Stuck in a Genealogy Rut? Three Ways to Bounce Back

Thanks to guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this great article.

Alzo_GenealogyRut_01Have you hit an impasse in your genealogy research? Do you keep searching the same databases only to get the same negative results? Has the paper trail back to your ancestors gone cold? At one time or another even the best researchers get stuck in a genealogy rut. Here are three ways you can bounce back and find new inspiration.

1. Review Your Research.

Many times our biggest research roadblocks result from missing important details or clues the first time around. Perhaps you did not listen carefully when you interviewed Aunt Betty, or somehow misunderstood the name of the ancestral village she mentioned. Or, maybe you were in a hurry when you photocopied a page from a book at the library or from the microfilm reel at your Family History Center, or when you rapidly downloaded records from an online database. A second look can give you insights into a missed maiden name, a questionable connection in a family line, or an incorrect source citation.

2. Read, Understand and Evaluate.

Be honest, how many times do you go to Google, or open an online database and just randomly type in the names you are researching? I do it too. In reality, your first step should be to read the directions! Look at the About section, the Help section, or the Frequently Asked Questions section so you know exactly what a collection contains and what is not included. Two of the biggest online content providers, FamilySearch (free) and subscription site, both have detailed notes explaining their collections and tips for how to search them. Both sites also have free learning centers with videos and tutorials. Successful database searches depend upon creativity. Try different ways of searching and notice how the changes you’ve made are being interpreted by the search engine and then adapt your search criteria accordingly. Every search engine works a little differently. The search criteria that you use on one site may return entirely different results when used on a different site. Remember: Broad searching is NOT always the best approach. Look carefully at the search fields before you enter your terms. Understand what you are viewing (an index or abstract versus an actual scan of the original image). Evaluate each result and scroll down to the bottom to check the source citation for what you are viewing. Then, write down or save/print the instructions of where you will need to go next for more information. For example, if you see just an index of a marriage record, is there a notation stating where you can obtain the actual record through online ordering, mail request, or in person?

Alzo_GenealogyRut_023. Banish “Brick Wall” from your vocabulary. Genealogists like to use the metaphor “brick wall” to describe that seemingly unsolvable research problem, or a roadblock or impasse encountered when trying to get back further in time with one or more family lines. More often than not, we have just run out of resources, can’t easily locate information, haven’t looked beyond the obvious, or have unrealistic expectations. Make sure you have conducted a “reasonably exhaustive search” (Check out the webinar “What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search” by Michael Hait from September 2012 to learn more about this process). Finally, consider the steps you need to take to look at additional resources and how to use new media solutions to connect with cousins, discover fresh leads, and crowd source your research problems.

Want even more tips on how to rescue your research? Sign up for the free Legacy Family Tree webinar I will be presenting on August 8, 2014: “Research Recharge Turning Old Clues into New Leads.” In this webinar you will learn fresh ways of looking at data you've already collected, strategies for smarter searching your favorite databases (and new ones) for clues, and tips for identifying what you may have missed the first time around.

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer, and has been tracking her ancestors for 25 years. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via

Genealogy serendipity while writing about genealogy serendipity

What a cool experience I had today. I'm writing a book about serendipitous experiences I've had where ancestors have seemed to "speak" to me. Today, while writing chapter 5 about 10-year-old Marvin Brown, and having just inserted a digital image of his death certificate, I wrote the following:

Finding Marvin Brown has changed my life and reinforced my belief that our ancestors reach out to us.

From his death certificate I learned Marvin was born July 2, 1902.

And then it hit me...

Before I write one more word, I've got to tell you about the hairs on my arms that just stood. Today, at this very moment, as I pen this story, is July 2. I had no idea. Happy birthday Marvin!

My experience with my ancestor, Marvin Brown, and the voice I heard in the parking lot on the morning of my 38th birthday, will go down as one of the special, or should I say "sacred" genealogy experiences I've ever had. Isn't it interesting how I began to write his story today, July 2, on his birthday?

By the way, I have Lisa Alzo to thank for finally giving me the encouragement to begin writing this book. In her recent webinar, 10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Family History Narrative, she suggested to just start writing. And that it's okay if your first draft is bad. Two weeks later I'm nearly done with my first draft. Thanks Lisa!

Five Genealogy Things to Do This Summer

Thanks to guest blogger Lisa Alzo for this great article.

Summer is officially here (in the Northern Hemisphere the summer solstice officially arrived June 21 at 6:51 A.M. EDT.), and I don't know about you but I couldn’t be more happy. After the long winter we had in New York, I am grateful for fresh air, sunshine, and being able to get out and go for a long walk every morning. But the new season also gets me excited about genealogy—specifically about tasks that I can enjoy either sitting on my deck with a glass of iced tea, or if I feel adventurous, during an in-town, or out-of-town excursion. Looking for some ways to make your genealogy life sizzle this summer? Here are five suggestions.

1. Make Some Memories.

Summer is the time for vacations and reunions. If you are packing up the car or getting on a plane for some rest and relaxation time with family or friends, why not include a little genealogy along the way? If you are near New York City, check out Ellis Island, where the immigrant experience comes alive. On the West Coast, there’s Angel Island, or visit other historic landmarks, such as Gettysburg, or Monticello.


[Ellis Island Wall of Honor John and Veronica Straka Figlar; Photo by Lisa A. Alzo]

Even if you can’t get away, check your local area for museums, or walking tours of historic places. (One of my personal favorites is the Women’s Rights National Historical Park located in Seneca Falls, New York, (and less than an hour away from where I live). Perhaps you have plans to attend a formal family gathering. If so, remember to take plenty of photos, and use your smartphone or tablet to interview your relatives (for tips, watch the Legacy Webinar on “Captured For All Time: Recording Family Voices to Preserve and Pass Down” by Marian Pierre-Louis). Don’t have a reunion booked? It’s not too early to start planning one for next year. Find tips at Reunions Magazine. You can also organize a virtual reunion with far-flung family members using technology such as Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts

Opting for the Stay-cation? Incorporate some genealogy/family history into a Family Game Night with board games such as Life Stories, and The Game of Genealogy ($29.95 + $6.00 s/h USD), or online activities such as Genealogy Game Night (hosted by DearMyrtle), or the free Family House game by BrightSolid (part of the DC Thompson Group) you can download from iTunes (click here) to play on your iPhone/iPad, or play on Facebook.

2. Sort, Scan, and Save.

One of my major projects this summer is to de-clutter and to get to grips with my massive family history archive. I have an entire room filled with boxes and containers of photographs, assorted documents, and family heirlooms. I am following the excellent advice provided in the book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, written by my friend and colleague, Denise Levenick (aka, The Family Curator) to better store and preserve all of the wonderful family treasures I have inherited.


[Photo by Lisa A. Alzo]

3. Become a Graveyard Rabbit.

A great project for summer is to go out and photograph/document gravesites in your local cemetery. Projects such as Billion Graves, and Find A Grave make it easy with mobile apps and this is great activity to get the younger family members involved. Don’t forget to sign up for the Legacy Webinar “Find A Grave - The World's Largest Cemetery Database” with Russ Worthington, so you can learn how to use and contribute to the site.

4. Go to Texas!

No really, you need to…so you can attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference August 27-30, 2014 in San Antonio. But HURRY! The Early Bird Discount for the 2014 Conference Ends July 1st! Get a sneak peek of what’s in store with this video. If you can’t make it to FGS, you can always start making your holiday wish list for registration fees to 2015 events such as the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), January 12-16 (some tracks have sold out, but seats remain in several excellent courses), the RootsTech/FGS joint conference also in Salt Lake City February 11–14, or the National Genealogical Society, May 13-16 in St. Charles, Missouri.

5. 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 these fabulous Legacy Family Tree Webinars being offered in July and August (watch them live for free), or become a paid subscriber for unlimited access to these as well as archived webinars (now contains 253 hours and 673 pages of instructor handouts).

  • Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - Thinking About Becoming a Board-certified Genealogist? with Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL
  • Friday, July 11, 2014 - Legacy Family Tree - Virtual User's Group Meeting with Legacy Family Tree Panel
  • Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - When Freedom Came - Documenting the Family's Freedom Story with Angela Walton-Raji
  • Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Researching Your Illinois Ancestors with Thomas MacEntee
  • Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - Researching Your Tennessee Ancestors – with J. Mark Lowe
  • Friday, August 8, 2014 - Research Recharge - Turning Old Clues into New Leads with Lisa A. Alzo
  • Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - Researching Your Italian Ancestors with Ruth Merriman

Click here to register for any or all of the above webinars.

Bonus Activity

Don’t forget to tune in for the 5th Season of Who Do You Think You Are? The popular series returns on July 23, 2014 on the TLC (check your local listings for more details).

Wishing you a super summer filled with genealogical goodness!

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer, and has been tracking her ancestors for 25 years. She has presented 10 Legacy Family Tree Webinars, can be contacted via

Kids and Genealogy

2014-04-26 08.27.26What a weekend I had! In addition to speaking at the Utah Genealogical Association conference, I got to do it with my 8-year-old son, Braden. This was his first genealogy conference, and he was a great helper at our Legacy Family Tree booth. He handed our brochures and stamped prize cards. He even attended one of my classes. Initially I couldn't figure out why he didn't want to attend my last three classes, but then I learned that he found that he could play the Angry Birds game at our booth when everyone else was in class. He learned some of the lingo - like pedigrees, descendancies, and ancestors. He thought it was funny to call me his ancestor. When I asked him what his favorite part was, he replied with "I got to miss a day of school."

Some of my fondest memories are of teaching genealogy to my children. Here is Evan finding his first death certificate on a microfilm reader at the Family History Library. He looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, and looked at me again. Then he said, "Dad, I thought genealogy was boring. This is!" Priceless.

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This is Evan learning how to use Legacy:

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One of my kids' favorite outings is to head to the cemetery with the BillionGraves app in hand. Even my 5-year-old daughter enjoys pushing the green button on the camera (takes a picture of the headstone and publishes it to the BillionGraves website to be indexed).

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We tried to start Kaitlyn young. This is my wife, Tanya, doing a little FamilySearch Indexing while in labor with our daughter.

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While it is usually me who says "let's go find an ancestor" every once in a while one of them will initiate the experience. They seem to feel something as they seek for their relatives.

What have you done to try to ignite the genealogy flame in your children or grandchildren? What has worked? What didn't? I'd love to hear from you below.

Maureen Taylor, in her webinar, "Children and Genealogy in the Classroom" had some great recommendations. Click here to view its recording.

Later this year, Devin Ashby, will present more ideas in his webinar "Family History for Kids". Register for the webinar (free) here.

There's Still Time...Three Last Minute Ideas to Celebrate Family History Month

Thanks to guest-blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this article...

AlzoLegacyBlogImage10-15-23It’s hard to believe we are half way through the month of October. The end of the year is quickly approaching, and soon we will be looking ahead to holiday cooking, decorating, and shopping to prepare for those cherished family gatherings. Mid-October also means that National Family History Month is almost over. If you’ve been too busy to fully participate, or perhaps didn’t even realize it was here, it’s not too late. Here are three easy things you can do to discover your roots and honor your ancestors.

1. Immerse yourself in research. Schedule some time to practice what I like to call, "immersion genealogy." Here are a few ideas. Some you can accomplish in a day or two; others during a three-day weekend.

  • Visit an ancestor’s hometown. Look for their house, visit the church where they worshipped, walk through the cemetery.
  • Study your heritage. Check out books at your local public, college, or university library, or do a search on Google Books, or search Cyndi’s List under country or under Recipes, Cookbooks & Family Traditions.
  • Spend time interviewing your relatives. Ideally, you’ll want to do this in person, but if you can’t there’s always Skype or Facetime). Nobody to interview? Then, document your own story. Download a free guide here.
  • Gather ideas for your next family reunion. Make a list of those you wish to invite, choose a date, place, and theme, set up a planning committee. Get tips from Reunions Magazine.
  • Plan that dream trip to your ancestral homeland or take a virtual tour through Google Earth.

2. Start a heritage craft. With the holidays just around the corner, why not skip the mall or online shopping frenzy, and make a gift your family will cherish? Making your family history a part of your day-to-day life will stir up interest (and perhaps elicit information) the next time a relative visits. Add ancestral photos in a wall hanging such as the WallVerbs11-piece family tree ($39.99) You also could give someone the tree-themed decals and family names from and inspire them to show their roots (The large Photo Tree decal is perfect for displaying pictures), or get creative with family tree displays (click here to for some suggestions). If you like to sew, another great gift is a family history quilt. Fun Stuff For Genealogists carries preprinted fabric panels you add names to, or do a Google image search for family tree quilts. You can also use a photo gift site such as Shutterfly, create a family history book, or calendar with’s MyCanvas, or self-publish your favorite family recipes in a cookbook using Check Pinterest for even more ideas.

3. Continue your genealogy education. What better time is there to learn something new than Family History Month? Perhaps you can still catch a special event hosted by a genealogical society during October. Find a list of upcoming national, state, regional events at Conference Keepers, or look for upcoming Legacy Family Tree webinars you can watch from the comfort of home. Legacy QuickGuides® also provide you with quick tips and handy references to assist with your research (there are now more than 85 topics to choose from).

Don’t let Family History Month pass you by. There’s still time left to make some heritage happen!

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer, and has been tracking her ancestors for 23 years. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via

Photo: The John Alzo family. Courtesy of Lisa A. Alzo

Back to School: Genealogy Style

Thanks to guest-blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this fun article.

It's hard to believe that we've unofficially said “So Long!” to summer now that Labor Day has come and gone. Students of all ages have settled into their routines of a new school year, and are now filling their days with classes, homework, and extracurricular activities. This time of year can be a great time for genealogists to learn something new as well. Whether you're looking to improve your research skills, prepare for certification, or get tips on how to use a new database or technology, there’s no better time to get into learning mode. Here are five suggestions.

1. Curriculum.

There’s no need to sit in a stuffy, or overcrowded classroom to get your genea-education fix, when you can learn online, at home, in your pajamas! Simply go to to register for some fantastic free fall webinars, including: Using Newspapers, Using Court Records, Researching Ohio Ancestors, and many more! Click here to see the full list of upcoming webinars. And, when you sign up as a subscriber (now just $49.95 annually), you'll get on-demand access to the entire video archives, including webinars on specialized topics such as, The Genealogy of Your House, Ten Hidden Resources Every Genealogist Should Know, and You Use WHAT for Genealogy? Wonderful Uses for Unusual Tools. There’s a total of 188 hours and 497 pages of instructor handouts. What a convenient way to get “genealogy education where you are!” It’s easy to enroll and you won’t have to commute long distances or wait for the bus!

2. Course Materials.

In addition to the great instructor handouts you get as a FamilyTreeWebinars subscriber, you can supplement your learning experience with Legacy QuickGuides™. Newly available topics include: Using Probate Records, Ukrainian Genealogy, Researching the Family Legend, and more! Don't forget old favorites too, such as Cemetery Research, Finding Your Female Ancestors, and Using U.S. Census Records, among others. Find the complete list here. If you’re new to Legacy Family Tree software, or want to learn about features in Legacy 8 you haven't tried, see Legacy 8 in action with Geoff Rasmussen’s new book, Legacy Family Tree – Unlocked! Get the PDF edition free when you purchase the 236-page paperback. Click here to buy your copy now.

3. Field Trips.

Apply the skills you learn from Legacy Webinars with some onsite research, or what I like to call "immersion genealogy." Visit the courthouse, a public, college, or university library, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or one of its many FamilySearch Centers, or plan a trip to your ancestral town or village! Conferences and meetings are also a great way to get out and meet fellow genealogists and get even more education. Find a list of upcoming national, state, regional events at Conference Keepers. Also, it's not too early to make plans for 2014. First up is the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) to be held January 13-17, 2014 at the Radisson Hotel in Salt Lake City. While some of the more popular courses may already be filled, (check out specialized tracks, such as New York Research, Researching in Eastern Europe, Producing a Quality Family Narrative). Then, in February, is RootsTech 2014 also in Salt Lake City. And, if you’re registering for either of these events, why not plan to arrive early, or stay a few days after to research in the Family History Library and make it a combined field trip!

4. Recess.

Genealogy education should not be “all work and no play.” Share what you’ve learned with your family members and other researchers via a Blog (see the GeneaBloggers website for a list of more than 3,000 genealogy and family history blogs. Engage others through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or through Google Hangouts (such as Monday’s with Myrt (DearMyrtle), or the What’s Up Genealogy or GenChat.

5. Extra credit.

Students like extra credit or bonus points. You can do some “genealogy good” too. Mentor a young genealogist (perhaps you can purchase a “getting started” gift such as one of the Legacy QuickGuides™ to pass along to him or her). Tell a friend about Family Tree Webinars, or inquire about showing one of the webinars at your genealogy society’s next meeting.

Whatever your continuing education plans, don’t forget to keep an open mind and be willing to try something new. And remember: Be serious about your research, but have fun doing it!

Happy Learning!

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer. She is a frequent presenter for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

1921 Canada Census Now Available Online

Looks like the 1921 Census of Canada is now available and online for the first time ever today! Click here to being browsing. It does not yet appear to be indexed, but browsing by location is possible.

I've got lots of my wife's relatives to search for plus a few of my own that migrated northward. What about you? Let me know here who you find!

It's a happy day! Life is short, do genealogy first!

Genealogy at a music concert

What does a piano and a cello have to do with genealogy? A lot more than I thought.

My wife and I attended The Piano Guys concert last week in Boise, Idaho. Being both a pianist and a cellist myself, I love the music these guys produce. Their YouTube videos have brought them attention around the world. (My favorite video is here.)

Anyways, during the concert, Steven Sharp Nelson (the cellist) started talking genealogy. I don't remember his exact words, but they went something like this:

"I've recently begun my genealogical research. After looking into the genealogy of my cello and the genealogy of John's piano, I've found that they share a common ancestor - the TREE!"

I thought it was cute...and it gives me a little bit of pride whenever I hear someone talk genealogy. It's music to my ears.

Have You Really Looked Everywhere?

Thanks to guest blogger and webinar speaker, Lisa Alzo, for the following article.

As a genealogist are you a creature of habit? When looking for ancestors do you tend to search only online? Do you visit the same databases over and over again, hoping to get that “magic” result? You know - the one with the special power to help you break down your research brick wall? Do you shy away from investigating an offline resource that’s tucked away in a courthouse basement, a library across the country, or foreign archive because it’s too time consuming, too expensive, or takes too long to obtain?

Sometimes we need to break out of the mindset of wanting our desired genealogical information to come easy. Let's face it, we’re all a bit spoiled by all of the great record images and indexes and other data available to us online, whether through free or subscription-based websites. But there is so much information we miss because it's not convenient or desirable to step away from our computers, tablets, and mobile devices.

Other Resources

Genealogists learn about conducting a “Reasonably Exhaustive Search” (one of the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard), but sometimes we need a reminder. Think about the research you have done, and then consider those “hidden” or underused resources that you either haven't thought to look for, didn't know about, or dismiss because you prematurely assume your ancestors won't be found in them.

Hide-n-seek Sources

Here are three places where you may discover hidden information.

1. Personal and Family Documents. I know you’re probably thinking, “What more can I possibly find in home sources?” Or, perhaps, “But, I don’t have personal items that belonged to my ancestors.” You should review all the research materials you gathered, whether you inherited from your parents, grandparents, or other relatives, or whether you have had to get the information from public records. Have you missed any clues?

Have you considered the name of a witness on a marriage license or naturalization petition, or the names of the godparents on a baptismal record, and how these individuals were connected to the ancestor you’re researching?

Check through the ephemera too, and ask all of your relatives to check through their attics, basements, closets, and storage units.

For example, I have an international money order receipt found by my cousin that documents my paternal grandfather sent money back to his parents in Slovakia so his family could purchase land (some of the land is still owned by relatives today). This piece of paper includes my great-grandmother’s maiden name! In addition to this gem, I have church lodge paperwork listing my grandparents as officers, many historic postcards from the towns where my ancestors lived, my mother’s bridal book, and my father’s navy diary, among other keepsakes—all contain clues I have used in my research.


2. A Different Database. Do you routinely search just, or FamilySearch? Consider typing your ancestor’s name into a search field of a database you might not normally check, such as the United States National Archives and Records Administration’s Access to Archival Database sets (free to search), or doing a search on Mocavo. For example, I’ve known about subscription site FindMyPast for years, but because I don't have English, Irish, or Welsh ancestors (my ancestral villages are in Slovakia) I never bothered to search the site. Recently, I decided to run a search for some surnames in FindMyPast. Imagine my surprise when I found the surname in Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, some Birth, Marriage, Death (BMD) indexes, and even a small story in one of the British newspapers about a coroner’s request into a death of an infant who had this surname. This search has provided many leads for me to follow for more information.

Lisa43. Town or County History Books. Have you checked ALL of the town and county resources in the area(s) where your ancestors lived? Many genealogists use Google Books to find these books, such as the one shown at right (History of Pittsburgh and environs).

But, countless more can be found in public, college, and university libraries around the world. Don't brush these resources aside just because you can't search them online, or because it’s not convenient or easy. Can't get there? Start by contacting the library—most will have a website, or pick up the telephone or e-mail them. If the staff will not do lookups (some will for a fee), ask for a contact at the local genealogical and historical society, and then ask that person for recommendations for a local researcher you could hire, or use a professional researcher. For recommendations, check Cyndi’s List—Professionals, Volunteers & Other Research Services, or the Association for Professional Genealogists. Reach out to your social networks, perhaps you can find someone who is willing to help (just remember to pay it forward and offer to help someone else who may need information that you can get or provide).

Don't forget the Local Histories section of Legacy Family Tree's Research Guidance. It contains the most comprehensive listing of available local and county histories for the United States. In Research Guidance, click on the Preliminary Survey tab, then click on the Local Histories tab. Legacy will display all known books for just the locations where your ancestor lived.


Also check out our brand new Legacy QuickGuide: Researching County Histories.

Lisa's Webinar

You can learn more about these and other underused resources in my upcoming Legacy webinar on “Ten Hidden Resources Every Genealogist Should Know” on Wednesday, May 22, 1013. Click here to reserve your space now!