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Last-minute activity for your Thanksgiving gathering

Today I have two printables for you to use at your Thanksgiving gathering. They are simple questionnaires for all the attendees. These are simple genealogical questions but they are intentionally flexible so you can adjust them to fit your gathering.
Need a quick Thanksgiving activity for kids and adults? Why not get some family history information (even from non-family) at this year's Thanksgiving. | The Occasional Genealogist


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!


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).

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.

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.

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.

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).
colorize-it.com

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.

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.

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