RootsTech Wrap-Up: Questions Asked, Answers Given

Introduction: In this article, now that RootsTech 2020 is over, Gena Philibert-Ortega writes about some of the interactions that occurred in the Expo Hall during the conference. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Were you at RootsTech? We were! And we had a great time meeting everyone. Here is what we were doing in the Expo Hall during the biggest genealogy event of the year.

Answering Questions, a Lot of Questions!

The GenealogyBank Call Center answers subscribers’ questions about searching and finding their ancestors, and the Call Center staff took that service and provided it in-person at the Expo Hall at RootsTech.

Photo: promotion for the GenealogyBank Call Center

What did RootsTech attendees learn about searching from the GenealogyBank team?

Less Is More

Like many sites, GenealogyBank’s home page has an Advanced Search feature that provides you with a lot of options for customizing your search. But sometimes less is more.

You can fill in every field of the Advanced Search engine – but instead, try to think of your search in terms of stages. In each stage, vary your search by adding search criteria such as a place or a keyword, to see what results you receive.

Photo: a screenshot of GenealogyBank's Advanced Search feature

A search isn’t something you do once and then quit. Consider conducting several searches to find what you need, adding or subtracting information to enlarge or narrow your search results.

What’s That Name?

Sure, your grandfather’s name was John Allen Smith and your grandmother was Grace Ann Johnson – but what about their nicknames? What was her surname when she married for the second time? What is an abbreviation for John that could have been used? And what about their initials? Have you tried combinations of their initials (first initial and surname, first and middle initial and surname) in your searches?

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GenealogyBank Call Center Operations Manager Bill Royer provides a great example of how sometimes you can’t find your ancestor by searching for their name. He was looking for an ancestor’s birth announcement but wasn’t successful. It was only when he searched on the father’s name that he found what he was looking for. Why? Because the ancestor was simply referred to as “baby,” as in “Mr. John Smith and wife had a baby girl.” So, the ancestor wasn’t named and neither was the mother.

Don’t forget that you may need to search for a parent (especially the father) when looking for a child.

Try Searching Using Only a Surname

Have a unique surname? Try searching on just that surname. While this won’t work when searching for your Smith relations, if you have a more unique surname, like Philibert, this might be a good approach for you. Searching on just that unique surname may help you find mentions of your ancestor that you wouldn’t otherwise have found due to misspellings or the use of initials or nicknames.

Don’t Include a Death Date

It’s a common practice to search for your ancestor using a date range starting with their birth date and ending with their death date or year. It’s a good idea to use this tactic when trying to narrow your search – but don’t forget to conduct a search that doesn’t include a specific death date or year. Why?

There are newspaper articles dealing with an ancestor’s life (and death) that are published after the death date or even death year. Obviously, an obituary won’t appear the day the person dies, and even probate notices can take some time.

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But there are also memorials and other articles that mention the deceased in relation to their living family, and these might be published a year or more after they have passed.

For example, if you searched for your ancestor Amanda Scott using her birth date and death year (1917), you wouldn’t find this poignant memorial article her husband published in the local newspaper one year after she died.

An article about Amanda Scott, Advocate newspaper article 17 May 1918
Advocate (Kansas City, Kansas), 17 May 1918, page 3

I recently wrote an article (Today in History: Local News about Your Ancestors?) explaining that some newspaper articles can mention an ancestor 20, 50 or even 100 years later.

What Is GenealogyBank?

GenealogyBank is a genealogy website that has a huge collection of newspapers printed in the United States, starting in 1690, with more than 13,000 titles and growing. Besides our Historical Newspaper Archives, we have an obituary collection, the U.S. census, the Social Security Death Index, government publications, and historical books.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing its various collections of genealogical material

How Do I Start?

As you begin your search on GenealogyBank for your ancestor, think about: what do you need? What information are you hoping to find? Forming a clear research question, focusing on what you want to know, will help guide your search.

Don’t Forget the Census

It’s easy to focus on newspapers when searching GenealogyBank – but don’t forget that the U.S. census, also available on the website, allows you to verify dates and places for your ancestor, search for allied family members, or even trace a family or community through time.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for the U.S. Census

What’s Your Story?

This year’s RootsTech theme was “The Story of You,” and everything at the conference centered around that theme. Historical newspapers are the perfect resource in telling that story. Why are newspapers important in telling the story of you and your ancestors? GenealogyBank Call Center Operations Manager Bill Royer explains:

“Newspapers are at the center of it all. Stories are where it’s at and the newspaper captures those stories in articles, announcements, photographs, and more.”

RootsTech is heading back to London in November 2020, which means for those who love RootsTech, you can attend on both sides of the pond. Salt Lake City, Utah, will see RootsTech return for the 11th year in February 2021.

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You can also still benefit from RootsTech 2020 by watching the video archive on the RootsTech website.

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