Monday, November 16, 2009

Inherited Research

I recently received the following question from realbeale about organizing inherited research and genealogy files.

My mother was the family historian and completed 2 or 3 family genealogy books when she passed. I inherited 5 bins of primary research. Any advice on what I should keep and how to organize it?
Help!


Thanks for the great question! While no one system of organization works for everybody, hopefully, I can offer some tips that might assist you as you sort through those bins of research.

For starters, know that this is going to be a huge project. Don't expect to get it done in one weekend. If you're a super genea-ninja, a weekend might be enough. However, it took your mother years to collect all of that research. It will likely take you several weeks or even months to go through and organize it all, unless your mother was super-organized. If that is the case, all you need to do is inventory what is there, and you can stop reading now. You also might want to buy a lottery ticket because you've got to be one of the luckiest people alive.

Otherwise, my next suggestion is to try and see the big picture of what is in those bins. Spend a little bit of time just thumbing through each of the bins and getting a general feel for what is in them. This will help you as you start to dig into the details of how to organize it all.

When my grandmother's boxes were passed to me, she had not only research in there, but photos, scrapbooks, heirlooms, and other various things. If that is the case for you, the next step would be to organize by those groupings. I put all of the photos and scrapbooks in one pile, papers in another, and then a miscellaneous pile to hold everything else. Since this is a big project, you might want to pick up some bankers' boxes from your local Walmart. Put your initial piles into those boxes and label them. Then, as you get some spare time (as we all have loads of that, right?), you can select a box and start working on it bit by bit.

For photos, you'll want to sort those in a logical way, and if they haven't been already, you'll want to digitize them and preserve the originals. You can scan them in and clean them up yourself (see my previous post Digitizing Your Own Photos). Or you can use a service to do it for you (see my previous post Affordable Digitizing...).

Preserving heirlooms is a whole other topic in and of itself, which I won't get into here. However, you can find some good information on this online.

Now, all that should be left is the research. (I say that like it's a piece of cake, don't I?) I would organize my research into two different sections, as well. The first would be what some researchers would call "primary records." What constitutes a primary record is so subjective that I don't even like to use the terminology. Basically, you'll pull all of the vital records copies, newspaper clippings, census abstracts, journals and letters, etc., into one group. Nothing from this group will ever be thrown away. This is the stuff you'd want to pass on to someone else eventually. These are your "original" information documents.

Your second section of papers would include research notes, pedigree charts or family group records, and maybe even photocopies of some of the papers in the first section of research. This group of research you'll want to go through piece by piece at some point. If there are duplicates of pedigree charts, photocopies of original vital records that you already have, or notes from a family history seminar your mother attended that you don't need, those would be the things you'd add to a trash pile. However, don't throw anything away until you're absolutely sure there is not even a remote possibility you will ever need it again for research in the future. In other words, if it has a name you don't recognize that might be an ancestor or possible dates for a family member's death, don't toss it. What's left will require you to go through and decide what to do with the information. Much of it you might already have in your genealogy files. Some might be new information you can type into your genealogy program and then toss the paper copy. Other things might be somewhat cryptic research notes from your mother's visit to a cemetery in Massachusetts, and for now, you'll just file that away in a logical system of some sort. You may need it in the future.

Hopefully, these ideas can help get you started on sorting through all that you inherited. I think you'll discover not only some new things about your ancestors as you dig through those bins, but perhaps about your mother, as well. Good luck, and happy ancestor hunting!

Genealogists and Macs

I've gotten some emails recently from readers of my blog with specific questions so I'm going to use the next few blog posts to respond to those questions.

A few days ago, I received the following question on my previous post of New Family Search and Your Software.

Jessica,
I am moving from a PC to a Mac before the year is over. I like everything I have been introduced to the Mac by my son, grandson, and granddaughter. The Mac appears to be so much more reliable. The only hesitation I have is my obsession with family history - I have to stay on top of it. I will have windows running parallel just because of PAF. Any suggestions before I sign on the bottom line??

Gunther


First, let me say welcome to the Apple side of the force. It sounds like you are going to be purchasing a Macintosh (or already have by the time I post this response). Whether it is new or refurbished, Apple will include the latest version of their operating system, which is Snow Leopard. With Snow Leopard (and the previous version of Leopard), you will also get a software program called BootCamp. This allows you two options for your genealogy work.

One option would be to use Parallels, as you mentioned. I used this option for a while. Keep in mind that you will need to have a legitimate, licensed version of Windows to run in Parallels. If you don't already have one, that will cost you, in addition to the cost of Parallels. Most of the time, Parallels worked fine, but even in Parallels, let's face it. It's still Windows. I had issues with Parallels freezing up on me occasionally and having to be closed. However, since all new Macs also come with a free backup program called Time Machine, I never lost any data so the freezing didn't cause me any major headaches. It was just annoying to have to shut down Parallels and re-open it, and then re-open PAF and all my open windows and find where I left off. The advantage to this option was that I could have Windows programs and Mac programs all open and running at the same time.

Your second option is to use BootCamp. BootCamp allows you to boot your Mac into Mac mode or Windows mode. Again, you'll still need a licensed version of Windows, but BootCamp is free with your new Mac so it won't cost quite as much as the first option. Secondly, Windows will run smoother and be more stable using BootCamp. However, this does have the drawback of requiring you to shut down and reboot your machine into Mac if you want to run any Mac programs. You will not be able to work on your genealogy and be working on something else requiring a Mac program.

I hope that all makes sense. Having said that, neither option is perfect, but I really do love working on a Mac. They are so much more stable, user-friendly, and come with a lot of free software that is actually useful. It is worth it to me to still have my Mac and just wait for some more genealogy-friendly options to come out as Mac spreads into the market more. Truly, when it comes to using a Mac, it hasn't at all inhibited my ability to sit around in my pajamas all hours of the night looking for my 3rd great grandfather's long-lost sister.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Always a Blank Page

My children love to watch re-runs of the children's show Lamb Chop. If you've ever seen the show, one of the things you probably remember the most from it was the ending song, "The Song That Never Ends." Well, with genealogy, it's more like "This is the work that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friend." I apologize if that song is now going to be stuck in your head for the rest of your day. However, it illustrates perfectly the approach we need to take with genealogy research. Our family history work is a never-ending mystery, a trail of clues, but we never definitively have a solution. It's like history or science - a new piece of evidence is discovered and the over-arching picture can change dramatically.

There are two points I'm trying to get across here, particularly to beginning or less-seasoned researchers. The first is that there are no comprehensive and final lists of sources to use in your research. The sources available are as plentiful as your imagination allows them to be. Secondly, the big picture of who your ancestors were and what their lives were like is never complete -- a previously undiscovered source of information can change everything you think you know.

In regards to possible sources of genealogical information, there is truly no limit. It's a matter of using clues and looking in places that you might not initially think to look. For example, you can find a birth date on a birth certificate, obituary announcement, military draft card, social security application, or family Bible. You can also, however, find a birth date in a job application, a passport application, a club's membership roster, etc. You can discover new information on a census sheet, in a county land record, or even in an old shoebox tucked away with your grandmother's things. The more information you find and the more sources you attempt to use, the more complete the research picture will become. One piece of information might lead you on to the next. Just think of it is a puzzle that will never have all of the pieces, but each new piece adds to the picture, allowing you to see it just a little more clearly.

However, keep in mind, the picture can change. As my aunt was going through my grandmother's things a few months after she passed away, she found a baby birth announcement. The announcement had been addressed to my grandmother's grandmother and mailed to her, as evidenced by the postmark. Obviously, at some point, it found it's way back into my grandmother's own things. The birthdate on the announcement matched that of my grandmother, Dolores Mae Binney, May 1930. However, the name printed on the announcement was not Dolores Mae, but Willa Binney. All of a sudden, there were new possibilities and new questions. A family rumor had floated around among a few family members for years: that my grandmother had a twin who was given up for adoption at birth because her parents couldn't afford two babies at the height of the Great Depression. Another theory is that my grandmother's mother picked one name, sent out announcements, and then decided she didn't like it as well as another name she had chosen. At this point, we're still making conjectures about the reason behind the baby announcement with the name we don't recognize, but it certainly changed what we thought was very straightforward information about my grandmother's birth.

With an infinite number of source possibilities and genealogy work that is never truly complete, the most important tip I can offer is to be creative and keep an open mind. You never know what obscure piece of information you might find in an unusual place, or what one piece of new data can do when you add it to the research you've already collected. In this regard, genealogy is always a blank page, or at least a page that requires having lots of white-out on hand.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Soundex - The Basics

If you haven't already, at some point in your research, you will likely have a need to use one of the older Soundex indexes on microfilm. With that in mind, here are some basics about Soundex.

Soundex is an indexing system that is phonetic-based and groups together names that sound alike but are spelled differently, for example, Pearson, Pierson, and Pehrson. You can probably understand the need for such an indexing method, particularly for those of us whose ancestors surnames were spelled various ways throughout the years. This system of indexing was first developed in 1918, and was called the Russell Soundex. The American Soundex is a variation used for census records. A Miracode is a Soundex index card generated by computer. You might hear any or all of these terms used in research circles.

The Soundex index was used for U.S. federal census records starting with the 1880 census, and has also been used for some ship passenger arrival lists, naturalization records, and Canadian border crossings. Some counties also use a Soundex-type indexing system for certain county records. Many online genealogy databases use the Soundex concepts in their search feature.

The easiest way to determine a Soundex code for an ancestor's name is by using an online converter tool, and there are several of these out there. These include RootsWeb's Soundex Converter and Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter Soundex Calculator.

You can also create a Soundex code yourself if you know the basic system. Every soundex code consists of a letter and three numbers, such as C157. The letter is always the first letter of the name. After the first letter, ignore the vowels and the consonants H and W. Numbers are then assigned to the remaining letters of the name according to Soundex Key Letter Codes shown below. Zeroes are added at the end as necessary to get a 4-character code, and excess letters are ignored if they make a code longer than 4 characters.

Soundex Key Letter Codes

1 - b, f, p, v
2 - c, g, j, k, q, s, x, z
3 - d, t
4 - l
5 - m, n
6 - r

There are a few additional rules and plenty of examples of using the Soundex at FamilySearch's Wiki and at Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, so I won't re-invent the wheel here on my blog. As always, the accuracy and effectiveness of your research will be greatly enhanced when you use all of the tools available to you, both new and old.

Monday, June 8, 2009

One More Generation Found...

I had to report on my first big success using the pilot program for Family Search. As many of you know from my previous posts, I do indexing on a regular basis as a volunteer for the LDS Church's Family Search Indexing project. As fast as these records get completed, they are being put up on the pilot site for the public's free use. The pilot site can be reached by going to the Family Search website. That link takes you directly to the pilot search homepage; however, you can also get to it by going to familysearch.org, clicking on the Search Records tab, and then selecting Record Search pilot.

I recently decided to do some lookups for a line on my paternal side that came to the United States from Czechoslovakia in the 1870s. The last of the line I had was a Frank Pejsa and his wife, Mary, both born in the 1850s in Czechoslovakia. I had never been sure whether they were married right before or right after they immigrated in about 1871. Because I didn't know Mary's maiden name, I was stuck on this line and couldn't get it onto Czechoslovakian soil, so to speak.

Well, Pejsa is not an extremely common surname, so I just typed it into the pilot search box. On the first page of search results, there she was. Well, not her, but her death certificate from an Ohio vital records database. And what's more, I got the actual death certificate image saved to my computer. Although the handwriting is a bit difficult to discern, I was able to discover that her father's name was Josef Urban.

I now have one more generation back on this particularly difficult line. The best part is that I didn't have to pay a dime for a copy of the original certificate, and I didn't have to leave my house or order microfiche from some repository.

Here are some things to keep in mind from this solved mystery I just shared:

  1. The Family Search Indexing project is only barely beginning. Keep checking back on the pilot site to see what new records are being made available. It's a great and free way to discover more of your genealogy.

  2. Using a variety of resources on the Internet is your best option for getting the most out of your online research. I carry a subscription to Ancestry.com, use Cyndi's List often, check county and regional record sites, and use some free sites, as well. What you find on one site won't necessarily be on another. At this point, no one website has it all.

  3. As more and more records are being digitized and genealogy moves more into the online realm, you'll need to keep checking back at sites you may have tried in the past. For example, I may not be able to find a record for my ancestor on Ancestry.com, yet, but if they add a new database six months from now, I may find it then. Keep good records of sources you've searched, including the dates you searched them (even if they were unsuccessful searches), and you'll know when you need to check back again for fresh content.


Be sure to check out the Family Search pilot site and see what you can find. And if you haven't, yet, sign up to be a volunteer indexer for the Family Search project, as you'll only help yourself and other researchers in the future. Finally, happy family mystery solving to all of you genealogical detectives out there! As always, if you would like me to cover a particular topic, answer a specific question, or review a specific website in a future post, send me a note. I'll try to oblige.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

But My Genealogy Has All Been Done!

I have heard this countless times as a reason why many LDS people don't spend any time doing their genealogical research. Perhaps you have family members that joined the church clear back in Kirtland or Nauvoo. Those ancestors have lots of LDS descendants now, and when you go to research your direct ancestors, you find that "the work has all been done." Trust me, that is not possible no matter how long your family has been in the church.

Let me offer a few suggestions for family history research for those LDS researchers out there who seem to think there isn't much work left to do on their lines.

There may very well be a huge amount of genealogical work done on your direct lines. However, this does not mean that this work is all correct. It would be very helpful to you and future generations if you are willing to take the time to doublecheck the work that has been done. I could not even begin to list the errors that I have found in the LDS databases online, such as the International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File, and the new Family Search website. Verifying dates, names, and sources; combining duplicates; and correcting relationship errors can be of immense help in accurate genealogical records. In addition, you might find, as I have occasionally, a child that died young that was never included in the work done for the family. Those lost children will be very appreciative of your work in finding them and connecting them to their families.

You can also spend time putting together stories and biographies of your ancestors. Current and future family members always appreciate collections of stories about their ancestors being organized in one central place, either online or in a traditional published format. This kind of research can be rewarding in its own way as you start to see your ancestors as individuals with real struggles and triumphs. Genealogy is more than just names and dates. It's our history.

Finally, you can focus your efforts on down lines research, also called descendancy research. There was an excellent article in the April 2007 Ensign called "Branching Out On Your Family Tree." Basically, the idea is that you selectively focus your efforts on the siblings of your direct ancestors and their spouses and children, moving forward in time. For example, let's say your great-grandfather's work has all been done, but he has 5 other siblings. Their work has been done, but you have no information on their spouses and children. You can take the time to research these names and collect details for this branch of the family. You might even find several of these "down lines" where ordinance work for couples or individuals has never been done. You are related to these individuals so you can submit them for ordinance work; however, please be sure to keep in mind the guidelines of the church in regards to submitting these names. (These guidelines include getting permission from the closest living relative if the person was born in the last 95 years, and making sure that you have a death date for individuals born in the last 110 years.)

Unless you can say with certainty that your ancestral research traces back to medieval times for all of your direct lines, there is plenty more work to be done. You might be just the person to find and piece together other branches of your family tree.

Monday, May 11, 2009

WWI and WWII Draft Registration Cards

Especially when we are just starting out our genealogy research, we can make the mistake of narrowly focusing on only certain types of records, such as birth, death, marriage, and census records. However, there are billions of records out there that can assist us in our research. With that in mind, many of my future posts will focus on a specific category or type of record, where to find it on the Internet, and how it can be helpful to us in our fact-finding quest.

I want to start with one of my favorite resources lately, which happens to be a particular type of U.S. military record. I am talking about the World War I and World War II draft registration cards. Because these are federal military records, the original source for this information is NARA, or the National Archives and Records Administration (see my first blog post of this month, May 2009, for more background information on NARA). Of course, you can research these databases through the regional NARA facilities for each state. For easier Internet access, I recommend Ancestry.com. Yes, you will need a subscription. However, you can search for an ancestor in their records for free, and you will be able to see a results list whether you have a subscription or not. This will tell you whether your ancestor is to be found in these registration cards. (In order to see the details of your search results, you'll need a subscription. See my recent blog post about Ancestry.com subscription options and other ways to access Ancestry.com.)

Draft registration cards for both world wars can be great sources of information. First of all, they were filled out by all men between certain age ranges, regardless of whether or not they ever actually served in the military. Secondly, they were filled out personally by the men registering. This means if you find your ancestor in one of these two collections, you will have the information as they gave it the day they signed the draft card.

The information available on each registration card depends on whether it was a WWI or WWII registration, the age of the registrant, and the date of registration. Information that you might find could include: your ancestor's full name, current address at the time of registration, age, date of birth, place of birth, occupation, current employer, whether or not the registrant has dependents (wife and children), marital status, race, physical description, and the signature of the registrant.

There are some specifics you'll want to keep in mind in regards to each record set. The WWI draft registration cards are a more complete collection. Between 1917 and 1918, 98% of all men between the ages of 18 and 45 registered for the draft, including those who were not U.S. citizens.

Due to privacy laws, only the Fourth Registration, or "old man's registration," of the WWII draft registration cards is available. This registration includes men in 1942, who were between the ages of 45 and 64, and not currently in the military. At some point in the future, the other WWII draft registration cards will become available. In addition, the records of some states' WWII draft registrations were incomplete, and the original draft cards for 8 other states were destroyed before they were microfilmed, so these will never be available. See the sample WWII registration card below: draft registration card

While military draft cards only exist for males of certain ages, they can still be valuable sources of information in your research and are worth checking out for the men in your ancestral line who lived during those periods of time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to Use NARA for Genealogy Research

NARA is the acronym for The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Basically, NARA is the records administration and preservation arm of the federal government. Whether you know it or not, you have probably accessed a record from the NARA holdings at one point or another in your research.

The NARA records that are most valuable to genealogists in our research are census records, military records, immigration records, naturalization records, and land records. NARA does have a website, but most of its records are not available online. The NARA website can be found here. The website will be useful in that it does have indexes of their microfilm holdings, as well as information on how to conduct searches in the different types of records.

In order to access and utilize NARA holdings, you have a few choices:

  1. Visit one of the National Archive locations in person and conduct the research yourself. You can find the locations of the regional NARA facilities on their website. This is a great option if you live close to a location and have several hours to put in the time doing your archival search.

  2. Rent or purchase copies from NARA of the microfilm you need and use the film at a local library or local LDS Family History Center. While this may be a little more convenient, particularly if you don't live close to a NARA facility, this method could end up being pretty expensive.

  3. Hire an independent researcher to conduct your archival research for you. This option would eliminate the need for you to spend much of your own time at all in order to get the information you need, but again, the cost might be prohibitive.

  4. You can order online for certain genealogical records. Information on what records can be ordered online is on the NARA website, but not all of their holdings are available this way.

  5. You can access many, if not most, NARA holdings from a local genealogical society or large public library, state archives, or an LDS Family History Center.

  6. If you want the best combination of low cost and low time investment, there is a final option. Ancestry.com has digitized NARA holdings in their online collections available to their members. They are also currently adding more new NARA holdings. Many of the NARA records are also being included on the new LDS Family Search pilot search project for free. There are many records available on this beta site now, but it is far from complete. This is an ongoing project, which will take several years to complete.


Whatever method you use to utilize the records available from NARA, you will find quickly (if you haven't already) that these types of federal records will be among your most important records in your genealogical research. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the records available at NARA. It will be well worth the time investment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Organizing Your Physical Genealogy Files

Since my most recent post was on organizing your digital genealogy files, I thought it would be appropriate to include some information on organizing your physical genealogy files. There's a good chance you'll eventually want to digitize your physical genealogy files at some point, if you haven't already. It saves a lot of physical space, makes it easier to share your files with others, and helps you preserve your originals in better condition since you won't have to handle them as frequently. However, you'll still have a need to organize and store your certificates, photos and heirlooms for preservation purposes and to be able to find them later. For any individual you research, you can potentially end up with a lot of files, such as birth and death certificates, census records or abstracts, obituaries, wills, and even correspondence with other researchers.

First, you'll want to decide on a filing/organization system that works for you. There is no one right way here. Choose a method that works for you, and that you'll actually use. There are almost as many possible methods as there are individuals. Since I can't delineate all of them, I'll mention the most common options, and give an example of each. You can scour the Internet later for other examples of filing systems.

Some of the most common ways to organize your files are in file folders or binders. These are usually then subdivided or organized according to surname, couple or family, ancestral line, or record type.

If you decide to use a file folder system, you might have a banker's box or file cabinet drawer that you use. You might purchase four different colors of hanging file folders, one for each of your grandparents (this method organization is ancestral line). Then, in each ancestral line, you might have individual manila folders for each couple and their children in that line.

I'll use my own filing system as another example. I use post-type binders that can be purchased at any office supply store. I have one binder for each of my grandparents. (I also use the ancestral line system.) Then, in each binder, I have tabs that separate types of records. For example, I have dividers that are labeled Birth Records, Marriage Records, Death Records, Other Records, Census Records, and Biography/History Records. If my binders get too full, I can separate out each grandparent's line into a separate binder for each record type, etc.

Whatever filing system you decide on, you'll find that you'll have to make some changes to it as you start to use it and discover what works for you and what doesn't. In addition, as your numbers of records grow, you'll have to continue to subdivide records to keep your system organized and make it easy for you to quickly find what you need. In addition, I keep a master records index list on my computer. In this list, I identify every single record I have, the names and identification numbers (from my genealogy software) of the individuals on the record, what the record type is, and which binder it is located in. This makes it easy for me to search for a name in my index and quickly find what records I have and where they are at.

Although genealogists follow standards for research, documentation, etc., the digital and physical filing systems we each use do not have to follow a certain protocol. The most important thing is keeping yourself organized so you can maximize your efforts and research time, and doing it in a way that works for you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Organizing Your Digital Genealogy Files

Where did that photo of great aunt Jeanine go? You know you saved it on your computer somewhere... As genealogy moves more and more into the digital realm, you'll need to have a system for organizing your digital files. It doesn't have to be complex, and there is no one right way to set up your digital filing system. The important thing is that you have one that works for you.

Start by taking a look at the files you already have on your computer. Are they photos, census records, scanned in birth or death certificates, etc? Consider your current filing system for physical items, like paper certificates and original photos. If you have a good filing system that works for your traditional files, you may want to follow the same type of system in organizing your computer files.

Here are some suggestions for ways to organize your files. Take what ideas work for you, adapt them, combine them, and even comb the web for some more ideas.


  • Keep a central log or index of your digital files. This method can be used no matter how you organize (or don't organize) the files on your computer. Use a spreadsheet or even a table in a word processor. For each file on your computer, note the full name and file extension, the location on your computer, the given name and surname of each individual associated with the file, and brief description. If your genealogy software automatically assigns unique IDs for individuals in your file that don't change, you'll want to include this number in your log, as well. If not, you may want to consider also noting the birth year along with first and last name because, chances are, you have at least a few individuals in your file who share a name. While this method may seem a bit cumbersome in the beginning, it will really pay off as your genealogy database grows larger. In addition, you may choose to organize your files into one central location on your computer or CD-roms, but it isn't an absolute necessity with this system.

  • Personally, I like to keep my digital files in one central location on my system, along with keeping a log. It just makes it that much quicker for me to find, as well as making my genealogy backups much easier. I use a folder called Genealogy in the My Documents folder on my computer. Under that, I break it out into my grandparents' surnames. For example, I have a Witbeck folder, an Ohm folder, a Taylor folder, and a Binney folder. In each of those, I then have a few more subfolders that divide out the digital files by type, such as Photos or Census Records.

  • You can keep the bulk of your digital files on CD if you have limited storage space on your computer. Just give each CD a unique name or number that you can reference in your central log or index so you know what is on each separate disc.

  • Some genealogy software programs will allow you to import all of your digital files into a scrapbook feature, as a source, or into the note fields. This method may work well if your genealogy file is small, but if you have a large file with more names, it's likely this system will very quickly turn from useful into futile.

  • There are software programs designed for organizing digital files. Clooz bills itself as "an electronic filing cabinet that assists you with search and retrieval of important facts that you have found during the ancestor hunt." This software is only available to Windows users, and the current cost is about $40. However, this may take much of the work out of setting up your file system.



Whatever method you choose to organize your digital files, the important thing is that you have a method that works for you. If you take the time now to set up a filing system, you'll reap the rewards later as your files increase and your genealogy research produces more and more results. And you won't ever again have to spend hours digging through your computer looking for that old photo of great aunt Jeanine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Ancestry Subscription - Is It Worth the Money?

I've mentioned several free genealogy websites up to this point in my previous posts, but I get asked this particular question quite often about Ancestry.com and whether it is worth it to pay for a subscription. Many of you probably already use Ancestry.com and know the answer to this question. However, the truth is, whether or not it is worth the cost is entirely dependent upon your situation.

As of today, Ancestry has four different subscription options. You can subscribe to their World Deluxe Membership on an annual basis. You can get the World Deluxe Membership billed monthly. For those users who really only need to focus on United States records, the annual US Deluxe Membership is the best value, but you can also get the US Deluxe Membership on a monthly basis.

Let me be clear in saying that Ancestry.com offers a remarkable amount of value in exchange for their subscription costs. Ancestry does offer some free databases. However, when you have a subscription account with them, you have access to literally billions of names and thousands of databases. You can see original, scanned-in census images; passport applications with photos; emigration and immigration passenger ship rosters; military draft cards; and seemingly endless vital record databases and indexes. In addition to the exhaustive records available at your fingertips, Ancestry offers great ways of sharing and collaborating with other researchers. They also offer a new, customizable home page that allows you to track things such as what databases you last searched and which ancestors are on the top of your research list.

When I first started using Ancestry.com several years ago, I found that the United States records were much more abundant than the world offerings. However, in the past couple of years particularly, they have done a great job of adding much more world content than they previously had.

If you cannot afford a subscription or want to check it out first to see if it can be helpful to you in your particular areas of research, I highly recommend that you check with your local library. Here in Johnson County, Kansas, the regional library system offers access to all areas of Ancestry for free to residents with library cards. A local or regional genealogical society might also have purchased multi-user access to Ancestry for its members. In addition, the Free Trial - Ancestry.com US Deluxe Membership can allow you to test out a subscription for a week or two. During the trial, you have access to everything so it's easy to determine whether you'll get your value out of it.

For me, I find that the yearly cost is more than worth the trade-off of being able to search for my great-great-grandfather's lost twin brother, in my flannel pajamas, and with a pint of Moose Tracks in front of me. Either way, Ancestry.com is definitely a website that should be at the top of your bookmarks list in your research efforts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Genealogy is Important to Mormons

This post is a little bit of a departure from my advice, website reviews, and general research tips. In fact, it is probably a little personally indulgent, but nonetheless, I get a lot of questions from relatives and visitors to my blog and genealogy sites about why Mormons care so much about and do so much in the realm of genealogy. I used to write articles for a popular writing site that allows people to write articles about certain topics, and the other writers on the site rank your articles. Well, I wrote this particular article below for this writing site on the topic of "Why Genealogy is Important to Mormons." The other writers (most not professionals) rated another article #1. (Mine came in #2, if you were wondering.) That was funny to me because the writer of that article was clearly not a Mormon, as evidenced by her frequent use of the spelling Ladder-day Saints instead of Latter-day Saints and because her answer was way off the mark. So, I'm using this blog post to share with you the article I wrote. These thoughts are my own, and I in no way speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other members of it. I do hope this helps answer some questions for so many of you who do wonder why our church members are so interested in genealogy work.

Is the God of Christianity just, merciful, or both? Most Christians believe that God loves us and desires us to be with Him after this life is over; however, that requires us to hear and believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, believe the same. But what about those who die never having heard of Jesus? Mormons believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough (and merciful enough) to reach even beyond the veil of death. If He is a merciful and a just God, could He not save those who died without ever hearing His name or being baptized (through no fault of their own)? Mormons believe the answer to this question is a resounding yes, which is why they place such emphasis on doing genealogy.

In addition, Mormons believe that the family unit can remain intact in heaven. They believe that families can be sealed together forever through a sealing ordinance done in LDS temples. As with all religions, Mormons believe that certain ordinances, or rites, are necessary to help us find happiness in this life and the next. For Mormons, these ordinances include baptism and sacred ordinances done in LDS temples, the latter including endowments and the sealing of families together forever.

Because of these beliefs, the Mormon church has a rich heritage of putting time and resources into genealogy work. The central ideology that drives this effort is that all mankind will have the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, whether in this life or the next. Of course, if someone has passed on to the next life without the opportunity, how can they be baptized and have the other necessary ordinances performed? Mormons believe this can be done by proxy, meaning a living person can stand in the place of, or be proxy for, one who is dead. The ordinances of baptism, endowment and sealing of families together for those who have died are done in LDS temples.

Contrary to some reports, Mormons do not baptize everyone. Members of the Mormon church are counseled to research their own ancestors and family members who have died without having ordinances done. They then submit these names to an LDS temple to have the work completed. They are instructed not to submit names for individuals who are not family members. They are also instructed to ask permission of the closest living relative for family members that have lived within the last 95 years.

Again, in contrast to some false information out there, Mormons do not believe that these ordinances automatically make someone "Mormon" on the other side. These ordinances are a gift, an offering, to family members that have passed on. Just as each person here in this life has the opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ, Mormons believe that each family member whose ordinance work is done will have the opportunity to accept it in their behalf or reject it. Names of people whose ordinances have been done are NOT added to the LDS membership records for this reason. Mormons believe strongly that every individual has been given the power to choose for themselves by God, and that will not be taken away.

Because of the beliefs that Mormons hold in regards to the importance of genealogy, every genealogist can benefit-whether they are members of the Mormon church or not. The LDS church has gone to tremendous lengths to index, catalog, and help preserve genealogical records all over the world. They are advocates for free sharing of this information, and they have a consistent and large-scale volunteer effort always underway in assisting everyone in their genealogical research. Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, the LDS church and their resources at their Family History Library, family history centers worldwide, and websites, can be extremely helpful in anyone's family history research.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Volunteer and Learn

This will be a short post, but an important one. A couple of my last posts focused on advice for beginners and one discussed free genealogy courses from BYU. There is another great way for beginners or even more advanced researchers to hone their skills and broaden their research know-how. Volunteer!

Yes, I know. You want to spend as much time as you can doing your own research. However, it really is worth the trade-off to spend some time volunteering in order to expand your family history research tool belt.

Here are just a few ideas for volunteering and what you can expect to gain for your own research:


  • Volunteer as an indexer at Family Search Indexing. This is my number one recommendation. From the comfort of your home and at your own computer, you can spend as little as 1/2 hour and index a whole page of names for this project. This project is completely indexed by volunteers all over the world. Thousands of documents are constantly scanned into the system, including national and regional census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, and even divorce records. The records are global, too. This means if you speak Spanish, there are several projects ongoing that include records from Mexico or Spain. Same goes for German records and even French. The benefits for you are that you will get lots of experience in learning to read handwritten records, which will be invaluable in your own research. In addition, you'll get familiar with various record types and the information they contain. This might give you some new ideas as to records you can search in your own work. Finally, as these projects are completed, they are available for free to the public at the Family Search website. You'll know from your own volunteer work what records are becoming available as they are completed.

  • Join a local or regional genealogical society. These societies can be very helpful in offering resources for their members. In addition, many of these societies have many volunteer opportunities available. You might even be able to get a discount on your society membership or their education classes by volunteering.

  • Volunteer to help with USGenWeb's Tombstone Transcription Project. You can help record and preserve the tombstone information in your local cemeteries and share it with other family history researchers. You'll benefit not only by learning what kinds of great information you can find on headstones at cemeteries, but it is likely you'll benefit from the information posted by another volunteer in another location. I really like this project as the information is free as volunteers post it.

  • Finally, check out your local courthouse. Chances are, your courthouse has records that genealogists often request. Some counties have certain methods of handling these requests, i.e. charging for them, having a clerk do it, making the researcher wait 3-6 months for a response, etc. You might offer to volunteer to help with the cataloging of the records or even the research requests as they come in. This will help you get familiar with what kinds of records can be found in county courthouses. Who knows? You might even be able to connect with another researcher on RootsWeb and exchange research time at your local courthouses and libraries.



Volunteering a portion of your time in indexing, recording, and preserving records, or assisting others in their research can be a great way for you to quickly learn much more about your own research and the records avenues available to you as you continue your hunt for your ancestors.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Digitizing Your Own Photos

One of my previous posts discussed the use of a photo scanning and restoration service to help you in your efforts to digitize your photos. I wanted to give some tips and information that you'll need if you want to digitize your own photos. If you don't want to do all of this yourself, I recommend ScanCafe. Otherwise, keep reading.

First of all, why digitize? Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you understand enough about the value of new technology and the internet in sharing and preserving important genealogical records. That includes our photos, which can be among our most precious family history heirlooms. By digitizing them, you can restore faded color and remove yellowing, you can preserve a restored copy and share it with other family members very easily, and after digitizing, you'll find you can preserve the original photos better since you'll be less likely to continue to handle them.

What do you need as far as equipment or technology in order to start digitizing? You'll need a scanner and photo editing software. Scanners don't have to cost a lot, but I highly recommend taking a little time to research some models in your price range and dig up customer reviews. Then, you'll need photo editing software. Most often, the software that comes with your scanner will have some photo editing features. If you want a few more editing features that allow you to do a little more cleanup of your photos, you'll want additional software. If you use a Mac, iPhoto should be sufficient for what you'll need. If you are a Windows user, the software I recommend is Adobe Photoshop Elements.

When it comes time to actually scan in your photos, there are some specific settings you'll need to use:

  • Set your dpi for your scanner at no less than 300. You can go up to 600 dpi, but there won't be a noticeable improvement in your photo quality beyond 600 dpi. If you scan in less than 300 dpi, you won't get the quality you need and want.


  • Scan in full color. This makes the individual photos larger, but you can always create grayscale or black and white versions later.


  • Save your scanned photos as tif files, or with .tif extensions. This may be a photo format you aren't as familiar with. However, a tif file will give you flexibility in the future for a professional designer or restoration service to take the photo and make more advanced edits to it in order to preserve it. Again, you can always take a photo saved as a tif and create a jpg or bmp version later.


  • Finally, if space is an issue on your computer, don't sidestep the recommendations above to save space. Simply group your pictures into manageable sets. Scan in each set, and then move to a Flash drive or a CD. That will clear up your hard drive space to scan in the next set of photos.


As far as photo handling while you are scanning, the following may seem obvious, but preserving your original photos is just as important as getting them digitized. Make sure your hands are washed and clean before handling photos. This is particularly important for older photos. The natural oils from our skin will rub off on the pictures, which is why photos that have been handled a lot tend to fade and yellow much faster.


If you have a lot of older photos, you probably have some that are in old photo albums or scrapbooks. Be particularly careful with these. Many of these older photo albums are a lot like our scrapbooks today. They tend to be paper books in a post-type binder. The photos were usually added by using photo corners that were glued to the pages. I do not recommend pulling individual photos out of scrapbooks or albums to scan in unless you simply can't get the page to scan properly because of photo placement. Here's my rule: if you are going to do more damage to the book by trying to prop it open on the scanner to get the full photo scanned in, try and gently pull the photo from the book. If you are going to do more damage to the photo by trying to pull it out, leave it in and scan the whole page. You can always crop and save each photo on a page as individual photo files later. And those photo corners can always be edited out of the photo.

One final tip: before you ever scan a single photo, decide on a file-naming convention that you will use on all of your photos. I recently had a whole box of more than 400 photos that had to be scanned and preserved. Rather than try and come up with descriptive file names for each of those, I just used a numbering system. The first photo I scanned was named 1.tif, and so on. As I scanned, I had a word processing document open where I listed the photo name and a description of what the photo was. For example, my first line in the document was "1.tif - Dolores Binney with her parents, Walter and Elsie." When I moved the photos to a CD to preserve, I made sure my index document was included. This way, my file names are short, and I can put as much text in as I need in order to identify the picture.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cyndi's List

If you have done any significant genealogy research on the internet, you already know about this website, as it is one of the oldest and most well-known genealogy sites on the web. This brief post is for those of you who are new to researching family history online or for those intermediate-level researchers who have yet to discover the power of this particular website.

This website has been online since 1996, meaning it truly was one of the first online genealogy sites out there. Basically, this site is like the Google of the online genealogy world. It is run by a gal named Cyndi Howell, who has written books about online genealogical research and does speaking engagements.

Now, this site currently boasts almost 265,000 genealogy-related links. What this means is that if you don't know how to use the site to find what you are looking for, you can easily become overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong! Cyndi has done a fabulous job of organizing the links into broad categories, which makes for much easier searching. She also has a prominent Google search box at the top of the site that allows you to search her entire page for particular things. However, beginning genealogists especially can get excited about the wealth of links on the site and spend hours of time "browsing" without ever accomplishing anything.

Here is what I recommend to get the full value from Cyndi's List. The home page defaults to her Main Category Index. Take a few minutes at your first visit to the site to quickly scan through the main categories of links available. Some of these will be much more valuable than others to you. There will be some regional or ethnic-specific categories that you will never use. Again, don't spend a ton of time looking at the category list, but do note what kinds of links are available to you. Vital records and region-specific links will be of the highest quality information in your research.

After scanning the Main Category Index, click on a category that you think you might use in the future, such as Births & Baptisms. You'll see that each main category is divided into sub-categories. These are listed at the top of the page in the left column. The right column shows related categories that you might also search if you don't find what you are looking for in the category you are currently in. Each sub-category on the page will be listed in alphabetical order. Underneath the title of each sub-category, which you can get to by scrolling down or by clicking on the sub-category name in the Category Index, you'll see the list of specific links for that sub-category. Many of the links will have short descriptions that will help you quickly see at a glance if that particular link is what you are looking for.

After familiarizing yourself with the main category and sub-category layout of the site this way, you'll know the basics of how to quickly find what you are looking for among the thousands of links on the site. I also highly recommend bookmarking Cyndi's List, as this will quickly become one of your most valuable resources in internet research if you understand what is there and how to access it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Advice for Beginners - Part II

If you have followed the steps in the previous post, by now, you should have a basic familiarity with pedigree charts and family group records, your genealogy software should be installed, and you should have started your genealogy file with as much information as you have on yourself and your living relatives. Now it's time to really get into the nitty-gritty of research.

1) - Create an organized research plan. Far too many beginning genealogists make the mistake of haphazardly searching for anything and everything at once. Especially with the internet, it seems so easy to type a surname into Google and sort through the many results that come up. However, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy by being more organized and focused in your research.

The steps in the research process are: decide what information you need to learn, choose a source to look for the information, record what you find (including the sources searched), and repeat.

2) - Before I discuss very briefly the research resources available to you, I want to emphasize something that too many beginners fail to do: record everything. Of course, if you find the birthdate of your great-grandfather in a vital record, you will naturally add the birthdate to your genealogy files. However, what if the information you were researching led you through several different sources before you found what you were looking for? It is very important that you keep track of all of the sources you have searched, even if you found nothing. If you don't, you might find yourself searching those sources over and over again later, not remembering that the first search was unsuccessful.

This is where a research log comes in handy. You can find samples of research logs and research forms on the internet, or you can create your own simple one. Write down the ancestor's name and the information you are looking for. Then, as you search a source, write down the name of the source, what day you researched it, page numbers and any other details you'd need to find the source again, and finally, write down what you discovered, if anything. For example, let's say I am looking for my great-grandfather's children. I might search a census record in the area I know they lived in 1880. I would record that I searched the Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, 1880 census, enumeration district #12. If I didn't find anything, I would record that the search turned up no results. If I did find him in that census, I would record the information from the census sheet, as well as the page number of the census he was on. If possible, I would even save a copy of the census image on my computer in my Genealogy folder.

3) - Understand what resources are available to you in researching the information you are missing. Birth dates, marriage dates and death dates can be found in vital records, such as birth and death certificates. Obituaries, birth or wedding announcements in newspapers might also contain this information. Certain census years even record birth year, age, and in some census years, month of birth. Census mortality schedules might record the death date and place of an ancestor. Cemeteries might record not only burial information but death details, as well. Military draft cards or land records might record vital record information. In addition to these sources, you may find a family record on a distant cousin's website that contains a date and place you are missing.

Now is a good time to interject another recommendation. It is important to learn early on that some resources are better than others. For example, let's say I need to find the birthdate of my great aunt. I might find it on a personal genealogy website, but where did that person find the information? If you can find an actual birth certificate or birth announcement, or even government record like a social security application or a military draft card, you have a source that is much more likely to be accurate. In addition, someone else can see that you have a reliable source for your information. If all you can find is a birthdate listed on a family website with no source information, you can go ahead and record it as a source with the birthdate as potential information. Ultimately, however, you will want to track down a source that is more reliable and likely to be accurate.

4) - You can research several different pieces of information on different ancestors simultaneously. Just remember that you'll save yourself loads of time and spare yourself from duplicate research if you keep good records of what you are looking for and the sources you've searched.

In future posts, I will discuss different websites and resources available online and how best to utilize these resources, focusing your time and energy to get the most benefit out of your online research. If you have specific questions or want more information on a particular topic, feel free to contact me or leave a comment to a post. I check the comments often. In the meantime, happy researching!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Advice for Beginners - Part I

There are literally hundreds of articles out there on the web about how to get started doing genealogy research if you are a beginner. There are even free web courses (see previous post on free BYU courses) that offer good information for getting started. As a 30-year-old genealogist with over a decade of research experience, I wanted to offer some advice for beginners who want to learn the basics while immediately utilizing the technology available. Along with the standard information for getting started, I hope that I offer here some unique ideas that might help you save time and frustration in the long run. For purposes of brevity, this information will be in two different blog posts so you don't have to scroll for pages to read it all.

1 - Decide your motivation and reasons behind doing your genealogy. Many how-to articles skip this critical piece. Your reasons behind your desire to do family history might change what software programs you use, how much detailed information you keep on family members, and even what websites might be most helpful to you. It may seem obvious that genealogists do research because they enjoy it and they want to learn about their ancestry. However, LDS genealogists will usually find that their most important information is the critical vital records information and LDS ordinance data. While they may want to gather other information, it may not be as important to them. Their genealogy software will need to specifically handle LDS data. Some researchers may decide that they want to gather direct ancestors as far back as possible to share with other family members. Others will want to also include children of ancestors' siblings (commonly referred to as down lines research) in order to collaborate with distant cousins and others on family details. Just defining in your own mind what your ultimate goals are will help you know what information will be most vital to you and what you want to do with that information once you find it.

2 - Learn the basics of the traditional paper genealogy forms. With so many software programs available today for genealogy, it is easy for many of us starting out (particularly those of younger generations) to download a program and start using it. However, before we get that far, we really should decide on what information we will gather. Understanding the traditional paper forms that were used before the advent of computer software helps us to understand what we are trying to record. The two genealogy forms most commonly used for recording family history are pedigree charts and family group records. Pedigree charts are tree-like diagrams that show the direct ancestors of a single person. For example, your first pedigree chart would show yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents. Usually, the pedigree charts include full names, birth, marriage and death dates and places. A family group record shows a couple along with their children. For example, your grandparents family group record would include each of them and basic vital information at the top along with each of their children and children's information. Most software programs are based on these two types of genealogy forms. Of course, depending on your answers to step #1, you may also want to record extra information, including military service, occupations, education levels, emigration and immigration information, residences, biographical stories, religion, and more.

3 - Many "getting started" articles at this point include the instruction to write down everything you know. Unless you want to use the paper forms, this step really should be preceded by selecting and downloading a software program. If you are a Windows user, I highly recommend starting out with Personal Ancestral File, or PAF. This is a free program offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has good functionality and an easy user interface. As you progress in your research efforts, you may decide down the road to switch genealogy programs to get more features. Since all genealogy software uses a standard file format (known as GEDCOM), you can always move your data from one program to another without too much hassle. If you are a Mac user, I suggest PAF if you have a virtual Windows desktop or are running Bootcamp. Otherwise, you'll just want to research Mac genealogy software online. Most of these programs have demos available for download so you can try it before you purchase anything. Take advantage of those demos.

4 - When you first start entering information in your chosen software, you'll need to decide where you are going to save the genealogy file that the program creates. I like to keep it simple. I recommend creating a new folder called Genealogy on your desktop or in your Documents folder. Keep your main genealogy file in this folder. Eventually, you can add other folders to this Genealogy folder for things like pictures, census images, scanned documents, etc.

5 - Once you have a genealogy program installed, you can now proceed to record everything you already know. This is easier than it sounds. Start with yourself. Enter in your name, birthdate and place, marriage information, etc. If you are married, you can add a spouse. Add your children and as much information as you know off the top of your head. Repeat this process for your parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

6 - Now look through any information you might have in your home. Look for records like birth, marriage and death certificates; obituaries or other newspaper articles; wedding or funeral programs; family diaries, journals or letters; family bibles; scrapbooks or baby books; school records; military records; family histories; and legal papers. You might be surprised at how much you already have at your fingertips.

7 - See what information you are missing on any living relatives and make phone calls to get the information. For example, you might have your grandfather's birth year but not the month and day. If you know your grandma has this information, give her a call. Information on the living is much more difficult to find through traditional research channels than information on deceased family members. This is why the recommendation is to get this information through phone calls or visits with other family.

Now that you have a great start to your genealogy file, the next steps will include getting familiar with the resources you can use, steps in the basic research process, and then moving on to actually finding information on deceased ancestors. I will discuss these things in my next blog post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Free BYU web courses in family history...

There are so many great resources and articles currently available on how to begin family history research for the first time. I will soon add a short post giving my own insights on that topic, particularly as it pertains to starting your family history research in an internet-driven world. For today, however, I just wanted to share a great resource for the genealogist just getting started.

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, offers free personal enrichment courses on its website. There are several courses on family history research. There are courses from Introduction to Family History Research and Writing Family History to learning the basics about Family, Vital or Military Records. In addition, they have a large section of family history courses that focus on research in particular regions or ethnic areas. This section currently includes learning about researching various types of French, German and Scandinavian records, as well as a class on Huguenot Research. I highly recommend going through some of the introductory family history courses if you are just starting out. The current personal enrichment course list can be reached here.

You can always find countless articles all over the internet about various family history research techniques and tips. However, before overwhelming yourself with pages and pages of Google results to sift through, I would suggest a simpler approach in the beginning:

1) - Take the BYU Introduction to Family History Research course online.

2) - Go through the courses on Family, Vital and Military Records, so you can understand these basic record types and how to use them in your research.

3) - Finally, go to your local library or online bookstore and search for a book on using land records in genealogy research.

If you understand the basics about family, vital, military and land records, you'll be well on your way to being able to track down your ancestors without having to re-invent the wheel. Remember, we are not just collecting names for our family tree; we are attempting to put the pieces of someone's life puzzle together. To get a more complete picture, we need to use various types of records. Understanding these basics is a great way to really get going in your genealogical work!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Family Search and Your Software

For the LDS genealogists out there, a lot of questions are popping up about the new Family Search (nFS) program and how that will (or won't) integrate well with the most popular genealogy software programs for individual users. Hopefully, this post will help break down the issues you might face transitioning to nFS, and specifically, how that will affect the desktop software you use for your family history work.

First, let me make clear that nFS does not allow users to directly download gedcom file formats like the old Family Search. To add information to nFS, you can enter individuals one at a time or upload gedcom files, just as you used to be able to do. However, if you find a group of individuals that link into your family tree on nFS and you want to get them into your genealogy program on your computer, you cannot download those names as a batch directly from nFS. This is where the software you are using becomes key. Batches of names can be downloaded from nFS if you use a desktop software program that is a Certified Affiliate for nFS. A certified affiliate is a third-party software provider that has gone through the process of applying and being approved to offer software that is compatible with nFS.

One more point to keep in mind. PAF does not integrate with nFS. If you want to continue to use PAF as your genealogy software, you'll need a separate piece of software from one of the certified affiliates called a PAF add-in. Basically, this extends the functionality of PAF to work with nFS.

The LDS church lists the current certified affiliates on their developer website, which is difficult for the normal internet user to find. The list is still small at this point, but I will include it here so you can see your current options.

Windows users: You have many more options at this point than us Mac users. Ancestral Quest, Charting Companion, Family lnsight, Generation Maps, Get My Ancestors, and Roots Magic 4 are all certified affiliates for nFS. These software programs are already available and integrate with nFS. As with all software programs, each of these have very different features. Ancestral Quest and Family Insight are PAF add-ins, meaning you can use those to integrate with PAF if that is the current software you use. Ancestral Quest has the most features available that integrate with nFS, including the ability to search and read nFS, print reports using data from nFS, full syncing capabilities (syncing into and from nFS), and the ability to update nFS directly from your software. Pricing on these software programs runs from free (for Get My Ancestors) to $35.00 for CD-Rom versions.

Mac users: I wish I had more helpful information for you at this point, as I'm in this group, too. As you all probably know, PAF stopped supporting its old Mac version several years ago. PAF is an option if you have a virtual Windows desktop on your Mac or if you have Leopard and can run BootCamp. I tried this for a while. I had the virtual Windows software, Parallels. It is a pain to run each time, it frequently would shut down in the middle of working on PAF, and let's face it -- I don't like Windows. There's a reason I'm a Mac user. I currently use the Mac software Reunion but I really don't recommend it for LDS genealogists as its handling of LDS ordinance data is skeleton at best. I still can't get it to run slim reports on missing ordinances. In addition, Reunion is not currently planning to become a Certified Affiliate for nFS, which means no syncing with nFS. The current certified affiliates that are available for Macs are Family Insight, Get My Ancestors and Grow Branch. Get My Ancestors is a free utility that can sync with fNS, but then you have two software programs. I haven't tried this one, yet. Family Insight is a $25 software option that is more of a full program, not just a small utility with few functions. However, I can't seem to find reviews or information on it, and I don't like purchasing programs that I'm not sure are what I really need. Grow Branch is an online software to build your family tree. However, this software requires that you pay for this company to assist you in your research, and it isn't cheap. For now, we Mac users have very few options for nFS integration: 1) keep using PAF on a virtual machine or BootCamp and get a PAF add-in; 2) use a great Mac software program and keep writing letters to the software company to urge them to become nFS certified; or 3) try one of these small utility programs or the more expensive online research program.

Remember, new Family Search is still in its beta stage. I trust that the developers and architects of this program at LDS headquarters will continue to try and make it easier to use and integrate with. In addition, as nFS moves out of the beta version, I am certain that other genealogy software providers will be encouraged to become certified affiliates to continue to cash in on the LDS portion of the genealogy software market share. As this happens, more options for software and integration with nFS will become available.