30    Dec 20082 comments

Google your way to family history

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Do you know how to use Google to search for your family? Do you really know how to use all Google features to do this?

A new book, "Google Your Family Tree: Unlock the Hidden Power of Google," by genealogy and technology expert Dan Lynch, will help you do just that.

The book is a comprehensive, expertly written manual of all things Google. Although written for genealogists, it covers researching for everyone about everything.

The clear step-by-step instructions help users learn how to use both the well-known and lesser-known Google tools. There are additional tips for genealogists.

I was surprised by what I didn't know! And judging from comments by other family historians and genealogists, I'm not alone. Even expert researchers are saying they've been learning new techniques also.

There are many variations in constructing a good Google search, and the author presents what could be somewhat confusing material into easily understood concepts by everyone, no matter their skill level.

He encourages readers to try things out as they go through the 352-page book. The wide page margins are great for making notes and there are worksheets for what he has planned as an interactive workbook.

What's most important, I think, is that it isn't only for genealogists and family history fans, but offers essential information for Internet researchers of all topics.

Each example uses Dan's own ancestor and related details to illustrate the results obtained. Using one person and one family's details means readers can more easily follow the techniques of creating good searches.

He's also asking readers to submit new tips and techniques not covered in the book, and he intends to create a blog that will update readers on new or improved Google features.

The book comes with two separate cards offering a quick reference guide to basic and advanced searching. This makes it easy to take along or use at home.

Most features I had known about and had used in simple searches (I learned a lot more!), while other tools were new to me, but explained concisely. Google Alerts is one feature I've used for some time. It helps me know what is happening in the international genealogy world almost as it happens.

This is an efficiently organized, easily understood volume that should be of great value to anyone - not only genealogists - who needs to find anything on the internet.

For more information, click Google Your Family Tree.

9    Dec 20084 comments

Family threads: Creating heirlooms to pass down

With today's technology, it is easy to create and print a family history chart. But here are some ideas for more unusual methods of recording your ancestors.

Although many researchers today use the Internet to create family websites to share information and collaborate with international branches, here are other ways to create a family heirloom to hand down through the generations.

In the old days, young girls created needlework samplers to show their skill - cross-stitched fabric works including the name of the young woman who sewed it, the date, alphabets and designs worked in various colors. Very popular in the British Isles and other European countries, they are today considered major collectibles, and often featured on such television programs as "The Antiques Roadshow" and similar productions.

Before I discovered genealogy, I embroidered many framed pieces for our daughter and made others celebrating the weddings of friends and family. After genealogy entered my life, I was too busy researching to return to needlework.

Imagine having a framed sampler - recording the birth of a new baby, its parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or one for a bride and groom - to hand down through the generations!

Other possibilities include a family tree quilt, or a wall-hanging of a family's major branches,

My grandmother enjoyed cross-stitching tablecloths and I own one of her beautiful ones. It isn't very big, but just perfect for our balcony table when we have luncheons outdoors.

What about a large tablecloth for a specific holiday that your family can use each year? You don't even have to create the designs yourself. Many manufacturers sell kits of the fabric with a stamped design, the embroidery thread, even the necessary needles. You may have siblings or cousins who may want to work on such a project together, just like old-time quilting parties seen in old movies.

What about needlepoint or embroidered Christmas tree ornaments that can be used for years and passed down to future generations? These kits are rather inexpensive and there are even holiday card kits available. That's one card that no one will throw away after the season!

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There are many choices of fabric; silk, cotton, wool or metallic threads and ribbons. Be as creative as you want.

There are many websites such as TraditionalStitches.com or the ScarletLetter.com, or 123Stich.com which offer kits, supplies, ribbons, threads, books and everything one would need to create a multitude of projects for different occasions.

Some sites offer kits for wedding quilts or designers offer to create quilts from meaningful fabric pieces provided by family and friends. Lori Mason Design is one of those sites; she also creates memorial quilts from recycled fabrics and clothing of loved ones. For an anniversary quilt, one could incorporate fabric pieces from children's clothing, bridal gown and other important "pieces." Even a men's tie collection can produce a magnificent quilt.

Here's a wonderful wedding sampler from AnitasArts.com

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For a style that goes equally well with old-fashioned or very modern tastes, here's an example of a sampler from Vierlande near Hamburg, Germany. These special samplers are nearly always worked in black thread on white or light linen with rows of geometric designs.

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Check out some of the sites above and do let me know which items you liked. Do your, your friends or relatives enjoy making these very personal creations? Would you like to receive one? I look forward to your comments.

9    Dec 20083 comments

The thrill of the hunt, the fun of the search

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Genealogy is a detective show.

Those who research their families utilize all the skills of detectives in rooting out the histories of their families, skeletons, scandals and all.

In addition to becoming computer proficient to access resources around the world, we must learn to read old handwriting, how to recognize our names in their original alphabets and original spellings, how to find the kernel of truth in family stories and separate that truth from the myth or the embellishment of centuries.

Some genealogists might say that if something is too easy, a second look may be in order - to check the facts.

We read up on history and how world events impacted our families. We learn about religious customs, traditions and histories in different countries to understand how those events may have impacted our ancestors and influenced their lives, leading to early or later immigration. To understand how our ancestors moved around - and they really did move! - we learn about transportation in historical periods - wagons, trains, boats or foot power.

Why did our ancestors immigrate to or later settle in a specific location? Did they follow a trade centered in that city, such as textiles or iron working? City histories help us understand why certain industries developed those towns. As one example, perhaps it was because of a specific natural resources, such as a high-quality special clay used in porcelain china production in certain UK and German towns.

I must admit that history was not one of my best subjects in school. Why did I have to learn all those dates and obscure names? What use was it to me?

This all changed when I caught the genealogy bug. I found myself reading - inhaled is a better word - everything I could discover about the places my ancestors lived. Immediately, that old, dull history became very personal - everything that happened in that place happened to my ancestors, and I needed to learn all about it to understand how they lived and worked.

I will never forget the first day I saw Talalay in its original Cyrillic (Russian) and then the first time I read it on a New York passenger arrival manifest. While I knew the basics of our history, really seeing the family name on an official historical document finally made my ancestors real. Yes, they did live in that place - the record proved it. Yes, they arrived in New York City on a certain day - the arrival record proved it.

Each piece of the puzzle - for that is exactly what genealogy is - fits together to form a picture of our ancestors and their descendants. Each should fit neatly into the next but sometimes there are gaps in the puzzle and we are encouraged once again to find the missing pieces.

The skills we use for this search are the same skills that are used by detectives, historians, anthropologists, the police and other investigative agencies. The Internet provides many resources to help us, from teaching us how to read German black Gothic handwriting to providing online translation services, from providing images of small towns in Hungary or Spain to offering lists of those buried in ancient cemeteries around the world.

But researchers have to start somewhere to find the puzzle pieces.

If you are new to this game, here are a few basic tips for getting started (other postings give more detailed methods):

Talk to your oldest relatives and record what they say. Interview all your relatives about what they know about the family history; ask about old documents they may have, including photographs (every family has one of those boxes!), even those unlabeled.

Ask about the basics, but also ask about skeletons in the family closet. Always listen carefully if a relative says, "Well, you won't believe this, but this is what the family has always said...."

Many researchers have followed these clues to fascinating discoveries. In our family, generations have said Talalay was our name when we left Spain, and no one believed our Mogilev, Belarus family had Sephardic roots from Spain. However, we've unearthed documents (1353,1394 in Catalunya) that seem to confirm Talalya as the original name.

Once you have the basics, visit a nearby genealogy library or begin online research to access records for census, voting, military service, immigration, birth, marriage and death records - all of these (and more) will begin to put together a picture of your family.

Organize a family website on MyHeritage.com to record your data and to share information and photographs with family branches around the world.

The journey down Discovery Road is a lot of fun - you never know whom you might meet around the world or what information you may find. Remember that every detail you uncover adds to the bigger picture and to your family. Each item you record preserves information and helps you transmit it to future generations. Family history connects the past to the future and you are part of it.

I recently read about one researcher who commented on finding skeletons in the family closet. If you find them, "take them out and let them dance."

Have you discovered new branches on your personal Discovery Road? What unusual experiences have you encountered? How has your family reacted to your search for roots? I'd like to read your comments about your own experiences.

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