RootsTech London 2019 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech London 2019 is over, but we can still enjoy it.
You can download the syllabi from the presentation list here. Click on the arrow next to the name of the presentation to see the description and a link to the syllabus (if there is one).

There are links for RootsTech London 2019 Keynotes & General Sessions and some selected Sessions here. More videos from past RootsTech presentations can also be found on that page.

Civil War Pensions

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask us in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

In this blog post, we outline the process of requesting a Civil War Pension, and what to do if NARA replies that the Pension file is not available at NARA Archives 1 in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps you have found some evidence of your ancestor’s service in the Civil War on in family history, Fold3, Ancestry or FamilySearch. If that ancestor filed for a pension, or his widow or minor children did, you may find some useful and important genealogical data in that pension application.

(Note: The approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910 are available on Fold3 but are only 21% complete. Digitization has been halted due to concerns about handling these fragile files.

Pensions may contain a wealth of genealogical information. The veteran (or dependent) had to provide the story of the veteran’s service, and describe the wounds or ailments that had caused the veteran to be unable to support himself. Relationships had to be documented, so you might find marriage, birth and death dates of family members. There are often written statements from fellow veterans who served with him and witnessed his injuries. There could be doctor’s evaluations.

It is important to find the Pension Index Card (shown below) before ordering a pension. Be sure to save the image of the whole card when you find it. Pension Indexes can be found at Ancestry, Fold3 or on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free site for family historians, and the images for the pension can be found by searching the database: United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

In the card below, the multiple military organizations in which the veteran served are listed. The Certificate Number indicates that a pension was awarded.

If you cannot find a Pension Index Card, it is most likely because that the veteran did not apply a pension. In those days, the pensions were not automatically given to veterans. A veteran, or widow or minor, had to demonstrate that they could not work and did not have income to survive.

1. When you have obtained the Pension Index Card, you can submit a request to NARA online using:

SF 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records

Or NARA Form 85

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get a Civil War Pension File and some of the challenges you might face.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII the Korean War and more at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

Family History Outing: U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum tells the story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, whose unofficial motto is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves”. The Museum focuses on fielded and experimental equipment in: Aircraft, Rail, Vehicle, Watercraft Equipment.

Camp Eustis was established in 1918 as a training center for railway coast artillery. It became a Fort in 1923.

The Museum has a main building, a railroad pavilion, a vehicle pavilion, a marine park and an aviation pavilion.

Although the U.S. Transportation began in 1942 during WWII, the Army has needed to move troops, weapons and supplies since its beginning in the Revolutionary War. In the main building of the Museum, there is an exhibit gallery for every phase of the Army’s history. The exhibits have been put together carefully, paying attention to providing the details of an accurate representation.

Of course, I spent a lot of time in the WWI gallery. The Mexican Expeditions are also included in this gallery. There were vehicles from WWI, a mule with a pack and a model showing how the U.S. Army Transport Service berthed soldiers and transported supplies.















Army Transport Service (Sea)

In the 1950s, fueled by the Cold War, the Army saw a time of incredibly creativity in the invention of novel technology. So much about these novel technologies inspired science fiction movies. The Army’s Aerocycle single person helicopter is a novel alternative to a jet pack; the soldier stands above the rotor blades. Among the prototypes in the Aviation Pavilion are a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that was tested in 1958; the Cybernetic Walking Machine; the Air Car; and the Airgeep. The Airgeep could travel at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. and fly up to several thousands of feet in the air. The Air Car flew 10-12” off the ground, and was capable of speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It looks like the inspiration for Lady Penelope’s car in the “Thunderbirds” Supermarionation series. The Cybernetic Walker was an ancestor of the ATATs in “Star Wars”.

The Air Car

The full-sized artifacts in the pavilions show you so much more than the pictures in the museum ever could.

Although I found no mention of the Pioneer Infantry Regiments in the Museum, I did find one at the Mariner’s Museum.

This would be an interesting place to get children interested in their ancestors who served in the U.S. Army. They would be able to walk through a gallery filled with the vehicles, uniforms and other sights that their ancestors would have seen during their time in service. It could foster an interest in technology of the different eras and supplement what students learn in U.S. history classes. While the Museum is certainly filled with terrific life-sized artifacts, but it is not as interactive as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

I always recommend checking out a museum on a military installation. No matter how small, the artifacts give an insight into the history of the installation and the community around it.

The Museum asks for a $4 donation from each adult visiting.

Information about the Museum can be found here.

New Tools from Ancestry and MyHeritage

RootsTech has become the time and place for new genealogical announcements and RootsTech 2019 did not disappoint! This blog post focuses on new some new tools available from Ancestry and MyHeritage that you need to check out.

While there is plenty of buzz about these tools, I recommend that you check in with the experts, then try them yourself. The value of the tools is based on personal preference, so you want to form your own opinion.

At the end of the post there is homework to do, but not to turn in!

From Ancestry:

MyTreeTags™: You can add their tags or create custom tags for people’s profiles in your Ancestry tree. There are several categories of tags: Relationships, Research, Reference, DNA and Custom. You can use tags in the search box on the tree itself to find tagged individuals. In the video in the homework section, Crista Cowan has some suggested tags. One is “Never Married” for someone who died young, to remind yourself to not expend effort in a search for descendants. Other tags can be used so that you have reminders about where you are in your research.

New & Improved DNA Matches: You can now use color coding and custom labeling on your DNA matches. For example, you can choose colors to designate groups of matches based on the common ancestor. This is a convenient way to be able to recognize and filter (sort) the matches.

ThruLines™: You can view your the matches and potential links. This tool goes beyond the DNA matches to check user-submitted family trees to generate potential ancestors. I found this a very useful tool to visualize how a group of DNA matches are connected to me and each other. Since this tool can show user-submitted family tree data, remember to use these lines as hints and verify the connections that are shown before adding them to your tree.

From MyHeritage:

MyHeritage came out with new DNA tools to help users leverage and visualize their DNA data.

Auto Cluster, which is reached from the DNA menu -> Tools, then choose AutoClusters. This tool groups matches together visually, using different colors. Since this may take a long time, click on the “Generate” button and you will be emailed a zip file containing the AutoCluster Report when it is completed. Inside the zip file is a Read Me file, an Excel spreadsheet, and an html document that will display the clusters. The Read Me document is personalized, showing the range of cMs included in the clustering, and which matches were excluded (and why).

Theory of Family Relativity, which is found in DNA menu -> DNA Matches
This is a tool to bridge the gap between DNA and paper records. The theories of relativity are built using trees in MyHeritage trees, Geni and Family Search and combining them with records. If you have any theories, a banner appears at the top of your matches.

Here’s another feature while looking at your DNA matches. Under estimated relationships where you see something like “3 -5 cousin” click on the question mark (?) to open an Estimated Relationship Details chart where the shared boxes where showing which are the potential relationships.

If you do not have a subscription, you can pay a one-time fee of $29 per kit to unlock all advanced DNA features offered by MyHeritage, including Theory of Family Relativity™. According to MyHeritage: “Users without a subscription will still see all theories that we found for them, but when they click to see the full theory details, some of the information will be hidden.”
Note: I was able to access AutoCluster tool, but that may be during a trial period. I did not have any theories.

If you do not have a subscription, you can pay a one-time fee of $29 per kit to unlock all advanced DNA features offered by MyHeritage, including Theory of Family Relativity™. According to MyHeritage: “Users without a subscription will still see all theories that we found for them, but when they click to see the full theory details, some of the information will be hidden.”
Note: I was able to access AutoCluster tool, but that may be during a trial period. I did not have any theories.

Here’s the homework.

For each company, I have posted links to a description in of the new tools at the company’s blog, and a video describing the tool. I recommend you try these things after reading them. After you have some familiarity with the tools, you can look at the plethora of how-to’s and discussions of the key features.

  • Watch the video
  • Read the blog post
  • Try it yourself!
  • Look for more information and how-to articles on the web (optional)

Read about ThruLines™ and MyTreeTags in the Ancestry blog here.

To learn about Ancestry’s MyTreeTags and New & Improved DNA Matching watch Crista Cowan’s video “What You Don’t Know about Ancestry” here.

Crista Cowan explains ThruLines in “Introducing ThruLines™ | Ancestry”.

The video can also be found here.  

To learn about MyHeritage’s new DNA tools, read their blog post about Theory of Family Relativity here.

Blaine Bettinger’s video “New MyHeritage Tools – AutoCluster and Theory of Family Relativity”

The video can also be found here.

Check out these new tools and let me know how you do!

RootsTech 2019 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech 2019 is over and if you did not make it, you can still be inspired by viewing some of the videos and all of the handouts at the link below. It is great that Rootstech lets us all be a part of it.


Videos for some sessions can be viewed here.


The handouts (syllabi) for the sessions can be viewed and downloaded here.

7 Categories for Genealogical Goals

7 Categories for Genealogy GoalsI

t’s a New Year!

For many, each new year comes with resolutions. These are typically about health and well being. How about some for genealogy? Since we are at the end of January, you need only do 11 to cover the rest of the year.

The first step is to define your current genealogical goals. You might be looking into one branch of the family, trying to find immigrants place of origin or make progress on a lineage society application.  

Make a list of your goal for each month.

To organize your efforts, and keep track of what you did and did not find, consider using a Research Log. You can learn more about them at the Family Search Wiki https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Research_Logs or even take view an online class about them https://www.familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/45.

Once you have made a list of your goals, consider how large each is. For larger goals, you will probably want to divide them into subgoals for a month and choose from one category to complete.  

Research shows we have greater success with smaller goals than larger ones, do here are some suggestions for categories of goals:

1. Write. Document your own life. Collect the documents that prove who you are and your relationships. Compiling a timeline of your life events would be great.

Or choose to write about an ancestor you have researched. Include all the data you have found and all the family stories. Writing about an ancestor gives a product to share with your family. It also sheds light on the gaps in your research.

2. DNA. Spend some time thinking about the use of DNA in your genealogical research. Consider taking a DNA test. There are definitely privacy concerns that you will want to consider. If you decide to test, consider getting family members on both your maternal and paternal sides. 

If you have already taken a test, do something to organize your matches.  For those who tested at Ancestry.com, the manual Leeds method may help. There are a large number of automated clustering tools to investigate.

3. Learning. Learn about an ethnic group and its migration and records. Learn about using a set of records or a subscription service. Learn about genealogical research in a state or county. There is a lot to learn, so there may be different learning goals over the year. Remember that the best way to retain what we have learned is to apply what you learn as soon after the class  as you can.  

Classes about many topics can be found on FamilySearch Learning Center.

Some Legacy Family Tree Webinars are free for a week after they are originally aired. They offer subscriptions, and individual webinars can be purchased.

Ancestry.com has a YouTube video channel to learn about research techniques and find out about their new collections. 

Search YouTube for videos about topics that relate to your research. There are classes and lectures. There are videos about genealogy tools and how to use them. There are tours of locations. Depending on your cable provider, you may find that you have access to YouTube on a channel. While the YouTube interface on FIOS is awkward, watching the video on a larger TV screen can be good.

4. Podcasts. Do you listen to genealogy podcasts? Have you searched iTunes for new genealogy podcasts? I never miss an episode of The Genealogy Guys Podcast. There are a bunch of others out there to enjoy!

5. Gather. Go to a genealogical event in person. This could be a meeting of a local society or a regional or national conference.

6. What’s at the Library? You can visit and ask. Most libraries have a website where you can find out what resources they access. You might find that your library card can unlock HeritageQuest, Fold3 or other resources for home use. The Library Edition of Ancestry.com usually requires you go to the library to use it. Also look for libraries in your ancestors’ regions. 

7. An Electronic Family Tree. Think of it as organizational step. It is great to have all the paper, but having it all electronically lets you print out forms and reports more easily. Capture data, scans of records and images you find in this electronic family tree. Decide if you want a tree on your own computer or online. You might want both, so look at software that synchronizes the trees. Needless to say, this will probably be a larger project, so set up subgoals by branches or groups of family.

This reminds me of housecleaning, which is something that can be hard to get excited about doing, but the results make you feel better. In fact, my Mother used to recommend cleaning when you felt low because you will have something to show for the time.


What if… ? Relax! You may not complete a monthly goal, or find you want a goal to spill into the next month. You may want to skip a monthly goal to do something more promising. You may not have time that month to do what you planned. It’s your list! It’s fluid!

If you can devote a weekend to each goal, or even a day per month, you can get closer to your genealogical goals. You will find that having  (changeable) goals will get you closer.