google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist

Want to Build a Family History Legacy Book

Do You Want to Shape Your Genealogy into Shareable Stories?

At some point you may find yourself asking the question, what do I do with all my research? You might recognize that no one else in the family is interested. They don’t want your books and binders filled with a lifetime of research. As genealogists, this makes us a little sad. But it doesn’t have to, the problem is not that they aren’t interested, the problem is in how the information is being presented to them.

We need to be realistic about our research.  Your family doesn't want your research notes. They want stories. They want your research shaped into to something that is a little easier for them to digest. A story, a collection of stories, a family history book, anything but the raw data saved in a binder. They want it linked together, they want to understand the meaning behind it. They want to connect with their ancestor.

So how do you shape your research into shareable stories?

Learns the skills

Now I get it. You’re not a writer. You’re a researcher. So how do you do you write these shareable stories? Well, just like you've learned genealogy and how to uncover the information of your ancestors you can learn to write. It’s not a natural gift reserved for a few. While it’s true some are born with the gift of prose, the rest of us must learn the craft. You can learn to take the facts and shape them into shareable stories. Don’t dismiss writing your ancestor’s stories because you lack this knowledge. Invest some time and learn how to write stories.

Create a Regular Writing Practice

When you begin to incorporate writing into your life on a regular basis, it will become a part of your routine just like your research. It should be another tool in your genealogy toolbox that you will be using on a regular basis to transform your research into consumable stories. If you wait until you finished 20 or 30 years of research before you begin writing, you’ll find yourself completely overwhelmed. Incorporate a regular writing practice, right from the beginning, and you won’t find yourself overwhelmed with shaping a lifetime of research into stories.

Focus on One Ancestor, One Story

Often we are overwhelmed about where to start, or we think that writing our family history means we have to write it all, every ancestor, from the earliest we can place our ancestors to present. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our family history is a collection of lives that intersect and collide. But we don’t have to have all the research before we begin to write. We only need to start with one ancestor and one story. Don’t overwhelm your readers or yourself. Star with one individual story, improve your writing skills with each story.  Give them a single story they can enjoy and connect with and leave them wanting more.

The Family History Writing Challenge

The place to start your family history writing journey is with The Family History Writing Challenge. Choose one ancestor, one story and join us beginning February 1st. We help you to learn the craft of writing family history stories, and throughout the 28 days, we will show you how to establish a regular practice of writing your ancestors stories.

The Family History Writing Challenge provides you with 28 daily emails we call the Daily Dose.  In our Daily Dose emails, you are presented with information on how to write exciting and entertaining stories in the form of narrative nonfiction. You are offered inspiration and the motivation to stay committed for the 28 days.

You’re not going to write all your ancestor’s stories in 28 days. Even if you only write one story about one ancestor, the act of committing to writing that one narrative over 28 days will be your catalyst and window into a new world. A world where you can see how writing your family history stories can be a new stage in your genealogy journey. It’s also the link, that missing piece required to connect your family with their ancestors. It can be the start of assembling your genealogy legacy.

It's Free

The Family History Writing Challenge is free. The only cost is an investment of your time and commitment. When you sign up for The Challenge, we will start by sending you some emails on how to get started. Free articles to read.  For those of you who require a more structured system for organizing yourself for writing, we offer tools such as The Challenge Prep course or our workbooks.

Daily Dose Emails 

On February 1st, we will begin to send you our Daily Dose emails. These emails are meant to offer you insights into writing narrative nonfiction, hopefully helping you to develop your writing as you write each day. We will also motivate you to stick with a daily schedule so that you can create good writing habits and continue to write after the Challenge is over, make writing a regular part of your genealogy life.

Private Facebook Group 

Also, if you want to interact with myself and other Challenge members during these 28 days, you can join us on our Private Facebook group. Members can ask questions, share some their writing and get some feedback if they desire.

Are you ready to shape your genealogy into shareable family history stories? If not now then when?
Join The Family History Writing Challenge, we'll help you get started today. 

Refocus Your Genealogy for 2018: 10 Steps with Templates

The New Year is here, and I love this time of year to take stock and refocus my genealogy research. 

How did you make out in advancing your family history goals in 2017?

Did you fall short?

Maybe, life got in the way, perhaps you became frustrated with too many brick walls, or you found yourself chasing your tail because you didn’t have a research plan. This year, let’s revive and refocus our genealogy research with a strategy that will help you stay focused on getting results.

It’s not enough to have research goals if you don’t have a plan. If you really want to meet with success in 2018, you need to not only identify your research goals but put together a plan for achieving those goals.

Instead of aimlessly researching via surfing the Internet hoping a missing piece of the equation will magically appear let’s create a plan that will get you results and fill in those missing gaps.

Step 1. Identify the gaps in your research. We can’t identify a plan if we don’t know the goal. We need to determine precisely what it is we are looking for in our research. The best way to do this is a combination of a pedigree chart, group sheets, and a timeline. Pedigree charts will help you identify missing lines and ancestors. Group sheets will help you to identify missing information about family members while timelines can help you get very specific about what is missing in the timeline of an ancestor’s life. Timelines are an incredibly useful tool for helping to see the big picture of an ancestor’s life and to help you identify those missing gaps. A timeline can help you to re-frame your information to help you to see your research from a different perspective.

Step 2. Create a Master Research List –  Create a list of ancestors you wish to focus on for 2018. I would keep the list to about 7-10 ancestors. Researching too many ancestors at one time only ends in frustration, not giving quality time to anyone. Download your Master Research list

Step 3. Set up Quarterly Goals – If your research list is long, it can become quite overwhelming. Most times we tend to jump around in our research and not stay focused on a line or ancestor. We don’t want to research all top 10 ancestors at once. Let’s break down your 2018 goals into quarterly goals, identifying about 3 ancestors that you plan to work on in the first quarter of 2018.

Step 4. Re-Organize – Re-organize your research files for the 2-3 ancestors you identified for the first quarter of 2018. Perhaps invest in a new software program and organize your family history files into that new software program. The process of organizing your records can help to clear the chaos and refocus your research. It is also is a great time to take another look. I created what I like to call The Gap Sheet. It identifies the missing pieces. Fill one out for each ancestor from each ancestor on your master list. 

Step 5. Take Another Look – It continues to amaze me how taking a second or third look at a document can suddenly reveal new information you never saw as relevant before. Don’t be naive in thinking that you have grasped everything possible from a record. Take another look at the documents for your 2-3 ancestors that you are focused on in your first quarter of 2018.

Step 6. Create an Original Records List – How many documents in your research are original? How much of your information is being derived from transcriptions or abstracts? You may not be getting the full story if you are relying on abstracts or transcriptions. Make a list of missing originals and make 2018 the year you seek them out. It might just help you open some new doors in your research. At the very least, the original will confirm your current findings. (stay tuned for a more in-depth post)

Step 7. Research Collateral Lines – Collateral lines means spending some time researching your ancestor’s siblings. Looking to the siblings of the ancestor in question may unveil family information in their records that are not available in your ancestor’s records. Perhaps revealing some new information. (stay tuned for a more in-depth post)

Step 8. Expand Your Knowledge – Brickwalls can sometimes be the result of a lack of knowledge about a specific research area. You may lack information about record sets available and where they are held or how to read them. You might not have an understanding of a culture or geography of an area that may affect the creation of individual records. Attend a conference, take a genealogy class at your local archives or hop online and attend a webinar that features a topic specific to that ancestor. Expand your knowledge of records, resources, and history of an ancestor’s place and time, and you’ll start to tear down that brick wall.

Step 9. DNA Testing. Reach out to descendants of an ancestor and see if they will take a DNA test. DNA testing is a great way to prove or disapprove family lines where no records may exist. Consider joining or starting a DNA Surname Study, to help take your research to the next level.

Step 10. Take a Field Trip - If you only research online from your armchair, you’re missing out. Perhaps it’s time to take a trip to an ancestral hometown; it’s the perfect way to revive your research. Sometimes, a simple field trip and a change of environment are all that’s needed to rejuvenate and refocus your research.

Repeat Steps 3-10.  Each quarter, choose three ancestors from your master list. Keep the 4th spot open for one ancestor from the previous quarter that may be proving fruitful, and you’re not prepared to move on from yet.

Follow this pattern for the year,  and by the end of 2018, you’ll have covered 7-10 ancestors with a clear and focused approach.

How to Research on for Free

We all know that is one of the leading and largest databases for researching your ancestors. It can save you a lot of time in obtaining information about your ancestors and the documents you require. But it comes at a cost. No matter how you shake it out, there is a cost to researching whether it's time or money. I realise not everyone can afford an ongoing yearly subscription to Ancestry.  If funds are tight, here are 4 ways you can access Ancestry without spending a dime. 

Visit Your Local Library

Many local libraries offer free access to Ancestry. While not convenient as sitting in your pyjamas at home it certainly can help you save some money. Give your library a call and make sure they have available for patrons. You might find they also have access to other genealogy databases in addition to Make sure you download any information you find to a jump-stick to take home with you.

Watch for Free Weekends often has free research weekends. You can research for free all weekend without having to pay a dime. Best to be organised and have a research list ready so you can make the most of your weekend. Most times these free weekends fall on holiday weekends, Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc. Keep your eyes open for them.

Take Advantage of the 14 Days Free Trial Period

When you sign up for an ancestry account, you get a free 14-day free trial period. You will have to offer up your credit card information to get the free 14 days. However, if you can’t afford the subscription fee you can cancel the account on say day 12 or 13 you won’t be charged and you will have researched for 12 days for free. Again, I recommend having a research list ready so that you can make the most of your time. Perhaps, after using Ancestry for that length of time, you’ll see its value and scrape a few dollars together. By the way, I’m not an affiliate of Ancestry, so I get nothing out of singing their praises.

Free Index Collection

One of Ancestry’s best kept secrets is their Free Index Collection. In the Free Index Collection, you can search for your ancestors for free, and you don’t need to hand over your credit card information.  I haven’t been able to come up with an accurate count of how many indexes are in the collection, I’ve seen anywhere from 1400 to 2000 individual indexes and collections. That is quite a bit to get you started.

 Their Free Index Collections page offers you the ability to search for free.  The page provides a section to put in your search criteria followed by a long list of indexes it will search. Note that some indexes have beside them “free index” while others say “free.” The difference being, the “free index” will only allow you to access to the index to see whether your guy or gal is listed. To view the image you will have to subscribe. You will not have access to the original image. However, those listed with ‘free’ beside them will provide access to scanned copies of the documents.

There you have it, 4 options for researching for free. Happy Researching.

3 Options for Organizing Your Genealogy with Shopping Lists

(This post contains affiliate links)

Ask anyone who has spent years researching their ancestors and they’ll tell you one of the best things you can do for yourself as a beginner is to start with a good organisational system for all the records you’re about to acquire.

It’s easy to get excited about the research and your finds and not take the time to file and organise your research properly. Trust me I know. I’m still digging out from not investing in a good system. So don't end up like me, organising 15 years in. 

And yes, investing is the right word. You need to spend a little money to have the right tools available to you to file and organise your paper as you acquire them. If the supplies aren’t easily available to you, and you don't have a  system in place you simply won’t do it.  You'll have one of those I’ll get to it moments. Twenty years later, you're drowning in an unorganised mess. Trust me, it happens in a blink of an eye.

So make an investment in some supplies up front.

How do you know what you need? That will depend on the method you choose to organize your research. 

There are basically three ways you can organise and store your genealogy, with binders, a hanging file folder system or archival boxes. I worked in an archive with a curator for a few years, and I fell in love with archival boxes so that is my go to, but the choice is yours. 

There are essentially two systems you can look at to organise your genealogy files, one is by surname, and one is by accession.

What is Accession Organization?

Let’s suppose you have a 1900 Census record that lists your great-grandfather, his wife and children. With an accession system, the document becomes the focus as opposed to the people in a surname based filing system.  You give the census record a number. For example, CR1900-123, then you create an index, and you link all your ancestors in that census record with that ID number.

This is a great system if you have a number-based brain. Not me. I’ll opt for the surname system. Let’s take a look at it.

Surname Organization
For most people organisation of their genealogy happens by surname, it seems the most logical. Start with the surname and then you can organise within the surname file by the individual. Another option is to organize by the couple. 

The Tools You Need
There are three options for organizing your files. The tools you need may vary slightly depending on the one your choose.

Option #1 - Hanging Files

What You Need for This System
Hanging file tote

Option #2 - Binders 

What You Need for this System
This is probably the cheapest method to get started


Option #3 - Archival Boxes

What You Need for this System
Archival boxes (they come in a variety of sizes start with a couple) 
Acid-Free Paper    Pick up a couple of sizes like 8 1/2 x 11 and 11 x 17. 

Tip: Regardless of which system you use an inventory sheet is a great tool to put on the front of your file folder, binder or archival box so that you can give a quick look and know exactly what is inside. Saves a lot of time searching.

What is the Best Genealogy Software?

I get asked this question all the time. My answer is always the same…it depends. It depends on you, your skills, and what you are looking for in a genealogy software program.

But how do you know what you are looking for in a software program if you’ve never used one before? It’s like buying any major purchase in your life, your first home, your first car, you don’t know what works for you until ten years into your first home, and you realise some things just don’t jive with your lifestyle. You find yourself shopping for a new home. It’s a learning curve.

We often purchase software early on in our research journey generally for organising and preserving our research. It’s usually not until we are further into our research that we begin to look for more from our program and realise the software we purchased isn’t capable, and we start to consider other options. Now replacing your genealogy software isn’t as expensive as replacing your house but it still can be an inconvenience.

Let’s look at some of the important features we should contemplate before choosing our first genealogy software program. Determine which of these items on the list are important to you and start by comparing those items between the various programs.

Charting - Look for software that can chart your family tree. Charts and forms can vary widely between programs from 4 charts to 25 charts. If charts and forms are important to you, then you’ll want to compare this feature.

Audio – What are the audio capabilities? Can the program save an oral interview or audio notes?

Video - Can your software store a video recording of say perhaps an interview or family event?

Share with others – Is it important to be able to sync your information with your online tree or share with another genealogist? A feature not all programs are capable of performing.

Connect to the web – Can you log in to the web from within the program?

Import online sources-  Do you want to import online sources to your program?

Web hints – Some programs will offer you hints from the internet. Is this important to you?

Same-Sex Marriages - While all the programs can handle multiple marriages they cannot all handle same-sex marriages. Is this important for you?

DNA results – A growing aspect of our genealogy research you may want a program that allows you to record DNA markers allowing you to map and hone in on where your ancestors came from.

Automatic Age Display – This is a convenient feature. Not all programs offer it in which case you’ll have to do the math.

World Map – Some programs allow you to plot family events on a world map. This can be a nice visual feature you may want in your software.

Privacy options – Genealogy software programs can offer a variety of privacy options.  It is important to you spend some time comparing the privacy options in each program.

Citation and Organization – One thing they all got right is offering proper citation and organisation, they should, since this is at the heart of genealogy software programs. You generally shouldn’t have to worry about this feature.

Video Tutorials – I love software that offers video tutorials. I hate reading a manual. If I can view a video that is a couple of minutes long and shows me how to use a feature, then that is an asset in my book.

Identifies Problems – I appreciate a program that is smarter than me and points out inconsistent information, date errors or duplications.

Must-Haves and Deal Breakers
My program isn’t necessarily the right software program for you.  We all have different needs, and you want to identify your needs. There are some features I don’t care about while others are deal breakers for me. Consider the list above, which features on the list are must-haves for you, which ones are deal breakers. This should help you narrow in on the program that’s right for you.

Ask a Fellow Genealogist
Finally, ask a fellow genealogist what they are using. What do they like about the program and what do they dislike. You’ll find some genealogists who have been researching for awhile have tried several different programs.

I don’t recommend you inquiry because what your friend uses is the best, but because you can ask them specific questions about the program. What they like and dislike about the program.  Do there likes and dislikes align with yours or perhaps their dislikes don’t bother you. It pays to inquire around.

Keep in mind genealogy software companies offer upgrades on a regular basis, they are always improving and adding new features.  What may not be included as a feature today could be provided in the next update.

The more knowledge you have before making your genealogy software purchase, the more likely you’ll be happy with your choice and less likely to have to go shopping for a new program further into your research journey.