Friday, October 31, 2014

Uploading photos onto FamilySearch to protect and share them

I finally got some pictures of my Grandparents on FamilySearch. Here they are at Niagara Falls. Cute, right?

Sometimes members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints make the focus of their genealogical research finding names to take to the temple. That's great, but getting to know your ancestors that are already found is also a worthy goal. And if you're a beginner, it's the easiest place to start.

Ask your family members for pictures of their ancestors and then offer to scan them into the computer. Scanning a photo is something that a lot of people think is really hard. Honestly, it is; but you can figure it out! And once you do it'll seem really easy.

Getting the photos from your computer onto FamilySearch is the easy part. Just find them on your computer, drag them onto the screen, and upload them. Once they're uploaded you'll want to attach them to someone in your tree. If you have a group photo you can attach it to more than one person and tag each person.

Uploading photos on to FamilySearch is a good way to make sure they don't get lost. If your computer crashes or the photo is destroyed FamilySearch will still have it on their website. It's a good way to share them too. You may have 1st cousins or other extended family who are interested in those photos and don't have access to them. By posting them on FamilySearch you are making them available to family members you may not even know about.

Along with photos, you can add stories, documents, and audio files about your ancestors. They just recently started allowing audio files and I think that's great! My mom has several recorded interviews with her dad that I'm really happy that I don't have to transcribe!

Make sure you have the permission and legal rights to anything you upload onto FamilySearch. For example, you have the rights to your own photos and stories and you have permission for any photos or stories that your relatives give you to put on the website. If you take a picture of document that you own (like your birth certificate), you have the right to that picture, however, you don't have the rights to images that you've saved from or another (free or paid) website that has a copyright.

Other websites that allow you to build a family tree usually allow you to add photos and documents about your ancestors in a similar way. It may seem redundant to have your photos on several websites, but it allows you to share them with more people and (extra) ensures they'll never get lost.

Whether you're just getting in to family history or you're already an expert, protecting and sharing family photos and memories is an easy and rewarding way to serve your family

Have you ever found any photos or memories about your ancestors uploaded by someone else? Did it help with your research or make you feel more connected to that ancestor? Share your experiences in the comments!

Update March 2015: Check out if you want to share memories about living relatives.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why aren't "the youth" more interested in family history?

Have you ever had a youth family history flop? Getting young people interested in researching their family seems so hard! You get them on the computer and tell them everything they need to do and they just sit there, looking at it, not doing anything!!! Why do they do that???

I've worked with young children for the last 6 years and I also have two of my own. One thing I've learned while working with children is that if what I'm trying to teach is not working it's not the children who are wrong. If children aren't responding to me, I have to change the way I'm teaching them. They are not going to change.

I believe the same principles apply to teaching youth about family history. If they're not responding to the way you're teaching them, change the way you're teaching them

There's no sense in complaining that youth are just not interested in family history work. And it's certainly not a good reason to give up. Many of them aren't interested in math either, but you're not going to just let them stop learning math. You're going to keep trying until they get it. Family history is just as important.

So how can you change the way you teach them? What works?

The only method that I've ever found that works is stepping back. Ask them to do something and don't tell them how to do it. Then ask them to teach someone else.

If youth start doing family history on a regular basis it's almost impossible for them to not be interested. It's naturally exciting, engaging, and fun. When our teaching reflects that, they can really learn.

Have you had an success teaching youth about family history? What works for you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

One easy way to get more hints on family history websites

Have you seen those little leaves on Ancestry? They kind of wiggle when you mouse over them. They're just asking for you to click on them.

On Family Search there's a section at the top right of each person's page for "Record Hints". It's the same kind of thing.

Want more hints? 

There's one simple thing that you can do:

Make sure that the information on your tree is computer-friendly!

The website is using the name, dates, places, and family members you have listed on your family tree to look for records. You can get more hints by making sure that those things are in standardized formats that computers can understand.

For example, most of my tree comes from a tree that my mom made in the 90's. I've uploaded it to FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Find my Past. But when my mom made the tree in the 90's, the standard formats were different. Some of the places are "Guelph, , Ontario, ". Those extra commas leave a place to add a county and country, but they confuse the computer. I know (or I can find out) which county and country should be listed between those commas and I can get more hints by adding the extra information to my tree.

Whenever you see something weird on your family tree, fix it! Correct misspelled words, make places more specific, add all of the family members that you know about. When the information on your family tree is easy for a computer to input into a search, the websites will send the search results to you. Then all you have to do is evaluate them and add those sources to your family tree. Easy, right?

Have you had any luck with hints on any of the family history sites that you use?

Find old newspapers (for free!)

Click on the image to go to the original source

I saw this pin on pinterest and I was so excited! Newspapers are a great resource for family history because they can give you a glimpse into your ancestor's life in a way that a government or church document just can't. 

For example, I recently found a newspaper clipping about my grandma. It listed "the out-of-town guests" that came to her wedding! But, along with the article about my grandma, there were articles about that year's fall fashions, ads for local businesses (a bedroom suite for $229!), and other news that she probably would have been interested in. The newspaper gave me a better idea of what life was like for her and what kinds of things may have been important to her when she got married.

So I looked her up on the Google news site and there were no matches! I looked up a couple of other ancestors as well with no luck. In fact, I couldn't find any articles from before a few months ago. I started to doubt the pin...

But I wasn't ready to give up, so I googled "google news historical newspapers" and the first result was This is different than the main Google News site and there are some great (totally free) resources there. I haven't found any of my ancestors using this site yet (the search function could be better); but I have read some newpapers from the place where I know my ancestors lived at the time they lived there and I've really enjoyed it.

I highly recommend learning about the places where your ancestors lived and the major (and minor) events that happened during their life. Even if learning about these things doesn't give you specific information about your ancestors, it can help you to better understand what their lives were like. Isn't getting to know them the point of your research anyway?

Have you found any news stories about your ancestors? Do you find that reading about the place and time where your ancestors lived brings you closer to them?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Getting valuable family history information out of your relatives

Many people start their family history work on the computer. I did. But that's not really where it should start, and it's definitely not where it should end. Talking to relatives is so key. Even if they are not involved in genealogy, they usually have information that is very relevant to your research. 

If you're lucky they will naturally volunteer some of this information. All you have to do is pay attention and find some way to record their memories. For example, last time we visited my husband's grandma she shared a story about how particular her great-grandmother was about her tea. My brother-in-law was listening. He quickly realized that the person she was talking about must have been born in the 1800s. He was excited to know personal information about someone born in 1863. When he got home he blogged about his experience, recording it so that he won't forget.

Some of your relatives won't be as forthcoming. Maybe your whole family won't be as forthcoming. Some families just don't talk about the past. You may have be sensitive about bringing it up.

Photos are a great place to start, if you can. My grandma has a few photos of her parents and other relatives on display at her house. One day I asked to see them. As she showed me the pictures she explained who each person was. Then, naturally, she shared personal stories about them. I made one crucial mistake, though! I didn't write any of it down and I've forgotten everything she told me. Recording memories is more important than any other family history work you can do. My grandma is still alive, but if she doesn't feel like sharing those memories again, they are lost. 

My daughter "interviewing" my grandma

You can also grab the opportunities that come. What I mean is, someone in your family may say something like, "Grandpa used to love this kind of cake." Grab it! That information is worth recording, but think of how much more information you could have if you asked a follow-up question. "What else did Grandpa like?" "Did you ever make this cake for him? Who did?" "When was the last (or most memorable) time you saw Grandpa eat this kind of cake?" Those kinds of questions can start a natural conversation that will lead you to information that you can't get anywhere else. But don't forget to record those memories as soon as you can!

Lastly, don't forget that your living relatives are part of your family history too. Their memories about themselves and your memories about them matter. Record them!

What kind of family history gems has your family shared? Does your family talk about their memories or do you have to encourage them to share? Where do you like to record their memories and yours?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Family history month challenge!

Apparently October is Family History Month! Who decides these things? I don't know.

Maybe because October ends with the Day of the Dead!

Anyway, how about a challenge for Family History Month? 

I challenge you to help someone else with their family history work.

You could help someone get their family tree on FamilySearch, or help someone sign up for the FamilySearch partner sites. You could take an hour to help someone search for records about their ancestors or add records you've found about your ancestors as sources on your public family trees to help other researchers.

If you feel like you don't know enough about family history work to help someone else, you're just plain wrong. If you can log on to a website, you can help someone with family history work. When you offer someone help with family history work, they're not expecting the leading expert in the field. It's okay if you don't know something, or even if you don't know more than the person you're helping. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to while they do it or to tell them that they're doing well. You can be that person.

Helping someone with family history will help you too. The best way to learn is to teach!

What are you going to do for this challenge?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Understanding genetic testing for genealogy

Since I majored in genetics in university and my one true passion is family history, you'd think I'd be all over genetic testing for genealogy purposes. But I'm not. I actually had to look at this article on Wikipedia to figure out what kinds of tests they run. But let's start at the beginning. DNA.

Basic genetics

1. All of your cells contain your DNA.
2. Each cell has DNA that is organized into 46 different strings called chromosomes.
3. There are only 23 different types of chromosomes, so you have two copies of each type of chromosome.
Depiction of a chromosome, organized DNA
4. Genes are sections of the string of DNA that send signals to the cell. The order (sequence) of the DNA building blocks determines the signals sent.
5. Most of the DNA is not genes. These "extra" sections are more likely to vary from person to person.
6. New DNA mutations that can be passed down through generations are rare, but do happen over time.
7. Half of your chromosomes come from one parent, half from the other.
8. Some of the chromosomes that your parent gave you came from one of your grandparents and the rest came from the other grandparent (not necessarily half and half, though).
9. The Y chromosome can only be passed from father to son. X chromosomes can be passed down from either parent.
10. Mitochondrial DNA is separate from your main DNA and can only be passed from mother to child.

Applications for genealogy 

Close up depiction of DNA 
Your genetic information comes from your ancestors. All human DNA is 99.9% the same, but there are lots of places where that 0.01% could differ. If you can compare your DNA to someone else's, the similarities and differences should allow you to guess how closely you are related. 

There are certain locations on the DNA strands where mutations (changes) are known to have occurred. (Basically, we know where some of that 0.01% is.) It would take much too long to look at all of the DNA, so we can see if two people are related by testing how similar their DNA is at some of these known locations. 

This kind of testing has been going on for some time in the form of paternity testing. Genetic testing for genealogy is like a paternity test that compares your DNA to a list of potential cousins instead of a list of potential fathers.

Types of tests

There are three broad types of genetic tests for genealogy.

1. Testing the DNA in the normal (autosomal) chromosomes. This test includes DNA from both of your parents. You can't tell which of the results come from which side of your family, but hopefully you would be able to contact some of your potential cousins and work together to find out. This is the most comprehensive kind of test because it includes DNA from almost all of your chromosomes, so even though the results may be confusing, they are probably the most accurate.

2. Testing the Y chromosome. This test includes DNA passed from father to son only, so your father's father's father's etc. line.This test is great because you know precisely which of your ancestors it applies to, but there are only a few known locations to test on the Y chromosome, so the results are not very comprehensive. (If you are a girl, you have to get a male in your family to take the test for you because you don't have a Y chromosome).

3. Testing the mitochondrial DNA. This test includes DNA passed from mother to child only, so your mother's mother's mother's etc. line. As with the Y chromosome test, the results are precise but not comprehensive.

Close up depiction of DNA

The quality of the test depends on two main factors:

1. How many and which of the known locations are tested. 

There are lots of known locations to test and even more that we don't know about. The lab will probably only choose a few locations to test in order to keep costs down. They don't have the ability to test locations that they don't know about.

2. How many people the test is compared to.

You may not have much information about the people they are comparing you to. Genetic genealogy is only as valuable as the other people who take the test. In fact, the first person to take the test gets no value from it until they can be compared to someone else.


Will genetic testing replace records-based genealogical research? Nope. They're not comparing you to a bunch of potential ancestors that you can just add to your tree (though that is possible if you can find DNA from a potential ancestor); they're comparing you to a bunch of potential cousins who are currently alive. You still have to find the ancestors yourself, though you may have some valuable help from your new-found cousins. You may also find out that you have roots somewhere you never thought to look. You're not going to get any names or stories about your ancestors back from the lab.

So is it worth it? I don't know. It depends on what you're looking for and how stuck you are. I don't think I'd do it because I usually find lots of available records on my ancestors. If I didn't have any information on my genealogy at all or if I were super rich, maybe. Genetic testing for genealogy is a cool idea, but I think it sounds more interesting than useful.

Would you be interested in genetic testing?

Photocredits: cooldesign, dream design, and Victor Habbick