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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.

Census Comparisons Continued

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

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

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

Correlate census information to further your family history research.

RELATED POST: Automated Searches: Dealing with the Wrong Person

How "Questionable" Comparisons Differ

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

Evernote Form for Census Correlation

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

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

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

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

Resource Library Links

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