Category: Family Trees

March 5th, 2014

Is Your Family a Branch on the World’s Biggest Family Tree?

Yaniv Erlich is a computational biologist, but he is also the world’s most renowned “genome hacker.” He has conducted many experiments over the years to prove that the identities of those who participate in genetic research can be uncovered by cross-referencing the DNA data with that available in the public domain. He has now constructed the world’s largest family tree containing information on thirteen million individuals. Scientists will use the data to analyze how genetic traits such as facial features and longevity are inherited.

There is no danger of anyone in the family tree having their identity revealed however, as Erlich and his team will conceal the identities of those involved. Unfortunately that means you won’t know if you and your family line are among those included, but if you have ever participated in genetic research, and that includes having had a DNA test to trace your ancestry, there is a good chance that you are.

Fortunately all of that information will be put to good use, even providing valuable information on population expansion and demographics. The best part of course if that the data may one day be able to provide important medical information.

Digging Deep

Your pedigree can provide valuable clues about your genetic inheritance. The farther down your family line your DNA is compared to that of one of your ancestors, the more accurately scientists can determine just how deeply rooted in your DNA your genetic traits are based. They can even determine whether those traits are dictated by a few genes that are extremely influential, or by many smaller genes that have a minor influence.

Because it would take decades to assemble so much data from so many individuals, Erlich and his team “borrowed” the data from over forty million profiles on the website. All of the information they gathered was in individual profiles, and included birth and death dates, event locations, and even the occasional photograph. That data was then formed into family trees, some only containing a few thousand individuals, the largest thirteen million.

The exact use of all of this genetic and genealogical information has not yet been determined, though it is enthusiastically supported by members of the scientific community. The marriage of genealogy and genetics is still in the infant stage, but as more and more people become willing to share their genealogical data and their DNA, the possibilities are tremendous!

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January 22nd, 2014

Take Accurate Notes to Improve Your Research Results

The quality and accuracy of the notes you take during your research will very much determine the results you get. Note taking is one of the most important aspects of genealogical research, and includes not just the information on the individual you are researching, but citing the sources from which you glean your info. There is no way we can rely on our memories to retain so much data, so it is important to record our data in a notebook or computer. We also have some Free Genealogy Forms Downloads that may help you. When you do record the data, it is also important to label it with the date and place when and where you wrote them, and don’t forget to mention the source!

You will have the clearest notes if you follow a particular method of writing down the information. There are a number of ways you can do this, but the most effective methods for genealogists are transcripts, extracts, and abstracts. Those words may intimidate a beginner, but they are really not as complicated as they sound.

  • Transcripts are simply word for word copies of the information in an original document. Everything is copied exactly how it appears, including punctuation and abbreviations. Keep in mind that if the document you are transcribing is itself a transcription, it may contain errors. This is largely due to human error such as misspellings or miscopying dates. It is thus important to verify any information you find in transcriptions with other sources. If you want to add comments or your own notes to a transcription, you can either use an asterisk (*) at the beginning of the paragraph or sentence you wish to comment on and place it at the bottom of your transcription, or you can use brackets ( ) to include your comments at the end of the text you are commenting on. If using an asterisk to comment on more than one item, add another asterisk for each point, i.e. * first topic, ** second topic, *** third topic, and so on.
  • Abstracts are summaries taken from the essential details in the document or record. They generally include names, dates, location names, and life events such as birth, death or marriage. Non-essential words are left out, and only the important details recorded. Again, copy the data exactly as it appears in the original document.
  • Extracts are similar to abstracts in that they only include the vital details of a document. Rather than summarizing however, the section of the document you are recording is written exactly as it appears in the original. It is essentially a word-for-word copy of particular sections of a document. Generally extracts are included along with or as part of an abstract to highlight vital elements of a document.

You will most likely use all three methods in your note taking over the course of your research. It often helps to make full transcriptions of documents such as land deeds and wills though, as often they contain clues that may lead you to other records down the road. Transcriptions and abstracts are especially useful when you are not able to make a copy of the original, but make sure you copy them carefully and accurately. Erroneous transcriptions have often, and still are, a source of frustration for many genealogists.

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January 8th, 2014

Learning the Language of Obituaries

Obituaries are a valuable genealogical resource. They are the reason I began this website as you may recall. They are basically a written notice of a person’s death, and can confirm not only the date and place of death, but a person’s date and place of birth. Additionally they can reveal information about:

  • Other relatives
  • Where they worked
  • Where they went to school
  • Where they lived
  • Where they may have immigrated from or to
  • Clubs and Organizations they may have been members of
  • Friends who may be able to provide additional information about them
  • Religious affiliation
  • Military service

Obituaries are found in newspapers, so you need to investigate every likely newspaper. Many cities boast more than one newspaper, and an obituary for someone could appear in an obituary for a neighbouring town or city as well. When you search for an obituary, you should include the name of the city where the individual died and any locations where they may have lived during the course of their life.

Often relatives will publish an obituary in a former place of residence so that old friends and relatives there may know of their passing. Some obituaries may have more information than others, so be sure to check them all. Keep your search to within a week or two of the death date, sometimes obituaries are delayed a bit before they are published, sometimes they are published within a day or two of the person’s death. Don’t get obituaries mixed up with death notices which only mentioned that the person is deceased, and contain very little info. If you come across a death notice, check the paper a couple of days later for the full obituary.

Modern obituaries are generally more detailed than those from the past, and are also easier to find online. If you are searching older obituaries, you may have to request a copy from the newspaper that published it. Keep in mind though, that it may well be worth the effort, as some obituaries contain a gold mine of genealogical data that could keep you going for months, even years in your genealogical research.

Be prepared to read between the lines in obituaries. Keep in mind that they are secondary sources of information normally provided by surviving family members. Those persons are not always close relatives, and may unwittingly provide wrong or inaccurate information. The greatest value of obituaries is that they can point you towards primary sources, and any information found within them should be verified by such.

If you wish to begin your research, we provide access to a nationwide database of Newspaper Obituaries that you can search by state. Keep in mind the points and strategies we’ve mentioned, and you’ll be finding your ancestors in no time!

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December 4th, 2013

Digging Into Death Records

As the research for your family tree begins with the present and then moves into the past, death records are an excellent source with which to begin your research. Death certificates can contain a wealth of information, depending on the country of origin, and they can help you to determine whether or not you are researching the right person. It is also quite easy to find death records online, and consequently they are the starting point for many genealogists.

You might wonder why you should care when your great-grandfather died, when what you really want to know is who your great-great grandparents were. Well, death records can provide exactly the information you are looking for, as your great-grandfather’s death certificate may reveal the maiden name of your great-great grandmother. That particular information may not be known by living relatives, so finding it is a genealogical coup! Death records also include funeral home records, obituaries, and tombstone inscriptions, and none of these sources should be overlooked when tracing an ancestor.

Obituaries often mention a number of relatives, and can include cousins, aunts, uncles, step-children or step-parents, foster children and parents and much more. They may reveal relatives that you didn’t know existed, and can mention friends who may be able to tell you more about your relative. Tombstone inscriptions can lead you to organizations or clubs they may have been a member of such as Sons of the American Revolution, who may be able to provide you with military records. Funeral home records often record the exact date, time, and location of death.

As I mentioned, death records are also one of the most easily accessible records for genealogists. Because the individual is dead, there is not so much concern over privacy as there might be with other documentation. All of this is not to say that you should begin a search with death records, only that they are an excellent starting point if you have no other documents or records concerning your ancestor. You can just as easily begin with a marriage certificate or census report. Once you have gathered as much information from your own home and your living relatives however, it generally makes sense to make death records the next place you go to to continue your genealogical quest.

If you’re unsure of where to look for death records, the Social Security Death Index is a good place to begin. It is compiled by the United States Social Security Administration, and contains vital data on approximately 90 million individuals. If you are searching an individual from the United Kingdom or whose death record is there, the UK National Archives, or the UKBMD (United Kingdom Birth, Deaths, and Marriages) websites are good places to begin. In Canada, Library and Archives Canada can help you.

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November 27th, 2013

Basic Research Steps for Beginners

I thought I would take the opportunity to review some basic research techniques to help those beginning the search for their family history. More and more people are becoming involved in genealogy projects everyday; for those just beginning the initial concept of tracing their lineage back through the centuries can be quite overwhelming. The following steps however can help you to get a jump-start on your research and simplify the process. The key to a successful search for your ancestors is as simple as selecting a key starting point. Once you select a particular individual to begin with, the rest will follow; as long as you stick to the following basic set of steps.

  1. Decide What You Want to Find Out First - Once you have gathered some basic family data; review it to determine what you already know and what you need to find out. Once that is sorted, pick a particular fact that you want to uncover and begin researching it.
  2. Identify a Possible Source of the Information You Seek – Different genealogical records reveal particular information about relatives. If you are seeking a birth date, search for birth certificates, if it’s the name of the children of an individual, try census records.
  3. Locate the Record or Source – Once you decide on the type of record or other source you need, find out where and how it can be found. Can you search it online, or do you need to visit an archive or library? Once you locate the record or database, search for your ancestor within it.
  4. Record What You Find or Don’t Find – It’s as important to record what you don’t find as what you do. If you do find important information, make a copy of it if possible, if not write the information down yourself in a notebook. If it’s a photo you find, try to print or download a copy. If you don’t find any info on your relative, take note of that as well so you don’t forget to pursue that information in the future.
  5. Assess Your Position – If you found the information you were looking for, continue onto the next step. If not, go back to step 2 and try to find another possible source of it. You may need to go back and forth between these two steps a few times, as you don’t always uncover information on the first attempt.
  6. Analyze the Information You Found – Did the information you found match the facts you already have about your ancestor? Is the record a primary source that can be validated, or is it a secondary source that needs to be verified. Asking such questions will help you to determine what you need to do next.
  7. Organize, Organize, Organize – It is critical that you record everything you find in a manner that you can easily refer to later. If you don’t keep track of your data in an organized manner, you will become confused and frustrated later in your research. If you need help with organization, have a look through our Free Genealogy Forms, there is one for every stage of research, and they are completely free and easy to download.

These are basic research steps that even professional genealogists use. Following this basic format throughout your research will ensure you maximize your chances of a successful ancestors search. Happy Ancestor Hunting!

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October 1st, 2012

Ferret Out your French Family History

As they it is with food and fine wine, the French approach to family history is one of pride and passion. I found this out recently when a friend of mine from Montreal asked for some advice on finding her French ancestors. Initially I was a bit embarrassed; I didn’t know as much as I should about French genealogical records and sources! I went quickly to work, hit the books, and scoured the internet. I was amazed at how many databases and genealogy projects exist for this country. I also found the records to be well preserved, in spite of France’s history of revolution and warfare. Many of the French records date back well into the sixteenth century; making them valuable genealogical and historical records.

Of course there is the drawback that the majority are written in French. I of course had the benefit of being able to consult with “mon ami”, but with the help of a good French genealogy word list and online translation tools such as Google Translate, you should be able to find your way through French records. Many departmental archives in France have had their civil, parish and census records digitized and made available online for free. The Archives of France maintains a complete and current listing of records that are available online and the departments that manage them. The page is in French, but if you use Google Chrome’s automatically translate option, you can clearly see what sort of resources are available.

Defining your Search Strategy

Before you even begin searching for French genealogical records, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the country’s geopolitical divisions. Rather than counties, France is divided into régions which are similar to states. Within those “states” you’ll find further division into départments, which are the equivalent of counties. Notice that the French spellings are identical to the English regions and departments. You’ll be able to understand quite a few French words due to their similarity to English ones. Once you move below department level however, you’ll encounter what are known as les mairies which is a collective name for the towns, villages and cities found within the départments.

You’ll generally find archives at the departmental level in France, while local records are held by les mairies. Each department in France is assigned a number, so in order to access appropriate records; you’ll need both the number and the name of the department where those records are kept. A good place to begin your research of French records is on one of the genealogy communities for publishing and sharing family trees. You’ll be able to find a group that focuses on French ancestry, and there avail yourself of the help of other genealogists, and the resources that most of the sites provide. A quick way to connect with such a group is to do as search of your surname. This will provide you with a selection of groups or individuals who are researching your surname, some of whom may be relatives.

French Civil Registration Records

France boasts an excellent system of civil registration records that date back to1792. Before that time, civil registrations were recorded by the Catholic Church and information regarding baptisms, marriages and funerals can be found in those records. These early parish registers date back to 1334, though the majority date from the mid seventeenth century. Both the civil and parish records are constantly being transcribed, digitized and made available online at a rapid rate, mostly on the websites of the departmental archives.

French Census Reports

The French began taking Census Reports in 1836, and these are also excellent records for tracing your French Ancestors. The major drawback of the French census records is that they are not indexed, and so it can be difficult to locate your relatives in the larger cities. The key in such cases is to exercise patience and persevere. A well thought out and executed process of elimination will surely reveal your ancestor. Occasionally you can find digitized images of French census records on the departmental website; they will be indexed as recensements du population.

Once you locate you ancestor in the census or other genealogical records you’ll want to record that information in a clear, concise way before entering it into your family tree. We have designed some Free Downloadable Genealogy Forms for such occasions, and encourage you to download one now before you begin your research. This way you can enter the information directly into your census form, saving you valuable time, and making it easier to store in your family group record. Remember to verify all the information you find before entering into your family tree, and double check spellings and accuracies of dates as well. This way you’ll ensure that your French family is both interesting and accurate.

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May 4th, 2011

Chris Nicholson: How to Choose a Mat for Framing Your Family Tree

Chris Nicholson is a writer and fine-art photographer based in the northeast U.S. He offers decorating tips and sells limited-edition prints through his website,  As a follow up to my post A Surefire Way to Choose the Right Matting, Chris makes some excellent points about choosing a mat for your custom framed family tree chart.  Chris writes:

Hanging your family tree on the wall turns it into a piece of art — perhaps the most personal art that could adorn a home.

As such, you probably want to treat that tree just as you’d treat an expensive print or painting, by matting and framing it with care and precision. Framing a piece provides protection from the environment, and matting it provides protection from the frame — especially in humid climates, the framed piece can adhere to the glass, causing permanent damage. A mat provides separation, preventing that damage.

Choosing a frame is usually a straight-forward process — matching it to your décor is often as simple as just looking at your furniture for reference. On the other hand, the creative reasons for choosing a mat are not always as conveniently obvious.


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March 15th, 2011

Celebrate St Patrick’s Day by Researching Your Irish Genealogy

It’s easier than ever to find out if you have Irish background. today released a definitive collection of Irish genealogical records in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, and the list includes data regarding famous personalities such as Walt Disney, Conan O’Brien, and US President Barack Obama. The collection gives wonderful insight into eighteenth and nineteenth century life in Ireland and spans the period from 1824 – 1910 making it a must have resource for anyone searching their Irish roots.

The collection includes:


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