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May 25, 2015

Have you ever felt like you got the short end of the genealogy stick when it comes to family heirlooms? Maybe you haven’t inherited much in the way of family photos or memorabilia, or maybe you feel like you’ve tapped out all the potential goodies that are out there to find. In this episode I’ll share an email I got from Helen, because she reminds us that you should never say never.  I’ve also got another amazing story about an adoption reunion. And we’ll also check in with our Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton about this quarter’s featured book, The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And of course all kinds of other genealogy news and tips for you.  We’re going to take all that genealogy and technology noise out there and distill it down into the best of the best, the genealogy gems that you can use.

I’m just back from several weeks on the road. Since we last got together in episode 178 I’ve been to Cape Cod to talk to the Cape Cod Genealogical Society about Time Travel with Google Earth, and all you Genealogy Gems Premium Members have that video class and handout available to you as part of your Premium membership – and if you’re not a member click Premium in the main menu at to learn more about that. 

And then Bill and I headed to Providence, RI where I was the keynote at the NERGC conference. That was my first time ever to New England so it was a real treat. And we teamed up once again with the Photo Detective and Family Chartmasters and held our free Outside the Box mini genealogy sessions in our booth which were very popular.

Then I had a 2 day turnaround and Lacey and I were off to Anchorage Alaska to put on an all-day seminar at the Anchorage Genealogical Society.   Another great group of genealogists! And Lacey and I added an extra couple of days to explore, and explore we did. We booked a half day ATV tour to explore the National forest outside Anchorage. Now this was before the start of tourist season, so there we are, to gals driving out of town, onto a dirt road and waiting at the meeting spot in the middle of nowhere where we met Bob the Guide. He looked like he was straight out of Duck Dynasty! He showed us how to drive the ATVs, assured us that the bears weren’t quite out yet, and then packing his side arm pistol lead us out into the wilderness for 4 ½ hours of amazing scenery. It was like we had the entire forest to ourselves. This guide would pull over every once and while, whip out a telescopic lens on a tripod and in seconds would zero in on something way over on the mountain across the valley, and he’d say “look in there. See that clump of snow with legs, that’s a Mountain Goat, or that’s a Dall Sheep.” It was incredible. We saw moose, and muskrat, the biggest rabbit’s I’ve ever seen in my entire life, which Bob the Guide called bunnies, and he was right, the only thing we never saw was bear. But that was just fine with me and Lacey!

So after our mountain safari we flew home and I gave an all-day seminar in my own backyard in Denton, TX, and then Bill and I jumped in the suburban and drove to St. Charles Missouri where I spoke at the National Genealogical Society Conference. St. Charles is just on the other side of the river from St. Louis, and we were pleasantly surprised to find the a quaint little main street. Diahan Southard Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems was with us and Diahan and I drug poor Bill in and out of every “foo foo potpourri” shop they had when we weren’t busy meeting so many of you at the booth or in class. It was a 4 day conference, which is A LOT of genealogy, but we had a blast and again teamed up with Family Chartmasters, The Photo Detective and Family Tree Magazine for an Outside the Box extravaganza of free sessions in the booth. And this time Diahan Southard joined in with sessions on Genetic Genealogy. And all this reminds me of an email I received recently from Shelly. She writes:

“I am a new listener and new premium member of Genealogy Gems.  Thanks for getting me motivated to organize my research and get back into learning my family history. I had never thought about attending a genealogy conference before but listening to your podcasts has gotten me interested in going.  There is a conference coming up in less than two weeks only 1 1/2 hours from me in St. Charles, Mo. I can't afford to attend the actual conference, but would it be worth it to just go to the free exhibit space? I listened to one of your podcasts that mentioned you and a few others give free mini classes. Please let me know what you think. Thanks, Shelly”

I told Shelly that I thought it would absolutely be worth it. In fact, that is one of our goals with our free Outside the Box sessions in our booth - to give everyone a free opportunity to experience a genealogy conference. The hall is very large, there will be loads of exhibitors, and you not only attend any and all of our sessions, but at most larger conferences you’ll usually also find companies like Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch holding sessions at their booths.

Well Shelly took my advice and she wrote back. She says: “Thanks for your encouragement to attend the NGS exhibitor area!  I was able to attend on Friday and enjoyed looking at all the booths and talking to some of the exhibitors.  I was also able to attend a few Outside the Box sessions also, although yours were too crowded to see or hear very well!  Thanks so much for doing this. 

While waiting for a free session to start in another area, I overheard two men talking about DNA for genealogical purposes and privacy.  My ears perked up as they discussed an instance where a DNA sample sent to was used to help solve a crime committed by a relative of the DNA tester.  I don't have enough information to form any opinions on that case, but the question of privacy came up when I was asked my mother to take a DNA test for me.  The first thing she said was that it sounded interesting but she was worried whether the government or the police could get ahold of the information.  I encouraged her to read the privacy information on the site and to let me know, but I told her I didn't see how anyone could get the information.  Her curiosity got the better of her, as I knew it would, and she agreed to the testing and I am awaiting the results.  The funny thing is that my mother does have a criminal history and has served over ten years in prison (I was raised by my father from age 5).  Hopefully there aren't any serious unsolved crimes my mom has been involved in!  She is 64 now so hopefully the statute of limitations has passed for most crimes.  I will let you know if the FBI come knocking on my door :)”

I want to say thank you to all of you listening who stopped by the booth and welcome to all our new listeners who got to know us at these recent conferences and seminars, we are very glad you are here!

Recent Family Tree Magazine Evernote Webinar: In the last year I've moved from Earthquake central (California) to Tornado Alley (Texas) and it's been a bit of an adjustment to say the least.

2 weeks ago while I was presenting a webinar on using Evernote for genealogy for Family Tree Magazine when my husband silently placed a note in front of me. It said that we were under tornado watch and if it got any worse he was hauling me off the computer and into the storm shelter! I hung in there, and thankfully it blew over and we finished the webinar. Genealogy wins again! (And yes, the video of the webinar is coming soon to Premium Membership.)

Then last night we spent about an hour in our shelter room while our county got pummeled with torrential rain, non-stop lightening, and yes, even a few tornadoes touched down. Our devoted dogs Howie and Kota instinctively blocked the doorway to the shelter in an effort to keep us safe. They did a good job, and all is well!

All this threat of danger and destruction has reinforced my decision to bring into our Genealogy Gems family a brand new sponsor. Backblaze is now the official back up of Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems. If you've been to the RootsTech conference then you may already be familiar with them. Backblaze is a trusted online cloud backup service that truly makes backing up all your most precious computer files super easy. 

The thought of losing my genealogy files is too much to bear. Now I can concentrate on keeping my loved ones safe through the storms of life because I know Backblaze is taking care of my files and photos! Many of you have asked me which company I use to back up my files. I've done my homework and Backblaze is my choice.

I invite you to visit and get all your files backed up once and for all.


“Dear Lisa, Thanks for the latest email. I have been using Backblaze for a year now. I thankfully have not needed their complete services :-), but I love the feeling of being protected. Have a great weekend! It was so nice to meet you at Roostech in February. Thanks, Ellen”

Tyler Moss, the dean of Family Tree University wrote me after a recent webinar I gave for them: “One woman typed an ellipsis (…) in to the chat box. I messaged her back and said “I’m sorry, did you mean to send a question? All I see are three periods.” And she said, “Oh no, I’m just in wonder at all the awesome things I can now do in Evernote!”

The webinar we were doing was called “Enhance Your Genealogy with Evernote” and in that session which we recorded on to video as well I covered 10 terrific genealogy projects you can use Evernote for to improve your research, organization and productivity.  My motto these days is, save time by being more efficient so you have more time to spend with your ancestors, and that’s what this training session was all about.

And the good news for all of you who are Genealogy Gems Premium Members is that the video and downloadable handout are coming very soon to the Premium Videos section of Look for the announcement of its release in our weekly free newsletter. You can sign up for the free Genealogy Gems weekly e-newsletter on our homepage.

GEM: Evernote Library Project

Create an Evernote Genealogy Book Library:

Create a new notebook called “Library”

With your smart phone or tablet, snap photos of the cover of each of your genealogical books

Send the photos to the Library notebook in Evernote (on your mobile device tap the share icon and tap Evernote. You will need to have authorized the Evernote app.) Another option is to email them to your unique Evernote email address which will also place them in Evernote.

Evernote will apply Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to each image making them keyword searchable.

To see if you already have a book, tap the notebook and then search an applicable keyword.

Inspiration and motivation from Helen:
A recent email from listener Helen reminds us to search our basements and attics for unique and amazing family history finds. There’s no substitute for being able to tell family members’ stories through their own words and photographs.

“I just had to tell you about my recent find. My late father-in-law served in the Canadian Navy for 39 years, entering Naval College when he was only 14. Most of my knowledge about his life came from talking with him before he died. Of course, then I did not know the questions to ask.

“About a month ago, I was preparing for a lecture on his life for a local World War 1 Seminar. I starting looking around in our basement as I knew we had some material from when we cleared out his house when he died, but I had no idea of just what exciting material I would find.

“I found his personal diaries, with the earliest from 1916! The journals give an amazing first-person record of naval service from a person who devoted his life to the service of his country. I was able to weave his actual words into the somewhat dry official record of his long time service [ending with] his being presented with a Commander of the British Empire medal shortly before his retirement.

“I am so grateful that the family saved these invaluable documents through the myriad of moves that a naval officer’s career entails. In a different box, I found his photographs from the same era—some even earlier than the journals. I am now seriously considering publishing the journals along with the photographs, as they deserved to be shared.”

Genealogy Gems Premium members can click here to access Premium podcast episode 116 to hear a discussion between two authors of books on life-story writing, and here to access a Premium podcast AND video on how to make a family history video

Her Birth Mom Was Her Co-Worker! Birth Family Reunion
A woman recently went searching for her birth mom after receiving a copy of her adoption records (these recently opened in her home state of Ohio). She didn’t have to search very far: just in a different department at her workplace.

“When [La-Sonya] Mitchell-Clark first received her birth records in the mail on Monday and saw the name Francine Simmons, she immediately plugged it into Facebook,” reports the story on Entrepreneur. It didn’t take long for her to recognize her mother as a woman who worked at the same business she did.

“Following a tearful reunion, the two…discovered that they live just six minutes away from one another,” reports the article. La-Sonya also learned that she has three birth sisters, one of whom also works at the same company. Wow! Company picnics and water cooler chats must suddenly seem a lot more meaningful after this birth family reunion.

Learn to use your own DNA to search for genetic relatives (whether you’re adopted or not!) in our free Genealogy Gems podcast interview with CeCe Moore, a leading expert who appears regularly on television shows to talk about finding family with DNA.



Genealogy Gems Book Club

Our featured book for the 2nd quarter of 2015 is The Lost Ancestor.

Sunny's Book Recommendations:

Hiding the Past by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier novella by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux

Out of the Shoebox: An Autobiographical Mystery by Yaron Reshef

Jimmy Fox’s Nick Herald Genealogical Mystery series: Deadly Pedigree, Jackpot Blood and Lineage and Lies

Nathan Dylan Goodwin does have two other titles in the same series. I’ve read them both. Hiding the Past takes us into a genealogical mystery set in World War II and it’s a similar type of read as The Lost Ancestor. I enjoyed it. The Orange Lilies is a novella set at Christmastime. Here Morton puts his skills to work—and his emotions—to confront the story of his own origins and a family story from the Western Front in World War I a century ago. It’s a more personal story and Nathan I think is pushing into newer territory as a writer in dealing with more intimate emotion. But I like seeing Morton have these experiences.

I also have a few more titles to recommend along these lines. It’s that “If you liked this book, we think you’ll also like…”

The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux. This is a novel. I opened to the first page and the About the Author made me laugh: Stephen, amateur genealogist, lives in Hampshire and the South of France with two metal detectors and a long-suffering wife.”

The book opens with a scenario many of us may be sympathetic with. A genealogy buff buys a marriage certificate he sees on display at an antiques gallery. He begins researching the couple with an idea of returning the certificate to them. Eventually he uncovers several secrets, one with some money attached to it, but others are also chasing this money. It may sound a bit far-fetched but it doesn’t unfold that way. I like the surprise twists that bring the story into the present day. I also liked living out a little fantasy of own through Peter, the main character: that of being that genealogical research hero who brings something valuable from the pasts to living relatives today.

Another book I recently enjoyed is Out of the Shoebox: An Autobiographical Mystery by Yaron Reshef. This one’s a more serious, and I think a little more sophisticated, read. In this memoir (so a true story), Yaron gets a phone call about a piece of property his father purchased in Israel years ago. He and his sister can inherit it, but only if they can prove that man was their father. He goes on an international paper chase into the era of World War II, the Holocaust and the making of Israel. Then a forgotten bank account surfaces. There’s more, of course, in Yaron’s two-year quest to understand the tragedies of his family’s past and recover some of its treasures.

There’s another series I’ve been made aware of but haven’t read yet. This is Jimmy Fox’s Nick Herald Genealogical Mystery series: Deadly Pedigree, Jackpot Blood and Lineage and Lies. The hero is an American genealogist who lives and works in New Orleans, of course one of the most colorful and historical parts of the U.S. I’ll put links to all of these on our Genealogy Gems Book Club webpage, which you can find at