Although family history is becoming increasingly high-tech, there are those days when we wish we had a genie in a lamp.
After hours of fruitless searching for what seems to be a non-existent direct ancestor - although we know they MUST have existed or we wouldn't be here looking for them - it would be great to just grab that lamp, rub it a few times (depending on the version of the folktale you follow) and ask the emerging genie for help.
Genealogy conferences might feature workshops titled "The care and feeding of your genie," "Getting your genie online," or "Polishing the lamp: Keep your genie happy."
According to folklore, of course, the problem is asking the correct three wishes, and we look forward to experts presenting workshops on techniques for constructing them.
Something else to consider: Would there be a difference between asking a polite question or giving a command to "dig up" the information we need? Does the word "wish" need to be included?
"Could you please find Uncle Melvin's birthdate" might bring a very different result from commanding the genie to "I wish you would bring me Uncle Melvin."
What are the three most urgent questions that your genie could help answer?
Imagine going down to the cellar of your house and seeing "1423" carved in an original beam.
Our daughter once lived in Zurich, Switzerland. Her fascinating house on a historic street - Rennweg - in the center of town was on all the medieval maps at the city museum.
In the Middle Ages, it was the main street of the city's upper town and ran along the 12th century city wall from a fortified gate to the town hall. During street renovations, a Roman-era well was discovered.
Except for that carved date in an ancient wooden beam, a casual visitor would not have known the nearly 600-year-old building's history. Of course, other clues were the very steep steps, sloping floors and oddly-shaped rooms, but everything else was modern.
Wouldn't you love to know the history of your home? When it was built and by whom? Who lived in it through the years? How they were connected to the community in which they lived?
Unless preserved, this type of information is often lost.
In Ithaca, New York, a group of people have come up with a local project to preserve house history - one which could easily be replicated in places around the world.
Journals and diaries are excellent resources for family history research.
Don't you wish your ancestors had recorded their daily lives and thoughts in a format that has come down to you as a treasured keepsake through the centuries?
I know someone whose ancestor left a journal written several hundred years ago. The writer describes the family's everyday life in difficult new surroundings, how they celebrated holidays, the writer's wishes for her descendants far in the future and much more. It is as if the writer knew it would be treasured and passed down through the generations, as it has been. It is a priceless heirloom.
Put yourself in the shoes of a great-grandchild who finds your journal. What do you think will interest him or her? What is happening in your life now that you want future generations to know about? Do you want to include advice for future generations?
Photos of bride and groom are among the most cherished in families. Copies are sent far and wide, to relatives in other countries. When researchers begin to expand their family histories they often find the same photographs in the hands of branches in several countries or different cities.
It's another way of confirming the relationship between two groups of people. The sender of the photo may have inscribed it to the person who received it and indicated that the receiver was an aunt, uncle, cousin or sibling of the person who sent it. They may also have included the date and place of the wedding and the full names of bride and groom.
Here are more tips when working with wedding photos:
If you are lucky, these lifecycle events will be documented in the newspapers where your family lived. The pages also allow us to glimpse how people lived, what they bought, what they ate, their social activities and more through advertisements and local event coverage.
If your family lived in New Mexico, you may find information dating back to 1860, as the University of New Mexico Libraries has just received a major grant to digitize the state's old newspapers (1860-1922).
As a young girl visiting my grandmother in upstate New York during the summers, we would often go to see her friend Fanny who lived not far away.
I remember the old country farm house set in large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.
Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn't recognize the importance of these finds.
Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields.
Now that I'm back to my normal routine, I'm trying to review the great experiences from this summer.
Great times included four conferences in California, Washington State and Texas; visiting dear friends and family members; and meeting several relatives for the first time as we shared family history.
At all the conferences, I helped explain what we do at MyHeritage.com and how our tools and features make it easy for families to connect and communicate no matter where they live.
My suitcase now includes several new T-shirts from this year's events and some for 2011 events.
Here are some highlights:
Some 50 geneabloggers attended the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree this year.
In a move that could be a real moneymaker - and thus an incentive to provide genealogical services - for many additional countries, Ireland will begin providing Irish Heritage certificates by the end of 2010.
There are some 70 million individuals worldwide with Irish heritage, and this seems like a great way to show it. The certificate may also provide travel and tourist discounts when the certificate-holders visit Ireland.
After reconnecting with someone whom I knew in California and who was now in New Jersey, I realized her husband's family's long connection to a small community, now a suburb of a larger city, in that Eastern state. My own family had a long-ago connection to the same community when it was much, much smaller, and more rural.
My great-grandmother's sister and her husband had settled in that small town soon after they arrived in 1905, although my great-grandmother and her family lived in nearby big-city Newark.
I took a chance and asked if the woman's husband, whose family had lived there from the early 1900s, possibly had known my relatives. It was very exciting to learn that my great-grandmother's sister had been the husband's babysitter!
Researchers often dream of being locked up in a library, where we would have all the time in the world to enjoy those resources.
Since we don't usually get the chance to have unlimited access to such facilities, another interesting activity is to be at a conference attended by several hundred librarians.
Daniel Horowitz - Genealogy and Translation Manager at MyHeritage.com - and I were at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Seattle, Washington.
On the first day, we met with people from around the US and those who had traveled from other countries. Attendees were from public libraries, universities, schools, archives and many other organizations and institutions.