The Blog

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: New Year, New Genealogical Project

What’s the point of genealogy project? Sure, it’s to uncover a family’s history. But the real mission should be clear: results!

Nobody wants to spend time on a project that goes nowhere. That’s a frustrating experience that you shouldn’t ever endure. So to kick of the new year, in the next few months I will focus on one genealogical project and show you how to get real, tangible results.

No, that may not mean having one hundred new ancestors’ names by next Tuesday. I won’t be getting into a specific record group or telling you where on the internet you can find that answer you’ve been looking years for.

Rather, I’d like us to put one project on the fast track and show you a proven method for organizing the research. In the next few months I will go into detail about:

1. Goals and Background Information
2. Timelines and Maps
3. Research Plans
4. Writing as a Research Method

We’ll take each of these, break them down into small goals, and move forward slowly but surely. By the end of these four organizational steps, you’ll be surprised at how much you do and don’t know about your own research.

Step One: Goals and Background Information
1. Define your goal. We hear the word “goal” and our eyes roll back into our heads. It’s as if we are conditioned to hate having goals. But take a deep breath. A goal is just a road with a sign saying, “This way to your destination.” If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?

Write down your goal. Be specific. Do NOT say, “I want to prove myself all the way to Charlemagne.” Do say, “What happened to Uncle Dolphus after the Civil War?” or “Who are Grandma Eulalee’s parents?” Even if you want to prove your relationship to a Revolutionary patriot, you still have to do it one generation at a time; make each generation a separate goal.

So, what is your goal? Write it down and refer to it frequently.

2. Write the background information. This is simply a summary of what you know about the ancestor and WHY you know it. It may be full of blanks like:

“Uncle Dolphus was born in 1836 in Livingston County, New York. He never married. He moved away from the family after ____. He was living in Solano County, California by 1881. He died _____.”

The blanks are just as important as what you do know. They help us focus on the missing pieces.

3. Use footnotes.  Be careful; sometimes the “facts” are actually misleading. That’s where footnotes come in. The footnotes tell you and other researchers you may work with in the future how credible your information is. Do I know for sure that Uncle Dolphus never married? The footnote would say that it was a family story passed down by his great-niece. This isn’t the greatest piece of information; the source is too far removed from the events.  How do I know that Dolphus was in California? The footnote would show that he and the other siblings quitclaimed their father’s home and property to his little sister, Anna. I have the probate file book, page number, and year. I use Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence! or Evidence Explained! to keep my footnotes consistent. Use any footnoting system you want, just make sure you are citing each fact you claim, and where it came from.

4. Collect as much info as possible. Where does the data come from? You need to go digging in your own house. In my case, it almost felt like archaeology: the strata of paper and photos was so thick! I dug out all the paper relating to Uncle Dolphus; all the printed pages, research notes, everything. Then I re-read it all. I realized I’d miss-remembered some things, such as thinking someone said he had died in San Diego County instead of Solano County. I found that I had some information I hadn’t quite put together before. In writing out, in paragraph form, what I did know and footnoting each fact to say why I knew it, I got a better hold on the problem.

To summarize:
1. Make a focused goal.
2. Get out all the papers and information you have about that person or family.
3. Write your background information with blanks and footnoted citations.

Feel free to write and tell us how you’ve done, and if you learned anything new. We would love to hear from you.

Next month: Timelines and Maps.

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: A Time to Give

After hearing amazing stories on the news the other night about people who gave their time and money to local charities, I felt guilty for not doing more – especially in this season. No matter what you celebrate this month, many of our traditional celebrations focus on giving. I have active children and a busy schedule, and wondered how I could give more.

As I was pondering this, I realized how much I was already giving and how many opportunities there are for someone with my genealogical skills and interests. I thought back to the time I served at the local LDS family history center, the lectures I had given pro-bono for local groups, the cemetery indexing and photographing project I had been involved in, time spent talking to new genealogists about their projects and offering advice, and the regular meetings of an online genealogical educational group I help with ( While I don’t have the ability right now to work in a soup kitchen or help build homes, I still lend my time and expertise voluntarily.

Are you interested in giving back to the genealogical community? Let me tell you about some of my favorite places, and maybe you will find a project that fits your schedule and interests:

  • This is literally genealogical treasure hunting. When people find old photos or even family bibles that are thrown away or sold at swap meets and antique shops, they “rescue” them and put them up on this site, looking for a home. You can go there to look for your own long-lost relatives or put up some photos you have found.
  • This is a hub for state, county, and town sites created and maintained all by volunteers. Contact the site manager of a town or county you are interested in to see if there are projects you can help with. When I did it, I was sent a few pages from an old index to re-type. I re-transcribed them into a word document, sent it back to the site manager, and it became a new online resource for out-of-town researchers.
  • A great project for your family, church group, scout troop, or genealogical society. Volunteers photograph headstones and monuments from a cemetery and put them up on this site. You can submit one photo that you already have or hundreds taken by yourself and friends on a sunny afternoon. Check with the local sextant or cemetery manager if you plan to do a whole cemetery to make sure you would not be interfering with any funerals.
  • FamilySearch Indexing. The LDS Church is famous for their microfilm collection and they are organizing an ambitious project to digitize and index these valuable resources. Check out There is an online tutorial to teach you how to index, and lots of help along the way.
  • and the Holocaust Memorial Museum have partnered to create the world’s largest online resource for information about victims of the Holocaust. Thousands of volunteers worldwide have added 873,000 records that are now searchable. Contributing is free and easy to do for anyone with a computer and a few hours to help.

There are so many more ways to use the talents you have as a genealogist to give back to others and encourage a love of family history, I wish I could name them all here. If you know of a special group or project, or just want to tell about a giving experience that you have had, write us and let us know.

This holiday season, celebrate random acts of genealogical kindness. After all, not every gift can be wrapped with a bow.