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Tune in for the best information, innovation & inspiration to help you grow your family tree!

Oct 6, 2015

In this episode I’ll kick things off with two fabulous online resources I think are Gems. Two of you wrote in with your own advice, one on saving your genealogy from theft and another with another tip on digital preservation. I found a funny poem online that the author gave me permission to share. And then Sunny will join me to announce our next Genealogy Gems Book Club pick—and we may or may not digress a little to talk about other fun things on our minds. So sit back and relax—or do whatever you love to do while listening to podcasts—and let’s get started.

NEWS: Ancestry Web Indexes

Did you see the recent article on the Genealogy Gems website about Ancestry Web Indexes? These are FREE resources that anyone can access. You don’t need to be an Ancestry subscriber or even create a free login on the site.

Here’s what they’re all about. For the past few years, Ancestry has been indexing databases from other websites on their own site. They’re not stealing data or take credit for data from other places—everything is fully cited and points to the original sites. Ancestry is extending the power of its ability to help users find their family history online wherever it may be. They’re taking advantage of the fact that it’s already a place where people are looking and their site’s powerful search tools.

What I think is cool is that you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. If you search for Elizabeth Madison, they may not recognize “Beth” or “Lizzie” as acceptable search results, or alternate spellings of her last name. But Ancestry does.

A subscription to that original site may be required to see any images or other content that’s members-only. But if there’s data out there, I want to know about it. Then I can decide whether I want to get access to it. Another bonus is that a lot of their big Web Indexes are from sites that are not in English. This gives English-speakers a portal to that data, in case they are intimidated by trying to search a site in another language or by applying Google Translate, which I teach about using in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Anyway, I think it’s just one more online tool we should all know about! Just within the past few weeks, here are a few new Ancestry Web Indexes:

Danish Emigration (that’s Emigration with an E—for people moving OUT of the country), more than 300,000 records from 1868 to 1908.

An Indiana Marriage Index for 1806-1861, with another 300,000 records;

Montreal, Canada marriages and burials dating back to the 1760s;

Alberta, Canada newspaper vital events index back to 1889; and

Births, deaths and marriages for Gallatin, Montana back to the mid-1800s.

Here’s a tip that wasn’t in our article: you can search for Ancestry Web Indexes by going to Ancestry’s drop-down Search menu. Click on Card Catalog, and do a title search for the word “Web.” You’ll see lots of results that say “Web:” followed by the name of the index. Just another helpful tip to get the most out of one of the world’s biggest genealogy websites, whether you’re a subscriber or not!


NEWS: Bomb Sight website
We’ve probably all seen images from the World War II bombing of London  in movies. You see Londoners hunched in tube station tunnels during air raids in The Imitation Game. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children are evacuated to the countryside to escape the Blitz. But for anyone who didn’t experience it themselves or grow up in the shadow of those bombed-out buildings, we don’t really GET the Blitz, when the Germans bombed London regularly for several MONTHS.

There’s a new website and mobile app that I have to recommend that reveals the Blitz in a new way: Bomb Sight, The core of this site is a digitized version of 559 bomb census maps that show where each and every bomb fell between July of 1940 and the following June. These maps were classified until 1971, and were previously only available in their fragile, original condition in the British National Archives.

Now you can explore all those neighborhoods and read about the individual bombs that devastated them. You can even see related historical images and read stories and memories. It’s stunning to look closely at a neighborhood and see how densely the bombs fell. It’s also stunning to pan out to the widest view and see SO many dots. So many bombs. So much destruction. Take a few minutes, won’t you, and explore, and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for the bombing of London.



Advice to a new family history blogger
Recently Judy wrote to me after she attended one of my presentations. She says, “Just wanted to know I took your advice and started a blog on one of my cold cases. Here's the link if you'd like to see it:

So I took a look at Judy’s blog. Here is a summary of my comments:

Her posts are packed with genealogical data

She shows great use of search keywords: she even included all the name spelling variations!

In addition to the wonderful information her blog provides to readers, it’s also wonderful Google “cousin bait” because others searching for all those names and places will find her

I would love to see a "Next Steps" list after the Questions list (which I think was a great addition to the post)

A Sobering Reminder about Computer Backups

I met Kathy from Carmel Valley, California on the Legacy Genealogy Cruise this past June, which was SO much fun! Afterward, Kathy sent me this note: “Hi Lisa, I hope all is well with you and your family. I am still thinking about our lovely Caribbean cruise.

I thought you might share a reminder with your listeners. My husband and I were out of town last week and were robbed. The robbers took only electronics (thank goodness) and did not mess up the house….another thing to be thankful for. But your listeners can not rely on external hard drives as backup. If the external hard drive is by the computer….the robbers will take that as well. Thank goodness we had a web-based backup. So we did not lose our precious research or photographs. It could have been so much worse.

This is just another reason why your listeners should look at BackBlaze or another company that provides the same service. I am grateful that I did. Yes, we have to purchase new computer equipment….BUT we have our research and our photos. Gratitude, gratitude.”

I’m so sorry Kathy was robbed. But I’m so glad she didn’t lose the most important part of her computer: what was on it. And I sure appreciate her sharing her close call with us.

We’ve heard it before: the way to keep from losing copies of anything is to keep multiple copies in multiple physical locations. Kathy mentioned robbery, but another common scenario that would take out all your in-house computer storage is a natural disaster—a flood or fires, like the ones that recently plagued Carmel Valley where she lives (I hope Kathy wasn’t affected).

But it’s a lot of work to back up everything yourself on an ongoing basis and keep distributing it to multiple physical locations. A cloud-based backup service does this work for you: both the backup and the offsite storage! Here at Genealogy Gems, I trust Backblaze as our official cloud-based computer backup service. Do your homework and find what’s right for you. But I did my homework and I recommend Backblaze. It’s less than five bucks a month for the peace of mind and security that your computer’s contents will ALWAYS be safely stored and available for you to retrieve from their secure online vault. I encourage you to check them out at

Digital file storage
After listening to the most recent Genealogy Gems podcast episode, Bill wrote in with this great comment:

“I was very interested in listening to podcast Episode 183 since one of its major segments dealt with preservation of old photos and videos. For the last three years (as time permits), I've been scanning my (and my wife's family's) old photos - mainly black and white. This is still a work-in-progress. Tried to do a good bit of reading about this subject (on the Internet) before I started. Also attended a genealogy seminar in 2009 where one of the presentations covered digital photo preservation. 

“Based on what I've read and heard, the ‘experts’ generally appear to recommend using the .tif file format (versus jpg, gif, png, bmp) for capturing and retaining any photos you deem valuable or important. This decision seems to be driven by the loss-less nature of the .tif format versus the "lossy" nature of the other formats. There's no question that a .tif version of a given image is substantially larger than its jpg counterpart, too. Since the choice of a file format is a pretty basic (and important) aspect of the digital preservation process, I was surprised it wasn't mentioned in the podcast or associated notes.

“After exploring the Larsen Digital site for a while, I located a page there that compares the various file formats for photos, videos, etc.” Then Bill shared this webpage URL with me.

I loved hearing from Bill. He’s absolutely right that TIF is preferred over JPG for just the reasons he mentioned. Kristin and I didn't cover that in our conversation due to time constraints, and the fact that we've covered the advantages of TIF over JPG several times before in past Genealogy Gems episodes (like episode 57 with Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, which is available for free online). We addressed image resolution because this is a specific area we haven't covered as much.

Just a reminder, the Genealogy Gems coupon code for Larsen Digital is still good! The code is Gengem10, and it’s good for 10% off services like digitizing old photos and your family videos and film reels. Visit their website at, call them at 800-776-8357 or send an email to









GEM: “Open Letter Grandma”

Recently I came across this wonderful poem that resonated so well with me—and made me laugh—that I got the author’s permission to share it on the podcast. It’s called “Open Letter to Grandma” by Amie Bowser Tennant, and it’s posted on her blog, RootsBid. (Click on the link to read the poem.)









GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: Citizens Creek: A Novel by Lalita Tademy
Our next Genealogy Gems Book Club pick is Citizens Creek by New York Times bestselling author Lalita Tademy. Some of you have probably read her previous novels, Cane River and the sequel Red River. Cane River was an Oprah Book Club selection. I read these a few years ago and really enjoyed them. So I was really excited when I heard she had a new novel out. And even more excited when I found out I’d get to interview her for Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Citizens Creek is a novel, but it’s based on the lives of real people. The publisher describes it as “the evocative story of a once-enslaved man who buys his freedom after serving as a translator during the American Indian Wars, and his granddaughter, who sustains his legacy of courage.

“Cow Tom, born into slavery in Alabama in 1810 and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday, possessed an extraordinary gift: the ability to master languages. As the new country developed westward, and Indians, settlers, and blacks came into constant contact, Cow Tom became a key translator for his Creek master and was hired out to US military generals. His talent earned him money—but would it also grant him freedom? And what would become of him and his family in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Indian Removal westward?

“Cow Tom’s legacy lives on—especially in the courageous spirit of his granddaughter Rose. She rises to leadership of the family as they struggle against political and societal hostility intent on keeping blacks and Indians oppressed. But through it all, her grandfather’s indelible mark of courage inspires her—in mind, in spirit, and in a family legacy that never dies.

“Written in two parts portraying the parallel lives of Cow Tom and Rose, Citizens Creek is a beautifully rendered novel that takes the reader deep into a little known chapter of American history. It is a breathtaking tale of identity, community, family—and above all, the power of an individual’s will to make a difference.”

Contributing Editor and Book Club Guru first considered this book for the Genealogy Gems Book Club because of the compelling history told about both Native Americans and African Americans. “But then,” she says, “the characters’ stories became more personal and more relatable and more obviously about family, relationships and legacy. We see how the experiences of one generation shape them—and how they shape themselves--and what effects all this has on the next generation. We see how the next generations look backward for inspiration and support and guidance, to see how best to manage in the present and think about the future.”

Next episode, Sunny will share a couple of passages from the book about Rose, Cow Tom’s granddaughter, who becomes the keeper of his secrets.


DNA GEM: Some Suggestions for the Empty Handed Genetic Genealogists
with Diahan Southard

“Over one million people have had their DNA tested for genealogical purposes, and that number is climbing fast. If we were able to survey all of those who have tested, how many would answer that they are fully satisfied with their results? I think the level of satisfaction we feel with our genetic genealogy experience has everything to do with our expectations going in.

“What did you expect going in? Many are drawn to genetic genealogy by the pretty pie charts and maps that reveal our mix of ancestral heritage. If they are expecting a nice addition to their coffee table pieces, they are pleased. If they are expecting a crystal ball into their ancestral heritage, they are often disappointed.

“Likewise, when you see a 2nd-4th cousin on your match page, you may have every expectation that you can figure out how you are related to each other. But when that common ancestor remains elusive, many fear that the test is not helpful, or worse, inaccurate.

“Recently we heard from Jenna on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. Jenna has followed the autosomal DNA testing plan perfectly: She tested first with Ancestry, then transferred to Family Tree DNA. She even went the extra step and uploaded her results into GedMatch, a free third party tool, and yet, she feels she hasn’t made any positive connections.

“For anyone in this situation, here are 2 explanations, and 2 next-steps to help set good expectations for your genetic genealogy experience.

“First, you need to know your own family history. If your family is not from the United States, or have only recently immigrated to the United States, you will not find very many matches in the databases. This will change as time moves on and genetic genealogy gains greater exposure and acceptance in other markets. 

“If you do have ancestry from the United States, but are still coming up empty handed, it might be because you happen to be the pioneer in your family, the first to jump into genetic genealogy. While 1 million people is a lot of tested individuals, I am consistently surprised by the number of people I meet who have never heard of using DNA testing in genealogy.

“Unfortunately, both of these explanations just require patience to be resolved. But, while you are waiting, here are 2 tips to get the most out of what you have:

“First, as our Facebook friend suggested, start with a goal. In her case, she is interested in her paternal grandmother’s father. Anytime you are researching a male, if you can find his direct paternal descendant, a living male with his surname, you should have him take the YDNA test.

“In the absence, or in addition to that, having as many descendants of your ancestor tested as possible will help you fill in the genetic gaps that naturally occur as DNA is passed down. But short of throwing more money at the testing companies, you can search each database by surname and location to look for others who might share these genealogical characteristics with the individual you are looking for.

“My second tip is to focus on your closest genetic match and use all the available tools to investigate your relationship. This will involve using the Common Matches tools found at, Family Tree DNA, and GEDmatch. In this way you can find multiple individuals that may all be related to you through a single common ancestor. You can then use their known genealogies to look for overlapping genealogical information, like surnames and locations to help you identify your shared common ancestor.

“Most people that I talk to who feel like their DNA has left them empty handed are just simply not aware of how to use the tools and clues at their testing company to tease information out of their matches. That I why I have written the genetic genealogy quick guides that do take you step by step through your results to make sure you are making the most of your DNA test results.

“You can find these guides under the Store tab at I also offer customized DNA guidance like the help I’ve been giving Lisa, which she’s talked about in her free weekly newsletter. If you’re interested in a consultant, find me through my website,”—Diahan Southard