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Jun 16, 2015



Genealogy Gems Podcast

Episode 180

with Lisa Louise Cooke


Welcome to episode 180 of the Genealogy Gems podcast! Today we’re talking about big names, like Ancestry and Google and FamilySearch. We’re talking about big numbers—the possible price tag for Ancestry at auction—and small numbers: a handheld computer for under $100.

We’re also talking about road trip tips, an important online Civil War database, a leading Canadian digital archive and EXCLUSIVE tips for using FamilySearch’s free digitized book collection, which now tops 200,000 titles. And because I’ve gotten so much demand for it, I’m sharing tips for backing up your data at Ancestry—not just your tree but your sources and DNA, too. Mixed in with all this news and how-tos is an assorted cast of listeners-with-questions and an inspiring story about long-lost siblings reunited by radio. Let’s get started!


Certainly some of the biggest news buzzing around the genealogy world is the possible sale of Ancestry. Reuters recently reported that the buyout firm that owns most of Ancestry has hired investment bankers to put the company up for auction. The price tag, they say? Between $2.5 billion and $3 billion.

So what could this mean for customers? Of course, it’s far too soon to say. Ancestry currently delivers over 15 billion genealogy records to over 2 million subscribers. Their current trajectory includes acquiring even MORE records pretty aggressively, which we love. But as I'm sure we’ve all experienced at one time or another, though, when any type of company gets sold, things can change. Or we could continue to see business as usual at the shaky-leaf genealogy giant.

Mybest advice to those of you whose master family trees are on Ancestry is to download and backup your data. I'm not being alarmist or saying the sky is falling here! This announcement is simply a good opportunity to do something we routinely recommend anyway. I'll have specific advice for downloading your tree, checking your source material and getting your raw DNA from Ancestry later in the podcast.

In another piece of news, have you notice that Google is now answering the questions you google instead of just giving you search results with the keywords in your questions? Say you Google the question, “What county is Chicago in?” Google will respond at the top of your search results with a big, fat “Cook County” headline followed by some key facts about the county.

Google’s also creating a bit of a stir with its new Chromebit; it's a Chrome OS full size computer about the size of your hand, and it plugs into an HDMI on our computer. This sounds like a great option for on-the-go genealogical computing!

A lot of folks aren’t fully cloud-based and they really don't ever plan to be: they like to work from a hard drive or desktop of some kind. So this offers them a portable way to do that.

You could plug in at a public terminal--say at a library--or at someone else’s home computer, or even a television so that you could share pictures on a big screen. And best of all the Chromebit is as affordable as it is portable! A write-up at  reports that Google says the Chromebit will be less than $100!


Recently we heard from Jennifer, who is taking a little road trip, as many others of us in the northern hemisphere are contemplating in June. She asks a great question:

“I’m tagging along on my husband’s thesis research trip to Columbus, Ohio. I have some ancestors from other parts of Ohio. I was wondering what exactly I could look for in a state’s capital city's collections and archives? I was thinking that the state capital may have a “gem” that I couldn’t find elsewhere, or even duplicated information [from local repositories].”

Jennifer is definitely thinking along the right lines! Here’s our advice:

At the state government level there are often two key resources: the state library and the state archives. These might be combined. One might be called the state historical society. You just have to look for each state. In Ohio, the Ohio History Connection serves as the state historical society and official state archives. But there is also a state library that serves as a repository for government documents and a resource for other libraries. Each has resources for genealogists, online and in-house. Look for some links to these in our show notes.

In addition, public libraries of major cities often have excellent local history and genealogy collections. This is definitely true of the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio’s state capital!

We suggest you contact librarians before you go and ask what they have that can’t be found anywhere else, both on a state level and for locales you are researching. Often times that will include photograph collections, materials on old businesses, and newspapers on microfilm. If you can formulate specific genealogical questions that you want to try and answer and share those ahead of time with the librarian that will help her guide you toward the unique gems. Every state library and archive is unique, so consulting by phone with the reference librarian is the best way to go.

Recently Tom wrote in with a question about a Civil War veterans database:

“I’ve been a listener of your podcast for quite a long time. Great job. (Thanks, Tom!)

“We have a grass-roots group trying to locate and document Civil War Veterans buried in Washington state. Is there a good website where I can enter a name and unit identification and get results of the person’s [Civil War] service?  I’m having a really hard time finding US Navy sailors.”

It sounds like Tom is conducting a very worthwhile project! An excellent resource–but still in progress for sailors with only about 20% of them–is The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS).

The site describes its resources as a “database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records.”

This is an excellent resource for soldiers. As far as sailors go, the site says, “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System currently contains [only] the records of approximately 18,000 African American sailors, though additional records will be added in the future. The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels." A Howard University research team is behind this stellar effort, using muster rolls to fill in missing data or correct apparent misinformation. Here’s a link to an article from the National Archives about African-American servicemen in the Navy during the Civil War.

If a Navy ancestor isn’t among those already listed, my first instinct is always to turn to Google searches first. I ran a search in Google Books for free digitized books meeting the criteria “civil war” “sailors” and there are some resources there as well. I'll put a link to these results in the show notes. Just one example? Manchester Men, which appears to be a published list of those who served from Manchester, N.H. You can learn more about Google searching for “niche” topics like this in the fully-revised and updated 2nd edition of my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Finally, we heard from Alexis with this energetic note about her ”genealogy podcast marathon:”

“I just had to email you and say thank you for all you do!  I am 23 and finding that I am obsessed with family history.  No one around me seems to understand why but I love it.  And I was thrilled when I found your podcast!  Though still pretty young, I've been behind on some technologies like podcasts but now I'm addicted to those too.  It makes work so much better. Though I wish I didn't have to work at all so I could just research and apply what you teach us instead. Wouldn't that be great?!  I have been on genealogy podcast marathons. I'm still quite behind on genealogy gems since I just found you now in 2015 but I'm working through it! 

And I started a blog of course. I just mentioned you in my last post as well. It's called Geneaholic Confessions at It's just getting started but I really want to be a part of the geneablogger community ‘cause it sounds like you guys have tons of fun! Thanks for all you do!










Okay, I promised you some tips for protecting your data on Ancestry, which you should do regularly whether the site is under threat of new management or not. First, download your current tree(s) to GEDCOM files onto your computer. Under the Trees tab, choose Create and Manage Trees. For each tree you have, choose Manage Tree, then Export Tree. At this point the green button should say “Download your GEDCOM file.” Just click on it and it will download. If you’re having difficulty, click “download tips” underneath the green button.

I've heard that some of you have had difficulty downloading your trees to specific software, like Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic. For Family Tree Maker, read this article on syncing your updated online tree to your Family Tree Maker software. RootsMagic users should watch this YouTube video on importing your Ancestry tree into RootsMagic. Consult other online support options if you still need help.

Next, check your sources! The Ancestry help section states, “Any pictures, charts, books, views, or similar items found in the original file will not be included in the [downloaded] GEDCOM. Vital information, notes, and sources are usually retained after conversion.” Check your GEDCOM to see whether your source notes are intact. Then make sure you have copies of documents, videos, photos and other items you may have attached to your tree. You don’t want them to disappear, should there be a hiccup (or worse) in service.

Finally, if you have used AncestryDNA, download a copy of your raw DNA data. Here’s a link to show you how. We especially recommend this step! These tests are expensive. Tests for loved ones who are now deceased can’t be repeated. And Ancestry has disposed of DNA samples in the past when the company has switched directions. (Again, I'm not trying to be alarmist about this, just cautious.)

If you have relied on Ancestry or any other cloud-based service to host your only or master family tree, I recommend you do some homework and consider keeping your master tree on your own computer, and a backup file with all your other backup files. We here at Genealogy Gems use Backblaze as our backup service and we love them (visit for more information).







So here's another tip for you. Google Books, which I mentioned before, isn't the only place to find digitized family history books online. Another free and growing resource is FamilySearch's Family History Books collection.  They've reached a milestone 200,000 titles! This collection began 8 years ago and includes "family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees,” according to the landing page.

Digitally-archived volumes like these are so valuable because they are immediately accessible and because they are keyword-searchable. Here are three search strategies to use for these:

·         Look for only a surname (in case the first name is written different ways or a different relative is mentioned).

·         In addition to surnames, search for the name of a neighborhood, street, church, school, business, type of work or other keywords that pertain to your family.

·         Use the Advanced Search feature to focus your search, like for a keyword in a title, or a type of publication like a periodical.

Once you’re reading a book, you can click on the info icon (a circle with an “i” in it on the upper right) to see more information about the book, including source citation and copyright information.

We were curious about how well FamilySearch's digital book Viewer interfaces with mobile devices. So we asked FamilySearch. Turns out, this is still a work in progress and in fact some browsers work better than others. Dennis Meldrum at FamilySearch told us that “Safari does not work well with the Viewer.” Neither do mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad. “The Viewer works best with IE or Firefox. It also works with Chrome, but the Adobe Tools do not work. We are aware of the limitations of the Viewer and are working to replace it by the end of the year."


Speaking of digital libraries and archives, I've got a great one to share with you. If you have Canadian roots, you should be searching Canadiana ( regularly for family history information.

Recently described Canadiana as “a digital initiative of extraordinary scale,…a joint effort of 25 leading research institutions, libraries and archives working together with the goal of creating Canada’s multi-million page, comprehensive online archive.” Its digital collections chronicle Canada’s past since the 1600s and most of its content is free.

For example, the free Héritage Project “aims to digitize, preserve and make accessible Canada’s archival materials for Canadians and the world." Their large collection of genealogy materials so far includes immigration records, church records, land records, family histories, voters’ lists and more. Military history, government documents and aboriginal records are also well-represented. Check back often! More is coming, like local and regional newspaper digitization and records of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

Another part of Canadiana is The Canadiana Discovery Portal. This gateway to digital collections from 40 repositories points to 65 million pages! Sample subjects include  Ontario genealogy and War of 1812 campaigns. This portal is also free to use.

One part of the site that's awesome but NOT free? Early Canadiana Online, with 5 million images already and expected to grow to 16 million. A subscription will run you $10/month or a year for $100, says that site, I'm assuming in Canadian currency. This is “a full-text collection of published documentary material, including government documents and specialized or mass-market periodicals from the 16th to 20th centuries. Law, literature, religion, education, women’s history and aboriginal history are particular areas of strength.” The site describes itself as “the most complete set of full-text historical content about Canada, including books, magazines and government documents.” Tip: scroll down on the home page to click the Genealogy and Local History portal, but don’t ignore the rest of the site!


This month we feature a meaty excerpt from our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist).

Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can access the full interview in this month’s podcast episode. He tells us how he got started; we talk about the plot and characters and the challenges of creating genealogical mysteries with dangerous consequences for the present and more!



Our very own Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, joins us now. She talks about how the ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogy research. AncestryDNA, she says, is really pioneering the integration with its newest product update. Read more about it here.


Here's a this-month-in-history from Profile America. Ninety-one years ago this June, "Congress passed — and President Coolidge signed — the Indian Citizenship Act, which stated 'all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby declared to be, citizens of the United States: Provided that the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.'

"Prior to this act, about two-thirds of American Indians were already citizens by other provisions. Universal voting rights lagged until 1957, as various state laws were amended. Today, there are over 2 million single-race American Indians possessing this full citizenship and 566 federally recognized tribes." Wow, I had no idea there were so many federally recognized tribes!

I close today with a story Contributing Editor Sunny Morton recently read about long-lost relatives who were reunited. We hear lots of stories like that now, relatives who rediscover each other online or through DNA tests. But this story happened in 1926!

Sunny found the story in a newspaper article. The children of a man named Alonso Jones were sitting around one day listening to the radio. Then they heard the announcer say, "Alonso Jones, wherever you are, listen...Your sister wants to see you at Worthington, Ohio. She has not seen or heard from you in forty years. You were born at Antiquity, Meigs County, Ohio, at the time of the Civil War...."

"You were reared by Captain William Roberts, an Ohio River flat boat man. You went with him on a produce boat when you were a boy and ran away while the boat was lying at the bank in Arkansas."

The article reports that the man telegraphed his sister and arranged to meet her. All because she'd had a dream that the radio could help her find her brother, and she tried it, and it worked.

What an inspiration! It reminds me of the value of thinking outside the box, of using all available technologies, and of never giving up when we are looking for family. Forty years after she lost her brother, she still thought of him, and she finally figured out how to find him.

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