When is a book a genealogical source?

When is a book a genealogical source?

It’s an unassuming book. It looks more like a marketing piece. Wedding Embassy Yearbook by Macy’s California (a department store chain) is a 130-page hardback. It begins with a store directory for everything the bride needs for her wedding and her first home. After that, the book provides helpful wedding advice about the engagement announcement, the wedding party attire, and etiquette surrounding brides who are widows and “older” (yes, older in this context means 30 years of age. The book states, “The woman of thirty or thereabouts is still sufficiently youthful to wear the traditional wedding gown and veil (p. 111). But for those in their later 30s, you’re better off with a “handsome dress.”)

If you found this in your family library during a decluttering exercise, you might be tempted to throw it out. After all, what genealogical use is it? It might be something you read for nostalgia, but not much else. But if you continue paging through to the back, you find this…


And this…


It’s a genealogical source masking as a department store wedding planner. The name of the bride and groom and attendants are here. The list of everyone who gave a gift, several pages, is here. The only thing not here is the wedding date, though judging from the list of when the gifts were received, it was most likely an October wedding. The book lacks a year, and the bride wrote “4” for the year in her list of gifts received and acknowledged. My original guess was that it might be 1964. Further research showed a California marriage index and a newspaper announcement that verified an October 1964 wedding.

This book is a source of many genealogical facts, from the bride and groom to the family members who gave gifts. Combining this with the online newspaper wedding announcement and a state marriage index, one can piece together that moment in time. Other details like the type of gift given provide some social history clues on what young couples received as they started their life together.

Now here’s the sad part of this genealogical record. This isn’t my family. It was given to me by someone who picked it up at a book sale. Why it ended up at the book sale is unknown, but further research uncovered a 1968 divorce for the couple.

The lesson here is that as we declutter our own home or that of a deceased family member’s estate, we need to remember that not all genealogical sources look like genealogical sources. Some look like marketing pieces or plain books, but in reality, they can hold so much more. Be careful as you go through things. It’s a tremendous job, but it can lead to exciting discoveries.


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.

Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

My oldest son and I have been watching a popular TV show set in the 1980s. The show focuses on teenagers during an era when I, too, was a teenager. I've become the resident expert on all things 1980s, including the show's depiction of fashion, music, stores, cars, and just about everything.

Of course, my experience as a teenager in the 1980s will be specific to me, my family, and where I grew up. It will differ in some ways from a re-creation of that time period. But this show has allowed my sons to ask family history-related questions and get something more from the experience than just the entertainment value.

So many TV shows depict a specific time and place. Even watching older television shows (I'm binge-watching The Rockford Files right now) can be a catalyst for discussions of a particular time and place that you remember. (The Rockford Files has led to conversations about clothing, cars, food, and locations in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s).

How can you use popular culture to interest your family in family history? Consider taking clues from that show to discuss:

  • What you wore
  • Your hairstyle
  • What car/s you or your family drove
  • Food that was popular
  • Stores you shopped in
  • What high school was like
  • Popular slang for that time period
  • Technology for that time period
  • What songs you listened to
  • What activities you took part in
  • Did your work during high school? If so, what did you do?

So many times we think of family history as a pursuit back to much earlier times, but our story is also important. It can be difficult to start a conversation about your experiences, but commenting on the popular culture (television shows, movies, songs) can help start a story that will be remembered even after interest in the show goes away.


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.



The Hidden Treasures of Local Unindexed Periodicals

The Hidden Treasures of the Local Unindexed Periodicals

Decades ago, I was volunteering at a Family History Center. One day, the Director made the difficult but seemingly correct decision to toss out all of the aged society periodicals we had collected. Her reasoning was sound, they were taking up room and no one ever used them. At that time, using the new FamilySearch databases and viewing microforms seemed like a better use of time when one was limited by personal time constraints and the hours of the Center.

The problem with periodicals is that they have a limited shelf life. When they are first published, they are appealing and hold the promise of new insights, but after a few months, we tend to consider them fodder for the recycling bin.

While it's true that some genealogy periodicals achieve immortality through their inclusion into the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), that's not true of all society periodicals. However, they still may be available in a physical form at a genealogy library, the society's library, or even an extensive public library,

Last year when I researched at three genealogy libraries (Allen County Public Library, the Family History Library, and the Clayton Library for Genealogical Research), periodicals were shelved alongside the books for a particular county and state. In some cases, they were found at the beginning of the shelf for that location. Easy to find, but still might be passed over for other "more important" resources. Those periodicals were easy to ignore. After all, there is so much to look at in a genealogy library, and it's easy to turn your attention to other resources. Periodicals can be hit or miss and, unless indexed, take time to examine page by page carefully. Although there is likely a table of contents and maybe even an index, why bother?

It's a good question, and the answer lies in the difference between searching and researching. When we search, we are simply doing just that, entering search terms or keywords into a website search engine, and determining which results have value for our research. When we conduct research, real research, we are doing that and carefully studying collections that are not easily searched. We go page-by-page, reading and studying the content to discover mentions of our ancestors or a topic.

Research takes time, and often there are no shortcuts. There's nothing wrong with using an index to find what you need, but that periodical may not be indexed, so you'll have to research it the old-fashioned way, page by page, looking for what you need. At the Family History Library I studied the books for the area I was researching and then one by one I went through the local society newsletters to see if I could find mention of the woman who I was researching.



A reasonably exhaustive search requires us to use a variety of sources, including periodicals. These periodicals are valuable and rich in genealogical information such as oral histories, indexes to unique record sets, transcriptions and abstracts, histories, and more. Reading a local society periodical (whether genealogical or historical) can lead you to additional records or help you understand a place in time that you may have been unfamiliar with.

It's easy to feel like you've looked everywhere but take some time to exhaust available sources from the location you are researching, including society publications.


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.


5 Photos Genealogists Should be Taking Now

5 Photos Genealogists Should be Taking Now

In her recent webinar, Gena Philibert-Ortega asked us if we remembered our grandmother's kitchen. Do we remember her rolling pin, dishes or the way the kitchen looked? That got me thinking about all the kitchens I have known and the relatives who filled them with warmth and good food. But as a photographer, I couldn't help but start thinking about photographs too. As part of our role as genealogists we should be proactively thinking about taking photos so that our descendants don't have to rely simply on their memories.

Here are five photos every genealogist should be taking now in order to pass down more than just memories:

1) In the kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of most homes. Great smells emanate from the kitchen as family recipes are being cooked. During holiday celebrations conversations are happening, people are bumping into each other, laughter is peeling out. Other times the kitchen is the center for hanging out. A visitor stops by unexpectedly and everyone gathers around the kitchen table for lemonade. Or family and friends relax there after a high school soccer game or theatre production.

When capturing your kitchen in a photo try to consider all the uses of your kitchen. Take photos of the cook(s) and what they are cooking. Show images of friends casually gathered around the table. Don't forget to include special items such as heirloom china or your mom's favorite bowl. I know my kids will remember me wearing an apron. I am always wearing an apron in the kitchen. While I might not want someone to photograph me in an apron it would be a really meaningful photo for my children to have. It would bring back lots of memories for them.

2) Don't forget your pets

Everyone seems to have lots of photos of their pets which they've shared on Facebook. But do you have photos of you and your other family members with your pet? Photos of interest to genealogists will also contain family members. Take a family photo with your pet when he first joins your family. Then be sure to continue taking more photos through the years. Both your family and your pet will change as time passes. You will all grow and start to look older. Also, how did you interact with your pet? Did you take your dog on hikes or summer vacations? Did you ride your horse on a particular trail? You want to be able to capture those moments so that you can show your descendants how much your pet meant to you.

3) Multigenerational photos

Perhaps the most important photo of all for genealogists is the multigenerational photo. Every time you get together as a family you should consciously take a photo of the youngest person in the family with the oldest person in the family. Those photos serve as the link between generations many years into the future. The youngest people in your family will be grateful they have photos with a relative they were only able to meet once or twice.

Also, how many generations of living family members do you currently have - three, four, maybe even five? Get a group photo showing the span of the generations as they are now. 

Sometimes people like to take these photos based on gender - daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother. And the same photo for the men. Other options are to take a photo with all the men in the family and another of all the women in the family. A single photo showing the entire family is certainly good too but it gets more difficult to see everyone well. And not to mention it's nearly impossible to get a good photo of everyone the more people you have in the photo.

4) Gravestone photos with people in the photo

Genealogists love to go to cemeteries to locate and photograph the graves of their ancestors. But have you ever included yourself or your family in the photo? Gravestone photos are so much more meaningful when the people we love are in the photos. And it also serves to document for future generations that we have visited the graves of our ancestors. When my children were little I took them to cemeteries quite regularly. Some of my most precious photos are of my little boys next to an ancestor's gravestone. They may not remember the specific visit but they will always know that there were there once.

image from news.legacyfamilytree.com
Two of the Pierre-Louis boys in 2006

5) Photos of your passions

Back when I was in high school my local church was making a directory of all its members. They asked all the families to come dressed in the outfits that represented them the most. The father might be holding fishing gear, the mother in her running clothes, a son in his football uniform and a daughter with her camera gear. The photos were wonderful because they really gave a sense of who each person was.  It would be fun to create a staged photo like that just for our own family keepsake or maybe even a holiday card.

If you don't feel like staging an event like that then you'll have to keep in the back of your mind to capture these moments as they happen. Photograph your kids during scouting events such as Brownies, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Head off to a sporting event and get a photo of your kids in uniform before or after the game. Take photos of family members marching in the local 4th of July parade. And don't forget that photo of your Dad in his favorite hat when he's off sailing.

By going to the effort of taking these photos now you'll provide a much richer way for your descendants to get to know you. What other types of photos would you include? What images do you want to pass down to your descendants? Let me know in the comments.


Marian Pierre-Louis is a house history and genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


How to decide what heirlooms to pass down

How to decide what heirlooms to pass down

Recently I was giving a presentation about social history and telling the stories of our ancestors. Those stories can/should include the heirlooms we inherit. One of the participants asked, "how do I ensure my grandma's china remains in our family?"

Good question. We all have that question. The automatic answer is probably, "you can't." No matter how much you love a treasured family heirloom you can't control what happens to it once you shake off this mortal coil. That's just reality. We all treasure different material objects and assign meaning to some while viewing other things as disposable. However, this is a subject that weighs on us, especially for the family historian who has seen countless articles and books in the last five years about downsizing your life and what your kids want and don't want to inherit.

My take on this subject is simple. No one wants to inherit something they need to store long-term. Your children or other family members have their stuff; they don't have endless storage space for your stuff. So what does that mean for your treasured items, and how you decide what to do with them?

I think people are more likely to keep and treasure something that has meaning for them, no matter the inherent or perceived value. What does this mean for grandma's china (or apron, jewelry, furniture, etc...…)?

If it's not fragile and falling apart, use it. People will treasure what they see. That means they need to know the item, so display it, use it, tell stories about it, so they can build memories to it. When I consider my "treasures," it doesn't matter that an inherited item means a lot to me. It needs to mean a lot to my kids who didn't know my grandparents or have any memories of them.

I use my grandma's china. I need to use it more, but I use and display it. Could I accidentally break a piece? Absolutely. I'm surprised I haven't. But it's there for my family and me to enjoy. It does us no good hidden in a cabinet. Despite using it, my kids may not want it when I pass. That's ok. I won't be around to give them my opinion. I’ll write down what my wishes are and approach the person I think would want those pieces. I would love for my kids to want the china, but in the end, I need to enjoy using something that brings back memories of my grandmother, who I dearly loved.

Is there any guarantee that a treasured heirloom will remain in the family? No, nothing is guaranteed, and as life changes, so do people's attachments to specific items. People have circumstances that dictate what they keep, like, etc. Taste changes (if it didn't, there wouldn't be antique or thrift stores). But when something is meaningful, it is more likely to be kept and treasured. Telling the stories of our ancestors should include the treasures that remind us of 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.


Not Another 1950 Census Article

Not Another 1950 Census Article

You will most likely be looking at the newly released US Census by the time you read this. The release will be in its infancy, so it won’t be thoroughly indexed, and there may be bugs to work out. But you’ll be closer to better understanding your family’s life in 1950s America.

Every census reveal is an exciting event in the genealogy world. Those waiting for the 1921 UK Census that was recently released know the feeling. I remember when the 1930 US census came out and all of the celebration, indexing, and overall sense of discovery (heck, I think I even have a t-shirt commemorating it). 

And lucky for us, there is a vibrant genealogy education community that has provided us with articles, lectures, and videos with information to conduct better searches on the 1950 census as we prepare for the release. Legacy Webinars has also helped us prepare with webinars like this one from Dear Myrtle and Russ Worthington and an upcoming webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke.

But this isn’t going to be another one of those 1950 census articles. 

Instead, I want you to think about something along the lines of “I’ve looked at the census, now what?” For most researchers, you already know that you will find a family member in the 1950 census. You probably created that list months before the release date. Yes, there are probably some who aren’t sure if the family member had died and looking to the census to verify an absence, but for the most part, you know who you are looking for and expect to find them.

Once you find your family, you will note the information, save the census to your computer and/or family tree. 

Now what?

What will you do next? Is our census search just about finding people on the census, recording them, and then moving on to the next record?

Once you found your family in 1950, what will you do next? The answer should be “analyze and build on what I've found.”

BlankCensus Form-top

Next Steps

How do we do that? It starts with transcribing the information and using the enumerator instructions to understand our ancestor’s answers. One problem with the 1950 Census is we won’t know who answered those questions, so we can’t determine how accurate the information is.

Once we have transcribed and studied the answers in conjunction with the enumerator’s instructions, we need to ask ourselves what these census answers tell us about our ancestors and what other records help complete this picture of their lives.

Ask research questions and then seek out the answers. Consider what the census tells us beyond a name, age, and race. For example, you might learn of a street address. The street address helps to answer where our ancestors lived, but we may want to know more about that place. What type of home is it? Is it a house or an appointment? Are they institutionalized or at school? We could follow up that address from the census with a look in our family photo collections for that house or a historical map (even the enumeration district map). We might want to look up that address today and see if a photo or description of the house exists online (if a house, maybe it’s on a real estate website) or Google Maps.

We need to look at our family in the census and verify we have all the relevant records for them, such as vital records or if they are one of the men asked about military service in the supplemental questions, any relevant military documents. Remember, our families in 1950 have just experienced a world war, and their lives were impacted both at home and on the battlefields.

Once we transcribe, read the enumerator instructions, ask research questions, and gather pertinent documents, we need to write up our findings. Even if the idea of writing makes your eyes cross, write up a simple paragraph stating what the 1950 census tells you about their life during that time. Adding personal photographs and newspaper articles from the 1950s can also help that story.

The release of the 1950 US census is exciting, but don’t let it become another record that is looked at and forgotten on your family tree. Make the most of what it has to tell you about your ancestor in that snapshot in time.


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.


Use the new Census Helper™ to identify who will likely be found in the 1950 census


The hottest topic in genealogy right now: the 1950 U.S. census

The hottest new census tool: MyHeritage's Census Helper™

Combine the two and we're going to have fun in the new census, released on April 1, 2022.

The Census Helper™ scans your family tree (upload your GEDCOM if you don't yet have a tree at MyHeritage) and compiles a list of your relatives who are very likely to be found in the 1950 U.S. census. This enables you to focus your research: armed with the list it creates, you’ll know exactly which family members to search for in the newly released census records. You can export this list to use it anywhere.

I personally found it very easy to use and amazingly accurate.

Under the Research menu, I clicked on Census Helper. Waiting for me was a list of 1,133 individuals who are likely to be found in this census. It also showed that there are another 518 lower-confidence results that I could look at if I wanted to.


In the upper right is a Download button where I can then open the list in a spreadsheet, like Excel, and manipulate the data any way I want.

Now I'm armed with a very useful report for my use in researching the new 1950 census.

Use it for any census year!

It gets even better. Click on the "1950 U.S. Census" heading and it pops up a list for every U.S. federal census. Fantastic!


Reading MyHeritage's blog article about this, the Census Helper™ will soon support nationwide censuses in other countries found on MyHeritage, such as Canada, England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Denmark, Norway and more.

How to access

This tool is available immediately for all MyHeritage users. If you are not using MyHeritage yet, now’s a perfect time to sign up and upload your GEDCOM from Legacy and benefit from this useful tool, which will save you time and give direction to your research.

Get started at www.myheritage.com/census-helper

Learn more about census records

Our webinar library has 26 unique classes about using census records in our genealogical research including our upcoming class by Lisa Louise Cooke, "Everything You Need to Know About the 1950 Census" and our recent class by DearMYRTLE and Russ Worthington, "CensusGenie: Down to the Wire 1950 Census Prep".

How Many Photos are on Your Phone?

How Many Photos are on Your Phone?

I have a confession to make. I am one of those people. You know. The people who have thousands of photos stored on their phones. Embarrassingly I will admit that almost 15,000 photos dating back to 2015 are on my phone. They run the gamut of vacations, research trips, family gatherings, and books. Oh yes, lots of books. One day my son told someone that I have more photos of books and food than of my kids. Well, I don’t think it’s true, but I’ll admit it’s probably a close tie.

Iphone photos

Books and Quilts...that's about normal for me.


What do you take photos of? The options are endless with a cell phone or mobile device. As genealogists, we have the opportunity to take photos of documents, books, microfilm, and heritage travel. That’s wonderful and it’s such a great research tool. But it isn’t enough to take the photos, you need to get them off your phone.

This is a concern I’ve had for a few years. Those photos might “disappear” if they aren’t backed up by the time I get a new phone or this phone breaks. What happens if I shake off this mortal coil? Will my family take the time to go through 15,000 photos and retrieve the ones that are family memories? (That answer is no and I don’t blame them. So don't forget to share what's important.) I’ve spent some time reading about organizing the photos one collects on their phone and considering what I need to do to organize and focus my rather large phone photo collection. Some of what I have learned might help you.

Not every photo is a masterpiece. I don’t know about you but there are the photos I took to remember where I parked at the airport. There are the photos I took of who knows what that came out blurred. Or the one photo I thought I took that ended up being a burst of 20. Those photos that should be deleted end up being “hidden” by the countless other photos I take in the days after. So that is why it’s important to Delete.

You can delete photos while watching TV or waiting for an appointment. Go through and delete the ones that no longer serve a purpose (like the parking lot photo) or that aren’t worthy of saving to a more permanent solution (like the cloud). Keep deleting and remember to go back and delete every so often so you aren’t cluttering your storage with photos you don’t need. 

Save to something that’s not your phone. One way I solved my photo issue was to pay for a cloud backup. Now, every so often my iPhone is backed up to my Apple storage. I pay a few dollars a month and I no longer worry that those photos of loved ones or trips I took will disappear if my phone dies or If I accidentally delete too much. You will replace your phone at some point. Don’t leave your photos on it!

Organize those research trip photos. Research trip photos need to be downloaded and organized. Update your research log, save the photos to the appropriate folder. It’s too easy to leave them on your phone and forget. And there is never enough time in the far-off land of “I’ll do it later.”

Use Other Apps. I take a LOT of books photos. Or at least I did. Now before I start taking photos of the latest book I want, a little voice in my head says “Use GoodReads.” So I stop, open my GoodReads app and add the book to my list of books I want to read. I don’t need to take a photo and all my books are organized there.

It doesn’t matter what you use. Evernote, Dropbox, GoodReads, or a genealogy app, but there are some photos that might be better off as data in an app and not a photo on your phone.

What’s on your phone?

Your photos are important so why keep them on your phone? Take some time to organize, delete, and upload your photos to another storage device, app, or even print them (gasp!, remember when we did that?!) Make sure that your photos live on by getting them off your phone.


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.


The Sound of Our English Ancestors

The Sound of Our English Ancestors

My ancestor, Leonora Quayle, was born in 1763 on the Isle of Man. She had moved to Liverpool by the age of 27 where she married and then ultimately died in 1850. I imagine she would have taken her Manx accent with her to Liverpool.

Have you ever wondered what your English ancestors sounded like when they talked? England has many regional accents. One hundred years ago there would have been even more. 

While it may not be possible to know exactly how your ancestor spoke there is a way that we can get an idea. The British Library has 287 sound recordings in a collection called "Survey of English Dialects." 

Survey of English Dialects

The recordings were created by the University of Leeds under the direction of Harold Orton between 1950 and 1961. The goal was to capture "folk-speech" from rural areas in order to preserve the sound of regional accents. The collection is sorted alphabetically by county. Under each county you may find multiple recordings for individual towns. The speakers are mostly men but there are some women too.

I found a recording from the Isle of Man. Here's an 1958 recording of "Amanda [who] expresses her dismay at the lack of discipline she sees in children." Perhaps she can give me a clue as to what my ancestor, Leonora, sounded like.

Perhaps your ancestors come from the south of England in Cornwall. In this audio clip from 1963 "William talks about his early working days on the farm and compares modern working conditions and food production with those of his younger days." To the non-British ear this recording is probably much easier to understand the first one.

Or maybe your ancestor came from Lancashire, home to the cities of both Liverpool and Manchester. Here "Three fisherman remember the fisherman's strike of 1926..." This recording was made in 1954.

Explore the recordings included in the Survey of English Dialects and discover how your ancestor might have spoken!

Need help tracing your English ancestors? Check out our many English genealogy webinars in the Legacy library!


Marian Pierre-Louis is a genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


Here’s to the Non-Genealogists

Here’s to the Non-Genealogists
Last weekend I spent some time going over some of the information I have collected over the years. I wanted to make sure it was all scanned and uploaded to my online family tree. So I opened a binder I created for one family line back in the early 2000s and saw pages of photos diligently scanned and printed on photo paper by a half grand-aunt that I had never met. In the binder, I had included my emails to this distant family member, and her responses back. I then started wondering about her and, with a bit of Internet sleuthing, discovered she had unfortunately died in 2020. I realized how lucky I had been to find her and benefit from her knowledge.

As genealogists, although we do many things in the quiet of a home office or by ourselves in a library, an archive, or cemetery, we benefit from collaboration. When I present, I often talk about the benefit of networking with other researchers who have experience with the location or time period, or type of research you’re doing. There’s no doubt that we all benefit from crowdsourcing and collaboration with those in genealogy societies, professional staff at library and archives can provide. But there’s another group we often fail to mention.

The Non-Genealogists

You know who they are. They include the older members of your family who consent to interviews. They are the cousin who forwards you obituaries. They are the family member who goes through the family photos and identify family names for you. They are the people you call and ask questions of.

I’ve had several of these people in my life. They don’t care to research family history, but they are interested in helping you preserve it. My dad was one of these people. He spent hours helping me research his grand-uncle, who he knew as a child, and would forward me information he found online that he thought would help. I’ve had cousins I’ve never met before meet with me to take me on tours of ancestral hometowns and share their photo collections. And this half grand-aunt who I found via her half-sister, my grand-aunt, who corresponded with me decades ago and provided me with what she knew about her dad’s family, one of my great-grandfathers.

Non-genealogists aren’t like us. They may care about the old photos and want to pass on the family stories, but they don’t want to spend hours in a library trying to uncover a fact. They graciously part with their time, memories, and their help. They may even reach out to other family members and help you make connections. They're just as happy to have you do the actual research and share your findings with them.

When we think about asking for the non-genealogist for help, whether it's their memories, their heirlooms, their photos, or their DNA, we need to consider:

  • They are busy with their lives
  • Our priorities aren’t theirs
  • They don’t have the same passion for shared family history
  • They may not have an interest in helping us

I see this a lot with DNA matches. Genealogists get upset that DNA matches either don’t have a tree or don’t respond to messages. “Why did they do the DNA test?” Maybe it was a gift. Perhaps they were just curious. Maybe they looked at the results and then never looked at it again. Everyone has different priorities.

Does this mean we shouldn’t reach out to non-genealogists? Of course not. They might be waiting to tell those stories. Maybe they wish they knew a family member interested in those old photos or documents. Perhaps they would like to learn more about your shared maternal line.

Non-genealogists are essential to our work. We need to consider reaching out to them to piece together our family histories. Who knows, they may end up enjoying the thrill of the genealogical chase just as much as you do.

To the non-genealogists, thank you for all you do to help us, genealogists. We couldn’t do it without you.


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.