Saturday, July 30, 2011

Upcoming Webinars - No Travel Required!

When I post announcements about my upcoming talks on Facebook, some usually says, "I would love to go if only I lived closer."  Well, now you don't have to worry about that! I'll be doing two webinars in the next two months. 

No travel is required! Better yet, the webinars are FREE. What you do need to have is a computer and an internet connection.  Here's your chance to sign up and hear me spread the gospel about genealogy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
6:00pm PST (California time)
9:00pm EST (New York time)
"Cemetery Research For Your New England Ancestors"
Sponsored by The Southern California Genealogical Society - Extension Series
Register for the Talk
This talk will help you locate the gravestones of your New England ancestors.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011
11:00am PST (California time)
2:00pm EST (New York time)
"Researching Your Connecticut Ancestors"
Sponsored by Legacy Family Tree  - Webinars
Register for the Talk
This talk will teach you how to research your Connecticut ancestors.  Join me in the discussion as I talk about my native state.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Google+ Hangouts are Fun!

Are you riding the Google+ wave?  It seems like a large segment of the genealogical community is giving Google+ a try.  I am on Google+ but I don't think I have been using it quite as actively as other people.

One thing I have been curious about is the Google+ Hangout.  If you've used Skype before then you may have experienced something similar with their video conference feature.  Google+ Hangout lets you have a video conference/chat with up to 9 other people for a total of 10 in the Hangout.

Today I've had the opportunity to have three Hangouts so I really got a chance to see how it works.  This morning fellow blogger and colleague, Russ Worthington, invited me to a hangout.  We were checking out whether it is possible to do a private hangout.  And, yes, it does seem possible.  You just need to specify the name of the person(s) that you want to invite to the hangout.  Then only that person(s) will see the invitation.  A hangout announcement/invitation gets posted to your wall but only the invitee can see it.

Later in the day I initiated my first ever hangout.  All the others I had joined.  This one I opened to anyone in my Google+ circles and waited to see who would randomly pop in.  A number of genealogy friends from Facebook joined - Heather in NH, Patti in MO, Pat in DE and Kirsty in Scotland. 

That hangout was interesting because some people had video and voice, one had voice only and one had no video and no voice and had to communicate through the chat feature.

It was fun to meetup face to face from so many different parts of the world and get to at least hear each others voices.

Lastly, I had a final, quick hangout with my cousin, Rusty. It was his first time doing a hangout.

What strikes me is how easy it is to do these hangouts.  While we were just testing them and not really doing more than gabbing, I can see how hangouts can be a great way to connect with family or collaborate with colleagues.  Being able to bridge distance so easily is exciting.

I admit that I don't love seeing myself on video but I've gotten over that.  I feel like I've entered the realm of Star Trek and soon this form of communication will be natural.  I'm looking forward to using it much more in the future.

If you want to try a hangout with me sometime leave a comment or drop me a line.  See you on the web!

Monday, July 25, 2011

BU Adds New Introductory Level Course to Genealogy Program

Boston University's Center for Professional Education has added a new introductory level course, Genealogical Essentials, to its Genealogical Research Program.  The new course, which starts in September, is geared toward newer genealogists or experienced genealogists who have gaps in their education.

After the announcement of the new course I took the opportunity to speak with Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL who developed the content for the course and Melinde Lutz Byrne, FASG, CG who is the director of the program.  Here's what I found out.

This course was developed in response to numerous queries fielded by Boston University staff from genealogical students looking for a class but who weren't quite at the appropriate level for the Certificate in Genealogical Research class.  Both Powell and Byrne consider the new class as "ideal preparation for taking the certificate program." Students who take the class will gain familiarity with online classes as well as the Boston University format which will allow them to focus strictly on genealogical coursework when starting the certificate program.

Title: Genealogical Essentials

Targeted Audience: The class is geared toward beginners, including those who have little genealogically research experience.  It provides an ideal start for people who have become interested in genealogy from watching programs such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Faces of America and History Detectives. The course is also well suited for more experienced genealogists who are self-taught or have some gaps in their foundation education as well as for those who have been doing genealogy on and off for many years and need to be updated with current terminology and methodology.

Pre-Requisites: There are no genealogical pre-requisites, however, students should have familiarity with a computer keyboard and Microsoft Word.  High speed internet access would also be helpful.

Course Format: The class is being offered as an online class only.  It is run on the Boston University "Vista" platform and fully automated so that the students can immediately see how well they are doing. The self-directed class lasts for four weeks with required assignments on a weekly basis.

Workload: The weekly workload includes assignments, readings, quizzes and an optional "Family Fun" extension assignment that can be done with family members and acts as a way to get students to record and share their own family history.  The week four assignment includes a final project.  Powell anticipates that it will take an average student 10 hours to complete each weekly module.

Course Materials: The class requires the purchase of two additional books: The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (3rd Edition) by Val D. Greenwood and The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy (2nd Edition) by Kimberly Powell.

Cost: $775.00 for the four week online class.

Enrollment Deadline: August 18, 2011.  Enrollment is limited. For those who do not find a slot in the fall class, there will be another class in January 2012.

Class Start Date: Tuesday, September 6, 2011.

A Look Toward the Future

As for the future of the Boston University Genealogical Program, when asked, Byrne tossed me this enticing tidbit, "There will continue to be one-week special topic classes offered on-site in the summer in the last week of July and the first week of August each summer.  The 2012 summer classes will include a forensic genealogy advanced course taught by two of the country’s top forensic genealogists. Specific names to be revealed at a later date."


Want to hear what former students have said about the BU genealogy research program?  Testimonials that were filmed recently during the 2011 New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) have been added to the BU website. If you attended NERGC you may even appear in the background of one of the short video clips.  I was surprised to see myself there!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is it worth transcribing for publication any more?

It used to be that you could become a very well-published genealogist just by transcribing records and publishing them in books.  Genealogists want to leave their mark and add their contribution to the community and this was one way to do it.

I entered the genealogical community in the digital age. Straight transcribing of documents or records seems like a dicey prospect to me.  The problem is if you choose a large project to transcribe, will an organization have it scanned and indexed before you finish your transcription project?  That means you need to very carefully select the project you are willing to take on.

The Alternative to Simple Transcription

I believe the wave of the future where genealogists can make the most impact is with value-added projects.  These are projects where you are forced you analyze or refine the original raw data and present that new grouping for publication.

For instance, consider warning out notices in early New England record books.  It might not be worth transcribing the entire record books because they are already microfilmed and are potential (albeit much later) targets for scanning projects.  However, it may be worth extracting the warning out notices that randomly fall within  the text of the record books.  This too has its pitfalls.  If the entire record book is scanned and indexed then others can find what they need quickly from the index.  To make this effort truly value-added it would be good to provide further information on the people listed in the warning outs rather than simply what is found in the record books.  Perhaps information from vital or census records would add just the needed content to make your content unique.

Think Before Your Start

Before you take on a large transcription project in the hope of publishing it, think about how you can ensure that your project will be worth the effort in the event that someone digitizes it before you finish.

Photo Credit: Photo by kevinzim used under the creative commons license.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Authors - Get Strategic

I hear you already - "I only write about my specialization" or "I only write about what I'm passionate about."  There's no reason you can't write books about what you do best and be a little strategic too.

It is common knowledge that magazines follow an editorial calendar that is mapped out, often a year in advance.  The selected content frequently ties in with major holidays, events or anniversaries occurring during same time period. Magazine writers are encouraged to write content that will fit in well with the editorial theme of each issue.

There's nothing stopping authors from adopting a variation of this strategy to create a editorial calendar of sorts.  Here's one way that you can adapt it.

There are many upcoming town and city anniversaries.  Typically towns apply great fanfare to celebrate these events.  For instance, the town of Abington, Massachusetts will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its incorporation in 2012.  If you are an author or would-be author from the Abington area start to consider what you do best.  Are you a gravestone researcher, a house historian, a genealogist, a photographer?  Plan on writing a book that ties into your specialty and the upcoming celebration of the anniversary of the town.  Not only will you get greater publicity for your book but the town may be very appreciative of your efforts.

Towns or cities don't have to be celebrating their 300th for this to be effective.  Perhaps your location is a celebrating a 75th, 100th, 150th or 200th anniversary.  Those are all good candidates too.  The beauty of this technique is that you can plan your book years out if necessary.

If the town dates don't work to your advantage take a look at county incorporation dates.

Use a book like Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources (edited by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG) for an easy way to look up town and county incorporation dates.

Here are some upcoming anniversaries happening in the northeastern United States in the next five years.  Maybe one of them will be near you.

LocationAnniversary   Year Celebrated
Pomfret, Connecticut 300th 2013
Fairfield, Hartford, New Haven and New London Counties, Connecticut   350th  2016
West Warwick, Rhode Island 100th 2013
East Providence and Pawtucket, Rhode Island 150th 2012
Troy, New Hampshire 200th 2015
Candia, Haverhill and Sandwich, New Hampshire  250th 2013
Weston, Massachusetts  300th  2013
Cherryfield and Corrina, Maine  200th  2016
Ludlow, Maine  150th  2014
Burlington, Duxbury and Williston, Vermont 250th  2013
Hamilton and Oswego Counties, New York  200th  2016
Putnam County, New York 200th 2012

Photo Source: Photo by InAweofGod'sCreation used under the Creative Commons license

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Top 3 Changes in Genealogy

I was speaking to a friend recently and she asked me what I thought the top changes were to genealogy in the last few years.  That made me pause as I had never really considered it before.  But what a great question!  Here are my nominees:

1) Awareness and Visibility 

Genealogy and Family History have become much more popular thanks to television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, History Detectives, Faces of America and African American Lives.  These particular programs have focused specifically on genealogy or history.  Family History has also made cameo appearances on popular television programs such as Top Chef.  All combined these shows have increased America's desire to seek out their family history and begin the quest to discover their roots.

2) Education and Outreach

The past few years have seen great, positive strides in educational opportunities and outreach accessibility.  One of the major new educational opportunities has been the establishment of the Certificate in Genealogical Research at Boston University.  Veteran genealogist Melinde Lutz Byrne, CG, FASG, is the director of the program.

Another great educational opportunity that has come up in the past few years is the ProGen Study Group.  Headed by Angela Packer McGhie, the study group is a peer group of genealogists who want a more formal process to help them with their transition to becoming professionals. It is quickly becoming one of the standards on the road to becoming a professional genealogist.

Another form of outreach includes greater accessibility to educational seminars through webinars.  Webinars bring genealogical seminars straight to your laptop.  That means that researchers who live at a distance from major educational centers can now receive training right from their home. The major providers of webinars at the moment are Legacy Family Tree, the Southern California Jamboree Extension Series and FGS.  There is even a GeneaWebinars calendar that allows you to track all upcoming webinars in one location.

The community has also discovered new methods of outreach in the form of internet radio programs.  Every Friday night genealogists can tune in to live discussion and chats on Geneabloggers Radio hosted by Thomas MacEntee.

3) Technology 


The ability to share genealogical interests and information has never been easier with a journal-like format available on the internet called blogging.  Blogging has taken the genealogical community by storm.  The genealogical blogging community is headed up by Thomas MacEntee at the Geneabloggers website. There are currently over 1500 bloggers registered at the site which aids the bloggers by providing daily prompts and how-tos.  Bloggers write about everything from their personal family history, geographic-specific genealogy, gravestones, ethnic genealogy and much much more. Blogging has become so popular that bloggers are now featured as special guests at many conferences such as the Southern California Jamboree.


While this is not scientific, I would venture to say that Facebook has been adopted more quickly and completely by genealogists than any other group.  Genealogists by nature are a spread out group of people.  Tools like Facebook help genealogists to get connected and stay connected.  A number of distant cousins have found each other serendipitously on Facebook.  Many genealogical organizations such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) also have pages on Facebook which can be followed by Facebook members.


Rapid digitization has revolutionized genealogy in recent years.  Major groups like FamilySearch and have harnessed the power of volunteers to index millions of records.  Some newly digitized records are freely available at FamilySearch and others are accessible on subscription sites like, and  The upshot is that researching your family history is easier than ever using the internet.  But make no mistake, it will take decades before we reach saturation point on the internet so keep using libraries and archives to access non-digitized records.

What do you think of my Top 3 list?  Do you agree with my list or would you suggest something else?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Food For Thought: Birth Certificates

In yesterday's New York Times there was a very interesting article called "Who's On the Family Tree? Now It's Complicated" about how complex families have become.  The article digs into the issues of modern day families that include half-siblings, step-siblings (not that those both haven't been around for a very long time) sperm donation, surrogate mothers, same sex couples, etc.  It seems like future genealogists are going to have their hands full trying to keep track of it all.

One paragraph in the article really struck me:

"Even birth certificate reporting is catching up. New questions are being phased in nationally on the standard birth certificate questionnaire about whether, and what type of, reproductive technology was used, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

I was caught off guard that birth certificate questions had changed.  These questions weren't available when I gave birth to my last child just six years ago.  But the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea that these questions were being included on birth certificates.  

This is really pertinent information that a genealogist of the future might not otherwise know if the information weren't available on the birth certificate.  I think it will go a long way in helping future genealogists understand their ancestors.

I think that adding information about reproductive technology is a good start.  But maybe more information needs to be added. 

What information would you like to see added to birth certificates to help clarify details about birth? 

Do you think it's right, in the first place, for this information to be collected? 

How much information is too much or too little information?

Where do we go from here?

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this.

Source: Holson, Laura M. "Who's On the Family Tree? Now It's Complicated." The New York Times, 4 July 2011. Online version. : 2011.