about me
blog author
Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

Read These Posts First

Posts contain affiliate links. See my disclosures page for details.


My Recommendations

Below are my favorite or recommended genealogy resources. Most of these are items I use/have used but some I've included to cover those of you with different types of research from me. Enjoy!

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

Genealogy Software

I don't especially like recommending software because you need to find what works for YOU. I mostly don't use software. I use Word Processing software (Word)---I do use trees at Ancestry.com to keep details lineage linked and specifically for DNA matching---but I do NOT use this as my primary way to keep track of information. I write reports.
With that being said, if you are new and have no idea where to start (or need to start over, I used to use The Master Genealogist which isn't currently updated, so I understand)...

  • RootsMagic - this has really gained in popularity over the years and is used by some top-notch genealogists. From such a person (via a lecture) I learned about the "research notes" feature which is exactly what I need from a software program. This fit what I needed, it may not be what you need so consider the next two options, also.
You can try out RootsMagic and Legacy, and even use them, for free. They offer versions with limited features which is great if you're starting out. You can then purchase an upgrade (when you're ready) and simply upgrade from within the software without having to re-enter any information.
  • Legacy Family Tree - I have never used this software long term (I recently compared it to RootsMagic and it didn't work as well for ME, if RootsMagic isn't working for YOU, try Legacy). This is an excellent software that used to be a top choice for serious genealogists because of it's strength in citations. It hasn't come down in that regard, others have just realized they had to up their citation offerings so there's more competition, now.
  • Family Tree Maker - not my favorite as a research tool but I love being able to download my Ancestry.com tree and manipulate the pedigree charts for a report. The new color coding feature is great. However, I don't think either of these are unique to FTM. Since the newest release, I haven't had a chance to compare across the board but I have used this software in the past (when it was the only way to download your Ancestry.com tree to a software program).

Books (for various levels, in reverse order)

  • Mastering Genealogical Proof - You need to get to the point where this is an appropriate level for you. It is NOT a beginner book (it does have exercises you can do which is very helpful). Check it out at your local library (if it can't be checked out, see if it seems overwhelming before buying it). If it is too hard for your current level, consider...
  • The Sleuth Book for Genealogists - this is the book that took me out of the beginner level (so once again, not for beginners but a good book to check out if you are trying to further your skills). It's very approachable.
  • The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy - If you're wondering where your skill set stands, read through this book. I discovered this book after The Sleuth Book but it should be the book that completes your "beginner" education and takes you to intermediate. (Or buy it from Genealogical.com, here).
I don't have a single "beginner" book to recommend. Everyone starts a different way. It might be blog posts or webinars, a relative or family manuscript. If you started with a book, try webinars or classes. If you started with in-person classes, try webinars and books. If you started with webinars, try in-person events. Instead of seeking a core beginner book, look to diversify your knowledge (including your "instructors"). There's the most variety of sources available for beginners so take advantage of it.

I have a list of my favorite genealogy books at Amazon if you're looking for something other than the recommendations below.

Genetic Genealogy

  • The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy - if you want to get started using DNA or only have a cursory knowledge, this is a good foundational guide.
  • Family Tree DNA - this is my favorite DNA testing company.
  • MyHeritage DNA - The newest entrant into the main arena of DNA testing keeps climbing my "best place to test" list. It doesn't beat FamilyTreeDNA because MyHeritageDNA only offers autosomal DNA (not YDNA or mtDNA which can still only be purchased from FamilyTreeDNA). MyHeritageDNA mixes the best of FamilyTreeDNA (swab test, chromosome browser) with the best of AncestryDNA (family trees). Their pricing is very competitive which also helps!
  • GEDmatch and DNAGedcom - free sites to get additional tools for analyzing your results. GEDmatch is really a must.
  • AncestryDNA -  I wouldn't recommend AncestryDNA (simply because they offer so few tools) except they have the largest pool of testees. If you have more than one person tested, consider having someone tested here to take advantage of all the potential matches (and potential linked trees).
    [you can order an official kit via Amazon and potentially save the shipping cost AND get any current sale prices, a sale just ended as I write this and the price is more than via Ancestry.com but might still be cheaper with the savings on shipping, price-compare your DNA kits!]
  • 23andMe - if you're interested in the health testing aspects of DNA testing, this is your company.
  • Genetic Genealogy in Practice - this is laid out like Mastering Genealogical Proof with exercises and is NOT a beginner guide. If you want to test your skills (or take them to the next level) this is the book for you.
  • In-person lectures/institutes - if you're serious about genetic genealogy, you need to find the money to attend some top notch in-person events (this advice is only for those who are serious). It doesn't have to be a lot of in-person events.
    Consider an institute which may be cheaper than a conference due to the difference in housing costs and will provide much more in-depth instruction---one institute may be what you need instead of four or five conferences.
    If the cost of in-person events is a big issue, aim for one intermediate level (or higher) institute course. Get your foundational education any (cheap) way you can and save up for that one course (of a week or more).
  • In-person education - if you aren't serious about genetic genealogy but want to learn more, in-person education can really help (it can clarify things for you in ways a book or webinar can't). If it's in your budget, in-person may be an easier way to learn about using DNA. If it's not in the budget, of course you should save up for a topic you are serious about.

Citing Sources

Online Research

  • FamilySearch - it's free. You should learn to use it before you learn to use Ancestry.com. It's free! You also need to keep up with the changes happening between now and 2020 as you should be able to start planning much more affordable research trips (to your local Family History Center at the furthest) or do much more online. Even if a record isn't on FamilySearch, you can learn about it there. Did I mention it's free?
  • FindAGrave - you should be using this free site but you should also understand the limitations (is that information what someone thinks is true or is it from a record?)
  • Fold3 - this can be your gateway to a whole new realm of records. Become familiar with it. I often use it before visiting (or ordering records from) the National Archives.

Tech Tools

  • Excel - my go to for my personal research log. I use Excel for all sorts of things including DNA analysis. I've found Google Sheets does not work for me for my log, it has yet to add some of the features I rely on (although in general I love Google Docs).
  • Word or Google Docs - what I use (most of the time) instead of family tree software.
  • Smartphone - how I photograph documents (when I finally get to research in-person!).
    [Note: I used to digitally copy records for clients at the National Archives, for that, which was nearly all day, I did have a nicer camera I put on the Manfrotto Magic Arm with Super Clamp. The camera connected to my laptop so I could sit and work---much easier on the back. The software is no longer available so good thing I no longer do that work. I do still take the camera and stand when I visit the National Archives but many repositories, including the Georgia Archives, don't allow any type of camera stand or tripod so I don't rely on it. If you have a major project or physical limitations, you might find the Manfrotto products worth the money.)
  • IFTTT - I use the Evernote camera to photograph documents and I have an IFTTT applet that automatically saves a copy of the pictures to Dropbox (because I don't store my research in Evernote). IFTTT does a million other techy things, too.
  • Password manager - I hope you know you should use a different password for each website for increased online security. But who can manage that! That's what a password manager is for. I've found it actually makes my life easier because I can log-on faster on my less-used devices/services. I use LastPass because it works with my Chromebook. However, I liked Dashlane better on my smartphone (both work on my phone and iPad, Dashlane was just easier---but it didn't work at all on my Chromebook). Both offer free trials so you can try it before you buy it (and do in case one doesn't work on one of your devices!).

More Things to Do

  • Attend webinars. FamilyTreeWebinars are great. Did you know the Georgia Genealogical Society offers a free (not Georgia specific) webinar once a month? Which leads to...
  • Join your local genealogy society. Attend lectures (often free), read the newsletter, make crazy genealogy friends. Depending on the society, they may offer more.
  • Join big name genealogy societies and read their journals. This is a lot cheaper than attending a conference so why aren't you doing it? Although NGS doesn't offer online records, you get a discount on a variety of genealogy "things" in addition to the amazing NGSQ. The discount includes a number of books I've recommended as well as a discount on conference attendance. NEHGS has online records at AmericanAncestors.org (but it's still very New England heavy---if that's your ancestors, join).
All of these are things an Occasional Genealogist can do. You don't have to do everything every week or even every month. If you are confused or feel like you're stuck, your solution is probably education. That can be a book, lecture, blog post, institute, journal, conference, or just a chat with more experienced genealogy friends.

With a bit of extra education, you'll be ready to make a plan, do some research, write the report, get it into your software and start the process over for the next problem. That's how genealogy works.