to find other people their age that are interested in genealogy. They are out there! I would love to have young genealogists contribute to this blog. Articles, personal experiences, whatever. Family history is exciting work and the next generation is ready to take over.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Five free family history resources that beginners can actually use

There are lots of ways to spend money on family history research – from ordering a birth record to paying for a subscription to a website. I love genealogy, but with so many great, free resources I just can’t justify spending money on it… yet. Here’s a list of the free family history resources I use on a regular basis.

There’s a reason this is number one. I’m definitely not saving the best for last. There are billions of records on this site and they are literally adding more every day. The site is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and everything on the site is completely free for anyone to use. The Church has an online army of volunteer “indexers” who transcribe handwritten records into typed, searchable text. (You can too if you’re interested.) This allows Family Search to get the rights to the typed versions of the records for a very low cost and so they can provide the most of the same records as the paid sites for free. Along with free access to family history records, Family Search has a pedigree program, called Family Tree, which allows users to save and share information they find on their deceased relatives.

2. Government websites

Who has the original records? Usually governments and churches. They issued them. The UK, the US, and Canada all have excellent genealogy resources on government websites and I’m sure many other countries do as well. You can usually find them by searching “Country government genealogy archives”.

3. Libraries and Family History Centers

I can’t even imagine how much work it must have been to try to do genealogy without the internet. I’m glad I never had to. Even though there are a lot of great online resources, a lot of family history information is still on microfilm (and microfiche) and in books. These are great resources! Start at your local library and look for genealogy books about the places your ancestors lived. Those books can tell you about the kinds of records taken in that area and can sometimes provide you with historical context that will tell you more about your ancestors than any of the records. Immigration records won’t tell you that your ancestor immigrated during the Irish potato famine. Only historical context can do that. There are also special genealogy libraries where you can access records and get help with your research. I highly recommend the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
If you live close to an LDS church building (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) you can access paid genealogy sites for free from the Family History Center. You can check if there’s one in your area using their locator. Anyone is welcome, though their hours may be limited so you’ll want to check that first. Most centers also have microfilm and microfiche readers.

4. Google

Yes. Google. Or whatever search engine you prefer. Genealogy is super place-specific and different places have different resources. I have ancestors from a small, tight knit island in Nova Scotia. There are websites and even genealogical societies specifically focused on people who lived on that island. The easiest way I’ve found to find out about the place-specific resources is Google. Just type in “Place family history” or “Place genealogy” and hope for the best. I hope for the best for you too.

5. Two week free trial at

While Family Search has much of the same information as Ancestry, Ancestry can usually provide an image of an original record where Family Search cannot. And it is by far the most popular and family history site out there. Don’t sign up for the trial right away! Save it. Since you can only have it for free for two weeks, you have to make sure you’re prepared and can get as much information as possible within those two weeks. Before you sign up for the free trial try to find as much as you can on free sites. Make list of the things that you really need to find out like birth places and years that you’re missing. You can even search the records for free and find out what they have available. Then wait for two weeks when you have nothing else going on (easier said than done) and get as much as you can. You can save time by just saving the records that you find on your computer and looking at them more closely later.

Bonus source: Your family! 

If you’re going to start finding out about your family history you have to start close. Interview your parents and grandparents (and aunts and uncles and cousins). People love to talk about their memories. Recording an interview on your phone is super easy so you really have no excuse. The information is so close and all you have to do is ask. It’ll be fun; I promise.