New Year’s Resolutions for Genealogists: Top 10 Goals for 2014

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary suggests 10 New Year’s resolutions that genealogists everywhere might want to consider for 2014.

Over the years, I’ve read and written many articles about genealogical resolutions. This year, I am dedicating my 10 resolutions for 2014 to my mother Meg Stevens (1928-2013) who, through her dedication to genealogy, added over 30,000 memorials to findagrave.com—a true random act of genealogical kindness (RAOGK).

On New Year’s Eve day she received a posthumous “thank you” from a grateful researcher, who was delighted that Mom had discovered the maiden name of her ancestor, Phoebe (Winslow) Armstrong. Thanks Mom! Great work, and I miss you!

a thank-you from Karen Weatherhead to genealogist Meg Stevens

Here are my top 10 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists this 2014.

1) Do a Random Act of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK).

Hopefully, my mother’s example will inspire you to join in the RAOGK movement. It truly makes a difference to genealogical research. You can do this on your own, or join a Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness group, such as this one at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/raogkUSA/).

Here are some ideas to get you started doing genealogical good deeds!

  • Do you like to look up genealogical records? —Then answer someone’s query or add a memorial to an online site.
  • Do you like to type? —Then index a record.
  • Do you like photography? —Then visit a cemetery and post a photo online that shows the text of a fading headstone.
  • Are you a photo software guru? —Then touch up someone’s creased, crinkly or faded ancestral image.
  • Do you like to listen? —Then interview and video a veteran or a treasured family member!

2) Archive and protect family treasures!

Many heirlooms are improperly handled. To help prevent this, proper labeling and storage should be considered. In particular, be aware that acid can be transferred from boxes, envelopes and even your hands to your treasured family keepsakes.

  • Purchase acid-free materials for storage & labeling.
  • Be careful about how and where you label a photo (avoid writing on the back of the photo behind a person’s face).
  • Use gloves for proper handling of ephemera, photographs, textiles and heirlooms.
  • Weatherproof rooms where items are stored.
  • Minimize exposure to light, drafts and uneven temperatures.

3) Make backups of all electronic genealogical data.

When disaster strikes, all of your family history data can disappear in an instant—but if you have a digital backup, all is not lost!

  • Create a backup schedule and abide by it throughout the year.
  • Send your genealogy data offsite and give it to others for safekeeping.
  • Online trees preserve your ability to restore your family history, should your computer crash.

Genealogy Tip:

Read another of our blog posts to get even more tips about preserving genealogy records.

4) Address your genealogy in your will.

Another thing my mother did before she passed was to transfer her publishing rights to me. What a great gift (and honor). We did this via a written agreement, but another good idea is to address the disposition of your life-long family history research in your will. Here are some ideas to ensure your family history is preserved as you would like.

  • Leave the rights to your genealogical research to specific people in your will, and name your 2nd or 3rd choice in case the original inheritor is tempted to discard anything. Consider naming libraries and historical or genealogical societies in your hometown, as well as where your ancestors resided.
  • Leave notes in books and files as to how you want them preserved.
  • Leave the price tags of expensive resources you purchased in the books themselves.

5) Publish your genealogy, lest you perish before anything looks official.

If genealogy has become your lifelong passion, then pass it on to the next generation by consolidating your family history research into a nicely bound family history book. This is extremely important, as overwhelming hodgepodges of notes that don’t look official are more likely to be discarded than bound books!

Use a service within your genealogy software, a commercial printer, or publisher to create your family history book. Many office supply stores can add a hard or soft cover to your research. Also, consider a self-publishing service such as Createspace.com or lulu.com.

During her lifetime my mother wrote several books on her direct family, another one for my step-father’s family, and completed two annotated census records for Union County, Indiana. (I’ve already republished one, and hope to complete the others in the upcoming years.)

6) Be kind to others.

If someone took the time to share a genealogical discovery, be grateful, even if they’ve made a typo or error in fact. Too often in the genealogical community we encounter slammers and complainers, who undoubtedly make many mistakes of their own!

So please resolve to suggest genealogical corrections gently and in a positive manner. If you have come to a completely different genealogical conclusion than another researcher, follow resolution #5—publish your own version based upon the evidence. Eventually other genealogists will find it, and appreciate your efforts.

Remember this rule of thumb: even if you are 99% accurate, then you will make a typo or mistake

  • every 100 characters typed
  • as much as 14.4 minutes of a 24-hour day, or
  • as much as 9.6 minutes of 16 “awake” hours each day

7) Be a genealogy sharer, not a hoarder.

When Mom transferred her copyrights to me, she had one caveat: don’t keep her family history research tucked away in a closet or hoarded on a computer. “I want people to be able to find my genealogy,” she told me on more than one occasion.

And she followed her own advice. Having the only copy of an 18th century family Bible, she published it in a journal—and I later shared it online. See the copy at fishergenes.com (the handwriting on the transcription page is my mother’s): http://www.fishergenes.com/showmedia.php?mediaID=99&medialinkID=105

8) Head out to your homesteads and homelands!

There is no greater feeling than walking in the steps of an ancestor—and who knows, you might find that more than a trace of their existence still exists. Several years ago, my mother and I took a trip together to East Jersey Olde Towne and discovered that one of our ancestral homes is still there!

This photo shows the Jeremiah Dunn home (built c. 1750) to the left of the Church of the Three Mile Run and the Vanderveer House.

a photo of the Jeremiah Dunn House

Photo: Jeremiah Dunn home. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Follow these links to see other views of my ancestor’s house.

Library of Congress Survey of the Jeremiah Dunn House, Stelton Road, Middlesex County, NJ

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.nj0587.sheet.00005a/

Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission East Jersey Olde Towne Village

http://www.co.middlesex.nj.us/culturalheritage/village2.asp

Custom Photography of Historical Sites and Events (lincolnbittner.com)

http://www.lincolnbittner.com/dunn_house.html

9) Give credit where credit is duenot just to authors, but to anyone who assists you via e-mail, mail or in person.

Unless you’ve never looked up something in a book or family tree, it’s impossible for your genealogy research to not be based upon the research or efforts of others (authors, librarians, online contributors, e-mail buddies, cousins and even anonymous finds).

So how do you thank them? Try this approach: cite sources as best you can, and use those powerful words of gratitude such as “Thank you” and “I appreciate your help!”

10) This one’s for you to completeso please share it with us in the comments!

My top genealogy resolution for 2014 is to: ___________________________________________.

Thank you everyone for sharing your genealogical successes and supporting this blog in 2013.

And remember my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains how the social media website Pinterest can help with your family history research.

Are you a member of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to gather images from your computer and the Internet to create virtual bulletin boards on subjects that interest you. On Pinterest you can find boards dedicated to holiday meals, decorating kitchens, collecting antiques, fashion, and many other topics. But Pinterest is more than just a place to pursue those types of interests. Pinterest is also a place where you can organize, learn, and share your family history.

So how does a website where users virtually “pin” images about the latest movie or fashion collection help you with genealogy? As you take a look at Pinterest, consider it a site to share family photographs and documents, to bookmark websites related to your family history, or to plan out your next genealogy research trip. At home, your physical bulletin board might be used to save important articles, phone numbers, or notes you don’t want to forget. Pinterest is just like that real-life bulletin board except it is virtual and can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. Best of all, you can invite other family members or researchers to pin with you via shared group boards.

Not convinced Pinterest is for you? Not sure how Pinterest can be used for genealogy? Consider the following three tips.

Tip #1: Follow Genealogy Boards, Starting with GenealogyBank

One of the benefits of using Pinterest is getting ideas and learning about new genealogy sources. Following Pinterest boards maintained by genealogists, family history-related companies, and repositories can help you. Take for instance the GenealogyBank boards. Currently GenealogyBank has 50 boards covering topics as diverse as Family Tree Wall Art & Decor, Old Newspaper Ads, American Fashion History, and Genealogy Books.

Genealogy Bank Pinterest Page

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Family Tree Wall Art & Decor on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Newspaper Ads on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board American Fashion History on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Books on Pinterest.

These boards provide more than just images to look at. Consider the GenealogyBank board Genealogy Powerpoints, a must for any family history researcher. Here you will find links to presentations GenealogyBank genealogist Tom Kemp has given on subjects including Genealogy Research with Marriage & Anniversary Records, Top Genealogy Websites for the 21st Century, Newspapers: Critical Resources to Document your Family Tree, and Obituaries: Getting All the Clues. Pinterest is a great place to find resources and educational material about all facets of family history.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Powerpoints on Pinterest.

GenealogyBank’s recipe board is a shared group Pinterest board, where we welcome collaboration from those who share our common interests. In my blog article Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Cooking I wrote about GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board. Follow this board and we will invite you to share your family recipes.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Fashioned Family Recipes on Pinterest.

To start following GenealogyBank, go to our page on Pinterest and then click on the orange “Follow” button at the top. You can also follow me on Pinterest.

Tip #2: Start Pinning

So what should you pin? Well, basically, images from the Internet or even your own photographs that you have from your camera, smartphone or scanner. Think of Pinterest as a place to share images that you find and those that you own. For those with mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, you can download the Pinterest app from the iTunes App Store (for Apple devices such as iPhone and iPad) or the Google Play store (for Android devices). Download the Pinterest button for your browser toolbar to make pinning images even easier. Make sure that when you pin an image you give credit to the person or website that it is from.

Here are some ideas to get you started on Pinterest:

  • Start a board where you share images of material items that were commonplace during your ancestor’s time. Pin images of what a kitchen was like in 1920 or what blacksmith tools your 3rd great-grandfather would have used.
  • Share images you have taken of the tombstones of your ancestors.
  • Start a board for a particular ancestor and then pin images of documents, photos, and other resources that help to tell the story of their life.
  • Pin images of books that you are interested in adding to your personal library. Need book ideas? Check out GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Books board.
  • Start a board with resources for a specific place that you research. Share your knowledge of local archives, libraries and museums that can assist other researchers.

Tip #3: Here’s the Best-Kept Secret: Using the Secret Boards

Not sure you want to share a board of your family history images? No problem. Pinterest offers members public and secret boards. Secret boards cannot be seen by others (unless you have a group secret board and then only those you allow to pin to the board can see it). Pinterest currently allows you to have up to six secret boards. (This is a recent addition of three extra boards that occurred during the holiday season). You can actually have access to additional secret boards if you are invited to pin on a secret board with another pinner. Use these boards to gather ideas for research or even set up virtual bookmarks for websites you need to look at further for genealogy clues. Currently I am using one of my secret boards to “bookmark” websites and digitized images I have found for one of my research projects. I love being able to see images to remind me where I’ve located resources and what I have yet to find.

Start a secret board with a cousin and use it to share photos and documents you’ve collected in your genealogy research. Use a secret board to plan out a genealogy research trip and include pins of libraries, archives and cemeteries you want to visit. Even consider using a secret board to interest the younger generation in their family history by pinning photos you have scanned.

Are you using Pinterest for your family history? Now is the time to give it a try. You’ll find it’s a great tool for sharing and storing images, and a good way to learn more about your family’s story.