Genealogy Blog

Three Tips for Self-Publishing Your Family History

05 Sep 2014


One of the great benefits of today’s technology age is how much easier it is to share our genealogical research. Self-publishing has come a long way in the last few years. Here are three tips for taking advantage of the wide variety of services for taking control of publishing your family stories.

1. Get editorial assistance.

It is a well-known truism that one cannot edit or proofread one’s own work. Our minds already know what we wanted to say, so when we try to edit or proofread ourselves, we miss many of the mistakes we have made. If you have a friend with editorial experience, you might be able to convince them to help you. But, if not, there are other options available to you. Editor World is one option. They can provide you with editorial assistance for a fee, with reasonable turnaround time.

2.  Pay for a designer.

Part of being creating a good publication is paying attention to the design. And I’m not referring to the cover design (which is the first thing everyone thinks of). I am talking about the interior layout of the book. This includes font, type size, margins, justifications, headers, footers, chapter breaks, and much more. Each and every one of these may sound inconsequential, but can have a major impact. What happens if you make the margins too small? Part of the text will be illegible because it will be in the gutter (where the pages attach to the binding), and part will be unreadable because the reader’s fingers will be blocking the text. A professional can put this together for you and you will have a fantastic product at the end. For more hints, read How Much Attention Should You Pay to Book Design.

3. Don’t violate copyright.

This may be the most difficult one to adhere to. You must be careful where you take information from, and how you use it. While facts (such as dates and places of birth, marriage, and death) are not copyrightable, the words used to convey that information are. Do not directly copy text but use your own words. Even more important are images. Remember that copyright currently lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. All those family photographs in your possession? Copyright belongs to the person who took the photograph, and to his/her heirs. The key date at the moment is 1944.

Five Things I Learned in School About Genealogy

22 Aug 2014


This is back to school time. I remember a special August more than thirty years ago when I arrived at the University of Massachusetts for my first band camp. Little did I know then how much college and the band would impact my life. And decades later, I still keep up with numerous friends from that time. And many of the lessons I learned in school are ones that I use in genealogy all the time. Here are a few of them.

1. Be an information sponge.

School is a time for learning. So many new opportunities open up to us to learn about subjects that mean something to us (as well as more than a few subjects that we probably don’t care about, but could use). We benefit most when we open up to the various opportunities available to us. As genealogists, we benefit from all kinds of learning. Working with experienced researchers; taking classes; attending seminars and workshops; reading blogs, magazines, and journals; and many other opportunities teach us how to become better at finding our ancestors.

2. If it doesn’t fit, change your tactics.

It continues to amaze me that in this country we ask 18-year-olds who are entering college to pick a major concentration that will be what they do for the rest of their life. Who knows at that age? It is one of the major ironies of my life that I wanted to be a history major in college, but thought I would never be able to find a job where a history major would come in handy. Instead, I changed my major numerous times. At various times in college my major was computer science, communication studies, and legal studies before settling into political science with a minor in history.  When I didn’t like the direction I was taking, I changed directions. The same thing should hold true for genealogical research. If a particular avenue isn’t working, switch to something different. A new approach may help you solve the problem.

3. If you make a mistake, learn and move on.

Lord knows I, like most college students, made my share of mistakes. We’re human. Everyone makes mistakes. Certainly most genealogists have had the experience of breaking out the chain saw and hacking a few limbs off the family tree. The important thing is to accept the mistake. Even the most experienced genealogists have had to do some pruning. Often it is through no fault of your own, but simply because new evidence has been uncovered and shed new light on existing facts that end up changing or eliminating relationships. Don’t cling to incorrect family members. You never know what exciting things you will find in the new banches.

4. The more you apply yourself, the better your results will be.

In this day of computers and technology, more and more genealogists are relying on the technology to do the research for them. If a system tells them that something is a possible match, they take it as gospel and graft it onto the family tree. While these things clues are important, they should be treated as what they are: clues for further research to prove that they are correct. The same goes for those who blindly download GEDCOM files from others and attach the data to their own tree. Roll up your sleeves and get to work verifying information before accepting it as true. It is the only way to be certain the people in your family tree are actually your ancestors.

5. Friends made here are friends for a lifetime.

Three decades later, I still count friends I made in high school and college as near and dear to my heart. We remain close even if we lose touch for periods of time. Facebook has helped dramatically, especially during times of shared loss. The same is true of genealogists. I remain friends with people I met when I first started researching my family back in the 1980s. Who else will put up with all of your stories other than genealogists? But we also help each other. We listen and offer feedback. We bounce ideas off of each other. And we share resources and opportunities with each other. Get out from behind the computer and get involved with your local genealogical and historical societies. You will be ever the richer for it.


5 Tips for Using a Professional to Overcome Your Brick Walls

26 Jul 2014


I am often asked what professional genealogists do. My colleagues and I are also often asked “Why should I hire a professional genealogist? And why won’t they guarantee results?” The truth is that professional genealogists can be of tremendous help to you. Here are five tips to help you work with a professional genealogist to break down your brick walls.

1. What can a professional do for me?

Professionals have extensive experience. They have spent years educating themselves, researching, and are quite knowledgeable. Their knowledge of methodology and research techniques is usually quite great. But it is not just for research only that you can hire a professional. Many of them will also do consultations for a fee, giving you assistance on where to focus your research.

2. Why can’t I just do it myself?

We can’t all be experts on everything. Professionals often have extensive experience, sometimes in a very narrow area. Sometimes, especially with your brick wall problems, you may have run out of ideas. Professionals with their greater expertise, may be able to find new avenues for research. They also usually have access to vast networks of colleagues with whom they can consult for even further ideas. This can be a shortcut for you, potentially saving you years of time.

3. Why won’t a professional guarantee results?

Because there is no way to know how long it will take, if ever, to find the answers you are seeking. When you hire a professional, you are paying for their expertise and their time to search. Sometimes we find the answer in a day, and sometimes it takes years, and there is no way to know in advance how long it will take. This is especially true of brick wall problems, where you have already examined the easily available resources. It took me seven years to find one marriage record in my own ancestry. The solution only arose when I saw a single, unrelated, original record, that indicated the family had moved elsewhere for a time. Not only won’t a qualified professional guarantee you results, you should run away from one who dies. They are clearly more interested in taking your money than providing you with excellent research services.

4. What should I do before hiring a professional?

Put together a succinct description of exactly what you are looking for. Send it to the professional, asking to gage their interest in the project. You should ask for an estimate of how much time, and the hourly rate. You can negotiate a certain amount of time. As a rule, it is better to authorize a minimum of 3 to 5 hours. It will take awhile for the professional to get moving, and you don’t want to cut them off if they are hot on the trail of a solution for you. Most professionals will ask for a retainer when working with a new client. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.

5. How can I find a professional to help me?

In the United States, visit the Association of Professional Genealogists. They have the largest network of genealogists. You can search the database by place of residence, as well as by areas of expertis. Members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists have undergone additional testing of their expertise. Member of all three organizations are required to agree to certain ethical standards, and you should certainly file a complain with the organizations if you feel that a professional has violated ethics in their work with you.


Share Your Story With the Future Through StoryCorps

28 Jun 2014

Summer is a great time for family history. Family vacations can include time for genealogy, with research, family visits, and outings to cemeteries. This summer, why not take some time to include participation in StoryCorps?

StoryCorps celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall. Since 2004, more than 80,000 people have contributed more than 50,000 interviews to the archive. They are creating a valuable genealogical resource for the future.

StoryCorps has a simple formula. Each recording includes two people who know each other well: family members, friends, etc. The two sit in the StoryCorps booth and talk for forty minutes. The subject is pretty much up to them, and topics vary widely.




StoryCorps has a commitment to documenting the stories of a wide variety of groups. They have a number of special outreach projects to document communities, including:

  • StoryCorps OutLoud (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered)
  • Military Voices Initiative (veterans, service members, and their families)
  • Historias Initiative (Latino/Latinas)
  • Griot Initiative (African Americans)
  • StoryCorps Legacy (those living with serious illness)
  • Memory Loss Initiative (those living with various forms of memory loss)

StoryCorps operates  permanent recording locations at Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. It also operates a MobileBooth that travels  across the country every year to record stories. This summer it will be visiting Marquette and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Groups can also sponsor a portable recording station to be brought to their location.

For those who cannot get to a recording station (permanent or mobile), there is StoryCorps DIY. You can record and share your story online and submit it to StoryCorps.

The best part of StoryCorps the group’s commitment to preserving these stories for the future. All of the StoryCorps recordings are archived at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. All recordings are available there

Unfortunately, only a selection of recording is available online, at the StoryCorps website. A podcast delivers access to more recordings, and StoryCorps recordings also air on National Public Radio.

Read more about the StoryCorps mission and how you can contribute on the StoryCorps website. You can listen to more stories on the NPR website. And think about spending some time this summer recording your story for the future.

Census History

24 Jun 2014

Census Bureau History


During Colonial times a number of censuses were taken, but they were small and local. It was not until the U.S. Constitution that the first large-scale census was taken. Article 1, Section 2, sets up the House of Representatives and reads in part:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifts of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. “

This was the foundation of our current census system. The United States was the first country to require a regular enumeration of inhabitants. The Constitution went into effect in June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it. The first Congress met from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791, and the enumeration began in August 1790. This first census had only five questions:

  1. Free White males of 16 years and upwards
  2. Free White males under 16 years
  3. Free White females
  4. All other free persons
  5. Slaves

As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for overseeing the taking of this first census. Enumerators had to provide their own paper, a tradition that would remain until 1830 when the first printed forms were finally provided. The total population in 1790 was 3,929,214 and cost $44,377.28.

By the 1940 census (the last publicly available census at the present time), the population had increased to 132,164,569, almost thirty-four times higher. The cost, however was more than fifteen hundred times higher: increasing to $67,527,000.

The population schedules included thirty-four questions. Two people (who randomly appeared on lines 14 and 29 of the schedule) were asked an additional sixteen questions. This was the largest number of questions of any publicly available census to date. It was not until the census of 2000 that more questions were asked (53 were asked that year). Censuses are released to the public seventy-two years after the enumeration. The 1950 census will not be released to the public until 2022.

Mocavo is pleased to have the census indexes for the 1790 through 1940 censuses available to the public for searching, part of our free forever campaign. For more information about the census, visit the Census Bureau’s website. You can search the entire set of census indexes for free on Mocavo.

Download Your Free Mocavo Military Genealogy Research Guide

24 May 2014

Memorial Day is the day when we take the time to celebrate and remember the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our country’s armed forces. At Mocavo, you can explore more than 500 million names in our military collections for free.

With the help of Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc, we created an educational Military Research Guide to help you navigate these important records. Uncover helpful research tips and a few military collections that can help you unlock the stories of the military heroes in your family tree.

Download Your Free Military Research Guide Now


3 Tips to Make the Most out of Your Family Reunion

08 May 2014

It’s that time of year again! The time when families gather together to celebrate their unique heritage at family reunions. Reunions offer one of best opportunities to share your stories, gather information and verify your research. The best way you can make the most out of your family reunion is to come prepared.

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1. Share Your Stories

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is taking the time to share your story. When researching our family history, it’s easy to get caught up in the stories of our ancestors, but it’s important to remember to document the important details of our own lives. Whether you take pen to paper and write down your favorite memories or take some time to make an audio or video recording of your favorite stories from the past, make sure to share these memories with your loved ones in person at your reunion. For more tips on preserving your own story, check out “For Future Generations, Say What You Need to Say.”

2. Gather Information

Family reunions offer the perfect excuse to set aside some time to talk with family members and discover their stories. Whether you already know a little bit about a person or nothing at all, it’s always a treat to be able to speak with family members in person. Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit to access five helpful tips for interviewing family members and an interview question worksheet. Bring multiple copies of the interview question worksheet to your family reunion so you can take notes and keep your research organized.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

3. Verify Your Research

There is no better time to verify your research than when you can discuss your findings with family members in person. Make sure you bring a summary of your present research so you know which facts you need to verify with family members. It’s also important to bring a copy of a current pedigree chart and/or family group sheet(s) so that you can stay on track when sharing or confirming your research. Finally, make sure to bring blank pedigree charts and family group sheets just in case you need to make additional notes or start documenting facts for a new ancestor. Your Mocavo Family History Toolkit also has blank copies of pedigree charts and family group sheets that you can print out and bring with you to any family event.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

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Hoosier Daddy? An Old Fashioned Soap Opera to Inspire Your Blog

04 Mar 2014

I frequently encourage genealogists to share their family history research with family members and others. In addition to sharing your research findings, people can learn about research techniques and resources from each other. Journals and popular genealogy magazines are a wonderful place to do this.

Blogs are another way to keep your family and friends in the information loop. One of the best ways to figure out what you want to do with your blog, and how you want to write is to look at blogs you enjoy reading. Take hints from them, and incorporate them into your own style.

Last fall you might have seen my Fireside Chat with my friend Michael Lacopo, a professional genealogist from Indiana. Michael recently made some interesting discoveries in his research. He decided to share his story with others, so he started a blog.

From the get-go one can see Michael’s sense of humor. He titled his blog Hoosier Daddy? His mother was adopted as an infant in1947. Her adoptive parents were always up front with her about the adoption, and told her what they knew about his birth parents. As he got older and started his genealogical research, Michael’s interest was piqued. He wanted to find his mother’s birth parents for her. Thus the name, Hoosier Daddy?

The blog starts with the beginning of his search in the 1980s. He writes in a conversational style. No scholarly discussion here. Yet he is still clear in his writing, explaining the history, and taking the reader not only through his research process, but his thought process as well. Reading through the posts, one feels a part of the story.

We often hear about putting the family in historical context. Michael easily brings us into the story, making us care about the people without making up stories. Take the following passage about his great-grandparents from his post Grandma, Part I:




“The marriage between Volney and Gracie Mae was apparently a monumental mismatch. Married just three months before the birth of their first daughter, Clara Belle, in 1909, it was probably a union that neither entered into with great joy. He was twenty-six years old, an athlete, a musician and a notorious ladies man. She was nineteen years old and pregnant. Volney had an eye for the young girls, and “he had a horse which he rode all over the country courting several girls at the same time.” Granted, when Volney met eighteen-year-old Gracie she shared her home with six sisters, but she was the one who caught his eye, because after all “she was considered to be the smartest and prettiest of the Hanks girls.” Unfortunately, marriage and family did nothing to change Volney’s ways, and everything to change Gracie’s.”

Reading Michael’s posts is like following an old-fashioned soap opera, or other well-crafted television show. You just can’t wait for the next installment to arrive!. Read Hoosier Daddy, but start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). And hopefully you will get some inspiration to start writing your own family’s story.


5 Tips for Attending a Conference

04 Feb 2014

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m here in Salt Lake City this week for RootsTech. It is a large conference, and Mocavo is one of the sponsors. We will have a booth in the exhibit hall, so please be certain to stop by and say hello to us. And, as we announced last week, we will be offering quick research consultations in our booth each day, so please take advantage (see Consultations at RootsTech for more details). I would like to offer you a few tips for attending a genealogy conference.




1. This one is a bit tardy for you if you going to RootsTech, but one of the things I like to do when attending a conference is to arrive early or stay a few days afterwards. This gives me an opportunity to take advantage of the research repositories in the area, and to be a bit of a tourist and sight-see. And I usually talk a few friends into doing the same thing, so we have a great time together!

2. I am always astonished at the number of people I see at conferences wearing heels. And this goes for men as well as women. Now, most men at a conference do not wear 4-inch stiletto heels, but men’s dress shoes often come with a small heel that can be just as irritating. Much of your time at a conference will be spent walking on cement floors, even if it does have a small bit of carpeting on it. Wearing sensible shoes with lots of support will make your life much easier. And comfortable shoes with support can still be tasteful and stylish too.

3. Most people review the schedule in advance to see which sessions they would like to attend. I suggest going a step further and compare the sessions to the map of the venue. Classrooms in convention centers can be spread far apart from each other. Look at which sessions are in close proximity at the same time, and in the periods immediately before and after. This will allow you to minimize walking by attending sessions that are close to one another.  And knowing what Is nearby can allow you to move to a different session you are interested in if the one you are in does not meet your needs.

4. To take the best advantage of your time in the exhibit hall, leave a session a few minutes early. As long as you do it extremely quietly, with the least amount of disruption, the speaker likely will not mind. What is troublesome for us is when someone sitting in the middle of the second row gets up and makes a huge ruckus when leaving. If you place to leave early, sit at the end of a row near the entrance to the classroom. That way you can depart quickly and easily causing minimal disruption.

5. Many conferences now have apps for your smartphone or tablet. Make sure you download it. The apps provide you with easy access to a great deal of information, including session schedules and maps, exhibitor lists, exhibit hall maps, etc. If you don’t want it taking up room on your phone for a year, just delete it once the conference is over. If you do keep the app from year to year, be certain to check for any updates prior to the next year’s conference so you don’t experience any difficulties.

A Challenge for 2014: Three Steps for Sharing Your Family History

07 Jan 2014

So we are off on a New Year. And, as we discussed last week, I hope you have put together some goals for your genealogical research in 2014. I’ve been working on mine, and BOY will 2014 be a busy one for me!

One of the things I think is very important is sharing your family history. I have heard way too many stories of genealogists whose life work is accumulated in file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves, only to have it tossed out by family members after the genealogist passes away. This is a true tragedy.

One of the major problems is genealogists who feel they can’t share their research until they are “done.” Let me tell you from my many years of experience that only rarely will you ever be “done.” There will always be a new line, a new question, additional evidence, etc.

The moral of the story is, don’t wait to be “done.” Share as you go. Put together bits and pieces of the family story into smaller stories. As you put more and more of these stories together, you can eventually put together the bigger picture of your family.




Take these three simple steps to start sharing your research with your family so your work won’t be lost.

1. Format

Decide what form you want your sharing to take. The world of the Internet has given us many new options for sharing. Select a family to look at and review the materials you have for that family. Do you have written stories? Original documents? Images of records? Oral interviews? Here are some formats you can utilize:

  • Monograph This is a traditional way of publishing. Write up your family in a traditional genealogical sketch format. You can focus on a single family unit (parents children, and grandchildren), or expand it to include more of the lineage. You can have these printed at your local copy shop relatively inexpensively, and give them to the family.
  • Blog Creating a blog is very simple nowadays. In addition to sharing information about your family, you can write about your research process. Even distant family members will be able to easily follow your research, and it makes it even easier for them to find you and get in touch to share research.
  • Slide Show/Video If you have lots of images, video, and/or oral interviews, you can easily create a slide show or simple video to share. Be certain when putting these materials together that you are not violating anyone’s copyright.


2. Schedule

Put your project into your calendar. Scheduling time to work on it on a regular basis will make it easier to accomplish. You won’t have to constantly remember and try to fit it into your schedule once it is filled with other items.


3. Review

Periodically review your progress. This is even more important if you have multiple projects going at the same time.  Periodic reviews will also ensure you make headway on each task. You can reevaluate your project and guarantee success.

Follow these steps and you will be surprised how quickly you will make progress. And as you finish one project, you will be able to start on the next one.

For 2014 I would like to give you a challenge. Pick at least one project. One story. And start writing it up and putting it together to share with your family. Try it for at least a few months, and see how much progress you make. Your family will be so grateful to hear the stories of their history!