I should have looked ahead to see that my favorite name was also a theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks! But alas I will talk about the unsung hero of genealogy for all of us who have gotten started in the past 20 years – technology! So many things have changed for family historians since the inception of home computers and the internet (especially the internet). It literally is the single most important item that has revolutionized our fast-growing hobby.
Computers & the Internet
I am so incredibly thankful that I live in a time where I am able to do so much research here in the privacy of my own home. Computers, well, and in turn the internet, have changed how one can do their family tree. I can only imagine the long, drawn-out process writing and re-writing a tree when you found out more information about something. Now with the click of a mouse we can fix our tree if we had a wrong person, add an entire document we either downloaded or scanned from real-world finds and include with our people or insert a story we were told by another family member without losing any sleep.
Another advantage of computers is having personal software that will track your family with both pedigree charts, family group charts, and give you statistics within moments of your inquiry. No matter who you choose to use: Family Treemaker, Legacy Family Tree, or Rootsmagic, (or any of the many others, but I believe those are the big 3) it’s nice to have your own copy of your tree and not just one tied to Ancestry or MyHeritage (which have private trees) or FamilySearch (which is just the 1 big tree that millions of people can change at any minute). Each has their perks, with Family Treemaker and Rootsmagic both syncing with Ancestry so that makes it nice if you use Ancestry on a regular basis.
I chose to get my software as someone on FamilySearch placed someone in my tree that didn’t belong and it was a year or more before I realized that I could change it. I asked the lady who plopped Andrew Sloan Blair in my area of the tree to remove him, and she did not. But for a year he looked at me from my home page (it was a huge picture that stared at me every day).
The lasting perk of my software was that it was my last birthday present from my Mom. She ended up passing away unexpectedly 3 months later and so every day I use it I think of her (well, she asked me what I wanted and told me to just get it and so I did after reading the reviews about which one was the best at the moment – I think they all trade places each year).
In conjunction with the internet is social media, which is a great way to ask for help with your genealogy or share what you have learned. Each venue of social media offers a different way of appealing to your fellow family historians that go from learning tools, to asking questions, to sharing your finds.
I am so incredibly grateful for the number of educational videos that are out there on YouTube for the average person to once again view from their computers, or tablets, or heck, televisions that allow us to learn about the who, what, where, why, and how of our ancestors. Between free videos such as Elevenses with Lisa (by Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems), the world of New England Research (American Ancestors), this year’s RootsTech Connect that has been letting us watching videos for free all year (you just need a FamilySearch login to view, which is also free!). I know I am missing so many – and the genealogy giants: Ancestry, FamilySearch, Find My Past, and MyHeritage (typed in alphabetical order), all have video tutorials and such as well.
I know a few of my podcasts I listen to also have YouTube alternatives if you would rather view the talk instead of listening on your phone or tablet.
Another nice option of YouTube is you can go to the subscription tab on the menu and follow along with all the latest uploads of videos from your favorite people or groups.
Facebook Genealogy Groups
I am thankful for Facebook Groups where you can ask a question and get responses from warm, caring people. I have done this several times and do my best to help others in return (though I will admit I need to do the helping more often than I do, random acts of kindness can truly help someone break down that brick wall).
If you want to find genealogy groups on Facebook, just search “genealogy” and then narrow down your selections by groups, I am sure you will find one that fits your tastes. You can find general groups, DNA groups (and I’ll state this here, only ask DNA questions in a DNA group because your general groups might delete or close the question and tell you to go to a DNA group).
You can also join groups for a specific area of the country or world that your ancestors are from. My favorite group is one based on Old Bedford County Pennsylvania where I have gotten some great assistance and advice on where to find things on my people (and what’s nice is it lends itself to all surrounding counties that were once a part of “Mother Bedford”).
You do need a Facebook account to participate, but it’s free, and if you just want to create a profile for user groups, you don’t have to friend others and post anything about yourself (well, other than what you might type about yourself or your family history in a genealogy group).
Twitter is another great arena for genealogists. I have met so many inspiring bloggers who share their expertise as I attempt to do. Again, just like those in group forums on Facebook, family historians sharing their finds through tweets are again so helpful. There is an entire community that meets up on Tuesdays for #AncestryHour, sadly it’s based in England so I am always working as their 7pm meet time is 2pm my time. One day I’ll be able to participate. (If you are ever interested you can search #ancestryhour and all the posts will show up, not sure if it will be in the correct order though).
Again, you do need a Twitter account to participate and you will have to post in order to get something out of the experience but it’s not as personal as Facebook. Also, tweets (your post on Twitter) can only be about 180 characters, but you can always add message 1 of however many you think you will need. Infographics, meme’s, or photos are not counted as part of your words so that can help get your message across in 1 post as well.
If you love pictures then Instagram is for you. Instagram is a visual social media platform that doesn’t restrict you in characters but allows you to share a photo and link to your blog to share your family history.
Family Tree Webinars
I have been a subscriber of Family Tree Webinars since 2018. It is a wonderful resource that has top notch genealogists providing programs via a PowerPoint presentation (or something similar) where they give you all kinds of great information on a specific topic. Most webinars are an hour in length and will often have a q & a segment at the end where the presenter answers questions asked by the moderator (which they get the questions from the live viewers in a chat).
Topics can include the introductory programs on how to start doing your family tree, to busting down brick walls, to teaching someone how to find information in Eastern Europe, to how to use Excel spreadsheets in your genealogy research, to what is autosomal DNA (and a 1000 more webinars that will pique your interest).
They do provide a webinar that is free for a week for everyone to view, however being a member gives you access to the syllabus that goes along with each presentation. You can purchase a subscription with a discounted rate, but renewing at such is no longer an option. Though I enjoyed getting the discount every year, I can admit it is still worth the $50 fee to join (which is why I’m guessing that they took the discount away).
Last, but not least, are the subscription sites that you can sign up for in order to create a tree and obtain documents of your people. Alphabetically here are a few I have used: American Ancestors, Ancestry, GenealogyBank, FamilySearch, Find My Past, Fold3, Heritage Quest, MyHeritage, Newspapers.com, and Newspaper Archives, just to name a few (I know there are many more out there, but these are even the ones that are touched on my local library, which has a lot of great information about genealogy and local history).
These subscription sites (you must sign up for all of them, but FamilySearch is free) are so incredibly helpful for finding information about your family. Most have library editions so even if you unable to afford all the subscriptions you can use them for free at your library (some are letting you use the library editions for free from your home since Covid-19 has been a part of our lives, you normally need a library card, definitely worth checking into).
Along with subscription sites, there are great websites you can use to help you with your genealogy.
Cities & Counties
Some county government websites will have links or emails that you can send an inquiry right to the department where you seek your information that can aid in your finding documents about your ancestors. Sometimes you can even access the records yourself by paying a small fee for the time you spend online (just make quick haste in downloading your documents, just look later).
City websites often have a history of the town on the website which may give key background information about the time when your ancestor lived there.
There are a ton of blogs out there that can provide help with your genealogy. Everyone has a different take on how they word things, and sometimes you just come across someone that explains a technique just the right way and it clicks (a great example of this for me is Amy Johnson Crow, the founder for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, she has a WANDER Method for working on genealogical problems and is more or less a simplified version of the Genealogical Proof Standard).
Another great website to help you in Cyndi’s List, which is a wonderful source of links to whatever it is you are looking for in your genealogical search. I know I need to use it more often.
It is great that technology can allow you to find so much information while you are dressed in your pajamas into the wee hours of the morning but one must remember that you don’t have access to everything, and that there is so much that you need to go find in person where your people lived.
Every day more and more records are digitized and put online but there is still so much more that is out there, just waiting for you to find it, and knock all those walls down.