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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Talk to Your Family Elders Before It's Too Late!

Have you ever wished that you knew more about your grandparents or your great-grandparents? If they are still alive, now is the time to sit down and have a chat. Here's a few quick tips on how to conduct an "elder" interview.

Treat it less like a formal interview and more like a conversation. Elderly parents', grandparents', aunts' and uncles' memories are not as sharp as they used to be in many cases and pushing them to remember heightens their distress. Never say, "remember when ...". If they can't remember, it scares them because they know they should remember and can't. It's better to start with information that's a visual or creates a sense of smell or sound. Start with something you know about connected family like "Aunt Ruby played a mean ragtime piano." And you might get something like, "She gets that from Grandpa Pat. He played in a jazz band down in New Orleans." One memory will trigger another, then another. Before you know it, you'll discover that Grandpa Pat came from County Kerry where he learned to play fiddle from his father Joseph. That might trigger stories about The Great Famine and why Grandpa Pat came to the US.

Have patience. Your elders may ramble a bit before they get to the point. Treasure the process because the journey reveals not only history but character, description, new avenues of ancestral research, and a little bit about the storyteller. You may learn that Great-grandpa David had the clearest, bluest eyes ever or that he fought in The Great War. You may discover that his unit saved another unit, but he was personally mustered out due to wounds received.

Each piece of genealogical information you discover may take a few minutes or a few hours or several interviews but it's always worth the time and effort. Capture it on tape, or better yet, video. Today's video cameras are easy to use; many of them (i.e. Flip cameras) are one-touch. Press a button and it will record from one to two hours. Just set it up on a tripod and let it roll. On playback, you'll discover family history in the making that is both personal and a family heirloom for future generations.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First Look at

On the 19th of August, the New England Historical and Genealogical Society (NEHGS) announced the launch of its new website, American to host its ever expanding genealogical library. Visitors to the site can register free, but genealogists and family historians using this site will only have access to nine of the nearly 3000 online databases offered. They are The Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850; Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements 1831-1920; Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati; SSDI to Feb. 2010; Index of Revolutionary War Pensioners; Gloucester, MA: Burials; New England Ancestors magazine; New York Wills: 1626-1836; Ware, MA Families. The rest of their databases are only fully accessible by subscription (starting at $75 per year for individuals). A preliminary search can be made for all genealogical databases, but results for non-free databases will ask you to become a member. The membership is worth the price. One look at the database catalog shows the website has a lot to offer in the way of online genealogical data. Here are just a few tantalizing tidbits: The Boston Sea Fencibles' Roll, Boston, MA: Boston Smallpox Innoculation Census of 1824 - Boston W. District, Ward 7; Thomas Lamkin of the Northern Neck of Virginia, Descendants; Nobleboro, ME: Elder Phinehas Pillsbury's Journal. There's plenty to explore besides the usual town vital records, censuses, and court records.

There are some glitches in running searches through the Firefox browser. When trying to browse the collection, sorting by state does not also work. When randomly searching all categories for California data, the results included "Death Notices from the New York Evening Post" among other erroneous hits. Also, if the advanced search results bears more than one page of results, when you try to go to the next page, it sometimes brings you back to the first page results rather than advance to the second page of results.

The web site also offers news features, a calendar of events, "The Daily Genealogist," "The Question of the Day," "The CEO Corner," and an online store featuring books, memberships, and specialty items. also offers research support in their "Connect" tab which gives you access to communications with the staff and a virtual tour of NEHGS.

At first glance, NEGHS has provided another service that family historians and professionals genealogists will love. Give them a chance to work out the kinks first but definitely put it on your bookmark menu.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Mac Version of Family Tree Maker By Year's End

When Family Tree Maker first came on the scene to challenge other genealogy software in the late 1990s, it produced a PC and a MAC version. After one update an announcement was made that the MAC version would be discontinued much to the chagrin of MACaphiles who continued to see the genealogy software choices dwindle. Fortunately, this May, at 2010 National Genealogical Family Historical Conference held in Salt Lake City, announced the revival of Family Tree Maker for MAC which hopefully is still on schedule to be released by the end of this year. A formal release date is yet to be made public. But as the time approaches and MAC addicts patiently wait, it will be a welcome addition to MAC genealogy software.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Genealogy Over the Border

The Library and Archives Canada (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada), a free web site, was formed in 2004 after the passage of the Library and Archives Canada Act "to create a new knowledge institution for Canadians." The organization is actually the merging of the now defunct National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. Fortunately for genealogists their mission includes documenting and preserving Canadian heritage. To this end, the Library and Archives Canada has created a repository which includes include vital records, censuses, immigration and naturalization, military records, land records, and employment. Genealogists who visit the web site have the option of choosing French or English as the language to conduct genealogical searches of their archived materials. The site is easy to use, has a search engine that covers all its genealogical databases, portrait galleries, online exhibitions, extensive offsite genealogical linkage, and an online help section plus a link where you can ask questions.

From the home page, click "Genealogy and Family History," then click "Canadian Genealogy Centre." This page is the heart of their genealogical research pages. To search the site, just enter your ancestor's surname, then first name, then click "go." If no results appear, try just the surname. A list of results will appear and indicate the record available to view. Click on your ancestor's name and the data will appear. Be careful not to overlook the results. Instead of seeing your ancestor's name first, you may see the spouse's name first with your ancestor's name as a notation on the second line. In some case, surnames will be anglicized. For example, Langlois may be listed as Longley. Despite some of the quirkiness, it's packed with information. If the image of the record is available, there is a little page box after the name. When you click your ancestor's name, you have a choice of viewing the document PDF or jpg format from the text page. From the online image, you can save or download the file to your computer's hard drive.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Genealogical Finds at Online Parish Clerks (OPC)

If you have English ancestry, especially if you can trace your ancestors to Dorsetshire, the Online Parish Clerks projects is a must visit. Originally the project began in Cornwall before spreading to Devon, then Dorset. There are now 15 counties included as part of the website. The online parish clerks consist of a group of volunteers who research and transcribe parish records to assist family historians to further their genealogical hunt. These genealogical records include births and baptisms, marriages and marriage intentions, deaths, burials and gravestone transcriptions. Other information you may find, depending on the county or parish are Bishop Transcripts, wills, census records, directories, Rolls of Honour for the war dead, photographs, ordinance map surveys, a brief history of the village/town and militia lists. Additional genealogical data is always being added and users of the site are encouraged to contribute or donate their own genealogical finds. All the records are free to use, but can not be used commercially.

One of the best OPCs is the Dorset OPC and it also serves as the home page for the online project. It boasts a complete list of Dorset parishes. After the parish name, there is a code (example: [P]). The "P" indicates that a online parish clerk is assigned to that parish; if it is grayed out, the post is vacant and users can apply to be the clerk for that particular parish. The code lists over the list of parishes and provides the code's meaning.

Content is spotty for some parishes, but others offer genealogical data as early as the 1500s to the 1700s. A few parishes require you to contact the online parish clerk to perform lookups for you and still others, have barely gotten off the ground requesting that you return to the site at a later date. Some parishes link to external sites where the genealogical data sits offsite.

There is a "search" function which allows a genealogist to search across all Dorset parishes except for external sites. Three separate search portals comprise the expanded search capability and each is clearly marked on which portal you need to use. This is a bit more awkward than the previous search portal, but greatly speeds up the results process. Dorset OPC also offers an updates and contacts page that keeps you updated on new additions to the site and personnel changes in parish clerks. All in all, it's a very useful site and you can't beat the price.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Google Books - A Genealogical Gold Mine for Family Historians

When you can't go to a library, let the library come to you. Flesh out your ancestor's history with a quick and free search at Google Books. Just type in an ancestor's name in the search box and hit "enter". Your results could net you valuable genealogical information.

A search of Gen. Nathan Ranney of St. Louis, Missouri, netted over 1650 hits packed with biographical information, his part in the Yellowstone Expedition, an entire speech he gave on the plight of American 1812 war veterans, an account of Ranney's military service at the battle of Plattsburg, and letters Gen. Ranney wrote to Presidents Polk and Lincoln. Granted not all searches are so revealing and not all the 1650+ hits are relevant to the ancestral search, but a simple Google Books search may help you reclaim forgotten and lost genealogical paths. If the number of search results is too overwhelming, it's simple to narrow your search. Just enter quote marks around your ancestor's name like so: "Gen. Nathan Ranney." Even a few books can push through genealogical roadblocks.

The Google Books' library is primarily broken into three types of books: 1) books that offer "full view" of text (complete text pages), 2) "snippits" that provide only a small sample of the book's content, and 3) "no preview", books that are unavailable to view online. Books that offer "full view" can be added to your library, read online, linked, and downloaded as PDF files. So the next time you pine about living to far away to take advantage of great genealogical libraries in person, turn on your computer and experience Google Books search. It's another fine example of how the internet has made genealogy more productive without ever leaving the house.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Best Free Genealogy Website to Start Your Genealogical Search

If you are new to genealogy, one of the best places to visit is The online service, which is provided free by the Church of the Later Day Saints, is a vast repository of genealogical records from around the world. The search site is simple to use. Simply key in your data and hit enter. The site does the rest. A search of all the results of their databases can provide clues and trails that will keep any family historian busy. Databases currently include the 1880 US Census, the 1881 British Census, the 1881 Canadian census, the US Social Security Index, the Vital Records Index, the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, Family web sites, and the popular International Genealogical Index (IGI). While many of their records are taken from primary records, the amateur genealogist must further document ancestry when using this site. In addition to primary records, a great deal of their information has been gathered from family members in which the documentation is sketchy at best. Without proper documentation, a family's pedigree can be called into question, so it's also important to add supporting primary documentation. Do not assume the genealogical information contained at the site has been proved. However, a great internet web site for beginners and professionals alike, and best of all, it's free to use.