22    Dec 20100 comments

New Year: Learn something new

Do you make New Year's resolutions?

If so, do you keep them? For how long?

While many people resolve to break bad habits or improve physical qualities, those don't seem to last very long.

For a better outcome, try to learn some new skills to further your family history research. One way is to access free online classes. Some may be short tutorials, others are much longer and provide useful and practical data, including step-by-step videos.

What skills, tips or advice are you looking for? Do you need help in managing paperwork or photos? Would learning how to take better photos add to your MyHeritage.com family website?

Continue reading "New Year: Learn something new" »

20    Dec 20102 comments

Sources: Where did I find that?

Source & CiteHow good is your memory?

Years ago, when I was very new at the genealogy game, I believed that I could accurately remember where I had discovered every bit of family data.

And - for awhile - I actually could do that. However, as the years went by, and the numbers of people on my trees increased - and my brain cells seemed to decrease - it became impossible.

Sometimes, I would write the information on a scrap of paper. We all know what happens to a scrap of paper stuck in a bag or pocket.

At one point, I had to stop all new research and back track, almost to the beginning of my quest, to fill in all those blanks.

Fortunately, I had even saved some of those scraps of paper on which I had scribbled information while visiting archives and libraries. To preserve them, I had taped them onto regular sheets of white paper. Eventually, I transfered that data to the family tree software I used, but the scraps didn't cover all my research.

It wasn't easy to admit that I had neglected this important  documentation. And it required a very long time to retrace my steps.

Since those days, I clearly - and loudly - advise beginners to document every bit of data they find.

Some have replied innocently that they'll remember - they only have a few people on their tree. Others have even asked why it's important: "The names are what we need, right?"

Continue reading "Sources: Where did I find that?" »

24    Nov 20100 comments

Family: Voices from the past

Voices from the past are an integral part of family history. These voices may come through in diaries or letters written by ancestors.

Today, however, there's another way.

To put it another way, every story matters.

Individuals can record interviews with relatives, friends or community members via the non-profit StoryCorps, which has scheduled its third annual National Day of Listening on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving.

The Day encourages Americans to follow a new holiday tradition which promotes listening and understanding to share their stories on the day following Thanksgiving, which itself is an essentially family-oriented holiday.

Participants use equipment found in many homes, such as a computer, mobile phone, tape recorder or even pen and paper.

To learn more click nationaldayoflistening.org for a free instruction guide with equipment recommendations, suggested questions and ideas for preserving and sharing interviews.

Of course, another great way to preserve your family interviews  is on your  own MyHeritage.com family site, so all your relatives can them.

Imagine preserving an interview with your grandmother that would be available for future generations to hear.

“In an era of fierce political and cultural divides, we hope that the idea of listening to one another during the holiday season resonates with many Americans,” says StoryCorps Founder and MacArthur “Genius” Dave Isay. “Through our National Day of Listening, StoryCorps hopes to remind Americans of all stripes how much more unites us than divides us.”

Although a US-based day, the idea is certainy appropriate for people in all countries around the world and - as an additional benefit - encourages talking about family history and connecting families, which is exactly what MyHeritage.com is all about.

Although the Day of Listening is celebrated on the day after Thanksgiving, you can record family members, friends or community members on any day of year or in connection with any holiday.

Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 30,000 interviews from more than 60,000 participants. Each is recorded on a free CD to share, and is also preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (Washington, DC). 

The project is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.For more information, or to listen to stories online, visit storycorps.org.

Have you recorded interviews with any of your relatives?

If you have a senior relative, remember to record them as soon as possible so that interview will be preserved. This is truly voices from the past!

Who have you recorded? Where and how have you preserved that interview?

Let us know via comments to this blog.

24    Nov 20101 comment

Family: Remember to laugh!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holidays.

As we get closer to the fourth Thursday in November - and plan for holiday celebrations - our family remembers our special tradition.

We have just relocated to the beautiful state of New Mexico and enjoying our few first weeks here. Even better, our daughter will be visiting from New York for the holiday.

Any holiday that brings family together is an opportunity for family history, even if it is only talking about previous holidays.

One story that is always part of our get-together is the story of our first turkey day celebrations when we lived in Iran long ago.

I had ordered a fresh turkey from a Teheran supermarket and specified that it had to be at my house on Wednesday morning - cleaned and ready.

Wednesday came and went, while I was busy making pies, preparing  stuffing, and doing other myriad tasks. The store said it would be delivered in the afternoon.

The afternoon came and went.

He then said it would be there in the evening.

The evening came and went.

Early Thursday morning, there was a knock at the door, and Mr. Turkey arrived. Finally!

I took the large brown-paper wrapped parcel into the kitchen, and felt it was suspiciously warm. I gingerly opened the package and found an entire turkey. I mean an entire turkey.

It was compete with all its feathers, neck, head, eyes - everything but the gobble - and it was sitting right there on my kitchen counter.

At that point, I didn't know whether to cry or to laugh. Our friends were coming for Thanksgiving Day dinner in only a few hours and I'd never seen a bird like that, even less how to go about getting ready for the oven.

My husband called my mother-in-law - and as they laughed hysterically - she agreed to send over her housekeeper-cook to help out the poor foreign daughter-in-law who couldn't clean a turkey!

The woman arrived and efficiently de-feathered, de-necked, cleaned out everything that needed to be cleaned out - giggling the entire time.

Hey, I'm from New York, where Thanksgiving Day turkeys come cleaned in plastic bags, whether they are fresh or frozen. I had seen live turkeys, in person and on television, and turkeys ready for cooking, but never one in the intermediate stage.

In any case, I was then able to prepare Mr. Turkey properly, stuff it with a favorite cornbread and chestnut mix, roast and baste it to golden brown. Everyone said how delicious it was, despite the tragi-comedy of the situation.

We also mention how we American wives would search at a few special stores to hopefully find cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree for pies, and MiracleWhip for leftover sandwiches. These were not common items in Iran in those days, so one either paid astronomical prices for each can or jar or hand-carried it back on trips home.

We began telling the story of Mr. Turkey that year and tell it again each year. It is still funny.

It is our Thanksgiving tradition, no matter who is at our table. 

We will tell the story again on Thursday in New Mexico.

Enjoy the holiday, if it is your tradition, and enjoy having your family around the table.

Tell the stories of holidays past, of family traditions. Keep the memories alive, and don't forget to take photos and video of your celebration to add to the family archive.

Post those photos and videos at your MyHeritage.com family site, so all family members - no matter where they live - can participate.

What is your most memorable Thanksgiving tradition or story? Share it with MyHeritage.com via comments to this post.

4    Nov 20101 comment

Cemeteries: Gravestone symbols

Grave of David Belilios, died at age 16 (March 1898). Hong Kong Jewish Cemetery

What do you see in a cemetery?

Gravestones, at a minimum, provide the name and dates for the deceased individual. But there's often much more.

Many stones also carry symbols with specific meanings, which may indicate the deceased's age (young, old), an occupation,  religion, organizations, military service or other meanings.

The Heritage Bulletin of Oregon devoted an issue to a detailed list and photographs of many symbols commonly found in cemeteries.

Here are some common symbols and their meanings.

ANCHOR: Hope; sometimes a trade or field of military service (photo left)

ANGEL: Guardian or messenger between God and man

ASPHODEL or LILY: Plants with white, pink or yellow flowers - including the narcissus and daffodil - reminds visitors of their mortality.

BOOK: The holy book or Bible, "book of life." Closed, end of life or a complete life. A pile of books may indicate the deceased was scholarly or educated.

Continue reading "Cemeteries: Gravestone symbols" »

2    Nov 20100 comments

Tracking the troops: GI Jane, GI Joe

Do you have ancestors or relatives who served in the military?     

As we peer into our past, we often find family members who served on land or sea in many countries and in many capacities. Some were on-the-ground forces, while others filled support roles such as tailors, doctors, nurses, cooks or musicians.   

London's Imperial War Museum has organized a Family History Day on Saturday, November 6, sponsored by MyHeritage.com. The event will assist participants - from beginners to experienced family historians - to learn how the Blitz affected families, the roles relatives played to help win the war, the aftermath of this history in today's families, and what records are accessible for more information. 

The Imperial War Museum is the museum of everyone’s story: the history of modern conflict told through the stories of those who were there. It is an educational and historical institution responsible for archives, collections and sites of outstanding national importance. You can view the Museum’s main website here.    

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

 Women as well as men have served in diverse capacities in all US military branches - Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard. For information on women veterans from Colonial to contemporary times, view stories here (scroll down to see other relevant pages on that site), and a time line here. For a collection of photos and artifacts documenting women's service, click here.    

One Civil War surgeon - Dr Mary Edwards Walker (photo left) - was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor.     

Accessible records include regiment lists, files for widows' pensions, death and burial records, medals, hospital lists for the wounded, transport lists and many other records, each supplying another piece of the family history puzzle.     

Where can you find more information on those who served?

Continue reading "Tracking the troops: GI Jane, GI Joe" »

30    Oct 20100 comments

The genie in the lamp

the answer to our questions?Could a genie help solve your family history problems?

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?

Continue reading "The genie in the lamp" »

26    Oct 20102 comments

House History: Document yours!

A house on Rennweg (Zurich, Switzerland), c1880

 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.

Continue reading "House History: Document yours!" »

28    Sep 20100 comments

MyHeritage: At a family festival

For two days, MyHeritage has been at a family festival with 50 computers and a team of 15 experts.

We are a major presence at this three-day event - the "One Family, Many Faces" family festival.

I spoke to quite a few families yesterday to learn why they visited to set up a family tree. The answers were interesting, as we all knew they would be.

This post originally appeared on the MyHeritage Blog (English), but here's some of it and a link to the complete

The team has been here for two days - a great experience - as MyHeritage is all about uniting families, whether it is discovering new relatives or building a family tree together.

Every computer and chair was filled about an hour after the festival opened (see photo above).

Crowds of people - families with many children - were learning how to start a family tree and how to begin researching their family history during 30-minute consultations.

This morning several families shared their stories:

Click here to read the complete post.

19    Sep 20103 comments

Diaries: A family history source

keeping a journalTake it from a writer: The more you write, the easier it becomes. Why not keep a journal or diary?

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?

Continue reading "Diaries: A family history source" »

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