Friday, October 25, 2013

Learning: How to Be Wrong

So when you hit the online scene for genealogy, you will see all sorts of tutorials and guides for how to do things the "right" way. Where to start on your German research, a YouTube video on using Evernote for genealogy, a seminar on source citations and why you should care about them--the list goes on and on.

The purpose of the Learning posts to is cover these sorts of topics, but there was one topic I wanted to cover first. One that doesn't get a lot of attention because it's not really the sort of thing you go looking for.

How to be wrong.

There is a right way to be wrong. And, I would argue that this is one of the most important lessons you learn as a genealogist. The sooner you learn it, the better off you'll be--and it's a lesson that some people simply never learn. And, one could argue, that a lot of the tutorials that exist online would be totally unnecessary if we were better at admitting it when we're wrong. So today, I'm gonna teach you how to do it.

Step 1: Acknowledge it

Here's a GIF that should help you if you don't know exactly what that looks like.

What you wrote, what you copied, what your grandmother said, the name spelling, the birthplace, the marriage date--whatever it is that you're holding onto as irrefutable fact--is wrong. And it is THAT piece of information that is screwing you up. You see a lot of talk about "Brick Walls" in genealogy. Paid genealogists develop entire seminars on these "brick walls," and people pay actual money to go to these seminars to be told they're wrong.

The admission of being wrong is always free. Correcting what you've done? Now that costs time and money, and that's usually what keeps us from admitting it to ourselves. But we all make mistakes, and most of the success we experience comes after we admit to ourselves that we were wrong about something. And personally, I find it better to be my own best editor than to pay someone else to be my critic.

Step 2: Think. Also known as "Don't Panic."

My husband and I were driving home from San Antonio, which is a journey of about 3 days. We were planning on stopping at several cemeteries in Virginia and Tennessee along the way. The journey was long, we were both cranky and tired, and by the time we got to the cemeteries we had already pushed our newlywed patience to its limits.

When we arrived at the first cemetery, to my horror, not a single name in the place was one that I recognized. I had known that there were two Brogan cemeteries in Tennessee. I even mentioned it to my husband, which had precipitated in him asking me, repeatedly, if I had the right information. He even suggested that we bring both locations, "Just in case."

Just in case nothing, I thought. I'm always right. 

So I did what no genealogist should ever do in similar circumstances. I started to panic. I got mad and threw a fit, and cursed that ever a place existed with no cell reception to correct my mistake. Fortunately for me, my husband is as patient with me as he is awesome. He pulled over to a funeral home on the main road, who just happened to have a book on the very cemetery I needed. They gave us some new directions and we continued on our journey.

Because of the delay, we ran into bad weather and could only stop for 1 of the 3 cemeteries I had planned. And I may never get another chance to go back to that part of Tennessee because it is extremely remote. The time it took to correct my mistake was far exceeded by the time I wasted panicking. And the only reason I panicked is because I couldn't admit to myself that I was wrong.

So let that be a lesson to you. Don't throw a fit. The only person you're going to hurt if you do is yourself.

Step 3: Get Educated

Kablam! Elimination!
Lack of Education!
We all make mistakes because we don't know exactly what we're doing. Sometimes we just make it up as we go along, and we forget that we're bluffing. We start to believe ourselves, and it takes someone who knows a lot more than we do to show us how much we still have to learn. And there are many resources in genealogy that help us develop our skills so we don't have to make things up anymore.

Identify exactly what you did wrong, and figure out how to fix it. You're the one in the best position to do it because you care, you've already been working on the problem, and if you don't then who will? Sometimes it takes years and a lot of different theories before we find the right answer. You may even need to take a break until more records are available. The only wrong thing you can do is give up. and both have learning centers. They host videos and tutorials that can helps us work through the exact problems we are having. YouTube is also a great place to look for this sort of instruction.
There are a lot of other videos and channels too, but these are the ones I have found to be the most helpful to me. You can also look for solutions to specific questions, like doing Irish genealogy or different methods for sorting your information. Some of the simplest solutions I've found to my most complicated research problems I've found on YouTube.

Here are a few other sites you may find helpful as well:
  • Brigham Young University's Family History Library, not to be confused with the regular Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
  • BYU Family History Training Center
  • BYUtv does broadcasts, rebroadcasts, and streaming of all kinds of genealogy programming.
  • FamilySearch Wiki--Looking for a record from a specific place? Find the place in the Wiki and they'll tell you what records are available and where to find them. They were the first place I looked to start working on my ancestors from the Caribbean.
  • Google Books--Search by location and surname. You never know what you might find.
If you are stuck beyond all stuck, you may need to ask for help. We take help requests here, more info under the submit tab up top. Also try to look for other researchers working on your same lines. The more you share your family tree on sites like,, WikiTrees, Mocavo, and connect with other researchers on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, the more likely you are to find someone researching the same family you are. Or at least someone who can help you out who has been stuck in a similar way.

Step 4: Practice those victory dances for when you're right next time!

Work it!

Happy researching!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Introduction: Caitie Gow

So I'm just kind of dying of excitement for you all to get to know Caitie! She's the other contributor to this blog, and she has a channel on YouTube. Be sure to check it out.

The reason I invited her to be a co-blogger with me is because 1. she is both young and savvy at what she does in her genealogy, and 2. she's part of the reason this blog even exists. I was watching one of her other videos when I asked myself why I've never seen a group for young genealogists our age. So we combined together, and the rest is history!

She's a great researcher and an awesome example of what a young and savvy genealogist is like. I'm looking forward to seeing more from her here, on her blog Genealogically Speaking, and on her YouTube channel!


It's a list of things and you have to say which ones you've done, which ones you'd like to do, and which ones you don't want to do or do not apply.

It was created by Jill from Geniaus!
Her blog is

You can see the meme and its list of things here -

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Giving Back: FamilySearch Indexing

So one of many interests in starting this blog was the idea of giving back to the genealogical community. Everything that exists in genealogy today is here because of someone's effort to give history to someone else. By participating in giving and volunteering, we are able to preserve history and benefit others in the same way.

I believe that young people do a tremendous service to genealogy. But because there's nothing to unite us, we remain invisible. Because we are invisible, many do not see the ways in which we contribute.

I've been trying to decide between a host of projects that I can work on in order to give back. I've participated in a few projects before, but I'm also looking to explore new ideas in how to offer my services and experiences to others in ways that matter.

My favorite contribution to the genealogical community is probably FamilySearch Indexing. The records they make available are free to everyone, and include everyone. Whereas many sites are still focusing on North America, Europe, and Australia, FamilySearch offers the chance to index records in dozens of languages from all over the globe.

By downloading the indexing program, I can request patches of records, and index them. They will then be made available for free at They have projects available in a variety of languages. By contributing my efforts to this project, other people can have success that might have never otherwise had.

The software offers you the option of setting a goal. I want to set a goal for how many names I want to index. I set a really high goal of 5,000 names once, hearkening back to the story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000. I wanted to get a concrete understanding in my mind of what it would take to give even the briefest personal attention to 5,000 people. It was a noble goal, but the time period in which I was trying to accomplish it was much too short.

Realistically speaking, if I do about 20 names a day it would take me about 8 months to do 5,000 names. If I do 30 names a day, I can do it in 5 1/2 months. So if I make a goal to do 5,000 names in 6 months, it should give me the space I need to be realistic.

Even though I'm going to be very busy throughout October, I'm going to make the attempt. Five thousand people by April 6th, 2014. Can I do it? Let's find out!

In what ways do you give back to the genealogical community? What are some of your favorite volunteer projects? What are some volunteer projects you would like to see?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Started: Free Stuff

So maybe by this point, you've gotten some stuff down on paper. Maybe you've even started a tree on a website like, or in a software like RootsMagic. Give yourself a high five for being awesome!

So hopefully you have enough information down that you can start forming questions about stuff you want to know.

There are two types of questions you're going to be asking: the interesting kind, and the uninteresting kind. The uninteresting kind are pretty much like, Who is Uncle Fester and when is his birthday? The interesting kind are like, Was Uncle Fester a gangster and did he ever kill anyone? Keep in mind that you're going to have to ask both kinds of questions. The uninteresting stuff leads you to the interesting stuff, or at least gives you what you need to start asking more interesting questions.

And write your questions down! When you write your questions down, you think of more questions, or better ways to ask the same question.

I is frum Irelands! Lookit mah hat!

When you don't write down your questions, you end up looking at cat gifs on Tumblr.

But records cost money and I am broke!

So when I started out doing genealogy, I didn't have money to spend on it. Actually, let me rephrase that. I didn't have money, period. So unless it was free, I wasn't going to use it. And because I spent so many of my formative researching years as a broke teenager, I learned how to work the system like a boss.

DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON ANYTHING IN GENEALOGY UNLESS YOU HAVE TO. Why did I put that in all caps? Because this misconception, that genealogy costs money, is what keeps a lot of young people from even trying to research their heritage. And I'm here to tell you, genealogy can be one of the cheapest hobbies in the world if you do it right.

If this happens to you, you're doing it wrong!

So let me tell you about some of my favorite tricks. Note that I'm an American/Canadian researcher. Many of my hints can be universally applied, but I can't vouch that all of my suggestions will work for researchers from other places. The principles are still the same, so find a way to apply them in your situation and let us know how it turned out!

Yes, we all know you have to pay to see the records on But that doesn't mean you have to pay to use the site. If you put your information in a tree on, your information will get something called Hints. Hints are the little shaky leaves that appear over the names in your tree, and they point you to records that could be about your ancestors.

When you open up the hint for Ethel, it looks like this:

If I click on the green Review button, I get the Give-Us-Your-Money splash screen. But because I've been doing this for a long time, I know I have options.

Because of this hint, I know her information may show up on the 1911 Canadian census. And now I have a choice. I can pay for the super deluxe and expensive world edition of to see this record. Or I can try and find this information myself for free in another place.

A basic Google search for "1911 Canadian census" or some variant of it will show you that Library and Archives Canada has a website. Their site allows you to search and download copies of the census records FOR FREE.

Don't get me wrong, paying for a subscription to can be a great thing. But not if the records they're going to give you are records you can find for free in other places. And you would be surprised how often that happens. Let the ones you CAN'T find build up for awhile. When you've got enough to keep you busy for awhile, sign up for the free trial. Cancel it before it costs you a dime.

FamilySearch is a website published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church I've been a part of since I was 16. They give away information for free because they're cool like that, and because in their minds the information doesn't belong to them. They're your ancestors, you have a right to see that information. And if you have ancestors that come strange, exotic places like I do (Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada) FamilySearch has some of the only records available on the internet. In some cases, they have the only copies in existence.

They continue to add more records to their site all the time, so be sure to check back often to see if records for your ancestors have been added.


The fastest way to build your tree is with census records. They are records that include parents, children, years or dates of birth, birth places, sometimes even grandparents living in the household. When you are able to trace a family on the census over time, it can clue you in one what they went through in life. The places they lived reveals a lot about who they were and will focus your research to some very specific areas. So finding free census records is always going to be your goal.

HeritageQuest is a great resource for census records. I have always really loved the way their search feature works on their website. It doesn't have tons of boxes and options on it like does, and many times that makes it easier to find stuff. And if you live in the US, your public library system will usually have a subscription to HeritageQuest that you can use for free. I have library cards from two different states, and they both offer HeritageQuest.

If you go to your city/county/state library page, one of them should have a real website with databases on it. Find where they keep the genealogy databases, and see if they offer HeritageQuest. Click the link, enter your library card number, and it will take you right through to their site. Bookmark the portal page where you enter your card number so you don't always have to dig through the library's site again.

Google Books

Google Books has copies of many genealogies that have already been written by those who came before us. You don't want to waste precious time and energy doing work that has already been done. I've found a book which picks up my family at my great great grandmother at about 1877, and carries her lineage all the way back to 1654 with the Lundy family of England. They were Quakers who settled in the New World, and whose lineage is well documented throughout that time period. And while not everything published in a book is accurate, verifying someone else's claims can be a huge help to your research. If their information is accurate, you just saved yourself years of work.

What are some free tricks you use to have success in your genealogy?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Success: Charissa Joy Los

Genealogy Roadshow is a great show by PBS, based off of the Antiques Roadshow format. Participants contribute their research questions, and professional genealogists provide them with answers.

This was the experience of one young researcher, Charissa Joy Los. Born to an African-American father and a white American mother, she was adopted to a new family of white parents. Being biracial in an adopted family, it's easy to see how Charissa would turn to genealogy to find her place within both of her families.

Photo from The Detroit News, credit to Marvin Shaouni

I loved watching her story because she understands so clearly that a piece of her story is missing. She genuinely wants to have the African-American part of her heritage to play a role in her life. She discovers the truth about her ancestors moving to Detroit as part of the Great Migration. You can see how she and her birth father both gain a new sense of self from that knowledge, a deeper connection to each other and their past. The fact that the researcher assisting her is African-American makes the discovery even more meaningful and interesting, in my opinion.

Because I have been discovering my own Black Canadian and Caribbean Canadian heritage in Nova Scotia, I can understand Charissa's desire to understand her relationship to her own race. The same way that she felt more complete as a person with her new discoveries, I feel the same way about my grandmother's family as I continue to discover it. You can read all about those discoveries of mine for Muriel Ince Michaels on my personal blog, Of Trees & Ink.

To watch the episode, visit the site for Genealogy Roadshow and click on the episode for Detroit!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Started on Your Genealogy: Part 1

Many young people want to know where they come from and the history of their family. It's a question we all ask at some time in our lives. What were my ancestors like? Where did they come from? Did they ever participate in anything important? Am I like them?

The desire to feel a connection with your ancestors is as important to your identity as being connected with your parents. These questions and desires are what lead us to do family history research, also called genealogy.

When you decide you want to start researching your family's history, it can seem really intimidating. Where do I even start? What if I don't know any of the information?

Where do I start?

Sometimes the most important step that a lot of people forget is to start with yourself. These
questions might be helpful:

  1. What is your full birth name? 
  2. What is your birthday?
  3. Where were you born? What was the name of the hospital? 
  4. Where did you go to school?
  5. Did you ever move? If so, when and where?
  6. What are some of your important accomplishments? When and where did they happen?
It may be helpful to make a timeline. If you don't know who your parents are, learning everything you can about your life will help you find out. As you fill in the missing details from your life, you will be able to continue working your way back to your parents, grandparents, and onward. If you get stuck, it means you don't have enough information about the people you've already found.

What kind of information do I need to know?

Your research is always going to focus on the events in people's lives where there would have been records kept. The main events that have records associated with them are:
  • Births
  • Baptisms and Christenings
  • Wars and Military Service
  • Jobs and Occupations
  • Engagements
  • Marriages or Divorces
  • Death and Burial
For each of these above, you'll want the most approximate date you can find, and the location where it took place. Be as specific as possible. Record the City, County/Municipality, State/Province, Country. Don't skip over information on the locations, they will help you as you continue to work your way backwards.

The best way to find out about this information is to ask the people themselves, or people who knew them. But do keep in mind, some of what they tell you will not be 100% accurate.

So once you get to the point where you have a place to start, it's time to start looking for documentation and proof. ALWAYS REMEMBER: If you can't prove something with documentation, it's just a theory. False information will get you no where, and all false information started out as a theory.

Where do you find documents or proof?

There are four kinds of places you can look for documents about your ancestors:
  • City level: This includes going to the city where your ancestor was living during the event you are researching. If they were living in Richmond, Virginia when they got married, looking for records at the city level means you go to city of Richmond to look for the marriage license. You can look courthouses, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, hospitals, etc. You have to ask yourself, "What information am I trying to find? Who would have written it down?"
  • County/Municipality level: This can also include libraries, courts, historical societies, and genealogical societies, depending on how that community is organized. Newspapers are organized and kept at the level at which they were published. So if you want a county newspapers, you look in the county records. If it's the paper for a large city or a capital city, they'll usually be in the state archives. If it's a local city newspaper or publication, it would likely only be available in the city library or historical society.
    If you can't find a historical society for a city, they may only have one for the county. If the county doesn't have one, it may only exist by state or province. 
  • State/Province level: Archives usually exist on the state/province level. It's also on this level where online research usually becomes a possibility. Check for archives, libraries, or universities that may have books, websites, or records on your ancestors. Many times they will have digital copies of their records, or will be able to direct you where you can find your information.
  • National level: National archives are usually very large libraries, usually located in the capital city. They will not have copies of every type of record that has ever been recorded. You may or may not be able to find things like birth, marriage, or death records there. It depends on what tools they have available for the public to use. You will usually find things like records of military service, census records, tax lists, or anything in connection with famous events.

A lot of that may not make much sense now. But believe me, it will soon!

When you are researching always ask for help before you start. The people who work in these places are usually very helpful and smart. They will know their collections really well. They can usually tell you if they don't have a certain type of record, and will be able to tell you where you can find it.

As you can see, genealogy means dealing with lots of different kinds of records. And because they're kept in all sorts of different places, you have do just as much research on records and where to find them as you do on people and ancestors.

We're going to be reviewing and sharing the many tools for finding records that we use every day. Because every place is different, there will be a Places section in the sidebar. Check back to see if we've covered a place that's important to you. If you want to do a review of a library, genealogical society, archives, or any other site that you've found helpful, let us know in the Submit section! 

What do I do with all the information I find?

This is a great question! There are two things you can do. You can either print copies of family group sheets and pedigree charts and fill them out by hand. Cyndi's List is a website you'll come to know well--she has a list of various forms here you might find helpful if you want to start out the "ol' fashioned way" with pen and paper. Or you can download various programs or use genealogical websites to store that data in an online "tree." A family "tree" simply refers to any chart or program that organizes your family into a diagram, and they usually end up looking like trees.

Some suggestions of sites or programs you can use are:
  • also has many different country-specific sites, so change it to the ending of the country where you live. Canada would be, Australia is, etc. also has a software you can download called Family Tree Maker.
  • RootsMagic
  • MyHeritage
  • Wikitrees
When I first started out when I was 16, I used a program called PAF that doesn't exist anymore. It was super simple, and anyone could learn how to use it. If you want something easy and self-explanatory, I can recommend the free version of RootsMagic

We will be talking about and reviewing these sites and products, so you can have a much better idea of how they work and whether they're a good fit for you. Look for it in the Tools section in the sidebar, it'll be coming soon!

You'll want to make copies of the records and proof that you find. In a very real way, you are beginning what will turn into the library of your life. It could include printed records, books, websites, and digital copies of stuff galore. Stay tuned and we'll be sure to tell you what to DO with all that stuff.

Don't worry. There are apps for that!

Good luck, and happy researching!


P.S. If you just started out and you want to share your questions of where to begin, or what you've found so far, email us from the Submit section. You can also contact us at our community on Google+, Young & Savvy Genealogists