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.

A goal of "research the whole family as far back as possible" is not really an attainable goal. Sure, I'll get there eventually, but how? That's the point of setting attainable goals.

You know how to eat an elephant, right? Genealogy research may be the biggest elephant out there. Get a really small spoon, though, elephants, I mean genealogy projects, can be really tough.

Part of the "freebie" in this Freebie Friday is the idea of creating a list of goals. The goal setting worksheet (in Evernote) is so simple you don't particularly need my help to set it up. It contains three columns:

  1. person/couple the goal is for, 
  2. reference number, and
  3. goal.


Do You Need to Use a Numbering System?

I have included a column for a reference number because this is meant to be a quick worksheet. You don't have to use a numbering system, but if you are creating a list of goals, they have to be specific to a person or couple. It has to be clear who the person/couple is.

When you go to write your research plan, you will include details on the person, but the goal setting worksheet is just a preliminary step when you are short on time (as Occasional Genealogists usually are). You may not have time to access, or the ability to access, the full details for a person while using the worksheet.

There's no point recording a goal if you don't know who it belongs to. I only use reference numbers if it makes referencing the correct person easy and fast. Otherwise, describe the person sufficiently. This is a worksheet just for you but make sure your future self will understand what you've written.

How To Use the Worksheet

I want to make a few comments on ways I think this worksheet might be helpful.
  • Use it to accomplish something in a short amount of time. It doesn't require a specific order so you can just brain dump ideas for future reference. Make sure it will still be useable without any order (i.e. if it gets long, will you use it?).
  • Use it to overcome writer's block (or planning block). I often find creating a research plan either daunting or boring if I'm not in the right mindset. I know I need to do it but if it feels like too big a task, I tend to stare at my computer screen. A good research plan requires a specific research goal but sometimes I'm not sure which goal I want to work on when I know I'll only have time for one. This worksheet can get you started. You then have the advantage of being able to look over it when you need another specific goal---when you have time for another plan.
  • Inspire yourself to get better organized. This is similar to overcoming planning block. Sometimes you need to adjust how you think about a project, and that may also require reorganization. Trying to define specific goals may help you see your need to reorganize. This may not mean a different filing system; it may mean how you approach this project, or thinking about it as separate projects. There are any number of ways you might "reorganize," even if it is just in your thinking.
Here's what NOT to do with this worksheet. Don't try and list every possible goal for every possible person. Research plans are NOT supposed to be all encompassing. They will change depending on the results of research. That's part of why you need such a specific goal.

I described my "problem" as a typical project involving a whole family because that's the kind of broad project this worksheet is for. You can come up with several goals, all needing a research plan, because the research into your paternal grandfather's family probably won't affect the research into your maternal grandmother's family. Your possible reorganization may focus on research you should do first and determining how to differentiate subprojects.

If your project is fairly specific, this worksheet may not be appropriate because you may need to identify one goal to research next.

There is a research cycle that you need to follow for great research. It begins with setting a specific goal or asking a specific research question. You then create a plan for answering the question. Next do the research and take great notes. Don't forget the dreaded "reporting" step. You need to write up what you found (hint, base it on your plan to reduce the writing and to give yourself a framework). That should lead you back around to asking another specific research question and creating a plan.

I know this doesn't happen smoothly for Occasional Genealogists. This goal planning worksheet is for the reality many OGs face, insufficient time. Sometimes knowing you are short on time makes it hard to get started. This worksheet can give you inspiration to start towards a research plan. Don't abuse it, let it inspire you.
You can get a copy of the worksheet in the Resource Library (you'll need a password, click here to subscribe for free).

What part of creating a research plan do you struggle with? Leave a comment.
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 Tuesdays 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. The forms include a five-generation pedigree chart and a very basic family group sheet or family summary.

Customizable

Part of the reason these forms are in Evernote is to allow you to customize them easily. The pedigree chart probably requires less customization but requires the formatting to remain consistent. The family group sheet can be customized as much or as little as you want.

So here's some suggestions for using these forms. There isn't a right or wrong answer, though. I tried to keep these simple, so you had plenty of choices.
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

Update!

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.
or

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.


  468x60 (animated)
15 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Your Ancestors Had to Pay Taxes, Too

Your taxes aren't due today so let's celebrate with another free form. Today's form is one you can print or use digitally. You can download a copy in the Resource Library (you'll need a password but it's free to Occasional Genealogists subscribers, click here to subscribe). Historic tax lists come in a variety of types, so this is a pretty difficult generic form to create.

What I've done is give you a few questions to get you started (I'm assuming you're pretty new to tax research). For a beginner, the most important piece of information may be the type of tax/list you are using. You need to understand the purpose of the list to understand all the clues it may provide. Try to learn a bit about the type of lists you should find fbefore you head off to do research. If you don't do this, make sure you determine what kind of list you are using and make note of it so you can look up further information later.

Just a warning, if you don't know what you're looking at ahead of time, you may find you have to make another trip (or a second research session if you're lucky enough to be using tax lists online) to "finish" researching all the lists available for that time and location. However, you don't want to be looking for additional lists if they don't exist, either.

Let's take a look at how to use this form.

For All Users

How much information is requested on a tax list varies with the type of list. The laws dictating what was taxed (so what information had to be recorded) would vary, even from year to year. When there are a lot of columns, I like to use a table or spreadsheet to abstract the information (or more accurately, transcribe the information for a single person or a few people). You can adjust this form (after you've saved it) however you want.

I've given you a place for your source and the number of pages of abstracted records. Tax lists may or may not be paginated. Many are alphabetical so pages weren't always included. Make sure you record this type of detail.

You need to be sure you record any locality subdivisions, also. The digests I often use are divided into divisions within a county. Although I may be looking for a particular person or family, I go through all the sections and record any relevant people. I'm related to a lot of families in the counties where I research, and I'd prefer not to have to go back and look at the same list again. That means I have to indicate the subdivisions on my form as I go. I would list only the county in the "location" field at the top. You can choose how you want to deal with this, just don't forget to record the most specific location you are given.

I've included comments to explain the information you are supposed to record. I am never sure if these will follow your saved copy so you may want to add your own explanations.

A Printable Form

The form has a table included as a grid. If you want to use this form as a printable, just print it as is and then define the columns once you see what information you need to record. You can also alter the form to make it landscape and add more columns to fill the page. The second page can be printed multiple times if you are going to transcribe records or record a large number of people.

A Digital Form

If you will use the form digitally, you can resize the columns to fit your information. Don't forget to make the top row a header row so you know what the information means. You may also want to make the form landscape if there are a lot of columns of information.

The header and footer are different for the first page. If you find your information does take more than one page, you may want to make a significant change and include everything in the header including your table header (and make page one's header the same as all the other pages). This will give you your header rows at the top of each page. This wastes a lot of space if you'll be printing but is worth it for fully digital notes. If I was going to use a lot of tax records, I'd alter my template in this way. I wouldn't bother for one use as cut and paste would be just as fast.

Learn More

Tax lists are an amazing genealogical resource. It's not uncommon to find clues to family relationships, occasionally even direct evidence. Sometimes migration will be indicated. Even without those "high priority" clues, an abundance of information is possible from tax records. You need to learn how to milk them. A quick (free) online resource to get your started is part of the "RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees." You should then seek out information on the time and place your focus person lived.
14 April 2016

Organize Your Pins in Evernote

You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I love Pinterest. The general concept, a cork board with ideas stuck on it, works for the way my brain works (I also love Trello which is a similar concept, so check that out if you like to see everything on an idea board).

Pinterest isn't great for genealogy because it is designed for image ideas and not all genealogy ideas come with a pinnable image. Still, Pinterest is a top stop for many genealogists seeking knowledge and inspiration.

I personally use Evernote's web clipper more for genealogy material. It gives me the same abilities as pinning, but for textual material, and that's mostly what I save.

More and more genealogical material is becoming available via Pinterest (you can check out The Occasional Genealogist boards, here). This is a great way for genealogists needing inspiration ("pinspiration") and education to find and organize ideas. If you haven't tried Pinterest for genealogy, the majority of what you will find will be Pins to blog posts, just like this one, and to products that have pinnable images. That covers an awful lot of topics.

I wish Pinterest would have existed when I was an early transitional genealogist. I hunted out every free online resource I could find to learn more about genealogy. That's exactly the type of genealogy pins you see today.

So what's the purpose of this post? Not just to point out that you can use Pinterest for genealogy, but to give you an additional organizing tool you might find helpful. But first, if the Pinterest boards you've created for yourself are working just fine for keeping your information organized and allowing you to review that information when you have time, keep with that simple approach.

But I know some Occasional Genealogists (OGs) have time to pin ideas but finding them when needed or quickly reviewing them can be a problem.

There are lots of options to "organize" pins better. One would be to create more boards. You could also try an app like Pocket but that might not help (there is an interesting post about keeping Evernote clutter free using Pocket, here. If the solution I'm about to suggest isn't for you but you like Evernote, this is an alternative).

If you don't have a problem, don't look for a solution. However, if you need to organize your genealogy pins (or any pins) for better use, consider using Evernote to both subdivide your pins and combine them with un-pinnable information you've clipped.

"Wait!" you're saying, "Why would I Pin something and then save it to Evernote, that's an extra unnecessary step" (or two or three). My suggestion is to try IFTTT (pronounced like "gift" without the "g"). IFTTT stands for "If This, Then That" and that's a pretty good description of what it does.

IFTTT is a service that connects apps. "If" a chosen app does "this", the second chosen app "then" does "that." IFTTT previously called these "recipes" but now calls them "applets."

What this post is describing requires the following. You would connect your Pinterest account and Evernote accounts. When you Pin to a chosen board (or any of your boards---you choose which), you can create a note in Evernote or update a note in Evernote (in IFTTT this is called "append" to a note).

The way I have set up my app is for the pin title (with link to the pin), board name, and a link to the content to be appended into a note. Below is a screen shot.

This gives me a table of contents with clickable links so I can review the material directly from Evernote and decide what to do with it. If I want to save the full post (or whatever content the pin linked to) I can use Evernote's web clipper. This keeps extraneous material out of Evernote and saves my upload quota from being maxed out unnecessarily.

Remember, I've said this is for an OG that needs more organization. By using IFTTT, you don't have to do anything to get the link from Pinterest to Evernote once you've initially created your IFTTT app. There's no extra work there.

Once the link is in Evernote, you can review and organize the links how you see fit. That's where the extra work comes in and why you only need to do this if you have a problem.

You may want to cut and paste appended information into a new note to subdivide the information. This would be a good way to have a note of links to information on a subject you might need for reference.

You might not want a Pinterest board about doing deed research. You might like an Evernote note you can refer to, though. You can also then add additional links to other Evernote notes or online content (or even material on your computer, obviously those links will only work on that device, though).

Essentially, you can Pin ideas and automatically get a link in Evernote.

I'm using the same type of IFTTT applet to get links to pinned cooking recipes from Pinterest to Evernote. I have several recipe boards which loosely correspond to some of my Evernote tags. I search for recipes (when I'm ready to cook) in Evernote, not Pinterest.

Now I get results from both Pinterest and Evernote in Evernote so I can actually try all those pinned ideas. You can use this same type of IFTTT applet for any project or topic you are interested in.

You can use the applet I created. You need an IFTTT account and to connect your Pinterest and Evernote accounts.

IFTTT is free. There are similar services (like Zapier) that may have some different or more powerful connections available but they charge a subscription fee. Zapier does have a free option which gives you a limited number of "Zaps" (the equivalent of an applet) and limited integration of apps (for example, Evernote and Pinterest can be connected with a free account but PayPal connection requires a premium account). 

I have found the Pinterest to Evernote IFTTT applet works pretty well but sometimes there are hiccups in IFTTT. I have been unable to get my Evernote to Evernote applet (to create a table of contents based on tags) to work at all.

Since IFTTT is free, it's worth checking out, but realize, it is free, it has limitations. As an OG, you could easily spend too much time trying to get an applet to work when you'd be better off doing the task manually or not at all.

IFTTT can save you a lot of time by automating app to app tasks but it isn't perfect so don't rely on it for something absolutely essential. There are also many more apps to choose from if you don't use Pinterest or Evernote.

If Pinterest is part of your genealogy education, connecting it to Evernote via IFTTT can save you a lot of time. Once you've got your applet (or applets---for different boards) set-up, all you have to do is organize your information in Evernote so it's ready when you need it.

If you've found other ways to use IFTTT (or similar services) to automate genealogy tasks, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear how other genealogists are saving themselves time.
13 April 2016

10 Easy to Search, FREE U.S. Record Collections

Here are 10 record collections (or record types) you can search online for free and with minimal time needed. In a later post, I'll provide additional links to free online records that take longer to use (like newspaper records). That means all of these links are to databases. Some are just indexes. With those, you will need to obtain the referenced record. Some of the databases include links to the online images. Some of the digital images are free, and some require an additional payment or a subscription to a site.

1. FamilySearch.org

FamilySearch.org is free to use. It does include some links to online images at "partner" sites which are not free to use from home. If you are in a Family History Center, you will be able to access the online images for free. That being said, nearly all of the images are available for free, so this tops my list of easy and free online collections although it isn't technically one collection.
Federal census records are such a major tool for U.S. genealogists that I wanted to make sure and highlight that they could be searched for free at FamilySearch.org. This isn't my favorite way to search them as some years have an odd way of displaying making it more difficult to browse the results than search results from a site like Ancestry.com. Not all the online images are free from home as some are available via Ancestry.com or Fold3 (the previously mentioned "partner" sites). Still, if you don't have subscriptions, you can perform a search at home and go straight to the desired record when you are at a repository that offers access to the subscription sites (including many local libraries in addition to Family History Centers).

3. Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

via Steve Morse "One Step" http://www.stevemorse.org/ssdi/ssdi.html
If you're getting started with U.S. research, the SSDI is a great free tool. It is part of the paid subscription at Ancestry.com (which is how many people become familiar with it) but is available for free through the above links, and probably more.

4. Death Indexes

This isn't technically a "collection." It is a series of web pages for each state which includes links to Vital Record (death) indexes from official sources (states and counties) as well as "death" related links such as obituaries and cemeteries. It does include some links to paid databases, but most are free sites. The subscription site links are mainly to the death index databases at Ancestry.com, so this is still a great free site to check out when you are researching a person's death. Links to county/town resources are also included under each state.


5. Cemetery Records: FindAGrave and BillionGraves

It felt like cheating to make these two links in a list of 10. In addition to searching these directly, they are also included in the search at FamilySearch.org. If you want a cemetery record specifically, it's easier to search them directly. Find A Grave is also searchable through Ancestry.com if you need some additional search tools such as soundex or wildcards.

6. Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System (DAR GRS)

This is mainly a search of databases although some digital copies can be purchased online. I give an entire lecture on using this system (and that only scratches the surface), so you need to learn more to use this system. The part that is of interest to the most genealogists and is easy to search is the "Descendants" search which will search all the transcribed (yes, transcribed, not abstracted) membership applications and supplementals. The only exceptions are the very recently approved apps/sups and generations withheld for privacy reasons.

7. USGS Domestic Name Search

This is more of a tool than a record collection. It can help you identify historical places. Names that haven't been used in an extremely long time may not be included. You can use this database to try and find an equivalent modern name or place an historical location on a map.

8. Civil War Records

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm
Both of these links are to databases/indexes. The Fold3 collection includes digital images of the microfilmed index cards which may include a date of death of the soldier. You can learn a little more about Civil War pension indexes on this page.
The Soldiers and Sailors database is essentially an index to the compiled military service records for volunteer soldiers and sailors during the Civil War. It does not include any type of digital image.
For both of these collections, you will then need to obtain the record referenced to learn more.


9. Ellis Island via Steve Morse's search forms

Searching the immigration records for Ellis Island is not that easy via the EllisIsland.org website. It is fairly easy using one of Steve Morse's "one step" forms. There is a description of the different types of forms so you can choose the one for your needs (the link is to the gold form).

10. SC Department of Archives and History databases

Obviously, if you don't have South Carolina research, this link won't be of interest. However, if you need to research in South Carolina, this is a great collection of databases. Since my specialty is southern research and South Carolina research can be fairly difficult, I wanted to share this link. You can search all the included databases at once or select an individual database to search.

There's now another "10 Free" list on this blog. It includes sites that will take some more time to search. You can read that post here.
08 April 2016

Why Most People Get Stuck After Researching Online

This post is inspired by one I previously wrote for my professional blog. The original post was titled "Why Can't I Find Any New Information?" and is included at the end of this post.

At the time, I was in the midst of a lot of small projects from mostly novice researchers and I wanted to address an issue I was seeing over and over again.



I wasn't surprised most people had done some research on Ancestry.com (almost exclusively on Ancestry.com, really). Mixed in with that information was information that came from relatives or personal knowledge.

This is very common and there's nothing wrong with it. Every genealogist has to start with some information and then start researching based on that information.

Today, research often starts online. The problem was, I often couldn't tell the two apart. If you see the problem without reading further, you probably are at least attempting to solve the problem. If you don't see a problem, you need to learn to see it or you will be asking "why can't I find any new information?"

What's the Problem?

What is the problem with having "knowledge" or oral history, mixed up with "research?"

The problem is not all information is created equal. This wouldn't matter except not all information is correct, either.

If all information was correct, it would agree and there wouldn't be a problem. The only problem would be caused by genealogists themselves when they were careless and mixed up information from two different people.

If all information was correct, that wouldn't be too bad because you could just sort it into neat little piles and remove the information for the wrong person. But lots of information is "off," or incomplete, or absolutely wrong.

When you accidentally add information from the wrong person (let's call that person the "evil twin"), some information for the evil twin may match the correct information for your person, and some of your person's information may not match.

If you manage to make two neat piles of data, you might keep some information from the evil twin and throw out some from the correct person. What a mess!

Clean Up Your Mess, Before You Even Know You've Made One

My preschooler loves to sort. You'd think that would keep things from becoming a mess, but it doesn't. Sorting won't keep your genealogy from becoming a mess, either.

Citing your sources won't file your papers but it will keep your information tidy in a more important way. It's like putting a barcode on every fact so you know where it goes and what to do with it. The great thing is, with a citation, you don't need a fancy scanner. Unfortunately, you have to "create" a scanner. How?

Your "barcode"---your citation---has to be interpreted correctly by you. When you get started, your interpretation skills will be awful. Still, keep the barcode (citation) stuck on there, your skills will improve and you'll start to get really good at "scanning" your citation and extracting all the amazing information it contains.

Recently, I posted several articles about correlating (comparing) census records (here and here). You need to learn to do the same technique with other types of records. This means comparing apples to oranges, a census record -> to a birth record -> to a draft record.

If you need to determine which of those items is "correct," you'll need to "evaluate the evidence" and scan your barcode (interpret your citation).

[to learn more, Google "evaluating evidence genealogy"]

You may find one of the pieces of evidence is not for your person. This brings us back to why having your "information" and "research" all mixed up is a problem.

Why You Need It

As a professional, I have lots of "interpretation" experience. At a glance, my scanner told me some of the mixed up information in those small projects appeared to be for different people.

There are certain scenarios you know (from research experience) are possible but unlikely. When I'd come across these scenarios, and they weren't cited, I had no idea if the information came from several records found on Ancestry.com, or if the information came from personal knowledge or oral history.

You will find the same situation in your own research.

RELATED POSTAutomated Searches: Shortcut or Cheat?
RELATED POSTAutomated Searches: Dealing with the Wrong Person

Inexperienced genealogists often combine multiple suggested records from Ancestry.com (or any site that makes hints or automated searches). It's common for these records to be for different people (see the suggested posts above). Sometimes, a person does have an unusual situation that looks like online records were jumbled up. If it's clear this information was known by family, not coming from any kind of research, it's most likely correct, especially was supported by online records. Online records aren't "supported" by finding the same records a second time (once again, see the related posts above for more about this).

Research Prep for OGs

As an OG, you may find it easier to review what you've done before, rather than doing new research. A little review and prep work can have you ready to go next time you do get to research. You'll have tidied up your existing research and hopefully uncovered some new clues in the process. If you make sure you've cited everything, you will save yourself trouble farther down the road.

Below is the original post which briefly describes the steps for reviewing your existing research. It originally focused on hiring a professional. Just imagine your future, more experienced self is the professional if you'll be doing the research.

10 February 2012 Post from J.P. Dondero Genealogy Blog

If you're asking why you can't find more information on your family history, or even wondering if a professional can find more, consider using this technique critical to all professional genealogists. A research plan helps you determine where you're going, but it starts with knowing where you've been. If you're doing research yourself, you'll want to create a complete research plan for your problem. If you're hiring a professional genealogist, you should start with collecting not only information (names, dates, and places) but the sources you've used. If you don't provide sources along with the information, it is guaranteed your professional will repeat some of the work you've already done. Since you pay for the genealogist's time, you're wasting money.

Even if your research consists only of talking to relatives or looking through keepsakes from the family, you won't get as much value from a professional's time if you don't let them know what information came from these sources. If you can tie specific information to a specific source, it's even better, but at least indicating what came from talking to family versus what you found online is critical. This often answers questions raised by the professional during research.

Recently, the Barefoot Genealogist posted a nice quick article about this on the Ancestry.com Blog.
There is also a link to her recent webinar on the topic. This is a good place to start if you've never heard of a research plan before. Before you submit your information to a professional, you'll need to answer number one above and then repeat steps two and three for each piece of information you have related to what you want to know. The more specific you are, the better research your professional can do. This is true for both what you want to know, what you already know, and how you know it.
06 April 2016

Census Comparisons Continued

Previously, I posted a free census comparison (or correlation) form you could use in Evernote. In that post I said I assumed you had identified the correct family.

This is the follow-up about adjusting the form if you want to use census comparison to determine if several census records are the same family.

If you are unsure if you've found the right person, you can always "keep" a record and use correlation to see how well that person matches with the people in other records you are sure about.

RELATED POST: Automated Searches: Dealing with the Wrong Person

How "Questionable" Comparisons Differ

If you don't know if you have the right person, you will need to use other "data points." I briefly used this term in my previous post. It's not a common genealogical term but to me it is a universal term (not specific to one industry) that highlights how you are going to use the information from the census.
01 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Evernote Form for Census Comparisons

This post is a follow-up to my post about using enumerator instructions for census research. Check it out to learn about all the great information you might be missing in census records.

A great thing for Occasional Genealogists (OGs) to do when they don't have a lot of time is correlate or compare census data across years. It's something every researcher should do; it has a lot of benefit, yet can be done in short sessions. It's the perfect OG mini-project!


Census comparison is actually one of the things I used to do when I was an OG without access to records. I didn't know it was so important and I rather thought I was taking a kindergarten approach to genealogy.

I like to lay things out in tables. Before having a computer, I would have done this on a wall, all over the floor, or with art supplies; that's what made it seem like a kindergarten project.

I was lucky I had a love of tables and did this by chance because there's nothing kindergarten about correlating evidence. And there's nothing wrong with using art supplies or doing this in a physical format (instead of digitally). What's important is that you do it and retain the results (hint, the word I'm not saying is "reporting").

Since I'm featuring Evernote related posts as I get ready for my Evernote based lecture at the 2016 NGS Confernce in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in a few weeks, I'm giving you another Evernote freebie. This is really just a very simple table and as you start to understand the purpose and advantages of comparing information across years, you should modify it to fit your needs.


You can get a copy of the Evernote form in the Resource Library.
to get free access to the Resource Library.