Ancestry Blog » Guest Bloggers The official blog of Ancestry Sat, 25 Oct 2014 13:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Your Ancestors Are Waiting, They Have Stories To Tell Fri, 08 Nov 2013 17:40:57 +0000 Earl Armstrong Read more]]>  

Best-selling author, Frank McCourt, at age 66, penned Angela’s Ashes, which he dubbed the “third act” in the ongoing story of his life. It also led to a Pulitzer Prize. In a 2008 Parade Magazine article, after commenting about writing personal histories, he shared this advice,

“No matter how long you live, you have stories to tell, and nestling in each one there may be a nugget of wisdom.”

Sydney Poitier, a noted Oscar winning actor, now 86, still sits down every day in his den and writes stories that often become books. It’s part of his daily routine. He shared his feelings about it in a review in the October 2008 issue of  AARP Magazine,

“Unfortunately, I came from a culture in which nothing was written down, and I had to depend on whatever the oral history was.  A comment here, a comment there. I don’t think we tell our stories enough, and I think it is absolutely essential that we do – to keep the pace of doing it as frequently as we can. When we die, we are going to be taking with us to the grave an enormous amount of information, experience, points of view, positions, attitudes. We should leave some of those parts of ourselves behind.” 

The point is that age should never get in the way of writing your memoirs or ancestral histories. No matter your age, young or old, there’s never been a better moment than now to generate a story about one or more of your ancestors. Start by assembling the various parts they trailed behind them and do your best to bring them to life.



For those of you who haven’t tried writing recently but would really like to, you may feel a bit rusty concerning sentence structure, tense, voice and perhaps punctuation. That’s pretty normal. I actually had a former high school English teacher attend my class who began her memoirs tentatively with a few butterflies in her stomach. I encouraged her to just start writing about something I’d assigned, to stay focused and soon the butterflies would be flying in formation. She did and it worked! The words will eventually cascade onto the page as the story takes shape. Expect a few starts, bumps and stops, rearranging of information, revising whole paragraphs and even starting again, but I can promise you, you won’t stay in that mode. Don’t get discouraged, eventually every writing effort becomes part of your learning curve. In the beginning, try to realize that you’re garnering experience at the craft of writing and that takes the passing of time to whip it into a viable story. It’s like creating a beautiful salad with all kinds of ingredients, but there’s a lot of slicing and dicing that has to take place before you toss it together. Each type of salad is different depending on what you put into it and how you garnish it. In this case, the ingredients are the words with which you choose to color and flavor your story.



Let me encourage you to create a consistent format for your pages that will bring about a professional look to your story. I’m assuming you’re using a computer if you’re working in  Set up your page for 8.5 x 11 white paper in portrait mode. Printing on any color other than white paper will not photo copy well later on. You have no way of knowing how your story will be passed on. In today’s world it’s easy and convenient to scan and save things electronically but a paper copy may be the only source available somewhere in the future. I use Microsoft Word and set one-inch margins on all four sides of my page but, no matter what, never allow less than a .75 inch margin around.  Pick a font size of 12 or 14 pica using a common font style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri and stay with it throughout your story. Insert page numbers using your Insert/Page Number from your menu picks. For my students, I recommend that page numbers be placed at the center bottom. There are other choices. Also, you can omit the default double-space between paragraphs by going into Home/Line and Paragraph Spacing and choose “Remove Space After Paragraph”.  Always include a title in the center of the top of the page in all bold caps. Your title should be catchy or humorous and entice the reader to want to read the story. Place your name just below the title using caps/lower case but don’t bold it. Normally the words of the title of the first page of a story is begun about 1/3 of the way down the page. After that, the writing would start at the top of the following page as the story continues. I urge the practice of indenting each new paragraph because it shows a definite separation of thoughts or change of direction. One other practice is using the justifying symbol found at the Home/Justify which makes both the left and right sides of the words line up straight. However, this only adds an orderly eye appeal and is not a requirement. In any case, always use left hand justify. Okay, so much for formatting and titles.



Hopefully, by now, you’ve created a timeline from what you know about your subject and you’ve produced a list of questions that will lead you through the times in which your ancestor lived. Also, that you’ve done your homework regarding the parallel social history, politics, prevailing philosophies and a dozen other inputs that will help build a setting as  your story moves along. After a few tidbits are thrown into your ancestral salad, it will soon become obvious how important these bits and pieces can be to your writing. Keep in mind to answer the who, what, where, when, why and how as you create an ancestral history.

There are some things to keep in mind, such as your audience. In this case, family or others, some of whom may be writing about the same era but with a different set of characters. Your opening paragraph should be written in a way that grabs the reader’s attention. Spend some time molding it to say exactly what you want it to say. Even opening with a quote or perhaps an appropriate antidotal story could accomplish that. Your goal is to not only inform but to entertain and enlighten as well. Humor is always welcome, but use it sparingly. I urge my students many times over to “write fast, ignore spelling and grammar in the beginning”.  Get the story down first.  If you catch yourself using the same trite phrases repeatedly, find another way to express yourself. Once the story is done, you can go back and edit at your leisure. This is where a Thesaurus comes in handy.

Keep your sentences short.  A long sentence with a lot of information crammed together is hard to follow. If you create a sentence longer than 20-25 words, break it into two sentences. Shorter sentences allow the reader’s mind to digest what you just told them and then rest for a second or two before going on. Avoid incomplete sentences unless it happens to be appropriate to your story by moving it along. Also, avoid using clichés. They are too easy to lean on. Find a way to convey the same thought using a different group of words. It will add originality to your story. We tend to talk in  clichés and it is rarely noticed, but in writing, you can do better. It’s best to keep the language fairly simple but not boring.



There’s an old expression that says, ”People see but they don’t observe”. But our memory records a whole lot more than we give it credit for. In writing about someone else’s experience, you will need to be their eyes and ears and use a lot of imagination to bring them to life. Describing surroundings, smells and sounds is an art. Even inanimate objects deserve equal consideration. Depending on the times in which your story takes place, liberal use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives and other types of modifiers can fire up the mind of the reader. Also, comparing one thing to another will enhance the reader’s perspective.  Suppose you learn that main character sometimes fed his family by fishing in a nearby stream. As he approaches the bank of the stream you might write, “He looked at the beautiful flowing stream.” That’s a minimal description. But suppose you gave it a little more pizzazz with the following, “He stood there taking in the white frothy mountain waters swirling in and around hundreds of jagged rocks, creating momentary reflections like a million diamonds dancing together in the sunlight.” It’s the same scene but much easier to visualize. But, I think you get the drift. As you fill in details of what the setting must have been like, feel at liberty to add details as you would imagine them if you were there. Keep your five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch in mind. Add color whenever possible like red, yellow and gold fall leaves. Include the sounds of doves or screeching owls plus smells like wet sawdust. Turn on the eye in the middle of your mind at every opportunity. Perhaps you may choose to speculate on what your main character might be feeling emotionally when engaged in war or having to pack up and move his whole family. Fill in as much detail as you think is appropriate and realize too, that not everything needs modifying.

Words are powerful tools. Choose precise words and bring in as many other characters as you can to put flesh on your story. People’s names are important so use them whenever possible. Throw in facts like what people ate, how they usually dressed, how they socialized, what a cow was worth, and numerous other interesting facts as you research the times.

Finally, always remember that every age, just like our own, has dealt with numerous changes, social upheavals, happiness, unhappiness, and a plethora of individual struggles. By making those times sound real, you are paying your respects to the past by leaving a written legacy for the future which will one day find its way into someone’s permanent genealogy record.  How special is that?


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The Ripple Effect of People’s Lives Wed, 23 Oct 2013 17:31:09 +0000 Earl Armstrong Read more]]>  

Nadine Gordimer, a 1991 Nobel Prize recipient for Literature once wrote, “Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.” I love this quote because it clarifies what every life story is about; “making sense of life.” We go about life with a bare awareness of the many ripples our lives are creating as we swim around in the lake of life. I’ve had students who would come into class claiming their lives were not very interesting, that is – until they started writing a few things down!


Writing about ourselves might prove challenging but it’s the one story we know the best. With the passing of time, we often forget the details of what, at the time, we were sure we’d remember. However, writing a story about someone you’ve never met with only a few scraps of information may seem somewhat presumptuous. There’s no doubt that every life lived has its own unique effect and has no doubt caused a few ripples. By taking on the challenge of writing about it, you might discover why a particular life was not lived in vain, but was in fact quite event-filled. Even a person’s descendants, who were caught up in one of the ripples, might provide the key to making sense of it. Family histories tend to expand exponentially and can provide many absorbing details that could greatly enhance a family history. It excites the mind to think so.


In my first article, “Creating Ancestral Histories and Life Stories”, I discussed why it is imperative to commit to writing a story about your ancestors (much less tackle your own story) on a regular schedule. We examined how to think about writing, why the dash of each life matters and why sketching out a timeline is essential to defining the historical period you wish to cover. Plus, how setting up an ideal environment for writing and then timing your sessions will prevent burnout. Also, I added a few hints about journaling, storing and preserving delicate information.




Of course, an immediate question is where to actually begin. Most biographies and autobiographies are chronological. An ancestral history is a biography. Getting organized should occur not only with an outline but should begin to take shape in your mind as well. Depending on the historical setting of your story, you can assume the subject’s life had a cycle much the same as it does today with a few differences in tools and circumstances.


There’s a life-cycle I hand out with the following: Birth (day 1), childhood, preschool (to 5), elementary school (5-13), teens (13-19), young adult (19-25), early marriage years (20-30), early career years (20-35), middle years (35-55), later years (55-65), and retirement years (65 on). You would have to adapt this to the time frame of your story but we all have a cycle to our lives. For instance, most of us in the U.S. today have had formal schooling of one degree or another. However, in the 16th, 17th and 18th century only a few were fortunate enough to receive a formal education. In other countries this would vary widely. In the early history of this country, a majority of people grew up working on farms, came from large families, raised their own food, often built their own homes, made their own furniture, and made their own clothes. Predicting tomorrow’s weather in those days was only a guess, but the seasons had a rhythm that every farmer knew. With the coming of the industrial age, immigration and the growth of cities, dramatic shifts occurred in what people did and how they lived. Capturing that kind of social change in your story would allow the reader to actually comprehend and visualize the times.




To prepare for the process of putting together a story, a good practice is to start with a long list of questions such as:

  • Where and when was the subject born?
  • What was the average age to which people lived?
  • Do I know the parents?
  • Any siblings?
  • Was there a war going on?
  • What other world events were going on?
  • Do I know of any moves they made?
  • Do I know the dates of the moves?
  • Where were they on the social and financial ladder?
  • What was their level of education?
  • What was the economy like?
  • What was the weather like?
  • Which new inventions were patented or just coming onto the market?
  • What was driving the economy?
  • Who was the president?
  • Who were the writers, thinkers and the prominent names during those times?
  • Which books were popular?
  • What was the religious world discussing?
  • What was the scientific world doing?
  • How about hospitals and available medical treatments?
  • What controversies were making the news?
  • Did geography, water sources or topography of the land play a role?
  • Were there any fads going on?


You probably won’t use all of the information you gather to weave into your story, so use your imagination as best as you can and trust your instincts. It’s better to have too much information than too little. Take regular breaks too. It’s healthy.


Most questions can be easily researched on Google or the equivalent. I normally suggest to my students that they make up an advanced, comprehensive list of questions in a database and answer them as best possible in relation to the time period being covered. You might even ask a relative or friend to brainstorm with you on coming up with questions. By posing questions, a framework can be built to support the setting and timeline and then you can add the bricks and mortar of the story as you begin to create it. The more time you put into the history and questions in advance, the easier it will be to produce a compelling story of which to surround your subject. It may even serve your readers well if you attempt to speculate on possible motives behind why certain things happened the way they did in the life of your subject. An example might be that “the promise of land or better opportunity down the road may have been his/her reason for moving on.” Even family feuds, economic hardships or running from the law could be a reason. In any case, when thoughts occur to you as you’re writing, try to figure it out for your future audience but stay as close as possible to the facts as you know them.


Also, ask yourself the question: “If I was reading this, what would I like to know about this person’s history?” You can edit as you write, but always go back over it several times before you declare it finished. It’s always good, if you can, to let your story lie around for a few days and then go back and read it again. I can almost guarantee you’ll want to tweak it just a little more. I suggest that you ask someone to read your finished product out loud because it always sounds different. Always put the date you created on it somewhere on the first or last page. Most computer programs today do a decent job helping you spell correctly and keeping the sentence structure correct. It boggles my mind sometimes to realize the value of the many tools we have at our disposal. One source I recommend for filling in historical background information is a writer and lecturer named Dr. George Schweitzer He has authored many excellent books on various historical periods including wars, many state histories, migration trails and other valuable resources. There are dozens of excellent books that have been published about certain times and places which would be worth reading. We live in a blessed age and is a treasure trove of search engines and helpful blogs, so be sure and take advantage of all of them.




Once you begin stitching together the story of your ancestors, and you’ve done your homework, you may find yourself trying to walk in their shoes. What was life really like? Also, you may find yourself drawn to personal accounts that others have written with a deeper appreciation for what they took the time to sit down and create. In future blogs, I’ll be offering hints about describing surroundings, sounds, colors and smells and the use of adjectives and adverbs that will keep your reader’s attention. Also, how to format a page and standardize the various parts of your page will be covered.


I once read about a college history professor named Dave who often shared his family story about his Uncle Oliver with his students. Uncle Oliver had been a survivor from a downed military aircraft in WWII and had avoided enemy capture for 68 days. That’s all Dave knew about his uncle. There had been some talk about a book somewhere about Uncle Oliver’s story. So, one day Dave “googled” his uncle’s name and sure enough, there was a book about it called “Chippewa Chief in World War II The Survival Story of Oliver Rasmussen in Japan”. It was like the past had suddenly come alive and at last Dave knew many of the details of what really happened. Dave said it was a magical moment. In any case, your story may birth the same magical moment in helping someone “make sense” of someone’s life. Keep in mind that what you are doing by writing about your ancestors is creating a valuable gift for many future generations and it will become a permanent part of history. That’s an inspiring thought.


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Getting Started With Italian Genealogy Thu, 17 Oct 2013 22:29:09 +0000 Mary Tedesco Read more]]> The process of finding your Italian roots can be one of the most rewarding endeavors of your life.  You will learn something about yourself each time you connect with your native birthright. You will see how each Italian-American embodies a piece of the Italian past that is particularly their own. That is why the journey is so intriguing. You realize that you are descended from one of the greatest civilizations and cultures of all time. You rightly feel proud of the countless contributions made by Italians to society. From engineering and science, to law and literature, to art and music, to philosophy and finance, to polemics and theology, Italians have shaped the very essence of the western world. Every aspect of modern life has been influenced in some way by the insightful and creative genius that is so much an integral part of the Italian people. It is who we are.

Panorama of the author's grandmother's hometown of Rovereto, Italy.

Panorama of the author’s grandmother’s hometown of Rovereto, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Beginning with the research of my own Italian family history in 2006, I turned right away to  The effort resulted in the successful location of my Italian grandparents’ passenger lists.  My paternal grandfather arrived in New York in 1929; my grandmother came later in 1946.  (Wow! How great is that?)  I felt an immediate connection with my heritage.  I wanted to learn more.  So I dove headlong into an impassioned pursuit of my Italian roots—a pursuit that has become my avocation.  I now trek all over Italy tracing the Italian family histories of clients as well as my own family.  It is an enchanting career that gives me a wonderful feeling of purpose. I am so fortunate to be doing what I really love to do—genealogical and historical research and problem solving in Italy.

Over the years, Ancestry has continued to add valuable collections essential for pursuing Italian roots.  As a professional Italian genealogist, I always begin my client project research with

Creating and storing your Italian family tree

In the beginning stages of documenting your Italian family history, it is essential to set up a reliable way to keep track of your growing family tree.  Before doing anything else, I recommend putting all the information you know to be true in a family tree. offers several solutions for storing your family tree data:

  1. Create your tree directly on the website:  Click on “Create a new tree.”  You have the option of creating a public or private tree to house your family data.  Ancestry also has a fantastic mobile app for your tablet or smartphone that allows you to take your family tree with you anywhere.
  2. Family Tree Maker ( is a versatile and useful tool that allows you to link your family tree directly to  With Family Tree Maker, you can also save your tree directly to your computer.

    View of the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria. Florence, Italy.

    View of the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria. Florence, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Interviewing family members for information

Once you have created a family tree based on the information you already know, the next step is to begin interviewing family members to find out additional family details.  I recommend talking with older relatives first since they may have knowledge of your family’s ancestral town in Italy and other important details.  In some Italian-American families, the key to locating your ancestral town is to ask!

Here are some good questions to ask when interviewing relatives:

  • “When did grandpa, grandma, etc immigrate to the USA?”
  • “Do you remember the name of the town in Italy our family came from?”
  • “Do we still have living relatives in Italy?”
  • “Do you have any old family documents, like letters, passports, or military papers?”
  • “Do you remember the names [first and last] of your grandparents and/or great grandparents?”

Locating your Italian ancestral town using

Finding your Italian ancestral town or towns is a central piece of successfully continuing your Italian family history research.  For some families, grandpa or grandma’s hometown is common knowledge, for other it takes hours or even years of diligent research.  The most important thing to remember is never to lose sight of your goal to locate your ancestral town.  The task may seem impossible, but when broken down into manageable steps it becomes achievable.

Knowledge of your Italian ancestral town is essential to beginning your research using Italian records created in Italy.  Knowing the region or province of your ancestor’s birth is a great start, but the exact ancestral town is needed to proceed effectively.  Fortunately, offers many collections essential to locating your ancestor’s hometown in Italy. Here are few collections on Ancestry that I recommend consulting first in your quest for your Italian ancestral town:

One of Florence, Italy's most famous churches: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

One of Florence, Italy’s most famous churches: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. (Click to enlarge)

Italian First and Last Names

Although your ancestor’s name was not changed at Ellis Island, as the popular myth suggests, it is entirely possible your ancestors began using different first and/or last name after arriving in the United States.  When searching, keep an open mind about names.  Giuseppe may have become Joe or Joseph; Francesca sometimes became Frances; and Vincenzo could be listed on records as Vinny, Vincent or Enzo to name a few.

Spelling is also variable to some extent.  Italian first and last names sometimes lost or added letters, took on Americanized spellings or changed entirely.  Bevilacqua sometimes became Drinkwater and Martino could have become Martin.  Arriving at your ancestors’ original first and last names is also essential to continuing your research into Italian records.

It is also important to remember that because an Italian name is rare in the USA, doesn’t mean that it is also uncommon in Italy.  For example, if your great grandfather was the only Giuseppe Esposito on Main Street in Woburn, Massachusetts USA in 1920, it doesn’t mean he was the only Giuseppe Esposito born in the Province of Naples between 1885 and 1890.

Italian Birth, Marriage and Death Records on

There are actual Italian records on  YES! has digitized Italian Civil Birth, Marriage, and Death records and indexes from a select number of Italian provinces, towns and cities.  In order to utilize these records, knowing your ancestral hometown and ancestors’ original name are essential.

The Trevi Fountain is a sight not to be missed in Rome, Italy

The Trevi Fountain is a sight not to be missed in Rome, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Additional digitized Italian records are available on the FamilySearch website.


But the Records are in ITALIAN!  What Do I Do?

Yes, of course, Italian records are in Italian (or Latin in the case of Italian Catholic Church records).  It is noted that many 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Italian-Americans do not speak Italian, but don’t let this hinder your research.  Purchase an Italian dictionary, utilize online translation tools, hire a translator, but please don’t let the language of your ancestors stop you from pursuing your Italian roots!


I Can’t Read Italian Handwriting!

Who said something as rewarding as Italian genealogy was supposed to be easy 100% of the time?  The best way to learn how to read Italian handwriting is to look carefully at a lot of records and try transcribing [writing out word for word] the records of your family.  Transcribing the records first also makes it much easier to translate them.

Additional Italian Genealogical Resources on

Suggested Reading for Italian Family History & Genealogy

Trento, Italy's Piazza del Duomo is breathtakingly beautiful.

Trento, Italy’s Piazza del Duomo is breathtakingly beautiful. (Click to enlarge)

Italian American History & Culture

  • La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience by Jerre Mangione & Ben Morreale
  • The Journey of the Italians in America by Vincenza Scarpaci and Gary R. Mormino

Italian History & Culture

  • A History of Italian Law, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Carlo Calisse
  • The Italians by Luigi Barzini
  • The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions and Their Peoples by David Gilmour

Italian & Latin Language

  • Bantam New College Italian/English Dictionary by Robert C. Melzi
  • 501 Italian Verbs by John Colaneri, Vincent Luciani and Marcel Danesi
  • Ciao! [Italian language textbook] by Carla Federici and Carla Larese Riga
  • Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin: With an Appendix of Latin Expressions Defined and Clarified by Leo F. Stelten
  • A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins

As you can tell, there exists a robust gamut of resources that will help propel you into the exquisite core of your profound Italian ethnicity. When you are reconnected with your ancestral roots, you will realize that you are the living personification of our wonderful heritage.  You will understand why Italians are truly special people. Enjoy the ride!



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RootsTech 2013 with Ancestry.com Tue, 02 Apr 2013 17:51:27 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more]]> I have been to comic-cons and paranormal cons, but I think I was most excited for this: my first genealogy conference. On Friday March 21 I found myself in Utah at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City — with and 6,700 other people — for the third annual RootsTech conference.

Focusing on the use of the newest technology in genealogy, RootsTech had something for everyone. Whether you are just getting started or are experienced, the conference offered hands-on workshops and interactive presentations led by genealogy experts from across the country. The bustling exhibition hall — packed with booths run by genealogy-based vendors, all introducing their newest products — gave attendees the opportunity to browse and connect with other genealogy enthusiasts. Over all, RootsTech’s focus on the use of technology to research, organize, preserve and share one’s family history was a perfect mix of new verse old which attracted both the new and experienced genealogist.    

Most of my time at RootsTech was spent at the booth, where I got to meet many of the team members I have interacted with over the last year. Honored to even be asked to join the conference with them, I admit I felt a bit nervous about my presentation, which covered how my love of genealogy eventually drew me into the world of the paranormal. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve attended several events and conferences around the country, but this was different. Even though I have always seen the clear similarities between the paranormal and genealogy, I wondered if the genealogy world would.

The biggest challenge that comes with being involved in the paranormal is the possibility of being received as a crackpot. In all honesty, I blame a good part of my skepticism on the years spent researching my ancestors; genealogy is all about finding evidence through records and family documents in order to uncover your family’s past. I take the same approach with the paranormal; in my time in the field, I needed documented proof to rationally uncover or debunk the mysteries plaguing the locations we investigated.

While I shared my favorite locations to investigate at the booth, I also explained the steps I took as a genealogist to research the location and the supposed ghost. I watched as expressions from the audience transformed from uncertainty to acceptance as they saw the connections I was drawing between unexplained and the explainable.

At the end of the day, genealogical research and paranormal investigation revolve around exploring the dead, while also filling our need to keep the dead alive. The biggest difference between the two being, instead of investigating any old location or ghost, genealogy gives you the opportunity to investigate the ghosts of your own past.

As a genealogist, attending RootsTech with was an amazing opportunity, and opened my eyes to just how much genealogy research has advanced in such a short amount of time. When I first started my research 21 years ago, the only options I had were phone calls and handwritten letters. I had to rely on family members in hopes of gaining new information and hints to help obtain records from vital statistic offices, historical societies, libraries and cemeteries. All of this took a lot of legwork, time and patience.

Even though you can still hit dead ends and roadblocks in your research, where knowledge of the old research techniques are definitely useful, today’s technology has made the entire process easier and faster. The ability to research, connect with others, organize and store your information has become incredibly streamlined. alone offers many helpful, user-friendly options for those just getting started in this research, and for those who have been at it for years. All of their products and services encourage and enable users to connect with other users in order to enhance their experience and further their research. While the service makes it possible to access over 11 billion records and over 40 million family trees from the comfort of your own home, the AncestryApp for iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones make it possible for you to research and build your family tree on the go. If you are looking for a better way to store, organize and share your information on your computer, there is FamilyTree Maker, which even gives you the ability to sync your tree with your online tree.

Although I have utilized all of’s services over the years, I am still amazed by the addition of DNA testing to enhance genealogy research.  With one easy-to-take test, AncestryDNA has helped me discover my ethnicity, introduced me to several other members who I share a common ancestor with, and provided me the ability to collaborate with them.

That was another excellent part of RootsTech; it introduced people to these awesome services that they may not have known about. Moreover, for me personally, it was a joy to connect with a community I’ve been a part of since I was 11 years old. Genealogy is all about researching people, but it can sometimes feel like a solitary pursuit. I learned so much about the new innovations in the field, but also learned from the other people. Thanks to, I really felt like I was a part of something truly bigger.

I look forward to attending more genealogy conferences in the future and can’t help but wonder what new discoveries are waiting just around the corner that will continue to advance our ability to dig deeper into our past. And look forward to more chances to be with my fellow researchers again. Despite all the conferences I’ve been to before, this one was my favorite.

By: Kris Williams

Twitter: KrisWilliams81

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The Great Hunger: Making America Home Mon, 18 Mar 2013 20:59:52 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more]]>

Born and raised in New England, I grew up hearing about the celebrations that take place in Boston every year on St. Patrick’s Day. To say my boyfriend and I were excited to be experiencing it for ourselves for the first time was an understatement. Driving into the city to meet up with friends, we really had no idea what we were getting into. While live Irish music filled the streets, there were lines out the door of every restaurant, pub and club. People were dressed head-to-toe in green, and you could tell they’d been in Boston all day.


As we walked the crowded streets, an old saying popped into my head: “Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” and it got the genealogist in me thinking.


From 1845 until 1850, Ireland’s population of 8.5 million people suffered immensely of starvation and disease due to one of the 19th century’s greatest catastrophes, “The Great Hunger.” Brought on by potato crops devastated by a disease known as potato blight, one third of Ireland’s population — which depended on the potato as their main source of food — watched helplessly as their crops were ravaged. To make matters worse, the British government added to Ireland’s suffering by continuing to export large quantities of food and livestock from Ireland despite the fact that people were dying of hunger.

While a million people died of starvation and disease, half a million people were evicted from their homes, thrown into a life of poverty. As a result, in a desperate attempt to survive, two million of them left Ireland emigrating to England, Scotland, Australia, Canada and the United States.


Although Boston was quick to respond to the potato famine, sending 800 tons of food, supplies and clothing to Ireland in March 1847, Bostonians were less than thrilled when Irish refugees began pouring into their city by the thousands. In 1847 alone, 37,000 sick and impoverished Irish immigrants landed in Boston settling along the city’s waterfront in cramped shacks. Fleeing their homeland in hope of survival and opportunity, our Irish ancestors were faced with intolerance and adversity.


As they settled into their run-down flats, our ancestors were then confronted with the challenge of finding work. Due to anti-Irish job discrimination and lack of experience, many found themselves working as servants, which lead to some Americans viewing the Irish as an uneducated servant race. If they weren’t working as servants they took up jobs in factories and worked as laborers. Resented by the American working class for their willingness to work for meager wages, their determination to make it in America was unjustly viewed as greedy and desperate.


Ostracized for their religion and ridiculed for their home life, the Irish were discriminated against on many different levels. Many parents decided to scrap popular Irish names such as Bridget and Patrick in an attempt to Americanize their children, while escaping the derogatory meanings the names had taken on in America. It wasn’t uncommon to find cartoons regularly featured in Boston newspapers depicting the Irish as immoral, illiterate alcoholics who were always looking for a party and a fight.


As I walked the streets of Boston with my boyfriend and friends, I found it impossible not to smile. Surrounded by a sea of people dressed in green, I couldn’t help but wonder how my ancestors would have felt seeing their descendants openly celebrating their Irish heritage in the streets.


Leaving behind the starvation and poverty they faced in Ireland for a fresh start and chance of survival in America was hardly an easy transition. Thanks to their hard work, determination and resilience they were able to survive the famine and make America home.


By Kris Williams

Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

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Reminiscing: A Key to Unlocking the Past Fri, 22 Feb 2013 15:45:02 +0000 Nick Cifuentes Read more]]> A few years back, I returned from a trip to France with a stack of the typical tourist photos. My father, apparently disinterested, sat quietly as I talked my way through them. But his eyes flickered to one picture, and he leaned forward and pulled the photo toward him as he spoke. His words stunned me.

“I lived there. At the Palace of Versailles.”

I didn’t know whether or not to believe him. Dad was, after all, eighty-two, with a touch of dementia.

“I was an intelligence officer serving with General Eisenhower during World War II. My unit lived in the petite écurie, or small stable.”

With one flash of disclosure, my vision of my father shifted. The man who was a wizard with numbers and sequences, who had a passion for detail and who could see patterns from the inside-out had served as an intelligence officer. One sentence and fact gave me a new understanding of my dad — a World War II hero who I suddenly saw with new eyes.

Opening Doors to Understanding
The events in our past are the key that provides significance for our present and future. Our memories show us who we are and bring shape, focus, and purpose to our lives.

Reminiscing tells us where we fit into the master narrative of life and what our existence means. When we reminisce, we draw meaning from the past that tells us who we used to be and who we are today. Reminiscing is normal — for teenagers looking back with embarrassment on childhood memories or older adults reflecting on their past. Because reminiscing helps us learn, it also helps us adapt to change.

And reminiscing can also be a useful tool in helping us develop genealogies by drawing meaningful stories from our family members.

The Value of Reminiscing
Reminiscing can be an especially useful activity for those who are committed to collecting and preserving family stories. Reminiscing serves a number of important purposes:

  1. It promotes understanding and connection among individuals and families.
  2. It helps us preserve history.
  3. It helps us understand our past and create significance for our present and future.

Reflecting can even help us cope with change and adapt to new environments. And when we do it collaboratively, it helps create community and broaden our understanding.

9 Tips for Reminiscing
So how can you start?

First of all, reminiscing is often successful as a group activity of five or six people. If you choose a group setting, be sure

  • the room is quiet.
  • everyone has equal opportunity to contribute.
  • to provide objects or props to stimulate conversation.
  • participants are instructed to be comfortable with pauses and silences.
  • someone is assigned to record shared memories.
  • confidentiality is honored.

The following tips provide a general starting place for reminiscing with elderly:

  1. Ask open-ended questions that help the person remember their stories and experiences. Use photos, historical photography books, objects, or mementos to stir memories.
  2. If possible, ask others to join you who may have shared the memories or similar memories during that era. Shared experiences often help others remember their own memories.
  3. Ask questions that center around the person’s areas of interest and life experiences. Not all memories will be pleasant. Be sensitive to the emotional context of what is being shared and provide encouragement and reassurance. Respect the individual’s right to privacy and need for confidentiality.
  4. Break down your questions into particular areas of interest: How did your family member say goodbye to loved ones during the war? What do they remember about seeing their family for the first time when they came home? Where did that take place? Where were they when they first heard the war was over? How did they feel?
  5. Record what you learn and use that book, timeline, recording, video, etc. to stimulate future sessions.
  6. Show an interest in your loved one’s shared memories. Body language, eye contact, and verbal affirmations indicate that we connect with the individual sharing their story and their experience.
  7. Make reflective comments and ask meaningful and appropriate questions.
  8. Empathize sensitively, especially if your loved one relates painful emotions.
  9. Respond positively to both verbal and non-verbal attempts to communicate.

Reminiscing can help family members connect cross-generationally as you explore common threads of your shared stories. No matter where you may be in your exploration of ancestry, reminiscing can provide keys to growth within your family and your community.

Shelly Beach, MRE, is an expert on, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Shelly answers family caregivers’ questions about spirituality and the Christian faith. She’s also the author of Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers; Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey; and It Is Well with My Soul: Meditations for Those Living with Illness, Pain, and the Challenges of Aging. For more information about spending time with older adults, see 11 Tips for a Terrific Visit With an Elderly Loved One.


Contributed by Shelly Beach Expert

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