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Nov 5, 2015

This month all of us here at Genealogy Gems are celebrating reaching a milestone 1000 blog posts on our website. But we’re not just celebrating our own genealogy writing. We’re celebrating YOURS! Today I have a special segment that celebrates what YOU have shared with us about your adventures in family history blogging. I also have a short, fun family history writing challenge to share with everyone, not just those who blog. I’ll introduce that challenge with a surprise guest—the poet laureate of Kentucky.

Genealogy Gems App Users: Check out the Bonus Content video

NEWS: More U.S. Marriage Records Online
Have you noticed on our blog that every Friday we report new genealogy records online? Well, last week was a doozy in terms of U.S. marriage records. We had heard through the grapevine that FamilySearch had set itself to the task of tracking down every possible marriage record for the U.S. and it looks like they’re having some success! At FamilySearch alone last week, they published or updated indexed  marriage records in

ColoradoIowaKentuckyLouisianaNew HampshireNew YorkNorth CarolinaOhioPennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington. Louisiana’s collection alone contains over a million entries, and Pennsylvania’s dates to the 1600s! But FamilySearch isn’t alone in the marriage record publishing frenzy.

We noticed that Ancestry has just added  new marriage indexes for West VirginiaMaine and Jackson Co, Missouri.

Of course, not every ancestor who married stayed that way: Ancestry has also updated its Idaho divorce collection and added a new collection of Oregon divorce records. A lot of these are older but you’ll be surprised at how far into the 20th century some of these new marriage record collections are. Use these to recharge your research if you’ve stalled somewhere on your U.S. family tree!

NEWS: National Archives (U.S.) Doing More Digitizing
The U.S. National Archives has signed contracts to digitize more of its historical records. The partnerships are with FamilySearch and Ancestry, and the records in question will include various items with births, marriages, deaths, immigration and military service information.

So the National Archives has partnered with these organizations in the past, but this time around, the contract allows them to get records online faster by uploading digitized and partially-digitized collections before they’re even indexed, like FamilySearch already does. There are new provisions to protect personally identifying information, and Ancestrywill have a shorter window of exclusivity with their content. They invest in record digitization and indexing so they will have exclusive access to the images and indexes for a period of time, after which the National Archives can put the material on its site and share it with other partners. It’s a win-win even for those who don’t subscribe to Ancestry: you’ll just have to wait longer to win!

And FYI, in case you wonder why FamilySearch and Ancestry seem so favored, the U.S. National Archives does sign content partnerships with other companies. Findmypast has a contract pending, and there’s already a contract with military records site Fold3.

NEWS: RootsMagic for Mac and More

I recently heard two really great pieces of news about RootsMagic genealogy software--for Mac users! First, RootsMagic Essentials for Mac software is now available for FREE!  This is the get-started version of RootsMagic which introduces you to this excellent family history software. If you’re still exploring which family history software is best for you, give it a try! If you decide to upgrade to the full, paid version of the software, the transition is seamless and easy.

Speaking of a full Mac version of RootsMagic, you may recall that last year they launched MacBridge for RootsMagic. This was really a great step forward, but there was an additional fee and it required extra steps to download and use.

But now when you buy RootsMagic 7, you can install it on both Windows and Mac computers in your household....So your single purchase includes licenses for both. Great, right?! So if you already own RootsMagic 7 for Windows, you can head back to their website, and download RootsMagic 7 for Mac any time and use the same registration key that you got with your original purchase.

And something I really love about Rootstmagic is the free and easy to access support they provide their users. There’s nothing worse than struggling to use your genealogy software when you’re hot on the trail of ancestors. Well they have just published two new free PDF RootsMagic user guides – one that’s all about installing RootsMagic for Mac, and another guide on how to create a Shareable CD. So now you have lots of new things to do when it comes to Rootsmagic.



This month we are celebrating 1000 blog posts on the Genealogy Gems website. It’s hard to believe we’re up to 1000 different posts on family history news, tips, stories and more! Who knew there was so much to say? But our blog is only a drop in the genealogy-blogging bucket! I keep hearing from so many of you about your blogging successes. So here’s a taste of what I’m hearing:

“I absolutely love blogging about my family,” commented Diane on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. “Once I got serious, 2 years ago, I have really enjoyed it. I've connected with cousins and made many new friends. I write tips to help other researchers and that's also been very rewarding. It's a regular part of my life now. I would really miss it if I couldn't write.”

Here’s another one. Debra wrote in to say, “I have been reading about blogging for genealogy on your website and finally decided to bite the bullet and start one. Now I am trying to figure out how to get it noticed and remembered that you asked us to send you the link if we started one, so here is the information.” Her blog: Dezi Duz it, at

I took a quick peek at it. It’s still a young blog, but I have to say that Debra is going about this the right way. Her blog posts are packed with family names and locations that can help other relatives find her, if they’re searching for those same names and locations online. She’s also got great stories and memories in her posts, which she’s added documents and photos to. That content will keep interested relatives reading, once they’ve discovered her, which may take some time—but it’s worth it!

A new podcast listener and blogger wrote to me recently. Jolanta is a Polish immigrant to Northern Ireland and a professional translator. She says, “I only just discovered podcast as a medium and your podcast in particular. I am loving it! Love the book club, the tips and really everything about it! I drive a lot and it is recorded loud enough to comfortably listen in a car (unlike some other podcasts) and I still have quite a lot of shows to go so I will be occupied for a while!”

She goes on to say, “Motivated by your show, I decided to take a plunge and start my own blog…I am not a native English speaker, but this is a way to challenge myself. I only have one post up so far and the next one nearly ready, but the more I listen to your podcasts the more ideas I have.”

Since she wrote us, she’s added more to her blog at I’m so pleased that the show is inspiring Jolanta, because she’s inspiring me! What a feat, to blog in your second language! She says that as an immigrant, she feels doing her genealogy is even more important, because since she left 11 years ago, her daughter has been born. Jolanta says, “She needs to know where her roots are!” and I couldn’t agree more. Good for her!

Another Debra wrote in recently with this comment: “I am fairly new to your podcast series; I enjoy listening while I work on my quilting projects. You have inspired me to start a family history blog as a starting base for writing my family history. Last week, I listened to one of your early podcasts on the subject of cold-calling. I was amazed to hear how difficult it is for many people to reach out to others for help with their research into their own family history. I took that topic and wrote a blog entry about the first cold-call that I remember. It has inspired me to write about more cold-calls in the near future. I would like to invite you to read that entry on my site, Thank you for your excitement and your inspirations.”  Well, you’re welcome, Debra, and thank you for sharing your blog post with your experience cold-contacting a distant relative: an experience that actually led to meeting that relative, who introduced her to another relative who lived in the old family home, which had a family burial plot in her back garden! What a great contact and friendship she describes!

Episode 14: How to Contact Long-Lost Relatives

Episode 15: More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives

Mike from Sydney, Australia wrote to say, “Congratulations on a great podcast from Down Under. I listen to every episode during my travels to and from work. I recently watched your 'how to blog your family history' series on YouTube and became motivated to finally 'get on my butt' and do something. Your recent episode 184 with Judy's blogging experience was the clincher. I have now proudly given birth to my first blog at And it wasn't painful. It has only taken about 20 years since blogging has been around! Thank you for inspiring me and all your other listeners.”

It feels so good to hear that so many people are getting into the spirit of blogging their family history! It’s never too late to start! I’ll share one last letter from Chris, who wrote in after we announced the new Irish Catholic Parish Registers online from the National Library of Ireland.

Chris says, “Since you turned everyone on to this latest resource I thought I'd share the results.” She sent me a link to her blog post link about using these, where she reports: “I was very lucky. I knew enough information to make a smart guess at exactly where to look and within half an hour I had baptismal records for three people in my dad's family.” In fact, these relatives she talks about have the surname Cooke, just like my married name.

Do you still need more motivation to get blogging? I came across a marketing blog post on the power of blogging for businesses. Well, we as family historians are in the business of sharing our family history stories. So I think about things from that point of view when I hear the following, taken from a post on Hubspot Blogs.

First, businesses that blog attract two-thirds more potential customers than those who don’t. Likewise, family historians who share their family history online can attract interest from lots of relatives, including those they’ve never met and those they never knew were interested in family history!

Second, blog posts can pull in new customers for businesses whether you wrote them yesterday or years ago. It’s worth updating older blog posts with more current information and keeping your current contact information on your blog, even if you’re not actively adding to it right now.

Third, marketing experts say that by 2020, customers are expected to manage about 85% of business without even talking to a human. Wow! I think we’ll see some trending that direction in family history research, too. Increasingly, our relatives are likely looking for their family history online first—not as much by reaching out to distant relatives and relatives-of-relatives by mail or phone, though I still encourage that cold-calling approach that worked so well for Debra.

Fourth, the only thing blogging costs is TIME! This speaks for itself. No expensive mailings or printing copies of books and photos, hoping your relatives will pay you back.

Fifth, and finally, blogs are considered a highly trusted source for accurate online information. The personal touch of a blog, together with your responsible research and the sources you cite, can help your relatives trust what you’re telling them.



Genealogy Gems for Societies

A few months ago I heard from Richard. “I have been asked by my local genealogical Society to conduct and present at the meeting in August. My thought for the class was Internet Genealogy and providing a comprehensive overview on how members and non-members can increase their sources and find ‘hidden’ records on line. Can I include images of your website and small clips of some of your online free videos as part of the presentation? I would of course include the source information and provide credit for you. I am also planning to hype up your podcast as well since it has given me a number of new outlooks on the best hobby in the world. Thank you again for your continued information and assistance in every media format known.”

Thank you, Richard! I’m so glad he wants to share Genealogy Gems with his local society. I’ve actually heard that from so many of you that I’ve created a new program to meet this need. Genealogy Gems for Societies is a premium subscription service just for genealogical societies and groups, such as libraries. This is a cost-effective way for groups to enjoy my high-quality family history video presentations their regular meetings. It includes:

A year-long license to show video recordings of my most popular classes as group presentations

Permission to republish articles and blog posts from our enormous online archive—remember? we’re up to 1000 blog posts now!—in your society newsletter. (Your newsletter editor will LOVE this feature!), and

Discounts for your society and its members on Genealogy Gems live seminars and purchases from our online store.


INTERVIEW: Where I'm From with George Ella Lyon

photo credit: Janine MesserToday I arranged for a special segment that Contributing Editor Sunny Morton recorded with George Ella Lyon, the poet laureate of Kentucky, George Ella Lyon, whose own poem on family identity has inspired hundreds of people to write their own and has even become an official statewide initiative in Kentucky! One of those who wrote their own version of the poem was Sunny’s own 11-year old son Alex. Enjoy the conversation—and listen for that writing invitation I told you was coming!

George Ella Lyon is the Poet Laureate for the state of Kentucky and the author of a very popular family history writing exercise based on her poem, “Where I’m From.” She uses her poem to encourage others to make lists about where they’re from, and shape them into their own poems. As she says on her website, “the poem as a writing prompt has traveled in amazing ways. People have used it at their family reunions, teachers have used it with kids all over the United States, in Ecuador and China; they have taken it to girls in juvenile detention, to men in prison for life, and to refugees in a camp in the Sudan.”

The “Where I’m From” poem has inspired a current initiative by the Kentucky Arts Council to encourage people to reflect on and document their own heritage. Of course, we hope this conversation will inspire YOU to write about where you’re from, too! Here are some of George Ella Lyon’s tips on writing your own version of “Where I’m From:”

  • Just list whatever comes to mind to start: food, music, landscapes, people. Be open to whatever you think of.
  • This is a process. It may take several days to craft your list. 
  • Later, as you organize what you write into its final shape, go back and see which lines have the most energy. Read it out loud. What order feels right? The last part of my poem is a reflection, but yours doesn’t have to be.
  • Have fun! Don’t criticize yourself.
  • You can do this many times over the course of time. I have! You can write “Where I’m From” from your current point of view or looking back.

Tell us where you are from!
We would love to have you share your version of George Ella Lyon’s poem with Genealogy Gems! l invite you to call in and read your version of the poem on my voicemail: (925) 272-4021. Be sure to leave your name, phone number, and email address (phone and email will be kept private and NOT played on the show) so that you can be entered to win 1 year of Genealogy Gems Premium Membership (new or renewal). One lucky winner will be randomly selected on 12/31/15. 


DNA GEM: Ethnicity Results: Exciting or Exasperating?
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide at Genealogy Gems

Diahan Southard

Facebook follower Kate Vaughan recently wrote in expressing her frustration with her ethnicity results provided by AncestryDNA. She gets right to the point when she writes, “the way they refer to the results is confusing.”

Kate, you are not alone. Many genealogists have been lured into taking the autosomal DNA test at one of the three major DNA testing companies just to get this glimpse into their past. Remember that the autosomal DNA test can reveal information about both your mother’s side and your father’s side of your family tree. Many take the test hoping for confirmation of a particular ancestral heritage, others are just curious to see what the results will show. Though their purposes in initiating the testing may vary, the feeling of bewilderment and befuddlement upon receiving the results is fairly universal.

Kate has some specific questions about her results that I think most will share. Let’s take a look at a couple of them. First up, Kate wants to know if our family tree data in any way influences the ethnicity results provided. The answer is an unequivocal “no.” None of the testing companies look at your family tree in any way when determining your ethnicity results. However, the results are dependent on the family trees of the reference population. The reference populations are large numbers of people whose DNA has been tested and THEIR family history has been documented for many generations in that region. The testing companies compare your DNA to theirs and that’s how they assign you to an ethnicity (and place of ancestral origin?). 

Next Kate asks, “Do they mean England when they report Great Britain?” Or to put it more broadly, how do these testing companies decide to divide up the world? All of the companies handle this a little bit differently. Let’s look at Ancestry as an example. When you login to view your ethnicity results, you can click on the “show all regions” box below your results to get a list of all of the possible categories that your DNA could be placed in. These 26 categories include nine African regions, Native American, three Asian regions, eight European regions, two Pacific Island regions, two West Asian regions, and then Jewish, which is not a region, per se, but a genetically distinct group.

Clicking on each individual location in the left sidebar will bring up more information on the right about that region. For example, clicking on Great Britain tells us that DNA associated with this region is primarily found in England, Scotland, and Wales, but is also found in Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Basically, this is telling us that people with generations of ancestry in Great Britain are quite a genetic mix from many areas.

The first chart here shows that if we are to test the DNA of 100 natives of one of these primary regions (England, Scotland or Wales) then 50 of them will have the great Britain “pattern” of DNA covering 60% or more of their entire genome, and 50 of them will have that pattern in less than 60% of their DNA. The fact that this half-way number is so low, only 60%, tells us that there is a lot of uncertainty in this ethnicity estimate because there is so much mixture in this region. Kate, for you that means that when you see Great Britain in your ethnicity estimate, it could mean England, or maybe it means Italy- Ancestry can’t be certain.

But that uncertainty isn’t the same for every region. Pictured here is also the ethnicity chart for Ireland. You can see that half the people who are native to Ireland will have 95% or more Irish DNA.  Kate, for us this means that if you have Irish DNA in your results, you can be pretty certain it came from Ireland. From these tables you can see your membership in some regions is more robust than others, and Ancestry is using these tables to try to help us tell the difference.

In the end, the ethnicity results reported by each DNA testing company are highly dependent on two factors: the reference populations they use to compare your DNA against, and the statistical algorithms they use to compute your similarities to these populations. Every company is doing both of these things just a little bit differently.

Kate, if you want to get another take on your ethnicity results, you can take your data over to Family Tree DNA, or you can be tested at 23andMe. A free option is to head over to Gedmatch and try out their various ethnicity tools. If you need help downloading and transferring, you can head over to my website:  Most people have found after searching in multiple places that their “true” results are probably somewhere in the middle.

While these ethnicity results can be interesting and useful, for most they will just be a novelty; something interesting and exciting. I have found that their most useful application is acting like a fly on a fishing line. They attract our family members into DNA testing where we can then set the hook on the real goal: family history. 



Statue of LibertyThe Statue of Liberty had a birthday just recently! On October 28, 1886, the now-famous Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor in New York City. Every school child in the U.S. knows this was a gift from France. According to Profile America, “the statue was the first glimpse of America for more than 20 million immigrants who came through nearby Ellis Island, chiefly from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland. In 1910, the year of the greatest influx, some 15 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born.”

Each of those 20 million immigrants to the U.S.—and each of our other ancestors from all over the world—has a unique story. Of migration or change, loss and love, being favored by fate--or not-so-favored. All the stories I find—and all the stories I hear and read from YOU—tell me that we have so much to learn from our ancestors’ lives, so much to be inspired by.

Their stories shape us and, in so doing, become part of OUR stories. That gives us double the stories to tell! I invite you to get sharing those stories, if you aren’t already. Blog if that works for you, because the world is your audience. Or write something else and share it in another way. Put together a short biography of a fascinating ancestor. Transcribe an old diary or interview. Write about your research journey and how your findings inspired you. However you most want to share it: just DO it! Your own legacy will love on. The legacies of those who love from the past will live on. And legacies of those yet to come will benefit from that which you’ve left for them.