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Jul 12, 2013

In this Blast from the Past episode we are turning the time machine back to May of 2007.  First up is Genealogy Gems Episode #11, first published May 07, 2007, which includes two great gems for you: How to Find Pictures from the Past with, adn a Family History Decoupage Plate Project. This is easy even for you non-crafters out there and the result is an heirloom quality decorative plate that tells an ancestors story.

Then in this double header, Genealogy Gems episode # 12, which was originally published on May 13, 2007  features ancestor educational records and my Top 10 Tips for finding the Graduation Gems in your family history.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode: #11
Original Publish Date: May 07, 2007

GEM #1 – Discover Pictures from the Past with Google

One of the easiest ways to find photos on the web is with  The ability to focus your search on images is often overlooked.  Let’s go over the basics:

  1. Go to
  2. Notice the search box at the top of the page
  3. Above the box reading left to right you will see the word WEB bolded.  This means that when you enter a word or phrase etc you will be searching everything on the web. 
  4. To the right of the word WEB is the word IMAGES.  Click on it -  and it will now be bolded.
  5. Now when you enter a word or phrase all of your results will come back as images that Google found on the internet.  This could be photos, drawings, graphics, etc.
  6. There are additional “modes” you can search in with Google such as video, news, maps, books, etc. but for right now we’re going to focus on images.

To find photos of specific people try putting their first and last names within quotes (i.e. "laura ingalls wilder"). If you've got a bit more time or a really unusual surname, then you could just enter the name and that should get you started.

You can also find photos of old items and places from your ancestor’s life such as tombstones, buildings, their hometown, the kind of old car they drove. 

If the page containing the full image doesn't come up when you click on the thumbnail, here’s what you can do:

  1. Use your mouse to highlight the URL website address that appears below the thumbnail and press Control C on your keyboard to copy the address.
  2. Click where it says “WEB” above the Google search box to go back to website searches. 
  3. Place your curser in the search box by clicking inside it. 
  4. Press control V on your key board and that will paste the URL address into the search box.
  5. Click the SEARCH button.
  6. The first result or two should be from that website that had the image you wanted.
  7. Look at the last line of the result for that website and click on the "cache" link.
  8. Now you are looking at a cache version, or in other words an older version of the website, hopefully BEFORE the image was removed or moved. By browsing through this version of the website, you will hopefully find the image you are looking for!


GEM #2 – Mother’s Day Project – Decoupage plate

In my book it’s not enough to find wonderful photos on the internet that help tell the story of your family’s past, or have a boxful of old family photos.  It’s sort of like the old riddle “If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it, then does it make a sound?”  If a photo is tucked away in a shoe box, is it adding to the value of your research?  Not in my book.

Family History is meant to be shared.  However, I believe wholeheartedly that we, the family historian are not the primary “customer” if you will.   I constantly challenge myself to see my family today as my “customer”.  I want the family’s history to be meaningful to them and ignite in them a pride, loyalty and reverence for our family.  So I’m always trying to come up with new ways to share what I’ve found that they will enjoy.

Decoupage Photo Plate:

Decoupage was a hot craft for women in the early part of the century, and it's definitely gone through resurgence in the last decade.

As I mentioned in a previous episode of the podcast, my mom recently brought me a truckload of family heirlooms.  She and my stepdad have taken the plunge to sell their home and travel in a motor home full time. 

When I was preparing for this episode, I went looking for the decoupage plate that I made her a couple of years ago for Mother’s Day.  I assumed it was in one of the boxes that she brought me, but I couldn’t find it.  When I asked her about it, she said to me, “I gave you your great grandmother’s tea set, your grandmother’s china, and pretty much everything else I had. But I didn’t give you the plate.  I’m keeping THAT!”  Hearing her say that meant as much to me as the plate probably means to her. So may I just say, if you pour some love and time into creating this plate, I guarantee it will be treasured. 

Here’s the plate I made for my mom:



Wasn’t she a cutie patootie?!  I started by selecting photos that told the story of her childhood…at the top is a photo of the house her parents built the year she was born.  Going clockwise, the next photo is her as baby, then as a toddler in her crib with her favorite teddy bear, then as a preschooler in the coat & hat her mother made for her.  In the center is my favorite childhood photo of her, probably just before entering kindergarten.  I love that it’s a close up, her BIG brown eyes, and the dainty bows in her hair.  The design in simple, and very focused on its subject matter – my mom!

The photos are glued from behind so they show through the glass plate.  I painted the back black, which seemed appropriate for the black and white photos, but it could be gold, or any color you want. 

Let’s get started making this modern family heirloom.

The supplies you need are simple and inexpensive:

A clear glass plate with a smooth finish.  You can usually buy these at craft stores, or discount stores very cheap.  Maybe a dollar each.  I got mine at a kitchenware factory outlet.  Make sure you’ve cleaned it very well before you begin, and that’s completely dry.

  • A sponge craft brush
  • A jar of decoupage glue
  • Good, fine paper-cutting scissors.  Cuticle scissors also work very well.
  • Paint – choose a color you would like for the back.  Just a small bottle of acrylic craft paint and
  • A flat paint brush – another option is to use pretty paper or tissue.
  • Clear brush on acrylic varnish if you want a glossy finish on the back.
  • A selection of photos you want to use.  Personally, I like the more monochromatic look – either all color, or all black and white, but you can do whatever looks good to you.  You can also use other images that compliment the photos.  Make copies of the photos.  You can scan them and print them out on paper, or take them to a copy center and color copy them.  Whether you are using color or black and white, you’ll want to color copy them to get the best quality.  You can also play around with sizing the photos the way you want them.  While I fit just five on my mom’s plate, they are all large enough to be seen clearly, even at a distance when the plate is hanging on the wall.  

Experiment with laying out your design to fit the plate.  Keep in mind that the plate likely has some slight curvature to it, so you don’t want to just turn it upside down and draw a circle around it, because your design won’t end up quite big enough.  Cut your copies a bit larger than the area they are going to cover. 

Also, if you want to add any words, now is the time.  You can draw directly on the copy or print out something and cut it to fit.  In my case, felt like a picture was worth a thousand words!

When applying the cutouts, you'll be working in reverse: the first images placed on the plate will be in the foreground of the design when viewed from the front of the plate. Start by applying the prominent images to the decoupage medium. Glue the edges firmly to the glass. Turn the plate over to check the placement of images

Put a nice even coat of glue on the photo, on the side you want to see. Don't worry about brush strokes, but be careful not to go over it too many times, you don’t want the ink to run. 

Place the image face down on the back of the plate and spread the glue over the back of the photo.

Turn the plate around so you can see the image from the front and work out the air bubbles from behind.  (you can try placing a piece of wax paper over the photo and use a roller  over the wax paper to go over it and smooth it out and get the air bubbles out.

Turn the plate over and check the results.

Continue place the images until the entire plate is covered.

Let it dry (24 hours should do it)

Use painters tape to tape off the edges before you apply the acrylic paint to the back of the plate.  Let dry.  Apply a second coat, or sponge on a second color if you want to.  Let dry

If you want a glossy finish on the back, apply an acrylic varnish.  Let dry


Genealogy GemsPodcast
Episode #12
Original Publish Date: May 13, 2007

TODAY’S GEM – Top 10 Tips for Finding the Graduation Gems in Your Family History

1.  Establish the Timeline: 

Check your genealogy database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended school.  I’m going to be focusing on high school, but this could just as easily apply to researching the college years.

2.  Family Papers & Books

We always start our research at home, so go through old family papers & books looking for Senior Calling Cards, High School Autograph Books, Journals & Diaries, Senior Portraits, & Yearbooks


3.  Newspapers – Search for announcements,  honor rolls & other articles about end of the year activities. 


It’s easy to say search newspapers, but it’s not always that easy to find them.  So here are some ideas of where to look for historical newspapers…

- ($)

- The Local Public Library Website in the town where your ancestor attended school.   Check their online card catalogue, or send them an email to find out if they have the years you are interested in, and to see if they will cooperate with interlibrary loan with your local library. 

- The Library of Congress  <>

- Family History Center in Salt Lake City.  Search the Family History Library Catalog online for your ancestor's location to find what newspapers they may have. 

- Historical and genealogical societies. 

- U.S. state archives and libraries

4. The State Library – Wisconsin Dept of Education website list of state libraries:  < >

5.  State Historical Societies – in addition to newspapers as I mentioned before, state historical societies might have old yearbooks & photos.

6. - Check the Message Board for the county & state you’re looking for, as well  post a message asking if anyone has access to yearbooks or other school info.

7.  Websites focused on Yearbooks –   Yearbook website:  & The National Yearbook Project < >

8.  The US GENWEB site - Search on the county website where the school was located.

9.  Call the School – if they don’t have old yearbooks, they may be able to put you in touch with a local librarian or historian who does.  Go to and type in the school name in “Business Name”.  Call around 4:00 pm, when the kids are gone but the school office is still open. 

EBAY:  Do a search on the school or town you’re looking for to see if anyone out there is selling a yearbook that you need.  Be sure and also search for old photographs or postcards of the school.  Here’s my extra trick: From the results page do a “Completed Listings” search & email potential sellers to inquire about the books you are looking for.  You might get lucky like I did!

Don’t be afraid to ask – Ebay seller’s want to sell!  And if all else fails, set up an Ebay Favorite Search to keep a look out for you.  Go to my website and check out Episode #3 for instructions on how to do this.