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Apr 15, 2014

I’ve been enjoying time at home getting the new house decorated.  I have a wonderful sort of wall niche area in the living room that is perfect for a family history display, so the wheels are turning on what I want to do there. I’ve been pinning lots of ideas on Pinterest for that. And of course I’m getting in my time with my grandsons Davy and Joey. Now that Joey is a year and a half and running all over the place, it’s just playtime bedlam at Sha Sha’s house. 

I'll be speaking in Round Rock, TX at the Williamson County Genealogical Society
How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case

But soon May will be here and that means I’ll be heading to the National Genealogical Society Conference in Richmond Virginia. And we are going to do something very unique at NGS this year. In addition to my three scheduled presentations, we’ve got ourselves some extra booth space this year, and I’ll be giving what we are calling Outside the Box Sessions. 

You know how it is, you head to a big conference, and you’re running for one 1 hour session to the next. And they are usually pretty big classrooms. Well, we are going to getting outside of that box, and holding 30 minute sessions in our booth area on the topics you’ve told me you want most.

As presenters we don’t get to have the final say on which of our presentations is selected for the main conference, so it’s really exciting to have this unique way of offering the topics you ask us for. It’s   a smaller intimate setting, the sessions will be packed with tips you can start using right away, all participants will get a free ebook of the handouts for those quickie sessions, we’ll have prizes and you’ll even have some treats to nibble on. I am really excited about doing this, and I think you’ll find it refreshing, fun and informative. 

I’ll doing four sessions – one each day of the conference

  1. Ancestral Time Travel with Google Earth
  2. Evernote Quick Tips for Genealogists
  3. Tablet Tips and Tricks for Genealogists
  4. Google Search Strategies

And, I’ve invited two of my dearest friends, Janet Hovorka of Family Chartmasters, and The Photo Detective Maureen Taylor to join me and present some of their most popular topics! 

So in all, you’ll have a dozen ½ hour sessions to choose from to reinvigorate your genealogy research. If you want to get outside the box, come hand out with us, get the ebook, nibble on some treats and get away from the huge crowds.


New Videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel: 

Genealogy Crowdsourcing: 4 Strategies and 4 Tips for Your Brick Wall!  with Drew Smith

A Sneak Peek at What Will be Included in the Future FamilySearch App with Brian Edwards

5 Tools for Paying it Forward in Genealogy With Michael Cassara

A conversation with long time Genealogy Gems listener Michael Cassara who presented a session at RootsTech this year and I thought it was so interesting I asked him to sit down with me to talk more about it. Michael shares one of the ways that he likes to give back to the genealogy community. He buys old inexpensive photographs and does his best to track down family members today and get those ancestors back in to the hands of their families. And he shares some of techniques he uses to do that which you could certainly use in your own family history research.

MJ watched the video and left this comment: “I sooo agree with the karma of sharing our genealogy and our photos. I love the Find a Grave / BillionGrave photo idea. And I know myself about good karma. I found some studio photos of a distant relative, contacted a direct descendant and sent the photos to him. He wrote back and said "my Dad looks just like his grandmother, and never knew it before! And what a gift for my son."

A few weeks later a postcard collector wrote me and asked if I wanted postcards sent by my grandfather. You bet! She sent 3 envelopes full with photos of my grandparents, my great grandparents and possibly my great great grandmother as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. I had never seen most of them before. What a gift.”

Go to and  watch the video and leave your comment about your experiences.


Not all Family History is Happy Memories

In what seems to be the exact opposite of the usual obituary you come across as you are searching through newspapers, The Blaze reported that a Reno newspaper has removed an obituary supposedly submitted by children glad their mother was dead.

The obituary was published in the Reno Gazette-Journal last September in acknowledgement of the death of Marianne Theresa-Johnson Reddick. “Marianne Theresa Johnson- Reddick born Jan 4, 1935 and died alone on Sept. 30, 2013. She is survived by her 6 of 8 children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible. While she neglected and abused her small children, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them. When they became adults she stalked and tortured anyone they dared to love. Everyone she met, adult or child was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit…”

Read more:

Nobody’s family is perfect. Certainly mine isn’t. But I do think that one of the incredible things that Family history can do is shed light on the truth, and provide the power to change things for the next generation and make a difference.

I’ll never forget back in probably about 2008, early on when I first started speaking at conferences regularly, I was at a Family History expo in the exhibit hall, and a local man, who appeared to be homeless, came in to the public hall, and he was absolutely distraught and angry about the pain he endured at the hands of his family, and he was hurt and deeply angry to see the family history expo being held there. In the end security guards helped lead him away, and I felt so sad for him because he was obviously in incredible pain, and he most likely didn’t have the ability or resources to actually reap some of the benefits that come from learning about your history, your whole family’s history. Not just the line of people who got way off track and caused pain, but as we know there are infinite lines out there, and there’s a lot to learn from all of them, so that history does not repeat itself.

And just as importantly, that we have the opportunity to discover the gems in our tree, the unsung heroes, people who did do a good job and contributed to society. In the end, we get to pick who we admire, and we get to decide those areas that we will not perpetuate. After all, if our history stays in the dark, it is apt to look and feel even larger and scarier, but it is also apt to repeat itself.

I’d love to hear from you on this subject. You don’t to share specifics. But how has learning more about your family history empowered you. And if you think it has caused harm, I’d like to know more about that too.

Finally, to wrap up this segment before we get to the mailbox, I just want to send out a big thank you to some very nice folks out there in the genealogy community.


Evernote for Genealogists Thanks Yous
As you probably know by now we published our Evernote for Genealogists quick reference guides, and I just want to take a moment to thank the wonderful bloggers out there who helped spread the word about these 4 page cheat sheets.

A big thank you to:

Thomas MacEntee: Hack Genealogy“You know what I love about these guides on Evernote? They are easy-to-use, the information is laid out in a format that makes it easy to find what you need, and it truly is something you can keep referring to as you work your way through Evernote and its features.”

Randy Seaver, Genea-Musings

Amy Coffin of the We Tree Blog
“I hate to sound like a salesperson, but I found this quick guide to be helpful and extremely easy to read. The tables are concise and the lists of quick keys are impressive. This guide is a keeper.”

Renee Zamora of Rene’s Genealogy Blog

Sue Maxwell, The Granite Genealogy Blog

Ancestry Insider Blog


James Tanner, The Genealogy Star Blog“I had been using Evernote extensively for quite some time. But was faced with dilemma when the program began to evolve rapidly. I simply lost touch with all the features being added and did not understand why I ran out of storage space and was shut down when I didn't purchase some upgrade. So, I transferred what I was doing on Evernote and used alternative products.

So, solely because of this handy guide, I now understood the product. I already had the program on all my devices so transitioning back is as simple as clicking. What I needed clarified was how the program functioned vis a vis the difference between the "free" version and the "paid" version. With that out of the way, I am back in the Evernote use realm. Now, I probably could have figured out all the stuff from the Evernote website, but this made it easier for me to get going and actually do something.”

Thanks again to all the bloggers who took the time to give the guides a test run. They are available in our store both for Windows and for Mac.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can enjoy several Evernote videos as part of Premium Membership:

How the Genealogist can Remember Everything with Evernote (Beginner)

How to Organize Your Research with Evernote (Intermediate)

Making Evernote Effortless (Intermediate) BRAND NEW!


New RootsMagic Video

Our long time podcast sponsor RootsMagic just published a new video I think you’ll be very interested in. It’s called Importing an Ancestry Family Tree into RootsMagic.

Have you been wondering how to do this?  Well, now they have a short video that will show you how.  Currently this is limited to trees that you are the owner / manager, since Ancestry doesn't appear to allow downloading a tree belonging to someone else.

You’ll find the video at the RootsMagic YouTube channel


From Jane in Edmonton, Alberta:

“Need your advice (as I am sure do thousands of others!!) First of all, let me take time to let you know how much I am enjoying my subscriptions to your Genealogy Gems and your podcasts.  I purchased subscriptions at the Alberta Genealogy Conference in Edmonton last year, and have been thoroughly enjoying them.

I am still very much a genealogy novice.  I have dabbled on Ancestry for a number of years, but have never really had time to devote properly.  Last year I decided to try to get a little more serious, and joined the local Genealogy Society, and having retired in December, I finally feel like I should be back on this in earnest, and am wondering if you could give me some needed advice.

I love, and have also dabbled in Scotland's People, the free BMD Index out of England, and of course, Family Search with the LDS.  I am finding, however, that I often end up wandering around in circles and mazes as one thing leads to another, and another, and ...   I am sure you know what I am talking about.  I'm now wondering if I would be best to take it one person at a time - to find out as much as I can about that person in that point of time, before going on to another.  I seem to be jumping back and forth between my Dad's family, my Mom's family, their families, etc. until there are times that I find myself at a certain point, only to wonder "Where was I going with this?"   I have started trying to make notes about facts as I spot them, but setting them aside to continue on the current charted course, but find that I end up hopelessly out of order and just as lost.

Any advice as to how to attack this would be appreciated more than you can imagine!  I am afraid that, sadly, I am one of those individuals who is now wishing I had asked more questions when I was younger, as I am now the "older" generation, and so am relying on my own memories of stories told by my parents and grandparents back when I was young enough that I'm not sure I paid attention.  I do have four siblings, but when I speak to them, I often wonder if we all grew up in the same family, as their remembered timelines differ greatly on some events than my own.”

You are not along in this genealogical dilemma! It's easy to let the records start to take over and lead you around. One way to combat that is to set a genealogical goal - define what it is you want to know. It might be something very specific about a particular ancestor, or it might just be to fill in the blanks on one particular family. Early in my research focused on one grandparent, and working backwards, I would strive to fill in all the blanks on that person, then their parents, then their siblings. I wouldn't "leave" that family until I felt that I had filled in as much of the family group sheet as possible.

In fact, we have sort of lost track of the "family group sheet" in this technological age. But it is an excellent tool for keeping you on track and focused on the blanks that need to be filled.

An additional strategy is to have a process for dealing with information that comes your way that is a bit off track. Often we feel like we have to pursue it or we'll lose it. I like to use Evernote (free at to capture data that I'm not ready to deal with right now, but definitely want to pursue later. I create an Evernote "notebook" for that family surname, and a note book called "future research". Drag and drop "Future Research" onto the family surname notebook which will create a "stack."  Now you can create notes and drop them into the "Future Research" notebook which is inside the applicable family. Add tags to your note like "newspaper," "death record," etc. and some good searchable keywords so that the note will be easy to find when you need it. Now you can capture the item, file it away, and stay focused on the task at hand.

If you would like to learn more about how to use Evernote for genealogy I have a quick reference guide (PDF) in my store that will work wonders in keeping you organized.


From Mary Jane in KY

“Thank you Lisa, I received your ebook fine, and now have it installed on my desktop. I've been watching a lot of your videos, have watched the ones where you had interviews at Rootstech. Each day I watched on my computer, the selected Rootstech programs as they were presented. Last week our Kentucky Genealogical Society and Kentucky Historical Society had an all day Saturday viewing of 10 of the programs given out there.  It was a special program that the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Genealogical Society were chosen to participate in viewing - called a Family History Fair. Your program was one of them - How to Use YouTube for Family History: Setting Up Your Own YouTube Channel. And all those syllabi were available for us to print in advance. We had 135 people to attend.  We were very privileged and it was much appreciated by a large crowd of people.

You are such a pretty gal, with a bubbly personality. Kiss those babies for me.  I've just become a great grandmother. I really enjoy your Genealogy Gems, have received your newsletters for several years, but I don't use anything but the computer. It's something about the older generation not being able to learn all these other gadgets.”

You can watch free videos from the RootsTech 2014 genealogy conference at


From Steve in Cedar Falls, Iowa

This is all your fault :)

Yes, this is your fault! That sounds ominous, but this is a good thing! I say your fault because you are the one who encouraged me, on your blog, to start blogging about family history. I started two blogs- one for the paternal side and one for the maternal side. The paternal blog is and the maternal blog is

My intent was to create a place where family could see the family history that I had found. But something else happened in addition to this intent. A guy in New York came across my maternal blog and emailed me that he had something I might be interested in. It was about my third great grandfather who was born in Germany. Before he came to America, he was a part of a German colony in Guatemala. I knew that, but had no proof of when and where he married or even where in Germany he was from. This gentleman from New York is originally from Guatemala and is connected to my third great grandmother who was also part of this colony. He sent me a copy of an original church record from Guatemala giving the date they were married in Guatemala AND the name of the town in Germany that he was from and his date of birth. It gets better!

The German town was named Rellinghausen. When I put Rellinghausen in Google Earth, it kept taking me to Recklinghausen. Now this Recklinghausen is just north of Essen which is the place that I thought the family was from, so it seemed reasonable to assume this was the place and it had been misspelled in the Guatemala document. I order LDS microfilms from Recklinhausen and found not even one instance of the name from 1816 to the 1840s! So, I ruled out Recklinghausen. Next I entered" Rellinghausen” into Wikipedia and found that Rellinghausen had been a separate town before 1910. In 1910, it was annexed by Essen! That’s why it was not showing up on Google Earth!

Next step was to contact the diocese in Essen about possible records for this ancestor. With the help of Google Translate, I wrote to the diocese office (found with a Google search) and gave the name and date of birth for this third great grandfather. I received an email back from a church secretary who said she was sending it on to someone who might help. About two weeks later, I received an email from the parish priest from the church in what was once Rellinghausen. Attached was all of the birth information including parents. I probably would have never found this otherwise! So, yes, this is all your fault and I’m VERY happy to blame you! Thanks so very much for the encouragement!”

Lisa’s Answer:
What an incredible story! I will happily take the blame for any part of it. :-)

Google Books Tip:
Be sure to search Google Books specifically for "Rellinghausen" "happekotte". A few interesting things in there.

Google Translate Tip:
And remember that using Google Translate will change "happekotte" as well as prevent you from seeing some snippets on books not fully available. So you'll want to search both in German and English.

Steve’s Reply:
“Thank you for the additional ideas for searching. The ideas that you put out there on your podcasts, the contacts someone makes through a blog, looking at possible clues in other public trees on Ancestry ALL go to show you that genealogy is much more fun and much more successful when it involves collaboration. Thanks again.” - Steve


From Carol:
“I’m new into genealogy.  I’ve worked on my maternal grandfather’s side of the tree and had some success.  Yay!   Now I’m trying to work on my maternal grandmother’s side and it is more difficult.   I seem to be generating a lot more paper and search theories this time.   Is there anything out there that is a  digital basic checklist.   Something that you can check off - like census, birth record, death record, etc. Love all your Evernote tips!”

Free Records Checklists and Forms:
Family Tree Magazine


From Kris:
“The last few months, I've begun packing up our house in Santa Clara, CA for a major life change.  This requires dividing up our 'worldly possessions' into 2 parts (one for France and one for our US home, which will be in Florida).  I spent whole days listening to your pod casts (via the app which I love on my iPhone 4s) and made it back to 2011.  Your pod casts are wonderful and as the family genealogist (for mine and my husband's family), listening to you gave me renewed energy during the long, tedious days of packing.  It occurred to me that after all this effort, I will have much more time to work on my family histories and pursue the huge file I have titled "needs further research."

My favorite podcast moments thus far are:  listening to your moving challenges as you relocated to Texas  (misery loves company : ), the guest who stated that it is 'not advised' to shred original documents after digitizing them, the 'Flip Pal' interview, the daunting task of catching up on technology and the learning curve that comes with that, and your suggestions for all of us to make the family names and dates more interesting, in order to get other family members excited about our family history.

Thank you for all you do for genealogists!  I met you once at our local library where you gave your Google class, and hope we cross paths again.  In the meantime, be kind to yourself.  Get well soon!



From Kirsty:
“I have some very happy news. I got engaged last week, a very happy time for us.

I remember you had talked about a family reunion sometime in the past , and I wonder if you had any tips of getting family history information out of my family while there are all at the wedding.”

Lisa’s Answer:
Congratulations on your engagement! How exciting. I've been busy planning my youngest daughter's wedding. She's getting married in May.

I would suggest searching family reunion websites for ideas you can convert to a wedding reception. A search of Google and should help you locate them.

If you have  your guests seated at tables, that's a great opportunity to provide an icebreaker that can double as a family history gathering opportunity. You could have a form at each place setting for them to fill out. If you are having a videographer, you could have a short list of questions at each table, and when he comes to their table he records them answering the questions. (What's your earliest child hood memory?  Who's the earliest ancestor you have a photograph of? What are three things you remember about Great Grandmother? Etc.)

If you they won't be at tables, you could have a family history table (next to another table they are likely to visit such as guest book table) and have your activity there. Let them know that this is their gift to you. You could even have some sort of treat or little sticker they can wear that says "I shared the family history, have you?" (In the U.S. when you vote they often give you a little lapel sticker that says "I voted.")  Or you could create the "Sweet Memories Candy Bars" that feature family history that I write about in my book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.