Free Educational Tools for Genealogists – Beginners through Advanced

Ugh I hit a brick wall! How do I even begin to trace my family tree when it seems so overwhelming? Whether you are starting the process of uncovering your past or hitting a brick wall as a more advanced genealogist, there are wonderful tools out there to help. One of the best is Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Legacy Family Tree Webinars are offered every Wednesday and sometimes on Fridays as well. They are absolutely free! Not only do they offer free webinars abut they give away wonderful door prizes at the end of the Wednesday webinars – everything from guides to books to software to webinar memberships. They do offer a membership level for $9.95/month or $49.95/annually. The membership allows you to go back and watch over 500 hours of educational webinars, gives you the syllabus for the webinar, and discounts.

So you’re ready to learn from a free webinar, what now? Go to https://familytreewebinars.com/ and see what they have to offer. I wrote about books last week. Check out Lisa Louise Cook’s “Google Books: The Tool You Should Use Every Day” in mid-July. Great clues to help in tracing your ancestors back further come from Mary Hill’s “Southern States Migration Patterns” in mid-October. The webinars offer everything from general topics like using censuses in Mary Kircher Roddy’s “Censational Census Strategies” to more specific topics like Charles Fritz Juengling’s “Beginning Danish Research” or Jane Wilcox’s “New York City and State Government Vital Records”.

Maybe there is not a webinar that you are particularly interested incoming up, but you just can’t wait  to start learning. You’re not sure yet if membership is right for you, because let’s face it researching your family tree can be financially daunting with so much being offered out there. Great news, there are some free webinars out there at https://familytreewebinars.com/archived_webinars_free.php. A great free tool for researching is familysearch.org. If have not yet started using it, or even if you have and want to make sure you are using all the tools it has available, Devin Ashby offers “How to Use FamilySearch.org for Beginners”. Maybe you are interested in using GenealogyBank, a paid subscription, but are not sure your money will be well spent. Check out Tom Kemp’s “GenealogyBank – The Power of Finding Our Ancestor’s Stories”.

Legacy Family Tree also offers a free downloadable copy of their family tree software with the newest being Legacy 9.0. Of course, there are webinars to each you how to use it!

Legacy Family Tree Webinars are a great learning source, but there are many more out there which are free as well. North Carolina Genealogical Society has offered free webinars in using the State Archives. AmericanAncestors.org also offers a variety of free webinars in addition to their paid ones. Most who are researching their family line use Ancestry.com. There are quite a few videos on YouTube that will lead you through the process of using Ancestry that are from Ancestry.

No one can hope to successfully trace a family line without learning about the tools that are out there. Start with these free resources to make your own search more enjoyable and more productive.

 

Turning the Page to Books

The other day I was speaking to someone about the most fascinating book I had just read. She was all ready to plug the name of the book and the author into her Kindle when I mentioned it was a history book. It’s not often that we think of books about history as something we would want to take the time out to read.  History books are often thought of as the textbooks we had to read in school.

“The Private Lives of the Tudors” by Tracy Borman is far from the “average history book”. Dr. Borman flawlessly weaves historical facts into a “I can’t put this book down page-turner”. While most of us think we know at least some of what happened in the lives of Henry VIII, his wives, etc., this is by far the most eye-opening look into the reality of the court. It goes to the very core of what we want to see and to pass on regarding our ancestors. Simply stating dates of birth and dates of death, places lived, names of spouses, and children is honestly not very fascinating. What is fascinating is to learn about who they were as people, what their everyday lives were like, what made them an individual. Dr. Borman brings the Tudors to life recounting what childbirth was like, what food they ate, what their clothing was like, and what everyday life was like. Word formation was very popular during the Tudor times. Hundreds of new words, many that we use to this day, were created during the Tudor reign. Dr. Borman speaks to this and tells of the meaning behind some of the words which is incredibly interesting. Not only is a picture created about how the Tudors lived, but also of how the “commoner” lived. “The Private Lives of the Tudors” is a excellent journey into British life in the fifteenth into the early sixteenth century.

While not everyone’s ancestors have incredible stories we can read about like the Tudors, each one of them has their own story. I encourage you to delve into the world of books. Seek out any books that may have been written about your family. While a book may not have been written about your ancestors, books are out there telling the story of the times in which they lived. In order to truly understand out ancestors, we need to learn about the way things were for them – what kind of jobs did they have, what pastimes were favored, etc. I also encourage you to start writing your story for your descendants. Write about your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and paint a picture of what life was like growing up and now. Be sure to include pictures of family as well as family heirlooms, houses, etc. What is the story of that old trunk you have in the attic? Did it float down the river during the Civil War? Dates, places lived, names of spouses and children are needed, but these facts in themselves do not paint a picture of who our ancestors were.

“Fast Food” Genealogy and the Internet

I am dating myself here, but I remember spending hours in the library while I was in school going through card catalogs to find the book that I needed for information. It was arduous, but I like to think that it at least taught me something about patience. It wasn’t just combing through the card catalog but then trying to find some little detail I needed from the book.

Today, we have so much more at our fingertips which is certainly wonderful. I can easily look for newspaper articles about a piano recital where my mother was performing in the sixties and save it to my files. I can upload birth certificates, obituaries, etc quite easily. The Internet is certainly a wonderful tool and has saved me thousands of dollars in travel expenses as I do not have to journey from North Carolina to Texas or to Great Britain to obtain documents.

Of course, it’s not a complete bed of roses. With easy access, also comes impatience and sometimes frustration. We want the answer and we want it immediately even if the answer is not the correct one. This is what I call “Fast Food” Genealogy. It is one of the hardest things to avoid especially for those new to the field. We’re so used to getting things quickly. How many times have you driven through a fast food restaurant because it’s quick and easy, not bothered to check your meal at the window saving time, and then arrived at home to discover your order was far from correct? Although the Internet is phenomenal for gaining access to so many tidbits of information, we still have to be careful.

That said, there are some wonderful tools that can help when we are stuck hitting a brick wall. For example, Facebook, yes Facebook, is a great tool for assistance. Say that I am here in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I need a picture of a gravestone in Clifton, Texas that is not on findagrave.com. I could drive the 16 hours to get there or hop on a plane. However, economically, that is not feasible. Within genealogy groups on Facebook such as Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness or Genealogy! Just Ask! among others, there are kind people out there who will volunteer to take that picture for me. One caveat is to use these groups wisely for very specific reasons. The groups are not for use for someone wanting a freebie when researching their family tree. I have seen that a few times. For example, there was one post (I have changed the details included) that went as follows: “My great grandmother, Sally Smith Brown, married to William Brown in 1899 in Boston, had 4 children – John, Abigail, Thomas, and Vivian. I’m looking for the names of William’s and Sally’s parents.” A request such as this is not the same as ordering fast food at a restaurant. No one can just type the request into ancestry.com, familysearch.org or similar sites to get that quick and easy answer.

Although technology has advanced well beyond spending hours in the library thumbing through card catalogs and poring over books, that patience of yesteryear needs to stay in place. We also need to remember not to leave books behind us. There are many out there that are invaluable to the genealogist. It is important to not only have resources on how to properly cite our research, to see examples of early American handwriting,to have lists of sources on a particular state, etc., but to also learn of the history of our ancestors. In order to truly tell their story, we need to understand the times during which they lived. In my next several posts, I will be addressing how books are still relevant and how they can help the genealogist.

 

Journey into Genealogy

Why Genealogy?

My own family tree dates back to Queen Boadicea of Ithaca who died in about 60 AD. The tree travels through several royal trees to John Price who migrated from England to Henrico County in the 1600’s. We are fortunate to have a very large framed family tree that was kept to show out lineage to include Napoleon Bonaparte.

History is incredibly fascinating and takes it turns and twists along the way. What would my long ago ancestors think about  their family eventually intertwining with a completely different lineage – poor blacksmiths from Scotland? My paternal line was researched by my cousin Meade Ramey. She was an incredibly fascinating woman. She was fluent in seven languages and could have pursued a very lucrative career. Instead, she chose to devote her life to our family history. She would take on a minimum wage job just long enough to earn enough money to finance a trip to Europe. One trip took her to France where she dined with the last living Bonaparte. One trip took her to England where she dined with dukes and duchesses. Through her work, she was able to supply us with genealogically sound proof of our lineage.

As a young child, I was fascinated with the work that she had completed. Many years later, I am happy and proud to say that I am following in her steps in some ways. I am not fluent in any languages other than English and will not likely travel as she did, but I do hope to fill in the gaps in my maternal line. According to family stories, my maternal line leads directly to Scotland and poor blacksmiths who came to the United States to own land and for more opportunities in the New World. Although I have a hint as to where this line originated, no one has completed the necessary research to support this claim. In fact, this line of our family was always very private with very little sharing of information about our history.

Family stories can be a great starting point to discover one’s past, but they are not always accurate. For example, my paternal grandmother long claimed that she was part Cherokee, enough so that my father should have qualified for free college tuition. This story was not substantiated through any research and did not have any genealogical proof.

Substantiating a line through genealogical proof is a very long and painstaking process. There are wonderful tools that do make this process easier today with the Internet and pages such as ancestry.com. We now have access to birth records, death records, census data, etc. that was only available by travelling to libraries in my cousin Meade’s day. Even with that access, sometimes one must still travel to obtain documents as not everything in available online. Everything much be verified to ensure that the person thought to be a relative indeed is one. For example, my grandfather’s name was John Brown. One must be sure that it is the correct John Brown. This can be done generally through gathering a lot of evidence through census records, comparing age, occupation, location, etc.

I hope you enjoy this journey into history and all that it has to offer. I hope that it gives you the inspiration to find your own past.