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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. ...
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...
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 genealog...
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 accompli...
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. I use Ancestry.com's online trees so some features might be specific to that site. In general you can do this for any online tree (and even adapt the concept for offline). ...
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.?" 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. ...
Did you know genealogists are argumentative? I've been in this industry so long I don't know if this is something "special" about genealogists or (more likely) something you'll find in any group full of passionate people. One "hot topic" I've heard being argued is using automated searches. The example I think most people are familiar with are the "shaky leaves" that appear on Ancestry.com trees (I mean, they feature them in their t.v. ads, how can you not know about them?). 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 ...
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. 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! ...
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 ...
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. 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. ...
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. ...
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 ...
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. Here are several resources you should consider as an OG. ...
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS 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. ...
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. 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? ...
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. ...
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 no...
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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
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 ...
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? ...
I was caught by the title of today's post on Upfront with NGS . It's " Digital Estate Planning Laws -- Relevant to Preserving "Your" Digital Genealogy Assets! " The post is pretty brief and includes some links you may want to check-out. I wanted to stress the aspects of my digital genealogy records I'm concerned about. Each of us has different concerns but you might think, "I don't really care what happens to my..." Facebook account or Ancestry.com account. What's important to realize is it might not go away (I'm a little freaked out every time Facebook recommends I share something with someone that has been dead for years) BUT no one may be able to access it. The post calls this a "legal limbo" and that is probably the biggest issue most genealogists want to avoid. ...
Did you like Saturday's post ( eight tips for using the DAR GRS for genealogy --straight from my, now retired, lecture "The DAR Library for All: Near or Far, Member or Not")? If you liked that, I've got a bonus for you today! These are the hints I've always included in the lecture handout about using DAR Records for Genealogy.  These hints went with Tip #8, Use Common Sense but give you a bit more specific information if you are using DAR applications/ supplementals. If you haven't already, check out Saturday's post to get geared up to use DAR sources for your genealogy. Here are my eleven tips for using DAR records in genealogy. ...
Today I am giving one of my lectures for the last time. I am retiring "The DAR Library for All." Lucky you! That means I'm putting my top tips here. No need to wait to hear the lecture anymore. The GRS is a great free website (with some of the information being finding-aids for records you will need to pay to get, free finding-aids are much better than no finding-aids or subscription finding-aids, so don't complain!) I'm going ahead and posting this on TheOccasionalGenealogist.com because it's a great resource to go through in smaller amounts of time. It's relevant for any genealogist, occasional or frequent, though. Because the research sections of the DAR website (the tabs making up the "GRS," the Genealogical Research System ) change and are updated. I'm not including some of the information that was originally the core of this lecture. It started out as "The DAR GRS" when I lived outside Washington, D.C. My audiences had ...
"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. ...
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. ...
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! Evernote for Genealogy: Beyond Research Plans ...
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? ...
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. 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. ...
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. ...
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...
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 F...
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 sav...
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...
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 ...
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, ...
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 https://familysearch.org/search/ 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. ...
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...

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