Tag Archives: family history

Tips on Creating a Large Family Tree for a Gift (with templates)

By Suzie Kolber

A large family tree framed and presented as a gift is a wonderful way to honor a person. It is the ideal choice for a milestone birthday or anniversary and has a lot of meaning. It can be difficult to choose the right template with so many options. The right one for your family may be different from what would work for someone else.

Consider Presentation
Since the family tree will most likely be prominently displayed, it should have a nice visual presentation. A circular family tree provides a continuous, symmetrical design that looks nice when framed. A fan is another option that appears like a piece of artwork when hung.

Another choice is the bowtie family tree chart if you want to include both sides of a family member. This is ideal for anniversaries where you would feature the married couple in the center and branch off for both of their families. Since there will be a lot of information or a long list of names, you want the shape to stand out even if someone doesn’t take the time to read the words.

Consider Information
To choose the right template for your gift, you have to consider how much information you want to include. This will influence the selection as to which style works best. If you only plan to include photos or a name and birthdate, a family tree with oval spaces will look nice. If you want more information included such as birth, marriage and death dates, lines or boxes will be more practical.
The landscape and pedigree styles are the most traditional. They can hold a lot of information in a way that is easy to follow. If you are giving this gift to a couple who did not have children, you may want to use a partner family tree. It allows you to trace the history on both sides of the family with the couple as the starting point.

Keep these tips in mind when designing a family tree print as a gift:

  • Choose a template that doesn’t have a lot of holes that are glaringly obvious – you don’t want to highlight missing people or unusual circumstances that may make people uncomfortable
  • Remember that your family tree chart doesn’t have to be an 8×11 piece of paper; it can be as large as you need it to be to fit the information
  • Consider making it vibrant with a colored background but choose a shade that doesn’t take away from the information or make it difficult to read
  • Find free templates online and try out different ones – you only know when something works once you see it
    A family tree chart is a fabulous gift that many people will appreciate. It is a gift from the heart and one that is personal to the recipient but that others can enjoy. Be willing to play with different styles to fine the one that fits your needs.

Suzie Kolber created http://obituarieshelp.org/free_printable_blank_family_tree.html to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

Heritage-DIY: What I learned the hard way about home digital preservation

The door to the storage area of our house (which included our holiday decorations and other heirlooms) reveals the flood water line in our home in 2006. A lot of memories were lost, but we learned some lessons too.


In October 2006, I was away on a business trip when a freak 150-year flood event destroyed the contents of my family’s rural home. Facing an oncoming five-foot wall of water, my wife had little time to consider our possessions. For all the things we lost that day, I still feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for having married someone who (first) had the presence of mind to survive an epic disaster with a two-year-old in tow, and (second) managed to save our scrapbooks and photo albums in the process.

I’ve heard of many stories like that. In the moment of choice, we instinctively cherish photographs as windows to another time. An instant reconnection to faces that fade in memory as they (and we) grow older and pass. The world’s wide-scale shift to digital mobile photography makes capturing these memories easier. It also makes them harder to preserve.


If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to take stock of your photo collection–digital and print–and get them into a trackable inventory. My suggestion is to simply grab a sheet of paper and list the places where your photographs can be found, and the major themes and events found there. Keep in mind, your photos could be anywhere from traditional photo albums to hard drives, Facebook, or (if you’re like some people I know) still on your camera’s memory card after several years.

Cull and Label

When you have a complete inventory of what’s available, it’s time to focus on what’s important. Chances are, your life is cluttered with images that are low-quality, unflattering or lacking any memory of their significance. Pick the very best photos from your collections and start giving them context. This means “tagging” them with words and names that mean something to you.

Tags can be used in variety of ways. Collect major themes into directories/folders on your computer’s hard drive. These could be named something like “birthdays” or it could simply be organized by year. Tagging also extends to the names of the files. The point is to make them searchable for the concepts that are important to you. If you take a photo, and never see it again, does it really exist?

Diversified Digital Systems

Pick a good photo management application. Most now have the ability to automatically recognize and categorize faces. Something established an relatively cheap, like Adobe Lightroom may be the best way to start. Your local library likely sometimes offers free classes in digital photography and photo cataloging programs, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. Many of these programs can upload to online photo sharing sites like Google Photos or Flickr as well, so take advantage of that secondary backup option!

These software programs will allow you to add as many tags as you like and embed that information in the image itself, so your images will still be searchable even if you switch to another program, or upload them to the web.

Just remember, photos are meant for sharing! The more places you have your important photos, the better the chance that they survive into the future. It’s okay to save them on your hard drive but be sure to back up your entire collection on DVDs about once a year.

Print is NOT Dead

For the best of the best, it’s still important to have prints made. All things being equal, a print on professional-quality photo paper will outlast digital storage every time. My digital photo collection contained on an external hard drive did not survive the flooding on my house, but I was able to piece most of it back together by scanning in our surviving photo albums, and using DVD backups and web tools.

So how do you handle personal image cataloging and storage? Know of any tools (perhaps online) or techniques that could be widely used?


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676576994/sizes/s/in/photostream/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676246631/in/photostream

Rootstech Family History & Technology Conference – Day 1.2

rootstech teaser

Here is Charleen Mullenweg’s second post on her experience at the Rootstech Genealogy Conference. Read about her previous experiences here.

After lunch Thursday, I headed for the expo floor.  We had to get a certain number of signatures from different booths in order to get the Rootstech t-shirts, so I headed down there to grab some of them before my next session.  This is where I ran into one of the few technical snafu’s of the conference: there was no time allotted between sessions for travel or visiting the expo floor.  I had left lunch a few minutes early, but still got hung up at the FamilySearch booth, and at the booth for this wicked cool scanner called a Flip Pal (I’m seriously thinking about getting one since my last scanner just went belly up). The upshot of this is that I was very late to my next session, “Toy Story: Electronic Tools for Genealogists” presented by Sandra Crowley.  Fortunately, the Rootstech swag bag offered up a full syllabus of each of the sessions, so I can still give you the skinny of the bits that I missed.

My Rootstech shirt!
My Rootstech shirt!

Sandra Crowley’s began by pointing out that while the information that we look for is essentially the same stuff our parents and grandparents looked for, the technologies and the methodologies are quite different.  Sandra began with talking about laptops, or, if the user is looking for something more lightweight and portable, netbooks.  She spoke about the various specs that each user must examine before choosing  a model based on how the user believes they will be using the portable computer.  The same applied for storage devices, which are becoming smaller and cheaper by the hour (it seems), and for tablet computers.  She covered the three types of scanners that are available to genealogists – desktop, portable, and hand held – and the technical specs to consider when you want to buy one (big hint from me to you: a minimum 300 dpi is needed if you ever want to blow up the photograph later).  Digital cameras, GPS devices, and smarthphones are all part of her toolbox.  Sandra finished her talk after discussing the importance of connectivity, and the various options that users have if they’re denied an easy wi-fi connection.  Warning, many of those aftermarket options come with lengthy contracts.  I enjoyed this session immensely, and found her advice to be helpful, especially for non-technical users.  She left her users with a helpful suggestion: visit the FamilySearch Wiki technology section for more helpful hints about the technologies that you can use!

Then I went to “Mobile Apps for Genealogy” by A. C. Ivory, of Find My Ancestor blog fame.  A. C. recommended several apps in several categories, beginning with your basic genealogical tools for iPhone and iPad; he was particularly fond of Reunion (which only works with Macintosh computers), and included Ancestry, MacFamily Tree (also for the Macintosh), Gedview (only woorks with GEDCOM, no multimedia), Mobile Tree (only for LDS currently), and Traces of the Past (from FamilySearch.org). He covered educational apps, like the Genealogy Gems Podcast App (which I signed up for immediately, and have enjoyed), and an interesting sounding one called On This Day (which I haven’t signed up for yet, but I’ll let you know if I do).  He then moved on to organization and storage apps, suggesting Research Logger, an app that manages to-do lists, the logging of research, and multimedia files, Dropbox, which works cross-platform, and has various apps associated with it, and Evernote, which allows you to access your docs and photos from anywhere.  Finally, he talked about social networking apps like Twitter and Facebook that allow you to share your genealogy discoveries with others.

When I went to go to my last session of the day, “Enhanced Genealogy through Research, Documents, Organization and Sharing,” I ran into the second technological snafu of the conference.  I found nothing wrong with Brandy Sacco’s excellent presentation, but we were not provided with a syllabus of the presentations before registration, and I was unaware that I was walking into a sales pitch for her product, Familyology.  I ended up slipping out and going back to the expo hall to pick up some more signatures and check out some more products.

Giant steps are what you take...
Giant steps are what you take…

That evening, my mother and I went to the Night at the Planetarium event, hosted by brightsolid.  We found this event to be a little disappointing – the venue was fantastic, and the movie offerings were a lot of fun.  The event was billed as a dinner, but the food offerings were poor, and there were precious few places to sit while eating.  The iced water and pink lemonade ran out by 7:30 on the second floor.  My mother and I enjoyed the 3D movie about the Hubble telescope, and my mother even  managed to snap a picture of me walking on the moon.

Thus endeth my first day of Rootstech – though it had enough packed into it that it took me until today to finish blogging it!  I hope to take lass time on it in the future posts.


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Rootstech Family History & Technology Conference – Day 1

rootstech teaser

Howdy everyone!  I know that I’m a new face on Voices of the Past, so please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Charleen Mullenweg, and I’m from Houston, Texas.  I currently live just north of Austin, Texas, in a little city called Pflugerville (hard to spell, easy to love), where I work for one of the local hospital systems, spoil my critters, and work on my genealogy in the dead of night.  Ok, sometimes in the daytime too, but I always shut the curtains tight.  I met Jeff and his lovely wife at WordCamp Dallas a few years ago, and we all bonded over our mutual love of cemeteries. Which is why I’m here now, cluttering up his blog – Jeff found out that I am attending the Rootstech Conference here in chilly Salt Lake City, and asked me to blog a few of my views, thoughts and impressions of this new conference.  I hope he doesn’t regret it too much!

My swag
My swag

I first heard about Rootstech late last year, and thought “Genealogy and technology! What’s not to love about this???”  I must admit, my second thought was, “Maybe I can finally see that library!” I imagine something out of a fantasy painting with a wizened old man sitting at a cluttered table in front of bookshelves that stretch into infinity in every direction.  I doubt its going to be like that, but I’ll let you know late Friday (or more likely, early Saturday) as that’s when I finally get to see it!

This morning I woke up bright and early, packed in a breakfast, and headed the 75 steps over to the Salt Palace Convention Center.  If you ever have to attend something at that center, I would seriously recommend staying at the Radisson Downtown, as it is super convenient and well priced. The breakfast ran long, though, so I missed the keynote with Jay Verkler, the CEO of FamilySearch International, and Shane R. Robison, the Executive VP and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer at Hewlett Packard.  Registration was painless, and I got a nice swag bag for my trouble, so I headed down to the Expo Hall, and killed time before the 11 a.m. session.

That first session was “Software Forecast: What Genealogists Need for the Future” presented by D. Joshua Taylor of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  Josh was an engaging speaker and very knowledgeable about the existing, emerging, and possible technologies for genealogy. In his words (from the syllabus, and I hope he’ll forgive me the borrowing of an excellent quote), “Genealogists are at a crossroads between available tools and the ability to integrate emerging technologies into daily practice.”  As you can imagine, emotions ran pretty high in parts of this, as I’m finding there’s a faction within the genealogical community that is resistant to change for various reasons, but more on that later.  Josh began by proposing a standardized metadata set as a way to make documents and images accessible cross-platform, much like a GEDCOM is for the database itself.  Doing this would allow for open source developers to build tools in order to enhance the existing platforms.  This is where the resistant to change faction began to speak up, citing security concerns, monetization worries, or simply that Ancestry will never accept such changes, but Josh supported and defended his position well.  He also brought up several possible uses for social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, but that mostly seemed to be surrounding finding and keeping in touch with fellow genealogists, or distant family members.  Finally he spoke about cloud storage solutions and collaboration tools that could be coming down the pipe. All in all, it was a lively and excellent presentation, and one of my favorites of the day.

Ancestry.com Lunch

I scurried over to the lunch, sponsored by Ancestry.com, with a presentation on “Mobile Applications: The Hows, Whys, and Future for Genealogy.”  The speaker was Kendall Hulet, the Senior Director of Platform and Mobile Product Management at Ancestry.com, and the presentation was informative.  Kendall talked about the different mobile platforms, and compared their rate of adoption and usage to models like the adoption and dominance of Netscape or AOL. He also showed us the current market share and last quarter growth of the major players in mobile platforms.  The upshot of it was that Apple’s IOS/iPhone/iPad is holding steady, while Android seems to be eating up the users that used to be BlackBerry owners.  I’d be interested to see how those numbers look next quarter, now that Verizon has finally gained the rights to sell contracts for the iPhone.  Kendall then talked about the new developments that Ancestry has made on their mobile application for the iPhone and iPad (it looks far cooler on the iPad in my humble opinion).  He talked about and briefly demonstrated some of the other products on the market for IOS, like Traces of the Past, Reunion, and Everyday Genealogy.  He moved on to the Android products like Family Bee and Genstar Pro, ending that discussion on the high note that Ancestry is in active development of their mobile software for the Android platform.  Finally, he covered the future of what’s coming from Ancestry: he said that there will be active syncing between the online and desktop trees “very soon” (SQUEE!!) and multilingual support (same timeline of “very soon”).  I tried to push him on more definitive dates during the question and answer session, but he wouldn’t budge.

Ok, I’ve delivered my breaking news (Ancestry syncing!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!), and its getting quite late, so I’ll have to finish telling you about Thursday tomorrow. Good night all!!!


Photo teaser elements courtesy of Roberta Taylor and Frangipani Photograph

Heritage Scrapbooking: Online resources to save the memories of a lifetime


Scrapbooking Teaser

There are two types of gifts I’m always thrilled to get: those that are handmade and those that incorporate family memories. Heritage scrapbooks embrace both of these concepts, resulting in a gift your family will always treasure. It takes just a little planning and mindfulness to make your family moments last a lifetime, and beyond.

Here are a few resources to help you get started with archival materials for your scrapbook:

  • Scrapbook Preservation Society: The SPS mission is to collect, review, organize, and distribute science-based preservation information to the scrapbook community through the publication of preservation guidelines, informational articles, and technical papers, and through the presentation of educational programs. Check out their FAQ for a great overview on archival materials.
  • How to Find Your Roots has a great page on heritage scrapbooking, including resources for paper, discussions on choosing an album size and even a section on scrapbooking with kids.
  • If you are looking for a quick method to start on a heritage scrapbook, check out this kit on the Home Shopping Network’s site.
  • And finally, visit the Heritage Scrap Gallery for beautiful ready-made art to fit your design.

ScrapBooking DayWhen you’ve selected the best tools for the job, then the fun begins. Putting the scrapbook together as a family makes it a lot more fun and takes some of the pressure off of you. Katie Scott of Kiss and Tell Scrapbooking produces regular live video chats and actively blogs about the process of putting together scrapbooks, telling stories. She’s down-to-earth and a crafty scrapbook designer to boot!

The granddaddy list of heritage scrapbooking links can be found over at Cyndi’s List. From gathering supplies to distribution in varying formats, Cyndi has it all!

If you need inspiration for scrapbooking ideas, such as layouts and ways to present photo captions, try the galleries at the Creative Memories website. Additionally, there are several ready-made heritage scrapbook kits at My Perfect Scrapbook and  The Vintage Workshop has some wonderful embellishments.

If you are having trouble getting started with telling your “story,” then the We Are Storytellers site has tons of useful information, though it appears to no longer be updated.

Here’s a downloadable storyboard for helping you sketch out the narrative for your scrapbook:

Teaser photo by Valerie Reneé on Flickr

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Social Networking for Family History

37680_411454183511_735493511_4853948_3330011_nAbout ten years ago I visited my local Family History Center to do some research and I got to talking with the center’s director about a recent discovery I had made.  She was so taken with what I had found that she exclaimed, “that’s such a genealogy gem, you really need to share that with other genealogists!” She asked me to jot down the steps I had followed on a piece of paper which she promptly posted on the center’s bulletin board.

As I stood there looking at the scrap of paper hanging by a thumbtack, I thought to myself, “there must be a better way to network with other genealogists and share this kind of information!”

Fast forward to early 2007 when my kids gave me an iPod for my birthday, and my discovery of podcasts.  It struck me like a thunderbolt – my virtual bulletin board! I had found my medium for sharing ‘genealogy gems’ at last! (Hhmm, that’s a catching phrase…) A month later I published my first episode of the Genealogy Gems Podcast and I’ve been having the time of my life ever since reaching thousands of genealogists around the world.

There is great power in connecting with other like minded people, and family historians have been at the forefront of capitalizing on that concept.  After all, genealogy is about people, and not just the dead ones!

I’d like to share my personal top ten favorite social networking websites for genealogy in the hopes that you will experience the fun and genealogical success they can offer.

Lisa’s Top 10 Genealogy Social Networking Sites

  1. Facebook – When it comes to social networking, Facebook is king.  And genealogists have come to it in droves, finding long last family, exchanging ideas, and following their family history faves (Follow the Genealogy Gems Podcast at Facebook.)  Take a few moments to look over and tweak your privacy account settings to meet your needs, and you’re good to go.
  2. Ancestry Member Trees – Even with all of the vast genealogical original content Ancestry has added to it’s site over the last ten years, it was Member Trees that hit the jackpot. Even though there are always little frustrations along the way when using Member Trees, they are still a must have for any serious genealogist. It’s a rare family historian these days who doesn’t have a success story to tell about a contact made through their online tree.
  3. Family Search Research Wiki – Wiki has been the buzz word at many a genealogy conference so far in 2010 and it looks like they are here to stay.  Not only does the Family Search Wiki facilitate the world’s brain trust on genealogy information, but it provides a platform for connection and collaboration.
  4. Family Tree Magazine Forum – As a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine, I’m well aware that editor Allison Stacy is at no risk of running out of ideas for new articles.  And yet she is sharp enough to know that her readers have opinions too, and at the Family Tree Magazine
  5. Genealogy Blogs – OK, I know that “genealogy blogs” is not one site, but more like a thousand websites.  But it’s the concept here that’s really at the heart of their value to genealogical social networking.  If you’re reading blog posts and skipping the Comments section, then you don’t know how much you’ve missed!  I’ve picked up great tips and found new online genealogists through blog comments.  Blogs come in every genealogical shape, color and size, as do their commentors.  Some of the most visited, and commented on, are Randy Seaver’s GeneaMusings, Eastman’s Online newsletter, and DearMYRTLE.
  6. MyHeritage – When it comes to international social networking, MyHeritage is the place to be.  Not only can you build your family tree, but you can share genealogical data with folks who don’t even speak your language.  There are truly no more barriers when it comes to social networking!
  7. YouTube – Part of the power of social networking is being able to find who shares your interest, and with the power of Google behind YouTube, it’s an important stop on the social networking tour.   YouTube not only sports thousands of genealogy channels (like the Genealogy Gems www.youtube.com/genealogygems) but also thousands of genealogy viewers and the search engine to find them.  Check out who is subscribing to your favorite channels and go check out and subscribe to their channels.
  8. We’re Related by FamilyLink – I admit it, I haven’t added the We’re Related app to my Facebook page.  But sometimes it seems like I’m just about the only one who hasn’t.  In my case it’s just the lack of a roundtuit, but thousands of genealogists swear by it for connecting with family on Facebook.
  9. PhotoLoom – A picture says a thousand words, and Photoloom melds your pictures with your genealogical data, and then gives you the platform to share it with invited family.  This is a “sleeper” gem of a website that you have to check out!
  10. Genealogy Gems – Being the social networking butterfly that I am, it’s no wonder that I always have genealogical connectivity in the back of mind as I add new features to my Genealogy Gems website.  Inevitably when I share a listener question on the Genealogy Gems Podcast, another listener will write in with the answer, and offer to help listener #1. And when I played some old reel to reel tapes on the show asking if anyone could “name that tune” that grandpa was playing, emails poured in.  It still amazes me after three years of doing the show, that there are so many folks out there keen to connect, and ready to offer a random act of genealogical kindness.

Note: you can listen to Voices of the Past’s podcast interview with Lisa Louise Cooke here.

Teaser graphic uses images by Library of Congress and by webtreats on Flickr.