29 December 2016

Resolutions, Productivity, and More Research

It's time for resolutions! Get excited, genealogy resolutions mean you're going to do genealogy. That is so much more exciting than getting up at 5 a.m. to try and run when it's freezing outside. I'd rather do genealogy than plan a healthy diet. Hey, if you want those things, slap your laptop on a shelf across your treadmill or just forget to eat while you're engrossed reading newspaper records from 1887. That's some serious multi-tasking.

But let's talk seriously about genealogy resolutions.

26 December 2016

How to Pry Family History Out of the Willing but Vague

Finally cornered Aunt Nadine only to be unable to make chronological sense of her tale? It's a chronic problem for genealogists. Inaccurate answers in oral history interviews have nothing to do with the mental acuity of the interviewee, it's human nature. Luckily, there's a pretty easy fix, one often employed by professional genealogists on their clients.

Instead of trying to get dates out of your relatives, rely on markers they won't get wrong. This means you'll need to ask some additional questions and it's best if you have some historical knowledge you can use to supplement the timeline. Also, you'll want to "verify" your markers because we all get things mixed up sometimes.

How do you do all this? Simple, relate an event that is chronologically unclear to something the person finds fixed.

The problem is, you don't know what they find fixed.

On top of this, some people have no problem lying and others essentially lie because they answer and won't tell you they are unsure. There are of course people that won't give you a direct answer if they are unsure.
21 December 2016

More Genealogy Lists for Occasional Genealogists

Happy Winter Solstice. It's the shortest day of the year so I'm thinking about shortcuts and quick tasks I can do. A quick way to start is with a list.

I'm still working on that bullet journal concept I mentioned a few months ago. I have a really hard time putting unrelated items on consecutive pages and the appeal of a bullet journal is not having preset sections. However, I'm still loving the idea of using bullet journal "collections" for genealogy (in other words, keeping lists of genealogy "stuff"). You can keep your list wherever and however you want.

The suggestions in this post are inspired by genealogy resolutions and planning for the New Year. I'm a huge fan of not limiting resolutions to January but I often find mentally setting a date to start resolutions helps. This can let you plan (or procrastinate) for a SHORT time and still get that warm fuzzy feeling of kicking off some new phase of your life.

Below are three more genealogy collections to consider. I think the second and third could be pretty long lists (maybe you'd like to sub-divide them) so three is more than enough to keep you going through the cold dark winter.

14 December 2016

Genealogy in 45 Minutes a Day: The Lunchtime Genealogist

This post is for (what I consider) the quintessential Occasional Genealogist. It is for the busy person who's only chance to do genealogy is on their lunch break (or perhaps during naptime if you're a stay at home mom with children who still nap).

This series is tips with advice and encouragement to achieve real research results in a whole bunch of small segments of time (your lunch break). You will need some supplemental research sessions but you don't need to know any details about that ahead of time. You'll figure it out when it's time.

This post isn't going to lay out all the tips. I don't think that would be the easiest way to achieve results day after day (and I know there will be days you don't do genealogy, so don't worry!).

Instead, I've started a "series" via my Instagram account. Each work day there is a tip posted around lunchtime (eastern time).

These are bite-sized tips, something you should be able to accomplish in a 45-minute lunch break. For some of them, you will need to plan what you're going to do in subsequent breaks. Others should be achievable the day you read the tip.

I'm aiming for a mix between planning and spur of the moment tasks. Also, these aren't meant to be a sequence. Some might make sense in order, others are random.

The nice thing about Instagram is you can search for the hashtag associated with this series, #lunchtimegenealogist, and pull up all of them and pick and choose. I hope you'll follow @theoccasionalgenealogist so you get the tips as they come out. If you miss a day, want to see one again, or just need different inspiration than that day's tip, searching for the hashtag will help you.

The tips are also automatically posted to Facebook for those who don't use Instagram. On The Occasional Genealogist page you can search for the same hashtag (#lunchtimegenealogist). There's also a photo album that is just the tips.

For now, this series will be limited just to Instagram and Facebook. Follow The Occasional Genealogist on your chosen platform to get notifications of the tips.

I'll consider other methods of delivery in the future but not until sometime in 2017 and only if the series is popular.
If you like this series, tell your friends, tell me you like it, and tell your friends to tell me (if they like it).

I hope this will provide inspiration and actionable tasks so you do more genealogy, no matter how little time you have.

What would you need to do more genealogy in the next year? Leave a comment.

08 December 2016

Automated Searches: Dealing with the Wrong Person

Last week I wrote about using automated searches as a shortcut instead of a cheat. This week I want to go into detail on how to deal with records for the wrong person.
Saving the wrong person to your online tree can actually save you some time, if you do it correctly. Why would I save the wrong person? Glad you asked.

I use Ancestry.com's online trees so some features might be specific to that site. In general you can do this for any online tree (and even adapt the concept for offline).
07 December 2016

Find Every Clue in U.S. Census Records

This post was originally published on my blog for my research business, J.P. Dondero Genealogy.

For U.S. genealogy research, census records are a key record. If you aren't from a location with centuries of vital records, census records might be the first record you used.

There's a good chance if you're reading this, you consider yourself pretty familiar with U.S. Federal Census records. So let's test your knowledge. Answer the following questions based only on census records.

About a specific family

  • Did your family own a radio?
  • Did they rent or own their home?
  • Did they live on a farm?
  • Did they have a mortgage?
  • Could they read or write?
  • Did they own land?

If you see it on the census

  • What race does "Ot" stand for?
  • Do you know what "Pa" means in the naturalization column?
  • What occupation is "Secy.?"

Did you know you could find this information in census records?

Do you know how to find out what the abbreviations mean? 

You can find this information, and much more.
01 December 2016

Automated Searches: Shortcut or Cheat?

Did you know genealogists are argumentative? I've been in this industry so long I don't know if this is something "special" about genealogists or (more likely) something you'll find in any group full of passionate people.

One "hot topic" I've heard being argued is using automated searches. The example I think most people are familiar with are the "shaky leaves" that appear on Ancestry.com trees (I mean, they feature them in their t.v. ads, how can you not know about them?).
Are automated genealogy searches a shortcut or a cheat? Do you even know the difference?

Sometimes, if I'm with a group of professionals, it's not an argument you hear. Instead, it's more of a gripe fest. Why? Professional genealogists see a LOT of cases of "cheating" using automated online searches. It can make your job really hard.

However, I actually love using automated searches as a shortcut. It's important you understand the difference and use automated searches as a shortcut and not a cheat.
... use automated searches as a shortcut and not a cheat.

23 November 2016

Last-minute ways to torture your family at your Thanksgiving gathering

Today I have two printables for you to use at your Thanksgiving gathering. They are simple questionnaires for all the attendees. They give basic genealogical information about their family and favorite memories. Some families might not consider this torture, but it made a good post title.

There are so many kinds of families out there and even more kinds of holiday gatherings. I've created these forms to be useable in a variety of situations. If your family takes family history seriously, perfect. If they don't, still perfect!

22 November 2016

Do I Need a Family Tree If I Take a DNA Test?

Are you thinking DNA might be a shortcut around a problematic family tree or your lack of time for research? Think again. DNA is a powerful genealogical tool but you have to understand what it can do.
Someone found out I was a genealogist the other night. Almost immediately I heard, "do you use DNA?" followed almost as quickly by "that gives you all the answers, right?"

I hope you found this post because you asked the same questions and don't have an answer, yet.

Yes, I do use DNA. I spend hours and hours using DNA.

It mostly gives me more questions and no answers.

But it's still really cool (otherwise, I wouldn't spend hours on it).

I'm going to give you the same kind of answer I gave the other night. It wasn't technical or long. I was standing at a barre at the time (yes, that's spelled correctly). There wasn't time for in-depth explanation and that's probably not what you want, either.

If you take a DNA test for genealogy, you will need a family tree. You will also need other people that took a DNA test and their family trees. If they don't have family trees, you will have to do the research and create them (and that's the highlight of most of my "DNA work," I'm such a genealogy geek).
17 November 2016

Success in "Burned Counties" --- easy techniques to start with

I was surprised by the popularity of my recent post, "Burned Counties" aren't always "burned." I suspect some people clicked through looking for solutions to working in burned counties (but I was writing a post for beginners that might not even know what a burned county is!). So, this is the post to suggest a few easy solutions.
Easy research ideas for genealogy in a burned county. Burned counties aren't a dead end!

A burned county is not the end of the genealogical world. In the majority of cases, it's not as bad as you might think. There are some locations that really are truly terrible (burned completely and multiple times) but even then a skilled genealogist can keep working.

A burned county is a pain. I won't deny it. But you can handle this, you just may have to handle it in a way you've never tried.
15 November 2016

Celebrate Being an Occasional Genealogist, Today!

I love technology. I was on public transportation today which means I had some free time to do a bit of reading. I did my reading on my phone, that would be the technology aspect. I got to catch up on some "current" information. And today, that's lucky for you, too! I think you should check out some of the posts I read.
13 November 2016

Gift Guide: From the Genealogist to the Impossible to Please

This post contains affiliate links (I know you're shocked, a gift guide with affiliate links). 
This is one of a series of gift guides for specific recipient types or gifters. 
Some suggestions are reproduced rather than making you follow a series of links.
Do you have that person you have to buy a gift for but whatever you get them they won't like it.

Yeah, I have that relative. If you're a genealogist, you have some interesting options.

One of these gifts might actually not be a disappointment (I won't go so far as to say they'll like it).

Some of these gifts might fulfill the requirement to give them a gift but really be for you ('cause I don't know about you, but I don't like to waste money).

Some of these gifts might get you off the hook cheap, without seeming cheap (because not overspending is as good as not wasting money).

Here are my top suggestions of gifts from the genealogist, to the impossible to please recipient.
12 November 2016

Gift Guide: DIY Gifts from the Crafty Genealogist

This post contains affiliate links (I know you're shocked, a gift guide with affiliate links). 
This is one of a series of gift guides for specific recipient types or gifters. 
Some suggestions are reproduced rather than making you follow a series of links.

I'm not sure a crafty genealogist really needs suggestions. Gifting should be pretty easy for you! I'm not going to get too specific because there are lots of ways to create some of these gifts or a similar gift. I'll give you some ideas I've come up with and then you should run with it.

Quick and Easy

I'll start with a gift I've made and given. Even the non-crafty can make a serving tray from a picture frame. I like a tray as a conversation piece when you have guests rather than just giving a framed image (although, my recipient actually removed the handles and hung the picture on the wall!). Buy handles to attach to the frame and caulk the glass to prevent stray liquids from ruining your image. The "picture" I selected was actually a Civil War map (found at the Library of Congress website). It showed the location of two of my ancestors' homes and was an area the recipient had spent time at as a child. I ordered a photo print of the map just like any other photo.

Here are some options to consider. Pick what fit with your image and skill set.

Colorize an image. I've done this digitally for items like maps and photos. There are online "colorizing" options for black and white photos but they aren't always great. Below is an example from colorize-it.com. You can see the colors are sort of "lumped" on rather than matching the subjects in the photo (some photos look great when run through this fast and free tool).

This next example is a blurry photo (for my "Finding Her Maiden Name" mini-course) but it shows two strengths of coloring. I did this in Photoshop Elements.

This next set of photos shows the result from colorize-it.com versus what I did in Photoshop Elements. The automated coloring was too much like a sepia tone applied rather than colorizing. However, it took quite a long time to color this image (more than the example above) because there was little contrast.

colorize-it.comPhotoshop Elements (manually)

After finishing the above example, I started to think I could hand color a copy of a photo, faster. I haven't done this because you have to choose the correct medium for the type of print and I'm not an artist so I don't know a lot about this.

I'm thinking Copic markers might be faster than digitally coloring a photo. Copic markers don't cause water-based inks to run which is why I think they might work. You can use them to color items printed from your home printer (professional printing uses different inks which is why this isn't a simple answer). If you've hand colored a photo, leave a comment with any suggestions.

[The link to the Copic markers is to a set I think might be a good selection for photo coloring. I've purchased my markers a la carte with coupons at the local arts and craft store which might be the most affordable method.]

I know there are ways to transfer an image to various surfaces. Once again, not a skill I've tried and I'm not sure that would qualify for "quick and easy," but if you know how to do it, go for it! I once stenciled a wooden tray and it came out pretty nice considering I had never done stenciling (this was not genealogy related). If you are doing an image (maybe a family tree or a map) instead of a portriat, this might be another option.

Cheap (and easy if the research is done)

A framed family tree is a classic "from the genealogist" gift. It might be the most economical choice, too.

I've given a smaller sized, framed family tree (as opposed to a poster size tree which will increase your printing and framing costs). I bought a book of family tree charts and scanned one and filled it in digitally (I have horrible handwriting, doing calligraphy/lettering would make a great gift if that's your talent).

I had it printed at a local office store, hand colored it (colored pencils, I love this set and I learned how to use them a lot better from this Craftsy course), and framed it myself. After all the research I had to do, I had to keep the cost down on the physical product (value of my services >$525, cost of the physical item <$20).

Options for a family tree are possibly endless.

For my own home, I want to embroider my family tree. This is too time intensive for me to consider as a gift but it might be different for you. If you're an artist, you can create the entire tree by hand. If you're a graphic artist, you can use those skills.

I've been considering having my Silhouette Cameo draw the tree and names on art paper and then hand color it. For a fast gift, I already have one  tree digitized in Adobe Acrobat with the name boxes set-up to be filled in. I have pre-colored trees (done in Photoshop Elements) or I can hand color them.

As a note, I don't put anything but names on display trees. The reason is the majority of my research doesn't produce full dates and even when it does, I often find variations of the date. I don't want to feel the need to "correct" a date and heaven forbid I find a date is actually wrong after it's on a tree hanging on someone's wall!!!!!!! This will make creating a tree faster, too.

Interesting to Non-genealogists

A family history book is often the most appealing to non-genealogists. A tree may be interesting but doesn't highlight anything of particular importance or interest.

A family history book is not a "family history" in the sense of what you find in a library. These are text heavy photo books. In fact, you can create these at companies selling photo books. Ancestry.com has built in options if you have already created a family tree with them.

A traditional family history is a major undertaking so I'm not discussing that. You can quickly assemble a lineage (one line in one branch) and some interesting highlights. You can also just compile a few generations of the whole family with interesting highlights. I did this for my grandfather-in-law-to-be when I was in college and very short on cash. I ended up just printing it on my home printer (I was very strapped for cash).

The purpose of one of these books should be an interesting gift, not your well-documented research. You can decide what to do about citations. I usually opt for a format that requires minimal citations so I feel good as a professional but don't overwhelm the recipient.

One way to do this is to try and NOT provide a comprehensive family history. Include some type of family tree to use as a guide so people understand where in the family someone belongs. Then just hit the highlights.

It's o.k. to start a little farther back in the tree (not with the recipient) if they knew their parents and grandparents. This makes it easier for you, prevents the less gracious recipient from providing you with a string of "corrections," and is usually of more interest as it provides new information.

People are usually interested in what they didn't know so use that to your advantage, save time by skipping the known. Remember, we're talking about a gift, not the culmination of your genealogical life's work.

If you do an "analysis" of one image on a page, you can usually put a citation for the image without needing other citations. Don't be intimidated if you don't know what an analysis is. Simply explain what is in the image and why it's interesting. Don't go off on tangents which would require a lot of citations and the text will be clearer to the reader.

As an example, show a census record (not that exciting to look at) but highlight what interesting facts it tells. It might be the family lived at an address that is now something well known or of interest to the recipient. Maybe the neighbors are of interest. Maybe you're just pointing out an interesting occupation.

Also, consider using modern maps with historic maps (I create overlays in Google Earth but you may not have time to learn to do that, PicMonkey or any tool you know how to use is fine). With photos, point out something interesting beyond just the name of the people in the photo. This could be as simple as a photo being the only one of an older relative or something funny in the picture.

Check out The Occasional Genealogist Instagram feed for some examples. Since my Instagram followers don't really care about my relatives, I point out something else about the photo (I try and select photos that provide something interesting).

Order it Online

Today, there are many options if you want to have an image printed on an object. As a genealogist, you may have old photos or funny documents. Maybe you want to digitally craft an image to have printed on an item (this includes a famly tree).

I love ordering fabric from Spoonflower. You can have custom fabric to create a quilt or other sewing project. You could also create the fabric to give to a crafty relative. I've ordered various types of products from Zazzle. They have shirts, plates, cards, stamps, and hundreds of other products. Vistaprint is known for business printing but can just as easily be used to make paper-based gifts (as well as offering promotional items that could be gifts).

If you're giving a gift to a non-relative, maybe they would like to start researching their own family. You could create a "get started kit" using your favorite tools. If you have to order the items online, this makes it easy to mail (have it sent directly to them).

Wrap It Up

This is just a sampling of the crafty ideas you could give based on your genealogical research. It doesn't really matter how experienced you are as a genealogist (and even if you're not artistic or crafty, there are options like the ones under "order it online"). A family history based gift can be incredibly unique if you create it yourself. It may even become part of the collection of a future genealogist.

11 November 2016

U.S. Military Research for Occasional Genealogists

As an Occasional Genealogist (OG), someone who only gets to do genealogy occasionally, focusing on military research is a good option. There are several reasons. The "root" of many of these is the simple fact that military research has always been popular. Popular topics mean available resources.

As an Occasional Genealogist, focusing on military research is a good option. There are several reasons. The "root" of many of these is the simple fact that military research has always been popular. Popular topics mean available resources.

Here are several resources you should consider as an OG.
31 October 2016

"Burned Counties" aren't always "burned"

Burned counties aren't always "burned."  Don't give up.
Does a burned county mean an automatic dead end in your research?

Should you just turn around and go home?

No, if you want to complete your journey, you have to treat a burned county like a literal dead end street. Go back and try a different way!

UpFront with NGS has an interesting post today about the return of some VERY early Charles City County, Virginia records. You can read the post, here.

A "burned" county is the term generically applied when civil records are lost, often to a courthouse fire. However, in the post I've linked to above, the record loss was from records stolen by Union Civil War soldiers. In this case, the records have finally been returned.

23 October 2016

50 Genealogy Tasks You Can Do In 15 Minutes or Less

This is the 50th post on this blog so I'm celebrating with 50 suggestions. Since this blog is for Occasional Genealogists, these suggestions can be done in 15 minutes or less, or I suggest how to do them in multiple sessions of 15 minutes or less.

Occasional Genealogists can often find 15 minutes or less for genealogy. But what do you do in 15 minutes or less? Here's 50 suggestions.

21 October 2016

Budgeting for Genealogy, Part 3: Examples of Planning and Budgeting

Budgeting for Genealogy 3-plan examples
Welcome to Part 3 of Budgeting for Genealogy. You can read part 1, here, and part 2, here.

My main goal with this post is to provide some real life examples. However, I'm also providing some additional "how-to" for those of you that may need it.

As I was preparing to write this post, I kept coming up with different variations of budgeting while planning. If you aren't going to be doing this research right away, this additional choice is good. This is the scenario most Occasional Genealogists (OGs) will be in.
14 October 2016

Budgeting for Genealogy Part 2: Planning and Budgeting

Last week I provided a number of suggestions for budget friendly genealogy. This week I want to talk about "budgeting" as in setting a budget. I like to think of this like a grocery budget. I can't speak for you, but I need to do genealogy almost as much as I need to eat. OK, that's a bit extreme, but it really is like a grocery budget. You have to eat and it's going to cost you money, one way or another. Time is money. If you want to be successful at genealogy (achieving whatever your goal is), it's going to cost you money, one way or another.

With food, you can obtain it in a variety of ways, grow it yourself (very time-consuming but "cheap" in comparison to other options), buy groceries and cook (takes hands-on time and some money), order take-out (involves waiting, less hands-on time, but more money), or dining out (involves travel and various levels of expense). Are you starting to see how this is like obtaining genealogy records? If not, let's look at your equivalent genealogical options.
11 October 2016

Best writing or journaling supplies for on-the-go

I have a confession. I'm always touting the advantages of digital organization (for genealogy or everyday), but I love paper. I don't love organizing with paper. I hate it, hence my promotion of digital methods. It's the actual paper I love. I also love fountain pens. I love the way they write. I like the "scratch, scratch" of metal on (high quality) paper. So, I've decided when I write (instead of typing) I want to indulge in metal on paper.
07 October 2016

How to Save $$$ on Genealogy Records

Last week I told you about my new (free) mini-course "Finding Her Maiden Name." In it you'll learn about skills and techniques for solving what you may call an "impossible" problem. Tere was one skill I didn't have time to include in the five (very quick) lessons.

That skill is budgeting.

Today I want to look at some places to get free or cheap access to records and also highlight some techniques to use if you have to hire someone to get records for you.

Next week I'll talk about budgeting as part of your research planning.
How to save money on genealogy research
30 September 2016

Finding Her Maiden Name: Not an "Impossible" Problem

free course of genealogy problem solving, brick wall busting

Sometimes I feel like the topic of finding a maiden name has been covered from one end to the other. As far as information being available, out there... somewhere in the world, it has been. But every day, more people start their family tree for the very first time. They don't know where all that knowledge is. In fact, I think writing about finding a maiden name is probably more valid, simply because there are so many "new" genealogists out there.

So today, I'm launching the very first Occasional Genealogist mini-course. Specifically, it's about finding maiden names, but it's also designed to show you a methodology that can be adapted to any problem you label "impossible" (also called a "brick wall" in genealogy).
23 September 2016

10 FREE U.S. Record Collections to Search Later

Not all genealogy research can be fast (ok, maybe I should say, most genealogy research is not fast). Even with online searches available, sometimes it just takes time to use online records. So here are 10 FREE online U.S. Record Collections that are worth the time, even if you have to use them later.
10 September 2016

Genealogy Collections for Your Bullet Journal (a list of lists)

Yesterday I posted an infographic of genealogy lists you could create in a bullet journal or anywhere you like (infographic also included at the bottom of this post). I keep information like this either in Evernote or Trello depending on whether it is just a list or involves a process, respectively. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm trying to keep a single paper notebook so I don't have to open Evernote or Trello when an idea strikes.

I created the suggestions for the lists based on information I thought would do well in a list format. I think some of them might need a bit more explanation. I hope these short descriptions also help you think of other "lists" that could benefit your genealogy research.

09 September 2016

Genealogy Lists for Occasional Genealogists (or the Bullet Journal Concept for OGs)

I finally clicked one of the myriad "bullet journal" pins I kept seeing on Pinterest. I was starting to think it might be a good system to incorporate some genealogy but needed to learn a bit more. After learning a bit, I'm still not interested in a formal bullet journal. I'm giving the general idea a try, though. Here's what I think will work for me (and any Occasional Genealogist).
  • A collection of lists
  • One "repository" for everything (all those lists and more)
  • Simplicity
Since coming back from my last maternity leave about a year ago, I've decided that digital just works for me. But that doesn't mean it's always the fastest option. So why a paper journal if I love digital? Sometimes it takes too long to get to the "right" digital place to enter information. I need an organized notebook I can have beside me for when an idea strikes (because all my best blog ideas come while I'm doing something else). Since I have dedicated digital locations for certain information, it's not that hard for me to digitize a hand written idea, later. I just can't manage multiple analog locations in addition to the multiple digital locations (which I can manage).

Read on to learn a little more about how these same features of a bullet journal can help an Occasional Genealogist. (if you want to skip to the descriptions for the collections on the infographic, that's in this post)
01 September 2016

Where Do Online Genealogy Records Come From?

This post is mainly to alert you to several aspects of genealogy you may not know exist. These are particularly related to where online records come from (hence the post title). Believe it or not (once you read what they are), knowing about these aspects can make a difference in your research. If you're involved in the genealogy community, you likely already know about them. If you don't, I wanted to at least clue you in to their existence.

Big Conferences

There's a big genealogy conference starting today. It's commonly called the FGS Conference (FGS is the Federation of Genealogical Societies). This conference is for individual genealogists so don't let the sponsor name throw you. I wrote a mini-series on my J.P. Dondero Genealogy Blog about offline education. Here is the link to the post about genealogy conferences if you don't know about them.

What's important to an Occasional Genealogist? 

30 August 2016

Did you know you have a "digital estate" and why genealogists care

I was caught by the title of today's post on Upfront with NGS. It's "Digital Estate Planning Laws -- Relevant to Preserving "Your" Digital Genealogy Assets!" The post is pretty brief and includes some links you may want to check-out.
I wanted to stress the aspects of my digital genealogy records I'm concerned about. Each of us has different concerns but you might think, "I don't really care what happens to my..." Facebook account or Ancestry.com account. What's important to realize is it might not go away (I'm a little freaked out every time Facebook recommends I share something with someone that has been dead for years) BUT no one may be able to access it. The post calls this a "legal limbo" and that is probably the biggest issue most genealogists want to avoid.
22 August 2016

11 Hints for Using DAR Records in Genealogy

Did you like Saturday's post (eight tips for using the DAR GRS for genealogy--straight from my, now retired, lecture "The DAR Library for All: Near or Far, Member or Not")? If you liked that, I've got a bonus for you today!

These are the hints I've always included in the lecture handout about using DAR Records for Genealogy. 

These hints went with Tip #8, Use Common Sense but give you a bit more specific information if you are using DAR applications/supplementals. If you haven't already, check out Saturday's post to get geared up to use DAR sources for your genealogy.

Here are my eleven tips for using DAR records in genealogy.
20 August 2016

The DAR Library for All: Near or Far, Member or Not

Today I am giving one of my lectures for the last time. I am retiring "The DAR Library for All."
Lucky you! That means I'm putting my top tips here. No need to wait to hear the lecture anymore. The GRS is a great free website (with some of the information being finding-aids for records you will need to pay to get, free finding-aids are much better than no finding-aids or subscription finding-aids so don't complain!) I'm going ahead and posting this on TheOccasionalGenealogist.com because it's a great resource to go through in smaller amounts of time. It's relevant for any genealogist, occasional or frequent, though.

Because the research sections of the DAR website (the tabs making up the "GRS," the Genealogical Research System) change and are updated. I'm not including some of the information that was originally the core of this lecture. It started out as "The DAR GRS" when I lived outside Washington, D.C. My audiences had easy access to the DAR Library but when the GRS was first made public, it was NOT that easy to use. I had already been using it for over two years as a staff genealogist at the DAR so I could "translate" all the DAR-isms and explain some of the, uh, less than obvious navigation.

One of the reasons this lecture is being retired, I'm just not as fundamental in the user-website relationship, anymore. That's great news for you, the average user. I've been replaced with "information" icons. Which leads me to my number one tip...

19 August 2016

Sight My What?

"Cite Your Sources" (that's the answer to "Sight my what?") 

This post is a companion to the first suggestion in "Three Genealogy Shortcuts That Aren't Cheats." That particular post has become very popular (compared to my others) on Pinterest. I know why---it's a totally pin-able title. But as the number of views shot up and I reread the post, I started to worry the first suggestion was a shocker to much of my audience. I conceived of the shortcuts for the type of genealogist I used to get in my "Occasional Genealogist" class. Those were very avid hobbyists, not beginners, not casual "searchers". I'm not sure who's coming from Pinterest. So if you read the first "shortcut" (start your citations before you start to research) and thought, "sight my what?," this post is for you.
30 May 2016

Free Civil War Records and Tips for Finding State Pensions

This morning I read in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about FamilySearch's new Civil War record releases. I'm always excited about more records (or even indices) coming online, but for me, the big news may be the new landing page.

This page is a listing of free online Civil War Era records (so Federal and State Census records are included as well as Freedmen's Bureau records). These are just the records provided free through FamilySearch, though. Previously, it's been time-consuming to review FamilySearch for Civil War records. This makes it much easier. However, you do need to realize these are just from FamilySearch. The list is so long; you might think it is comprehensive.

16 May 2016

Evernote for Research Planning: Beyond Just "Plans"

One of my most popular posts is for my Evernote Research Plan with Analysis form. A research planning form in Evernote is great, but there is so much more you can do with Evernote to help with research planning.

Today I'll cover my two favorite ways to use Evernote for research planning. Neither involves creating a plan!

10 May 2016

Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy?"

Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy"
My last post was over a week ago. In the meantime, I have been in sunny Florida attending and lecturing at the 2016 NGS Conference in the States.

It was a great conference, and one of the lectures in particular resonated with me.

Not by chance, it was related to my last post about goal setting.

Does This Ever Happen To You?

Every so often I need a "refresher" on certain topics. You probably get the same kind of feeling. Do you listen to it? Do you answer?

Why I need a refresher varies. Sometimes I need a refresher on a topic I don't use a lot or don't know a lot about (such as researching a particular ethnic group or researching in a specific location).

Sometimes I need a refresher because I just feel like I've forgotten some important concept or part of a process. Sometimes I think I've forgotten something but sometimes my knowledge feels "fuzzy." I can't always tell which.

That's what happened this time.

This time, the topic was research planning. I have to plan research all the time, but I felt as if I was overcomplicating the process. I had already pulled out all my at-home resources, but they weren't helping with the "feeling" I had.

Naturally, I chose to attend several lectures related to research planning while I was at the NGS Conference. One particular lecture made me understand why I was having this feeling.

Audio Recording of the Lecture---Available for Purchase

First, the lecture is "Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" presented by Gail Jackson Miller. You can purchase a digital audio recording of the presentation from PlaybackNow, the official recording company for the conference. Most recorded sessions, including this one, are only available as audio recordings. Also, you do not get the handout with the recording. You can purchase the single session, here.

How the Lecture Helped Me

What was so helpful for me was simply a different way of thinking about the research planning process. That is why the issue I was having was a "feeling." I knew the steps to a successful research plan; I hadn't even forgotten anything. In this case, my knowledge was just fuzzy.

"Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan"

What I liked about Ms. Miller's lecture was it looked at research planning from the view of the scientific method. In one way, what clicked for me was almost semantics. I'm comfortable with the scientific method, even though I'm not a scientist. Apparently this "scientific" approach is how my brain works.

I point this out for those of you that know you do or do not, think this way and are considering purchasing a recording of the lecture. There are a number of research planning lectures to choose from.

This conference seemed to have a theme of a research goal or research question being called a hypothesis or stressing you should test a hypothesis for your goal/question. If semantics were my only issue, most of the lectures would have clicked for me, but Ms. Miller's lecture was the only one that clearly fit my way of thinking.

From Fuzzy to Focused

I won't go into a lot more detail about the lecture because it will be specific to me. I do want to try and give you an idea of what might be the indication that you need to find educational material that approaches a topic from a different way of thinking.

As I said, I knew all the steps for a successful research plan. I hadn't forgotten anything---which was a possibility. I've had this kind of "feeling" about topics before, and I had forgotten a small but crucial part.

"Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" suddenly made everything I knew seem clear. A visual analogy would be a photo just out of focus, not so much as to be unrecognizable, just a bit fuzzy. When you haven't seen the perfectly focused picture, you might not realize there is a problem.

If there is a genealogy skill you "know" but are still struggling with, see if it is in-focus for you. First, make sure you really do know everything you should be doing for success. Sometimes it is a small issue you've forgotten.

If your knowledge is sound and complete, seek out more variety in educational materials. I find lectures are very helpful for this problem because hearing the "right" explanation for you usually allows a better understanding of written material. We all learn differently. You might prefer written educational material (I need to hear and read to learn best).

Maximizing Your Chance for Success

This particular lecture helped me but a different one might help you. How do you know?

It's beneficial to attend lectures, on closely related topics, presented by different lecturers. When you are new or newer to genealogy, this exposes you to the variety of ways you can do genealogy "right." It will also help you see what is consistent from presenter to presenter. Those are the things that are essential for success.

When I was less experienced (and this can also be less experienced with attending educational events, not just doing research), I learned so much from lectures that didn't exactly fit the way I think. I usually didn't know one method or another would be better for me. That was something I would learn later. In other words, at first, any education will be beneficial. It's only after you develop your style that some lectures will be more beneficial.

Continuing to educate yourself, even on topics where you "know" how to do something, like research planning, can make you more efficient and a better researcher. If you struggle to do something, you are less likely to do it. This can be keeping a research log, creating a research plan, taking good notes, writing a report, or any genealogical skill.

Your self-education needs to educate you about the "right" way to do genealogy, which is generic, and the "right" way to do a skill for you, which is very specific. Only doing one or the other can lead to problems.

It may be minor problems such as being inefficient (the task will be done and done correctly, just not efficiently) or it may be major, such as leaving out vital information (although you are very efficient with what you did).

Start out with education, then begin focussing your education to fit your needs and preferences. Your knowledge is just like a photo (but you don't come with an autofocus setting). It starts out a blur and you focus it until you see all the details. Don't stop when you recognize the picture, remove all fuzziness. It'll take time, that's OK.

Go Beyond Lectures 

Lectures usually cannot be extremely in-depth so you may need to take your education to another level once you focus your understanding.

If hearing information is best for you, consider an institute in person on on-line. This will focus on a subject for multiple sessions (in person these are usually five days but on-line can vary). If reading is best for you, you can try a book or create your own in-depth education with a series of shorter works, each progressively more in-depth and covering specific topics.

RELATED POSTConference vs. Institute: What's Best for You?

There is an education planning template (plus much more) in the Resource Library. You can sign-up for free access, here.

Don't Cheat, Even Accidentally!

Once you find what works for you, it is much easier to perform mundane tasks everytime you should. Make sure you aren't excluding an important part or step to make the task easier, though. You should be finding a method that works for you and still includes all the necessary information or steps.

If you take an inappropriate shortcut, you may not even know it is causing you problems.

RELATED POST: Three Genealogy Shortcuts That Aren't Cheats

Inappropriate shortcuts aren't always obvious cheats. You can't fix a problem you don't know you have so this is a big problem. A problem solved by education. In genealogy, problems caused by cheats often rear their heads later. If they were obvious and immediate, you wouldn't do it, you're only cheating yourself, after all.

You may have built your brick wall by trying to simplify something (taking a shortcut). Experience usually shows us where we went wrong but at that point, you have to go back and repeat work.

Luckily you can learn from the experience of other genealogists. We learn from others through education, whether lectures, articles, case studies, courses, etc. These are your only two options, education and experience. You need both but gaining an education is much faster than gaining experience. Don't accidentally cheat yourself by skimping on education.

If you're struggling to do a task, check and see if your knowledge is fuzzy. Make sure you know and remember what you should. If that doesn't focus your knowledge, look for a different explanation of the same information. By always continuing your genealogy education, you increase your chance for success.

Psst, there's an NGS Conference every year. The 2017 Conference is coming up. Learn more, here.

Don't forget toto get free access to the Resource Library.

Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy"
29 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Goal Setting Worksheet for Future Research Planning

I have a project that needs some serious research planning. It's your typical genealogy "project." It involves an entire family which means many branches over many generations. The problem is being in the midst of research and needing to start thinking about this project as several smaller projects---with attainable goals.
Keeping a list of genealogy goals can have you ready to research when you finally find time.

Until now I had no trouble creating research plans for specific goals, but the project has reached a point where it has become unwieldy in my mind.

This is pretty typical. You start with yourself, one person and then go to your parents, two people, grandparents, etc. Suddenly you realize you're scrambling from couple to couple instead of researching a family.

That's the obvious sign it's time to set goals and subdivide your project.
28 April 2016

Personal App Picks for Travel

Yesterday I posted a few links to articles about using Evernote for travel. Today I'm posting some links to the apps I'll be using when I travel next week. WARNING: these are my personal picks, they are not a comprehensive list and are based on the exact trip I'm making. If you are a seasoned traveler (maybe that's why you're an Occasional Genealogist), you probably have your own picks for travel apps. If you don't get to travel a lot or haven't tried using apps for travel, maybe you'll find something useful.

#1 Packing List Pro by QuinnScape
My top recommendation is an iOS-only app, Packing List Pro (see its website, here and get it on the App Store, here). I so wish this was also available on Android but it's easiest to use on my iPad, and that usually travels with me, anyway. "Wait!" you're saying, "you've mentioned keeping packing lists in Evernote." Yup, and I do keep certain types of packing lists in Evernote, they are really templates, though. This app can do what Evernote can for packing lists, check boxes and templates (in Packing List Pro there are real templates or you can just copy an existing list). It goes beyond that, and that is why I use it despite it being a paid app (currently $2.99 and worth every penny) and despite it not being available for Android.

Packing List Pro is built on a database, not just a list. It comes with a default "catalog" you can customize. That means the items you want to pack are listed under categories. This can be more than some people want but I like being able to go through a category and make sure I've thought of everything. If you can't guess since this is my number one pick, I need a packing list because I forget things. You can download and upload a catalog or list (in the form of a spreadsheet) which gives another, potentially faster way to customize.

For me, the major selling point is the ability to include the "bag" you will place items in. This keeps me organized ahead of time and allows me to find something once it's packed. The big advantage for me is it allows me to pack a smaller bag (like a cosmetic bag) so I can check off those items. I then list the cosmetic bag as an item to pack so I'm sure it makes it into my actual luggage. This applies to purses and wallets where I might stash something well in advance of the trip, too. Also, because I have left for a trip without one of my bags, I list my bags as items to be checked off. You can even specify the car as a bag for items that just get put straight in (say, pillows, or kids entertainment items). For major family trips, especially if we need to pack food or linens, this is a huge help. My husband doesn't have an iOS device where he can share the list, but since I can check off what has been placed in the car, we pretty much never forget anything (if it made it onto the list, of course).

Why I love this app for "genealogy" trips is because of how I can use it to get organized in advance. Should I want to pack certain items days (or even a week or more) before a trip, it will keep me completely organized, so I don't forget that bag or wonder if I've packed those items. I have items I take on a research trip that are used only on a research trip---so I can pack them as early as I want. I can define the bag (literally describe it) so I can just grab it for final packing. You could have a "research bag" category or a research trip template.There are additional features I'm not as familiar with like photos (a newer addition) and reminders you might also want to use.

#2 Evernote
I won't go into a lot of detail, but I rely on Evernote when I travel because it syncs across all my devices. I use the camera to digitize paper (receipts, book pages, flyers) as well as other "things" I might need to remember. This applies before and during my trip. You can read yesterday's post to get links to more specific ideas. When appropriate, I use the most common suggestions, so I'm not going to rehash them here.

#3 Fly Delta App
I'm flying Delta (no surprise since ATL is my primary airport). I do find using the app helpful. It's much faster to check flight related information and usually helps me reduce the number of items in my hands at the airport (particularly while preparing to board).

#4 TripAdvisor App
I don't usually use TripAdvisor before a genealogy trip unless I need hotel advice. I do usually use it on trips if I'm in a touristy area. This includes near conference centers. On genealogy trips, I mainly use it for dining recommendations. For non-genealogy trips, I also use it for ideas about what to do or reviews of activities (and before the trip for hotel reviews). At home, I usually use the TripAdvisor website, but the app is faster and shouldn't use as much cellular data if I don't have wi-fi available.

Possible #5
This is an app I'm about to purchase so I don't know if it will work they way I intend.
Stylebook: this is another iOS-only app. It is for organizing your clothes/closet. I find I do need some outfit organization when I travel (more on that in a moment). This app has consistently gotten good reviews but wasn't updated for a long time which is why I hadn't purchased it. It received an update in January and still has good reviews. I advise reading them before you purchase as some of the issues may be a big deal to you, and it is labor intensive to set-up.

Why do I consider this a travel app? If I am traveling to a wintery destination (usually Salt Lake City, for me, which is genealogy related) I often have issues fitting everything in my luggage and having enough warm clothes (I live in Georgia and work from home, I don't need a lot of "real" winter clothes). That means I pack very specific outfits. Not everything will work together because of my limited choices. An app that will allow me to pick out outfits with the minimum number of pieces and record what goes together on each day is important. In the past, I've just taken photos in Evernote once I choose the outfits. That's another option if you don't need so many features.

I will use other features of this app "for travel," though. Our house is nearly 50 years old, and that means small closets, just one (reach-in) in the master. Most of my clothes are stored elsewhere in the house. If my trip involves clothes, I'm not wearing currently (out-of-season) many are packed up in boxes. The added advantage of organizing my outfits without physically finding the clothes is a huge time saver. From what I see, Stylebook will also allow me to go directly to where the needed outfits are stored, so I don't waste time digging through multiple boxes.

So those are five very personal choices for travel apps. Do you have travel apps you can't live without or that you find helpful for genealogy trips? Leave a comment and let everyone know about them.
27 April 2016

Evernote for Travel

It seemed redundant to write an article about using Evernote for Travel from scratch because it doesn't matter if you are travelling for genealogy or any other reason, the basics are pretty much the same. If you've read some of my other articles, you also know I'm a big fan of "everyone does it differently" so I decided I could best address those differences by seeking out advice from different sources. This will give you some variety without me "imagining" how someone else might do something.

25 April 2016

Evernote for Genealogy Handouts

Lecture handouts may be one of your greatest at-home resources. They are pretty much useless if you can't find them, though. I was never able to keep up with my paper handouts. It's hard enough to file your research documents (we all just LOVE filing, right?) so there's certainly little time left to file other papers.

There's also the question of how you will file and find handouts. Many will cover several topics but you may also want to find something from an event. Having electronic files is better since you can search certain types of files but it can still be time consuming.

For me, Evernote was the perfect solution for making my handouts a useable resource. I think it can be the solution for you, too. I'm still working on getting years worth of handouts digitized (because scanning is almost as much fun as filing). Nearly all my current handouts go straight into Evernote and I use them so much more and I can usually find "answers" to questions much faster than I used to.

If you have a perfectly functional way to keep and find your handouts, there's no reason to change but I don't know a lot of genealogists in that boat. Getting your handouts into Evernote is essentially as hard as it is for you to digitize them. Also, if Evernote is not for you, the concepts will apply to other electronic methods and even loosely to paper methods.
22 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Basic Genealogy Forms in Evernote

Happy Earth Day! I think it's natural for a genealogist to celebrate this event, we're always talking about trees, roots, branches, and preservation. But then there's our little problem with paper.

Genealogists are notorious paper users. I would love to have a completely paper-free office, and I've worked toward that.

Still, when I use paper, I often use a lot. At the moment, the wall next to my desk is covered in pedigree charts for a select group of my atDNA matches. I did a pretty good job of reducing the paper needed for that project, but I really did feel I needed paper (see this post for tips on reducing paper when you have to print).

So, in an effort to help you reduce the amount of paper you use, I've created some more Evernote forms. I've gone with two very basic forms that don't fall under my "Everything Else" category which I'll be lecturing about in two weeks at the National Genealogical Society Conference in the States in Fort Lauderdale [update: you can purchase a recording of the lecture, here].

The forms include a five-generation pedigree chart and a very basic family group sheet or family summary. You can access them in the Resource Library, sign-up for free, here.

19 April 2016

3 Tips to Reduce Paper When You Have to Print

Friday is Earth Day so this week's posts have a digital theme even if they aren't just for Occasional Genealogists. Yesterday, I posted about eBooks which may or may not help you save the Earth (not driving to a library, having a book mailed to you, or moving physical books could reduce your carbon footprint, so it sorta fits my theme). Today's post speaks to the Earth Day theme.

I admit it, even though I love keeping everything electronically, sometimes I just have to print something out. Genealogy can be unwieldy in many ways. Sometimes you just can't fit what you need on a screen or you just need to mark it up in a way you can't digitally. For genealogists less digitally inclined than me, even more paper is "created." So here are three easy tips to help any genealogist reduce the amount of paper they use. 

These are suggestions for when only paper will do. The best suggestion for reducing paper is to save a digital copy instead (print or save to pdf or save in Evernote, Pocket, OneNote, etc.). Remember, with a digital copy you can "print" to a larger size page to try and fit everything on one page/screen. Most digital tools will allow you to mark up a page so consider if you really need a paper copy. If you do, here are some tips.

18 April 2016

Digital Genealogy: Ebooks for Genealogy


This post originally contained a long introduction about using books as sources. That's been moved to its own post, here.

Information specific to ebooks has been left in this post and I've added links to some shops where you can purchase genealogy ebooks.

There are lots of ebooks for genealogy out there. Many are FREE!!!

I hope this isn't news to you. If it is, you're missing out on a great, usually free, online resource that is pretty simple to use.

[learn about using books as a source, here].

Search Problems

One pitfall specific to ebooks is search accuracy. Ebooks are mainly OCR searched. Occasionally you will find a fairly recent book that is digitized directly from the file, but most genealogy books are older.

Depending on the style of text and condition of the book, the accuracy of the OCR results will vary. Although OCR technology is constantly improving, some books will consistently have problems because the text is barely legible to a human eye.

If there is an index, you should manually check it in addition to searching. If a book appears to have OCR issues, see if a table of contents indicates a section you should read.

This completes the advantages, pitfalls, uses, and types of books/ebooks you will generally encounter in genealogy.

Books provide an easy way to find information, but you can't stop there. You need to learn to evaluate sources and test the information and evidence.

Types of books most often digitized (for free) include both histories and abstracted/transcribed records. How-to guides are usually not available for free; you can see my previous post about Kindle Unlimited for genealogy if you are particularly interested in digitized how-to books.

Four Great Sites

So where can you find free digitized books?

My favorite source for genealogy books is FamilySearch Books. This is part of FamilySearch.org, and you will find links to digitized books in the catalog, or you can search just digitized books.

Not all the digitized books are available from home. Some of them can only be accessed in a Family History Center. You can still find they exist, though, so you can have a research plan and your research log ready when you get there.

Perhaps my favorite source for digitized books is Google Books.

Not surprisingly, the search function is great. Results will come up in a general Google search, or you can search Google Books directly. Once you find a book, you can then search inside just that book.

Google Books mainly has histories instead of abstracted/transcribed records but also includes books you should use as a tool. An example would be books of laws (such as law digests) so you can perform law research. You may find court cases involving your ancestor, but more likely you will be researching the law for a specific situation.

Internet Archive also has many histories, but their search is not as accurate as Google Books. I always use the Google Books version if the book is available in both, but you may have different results. As a general rule, I don't search Internet Archive directly; I perform a Google search for a book.

I believe of all the suggestions, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is the newest. It isn't just books, and some results may not have digitized images (this is also possible with Google Books).

For the type of professional work I often do, I usually like to search just books because I'm looking for something specific. For personal research, a site with a variety of source types shouldn't be a disadvantage. If you want to learn a bit more about the DPLA, you can read an article by Amy Johnson Crow, CG, here.

Lastly, as a bonus because it's not free from home, is Ancestry.com. You may be able to use Ancestry.com for free at your local library.

Ancestry.com has many digitized books, but it is not always easy to find them. You can browse to see what is available for a location or search the card catalog, but you can't really search just the digitized books.

I occasionally find a digitized book result in my general search, but usually, I have to find the book and search or browse it. Also, Ancestry.com has databases based on books. That means there is not a digital image, just a database. This is basically an abstract of the book so typos or OCR errors can be present on top of the errors created in the original book.

Ancestry.com does have some books as both a database (no images) AND digital images (with or without a database). When this happens, they will have two different names.

Sometimes the database has the name closer to the book's title which leads you to believe this is the best or only version. Usually, the database was on Ancestry.com, first, before digital images became so common. If I find a database-only version, I double check for a digital image, on Ancestry.com and via a Google search.

I can't give you an "in general" type of book you will find from Ancestry.com as I've found all sorts of books but not with any consistency.

Ebooks for Sale

I wanted to provide an update to this post (and this includes affiliate links).

Genealogical.com (parent of Genealogical Publishing Company and Clearfield Company) has launched an entire site of genealogy ebooks you can purchase, in your choice of formats. Yes, you have to buy them, but most genealogists have a decent home library. Those that don't are either just getting started or move a lot.

Ebooks mean moving is no longer an issue. In fact, you never need to worry about storage space (other than digital storage space), again! You can find the Genealogical.com Ebook Store, here.

Genealogical.com is a great source for books of records and they also have general genealogy reference (how-to guides, etc.).

If you are looking for more how-to ebooks, paper books, or supplies, check out ShopFamilyTree. That is the store front for FamilyTree Magazine. They have a ton of digital supplies as well as some traditional supplies and of course, books. They also offer webinars you can purchase (i.e. purchase a recording).
Save 10% at Shop Family Tree with Offer Code FAMILY10F.

Free Shipping on $25 US Orders at Shop Family Tree.

There are many other sources for digitized genealogy books. You should check for sources for the locations you are most interested in as well as any other specialized research topics. If you have a favorite source for online genealogy books, leave a comment.

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