Possibly Educational

Family History for Friends

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.

One of the coolest parts of doing family history is realizing how interconnected you are to so many people. Relative Finder helps you explore your relationships with famous people from history or even relationships with your friends.


When you first log in through FamilySearch, it pulls up a list of your historically significant relatives, starting with the ones most closely related to you. It tells you their name, how you’re related to them, and how they are significant in history. You can click on their name to see more information, and in some cases it will link to Wikipedia. For example, one of my 9th great grandmothers was hung during the Salem witch trials, so it linked to a Wikipedia page about her life and her witch trial.


You can connect to friends and neighbors by creating a group. My ward has a group, and there I can see how I’m related to the people in my ward, which is kind of fun. It’s really easy to create a group or join a group someone has already created. Just keep in mind groups work best between people who aren’t obviously related. A group with your cousins, aunts, and uncles will be pretty boring, because you already know how you’re related.


Unfortunately getting to where you can see the groups you’ve joined isn’t very intuitive. If you click the down arrow labeled “Show Groups” you can filter the list down to specific groups. So if I select my ward group (under the Private heading) I’ll be able to see the other ward members who have already joined and how we’re related. You can also filter down to a specific public group from here.


For example, I filtered down to Movie Stars. Jimmy Stewart is my 6th cousin, twice removed, and Lucille Ball is my 7th cousin, 4 times removed.


If I’m curious exactly how I’m related to Lucille Ball, I can click View and it’ll pull up a chart showing our relationship. You can even download a pdf.


The last fun thing you can do with Relative Finder is connect with a friend temporarily to see all the ways you’re related (groups only show the one closest way you’re related). I’ve done this with both a friend and my husband, and it’s mind-boggling how many connections we have. Just click the connect button, and it’ll give you a session ID to share with your friend. As you can see below, the password to join a session only lasts for 1 minute, so you both have to be at the ready–one to give the password and the other to join by typing it in. I did it over text with a friend, and we didn’t have a problem joining in time. But if you do miss it, just try again. This seems like a pain, but it’s a good security feature.


Possibly Educational

Family History for the Storyteller

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.

I recently came upon a gold mine of audio cassettes containing memories and stories from one line of my family tree. These tapes had been languishing in a box at my grandparents’ house for years and years, and I wanted to give them new life and make them more accessible to the rest of my family.


Importing the audio into a computer is actually a surprisingly low-tech process. Basically all you need is a cassette player and a cord with normal headphone jacks on both ends. I lucked out and found my cord at Ross for $4, but the cheap ones are about $5 on Amazon. And you don’t need anything fancy.


You plug one end into the headphone slot of a cassette player. I used a stereo I’ve had since I was a teenager. You could probably find a cheap one at a thrift store if you don’t have one hanging around.


The other end goes into the input slot on a computer. Be warned that the mic slot doesn’t work nearly as well.


Then I started up a free audio editing program called Audacity. First I made sure the input (the drop down menu to the right of the little mic icon that says default) was set to the right setting. This will vary depending on your computer, so you may end up trying a few things before you get the right one. Then just hit the record button and press play on the cassette player. When the tape is over, click the stop button. Trimming it up a little is pretty intuitive–click and drag to highlight the parts you want gone, then hit the delete key on your keyboard. Just remember to click the stop button first, otherwise nothing will happen. When you’re done, click File then Export As, then set it to mp3 (or whatever format you prefer) and save. Easy as that!

From there you can burn it to a CD, put it on a flash drive, share it with family on Dropbox, etc. You can even put audio files on FamilySearch, but use care if the audio goes into detail on people who are still living, or if the people talking are still living.

Possibly Educational

Family History for the World Geographer

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.

Our families end up doing a lot of moving over time. Across the ocean, across the country, or even just across the street. Rootsmapper is a fun site to visualize how different branches of our family tree moved around the world. I’d recommend watching their official demo video to get a feel for how to navigate the site, but I’ll share a few cool things you can do with it.


This is 6 generations of my tree mapped out. I’m a 0, my parents are 1’s (pink and blue), my grandparents are 2’s, and so forth.


From here you can also see how many of your ancestors were born in each country.


You can isolate individual lines from your family tree. This is my Keating line as far back as it goes.

The possibilities are endless!

Possibly Educational

Family History for the Finisher

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.

If you’re married, chances are your spouse’s family won’t automatically appear on your tree in FamilySearch. This isn’t really a big deal, but if you’re a finisher you’ll probably want to have it in there anyway. You know, just in case. Adding a spouse’s tree isn’t very intuitive, so here’s a quick tutorial.

Public v private tree

To begin with, you need to understand how both the public and private spheres of FamilySearch work. The public part of FamilySearch is only the deceased, and it’s shared by everyone–anyone can contribute to and edit this big tree. The living people in your tree are private, and only you can edit the ones in your tree. For example, if I add pictures or edit details about my parents (who are living) on my tree, it does not add the pictures or change the details on either of their trees. Only I see it. So while in the public tree duplicates are a big problem, between private trees there will be many, many duplicates. I appear in my own tree, my husband’s tree, my mom’s tree, my dad’s tree, each siblings’ tree, etc. each under a different ID–I’m duplicated many times, and this is ok.

To walk you through this process (because I already added my husband’s family to my tree a while ago) I’m on the FamilySearch sandbox. The sandbox is a replica of FamilySearch, but with no real people. You can play around in the sandbox here, but there is also a comprehensive course that will walk you through pretty much anything you want to do on FamilySearch in the sandbox, but without the pressure of messing up your family tree. Also, for your information, you can click on any of these images to see a bigger version.


This is what your tree may look like to begin with. If you’re on LDS church records, your spouse and kids will probably already be on your tree. In this case, Husband Cartwright has his family branching off from him, but nobody from his wife’s side of the family is on there. Husband will start by clicking “Add Husband” in the box branching off from Wife Hall.

A search form will pop up, and since Wife Hall’s father (Daddy Hall) is living, Husband Cartwright will select the living option along with any other information he has on Daddy Hall. He’ll then click search, and since there are no duplicates with living people, there will be no results, so Husband will get a window prompting him to “Add New.” And then voila! Daddy Hall now shows up on Wife Hall’s side of the family (in Husband’s tree).

Now we need to add Daddy Hall’s father (Grandpa Hall), who is deceased. Husband will click “Add Husband” in the box branching off from Daddy Hall. There are two ways to add a deceased person, and in this case we’ll do it by ID number. Select “Find by ID Number” in the bottom right corner of the search window, then you’ll have a window asking for the ID number. Husband borrowed Wife’s phone (with the FamilySearch app) and found Grandpa Hall’s ID number on her tree, and Bam! There Grandpa Hall is in the search results. Husband will click the blue “Add Person” button, and now Grandpa Hall is on Husband’s tree, along with Grandpa Hall’s ancestors.

You can also add deceased relatives to your tree by searching. Normally Grandpa Hall’s wife (also deceased) would have automatically been attached, but they aren’t connected on FamilySearch for some reason. Husband Cartwright will click “Add Wife” in the box where Grandpa Hall is and fill out the search form as much as possible. He’s floundering and can only remember her name is Mary, so he’ll click “Search.” At the top of the results is the information Husband entered in about Mary, and if she didn’t exist on FamilySearch yet, he’d click “Create New.” But it’s important to not have duplicates in the deceased, so he’ll scroll through the results first. If he finds her, he’ll click “Add Person.” If he decides to narrow the search down a little (guess a date or place) he can click “Refine Search.”

In summary:  First add your spouse’s living relatives by creating a new (living) person, then you can add the deceased ancestors to those living relatives.

FYI:  It’s best to keep the living people on your tree to a minimum. You can have your living parents, siblings, and in-laws on there, but cousins are a little excessive. Even aunts and uncles aren’t really necessary unless they’re needed to link to someone who has already died. For example, both my aunt and her daughter died when I was young, but since my grandparents are still living, my deceased aunt and cousin weren’t showing up on my tree. I had to search for my aunt to add her to my tree, then I added her (still living) husband so that both parents of my cousin showed up on my tree.

Possibly Educational

Family History for the Shutterbug

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.

There is something about old photos that help us form a meaningful connection to those ancestors we never got to meet. It can also be a special thing to see those we love at a time before we were figuratively “in the picture.”

There are four basic ways we can be contributing to this visual aspect of our family trees:
1. Finding photos
2. Identifying photos
3. Restoring photos
4. Uploading to FamilySearch

Finding Photos

Best case scenario, you’ve got an old family album hanging out in your attic. However, most of us don’t have that ideal situation going on. The originals–in albums, picture frames, or cardboard boxes–are probably going to be living with your parents, grandparents (if still living), aunts and uncles, or great-aunts and uncles. If the photos live with someone not-so-tech-savvy, chances are they haven’t been scanned and uploaded to FamilySearch yet. You can ask around your family (and several sides of your family) to see who has pictures. One side of my family has a Facebook group dedicated to sharing old family photos with everyone.

You can also just be on the lookout for older framed pictures while at relatives’ homes. If at least one of the people in the photo is deceased, you can look them up on your FamilySearch app on your phone right then and there to see if that photo has been added to FS yet.

There are also many sources online where you can find photos of your ancestors. The source I’m always looking for an excuse to use is college or university yearbook digital archives. Many universities have their yearbook archives available to the public, and I’ve found googling “[college or university name] yearbook archives” generally pulls it up easily.


I knew my great grandma attended Utah State University (then Utah Agricultural College) when she was young, so I was able to find her in the 1928 Buzzer yearbook as a freshman. I found several clubs she was involved in, and also learned she was the captain (and top scorer) of the freshman women’s basketball team. I zoomed in on her a little, then used a free photo editing program called GIMP to take a screenshot (zooming in was buggy on my phone or tablet, otherwise that would have been simpler). There may be the option to download a pdf of the page, but I found it was usually terrible quality. I cropped the screenshot down, and then it was ready to be uploaded to FS.


DeadFred.com is both a bit of a wildcard and an opportunity for service. You can search by surname or geographic area, and you may find an ancestor someone else has posted. Alternately, if you’re looking through your own family pictures and notice non-relatives in a photo (a neighbor or friend, maybe), you can post it on DeadFred to hopefully share the digital copy with that person’s descendents. There are also people who snatch up vintage photos at flea markets and antique shops so they can post these long-lost photos and reunite them with their families. This can be an incredible service to someone who has very few photos of their ancestors.

Lastly, searching family trees on Ancestry.com is another way to find photos, especially of ancestors a couple generations back. And members of the LDS church have free access to this. However, I think it’s good form to message the owner of that family tree before hitting “save image as.” Maybe they’ll even email you the original file.

Identifying Photos

The easiest way to identify people is checking the back of the photo for names, dates, or places. If that information isn’t there, ask other members of your family if they know. You may also use a little detective work to solve the mystery. This site has many articles on how to analyze facial features to identify people. Or you can also pin down a general time frame by looking at the clothing styles of the people in the photo. It can be interesting to take note of your ancestors’ clothing styles even if you know when the photo was taken. It can give great insight into whether great grandma had the means and interest to keep up with current styles, or if she was frugally-minded and wore her (perfectly good) clothes even after the styles had changed.

Restoring Photos

If you’re handy with photo editing, restoring photos damaged by time, mold, creases, rips, or just bad lighting can be a satisfying way to contribute. This is an example of a family photo my sister restored.

GIMP is a great option for people not wanting to shell out cash for Photoshop.

Uploading to FamilySearch

This is really the easiest part. If you have a scanner that’s probably the best way too get a high-quality digital copy of the original photo. If you don’t have a scanner, try your local LDS Family History Center or even a public library. You may even be able to get a nice scan using your smartphone camera. Photos can be uploaded via the FamilySearch app or on the desktop version. I prefer uploading photos from the app, but the last time I checked you couldn’t tag photos in the app. They’re continually adding more to the app, though, so that’s a feature that may be available in time. For now, go to the desktop version to tag photos. Tagging photos works pretty much exactly like tagging photos on Facebook, and it’s an important part of the process, especially if it’s a group shot.


A new feature on FamilySearch is the memories tab. In the gallery you can view and organize all the photos, documents, and audio you’ve uploaded to familysearch. You can also upload photos from this page. Under the People heading is a master list of people you’re related to, and you can quickly view photos that pique your interest. In the Find section you can type any name to find pictures and
stories quickly and easily.

Possibly Educational

Family History for the Young {at Heart}

This is a series on finding your niche in doing family history.


One of my favorite hidden gems I’ve found in doing family history research is a little site called AncestorGuru.com. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly, visual way to introduce your family to their ancestors (or if you need to brush up yourself), this is a great source.


When you log in, Ancestor Guru pulls pictures and vital dates and places for four generations of your family tree from FamilySearch. You might have some missing pictures or dates, especially when it comes to your living ancestors, and that’s not a big deal. However, these games are more fun when you’ve got four generations complete with photos, dates, and places, so it’s a good incentive to get some pictures uploaded to your family tree. If you aren’t sure how to add pictures to FamilySearch, see Family History for the Shutterbug.


The first game I want to show you is Memory. This is your basic memory matching game, but it uses the pictures from your family tree. This game is perfect for younger kids (no reading required) and it’s a little different every time you play it.


The next game is Fast Photo. This game is easiest on a touch-screen device like an iPad or tablet, but it works fine with a mouse too. When you start the game, photos from your family tree float around the screen along with some non-relatives. Be quick to select great grandma, but avoid Darth Vader and George Washington.


Another game is Scrambled Tree. See how quickly you can unscramble your tree. Easy and medium are good for kids, and hard can be a challenge even for adults. You can play this on your own, or you could make this a game for the whole family. Pull up the game on multiple devices and see who is fastest.


The last game I want to show you is Life’s Journey. This game has a retro video game feel to it. Take note of the selected ancestor’s important dates and places, then you’re ready to go. Bump your balloon into the correct clouds and gather as many coins as possible. Watch out for the birds and wrong clouds on medium and hard because they’ll pop your balloon.


A nice feature of Ancestor Guru is that you can change the root person, which is who the games are centered around. You are the default, but if you click in the top right corner you can select your child’s name and it will load ancestors from your spouse’s side of the family, too. If your spouse’s ancestry isn’t showing up, see Family History for the Finisher and I’ll show you how to get that fixed.