How to Write a Family History Narrative in 30 Days

Is writing a family history one of the items on your to-do list? Perhaps you have self-doubts and fears about how to get started, what to write, and how to put it all together in a compelling way? The only way to overcome the obstacle of facing the blank page is to make a commitment and start writing! Here are seven tips to help you write a family history narrative in 30 days.

  How to Write a Family History Narrative in 30 Days

1.   Give yourself a deadline. Since 1999, National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) has served as an online writing forum where registered participants begin working on November 1 towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. See https://nanowrimo.org/press#nanofacts. I have participated in NANOWRIMO twice. If this sounds intimidating, you can create your own version of NANOWRIMO for your family history writing project. While you don’t have to write 50,000 words, you can commit to producing a draft of your narrative using the November 1-30 deadline as a guide. The pace you set is entirely up to you.

2. Find your focus. Many family historians mistakenly think they have to write one large manuscript in their first attempt. It is much easier to focus on a smaller project such as ancestor profiles, or on one event or time period of an ancestor’s life (immigration story, military service, work history, etc.). You will feel less overwhelmed working on a smaller project and more likely to finish what you've started.

3. Set SMART writing goals. One way to focus your project is to set SMART Goals. SMART is an acronym giving criteria to guide in the setting of objective. There are a number of interpretations of the acronym's meaning, the most common designations are: Specific, Measurable, Relevant (Realistic), Attainable (Actionable) and Time-Bound. Here is an example of a SMART writing goal for writing four ancestor profiles in 30 days.

  • Specific - I will write a profile for each of my grandparents (4 profiles). I will work on one profile per week.
  • Measurable – I will write a profile for each of my grandparents. I will write 1200-1500 words for each profile.
  • Attainable (Actionable) - I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. For each profile, I will write 250-300 words per day for 5 days.
  • Relevant (Realistic) – I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. I will work on one profile per week. I will do this by writing 250-300 words per day for five days.
  • Time-Bound – I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. I will work on one profile per week. I will do this by writing 250-300 words per day for five days. I will have all four profiles completed by 30 November 2018.

By breaking your writing tasks into smaller daily or weekly goals the process becomes less overwhelming and you are more likely to stick to your writing routine.

4. Craft a storyboard. A storyboard is a way to visually outline or map out your writing project. It helps to plot out your family history writing project using index cards or a project management tool like Scrivener.  (To learn more about Scrivener, watch my five-part Legacy Family Tree webinar series). The objective of the storyboard is to jot down the main events of the story you are telling, then arrange them in chronological order (first to last). If you need to, you can then move them around to create another structure that makes sense for the story, such as a flashback. Virtual index cards created with a program such as Scrivener make this task much easier. The index cards should be used to describe your scenes or write down key points you want to include, but should not contain long sections of text.  Try to stick to one scene, event, or major point per card. For storyboarding tips, watch the Legacy Family Tree Webinar “Storyboard Your Family History.”

5. Write daily. The premise of NANOWRIMO is to write every day. It is important that you schedule time to write. Block out writing time on your calendar and make every effort to adhere to that appointment just as you would any other commitment. To succeed at finishing your family history narrative you must be willing to put in the time and effort. If you need to block out distractions (social media, e-mail, etc.) choose a quiet place to write where you can shut the door and turn off all electronic devices, or if you need to leave the house, consider going to a library or coffee shop to write. If you are really serious about distraction-free writing, edit lock tools such as The Most Dangerous Writing App or WriteorDie force you to set parameters and stick to them otherwise your words will disappear!

6. Rest and revise. Once you have a draft, it is a good idea to let your writing rest. Put your draft aside, and have someone you trust read your prose and provide feedback. Then, go through your narrative and fix the punctuation, grammar, and any other problem areas. When you finish, you can decide whether to create a book (print or electronic) using a print-on-demand service such as Lulu, or share your stories on a blog. 

7. Remember: You Can’t Edit a Blank Page! You don’t have to write the perfect narrative the first time you sit down at your keyboard. Avoid the paralysis of perfectionism. Just write something. Once you start you will build up a momentum to finish the story.

While November is a great time to start that family history narrative (just in time for holiday gift-giving), you can follow these seven steps during any 30-day time period.

No more excuses! Stop procrastinating and start writing!

 

For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 44 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, include nine on Writing and Publishing. Lisa coaches aspiring family history writers through her online courses at Research, Write, Connect https://www.researchwriteconnect.com 

 


3 Underused Resources for Finding Eastern European Ancestors

3 Underused Resources for Finding Eastern European Ancestors

While church registers are the most popular and useful sources for tracing most Eastern European ancestors, and civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths provide even more details, there are other record groups to be searched that may prove useful. If you are coming up empty in the search for vital records in a particular locality, here are three of the most underused resources to put on your research list.

1. Census Records

As you probably learned from exploring U.S. or Canadian census records for your ancestors, the prime value of census records is for grouping families together. In Eastern Europe, censuses were usually taken for tax and military conscription purposes. Searching census records can be hit or miss depending on the country, the region, and whether or not registers have been preserved. Because of shifting borders and the destruction of records during wartime hostilities, only relatively small portions of certain record groups survived in many instances. Therefore, you should check registers of births, marriages, and deaths (not census records) first, opposite of what genealogists typically do when looking at North American records for their ancestors. Also look for census substitutes such as city or parish directories or confession lists.

As you search for census records, keep in mind the two keys to successful research in Eastern Europe:

1. You must learn the immigrant’s original name
2. You need to obtain the specific name of town or village of origin

These steps are typically accomplished by a reasonably exhaustive search in records where your immigrant ancestor settled (for example, US and Canadian records).

As shown in the example below, I was able to locate the Figlyar family in the Slovakia Census, 1869 Szepes Oszturnya (Osturňa). These returns are digitized and available through the FamilySearch website. Because the database is “browse only” it is essential to know the village name with its Hungarian spelling (Oszturnya) since at the time Slovakia was administratively under control of the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as the historical Hungarian country name (Szepes).

Ed-OsturnaHouse20Figlyarrecord-image_3QSQ-G99V-FKK
Slovakia Census, 1869," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G99V-FKK?cc=1986782&wc=QZ77-BDV%3A323642001%2C323933701 : 3 November 2015), Szepes > Oszturnya (Osturňa) > image 49 of 610; Bytča, Banská Bystrica, and Nitra Regional Archives.

A good first step to determining what might be available for the locality you are researching is to use the FamilySearch Wiki and click on the country (e.g. Slovakia). Then, click on the link for “Census” (where available) to get more information. You should also search the Family History Library Catalog by Place and then look for the Census category keeping in mind that not all records of the Family History Library have been digitized and some records are still only available on microfilm.

Websites by individuals and organizations may also contain indexes or images of census and other types of data sets. An online search query for the country name and the word “census” can often link you to these resources, or use the Online Records button on the FamilySearch Wiki page for the specific country and click the Blue Button that says Online Records to get to a chart with links to country wide collections. For example, Russia Online Records shows under the Census category a link to a FamilySearch collection Russia, Tatarstan Confession Lists, 1775-1932, which serves as a census substitute.

2. Occupational Records

While many of my ancestors were peasant farmers, I also discovered ancestors who worked in specific trades (My great-grandfather, Mihaly Fencsak was a bootmaker and my other great-grandfather, Andrej Straka worked as a tailor). You may be able to find guild records or occupational directories. Since guilds were associations of professionals with similar economic interests based on a certain craft or trade (such as tannery, metalworking, tailoring, and shoemaking, among others), some of these records are still in the possession of the guilds, others have been collected into local, city, regional, or state archives. Sometimes paperwork is found in home and family sources. For example, below is a scanned image of pages 2 and 3 of my grandfather’s 15-page worker pass book from Hungary. In order to learn the details, I hired someone to translate the pages from Hungarian into English. In addition, to listing his date of birth, and that he was Greek Catholic, the worker pass contained a physical description of my grandfather (low figure, a round face, gray eyes, regular nose, healthy teeth and brown/maroon hair) and he had an apprenticeship certificate and his occupation was listed as a cartwright assistant/helper.

Worker-Pass

Online sources such as the Czech Occupation Dictionary and the Industry and Trade Directory of Hungary in 1891 with an alphabetical list of occupations and industries can help you learn more about occupations. [NOTE: these are just two examples—you will likely find more].

3. Town or Village Genealogies or Histories

Town genealogies are known by various names, including “town lineage book,” “local heritage book,” “one-place-studies,” “Ortssippenbuch (OSB),” and “Ortsfamilienbuch (OFB). You can find a list of these on Genealogy.net. The Odessa Digital Library has a Village History Project and links to Village Records and Compilations.

One of my favorite research discoveries is a page from a local history book Dejiny Osturne that contains a copy of an 1855 summons for Jan Figler (one of my ancestors) to appear at the Mayor’s office. While the notice does not give any additional details, it does provide historical context for this particular family.

If you are a Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscriber, you can view a copy of this record in the syllabus for “10 Eastern European Genealogy Resources You Might Be Missing.”

Town or local history books may reside in the local mayor’s office, the town hall, library or museum, or if you are lucky they could be available online. A simple search of your ancestral town or village can lead you to its website where you may find historical images and information, and often contact information for the mayor. For example, the website for my grandmother’s village of Milpoš contains a section on its history. While the Milpoš site is in Slovak, I opted to have Google Chrome translate the page into English. Also, don't forget to search Facebook for town and village pages. 

Continuing Your Search

FamilySearch and other online resources such as Google Books, Internet Archive and personal, archival, or organizational websites are excellent places to start looking for miscellaneous records. However, keep in mind that many of these hard to get resources may only be available in printed format in books kept by the town or village offices, or documents housed in state, regional, or local archives. Remember, there is no easy button when it comes to tracking down overlooked records for your ancestors, but if you are lucky enough to do so they may provide additional clues for further research.

Learn more Eastern European research tips from Lisa's classes on Legacy Family Tree Webinars. 

 

For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 44 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, including nine on Eastern European research. Visit her website www.lisaalzo.com


3 Ways to Get Records from Foreign Archives

3 Ways to Get Records from Foreign Archives

Genealogy research in Central and Eastern Europe has come a long way in the past decade. It used to be that locating a church or civil registration record required much effort and long waiting times. Your options for accessing records were: 1) traveling to perform onsite research in archives, 2) spending a fortune to hire a professional to do the research for you, 3) writing a letter and hoping the registrar’s office or priest would understand and answer your questions or 4) hoping records for your ancestral village were included among those microfilmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah and made available through the Family History Library.

Today, the landscape for researchers has changed, and there are more options for tracking down grandma’s baptismal document or great-grandpa’s Austrian military service record.  Here are three ways to get the records you need from foreign archives.

  1. Start with FamilySearch. FamilySearch.org has a growing collection of church and civil registration records from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and other localities. First, check out the Digital Collections. From the FamilySearch home page, click the magnifying glass labeled Search, then click “Browse All Published Collections.” Choose Continental Europe and scroll to find the country you’re searching for (e.g., Slovakia). You can also type an ancestor’s name in the search boxes on the left-hand side, click on a map for a location, or if you know the name of the specific collection, start typing the first few letters of the name in the Collection title box; matching choices (such as Slovak, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1910) will pop up underneath.

    Be sure to read the directions! When you get to the collection’s page, read the description carefully to understand what exactly is included. Click the “Learn More” button to access related FamilySearch Wiki articles on a particular collection or topic. Make sure you sign up for a free FamilySearch account and follow the FamilySearch Blog or subscribe to the FamilySearch newsletter to receive notifications whenever the collections are added or updated.

    In addition, you will want to check the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilms you can view if you plan a visit to the Family History Library, or you can hire a researcher to view them on your behalf (Starting September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services, which mean you will no longer have the option to order and view films at a Family History Center. Read more about it on the FamilySearch Blog). Start with a Place search to see if there are any church or civil registration records available. Although most localities will turn up this way, not all villages or towns had a church or synagogue for each religion. Often residents would need to travel to the nearest neighboring village. Once you find the location, click to see the microfilm catalog title, and you will be able to determine if the content is digitized and available. On the catalog title, under Format and next to the microfilm number, you will find a magnifying glass icon (indicating the microfilm is at least partially indexed), a camera icon (indicating the microfilm is digitized), and a film icon (indicating you will need to order the film). You can also search the catalog by keyword, subject, or film number (if known).

   FHL-Film-Note

Fenscakcropped
 This cropped muster roll page from the Varannó military district of Hungary, now Vranov, Czechoslovakia,  shows the 1873 entry (second row) for Mihály Fencsák, from Póssa, Slovakia.  Details include parents’ first names, height and chest size, religion, and “weak returned” as the decision of the committee for induction or transfer. The image can be browsed online at FamilySearch.org.

 

  1. Archival Websites. A number of archives have put some of their records online. The Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia, for example.  You can use the FamilySearch Wiki for each country and click the blue "Online Records" button to see a table with a list of online records. You can also use Google, or another search engine to search for an archive, or consult websites for ethnic genealogical societies such as the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, the Polish Genealogical Society International, East European Genealogical Society, or the Foundation for East European Family History Studies. Once you locate an archival portal, check for an English interface (look for the word “English” or the American flag symbol), and look first for any finding aids or help sections. Some sites require you to set up a free account.
  1. Commercial Websites and Other Online Portals.  Those researching in Western European countries often find good coverage of church and civil registration records on subscription sites such as Findmypast.com or Ancestry.com, as well as other dedicated websites. However, those with Central and Eastern European roots often have to look a bit harder to find these records, but online collections do exist. For example, the JewishGen website has a large collection of databases and resources including the Jewish Records Indexing Poland project, and several Eastern European Special Interest Groups. Those with Czech Roots will want to explore Portafontium. For Polish researchers, the Poznan Projectand Geneteka are good resources. Facebook groups can also be helpful (groups exist for many ethnicities).

Finally, remember that not all records are online—and some areas are not yet included—so in many instances, you’ll still need to consult the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilmed records, contact churches or archives, or consult with a researcher based in that country for hard-to-get records and translation assistance. Professional firms can give you a quote. You can also check with an ethnic genealogical society, or ask for recommendations on social media. But the good news is that getting copies of your ancestor’s records from foreign archives and repositories is not as difficult as it once was 10 or 15 years ago, and more records are being digitized and indexed all the time. You should make it a habit to periodically check FamilySearch, archival sites and other sources for new and updated content.

For more tips on researching your Eastern European Ancestors watch these webinars in the Legacy library.

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.

 


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.

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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.