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Setting Genealogy Goals

As I write this (which is obviously well before you're reading it), there are three weekends until Christmas. Do you think it's time to start planning for the new year?
Five easy steps will help you identify and set genealogy goals for your research. If you're short on time, these steps are perfect for you. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory #researchplanning

As an Occasional Genealogist, someone that doesn't have a lot of time for their own family history research, setting genealogy goals for the new year is vital. I've created five steps just for Occasional Genealogists so you can do more genealogy next year.

  1. Previous year review
  2. Broad interest or goal identification
  3. Refining your interests/goals
  4. Correlating your previous year review with your refinements
  5. Finalizing your resolutions/goals

Deciding what you want to focus on and what kind of time you have available are a must if you want to do more genealogy. This post will cover each step and show you how easy it can be to set achievable genealogy goals or how to adjust when a goal isn't achievable.

Let's get started!

Evernote for Digitizing Genealogy Records

Do you want to bring home copies of genealogy records to reference later? This is a great strategy to save time at a repository you don't get to visit often or even to bring home finding aids.

Maybe you know there's something you don't know. Referring to a copy rather than just your own notes can help you learn more later.

Maybe you just like keeping a copy in addition to your notes. It's not a bad idea.

But paper copies can be expensive and a pain to manage. Digital's the way to go, right? But how do you digitize records when the repository doesn't give you an easy way? And then how do you manage your digital copies (that is, how do you file them and find them again).

In my previous post, I talked about options for DIY digitization and the extremely important considerations you need to make before investing in a scanner. You might want to read that post first, so you understand why I recommend this method instead of different equipment. I'll wait while you do.

How do you digitize records when the repository doesn't give you a way? How do you manage your digital copies? | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory #Evernote #organizing

So let's dive into my method for DIY digitization.

Digitizing Genealogy Records: DIY

Last spring I wrote a post about subscription savings, digitizing records, and Evernote. It was actually a combo post of three topics/ideas that segued from one to the other but that I didn't think each had sufficient material for a post.

I'm more verbose than I thought. Now there are three posts.

Here is the "digitizing" content which stemmed from a reader question.

DIY the digitization of genealogy material. With the right tool for you, you can create digital images for your family history research. | The Occasional Genealogist

Why You Need a Genealogy To-do List

Deciding on the next action for a genealogy project can be exhausting. Is tiresome decision making keeping you from doing more genealogy or even doing any genealogy? | The Occasional Genealogist

Create a Genealogy To-do List

Can you say decision fatigue?

That phrase was actually the note I made to myself, so I'd know what this blog post title was really supposed to be about.

Is it what you expected? It's not what I expected the first time I opened the draft post after thinking of the title.

It IS the reason you need a genealogy to-do list. But I'm pretty sure I need to clarify what kind of to-do list I'm talking about.

Once we're done, you should know why you need a list and be ready to start one.
At the minimum, you should find these types of tasks on your list:
  • Planning
  • Research
  • Analyzing
  • Reporting
  • Education
  • Organization

Make Your Genealogy Skills Go Pro

How do professional genealogists accomplish so much more? Is it simply knowledge? Do they know more than you? Is it just experience? Have they been clued-in to some secret or magic formula?

The magic theory seems to be pretty popular. In fact, it seems to be the belief held by many people that hire a professional genealogist. Because that's the reason some people will give for not wanting to pay their bill, they say "I could have done this!"

Yes, you could.

If you have the knowledge, which comes from experience.

What's the secret formula to professional genealogists' success? Can you uncover it? | The Occasional Genealogist

The most under-utilized offline source you should try today

The original version of this post appeared on All relevant posts are being migrated here in preparation for that blog to be closed.

This post contains affiliate links.

Where was he born?

Why isn't he in the 1860 census?

Is this record for the same man or a different man of the same name?

These are the questions every genealogist is constantly trying to answer. Would you spend an hour identifying a record that could answer these questions? Of course you would.
This offline source can answer many genealogy questions, only if you get a copy!

Read-on and make sure to get the free checklist to help make getting this record even easier (for every ancestor it applies to).

How to Do Genetic Genealogy on the Cheap

This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure page for more information.

I know I just wrote about DNA (I'm trying to save you some money while kits are on sale!) but I just found an even cheaper way to get into genetic genealogy and it doesn't involve products that fell off the back of a van or selling vital organs. It's totally legit.

This is the cheapest way I 've found to get a DNA test, consistently. You might find a better deal from a Groupon or through GiltCity (or similar sites) but this is an option any time you suddenly NEED to jump into genetic genealogy.
DNA tests get expensive when you want to test every cousin. Save on the kits so you can test more relatives!

Cheap DNA Tests for Genealogy

Interested in DNA for genealogy?

I love using DNA for genealogy. That means I talk to a lot of people about DNA, whether they are "genealogists" or not. One thing I constantly tell people is DNA tests go on sale regularly. And right now (see update below for when is "now") is one of those sales. And this is a pretty big sale because all three types of tests are on sale at FamilyTreeDNA. (and yes, you are going to find affiliate links in this post!)

[UPDATE: This post is now updated for holiday 2017 sales. Tests do go on sale regularly so I'm leaving the bulk of the post here, as-is, for your reference.]
Do you know where to buy a DNA test for family history? That's a pretty basic first step. Here's my advice on getting started with a DNA test for genealogy. | The Occasional Genealogist

I personally recommend FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) as my top recommendation because they offer all three types of DNA tests. This includes the current most popular type, autosomal DNA, called the "FamilyFinder" at FTDNA (this is the only type of test sold by AncestryDNA, MyHeritageDNA, and is the genealogical component of the tests from 23andMe).

FTDNA also offers YDNA and mtDNA tests. It gets expensive to do all three or even two BUT...

How to Do Genealogy on the Cheap, the Right Way

Ten years.

Over ten years.

I was stuck at a 4th great grandfather for that long. Most of that time I was pretty sure who his father was. But why wasn't there any proof?

I was so afraid it was because he was NOT the father. Surely there should have been enough clues to put together (if no direct evidence). I kept chipping away at the problem. I'd squeeze in some research here and there.

It was hard. I was a student most of that time, broke and often even short on time.

Does this sound like a problem you're having? Are you stuck on one or more ancestors, chipping away, but short on money and time?

This post won't help you find more time but let's talk money.

Genealogy Newspaper Research : Saving on Subscriptions

I mentioned in last week's post that one way to save while doing more genealogy is drop a more expensive subscription in favor of a cheaper one (even if that is just a temporary option). This post is going to give you one specific example, newspaper subscriptions (paid AND free options!)

This post has been updated (into three separate posts). If you're looking for the digitization information or Evernote information, they are now their own posts.
Save on genealogy subscriptions while doing newspaper research on your ancestors | The Occasional Genealogist

Save on Genealogy Newspaper Subscriptions

This post contains affiliate links.

Alternative Subscriptions

GenealogyBank is one of my top recommendations of a "cheaper" subscription to consider (I've been a subscriber for years). Keep an eye out for savings offered through their affiliate partners (i.e. other genealogy companies or blogs). This can make this a great way to save and do more research.

The FREE DNA Tool You Need to Know

Happy DNA Day!

Are you interested in genetic genealogy? That’s genealogy using DNA testing. There is a great free tool you need to make sure you’re using.

The Free DNA Tool You Need to Know | The Occasional Genealogist #dna #genealogy #geneticgenealogy #gedmatch

Free Tool for DNA Matches

NGS Conference App +prep and planning

This just in...

The 2017 NGS Conference app is now available.
You can see details at,

I'm posting not just to make sure you know this (if you're attending the conference) but for an additional reason.

How to Save Money on Your Genealogy Subscriptions

There is really only one way to save big bucks on your genealogy subscription(s).

To get BIG savings you have to apply this method. It is a guaranteed method and probably the best way to also do high-quality research. The great thing is, even if you mess up, it can still save you money, there aren't any complicated coupons or special websites to visit.

How to save money on your genealogy subscriptions from The Occasional Genealogist.

Dos and Don'ts for Attending a National Genealogy Conference

I LOVE attending the national genealogy conferences. Essentially there are two general national conferences and one specialty national conference. However, don't overlook the large regional conferences, I'm not mentioning them because this post is specifically about the Dos and Don'ts for the two general conferences.
Dos and Don'ts for National Genealogy Conferences

No RootsTech Today

Let's get the specialty conference out of the way since this post isn't about it, specifically. The specialty conference is RootsTech. If you couldn't guess by the name, it's a technology conference. This is one of the two main differences between it and the two general conferences.

The other difference, which is why I'm not including it in this post, is it does not travel. It is held in Salt Lake City each winter/early spring (the date sometimes varies a bit and since I don't know when you're reading this, I don't want to quote you the wrong date). These issues would make my Dos and Don'ts for RootsTech different than for general national conferences.

So let's get into THIS post.


The two general national conferences are the NGS Conference and FGS Conference. They are very similar in structure, being hosted by two different national genealogy societies (the "National Genealogical Society" and the "Federation of Genealogical Societies").

Declutter Your Genealogy

Do you know how to identify genealogical clutter? Do you have systems in place to avoid creating clutter in the first place? Genealogical clutter isn't piles of physical papers. Learn how to identify and stop it!

Recently I posted on "The Lunchtime Genealogist" series about decluttering your genealogy. I found this an intriguing idea and wanted to encourage others to consider it during a short session of genealogy (their lunch break).

Aside from the obvious pile of papers, the concept of genealogical "clutter" needs more explanation, though.
Declutter your genealogy to be more productive and more efficient. Both essential for Occasional Genealogists.

I don't have all the answers about decluttering your genealogy but I think I've made a good start. My recently used genealogy files are essentially clutter-free. There is lots of clutter in other parts of my life but I've done a decent job of preventing it in my recent genealogy.

Let's jump right in with that suggestion, then.

Are You Stuck in Your Research?

Have you been doing genealogy for a while? Are you asking yourself, "why is my genealogy research stuck?" Do you need new ideas for how to find more genealogy records?
Is your genealogy research going in circles? Learn a free and easy solution in this post. #genealogy #familyhistory

Maybe you've been trying to learn more but you keep hearing the same information over and over.

Do you simply lack the time to find and read new educational material (whether books, blog posts, or articles)?

Why is My Genealogy Research Stuck?

Occasional Genealogists need education as much, if not more, than often genealogists. Your genealogy knowledge grows a lot from experience. If you don't get to research a lot, you can really be hampered by a lack of education.

Often beginning and intermediate genealogists get stuck simply because they don't know about another record type or about a technique. It's not that the records don't exist. Sometimes you've already found them. It's what you don't know that has you stuck.

When you hit a research plateau, it's probably time to learn. #genealogy #familyhistory
When you hit a research plateau, it's probably time to learn.

To make the most of your limited research time, you should try and get as much education as possible.

To make the most of your limited research time, you should try and get as much education as possible.

How to Find "More" Genealogy

At some point, you're going to need to go beyond basic genealogy education and learn some more advanced techniques. Learning about new types of records is usually pretty easy and often quite fast.

Learning more advanced techniques is a different story. It can take much longer to learn a new technique. It's easier when you combine learning and application (i.e. use your new skills and get experience). But you're an Occasional Genealogist, how will you find the time?

A Fast and Free Solution to Genealogy Brickwalls

A great resource for bite-sized, but more advanced education, are the webinars from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). If you're familiar with BCG and think their webinars aren't for you, stop! Think again.

These webinars are for any genealogists, whether they are certified, want to be certified, are just trying to improve their skills, are professionals, want to be professionals, or are just avid hobbyists.

That's right, these are webinars for hobbyists, too.

If you feel like you keep learning the same thing over and over again from magazines, online lectures, and even blog posts, give the BCG webinars a try.

The webinars are free when they're live. A few remain free as recordings. Previously the webinars were only accessible through the BCG website but now you can register (for free) for the live webinars and purchase recordings from Legacy's Family Tree Webinars.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars offers many other webinars. The BCG Webinars are most likely the most advanced. If you find them too advanced, try and find another webinar on a similar topic to help you fill in the gap between your current education and the BCG webinar.

Genealogy Education

One of the great things about genealogy is it doesn't require formal schooling. If you don't want to find yourself permanently stuck, you need to self-educate, though.

You probably need some "formal" education in the sense you should learn from a teacher/instructor, not just by reading.

Reading is the primary way genealogists have always improved their knowledge. With the Internet, now we can conveniently learn from an instructor via live and recorded webinars, classes, and even on-going education.

If you're ready to move to another level but need some quicker options or a one-stop-shop for more advanced material, the BCG webinars are a great place to start.

Looking for other educational suggestions? Check out my Genealogy Education Pinterest boards.

Is your genealogy research stuck? Try this solution. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory

Why is my genealogy research stuck? It might be a simple solution you can start on tonight! Learn about this free and easy way to bust through more genealogy brick walls in this post. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory

Research stuck? Are you sure there's more out there? How do you find more genealogy? There's a surprisingly easy way to find more family history information. Learn more in this post. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory

Finding Female Ancestors: The Importance of Siblings

The importance of siblings is a topic that can be discussed for any genealogical problem but sometimes it may be the best or only way to research a difficult female ancestor.
Finding female ancestors is hard. Use all your genealogy tools like collateral research and reverse genealogy.

How Do You Find a Woman's Maiden Name?

A Grayscale of Social Interaction

There are lots of suggestions for identifying records about your female ancestor but sometimes she just didn't create records.

Your female ancestor may not have participated in society in a way that created lasting records. Women at the extremes of society have some of the best records available.

Women very involved in social activities or social work may appear in records of those groups or in local histories. Women who defied female norms were likely to appear in court for breaking some law (this could be suffragettes or prostitutes or anything in-between, don't forget there are differences in norms and laws at different points in history).

This also applies to a certain degree if her husband was at one end of the social spectrum. A wife may be a paragon of female virtues (for the time) but she may need to apply to civil or religious authorities for help if her husband doesn't provide for the family.

This could be applying for money for food or schooling. It could also be taking advantage of a law that prevents all the family's assets (think not just a house but kitchen utensils, bedding, etc.) from being seized if the husband is in debt or owes taxes.

Cemetery Photography: The Best Supplies

This post contains affiliate links.

Supplies for an Awesome Cemetery Photography Kit

Get your cemetery photography kit together for genealogy spring break!

How do you take great photos in the cemetery?

Always Be Prepared, even if you're an Occasional Genealogist!

This post contains affiliate links. A link to my disclosures can be found in the upper right.

Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. By chance I have a post ready that's all about being prepared. No really, it's by chance.

This post suggests a system I've been thinking about. I haven't implemented it, yet. It'll take some planning on my part to get it to become reality. I do intend to share it.
Be ready to research next time you have free time!

I've been wanting to share this idea but was originally planning to implement it, first. Since I haven't done that, I'd love for you to leave a comment with ideas or questions (or you can email me). I think this idea could be a game-changer for many Occasional Genealogists (I hope it is for me).

Evaluating Evidence: Books

How do you know a genealogy source is correct? You have to learn to evaluate your evidence. It's not as easy as "this is a good source." But it's not rocket science either!

This post will help you get started evaluating evidence and determining if the information you're using is quality information. It'll do that by using books (real paper books and ebooks) as a detailed example. Books are an easy starting place to learn this skill and an often overlooked beginner's starting place in this digital world.

Determining if genealogy information is right involves learning the tested process of evaluating evidence. This post will:
  • Give you resources to learn the standard for genealogy research.
  • Explain the basic differences between asking "is this source right" and evaluating evidence.
  • Explain how to evaluate evidence found in books, an easy starting place to practice your new skill!
image with text, quote is this source correct, unquote, learn to evaluate evidence

I'm going to start by explaining why you should be using books in genealogy research. That includes why some people turn their nose up at them. This is directly related to evidence evaluation so it's an easy to understand place to start, plus potentially exposes you to sources you haven't considered, yet.

The #1 Tip to Help Anyone Use Evernote and Be More Productive

This post is a bit different because it's not genealogy specific (so if you got here and aren't interested in genealogy, no problem). Anything that can save you time is related to being an Occasional Genealogist which is why I'm including it.

Using Evernote to be more productive is great. But how do you start?

I've heard this tip many times and didn't use it until I saw how it would help me and fit in my organizing system.

More Reverse Genealogy

Last week I wrote about what reverse genealogy is and why you'd try it. Today is "Backwards Day" so I'm covering how to research backwards (as in forwards, wait... what?)
Reverse genealogy is great for cluster research, genetic genealogy, and even tough adoption cases. | The Occasional Genealogist

To recap, reverse genealogy is researching from the past to the present, the opposite direction, or backwards, from what we normally do.

Last week I mentioned some uses for genetic genealogy and traditional genealogy as well as cases where non-genealogists might want to try reverse genealogy. How to go from the past to the present is easiest to understand with traditional genealogy so I'll start there and then move to harder situations.

Finding Aids vs. Library Catalogs

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and I recently learned about a new finding aid that is appropriate to share today.

Last week Upfront with NGS shared a notice they had received about the newly released online inventory of the International Tracing Service (ITS). You can read the post (with the link to the inventory), here.

Realize this is a finding aid, not online records. If you haven't used finding aids, it's like a library catalog for a repository collection, sort of.
Do you know what a finding aid is? How can it help your genealogy research?

Some finding aids are incredibly in-depth, allowing you to identify exactly the record you want to access. Some are not even as detailed as a traditional book library catalog. There may be a catalog for the repository and finding aids, just a catalog, or just finding aids. It depends on the repository.

The level of details given in a finding aid depends on the collection and the creator and every variable that affects those two aspects. You will see in the announcement published on the link above, that it mentions "preliminary or superficial indexing." That means someone has looked at the material. The "material" could be the boxes the records are in, not the actual contents.

What's the Opposite of Genealogy?

Today is National Opposite Day in the U.S. I have no idea why. I tried to look it up and the answer was, "no one's sure." I was just looking for "__________ Day" to give me ideas to mix up the topics on the blog.

I think Opposite Day generated and important topic, "reverse genealogy."

What's the Opposite of Genealogy? from The Occasional Genealogist

What is reverse genealogy and why do you care?

First, I wouldn't say reverse genealogy is the opposite of genealogy. I won't be answering the title question, I don't know what's the opposite of genealogy, maybe hiding your ancestry? Reverse genealogy can help you if your family tried to hide their ancestry.

Let's get back to what it is, though.

Quick Reads: Recovering Lost Links, Welcoming Newbies

I often find posts I'd like to share with readers but they don't warrant me writing a whole post about them. So, I'm going to try the "round-up" style post with bits of information from around the Internet. Right now, I don't expect to publish this regularly but we'll see.

This is also a way for you to learn about other sources for information, genealogical or not.

From Up Front with NGS (the official blog for the National Genealogical Society)

NEW Chrome Extension Takes You to Wayback Machine for 404 Page Codes!!!
I've already installed this extension I was so excited about it. I'll go months without needing the Wayback Machine but lately, I seem to use it a lot.

As an example of how you might use this (if you never have)...
Not too long ago I was reviewing a post from my business blog and found one of the links no longer worked. The company blog it linked to no longer existed (they were purchased by another company). The purchasing company didn't keep the blog. I was only able to get the article through the WaybackMachine. Needless to say, I saved an offline copy.

If you've ever saved a link/URL for research and then later found it didn't work, the Wayback Machine can save you (and then you'll learn not to just save a link, time-consuming but necessary).

Three Posts to Check Out

There are three similar posts I've read recently I wanted to point you to. All three have different takes on "newbies." Not in what they feel about them (I'm listing them because all three are all for supporting new members to the genealogy community) but in the purpose of the post. They're all similar, though, in making sure seasoned genealogists aren't "that guy" that is turning newcomers away (some do it on purpose but many do it unintentionally).

If you're new (or just feel you're new), you will hopefully get the feeling you're welcome. Should you come up against someone full of negativity, you can hopefully take Jenna's advice which is why I've included it.

I had previously read Kerry's post (before Amy linked to it) and it made me stop and look more closely at my DNA matches and think about what she said.

When you're in your genealogy bubble (those moments when you're just thinking about doing genealogy, not about playing nice with others in the sandbox) it's easy to forget what you say and do can have more impact than you mean. You often feel like you're just one of the genealogists but someone else sees you as someone with experience (if you're reading this, you are probably more experienced than many of the people who have taken an AncestryDNA test, even if you're just getting started).

I appreciate the sentiments from these ladies. We've all been new at genealogy at some point. Being courteous and welcoming to those coming behind you (even if you're barely in the door) is important. It's one of the reasons I've stuck with genealogy so long. I love getting together with my fellow genealogists. It was the first group I actually felt I belonged (despite, at the time, a 20+ year age difference between me and the average genealogist).

Let’s Stop Hand Wringing About DNA and Genealogy (Amy Johnson Crow)
Genealogy Changed Dramatically in 2016. I Can Prove It. (Kerry Scott from "Clue Wagon")
Genealogy Elitism, Shake It Off This Is Your Journey (Jenna Mills from "Desperately Seeking Surnames")

Have you found an article on the Internet you'd like to share with other Occasional Genealogists? It doesn't have to be something new, just something you loved or found helpful. Share a link in the comments and briefly tell us what you liked about the article.

Cousin Baiting: What is It, Should You Do It?

Cousin baiting is exactly like deer baiting in its purpose which is why the term is used. Not from a long line of hunters? Confused?  Should you put out a pile of grandma's cookies to lure your cousins in? And why would you want cousins to come around, anyway (is that only a question with my family)?

Find distant relatives to help with genealogy projects.

Resolve to Do More Research

This post is a follow-up to last week's "resolutions" post. I suggest heading over to read it first, if you haven't.

This post is specifically about resolving to do more research, not just more "genealogy" which involves more than just research. If you want to do more research, you need a realistic understanding of what time you have available and what else you need to do genealogically. The first post covers those topics.

Research is the fun part of genealogy (if you didn't think so, you wouldn't do genealogy at all). Failing at resolutions is awful so I want you to make the right resolution for YOU. "Do more research" just isn't actionable enough.

Here's a "secret." If you do the right non-research tasks, you'll be so excited and prepared to do research, it will happen. Unfortunately, those "right" tasks are personal to you so I can't just hand you an easy list to get you to that magic point where you make more research happen. Go read the resolutions post to start thinking about what it'll take to create an actionable and realistic "do more research" resolution.

OK, at this point you've either read the other post or you're not going to, so let's talk about doing more research.
How do you create an actionable resolution to do more genealogy research? Customize it to your situation using these suggestions.

The Key to More Research but Not the "Do More Research" Resolution

Resource Library Links

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