Tuesday, February 14, 2017

RootsTech: The Great Genealogy Pilgrimage

It's that time of year again. RootsTech 2017 was a big success!

RootsTech, the largest genealogy conference in the world, could be considered the great genealogy pilgrimage. Some 20,000 plus genealogists of all levels and all places around the world, gather in Salt Lake City every February to learn, educate, see what's new, and socialize with like-minded individuals.

This year was no different and I wanted to bring you three things I gleaned from RootsTech 2017.

1. Lots of newbies. Wow. I was amazed at how many people came by the Genealogy Gems booth to say that they were new to genealogy. I wondered, "What is it that is inspiring more people to want to search out their family history?" Perhaps one reason may be the DNA craze. I think the AncestryDNA commercials are really making an impact on television watchers. And, AncestryDNA autosomal DNA kits were at the low cost of $49.00 at RootsTech! People were going nuts buying these DNA tests!

Not only were they buying AncestryDNA kits, but the other big name tests as well; MyHeritage DNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA. I was reminded in a lecture by Diahan Southard, that it is important to test with as many DNA companies as you can. (See her RootsTech lecture, here.) This is because you don't know which of your matches, or long lost cousins, is swimming in what pond. In other words, if you only test with AncestryDNA and a key cousin has only tested with 23andMe, you may never find each other! Of course, that's where GEDMatch comes in. I will let you read more about that, here.

2. There's an app for everything. We joke about "There's an app for that," but it is really true. Genealogists are finding new ways to use apps for finding, sharing, and preserving their genealogy. The Innovator Showdown, held the day before the main events, is a group of innovators from around the world competing for $190,000 in prizes. This year, it was OldNews USA that one first prize.

OldNews USA was designed for both the genealogist and the history enthusiast. It makes getting started with historical newspaper research easy. You can learn more about OldNews USA, here. And, for even more tips on how to find and use newspapers for your genealogy research, read Lisa Louise Cooke's digital ebook titled "How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers."

One of my two lectures at RootsTech this year included a class titled "Crowdsourcing with Social Media for Genealogy." I focused on using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for genealogy and how using these apps/websites allows you to crowdsource and overcome your biggest genealogy brick walls. If you are a member of Family Tree Webinars, you can see my lecture for free. If not, you can download my lecture for a small fee, here.

The bottom line is, our mobile devices and access to the internet is changing the face of genealogy.

3. Family history makes people cry. Oh my goodness. I have never felt such a strong spirit during a keynote address than I did when Lavar Burton spoke. It resonated with so many of us. He was presented with his family history by my friend, Thom Reed. When that happened, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. I mean it! You can watch a bit of Lavar's address, here.

Family history is a powerful and deeply meaningful activity, which is why I believe it has the power to change our lives. Learning of our ancestors and their stories will help us better understand ourselves, our circumstances, and our future.

Planning for RootsTech 2018

If you have a chance to start saving and planning for next year's great genealogy pilgrimage (RootsTech 2018 - Feb. 28 - Mar. 3,) I encourage you to do it. If you didn't know, there are even some ways to attend for FREE. Many genealogy bloggers offer prize drawings for free tickets to RootsTech and even better, you can apply for grants and scholarships to help defer the cost.

Cyndislist has a large list of opportunities for genealogy monies. Some of these are scholarships, some are grants, and others are awards. Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy offers a monthly grant called The Genealogy Fairy. This grant provides individuals and organizations that are pursuing "worthwhile genealogy projects" a $500 amount to pursue that goal. You could apply for any of these and use that money towards your trip to RootsTech...a very worthwhile genealogy goal in my mind!

RootsTech is the place to be and I hope to see you there next year, friends!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Genealogy Facebook Frenzy

Do you use Facebook for genealogy and family history? It might seem strange, but if you think about it, using a Facebook group to ask your most challenging questions is like asking thousands of people all at once. Surely, someone knows something...right?

10 Genealogy Facebook Groups You Need to Join

There are literally dozens of great Facebook groups dedicated to genealogy. Many of them have different purposes. There are Facebook groups for genealogy related technology, genealogy software, genealogy scrapbooking, geographical areas, and groups for genealogy sharing.

Here is a list of nine top Facebook groups for genealogy and family history and why I love them. [Note: This list is not in any order]

1. FamilySearch Research Communities: These groups are categorized by geographical area and reach all over the world. I like them because there are people trolling the site all hours of the day and night just waiting to answer your questions. They have a particular focus on using FamilySearch.org for records. This is great because FamilySearch.org is free and learning to really utilize their extensive record collections is an amazing tool.

2. Technology for Genealogy: This is a must-join when you are trying to keep up-to-date on all the tech gadgets, apps, and so forth for genealogy. No need to call a help line for that new genealogy software you bought, just ask your question and get an answer in 3 seconds flat! (Okay, maybe not quite that quick.) Or, you can poll nearly 20,000 people in this group and get their opinion before purchasing your next scanner for digitizing family photos - that's a big help.

3. Genealogy! Help Me!: A new Facebook group dedicated to all things genealogy. You can ask your questions and get your answers from lots of really knowledgeable genealogists. Whether it is a brick wall question or a "where can I learn more about...", you will find it here. In particular, this is an education based group with links to how-to articles, YouTube videos, and webinars. They share all sorts of great content to help genealogist's of all skill levels. If there is some great free or new resource for genealogy, you'll hear about it here. [I am the creator of this group.]

4. Genealogy Bloggers: Hosted by Janice Webster Brown, this group is especially for sharing blog content. I like to go here to share my own blog posts, but to also read others blogs for inspiration. When I am feeling overwhelmed in my own work or just need some "down time," I shoot over there and read to my hearts content.

5. GeneaBloggers: This group is hosted by Thomas MacEntee. When it comes to learning the ins and outs of how to keep a family history blog, Thomas is the go-to guy. At this group, you can ask your questions regarding the specific topic of how to create and maintain a family history blog.

6. Genealogy! Just Ask!: Actually, this is a series of Facebook groups. They are set up by location. You can find just about any place you need. There's Kentucky Genealogy! Just Ask!, Germany Genealogy! Just Ask!, and everything in between. It's super helpful for asking specific questions regarding the types of records available for any given state or country. It was particularly helpful when learning about resources in State archives. Also, very beneficial when beginning your research overseas.

7. Genealogy Network: Again, these are a series of Facebook groups, but I believe they are only available for states within the U.S. Examples are Florida Genealogy Network, California Genealogy Network, etc.

8. County Facebook Groups: Typically, there are more than a couple Facebook groups dedicated to your targeted county or parish. These might be called something as straight forward as Harlan County, Kentucky Genealogy Group or it might be more wordy like Lee County Virginia Genealogy, History, and Pictures. To find these groups, try putting in a county and state name with the word "genealogy" in the Facebook search group. Then, you will see some options. Always be sure to click "See all results" so you don't miss anything.

County Facebook groups have been vital for creating my family history narrative. What I mean by that is, they often include members that turn out to be cousins. Further, I have found many pictures of ancestors while participating in a county Facebook group.

9. Genealogy Chit-Chat: This is a Facebook group for chatting and venting about genealogy. Did you find an awesome picture of great-grandma today? If so, you can share it here and like minded people will share in your success. Or, if you just need to vent to someone who understands the ups and downs of family history, these are your peeps! Another fun Facebook group that is very similar is Genealogy Addicts Anonymous.

10. Groups for DNA: Though I don't have a favorite DNA Facebook group, there are many! You can type in "DNA" or "DNA Genealogy" and get a whole bunch of options. I would also suggest joining a group that will assist you best in your DNA test results. For example, if you tested with Ancestry, join Ancestry DNA Matching.

Again, there are too many wonderful groups to mention in this post. Do some digging and join the genealogy Facebook frenzy! Happy posting!

Learn More About Using Facebook for Genealogy:
"How'd She Do That?! Using Facebook to Break Through Brick Walls"

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Journey of the Certification Process: Entry 6

It sure has been a long time since I have written on the old blog and even longer since I have updated my readers in my certification process. If you didn't know, I am "on the clock" for certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This is a pretty big deal and if I "pass," I will have the letters CG after my name for the next five years.

[If you would like to go back and read my certification blog posts in order, here are the links: Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3, Entry 4, and Entry 5.]

Progress in 3 Easy Steps

I have made some serious progress over the last several months in completing the portfolio. I attribute this to three things:

1. I took out an extension. One year is just not enough time for a wife and mother of three, a person trying to work, and an active servant in the community and church, to still have time for sleeping and eating, much less working on the portfolio. If you think you are not going to finish within the designated year, you can file for an extension. An extension does cost you ($), but the good part is you have an additional year to keep working and keep learning. I found that very helpful.

The first year, I was a nervous wreck. I did not fully realize the amount of hours needed and I was easily overwhelmed. I felt I was going around in circles sometimes. The advantage to taking out an extension is to have longer to mull over your ideas and to learn with more focus. Let me explain.

Before you attempt the certification process, it is a good idea to already have an idea of what you want to research for your portfolio. It is also a great idea to start writing reports and working for clients. All this, I did. However, I couldn't have known how valuable the BCG Action Group would be. You see, once you are "on the clock," you are included in a Google Group called the BCG Action Group. Here, you are supported by the best and brightest genealogists in the field. Further, they send you regular action lists to keep you on track, descriptions of passing/failing portfolios, and lots of helpful articles. This was just one more reason I was glad I took out an extension. I feel better prepared having been a part of this group.

2. I try to work on the portfolio every day. I have written about this before, but I think it deserves to be said again. "A record a day keeps procrastination at bay." You can not keep momentum and clarity of thought when you are waiting weeks in between working on your portfolio. It takes too much time to "catch up" and pick up where you left off. Instead, working even an hour a day is better than doing nothing.

Along these same lines, you may not be able to work on your portfolio as often as you should if you have chosen to do research in a far away location. I had originally intended to do a report on my family lines in Virginia. That was plain silly. How on earth was I going to have the necessary time to visit the courthouse and other areas of importance to do exhaustive research? I live in Ohio for heaven's sake! Friends, I can't think of any exhaustive research that doesn't include a visit (more than one actually) to a local repository. If you can't get to your research location easily, pick something else. That's my 2 cents, anyway.

3. I watch the BCG webinars. Oh my goodness, friends. This has been a complete game changer. The BCG hosts regular webinars. You can see a list of titles here. These webinars are geared toward those working on their portfolios and some of the best and brightest in the genealogy community are our teachers. Some are available to view for free and others cost a small fee.

Also, if you have a subscription to Legacy Family Tree Webinars, they are presenting BCG webinars via their website as well. In fact, Judy Russell has an upcoming webinar on Dec. 20th, 2016 titled "No, no, Nanette! What negative evidence is...and isn't." You can register for her free webinar, here.

These webinars have been helpful and encouraging. They are an especially good way to gauge how you are doing and what you need to work on.


You are not alone when participating in the certification process. There are lots of resources and people to support and guide you. Here's to hoping by this time next year, I will have the title Certified Genealogist!

I have recently published three webinars of my own at Legacy Family Tree. If you would like to watch them, the titles and links are listed below:
"Crowdsourcing with Social Media to Overcome Brick Walls in Genealogy"
"Tech Savvy Journaling and Scrapbooking for Genealogists"
"Enriching Your Family History through Pictures & Stories"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What is a Hashtag and How do I Use it for Genealogy

What is a hashtag used for and how can it help me with genealogy? That's a question I am often asked when giving my social media presentation. That silly little pound sign (#) that all the kids are using really does mean something. Once you learn the power of hashtags, you will be amazed at what you can find online!

Hashtag History

It was Twitter that introduced the hashtag in the summer of 2009. By putting that little symbol in front of a word or phrase, you could hyperlink associated material.

Hashtags are keywords with a pound sign in front. #Genealogy, #familyhistory, #funnykitten, and the list goes on...and on...and on! Genealogists are learning the power of hashtags to both organize their own information into categories to be easily found, and to find new information that can directly effect their research.

Using Hashtags to Organize and Categorize

Hashtags for organizing and categorizing can help when sharing on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If I wanted to share the pictures from a recent family reunion on Instagram so that all the cousins could enjoy them, I might add a hashtag like #ColeFamilyReunion2016 to each of the images. Then, a person need only search #ColeFamilyReunion2016 on Instagram to have all the pictures pop-up.

Now you may notice in the image here on the right, that not all of the images associated with the #ColeFamilyReunion2016 are those from my family reunion, but that's okay. Why? Because these other Cole Family's may be long lost relatives!

If you want to differentiate your family reunion, you may have to be creative in your hashtag. You might try something like #RobertColeFamilyReunion or #ColeFamilyReunion2016Ohio. Be sure to share your designated hashtag with all the family members so that they too can cache the images they took. By doing so, all the family pictures at your family reunion will be hyperlinked together.

Registering a Hashtag

Lots of people wonder how or if they can register a hashtag. The short answer is no, not really. CustomFitOnline.com says of registering hashtags:
"The first and most important thing that must be understood is that you cannot legally own a hashtag. The goal is that you habitually use a chosen hashtag and people will associate it with your brand. The hashtag selected should be a distinctive phrase or word associated with your company or messaging."
There are websites online that help you determine if a hashtag is already being used. Hashtag.org is one of these websites. Here, you can enter in a hashtag you are interested in to see how many people have used it in the last 24 hours.

In this example above, it looks like the hashtag #everyonelovesamie is unique! There is a lot of information on the web about registering a hashtag. I will let you Google that and "hash" it out for yourself!

Organizing My Research Findings with Hashtags

Let's say I have been researching the Bowser family of Clark County, Ohio. I would like to post some old photographs I found or some pictures of the tombstones I took at the local cemetery. I might post them with three hashtags like #Clark, #Ohio, #Bowser. Now, I have organized all my pictures with this combination so that I can easily find them on whichever designated platform I choose.

Remember, if you hashtag your images on Facebook, you won't be able to search for them on Instagram, so many of us share to both platforms at the same time. You can do that by starting at Instagram and before posting, click on "Facebook" under the Share options.

In this way, you have captioned and hashtaged your image to be found on Instagram and Facebook at the same time. Others searching for these same hashtags on either platform would then find the images.

You can imagine the endless possibilities. Hashtags can be used to cache images for weddings, vacations, graduations, and your family history.

Finding New Information Using Hashtags

If I posted something on Facebook about the death records for Ohio I found online, I might type something like:
"FamilySearch #deathrecords for #RossCountyOhio can be found online and include digital images of the death certificates. #genealogy #familyhistory."
In fact, many genealogists, big companies, and societies are doing this very thing. They want to share with you their findings and collections. It's happening on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media hotspots.

Because they are doing this, you can search for hashtags like you would a person. Take a look at this example at Facebook:

In the search field at the top left of the Facebook homepage, you can type in any combination of hashtags. In this example, I searched for #RossCountyOhio #genealogy. The post regarding probate records for Ross County, Ohio pops up. Scroll down further and you will find the post regarding Ross County death records, too. In this way, you may locate records and collections that you did not know even existed.

Sadly, you can't possibly know what a genealogist or society will hashtag their posts with. You may have to try your search in several different ways. Maybe you will just search #Ross #Ohio...or maybe you will decide to only search with #Ohio #genealogy. There is no limit to the combinations, so just have fun with it and see what you can find.

Hashtags on Instagram

On Instagram, you can do the same thing. In particular, I love to search for a hashtaged surname on Twitter.

I follow DeadFred on Twitter. DeadFred.com is a genealogy photo archive online. Now, they are putting images on Instagram and hashtaging them by surname and location. Take a look at some of these examples on the left.

Notice how they are hashtaged. In the top example, they have used #NY instead of #NewYork. In the second example, #VT was used instead of #Vermont. Some have been hashtaged with surnames and some have not. So again, be thoughtful and methodical when searching for relevant hashtags.

Hashtags on Twitter

Have you ever been disappointed that you couldn't go to a big genealogy conference like RootsTech or the National Genealogical Society Conference? Did you know that you can virtually follow along with Twitter hashtags? Yep! If you were to go to Twitter and search #RootsTech or #NGSconf or #WDYTYA (that's Who Do You Think You Are?) you can follow the tweets that are being posted about the event. You will see news information, pictures, and even videos in real time as you participate virtually using hashtags.

I hope this information about hashtags for genealogy will inspire you to use them. Let me know what fun things you find by searching for hashtags in the comments section below.

To learn more about social media tools for genealogy, I think you'll enjoy reading:
Using Facebook to Break Through Genealogy Brick Walls
Using the Power of Pinterest for Family History

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Using the Dawes Packets for Native American Genealogy

Fold3.com just announced that they are allowing free access to their Native American records collections from now until the 15th of November. However, these records are difficult to navigate and most of us need some instruction.

For the best, step-by-step instructions on searching within the Dawes Packets for Native American Genealogy, please visit my blog post at Genealogy Gems titled, "How to Use the Dawes Collections for Native American Research."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Haunting Illnesses of the Past

Halloween is coming up and there is always something fun about the holiday. Mildly gory decorations and stories fill the house and it's a ghoulishly good time!

I have recently been searching the cemeteries and death records of the Wilson family of Clark County, Ohio. I was taken aback by how many family members died of tuberculosis and it reminded me of the many horrible diseases of the past.
Lavina Wilson West died of tuberculosis in 1880.

Some of the old diseases are so uncommon these days that you may never have even heard of them!  Looking at death records can open your eyes to a world of diseases you knew nothing about.

Tuberculosis was one of those diseases that plagued the Wilson family. It was also known as galloping consumption or the white plague. Over 100,000 Americans died every year from the bacterial disease in the early 1900's.[1] It is still among one of the most widespread diseases in the world. Symptoms include a cough lasting up to 3 weeks, fever, pain, fatigue, and coughing up blood from deep within the lungs. Sanatoriums were created for the sick and were sometimes referred to as “waiting rooms for death.”[2] 

One of the difficulties with TB was that a person could be infected, but not sick.  In other words, the TB bacteria could be latent and in this state, not contagious, but a ticking time bomb. Once the TB became active it could pass through coughs, sneezing, and close contact.[3] Family members, because of close proximity, would often catch the disease from an infected loved one. Out of the thirteen children of Lavina and Michael Wilson, at least three children and a son-in-law died of the disease.

Besides tuberculosis, another killer was la gripe, also known as the influenza. It was March of 1918 when the first wave of the Spanish Flu hit America in our military camps.[4] The soldiers had brought it home from the War. Unfortunately, it did not stay in one place and spread rather quickly. By fall, we had a second wave and a serious problem on our hands. The virus killed nearly 200,000 Americans in October of that year, including my great grandmother.

My great-grandmother, Donia Hensley Cole, was born in 1893. She was 25 years old when she contracted the flu. According to her death record, she was also pregnant and sick for nine days before passing. Donia was the mother of three children, all under the age of seven, and I have often wondered about her last days.

The symptoms of the Spanish Flu included fever, aches and pains, nausea, and diarrhea. Occasionally, the afflicted would get dark spots on their cheeks and their skin would turn a bluish hue from lack of oxygen. In many cases, the sick would develop pneumonia which would cause death.

Though, tuberculosis and the flu are awful, it was diphtheria that gave me the heeby-geebies. Diptheria is a bacterial disease that attacks the nose and throat of the infected person. Though there is a vaccine that protects us today, that wasn't the case in the not-so-distant past.

In 1914, diphtheria entered the home of my great-grandfather, Alonzo Walls. Two of his daughters, one of whom was my Grandma Iness, came down with the disease. The oldest daughter, Lulu was fifteen and Iness was just seven years old. Lulu became sick first and it likely went un-diagnosed until it had progressed too far. Lulu and Iness were put in the same bed so they could be quarantined from the rest of the family and receive their treatment. Treatment for diphtheria at that time may have included an antitoxin derived from horses or the disease was left to run its course.

Iness woke one morning to find her sister lying there dead beside her. Lulu's tongue had swollen so greatly, it would not fit into her mouth. Iness was lucky and recovered.

The only known picture of Lulu Walls, child on the left.

The haunting illnesses of the past can make a scary story this Halloween. It may not be in good taste, but if your children like a good gory story, why not tell them what their ancestors died of…after all, it's great to take any opportunity to talk about family history!

Tip: If you have a death record that lists an unusual cause of death, you might find out more about it by using the list of old illnesses and their names found at: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lynda77/illness1.htm. Reviewing that list will be sure to make you grateful you live in 2016!

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Read more fun stories:

Well, That's Weird: Strange Genealogy Records Found Online

"Finished" Family Line Questioned

[1] Sucre, Richard.  “The Great White Plague: The Culture of Death and the Tuberculosis Sanatorium.”  University of Virginia.  Web.  (www.faculty.virginia.edu/blueridgesanatorium/death.htm:  accessed 14 Mar 2015).
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Understanding Tuberculosis.”  American Lung Association.  Web.  (www.lung.org/lung-disease/tuberculosis/understanding-tuberculosis.html :  accessed 14 Mar 2015).
[4] Billings, Molly.  “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.”  Stanford University.  June 1997.  Web.  (https://virus.standford.edu/uda :  accessed 16 Mar 2015).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thoughts on Writing Tragic Events in Family History

This has been a truly tragic week already. On Sunday evening, my husband and I rushed to our neighbor's home to find their small child had been accidentally hit by a truck, leading to his death. The hours that passed and the days that have followed will forever be engraved in our memories. It made me think and feel many things, some too personal to share in this public format. However, one particular thought keeps crossing my mind: How do you write about a tragic event in your family history?

The First Question

Maybe the first question should be: Should you write about a tragic event in your family history? Many of you may remember when I blogged about the death of my grandmother's child and the coal mining accident that took the life of my grandfather. One of the reasons I decided to include these tragic stories in my family history was that my uncle had tried many times throughout his life to write about it, but couldn't. I felt the stories needed to be told and recorded for future generations. I was far enough removed from the events to be able to write the story without significant distress.

Don't Wait Too Long

It is fine and even practical to wait a time before recording your story after the event has happened, but don't wait too long.

The uncle I spoke of, Uncle Willard, arrived after the slate fall...only in time to drag Grandpa's body out of the mine...only able to witness the very end. My other two uncles, Millard and James, were in the mine right beside Grandpa when it happened, but I had never asked them a thing about it. They both died years ago and now I will never have that part of the story. I didn't want Uncle Willard to pass on before I had a chance to hear his story at least.

Remember, though waiting is good, waiting too long may cause the story to be lost forever.

Does Telling the Story Help the Teller?

When I asked Uncle Willard to tell me the story some 50 years after the event, he had difficulty. Not difficultly remembering the details of the accident, but rather dealing with the emotions it still stirred up. Would it have helped him back then to speak of it, or to write the day's events down? Did it help him now knowing the story was being preserved to pass down to other generations?

When I interviewed my aunt and my mother about what they remembered the day their father died, they too struggled to get through the story without losing their composure. They had never talked about it in-depth either. I wondered, did they want it recorded like Uncle Willard did?

These are some great questions to ask yourself and the others involved in your tragic stories. Genealogists love a record made at the time of the actual event by someone with first-hand knowledge. But sometimes, writing about a horrible tragedy when it is fresh in the mind is far too difficult. Even still, talking or writing about the event and one's feelings can in some instances be therapeutic to the survivors. You will need to decide based on each instance and consider whether telling the story helps the teller or not.

Other decisions you might consider is the when to about the event and in what format to record the story (i.e. written, audio only, or video.)

Do tragic stories help our descendants?

I don't know. I think so. When it's quiet, I can still hear the crying of my neighbors when I arrived on the seen. I mentioned to my mother that it was the most heart breaking sound I could have imagined. She said she remembered her mother waking in the night, crying and screaming, "Why! Why did you have to leave?" as she carried Grandpa's clothes around the house. I think that hearing that story made me realize...the heart can recover, at least somewhat.

I reflected on Grandma's lost child and husband and yet, she pressed forward, raised her other children, and lived and loved her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her story gives me hope. Hope for my neighbors, hope for myself, and hope for others in the mist of horrific circumstances that life can go on.


I hope my thoughts on writing about tragic events in your family history have made you consider the idea of writing your stories. If you have a tragic event that is too difficult to write yourself, consider asking a trusted family member or friend to write the story for you. You never know how your story will help and sustain a descendant in the generations to come.