Jackpot! 4 Easy Tips To Reach Your Family History Treasure

Two of my favorite things are newly discovered cousins and old photographs.

The name dusty roots and forgotten treasures is a subtle shout out to that. Most of my roots were dusty and forgotten until I set out to dig them up.

Every day I dig, and I am constantly rewarded with the discovery of amazing historic treasures. Not monetary treasures, I will never die rich, but I have a wealth that is incomparable to a stack of cash.

Recently I hit the lotto when it comes to the family history jackpot.

Patrick Lee Fulkerson

I connected with some cousins that I had never met before and not only has it been wonderful to connect with this newly reconnected branch on the family tree, I was also rewarded with being able to get copies of many priceless photographs.

Photographs I had never seen before. Photographs of people who have some of the same features that I do. Enough photographs to help fill in the gaps of photographs on one family line to the point that I now have a photographic timeline of NINE generations!

Amazing!

Loree Ashley

I’m always excited to connect with relatives because it gives me the opportunity to share the family history gold I find. On those instances where I find myself on the receiving end of such wonderful bounty it feels like karma is rewarding my genealogical good deeds. I get smiled on by the karma gods of genealogy a lot.

I have really been blessed.

To accomplish this great feat of 9 photograph generations it took a lot of people to share their treasures with me. I have had distant cousins mail me packages of photocopies from the opposite side of the country. I get emails from cousins filling my inbox full of priceless photographs decades old. I get text messages from relatives as they make road trips and can visit long forgotten family cemeteries that I may never get the opportunity to visit for myself.

L to R Wilma Ashley, Albertina Adams, Sarah Eckler, Emma Post, Nila Ashley

Often in various genealogical groups I see people that are upset that people are not sharing with them on sites such as ancestry. I have not run into that a lot. Most people are very generous with me.

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These are my 4 tried and true tips for breaking the ice with cousins and opening the door to sharing of information and photographs.

  • Approach newly discovered cousins with a gift of your genealogical treasure. Do you know some information that might not be common knowledge? Do you have an old photograph that you can share a copy? Can you share information about how you and the cousin are connected? Generosity often begets generosity. It is a great way to break the ice.
  • Be willing to let information simmer. If you send a message off to a cousin and get no response just let it go. There is no way to know what another individual has experienced. For some people family history can be a traumatic experience or information that you reveal might be shocking or confusing. Stalking an individual with repeated follow up messages will probably not make a new friend.
  • Show gratitude. If contact with a cousin results in nothing of use to you personally at least thank them for their time. They may not have any information for you currently but if you make a positive impression, they are more likely to recall you in the future if or when they encounter information or someone that has information.
  • Family photographs used to be rare and hard to copy. Today with great cell phone cameras in most pockets and handheld scanners available at affordable prices there is no reason to suggest ever taking possession of someone’s treasured original photograph. You want to irk Great Aunt Betty? Take her priceless heirloom photograph out of her site. Quietly get a copy if you can and thank her profusely for the privilege and then for goodness sake put it back exactly where and how you found it!

Do you have any tips and tricks for getting people to share their genealogical treasures?

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4 Brilliant Ancestry Hacks You Need to Know

Research on a Budget

I consider myself an addicted genealogist. There is a joke in the genealogy community. We are all self proclaimed addicts but you will never see a genealogist anonymous meeting. Why? Genealogists never want to quit. Perhaps we’re not a funny lot but the point is valid.

Everyday I dedicate time to researching or improving my research skills. I have been at this a long time and I consider myself a good researcher. In this field no one is ever truly an “expert”. People have specializations, but the subject is just so wide that it is is impossible to know it all at an expert level. It is a constant effort to acquire more information and skills.

If I ever strike it rich I might allow myself to spend endless amounts of money on this passion that I love so much but that is not this reality. Each of my precious genealogy budget dollars has to be used in the best way possible. I have discovered a few hacks to stretch my budget while still utilizing the vast resources at ancestry.com.

Being a member of ancestry.com can be a budget buster. The vast resources on the site, and the ease of use makes it worth the effort to subscribe to the paid site at least for short periods of time occasionally. However those monthly subscription fees can be hard to choke down.

4 Money Saving Ancestry Hacks

My first ancestry hack is to only subscribe when you are able to dedicate a considerable amount of time to research. If you are pressed for time and don’t know when you might have time to research then cancel that membership. It seems simple enough but I don’t know how many times I see people with a paid subscription to the site on auto renewal that haven’t touched the site in months. Your tree will remain there waiting for you to return at a free membership level unless YOU delete it. Don’t be afraid to save a few bucks if you can’t find the time to research.


My second ancestry hack is that even if you are researching on a regular basis cancel from time to time to get the company to offer a discount rate to stay. Often they will give 2 months for the twice of one if you have been a subscriber for awhile. It is no secret that most companies put more effort into attracting new customers than they do to ones who are loyal. I have no problem reminding companies that my research dollars are hard earned and I expect them to work for them just as they would a new customer. Ancestry is definitely one of the biggest and easiest to use sites but it is not the only place to research. I like to walk away from time to time just to remind myself that there are so many wonderful records repositories other than ancestry.


My third ancestry hack is to watch for sales. Ancestry is big on running regular sales. They typically run sales around holidays. The sales will typically offer DNA tests at $59 plus shipping and 50% off subscription services. I like to take advantage of sales around Black Friday and Mother’s Day to get my subscription services 50% off for the 6 month package.


My fourth ancestry hack is to use rakuten. It sounds too simple to be true but I always make sure I use a rakuten link when I purchase DNA tests or my regular subscription memberships. Typically, ancestry offers 7.5% cash back through rakuten. That’s right, just for buying your normal subscription you can earn 7.5% each and every time if you open a ticket through rakuten. I actually LOVE this site. They also offer 4% on DNA tests through ancestry. On a rare occasion I have even found ancestry on the double cash back list and received 15% cash back on my purchase.

Disclaimer: I will receive a small compensation from rakuten through this link however I recommend using rakuten for many of your shopping needs if you like to save money and receive cash back. I recommend this product because I think it is valuable and I have earned hundreds of dollars back in this method not because I have a referral link.

These are my 4 brilliant ancestry hacks. I use these methods to stretch my research budget and get the most out of each dollar I spend. Do you have any budget stretching ancestry hacks?

Research Tip of the Week

Always check for local genealogical societies when you are doing research in a certain locale.

If there is an expert on local history this is a good place to try to find them. Genealogical societies often have records that aren’t available in other places or information on how to find them.

Members of local genealogical societies may know the location of long forgotten cemeteries and details of family histories that might not be published or widely known. It’s also a good place to stumble upon distant cousins!

5 Fast Tips To Help Find Your Family History Treasure

1.  Follow the document trail as far as you can but once the details start to get less clear it’s time to fan out. In family history research FAN refers to friends and neighbors.

As an example, let’s say that the research trail goes dead at the 1900 U.S. census. A lot of researchers run into roadblocks around this time period due to the destroyed 1890 U.S. Census. This is a good time to attempt to perform FAN research.

I used this method to knock down one of my own family brick walls. My great-great grandmother was a controversial figure in the family lore of my ancestry. She lived into my lifetime although I don’t really have any recollection of her. I did grow up hearing various tidbits about her from different relatives and none of them were positive.

When I started my research on her I didn’t have a great deal of details. I knew a given name, Fanny, and I knew the surname she had when she died, Meadows. I didn’t know if Fanny was a nickname for a different name. I had no clue if Meadows was a maiden name or a married name.

Fanny was a research challenge

I built off what I did know using documents that I knew were related to my Great-Grandmother, Fanny’s daughter. I was able to locate the family on the 1920 census, the first census after my Great Grandmother was born. Without the FAN method this would have been my dead end.

On this census living in the household with the family was an individual named Elmer Bennett….and he was listed as a nephew.

With a little digging I was able to locate Elmer Bennett and Fanny Bennett on the 1910 census and they both lived in the household of Fanny’s parents. With that information I was able to crack the brick wall that held up my research on my Great-Great Grandmother.

The FAN technique of looking at Friends and Neighbors can be valuable in navigating research speed bumps.


2. Cast a broad net with a general search engine search. Often, we get tunnel vision and convince ourselves the only way to research is via sites we know and trust

There are countless more focused sites that while they may have less broad information, they may have extensive details of the individuals that you are researching. The best way to locate some of the harder to find resources is to search wide to locate the pinpoint resources.

The history of West Virginia might be a topic that not everyone needs. For me and my extensive West Virginia mountain heritage, the West Virginia Culture site has been a priceless resource. If I had limited my research to strictly sites such as ancestry and family search, I may have never found this massively helpful resource.

Unlike sites such as Ancestry with a wide catalog of records and a subscription fee smaller more specific websites will often be free or operate solely on donations.

There is a plethora of lesser known websites that are just as reliable as sites such as family search and ancestry

It’s easier to toss out the wrong results than it is to infer information from a mystery record. Exhaust all avenues.


3. Don’t focus too much on spelling if the rest of the details mesh out. Spelling has not been standardized long in the grand timeline of history. Many people were unable to read and write until modern times.

A recent instance that I came across was the case of the Monteith/Mantooth surname. Legend has it that there was a rift in the Mantooth family generations ago that led to one branch of the Monteith family changing their name to Mantooth.

If the spelling is close and all the other details match up, then you must research deeper. It’s better to research the wrong thing and realize it later than it is to skip over a record because Smith is spelled Smyth. It doesn’t hurt to sound out a name and try to think of any ways you can that might be a spelling for that name. Search them all. Then remember that our ancestors often had accents so you might have missed a spelling completely.


4. Research more than just people. If there is a certain location where the ancestors, you are researching lived for a long time take the time to learn about that area

I have discovered a great deal of family information through researching things such as towns, churches, and early military units.

Town founders, early community office, local militia unit rosters. There are countless places that ancestors can show up in historical documents.

The members of the communities were self-sufficient. They pooled efforts to help build churches, they would donate land for a community building, and they would ban together to build roads.  In earlier periods these were handled at a community level and often details notes exist of these events.


5. Pushes and Pulls. This is such a simple concept but it’s easy to forget during research. Much like the world today there are often bigger events happening which influences migration patterns. Migration is rarely random.

A good example of this is with the Scotch-Irish population of the 18th and 19th centuries.

These individuals left regions of Scotland and Ireland hoping to create a better life. The conditions in their home regions were the pushes.

The pulls were the reasons they were pulled to the Americas such as available land and religious freedoms.

The Irish potato famine pushed many Irish families out of Ireland decades later and pulled them to the United States in search of economic opportunity.

During the industrial revolution the United States saw a lot of people pushed from rural farmland where there were less economic opportunities to urban areas such as Detroit, Michigan seeking available jobs in the factories.

My grandfather was from a poor coal mining family in Appalachia. He was pushed from his small community in rural West Virginia that his family had inhabited for hundreds of years. He was pulled to the economic opportunity of the manufacturing hub of northern automotive cities. He retired from GM in Flint, Michigan after a long and rewarding career. At that point he was pushed yet again from the busy hustle and bustle of life in a city and pulled toward a slower and more rural life.

Often if we consider the larger picture of a certain group or region it can provide great clues that can help fill in the research blanks.

What are your top 5 fast tips to help you find your family history treasure?

Nicknames: A Genealogy Speed Bump

One of the most common stumbling blocks in family history research can be nicknames

I encountered a recent research case where I was researching an individual who was referred to as “Nell”. Through research I was able to conclude that Nell was a nickname for several names…in this case Nell was a nickname for Helen.

I began to think about the countless nicknames I have come across in my research and how some of the names are common while others are less so and how both instances can cause research headaches.

In my immediate family I have a Desi, short for Desirae. There is a Sarah, and the grandmother she was named for who prefers to be called Sally. There are several named Joshua, two Joshes and one “J.J.” or “junior”. Every family seems to have a multitude of Williams who may go buy William, Will, Willie, Bill, or Billy. Robert is another fun one with several popular nicknames. A Robert could be a Rob, Robbie, Bob, or a Bobby. For women Elizabeth can be a fun one. Is it a Liz, Lizzie, Betty, Beth, or maybe a Liza?

Another fun instance where nicknames can derail research is when a relative uses a middle name instead of their first given name. My great grandmother was a Lily but if you find her in records for most of her life she went by Mae. I’ve had a friend since childhood who was named Randi Kristina, she prefers to be called Kristi in another case of the middle name preference.

Recently my first granddaughter was born. As with my other grandchildren she was given a heritage name from the family tree, Catherine. Right now, she is a little baby with a big name and only time will tell, will she choose to be known as a Catherine, perhaps she’ll become a Cathy, or maybe even a Cat.

Catherine

What are some common nicknames that you have run into?

A New Leaf

Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. It is second only to adult content searches regarding internet search terms. As family history interest passes from just being about family lore and delves further into the science realm with DNA the field is only going to continue to grow in popularity.

As interest in family history continues to grow the resources dedicated to the industry are becoming more visible. NBC has premiered a new show “A New Leaf” hosted by Daisy Fuentes and presented by Ancesty.com. The show airs on Saturday morning and is available free on demand on the network’s website.

I took a moment to review the premier episode and thought I would provide my thoughts on this show. The show is only 30 minutes in run time and that is with commercials. Actual airtime is closer to 20 minutes. I found the program enjoyable.

This episode is about a young woman, Nadia, and her mother Stephanie. Nadia is trying to learn more about her mother’s unknown father so she can learn more about that unknown side of her family. One thing that is unfortunate about the show is they skip over the process of how they identified the identity of Stephanie’s father. This was a good opportunity for the program to delve into the process of genetic genealogy but honestly in a 30-minute time slot, for an early morning weekend audience, this was probably the wisest choice.

Most of the show is about the reaction of Nadia and Stephanie as they learn about this unknown branch of their family tree. The researchers were able to locate records and photos of several of their ancestors including a very interesting interview from Stephanie’s great-great-grandmother, Martha Patton, who was 91 years old when interviewed for the Slave Narrative project 1936-1938.

Compared to a more research detailed show such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” this show is more of a feel-good show for the person with casual interest in family history. There is a lot of general history education dotted in through the program that relates to the story being researched but not as much on the actual research process.

Overall, I loved the show

I think it is a great concept that can help the average person understand the things genealogical research can reveal without getting bogged down in the detail of how it is done. I would recommend this program for anyone looking for a lighthearted program that can provide interesting educational tidbits without being too technical to appeal to a wide audience.

Have you had a chance to check out this show? Take a moment to let me know what you thought of the premier in the comments!

Research Tip of the Week

Always look at records or images of records whenever possible

It is convenient to take the quick route and take information from the transcription of a record. This is a mistake. The actual document often has information that is not available on the transcription.

When I pull a document to source a fact, I look at the entire document. I have found valuable clues in looking at the neighbors listed on census records and witnesses listed on marriage or death records just to name a couple places you can locate valuable information that might not be on a document transcription.

Research Tip of the Week

Exhaust free resources!

It is easy to see commercials for one of the major genealogy sites and assume that joining a subscription site is the only way to find the information available. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While paid subscription sites can make navigating research easier, there are countless resources for free genealogy research. Some of the best information can be found on free sites it is just a matter of doing the legwork to locate them.