Headed to RootsTech 2018? Let’s Get Organized!

Rootstech-headerRootsTech 2018 is 19 days away! Are you ready?  This will be my 4th time attending and over the years I’ve learned a few things about organizing myself for each day’s classes and for research time in the Family History Library.

How I organize for RootsTech’s incredible line up of classes

First thing to do is to download the RootsTech mobile app. It’s available from the App Store and the Google Play Store. Using the app you are able to create your personalized schedule for each day. As you read through each of the class descriptions you can ‘star’ them, which moves them to your daily schedule (My Schedule on the app). I always pick my top choice class and a back up class for each hour. I also note when lunch is and when the Expo Hall will be open. Once you have finished selecting classes for each day, tap the gear icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen and slide down to a reddish box which says ‘Email My Show Summary’. You can email your class schedule to yourself or share it with a friend attending with you.

What about syllabus material for each class?

Handouts are only available on the app but can be downloaded or emailed to yourself. To do this, tap on My Schedule (which you have already created) and tap on your first selected class. Move down the page that shows information on that class until you come to the very bottom where it says ‘Resources’. Under that is ‘Handouts’. Tap on ‘Handouts’ and if the class has one, it will ask you if you would like to Take Notes on the Handout, Download Handout or Email Handout. I prefer to email the handout to myself. You will receive an email with a PDF of that classes’ handout. I print that out and write the location and time of the class in the upper right-hand corner.

I then place them in day and time order in my binder. This way I don’t have to keep referring to my phone to see what’s next on my schedule. I can look at my binder and it’s all organized there. I use the back of the handouts to make any notes during that class.  Everyone has a different system to keep themselves organized. I’ve used this one all the years I’ve attended RootsTech and it’s worked well. My binder also has a place for pens and pencils, flash drives, business cards and more paper. I like having it all in one place.


How I organize for research at the world-famous Family History Library

Going to RootsTech means making time for research at the Family History Library. Over the years I’ve worked out a system that keeps me on track and organized. My biggest tip for researching here is to plan ahead! There are lots of BSO’s (those distracting Bright Shiny Objects) hiding in the library and it’s easy to get sidetracked. It’s not always a bad thing to be lured in by a BSO, actually it can be kind of fun! But when you’re fitting in time between RootsTech classes or at the end of a busy and mentally exhausting day, you want to try to stay on track.

As I research I use the Research Log report on my desktop family history software to keep track of the films or books that I need to look at when I am next at the Family History Library and which are not available online. Use FamilySearch.org to find the correct film or book and check whether it has been digitized or not. If not, I add that information to a spreadsheet I have set up with columns as shown below.

I try to be very clear about the information I am looking for. I create these Research Logs as I work on projects and it can sometimes be months since I marked that I needed to look at a specific film for information. I don’t want to spend time having to pull up my family history software program and look at why I wanted that information. Each item is numbered in the far-left hand column. That number is what I use in my handwritten notes as a reference for any information I find or do not find. Of course, I also add the film or book number again on the notes I am making in the library, as well as any notes on whether I photocopied, downloaded or transcribed the image. I never transfer any information to my family history software until I am back home and able to carefully evaluate it first. Some may prefer to use a preprinted Research Log template to write down what you find in the Library but those never seem to have enough space for me to write in.


RootsTech is always a whirlwind of great education and fun socializing. Get the most out of your RootsTech trip by getting and staying organized!

What tips do you have on staying organized at RootsTech?


Genealogy Education – The Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research.


  • Want to hone your research skills?
  • Learn to write professional research reports?
  • Critically analyze documents?
  • Network with others passionate about genealogy?
  • Learn from the best of the best in the genealogy world?

Then keep reading …

My blog has been quiet for the past 3 months as I threw myself into the Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research. The course ended about 2 weeks ago and I have been thinking about my experience. A quick disclaimer – I have no association with the B.U. course except that I recently completed it.

The Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research is a 15-week online course covering modules in Foundations of Genealogical Research, Problem-Solving Techniques and Technology, Evidence Evaluation and Documentation, Forensic Genealogical Research, and Professional Genealogy. It is taught by some of the best genealogists in the country (more about who they are can be found here), sharing their knowledge and expertise in an online setting. Together with experienced teaching assistants, they guide students through each module, encouraging discussion among the 30 or so students in each group and providing feedback on assignments.

The assignments are tough and I appreciated that. I wanted the opportunity to put into practice what I was learning and they provided an effective way to do that. Each assignment is graded and you need at least a C in each module, with a final grade of at least a B- to earn the certificate.

This course is time-consuming (20-30 hours of work a week). Many fellow students worked full time and participated in the course outside of their work day, and were able to keep up with it. I was fortunate to be able to focus exclusively on the course and many times put in more than 30 hours a week. Between online course work, all the readings (including supplemental and mandatory readings), the discussion forums and the assignments, there is certainly enough to keep one very busy.

I did many hours of research prior to signing up for the course as I wanted to spend my genealogy education dollars wisely. The course is expensive, there’s no way of getting around that fact. However, I am happy to report that I feel like my expectations were exceeded and my money well spent. My goal is to become a Certified Genealogist and I felt like this course gave me the skills and confidence to see that I am capable of achieving that. [Note: The Boston University course results in being able to say, if you pass the course, that you are a holder of a Certificate in Genealogical Research. You are not a Certified Genealogist after the course.]

One of the side benefits of this course is that you get to meet other students as passionate about genealogy as you are. Each bring their experience and knowledge to the group and that fosters great discussion. I am looking forward to meeting up with my new-found friends at upcoming genealogy conferences.

If you are thinking about genealogy education, I would highly recommend this course. I believe the next course starts in January 2018. More information can be found here.

Top Tips for RootsTech 2017


RootsTech 2017 is 3 weeks away.  Time to get organized!

  • Classes: Decide which classes you want to attend. This is probably the hardest as there are going to be multiple classes that you would love to attend all happening at the same time.  Decide on your top 3 choices.  Then, if your number one class is full you are ready with your next choice.  Use the RootsTech App to keep track of your personalized daily schedule.
  • Family History Library: Build in time in your schedule for the Family History Library. I am heading up a day early to take advantage of the proximity of the Library to the Salt Palace Convention Center where RootsTech 2017 is taking place.  Make sure you know what you want to look at in the Library and make good use of your research time.  The Family History Library is a black hole when it comes to how fast time flies whilst there!
  • Network: RootsTech is a great place for networking with friends and colleagues. It’s a great place to make new contacts too.   Make the effort to meet in person those genie friends you know online.  It doesn’t hurt to have a business card to hand out!
  • Electronics: almost every RootsTech attendee will have their laptop or tablet with them.  Some attendees take notes on them or quickly look up a new website being mentioned by a presenter.  You’ll want your updated genealogy software program on there, especially if you plan to do research at the Family History Library.  Don’t forget those chargers.
  • Comfy shoes! No need to explain further.  The Salt Palace Convention Center is huge, you’ll be walking a lot.


Bonus Tip:

I like to print out the syllabus for each session and use that to make notes on.   I also write where that session will be taking place on the top of the handout.  I then file them in the order the classes will be happening each day.  As of the time of writing, the syllabi for each session is not on the RootsTech website yet but they do seem to be available via the RootsTech app.  I was able to click on the session I am interested in and page to the bottom where a link appears for the syllabus (if the presenter has one).   By tapping on it you can select to either Take Notes on the Handout, Download Handout or Email Handout.

Learn more about RootsTech 2017 here.  See you in Salt Lake!


Know the History, Know the Records

Know the History, Know the Records

Searching for a family in the 1890 U.S. census may leave you feeling very frustrated.  That’s because the 1890 Census was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1921.  If you are researching in Appomattox County, Virginia it is vital to know that a fire destroyed much of the county court records in 1892.   If you are searching the freebmd.org.uk site for a birth registration for your ancestor born in 1835 you will be disappointed.  The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales only began in July 1837.  On June 30, 1922 almost all of the records kept in the Public Record Office of Ireland were destroyed during the Irish Civil War. All Irish census returns for the years 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 as well as many other documents were destroyed by the explosion and fire. These are simple examples of why it is important to know the history before you search for the records.

How to Find Out What Records are Available

There are 2 sites I use when trying to find out what records may be available in a research locality which is new to me:

Familysearch Wiki

I’ve written before about the incredible value to be found in using the FamilySearch Wiki as you prepare to search.

Main Page of the FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page)

Start out with a broad locality, for example, Arizona.  Here you will find a page that gives you all the information you need to begin a search for records in Arizona.  The large blue ‘Online Records’ button indicates that there are numerous records available online to look at.

FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Arizona,_United_States_Genealogy)

You can continue to narrow your search to a particular county, city or town.   The FamilySearch Wiki is not only focused on the United States but has information on the available records for many countries.   Below is the Wiki page for South African genealogy:

FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/South_Africa)

You can also search by keywords so typing in ‘Burned Counties’ will give you a page with information on which U.S. counties are considered ‘burned counties’ and ways to find records for them.

Burned Counties Research (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Burned_Counties_Research)

Not only can the FamilySearch Wiki assist in finding out what records are available but it also gives valuable research guidance and advice.  Know the history know the records!

The other site that I use for my British research is GENUKI.  From their main page, “GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland”. (http://www.genuki.org.uk/)

GENUKI provides a wealth of information on county formation, available records, maps, addresses of libraries and county record offices, directories, description and travel, and local history.

Having trouble locating a record?  Good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I understand enough about the history of this area to be able to search effectively?
  • Does the record exist in the time period I am looking at?
  • Am I looking in the correct town, city, county, province or district?
  • Have records moved as counties merged with other counties?
  • Have a country’s borders changed over time?
  • Was there a fire, flood, or some type of disaster which may have destroyed the records I’m searching for?

Knowledge really is power.  Knowing the history means knowing which records may be available.  The added benefit of this knowledge is that it helps us make good use of valuable research time.

Prepare to Search: Lessons in Avoiding Wasted Research Time


Frustrated by a lack of progress in my research today I took a moment to try to figure out exactly what had contributed to that feeling of discouragement. We all have those days – our research seems to hit a brick wall almost immediately and we can’t find a way around it.  We’re not finding what we thought would be easily found.  We feel discouraged and frustrated. We’re skipping from record to record in the hopes that what we are searching for will suddenly drop into our lap.   So how had I been conducting my research that led to such frustration?  Once I took a step back I noticed three things:

1)  I had started searching without a research plan.  No wonder I was jumping all over the place, easily distracted by other information not pertinent to what I was trying to find.  I had no focused question I was trying to answer, just a general ‘Let me see what I can find on James Craft who I think was born about 1810 in Maryland’.

2)  I was researching in an area I was not familiar with.  I began searching without knowing what records are available for that area, either online or elsewhere.

3) I had not followed the most basic advice given to those just starting out in genealogy research  – begin with what you know and move from the known to the unknown.  I was searching for the unknown, hoping to connect to the known. Additionally, my search began without familiarizing myself with the information I already had.  I found related information in records only to realize that I already had that information.

Familiarize yourself with the records you already have.

So how do we avoid research frustration?


  • Start by reviewing what you know. Move from the known to the unknown. Study your Research Log.  Study the records you have already found.
  • Always use a Research Plan (see my previous post titled ‘Research Plans, Mind Maps and a Case Study’ for more information on the benefits of using a research plan).
  • Have a research objective. Formulate your research question and keep your focus on it as you search.
  • If you are new to a particular area of research, familiarize yourself with its history and record availability. The FamilySearch Wiki is a great place to start finding information and available records on a new area.

Once we have done all these things we are PREPARED to search.

That was what derailed my research today – I did not prepare to research.  I know all those things mentioned above but in my rush to use the little time I had available for research, I simply jumped right in without any preparation. A somewhat wasted day but a good lesson in following basic strategies to ensure we are making the most of our time.  We know too that even with good preparation we will experience days (weeks? years?!) where we feel frustrated with our lack of progress on a particular person.  It happens but isn’t usually because we began our search unprepared.

You’ve Watched the Webinar. Now What?


Today the Board for Certification of Genealogists presented a series of educational webinars, hosted by Legacy Family Tree, on a variety of topics.  The information was excellent, with many notes taken and the downloaded syllabi added substantially to my ‘to read’ list. Webinars are excellent ways to add to our genealogical education.  Each week there are many freely available webinars being offered by different organizations.

Are we making the most of this excellent resource for furthering our education?  It doesn’t really help much if we watch the webinar and walk away afterwards never to look again at our notes.

Here’s how I get the most out of these excellent webinars:

  • I always download and print the syllabus for each webinar so that I have a hard copy and something to write my notes on as the webinar is presented.
  • After the webinar is over and while it is still fresh in my mind, I do a quick assessment of my notes. If I feel like the syllabus and my notes don’t cover something fully, or that I think I missed a point made in the webinar, I watch the webinar again (if it was recorded and once it is available). I don’t always have the time to watch the entire webinar again so I will often find the particular spot in the presentation and listen again to the presenter’s commentary and catch what I may have missed.
  • If the webinar pertains to an area or topic I am currently researching or need to immediately learn more about , it goes to the top of my ‘follow up now’ list. Often as I am watching a webinar a particular ancestor or brick wall problem will come to mind. I make a note of my thoughts as they correspond to what the presenter is talking about.  I try to get to my ‘follow up now’ list as soon as I can after the webinar to try out the strategies or access the database or link discussed.
  • If the webinar focused on things like research skills and strategies, analysis and correlation topics, narrative writing and proof argument skills, methodology and certification skills it goes on my ‘future study’ list. I try to study one of these webinars each week. I am currently working towards professional certification so  these types of webinars are extremely important in helping me to learn the skills I need.


  • I add the name of the webinar, the presenter, the topic and the organization presenting the webinar to an excel spreadsheet. When I feel like I need more education on something or I’m starting to research an area or topic I don’t know a lot about, I can check my file to see if there was a webinar on the topic and if I have a syllabus I can study.

What is your process for getting the most out of a webinar?