Case Studies as Genealogy Learning Tools

Case Studies as Genealogy Learning Tools

It's no wonder that when Legacy Webinars announced their most-watched webinars for 2023, Elizabeth Shown Mills featured prominently. Aside from the opportunity to learn from an expert in the field, she teaches by example. Many of the webinars she and other speakers from that list provided were based on case studies. Case studies aren't just popular as webinars; they are essential to our genealogical education and research. Why?

How do we, as researchers, learn how to do better research? Some of the ways we know might include reading or taking courses in methodology. Working on our research, learning by doing is also essential. Case studies are another way to learn as we go beyond a knowledge of common record sets and focus on problem-solving. It's through hearing the experiences of others that we can learn to do better research.

You might wonder how you could learn anything from a case study focusing on a location like New England when your research focuses on Spain. Genealogist Kimberly Powell wrote in her article on Genealogy Case Studies:

What is so eye-opening about the research of others, especially if the individuals or places in question have nothing to do with your own family? There is no better way to learn (aside from your own hands-on practice) than through the successes, mistakes, and techniques of other genealogists. A genealogical case study can be as simple as an explanation of the discovery and analysis of a particular record, to the research steps taken to trace a particular family back through several generations. Each one, however, gives us a glimpse into research problems that we ourselves may face in our own genealogy searches, approached through the eyes and experience of leaders in the genealogical field.[1]

Choosing webinars based on the speaker or how closely the topic matches what we are researching is not unusual. However, with case studies, we want to consider how the presenter solved the problem. What steps did they take? What questions did they ask? Where did they go for answers? Asking those questions means that the places and surnames may be inconsequential. Our focus is the steps the researcher took.

In a recent Legacy webinar I listened to by Gary Ball-Kilbourne PhD, CG titled The Many Wives of Howard William Lowe: Working with Social History to Glean Genealogical Insights his subject married five times. One of the marriages ended in the spouse's death but what happened in the others? Divorce is an obvious answer, but he didn't find the divorce records he expected to. So, he used social history to better understand how couples ended marriages in that time period. He understood that he needed to look beyond his understanding of modern marriage and divorce and instead look at the time period. His research into that question provided the answer. His research and handout are a must for others who exhaust traditional records sources and need to understand an era and location better.

It's easy to discount case studies, whether written or presented. They aren't necessarily "entertaining," and they may seemingly have nothing to do with your research because they are focused on a different location and surname. But that's not the point. Case studies help us better understand how to solve problems. They are the reason we read genealogy journals such as The National Genealogical Society Quarterly and listen to presenters' explain their research. As we choose what case studies to attend, consider what the presenter's research question is and how they found that answer. Use their handout to read more and possibly pick up sources to help your research.

[1] "Genealogy Case Studies," Thought Co ( accessed 3 January 2023).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


From Mystery to History: The Power of Adding Details to Your Photo Collection


When was the last time you poured over your family pictures? Have you stopped to consider how they will look to future generations? Obviously, you want them stored so they last until at least the next generation. But have you also considered what the next generation needs to inherit and caretaker them?

I've spent some time this year scanning and sharing printed photos online via family tree and cloud storage websites. But there's one other step we need to consider as we protect and share those images. Who is in that picture?

Who is that?

I've been labeling a lot of family photos lately. As a family historian, some images are easy for me to label. I know who those family members are and I easily recognize them. But I've also run into some problems. There are photos of family members that I know are family members, I know what side of the family they are from, and I even know they are siblings of a direct ancestor, but for the life of me, I can't remember their names. In some cases I have problems identifying people in images if they look "different" from what I remember.

As family historians, we know the difficulty in identifying inherited photos. But have you considered the photos of your immediate family? Now is the time to label those photos your family has posed for or had taken. Sure, you know that photo is of you and your mother, but as you consider a child, grandchild, or other family member inheriting those photos, they won't have the same frame of reference that you do. Those photos may be in danger of being discarded if no one can identify the people in the picture.

Start today. Identify those printed photos. Write what you know on the back of the photo. Use a soft lead pencil on older photos like cabinet cards that are mounted on cardboard. Don't use a hard lead pencil, which can indent. For newer photos, use a waterproof, photo-safe archival pen or marker. Don't use ballpoint pens because they will cause you to create indentations in your photo. They can also smudge.

What information should you label your photographs with? At the very least, identify the people in the picture. Make sure to use their names and not something like "grandma" or "dad." That won't help family members in the future since they don't know who labeled the photograph. Depending on what the image is of, consider information such as:

  • Date: To help place the photograph in a year range or specific date. It can also help to understand who is in the photograph
  • Location: Even if it's in front of someone's house, identify who's house and the address
  • Event: Why was the photo taken? Was it for Thanksgiving or other holiday celebration? Was it at a funeral or a wedding? Was it just an annual school photo (what grade/what year/what school?) Providing a little context will help descendants understand the image better.

Depending on the size of the printed picture, you might be limited to what can be included. Include what you can, the most important being identifying people.

To learn more about preserving and sharing family photographs, visit the Legacy Webinar Library category Photos and Digital Images.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


3 Things to Know About Using Hathi Trust for Genealogy Research

3 Things to Know About Using Hathi Trust for Genealogy Research

Are you using the website Hathi Trust for your research? Hathi Trust's mission is "…to contribute to research, scholarship, and the common good by collaboratively collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge." They do this by providing digitized books and periodicals scanned from partner institutions. Like any website, diving in and exploring is a great way to learn more, but here are three things you need to know as an introduction.

Hathi trust

#1 Hathi Trust is a collaborative website

Two hundred member libraries worldwide help Hathi Trust users access 18 million digital items. Member libraries include "research libraries, community colleges, liberal arts schools, government agencies, and more." If you want to see if one of your local libraries is a member, visit their Member List web page.

#2 Membership has its privileges

Hathi Trust is not a subscription website. Individuals cannot pay for a subscription. Users accessing Hathi Trust from a member library or with a library card from one of those libraries benefit by being able to download digital items and having access to the entire collection. Don't worry if you do not have institutional access. 40% of Hathi Trust is available to anyone. You do not need to sign in to the website. This chart on the How to Search & Access web page breaks down what public users can and cannot access.

Hathi Trust chart

One tip I have is that because Google digitized 95% of the collection if you come across an item you cannot access, go to Google Books and see if you can find it there.

To learn more about accessing the collection, see the web page How to Search & Access:

#3 Hathi Trust is more than books, but it's not Internet Archive

Unlike Internet Archive, Hathi Trust does have limits in regards to what materials are available. Hathi Trust includes "Books and book-like items. This includes books, magazines, newspapers, sheet music, journals, and government documents. (There are no audio/visual files.)" Internet Archive is a collaborative website, but anyone, libraries, museums, and even individuals, can contribute. Internet Archive also includes video and audio files.

Hathi trust search

To start searching Hathi Trust, consider a keyword you want to use. This could be an ancestor's name, a location, or any keyword that describes them or their life. Search using the top search toolbar. Once you have your results list, use the left-side menu to narrow or focus your search. You can also access an Advanced Search tool at the top of your results page.

Access to multiple digital collection websites can help you find the needed resources. If you haven't used Hathi Trust before, try it and see what books you can find that can help with your research.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


3 Websites to Learn More About Preserving Your Family Records

3 Websites to Learn More About Preserving Your Family Records

Family historians research, but we also collect. We collect and inherit documents that tell the story of our ancestor’s lives. As the curator of these items, we are tasked with not only interpreting and sharing but ensuring their preservation for future generations. It’s a job that most of us have limited knowledge or experience with, but there are websites that can help.

The Library of Congress

The Preservation page at the Library of Congress offers resources for everything from getting preservation questions answered to learning more about preserving various types of items. Explore the menu found on the left-hand side to learn more about preservation. One of the topics in the menu, Resources, will help you to find educational materials that will be helpful for you, your family, and even any presentations you may provide. If you have items that need a professional to repair any damage, this website includes information on finding and hiring a conservator. For those in Canada, consult the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators website.

The National Archives (U.S.)

The U.S. National Archives has an illustrated brochure from a previous virtual Genealogy Fair that can help you know the basics of preserving your heirlooms. You’ll find it in the PDF at The general information about handling, storing, and displaying are good reminders for everyone tasked with storing family heirlooms.The U.S. National Archives also has a webpage that explores how they preserve records and how you can preserve your family archive. Learn more about digitizing and storing paper documents and photographs. They even tackle the problem of paper items that hold mold or are infested with bugs. The Storing Family Papers and Photograph section discusses storing individual pages, albums, and rolled documents.

The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has a blog post entitled Six Tips for Preserving Family Archives that includes tips by archive staff. One tip that would help future genealogists is to label photographs with not only the name of the person but also their birth/death dates. Doing so helps in clearly identifying people, especially those who share a name with someone in the previous or next generation. Clear identification is part of preserving items for the future.

It’s important that we keep our family heirlooms and documents in a way that preserves them for the future. Digitizing and archivally storing items can help. Sometimes, a conservator might be needed to repair damaged items; consult the websites above for an expert.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Blizzard! The Weather and Our Ancestors

Blizzard! The Weather and Our Ancestors

I just finished a book for my book club by Melanie Benjamin titled The Children's Blizzard. This historical fiction account of the January 12, 1888 weather event, referred to as the "children's blizzard" or the "schoolhouse blizzard," struck the Great Plains (Territories of North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho; and the states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota), resulting in at least 235 deaths. What started as a warm day quickly changed as residents were caught off guard by a sudden and deadly blizzard that struck while children were in school. The sudden change of weather was especially fatal since it had seemingly come out of nowhere as communities were going about their day, trapping them unprepared and away from home in a bitterly cold and dense storm. School children were part of the casualties as they tried to make their way home only to be overcome by the cold and the inability to see through the snow.

The book focuses on school teachers and their charges. I won't go into a plot summary here, but what struck me as I read it was how the author describes that day and how it impacted her fictional characters. She brings to life the characters by describing the

  • "look" of weather
  • feel of the weather
  • what severe weather does to the human body
  • how severe weather kills

As I read the book, I was struck by how it could easily describe an ancestral experience, even though it is historical fiction. 

Have you considered how the weather impacted your ancestors? That isn't a topic we consider very often, but as I read this book, I quickly realized how the weather impacted everything from our ancestor's homes to their gardens and livestock to their family and friends. Severe, long-lasting injuries and death could have resulted from the weather.

How can you learn about severe weather where your ancestors lived? The newspaper is one place to search. Weather reports and disasters are found in the newspaper. Make sure to look at the newspaper for the days following the event for any reports of damage or death. It's also possible that nearby newspapers also carried reports, even if they weren't impacted. One website with historical weather information is the Weather Underground. Searching online for historical weather will provide other relevant websites as well.

If you're interested in reading more about the blizzard, the book The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin is a non-fiction account. The Wikipedia page about the blizzard that can serve as an introduction.

Have you written about your ancestors and the weather? I'd be interested to hear about your experience in the comments below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



How Do You Tell a Family History Story – Audio

How Do You Tell a Family History Story – Audio


We've explored possibilities for telling your family story in the last two blog articles. We've looked at the written word and video. In this article, I want to focus on another way to tell your family story: audio.

How Can You Tell Your Family Story Via Audio?

Most genealogists are familiar with conducting and recording oral interviews. With mobile devices, capturing audio recordings is easy. Most mobile devices have the built-in ability to record audio files, but you can download a recording app and even add an external mic, though it's unnecessary. If you'd rather not use our mobile device, you can use Skype, Zoom, or other programs to record audio from your computer.

How can you conduct an oral interview? It can be as simple as asking a few questions to start a conversation. The Legacy Webinars, Capturing their Stories: Best Practices for Recording Family History Interviews by Colleen Robledo Greene, MLIS and Nicka Smith's The Ultimate Family History Interview can help you with preparing and conducting your interviews.

Audio recordings don't have to be only interviews. You can record yourself talking about memories or stories. Is your family musical? You could record some of the music your family creates. The type and topic of the recording are only limited by your imagination.

Once your audio files are recorded, you can either upload the files to a cloud software program to be available to other family members or edit the files and create your family podcast. Articles online can help you through the steps of creating a podcast, including How to Record Your Own Family History Podcast from Family Tree Magazine.

If you create a family podcast, consider using a blog to add the link, transcription, and any records or images accompanying the episode. That way, your family can listen to the podcast and see any images you are describing or help tell the story.

Other opportunities exist for recording interviews. Programs like Story Corps encourage families to record stories in their studios or with the Story Corps App. The Story Corp website includes "great questions" to ask to get the conversation started.

For those planning a trip to Salt Lake City, The FamilySearch Library (previously known as the Family History Library) has a recording studio where you can record in audio or video. Some FamilySearch Centers also offer a recording studio.

What Story Will You Tell?

Can you utilize audio files for your family history story? Yes! Sometimes, you can use text, video, and audio files to tell the story your family is waiting for. Take some time to consider what family stories you want to tell and how to best do them. I'd love to hear your ideas. Please post them in the comments below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How Do You Tell a Family Story - Video

How Do You Tell a Family Story: Video

Last week, I asked, "How Do You Tell a Family Story?"  In that article, I focused on a book-length treatment of your family history. Thanks to everyone who commented on how they tell their family story. Keep those comments coming because we will revisit them in a future blog post.

I focused on the written word, but there are other ways to tell a story. With today's technological advances, you can skip the book and tell a story using video. Depending on length, videos can be uploaded to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook or saved as an MP4 file to be placed on a computer or mobile device.

Your mobile device can be used to take videos for your family story. Additional accessories such as external microphones, tripods, and ring lights can help but aren't mandatory. You can make your video as simple or more complex (adding music and subtitles) as you want. However, keep in mind that a family history video should be short (ideally less than 15 minutes). Why? People (your family) are likelier to watch a short video than a long one. Consider making several shorter videos if you have a long story to tell.

To help get started in creating a family video, consider the following Legacy webinars on the topic for best practices:

What could you create a family video about? Just like the book-length treatment, the possibilities are endless. Some examples include:

  • A recreation of a family recipe
  • An interview with a family member exploring one question
  • Asking several family members to share their memories of an ancestor or an event
  • An overview of a family reunion
  • A "field trip" to a family home, a burial place, an ancestral town.
  • An heirloom and the story behind the heirloom

Will You Tell Their Story With Video?

The benefit of sharing family history via video is it can be easier and quicker than writing a book or a long narrative. Those who don't feel comfortable writing might find this alternative preferable. A brief interview with grandma (or yourself) can start you on the route of providing your shared family history with your descendants.

Have you told a family history story via video? Share the link with us in the comments below. Also, feel free to share your ideas and best practices.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How Do You Tell A Family History Story?

How Do You Tell A Family History Story?

One of the questions I have been pondering is how do you tell your ancestors' stories? How do you tell their story, whether it's an individual ancestor, a family, or a specific family line?

When I started researching genealogy, I would read Everton's Genealogical Helper. In the Helper were advertisements for publishers who would print family history tomes. I remember thinking this was the research's ultimate goal: to publish a thick hardback book tracing one's family back generations. Then one of these publishers printed the books, and you would distribute them to all who wanted to pay $50 or so to get a copy.

But that was a long time ago, before the internet and the technological tools we have today. So is this the only way to tell a family's story?

It can be, but with self-publishing, online tools, and non-genealogists creatively telling family stories, it's time to rethink the family history tome.

How Do You Tell a Story?

Maybe you've been hesitant to print or publish your family history. I can understand how intimidating it can be with the proper numbering systems, proofreading, and the hundreds of pages it may take. But that's not the only way to tell a story. First, you need to decide who will be included. It can just be one ancestor. It can be a series of small narratives; it doesn't have to be 300 pages.

I'm always looking for exciting ways people tell their family stories. Here are a few examples I have found.


Autobiographical Comic/Graphic Memoir. Yes, I wrote "comic." Though I don't possess this talent, I've read two autobiographical comics with great stories and family history. Plus, what a great way to put your family's story in the younger generations' hands (and non-kids will also enjoy it). I recommend reading Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley and I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib.

Grandma cookbook

Family Cookbook: You can put together a family cookbook in many ways. It might be one of the easier ways to tell your family's story. Don't stop at recipes. Include photos, relationships, and stories. You can use cookbook publisher templates to make it easy, or you can put tougher your cookbook and have it printed via your local copy store. I like this one I picked up at a book sale that is 8 ½ x 11 and includes over 1000 recipes (that's a lot! Don't worry about having much less). It contains photos and information about "Grandma Frank." A cookbook might be an easy way to dip your foot in the family history book water.

Mother charms

A Biography of Their Stuff: Have you considered writing something about your memories or the history of items your ancestors or family owned? My Mother's Charms by Kathleen Oldford looks at the author's inherited charm bracelets and the stories behind the charms. This is a creative way to tell a family story. You can research inherited or just items you remember and tell your family story through these.

How Will You Tell Their Story?

How have you told your family history story? What are your plans for future stories? We can all benefit from the experience of others, so please leave a comment below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Find American Historical Sites with Clio

Summer is winding down, but you may still have a few U.S. travel plans. Do you ever travel to a new place and wonder what historical sites exist? Do you want to take a staycation to visit the historical sites where you live? Clio is one way to identify what historical sites are near you, wherever you are.


Clio is a free, US-based website. The website describes itself as an educational website and mobile application that guides the public to thousands of historical and cultural sites throughout the United States along with nature trails, art walking tours, and virtual tours of museums and sites. Built by scholars for public benefit, each entry includes a concise summary and useful information about a historical site, museum, monument, landmark, or other site of cultural or historical significance. In addition, "time capsule" entries allow users to learn about historical events around them. Each entry offers turn-by-turn directions and links to relevant books, articles, videos, primary sources, and credible websites.

Walking tour

I decided to search their Walking Tours and Heritage Trails. I searched on the state of California, and the result listed four tours. Now obviously, four tours is not comprehensive, but the information on Clio is crowdsourced and so people and intuitions are encouraged to add to the website. This means that Clio continually expands with historical institutions, cities, and individuals adding to the database.

Internment tour

One of the four tours I found was called Japanese American Internment Sites 1942-1946 . Because I just watched Linda Harms Okazaki's World War II "Internment Camps" and Mass Incarceration in the U.S. webinar I decided to take a look at this tour.


The tour starts in California but then goes to other states. It stops at museums, internment camps, and assembly centers. The tour includes present-day and historical photos, text, and maps. If you want to know more, scroll to the bottom of the web page to find sources, including books, articles, and videos.

As you read through the tour, you can plan your trip using the website, the mobile app, or by printing off a customized map.


This is one of those websites you need to explore to fully understand what it can offer. It can take you on a virtual trip even if you aren't traveling.

Black Archives
One of their featured tours was for the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City. This tour is a virtual, 360-degree tour of the museum. By clicking on the green circles, you can read the museum exhibits just as you would if you were visiting in-person. This is an excellent feature for those who can't travel, are planning a trip, or are teaching children history.

Clio is not the only website that allows you to find historical sites where you are or where you want to go. It's not even the only site that offers virtual tours (for worldwide options, see Google Arts and Culture), but it's a great place to explore where our ancestors lived and what may help us better understand their lives.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Inherited Address Books


I've been thinking about items that were commonplace 10+ years ago that are not so common now. These items will soon be considered antiques, worthy of nostalgia and collecting but not used in an ever-changing world.

You know these items and have used them, things like phone booths come to mind. Once in a while, I'll see one at a public place, but largely, depending on where you are, you might be hard-pressed to find one or one that works. In a world where the vast majority of people always have a phone with them, phone booths are a relic.

Another relic that is used by some but most likely not seen as a modern-day necessity is the personal address book. No, not the address book in your cell phone but the actual printed handwritten address book that we use to jot down our family and friends' contact information. These books have evolved with the times, such as including a space for a fax number or, later, an email address, but today they are not as convenient as information easily stored in an electronic mobile device. 

As these personal items, such as address books, disappear, it makes me consider their importance as a genealogist. Having inherited a few address books from family members that have passed, I can attest to their genealogical relevance. Still, these small personal books also may be one of those things that are quickly discarded. After all, you may have to choose what inherited items deserve space in an overcrowded house and which don't.

What makes a source have genealogical value? Many sources we use are "names lists," meaning they are a list of names, perhaps all names in a community or a select, curated list. Think of the census (which tracks almost everyone) or a tax list (which includes only those who pay taxes). From there, genealogical records can contain other biographical information, such as a residential address. It may collect information about an occupation, participation in an event (such as a school graduation), or religious affiliation, to name a few.

How is an address book a genealogically relevant record? What can an old address book hold, especially one that isn't yours? My mom has a fabulous address book given to her as a young bride. It includes family contact information and a place to mark who sent you a Christmas card. For a genealogist, this address book provides family member names that may include those she was in touch with but that I wasn't acquainted with. Notations about Christmas cards can include information about a death or a move. Address books are personal manuscripts. Although, like a form, it specifies what to add and where, owners may annotate other details such as relationship, marriage or death dates, and subsequent residential addresses. They are akin to a diary or journal in that the owner adds information that is relevant to them but, in turn, may have historical relevance to descendants.

As family historians, we need to consider the history we document or are curators of and the information we leave behind about ourselves and our immediate family. What can we add to our old written address books that might help the next generation of researchers? How can we annotate it to make it something that our children and family can read? As we inherit items such as the personal writings of family, we need to take a second look at what may seem like "trash" and see if, instead, they lead us to information not available elsewhere.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.