Five Fun Summer Projects for Genealogists

Thanks to Lisa Alzo for this guest blog post.

Summer is officially here (in the Northern Hemisphere the summer solstice officially arrived June 21 at 12:24 A.M. EDT.), and my mind is racing with ideas on how to make the most of my genealogy time without the stress of the usual work deadlines and travel obligations. If you are looking for some fun ways to move forward with your family history, here are five suggestions.

Summer Genealogy Projects

  1. Create a Genealogy Vision Board. Looking to make progress on a particular family line? Break down a longstanding brick wall? Perhaps you want to plan a research trip or dream about possible travel to your ancestral homeland? Is there a conference or institute you would like to attend this year?  One way to keep track of all your genealogy goals or aspirations is to set up a vision board. Many folks do this by cutting out pictures from magazines and pinning them on poster board or a cork board. But you can also do this virtually either with Pinterest, or by using a cloud-based program such as Trello, which happens to be my favorite project management tool. If you are not familiar with Trello, you can learn more from my recent blog post, “5 Ways to Use Trello for Genealogy and Family History,” or by watching the Legacy webinar, “Your Whiteboard in the Cloud: Trello for Genealogists.” Get tips from other users by joining the Trello for Genealogy and Family History Facebook group.
  1. Set up a Genealogy Bullet Journal. Once you have your “vision board,” you will need a way to keep track of daily or weekly tasks, such as online database searches, contacting relatives, or requesting documents from archives. Popular in time management circles, Bullet journaling is a trend that has been gaining some traction in the genealogy community. While your bullet journal can be basic or fancy (it is totally up to you), all you really need to get started is a notebook or journal and a pen. You can read blog posts about bullet journaling by genealogists such as Kathryn Lake Hogan, “How to Bullet Journal for Genealogy,” DearMyrtle, “Setting Up My Bullet Journal - Part 1,” and Midge Frazel, “Bullet Journaling Video List: Video Presentations of Interest to Genealogists, Planners and Bullet Journaling.” There is also a Bullet Journaling Genealogy Facebook group,
  1. Attend School by the Pool. Grab your laptop or tablet, find your favorite lounge chair and learn while you soak up some sun (or enjoy the shade). Take advantage of the many Legacy Family Tree Webinars (watch them live for free), or become a paid subscriber for unlimited access to these as well as archived webinars in the webinar library (now up to 549 classes of genealogy education, 754 hours of genealogy instruction ,2532 pages of instructors' handouts). Whether you want to learn about methodology, technology, or DNA, you can easily build your own summer school curriculum.
  2. Scan Family Photographs. What genealogist doesn’t have boxes of family photographs to sort, scan and share? For the past month, I have been sorting through what seems like an endless collection myself. So, when I learned that my colleague and friend, Denise Levenick, was hosting a Genealogy Scan Along on her website, The Family Curator, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to begin my own photo scanning project. Denise calls it a "virtual scanning bee." For four weeks, participants will each work on a scanning project to create a family history photo book. Denise will offer guidance through tutorials and tips (and participants can connect via the Genealogy Scan Along Facebook group. Don’t miss this opportunity!
  3. Jumpstart that Family History Writing Project. If writing a family history is on your “to-do” list, then why not    take some small steps now to get started? You don’t have to be finished with your research to begin writing. A good way to  get those creative juices flowing is through a Storyboard—a visual outline of your story. One of my favorite tools to use for this task is Scrivener.  If you are not familiar with this writing and project management tool, check out my five-part Legacy Family Tree Webinars series on using Scrivener, as well as my Storyboard Your Family History webinar.         

The above ideas are enough to keep you busy throughout the summer and easy ways to have fun with your family history. Remember, as Geoff Rasmussen says, “Life is short. Do Genealogy First!” 

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, and hundreds of magazine articles.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at  The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at http://www.lisaalzo.com.


The 3-D Super Powers of Eastern European Genealogists

The 3-D Super Powers of  Eastern European Genealogists

Are you lost trying to find your Eastern European ancestors? Do perplexing surnames, confusing geography and records written in unfamiliar languages challenge you at every turn? Don’t despair. You can channel some research superpowers to conquer your research roadblocks.

  1. Detect. Genealogists often compare themselves to detectives. We follow clues in about our family to make sense of the past. Determining the immigrant’s original name and learning the specific name of the ancestral town or village are the two most essential pieces for success. To do this you must check ALL available resources on this side of the ocean first. While many records are online through sites such as Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org, you also must be prepared to check microfilm, books, and other sources. It is also necessary to understand the time period and consider geography. For example, when your ancestors departed their homeland, was the area under the Austro-Hungarian, German, or Russian Empire? Did they arrive post-World War I or post-World War II? Did the town names change depending on who was in charge?

    Detect. Decode. Decipher. Eastern European Genealogy

  2. Decode. During the research process, you will likely hit a number of brick walls—those seemingly unsolvable research problems that wherever you look there appear to be no answers. One issue is with the complex surnames for which spelling can be problematic and often leads to incorrect indexing. Sites such as Behind the Name can help, or you can perform a Google search for websites specific to your ethnic group. Be aware of name changes after the immigrant settled in North America. (Names were not changed at Ellis Island—that's a myth. Read about immigrant name changes in this article by Marian Smith). Learn naming practices and patterns to help figure out which Maria or Mihaly is your ancestor. To take account of border changes, consult maps, atlases, gazetteers (geographical dictionaries), books, websites, and town and village histories. Browse the FamilySearch Wiki by country for links to print and online resources. When you are ready to search across the ocean, you will want to see which archives have records online. Start with the free digitized collections at FamilySearch. Another excellent resource is the JewishGen In some instances you may wish to hire a professional researcher based in the country you are researching to pull records from civil archives and other repositories with more restrictive access. Ethnic genealogical societies such as the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International and the Polish Genealogical Society of America, or even fellow genealogists may provide recommendations. If you can manage it, a heritage trip to your ancestral town or village, and local archives can often turn up previously unknown information not yet available online, not to mention the potential for meeting long lost cousins.

  3. Decipher. Many new researchers are dismayed when they locate records for their ancestors, but can’t read them because they are written in German, Hungarian, Latin, Polish, Russian or other unfamiliar alphabets or scripts. While you don’t necessarily need to be fluent in a foreign language to read great-grandma’s baptismal record, you will need to become familiar with keywords and phrases, especially common genealogy terms in the language used to record the information. You can start by watching some language tutorials available for free in the FamilySearch Learning Center, or on YouTube. Online or print dictionaries, books, and FamilySearch Word Lists can also help. Using an online translation tool such as Google Translate is another option, but beware that such tools are usually best for short words or small blocks of text. The accuracy of the translation may be questionable and often local or regional dialects are not taken into account. To ensure a proper translation, you could post a short query to Facebook (Try Genealogy Translations on Facebook or just do a search for Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc.), or hire a professional translator.

 

For more tips, tools, and resources, watch Lisa's bonus webinar on "Survival Skills for Eastern European Genealogists,” available to subscribers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library.

Don’t Give Up

Just as a superhero never surrenders, neither should you. Yes, tracking down elusive Eastern European ancestors can be a daunting task. There is no “Easy Button.” But remember that genealogy is one part skill, one part persistence, and one part serendipity. New record sets are being released all the time, so keep checking websites for new or updated content. Channel your powers to detect, decode, and decipher and start solving your family history mysteries.


Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at http://www.lisaalzo.com.

 


5 Ways to Use Trello for Genealogy and Family History

Thanks to guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this post.

Have you ever wished for a whiteboard in the cloud where you could generate ideas, organize your research tasks, or storyboard your family history writing?

Then, say “Hello” to Trello—a free project management tool to help you streamline your genealogy projects, tackle your "to-do" lists, and improve your workflow. I have been a fan of Trello for several years to organize my work and personal research projects. In this post, I will share with you five ways to use Trello specifically for genealogy and family history.

Trello graphic

Getting Started
The first step is to set up a free Trello account at https://trello.com.  Once you have registered, you will be taken to the Trello “Welcome Board.”  You will see a brief tutorial that will bring you quickly up to speed on Trello’s system of boards, lists, and cards. Trello’s customizable notecards enable you to view any project in a single glance, share it for easy collaboration, and set it up to sync on multiple devices to take your work with you wherever you go. It is like having your own virtual whiteboard.

Trello for Genealogy and Family History

The uses for Trello are endless—from collecting and organizing ideas to setting up group projects with multiple collaborators.  There is no limit to how many boards you can create. Below are five easy ways you can begin using Trello immediately for genealogy and family history.

1. Create a research plan. Trello provides a way to visually organize your genealogy research tasks.  Create a board for each main surname you are researching. Then create three lists for “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Other lists could include a specific research task (e.g. “Check FamilySearch,” “Correspondence” or “Source Citations.”   You can also add due dates, checklists, comments, attach files, and set reminders. Other board suggestions include a cemetery board to organize the family gravestones you photograph, or a “mystery photographs” board for those unidentified pictures you come across. Becky Jamison, who blogs about her family history research on the Grace and Glory Blog, is an avid Trello user and has recorded a video with some great ideas for project boards.

2. Storyboard writing projects. One of my personal favorite uses of Trello is to outline and storyboard writing projects. I create boards for articles I am working on, book projects, and family history profiles. Since I can attach an image to each card, this is an excellent way to create a visual storyboard for each writing task. I also like to use the available Power-Ups—a way of incorporating additional features and integrations that are adaptable to your project needs. Enabling Power-Ups on boards allows you to access important information from other apps such as Calendar, Dropbox, Google Drive and others (Read more about them in the Trello User Guide). Free accounts get one free Power-Up per board. My favorite Power-Up to use is the one for Evernote because it helps me to bring over my research materials (notes, saved web pages, etc.) into Trello.

3. Outline and plan blog posts. If you blog about your genealogy research, Trello is a great tool for managing your editorial calendar. For my blog, The Accidental Genealogist, I usually start a blog post outline in Evernote and then attach it to a card to expand the idea. If you write your posts using Google Docs, you can start a draft with Google Drive directly from Trello and compose the article. You can also attach a Drive folder to the card to access the image assets for the post. Using due dates can help with meeting deadlines.

4. Create a travel itinerary. Whenever I travel to a genealogy conference or go on a research trip, I use Trello to build a board for it. I actually save a blank board as a template and then I can customize it for each trip. I make lists for airline and hotel reservations, daily schedules. For conferences, I also create lists for registration information, syllabus files, presentations, and expenses (I can attach images of my receipts right from Evernote). When the trip or conference is over, I can simply remove that board so that it is no longer in my active board list, but I can always go back to refer to it at a later date.

5. Collaborate on research, writing, or other group projects. Trello is the perfect tool for collaboration. You can add members to specific boards (they will need a free account). This is a good option if you are working with another family member to research a specific branch on your family tree, if you have a co-author for a book project, or for members of a genealogical society. If you are a fan of Mondays with Myrt or the other Google Hangouts co-hosted by Dear Myrtle and “Cousin Russ” (Worthington), they use Trello as their planning tool.

Be sure to download the free Trello app to all your mobile devices (you can even work offline and sync your boards later). There is a small learning curve, so start with a small board and then add more features as you need them. If you are a FamilyTreeWebinars.com subscriber, check out my webinar “Your Whiteboard in the Cloud: Trello for Genealogists” for more tips and project ideas.


Three Reasons You Should be Using Scrivener to Write Your Family History

It is no secret that I am an avid user of Scrivener, a multifaceted word processor and project management tool. I have been using this program for all of my personal and professional writing projects since 2011.

Three Reasons You Should be Using Scrivener to Write Your Family History


Here are three reasons why you will want to use this amazing tool for your family history and other writing projects.

  1. It’s Plot Perfect. Whether you are a visual writer who likes to storyboard, or if you prefer text outlines, you can use Scrivener your  way! When you start a new blank project, you will be see the “Binder” (located on the left-hand side), which is the source list showing all documents in the project.

    By default you’ll see three folders:

    The “Draft” board (called “Manuscript” in other Scrivener templates) is the main space where you type your text (you can compile everything in that folder for printing or export as one long document later on). You will have one Untitled Document showing. Simply add a title and then start typing. You can move sections around by dragging and dropping. Click the green plus sign (+) icon to add files or folders. Scrivener also lets you import files that you already have prepared in Microsoft Word or text based formats.

    As you work, Scrivener allow to easily “toggle” between its key modes: Corkboard (where you can summarize on “virtual index cards” the key points you want to cover—the virtual cards can easily be arranged in any order you like); Outline (use it if you prefer to control the structure of your work); and Scrivenings (this mode temporarily combines individual documents into a single text, allowing you to view some or all documents in a folder as though they were all part of one long text).

    There is another pane called the “Inspector” that offers additional features to help you manage your project so you can easily plot, plan, and outline away!  Watch the Storyboarding and Editing with Scrivener Bonus Webinar to learn the secrets of Scrivener storyboarding. 

Scrivener_corkboard

  1. It’s Research Ready. Scrivener has a designated Research folder where you can store notes, PDF files, images, etc. (not included in your final compiled document). Research is one of the three main container folders (the other two are Draft or Manuscript and Trash) automatically included in all of the Scrivener templates. Use the super handy Split Screen feature to have your research items there on the screen as you write. This saves you from having to open up your image or PDF viewer or other program while you are in writing mode. You can even add annotations, comments, footnotes and endnotes to your final output. Watch the Getting Started with Scrivener: Footnotes, Endnotes and Formatting bonus webinar to learn more.
  1. It Does all the Heavy Lifting. The true power of Scrivener resides in its “Compile” (Compile is just a fancy term for exporting your project into any number of final formats—print, eBook, Kindle, PDF, etc.). With compile you specify what Scrivener does/does not include, and how it should look. You will get a crash course in the key steps in the Compiling and Publishing with Scrivener bonus webinar. Mastering Compile takes some practice, so you should also refer to the Scrivener tutorials and forums for guidance.

Here’s a bonus tip: Start small! Begin with a smaller project like an ancestor profile or blog post rather than attempting to write a 200-page family history book your first time in. 

Scrivener is created by Literature and Latte and is available for purchase for use on Mac ($45) and Windows ($40). There is also a 30-day free trial available. Double click the Scrivener “S” icon on your desktop to open the program. Before you start your first project, take a few minutes to review the Scrivener manual for your and watch the helpful interactive tutorials.

I was pleased to be able to record a new five-part bonus webinar series on Scrivener for Legacy subscribers. 

The Legacy Bonus Webinars on Scrivener cover the following topics:

  1. Getting Started with Scrivener
  2. Storyboarding and Editing with Scrivener
  3. Footnotes, Endnotes and Formatting in Scrivener
  4. Compiling and Publishing with Scrivener
  5. Scrivener Ninja Tips and Tricks

Want even more Scrivener secrets? Pick up a  copy of my Scrivener for Genealogists QuickSheet (available for both Mac and Windows versions).

ScrivenerPC

 

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at http://www.lisaalzo.com.


Three Ways to Search for Slovak Ancestors

Curious about your Slovak roots, but don’t know where to being?  Not sure how to identify your ancestral town or village, or where to find records online?  Below are three simple ways to jumpstart your Slovak genealogy.

 

Three Ways to Search for Slovak Ancestors

 

1. Utilize FamilySearch. Of course the first step in genealogy is to check home sources and talk to your relatives to determine your Slovak immigrant ancestor’s original name and his or her town/village of origin. But sometimes the information you find is incomplete, skewed by family lore, or perhaps even non-existent. So you will need to go in search of vital, census, immigration, naturalization, and other records. Many of these resources can be found online in free databases on FamilySearch, and on other subscriptions sites (just remember that not everything is online). The good news is that FamilySearch also has record collections from Slovakia that are searchable online. Currently, the two most notable are: Slovakia, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592-1910 and Slovakia, Census, 1869. Access them here. In addition, you should search the FamilySearch catalog—it is one of the best sources for microfilmed records from Slovakia, including parish, military, and census records. You can view the films in person at the library in Salt Lake City, or order films online for viewing at your local Family History Center or partnering library. Be sure to check the Family Search Wiki page for Slovakia. Here you’ll find tips on accessing Slovak vital records beginning Slovak research, and determining a place of origin in Slovakia, many links to records, maps, and more. 

2. Scour Other Websites. Today there are websites for every genealogy research interest and Slovak genealogy is no different. Below are a couple of websites to explore.

Cisarik.com. This useful site compiled by Slovak tourist guide/archival researcher Juraj Čisárik, has many interesting resources including: A listing of former counties of Slovakia—Austria-Hungary Empire—prior 1918 (and maps); A listing of current counties in Slovakia today (with a map); a clickable, alphabetical index of all villages in Slovakia; a link to a Carpatho-Rusyn DNA project through Family Tree DNA; Oldslavonic - English Dictionary (5100 words) and English –Old Slavonic Dictionary (5100 words); Information on religions in Slovakia (Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed Calvinist, Evangelical Lutheran, and Jewish); Marriage Records of Eastern Slovakia 1865 – 1895; Information about a book on the genealogy of Byzantine priests in Slovakia from 1600-2010 published by Cisarik. (You can see an index of all the names included).

There is quite a bit of content to navigate through but it is very well organized. It’s worth looking through the alphabetical list of marriages. These are selected by surnames of grooms and brides with a current total of 14,735 marriage records. The surnames and first names are written in the old original spelling. If your ancestor’s surname was Americanized it could be spelled differently. You may have to search for various alternatives of a particular surname’s spelling. (Use CTRL+f on a PC or command+F on a Mac to quickly search the listings there). I found the names of the current counties and the former Hungarian counties to be quite helpful when searching for my various ancestral villages.

Slovak Genealogy Research Strategies. Slovak Genealogy Research Strategies is a very informative set of free web pages by Bill Tarkulich that aid English-speaking researchers of immigrants from Eastern Slovakia and surrounding areas. This Web site includes genealogical research strategies, methods and  unique resources for people with roots in Eastern Slovakia (Slovak Republic)/formerly Czechoslovakia/formerly Upper Hungary. Primary research areas include those of the Carpathian Mountains, and borderlands of Southern Poland (Galicia) and Western Ukraine (Carpatho-Rus).

The entire site is full of great information, such as present and former place names, a step-by-step guide to using the The 1877 Dvorzsák Gazetteer, and detailed pages on how to locate and acquire church, census, and military records for your Slovak ancestors, as well as a host of sample records. Be sure to take the time to explore the site in its entirety. Bookmark the Quick Reference Toolbox  for easy access to key resources on the site.

3. Tap into the Resources of an Ethnic Genealogical Society. If you want to connect with other Slovak researchers, consider joining The Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI). CGSI is a society promoting Czechoslovak genealogical research and interest among people with ancestry in the Czechoslovak region as it was in 1918, including families of Czech, Bohemian, Moravian, Slovak, German, Hungarian, Jewish, Rusyn, and Silesian origin.

Cgsipage

This organization publishes a quarterly newsletter Nase rodina (Our Family) , holds a bi-annual national conference in a location with a strong Czech and Slovak history (the next conference will be October 17-21, 2017 in Pittsburgh, PA), a Fall Annual Meeting, and symposiums. There are members-only databases available on the society’s website as well as a message board and surname database. You can also check out the CGSI Facebook page.

 

To learn more about these and other resources for Slovak genealogy, watch the webinar on Beginning Slovak Genealogy Research available to Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers.

Beginningslovakgenealogy

You can also pick up a copy of the Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide on Slovak Genealogy.

 

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at http://www.lisaalzo.com.

 

 


Three Tips for Finding Your Pennsylvania Ancestors Online

Pennsylvania has an abundance of resources for genealogists, and the good news is that many of them can now be accessed online. Here are three tips to unlock information about your Keystone ancestors in digitized record collections.

Pennsylvania-40430__180

1. Start with FamilySearch.  It’s no secret that FamilySearch  is often the first online stop for many genealogists. For the Pennsylvania researcher, there are plenty of records available in the free digitized collections on the FamilySearch website http://www.familysearch.org.  You can either or click the “Browse All Collections” link then “United States” and “Pennsylvania.” Here are the current collections (Note: Be sure to read the description of each collection to learn how complete it is as not all records may be included, and note the date the collection was last updated).

 Pennsylvania Obituaries, 1977-2010

Pennsylvania Obituary and Marriage Collection, 1947-2010

Pennsylvania, Births and Christenings, 1709-1950  

Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950

Pennsylvania, Crew Lists arriving at Erie, 1952-1957         

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Naturalization Indexes, 1795-1952

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931

Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1866-1956

Pennsylvania, Landing Reports of Aliens, 1798-1828         

Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1709-1940

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Case Files of Chinese Immigrants, 1900-1923

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906 

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Indexes, 1885-1951  

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists Index, 1800-1906       

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1883-1945     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Seamen's Proofs of Citizenship, 1791-1861

Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh City Deaths, 1870-1905   

Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994

 To access the list of collections for Pennsylvania, go to https://familysearch.org/search/collection/list/?page=1&countryId=23

 

Below is a passenger list record I found for my great-grandfather Jan Alzo found in the on Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948 collection on FamilySearch.

Passlistcard

Janalzocard

"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KF82-K2K : accessed 7 September 2015), Jan Alzo, 1898; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,256.

 

Also, don’t forget to check the FamilySearch Wiki for Pennsylvania https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Pennsylvania for details on how to get started with Pennsylvania Genealogy research and for other information.

2. Find the Freebies. Genealogists love free databases. You can find plenty of free Pennsylvania resources if you know where to look. Try USGenWeb (check by county) for its volunteer added collections such as obituaries, cemetery lists and more, or GoogleBooks for items such as town histories, biographies and other historical documents.  The Pennsylvania State Archives located in Harrisburg, holds many documents for genealogy research including county records, military records, land records, census records, naturalization records and ships' passenger lists, and some pre-1906 vital records, as well as records of state government, and papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history.  While you won’t be able to search bigger collections online, use the website for the online guide to records so you can plan a research trip there.  In addition, some subscription sites often have some free databases. For example, Fold3 has selected databases available even to non-subscribers  http://go.fold3.com/records/state_Pennsylvania . One such publication/record set is The Pennsylvania Archives (early PA government records) – not to be confused with the Pennsylvania State Archives noted above!

 

3. Go to a Group. Facebook Groups are a great way to connect with other researchers searching for Pennsylvania roots. Simply log in to your Facebook account and search for Pennsylvania groups by town or county or topic (for example: Allegheny County, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Cemeteries, or Pennsylvania Genealogy). A quick way to learn about the groups available is to access the list Genealogical & Historical Groups/Pages on Facebook list compiled by Katherine Wilson. Don’t forget the smaller groups and pages too (I belong to several groups for my hometown of Duquesne, Pennsylvania and made it a point to like page for the Mifflin Township Historical Society). You will be amazed at the historical information you will find in these groups and pages and you connect with other Pennsylvania researchers.

Want even more tips on how to find your Pennsylvania ancestors online? Check out my my new bonus webinar Best Online Resources for Pennsylvania Genealogy  available to Family Tree Webinar subscribers. This webinar follows on from my Researching Your Pennsylvania Ancestors webinar.  In addition, the Pennsylvania Genealogy Legacy QuickGuide contains even more research tips and online resources.

 

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.


Storyboard Basics for Family Historians: How to Get Started in Three Simple Steps

Do you struggle to put together a family history narrative? Want to learn how to plot like a pro? A storyboard could be the answer to your writing woes. Many fiction writers use storyboards to plot their novels.

A storyboard is a simple way to visually outline or map out your writing project. You can use the storyboard as your guidepost to start writing, or as chapter or section titles to take you through the writing process. If you're not sure about where or how to begin crafting a story others will want to read, here are three simple steps to help you get started with storyboarding.

Penandcard-ed

1. Think like a writer, not like a genealogist. During the research phase of family history, most genealogists deal primarily with facts (names, dates, places, and other pertinent details), and use their analytical skills to "put the puzzle pieces together" and interpret the information. But, when it comes to plotting a story, you should be thinking like a writer—tapping into your inner creativity to put those facts together in an accurate, yet compelling way.

2. Write cinematically. All good stories have three basic parts: Beginning, Middle, and End (or in theatre terms, “three acts”). Although you may not think of your family's story as a movie, it often helps if you do. Try writing cinematically—breaking the story you want to tell into scenes. Scenes move your plot forward, set the tone, and highlight your voice.

3. Outline Your Ideas. Identify key points, ideas, scenes etc. you want to convey or include in your book, profile, or short story using a technique typically taught in novel writing workshops: the “Index Card" method. For a book project, the “old school” way is to get a stack (about 60) of 3 x 5 index cards and write down one scene per card (aiming for 15 scenes for Act 1, 30 for Act 2, and 15 for Act 3). This keeps the story moving.

For example, in my book, Three Slovak Women, the overall main plot is a story about three different generations of Slovak women. For Act I, my main plot is my grandmother's immigration story, and my subplots would be her family life in Slovakia, her arranged marriage to my grandfather, and her assimilation in America.

The index card method is useful because once you have your scenes written out you can shuffle the cards around to get the order you desire—the one that makes the most sense for your story. Software tools or apps make the process easier by letting you create “virtual” index cards.

One of my favorite programs is Scrivener by Literature and Latte, (available for PC and Mac), which has many useful features, including the ability to set up your projects in storyboard format using a virtual corkboard. There is a 30-day free trial available (and it runs for 30 days of actual use rather than by calendar days).

Next, transcribe or develop what you've written on each card into an outline, with your main plot (and then subplot a, b, c). This process will help you to see what does or doesn't work. (Scrivener lets you seamlessly switch to outline view, and easily shuffle your cards if you want to change, move or delete a scene). For smaller projects (for example, ancestor profiles), you would use less cards, but follow the same basic guidelines.

To learn more about creating storyboards with Scrivener, register for the upcoming Legacy webinar on Storyboard Your Family History.

Consider giving storyboarding a try. A storyboard gives you a “bird’s eye view” of your project so you can build a structure that works, see the holes in your content, and have a place to store notes, ideas, source information, and more.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.