The Importance of a Virtual Genealogy Trail

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega writes about an experience she had, concerning a batch of old letters, that emphasized to her the importance – and wonder – of the online genealogy community. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

There’s no doubt that there is a benefit to our online world, especially for the genealogist. Sure, there are digitized records online. That in and of itself is wonderful. It allows us to find more information than previously imagined by researchers. Newspapers are digitized, allowing us to search for articles about our ancestors that would have been tedious, time consuming research in decades past. A family can be found in the census without the effort we use to expend with microfilm and Soundex. There’s no doubt that our research benefits from the online genealogy community.

But that’s not the only way researchers benefit from the digital age. Social media, blogs, and subscriptions or memberships to genealogy websites allow us to leave a virtual “bread crumb” trail alerting unknown-to-us researchers about our common interests and (hopefully) more unique information to add to our family history.

My Virtual Genealogy Trail

One of my genealogy research projects revolves around some letters I purchased in an antique store in 2014. The letters, written in the early 1900s and penned by a man to his love interest, have fascinated me since I made that chance purchase. Along the way I’ve picked up new information about the couple via historical newspapers, genealogically relevant records, and talking with the associated family and friends. But one aspect of my research has led to numerous discoveries: my virtual genealogy trail.

I created one singular blog post with the information I knew about this couple back in 2014. The blog post asks for help locating other letters or information. The original letter recipient, E.G. (Eleanore) Stetson, was a painter – and so I knew that some of her paintings still existed in private collections.

It’s not much. It’s one blog post that provides only a few facts. But that one blog post has yielded amazing results.

Screenshot of a blog post about E.G. (Eleanore) Stetson

What difference can one blog post make? Plenty! Every once in a while, someone finds something and contacts me. I’ve seen Eleonore’s paintings because of that post, and most recently I received another letter purchased by a collector through an online auction. This collector purchased the letter years ago and after finding my blog post contacted me and graciously sent it to me. The letter fills in holes in this story that I would not have otherwise known.*

Photo: letter to E.G. Stetson
Photo: letter to E.G. Stetson. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

There’s no doubt that I should do more with this blog post – at the least update it with what I know now – but even in my absence, this post has done what I wanted it to do: help people find me.

Crowdsource Your Genealogy Today!

Recently I was presenting a lecture on a quilt top I own that includes the names of approximately 100 women. Someone in the audience asked if I had considered posting information about the quilt and its names to a website or blog so that people could find me and provide more information. I have yet to do that, but considering the success I have had with this letter collection, that is definitely my next focus.

Genealogy success is much more than just researching. No doubt, that’s a huge part of it, but other people are part of the key to our success. You never know what piece of information or a document someone you don’t know has.

How are you leaving your virtual genealogical trail?

* Special thanks to Catherine R. for sending me this letter.

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