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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.

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.

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.

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.

Looking for something you can do right now?
How about 50 genealogy tasks you can do in 15-minutes or less? Click below to get your free copy.

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

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'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).

Find Every Clue in U.S. Census Records

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.?"
The U.S. Census is full of family history clues. Use this free resource to find them all.

How did you do on the quiz?

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.

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 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.

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?

image of DNA swab test kit with text overlay Do I need a Family Tree If I Take a DNA Test?
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.

Will a DNA Test Give Me Answers?

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.

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 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 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. 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.

"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.

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.
This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure page for details.

50 Genealogy Tasks You Can Do In 15 Minutes or Less

Don't have time to read the whole post right now?

Research Planning & Budgeting for Research

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.

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.

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.

Bullet journal or DIY planner, you need a good notebook if you want to write on the go. Here are my favorites that stand up to fountain pens and markers. | The Occasional Genealogist

How to Save $$$ on Genealogy Records

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

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.
image of laptop on a bed, cup of tea and toast with text overlay 10 Free U.S. Record Collections to Search Later

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.

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

Can a bullet journal help your genealogy? Maybe the general concepts of a collection of lists is just what an Occasional Genealogist needs!

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

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? 

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 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.

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!

DAR records are a great source to use for genealogy but they can be deceptive. Here are 11 hints for using DAR records for your family history.

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.

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 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...

Sight My What?

Sight My What? How a Shortcut That Takes Time, Saves Time

"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.

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.

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!

Use Evernote for genealogy to have all your ideas ready when it's time to create a genealogy research plan.

Evernote for Genealogy: Beyond Research Plans

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?
image of a book with glasses on it, half of image is out of focus, text overlay Is Your Genealogy Knowledge Fuzzy?

Genealogy Goal Setting Worksheet

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.

Goal Planning Worksheet in Evernote for Future Research Planning. Keep track of your ideas even if you don't have time for a complete research plan.
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.

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.

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.

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].

Evernote genealogy forms. Pedigree chart in Evernote, family group sheet in Evernote

Evernote Genealogy Forms

The forms include a five-generation pedigree chart and a very basic family group sheet or family summary. All of the Evernote "templates" are available by requesting them in the form below.

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.

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, 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 You may be able to use for free at your local library. 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, 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. 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, first, before digital images became so common. If I find a database-only version, I double check for a digital image, on and via a Google search.

I can't give you an "in general" type of book you will find from 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). (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 Ebook Store, here. 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 one of my favorite sources for digital resources, the shop at FamilyTree Magazine.

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.

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 before 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" (this link won't work until finished bringing RootsWeb back online---you can also try this basic information on tax research from FamilySearch). You should then seek out information on the time and place your focus person lived.

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.

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. 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 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 Not all the online images are free from home as some are available via 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"
If you're getting started with U.S. research, the SSDI is a great free tool. It is part of the paid subscription at (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, 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 If you want a cemetery record specifically, it's easier to search them directly. Find A Grave is also searchable through 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
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 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.

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 (almost exclusively on, 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, 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 (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 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.

Resource Library Links

I'm updating the Resource Library. If a link you click to sign-up does not work, try this link instead.