13    May 20100 comments

Do you have the time?

MyHeritage has the time - a TimeLine and a TimeBook.

Not sure what these are? Read on for quick descriptions and video links to provide more information. I'm focusing on TimeLine in this post.

Timeline is an interactive feature demonstrating the relationship of history's main events to your family's important dates.

This is an important feature because each person's unique family history has always been impacted by worldwide historical events that caused very local effects.

One example might be an early 19th-century cholera epidemic, quite common at the time around the world and frequently fatal for young children and the elderly. Such epidemics may be responsible for many deaths noticed in historical vital records.

And, while regional and world wars covered a wide swath of territory, local events may have "encouraged" your ancestors to move somewhere less chaotic and more safe.

To truly understand the lives of our ancestors, we need to learn about historical events that may have effected them.

When I began my quest, I noticed that my great-grandmother's brother, Chatzkel Bank, had arrived in New York City in January 1913 and began working to bring over his wife, son and infant daughter. Continue reading "Do you have the time?" »

4    May 20104 comments

Maps: Learning about your community

What do breweries and a local Chinatown have to do with family history?

Students in a free genealogy class at a Sacramento, California library used historic fire insurance maps to walk through their community's 19th-century history without leaving the classroom, according to this story in the Sacramento Bee.

Instructor Melinda Kashuba said these maps are "obscure resource that can let a person's mind wander down the streets of their forebears," and that researchers can learn a lot about the lives of their ancestors.

Here's an example, above left; for the larger image, see below.

These maps indicate schools, churches, businesses and more. All provide additional leads for researchers, according to Kashuba.

An 1898 map of North Bloomfield shows that the area between Main Street and a nearby creek was where Chinese workers lived.

A map of Truckee from the late 19th century said the area between a hillside and West Main Street was lined with "female boarding houses," or brothels, Kashuba said.

Mapmakers had noted that a brewery in Mokelumne Hill was lit by candles and had no night watchman, making it a poor insurance risk, she said.

What makes me even happier - in addition to teaching beginners how to use these maps - is that the class was part of the library's free genealogy program. Future classes will focus on finding New England ancestors and researching church records

The fire insurance maps - a main publisher was the Sanborn Map Co. (Pelham, New York) - were printed 1860-1940, and provided insurance companies data to determine fire risks of  buildings and neighborhoods, without having to send an underwriter on a personal visit. The maps were the equivalent of today's Google views.
Continue reading "Maps: Learning about your community" »

27    Apr 20106 comments

For fun: How the Internet sees you!

Family history researchers can become rather single-minded about their quest for ancestral data.

It is always good to kick back and read something funny, such as Chris Dunham's The Genealogue, or try something else that might add a different perspective to our searches.

I've mentioned Chris' site as his unusual and humorous approach to genealogy is always welcome, and he also offers lists of categorized genealogy blogs for your enjoyment. However, here's a new site to try for a different reason. Personas is an interesting "installation."

Created by Aaron Zinman (who holds an MIT| PhD in Media Arts and Sciences) as an art installation - a component of Metropath(ologies), an interactive exhibit by the Sociable Media Group, MIT Media Lab - it was on display at the MIT Museum. In its first month, it was accessed by more than 1.5 million users.

According to the site, it creates "a data portrait of one's aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you." It purports to provide a visual graph of an individual's persona based on an Internet search, and you can see what it is finding as it searches the Web.

Enter the name of a person and watch the graph visualization take place as you read the text under the graph.

In addition to names of people, you can plug in the name of a genealogy blog, for example, and receive a "characterization" of it after an Internet search. Here are some of the blogs searched on Personas:

Click to view photo in full size

Click to view photo in full size

Continue reading "For fun: How the Internet sees you!" »

22    Apr 20100 comments

Preservation: Twitter, digital records and more

In this Internet age, how can we preserve digital and traditional photos, documents, recordings and more?

There were several announcements this week by the Washington, DC-based Library of Congress. Here are two of them.

TwitterOne was the acquisition by the LOC of the entire Twitter archive. Ever tweet that you - and everyone else - has ever sent since Twitter launched will be archived for eternity.

There's a good side to this, as well as a cautionary note. The positive note is that our descendants will learn more about us as individuals, what we were interested in, what was important to us, and academics will be able to spend years researching the information and how Twitter changed the world.

In a lighter vein, our future generations will know where we went for lunch, what we ate, if we enjoyed it, and find links to every genealogy (and other blogs) post.

Continue reading "Preservation: Twitter, digital records and more" »

29    Nov 20095 comments

Family Statistics: A great new feature

Age DistributionFamily tree charts are very useful for an overall view of our ancestors, while descendant chart printouts help us understand, in a linear format, how the generations of our family relate to each other.

Now there's an entertaining way, via MyHeritage.com's new free tool, to learn family statistics contained in your data.

Called "Family Statistics," the new tool will help researchers access and understand 45 sets of statistics gathered from the information in their trees. It will also help identify data entry errors so they can be fixed.

The stats are organized into six Family Zones: names, places, ages, births, marriages and divorces.

Colorful charts indicate the age bracket distribution across your tree, as well as oldest and youngest family members. Learn who lived the longest, who married the youngest, who married the latest, which couple had the most children and many more details, such as the most common birth month of your relatives.

Life ExpectancyFamily Statistics is completely free and easily accessed from the MyHeritage welcome page or from the Reports tab of members' Family Tree sites. If you've just joined MyHeritage, but have not yet uploaded a Gedcom or entered family tree date, you won't see the Reports tab. That should encourage you to add more data s soon as possible!

How can Family Statistics help you in other ways?
Continue reading "Family Statistics: A great new feature" »

29    Jan 20090 comments

Genealogy trends: Bright ideas

Put tooltip here

When was the last time you used a typewriter?

Technology crept into my life when I switched from my beloved black portable manual Remington typewriter to an IBM electric.

Just a few years ago - relatively speaking - personal computers were just appearing on the scene. We researched the old-fashioned way - handwriting letters, loading rolls of film in our cameras, visiting dusty archives and rolled microfilm in resource centers. It took hours of effort to search for family information.

Today we connect in ways we couldn't imagine only a short time ago. We communicate almost instantaneously with email and messaging, and we can access ever-expanding Internet resources for family history. Everyone is connected by computer, by cellphone, by technology.

Once upon a time, my technology arsenal consisted of an electric typewriter. Today, it includes an all-in-one scanner-copier-fax, a desktop PC with large flatscreen monitor, a regular laptop (now semi-retired), a new mini-notebook (for travel), digital camera, cellphone and other personal devices. I am not a techie, so each new device means some frustration and excitement until I learn how to use it.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep us connected, and there are genealogy pages and groups on those sites, as well as active forums and family websites here at MyHeritage. These advances help us find farflung relatives.

What can we expect tomorrow? What new equipment or software to help us connect with family members around the world?

While not all research can be done at home - glued to a computer monitor - in our pajamas and bunny slippers, every day more resources are online, making it easier.

More organizations with important archives understand that records and resources are more useful if more people can access them. Scanning and digitizing projects and website data collections are increasing, for free or for paid access.

Topping the list are expanding digitizing projects, better retrieval and search techniques, more mobile services, social media and next-generation web technologies, along with improved data collection and cataloging.

Innovation is the lifeblood of genealogy. Most genealogical conferences address the future, offering demonstrations of new equipment, software, techniques and tools, new projects and trends. Do you wonder what's coming next?

How about a single device, incorporating a handheld mobile device, touch screen, built-in camera, scanner, wifi, Google Map, Google Search, Image Search, all-in-one, on a small transparent screen.

Point it at a building and retrieve its history; see what businesses are on each floor. Point it at a house, retrieve its history, architect and builder, owners through the years. Visit a cemetery and learn all about it, see a burial plot plan with GPS locations and locate an ancestor's grave.

Would you believe a flat, flexible phone with similar functions that can be worn like a bracelet? It could do everything a PDA or phone can do, but right on your wrist?

For a larger version, visualize a flat digital wallet tablet with a pen and a touch screen? This would also combine a flexible portable display, personal reader, an ebook reader. Roll it up and put it in your pocket until needed again.

This is an exciting time to be a genealogist! What are your predictions for the future?

I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

2    Jan 20098 comments

New Family Tree Builder 3 offers more features

It is now easier than ever for the more than 27 million worldwide MyHeritage members to discover, connect and communicate with their extended family network and research their family history.

We have just released the new Family Tree Builder 3.0 - available as a free download - with improved standard and premium features. Members can download the software, work online or offline at their convenience, and later upload information to their family pages at the website.

FTB 3.0 languages include Afrikaans, Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, EnglishUS/UK, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese-Brazil, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian and Yiddish.

While there are standard free features and the basic family website is free, there are also exciting premium features accessible through two fee plans based on numbers of individuals and online storage. One plan offers a special discounted price of less than $24 for the year for full functionality of all the premium features. Sign up through January 15 to take advantage of this plan, which covers up to 2,500 people in one online tree with 500MB of online storage.


Improved multilingual support: MyHeritage is multilingual in 34 languages for display and data entry; members can enter data in two languages at one time. Data can be displayed in one language (e.g. English) and also entered in two other languages (e.g. Spanish and Russian) at the same time. This can be a useful tool to involve younger generations in family history - they might not be as fluent in the main research language. The ability to share information in many languages enables improved family connectivity around the world, encouraging sharing and collaboration on family history projects by relatives in different countries.

Geographical Mapping: FTB 3.0 creates a list of relevant geographical place names for each tree. This feature remembers previously entered place names so users do not have to re-enter the same locations. For a better world view of where your family lived long ago and where relatives live today, go to the place name list, click on a location and go to its Google Map. In the new release, the feature is better integrated with the website to help members share and collaborate with family around the world.

Improved Publisher: FTB 3.0 has been improved so that members can now work on other tasks while the publisher works in the background. This can be a major time-saver for those publishing large family trees to the MyHeritage site.

Export/Import GedCom: GedCom (Genealogical Data Communication) is a standard format for transferring genealogical information from one program to another. Members do not have to re-enter all their data if they can export or import a Gedcom of their family tree, saving time and energy.


SmartMatch Merge compares your tree with all the trees in the MyHeritage database. This is open to everybody. This premium feature provides the ability to merge with one click - when you compare your tree and one with a match. The program checks not only the individual in question but his or her close family members (parents, children, siblings, spouses, etc.). Privacy settings are respected for living people, hiding information about people who do not match.

SmartResearch compares more than 110 (and growing) of the most important genealogical databases. Members can search for matches for only one individual or for all people on a single tree at one time. For subscription websites, SmartResearch will reveal results provided on a free search of that site (e.g. an index).

All-in-one tree presents, for one individual, everyone related to that person by blood or marriage. It provides a complete view - the big picture - of your family tree.

Video, Audio & Document Publishing allows members to upload videos, audio clips and documents to their family page at MyHeritage so the entire family can relive those great moments and learn about family history.

Priority Support

*The free basic plan is for an online tree with up to 500 people with up to 100MB online storage.

The Premium Plan is discounted through January 15, 2009: $1.95 per month (regularly $3.95 per month). Online tree of up to 2,500 people with up to 500MB storage. Includes accessibility to Smart Match Merge, Smart Research, All-in-One Chart, Publishing Videos and Documents, and Priority Support.

The PremiumPlus Plan offers an unlimited family tree and unlimited online storage and full functionality of premium features, for $9.95 per month.

For more details, click here to read the complete press release.

Do let me know if you've tried out the new release and your comments on the new features. I always look forward to hearing from readers.

6    May 20082 comments

Steve Morse: New One-Step resources

Dr. Stephen P. Morse has been interested in genealogy since he was a young boy. He's also the creator of the 8086 chip, the ancestor of today's Pentium processor. Without that little design, you wouldn't be reading this now. But Morse's creativity goes much further.

When the Ellis Island Database came online several years ago, with some 23 million records of immigrants entering through New York, Morse was one of the first to log on. He was soon frustrated by the inefficient search engine and knew he could do better. His tools for better searching have helped many researchers find their elusive ancestors. The rest is history.

His innovative tools for many databases and other aids are neatly cataloged at his One-Step site. Each time a new database is made accessible online, there seems to be a Morse aid to find things better and faster within that resource.

His pages have been very helpful in my own searching and I've found people who just didn't show up using any other technique.

Put tooltip here
Dr. Stephen P. Morse

Categories on his site include

Ellis Island (many forms, manifests, ship lists, NY passengers, directories, pictures NARA/FHL roll numbers)

Castle Garden (manifests, ship lists, browser, passengers)

Other Ports (passengers, manifests, ship lists for Baltimore, Boston, Galveston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Hamburg, Canadian, Germans to America, Italians to America, Russians to America, etc.)

US Census (street finder, census codes, rolls, browser, descriptions counties, name searches, changed street names, soundex).

Canadian/UK Census

New York Census (Brooklyn 1925 name index, etc.)

Vital Records (birthdays, public records, addresses, ages, Social Security Death Records, Social Security Numbers, naturalization records, incarceration records, NY birth records, NY groom/bride index, death records, cemeteries, county indexes, Illinois, Montreal, etc.)

Calendar/Maps (Jewish calendar, Moslem calendar, French calendar, zip code maps, maps, latitude/longitude, area codes, country codes, etc.).

Foreign Alphabets (translation, transliteration, Hebrew, Russian, Greek, Yiddish, soundex, cursive/print, foreign Googles, virtual keyboards, etc.)

Holocaust & Eastern Europe (variety of information)

Genetics (FamilyTreeDNA markers, haplogroups, charts, distances, migration, etc.)

Creating Search Applications

Miscellaneous (many other topics and innovations)

One of his newer helps are One-Step searches for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently made available passenger lists of Russian, German, Italian and Irish lists.

Each list is generally of immigrants who identified their nationality as Russian, German or Italian, and who landed in New York, Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans or Philadelphia during the 19th century. The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies created the passenger list indexes; however, they are not complete listings of all these immigrants.

For some tips on how to search these, see the Family Tree Magazine article here.

Morse speaks at many genealogy conferences and meetings in North America; his speaking schedule is listed here. If he will be speaking in your area, try to attend his lecture.

He has written articles for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly ("Deep Linking & Deeper Linking," "Jewish Calendar Demystified"). He's received many awards including the 2008 Unified Polish Genealogical Societies Thank You Award, the 2007 Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly Excellence Award, the National Genealogical Society Award of Merit, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (2003 Outstanding Contribution Award and 2006 Lifetime Achivement Award), while articles have been written about him in Heritage Quest Magazine, Genealogical Computing and elsewhere.

If you've used Morse's One-Step pages, I'd like to hear from you. I look forward to reading your comments.

28    Nov 20070 comments

Footnote.com: Create your own projects

Click to go to footnote.com

I've met the people at Footnote.com at several conferences, and they are continually bringing new resources online.

To learn about new resources as they are added, go to Footnote.com and sign up for Footnote's alert service.

The site has now announced that researchers can create their own projects online at the site.

Each time, I've searched the site, I've discovered fascinating records which focus on individuals who served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as well as my 20th century Eastern European immigrant ancestors. Some 20 million original documents are now available and about 2 million are added each month.

In addition to saving the documents you find, visitors can now also upload original images and documents to share with others interested in the same names or locations, thus aiding collaboration among more researchers, who may each have a piece of a larger puzzle.

There are tools to make your original uploaded items searchable to other researchers. The only limit to this great idea is your own creativity and Footnote's resources - which increase daily.

If you'd like to learn more about this resource, you can read about it here.

If you've checked out Footnote, set up a project or have comments or questions, I look forward to hearing from you.

1    Oct 20071 comment

Poland: Podcasting and genealogy

Since 1995, DearMYRTLE has provided family historians with practical information. She's now doing podcasts with her Family History Hour.

Author/editor Cecil Wendt Jensen was her guest on August 14. Jensen dispelled myths that Polish records were destroyed during the wars and that the language barrier makes research difficult.

Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw's Old Town

In 1998, Jensen switched to professional genealogy in 1998 after 30 years as an educator. She is a Certified Genealogist, runs the Michigan Polonia website, and is completing a "how to" Polish genealogy book, Sto Lat, highlighting techniques she used to find her grandparents' ancestral villages in Prussia, Russian Poland and Galicia.

I also met up with her at two recent genealogical conferences.

You can listen or download the podcast here.

DearMYRTLE also mentions an assortment of specialized Polish resource links:

Polish Genealogical Society of America.
Books by William F. Hoffman: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition (some 30,000 names), and anew book, with George W. Helon, First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings includes a 300-page list of names including those of Hebrew, Yiddish, Czech, German, Greek, Hungarian, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, and a list of Cyrillic forms of common Jewish names).

Let me know if you have questions. I look forward to reading your comments and answering your questions.

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