Geni Podcast: Getting Family Involved with Genealogy

Posted April 18, 2011 by Geni | No Comment

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Show Notes:

  • Why should I involved my family in my genealogy research?

While many families enjoy working with each other to discover their ancestry and trace their heritage, very often it takes some convincing to get started on the journey. Here are some reasons why you might want to involve a variety of family members on your research:

    • Family members are good sources of information.  Your Aunt Martha might remember not just when your grandparents were born and where – information you can easily find on a birth certificate – but she might know some of the circumstances and stories involved. These “bits of information” are very often stored in the memory banks of loved ones and won’t be found anywhere else. And such information can generate leads on other areas of research that need to be completed.
    • Share the burden and costs of research.  Let’s face it, while there are many free resources for researching your family history, some information can only be gathered by ordering copies of vital records and other documents. Many families will split such costs in order to get the information needed. Also, entering information into a database, writing up findings, etc. can take time and effort. You may find one family member is better at typing than you are, etc.
    • Location, location, location.  More and more families are spread out across a wide geographic area, with many of us not living anywhere near where our ancestors lived. Working with family members who lives in specific areas, you can have them visit cemeteries, archives and historic sites to assist you with the research.
    • Teach and inspire the younger generation. Children and teenagers have a better appreciation for history when their own ancestors are placed in the context of that history. Show them how and where their ancestors lived and what life was like for them – you never know who will be the next “family genealogist!”

  • What should I do if family members are not interested at first?

The best approach is to not “push” too much – no guilt trips, no emotional games or arm twisting. Timing is everything and some family members need time to understand what is involved with genealogy.

It also helps to let family members read and absorb information and research on their own terms. This is why having a genealogy blog or a website where you post your findings is a great idea.  The information is always there and you can either email them a link to the site or even print off pages and mail them to family members.

Also, you may have to just accept that fact that not every family member will be interested and want to research together. This is not a reflection on you or your interests. Nor does it mean that they are disrespecting your ancestors.

  • What are some of the best ways to get data from family members, especially when talking with them in person?

One of the best methods has been around since the start of time and way before the Internet: conversation. Have a talk with your relatives either in person or on the telephone. Ask if you can take notes or record the conversation using a hand-held recorder or even a video camera.

Another method is to bring along a laptop or netbook and use the ( website to enter information. Also consider using the new site tpstry ( which prompts you for questions about specific ancestors, how they lived, etc.

  • What are the various methods used to work with family members online?

Email works best for most people but I find that using structure in an email is much better than just simply typing “Tell me what you know about Grandma Jenkins.”  Be specific – let the family member know what you are looking for or what gaps in information need to be completed.

If the other person is comfortable with writing on the computer, consider having them type up a document listing their memories of a specific ancestors or family stories. This information can then not only be entered into your genealogy database, but it will contains those little “bits” we discussed above that can lead to greater finds. is a great way to collaborate since a family tree can be shared and accessed by more than one family member. You may need to work with some family members and show them how to access the site, how to enter information etc. In addition, you might want to appoint someone as the “gatekeeper” for the tree – someone who can check data for consistency and formatting.

  • How do you distribute and share information with family members once it is gathered and collected?

Again, the options are almost limitless and depend upon the resources you want to utilize as well as your creativity.

Some families are content with simply using a blog or website to post data and have an online presence. Also, some families simply share their family tree on and other sites.

These same sites often have options to print out a family tree chart which is great for those relatives without computers or Internet access. Some of these websites even will let you generate a book or a calendar as a keepsake gift – a great idea for family reunions.

Did you also know that some families are using their creative talents including quilt making to take their research data and memorialize their ancestors? The same is true with other areas of needlecraft or even painting. You really can do anything with your research findings – it just depends on how creative you want to be and what method of sharing works best for your family.


Grant Brunner: Welcome to the Geni podcast, I’m Grant Brunner, and with me today is Thomas MacEntee. How are you, Thomas?

Thomas MacEntee: I’m doing great, how are you?

Grant: I’m very, very well. So today, we want to talk about working with family members on genealogy and family history, getting people involved, getting as much of your story while your ancestors are alive, working with your cousins and your sisters, and brothers and all. It’s very important and will make your research better, I really believe. So, let’s start off with the very, very basics. Why should I get my family involved with my genealogical research?

Thomas: It seems that it should be easier than it sometimes is, and part of it is, you want to think about, well, why should I get them involved in the first place? And, you know, a lot of families do enjoy working together to discover the ancestry and their heritage, but I find, in my experience, and in talking with other people that are in genealogy and family history, it does take some convincing to get other family members started. So, here’s some reasons, and keep the reasons in mind when you’re making a pitch to family members as to why they want to get involved. First thing is that family members are great sources of information. You know, your Aunt Martha, she may not remember just exactly when something happened, but she might have some clues surrounding family stories, etc.

You know, genealogists, basically, we piece together mystery puzzles, little bits of information here and there, and everything, it’s almost, Grant, like when I watch CSI, you know, how they pick up evidence and put it in the evidence bag. Every little thing is important, and sometimes you don’t know how important it is going to be down the road.

So, having those family members available for sources of information is just great. You know, Aunt Martha might have other information about where people lived, how they lived, what they bought, where they shopped, where they worked, and it all is important when you’re doing your research. You never know when you’re going to need that information.

One reason that I find is helpful to me is, you’re able to share the burden and the costs of research. More and more states and local governments are increasing their fees for access to vital records. And it does get rather expensive if you’re ordering marriage certificates, birth certificates, at $15, as high as $40 a pop, I think, from New York state right now; or even research time. So, if you can split the cost with family members, that’s really important.

Also, the burden of doing data entry, if you might have some person, one person that’s better at typing that wants to enter the data into maybe family tree, someone that is good at typing and writing narratives, so it’s sort of share the burden based on what the skill set is.

And one thing I say here is also location, location, location. More of the families are spread out across a wide geographic area, especially here in the United States. Take me, for example, I live in Illinois, but my ancestry is mostly in New York, which is where I grew up. So, if I can work with family members that are back in upstate New York, they can go to courthouses, they can go visit cemeteries, they can take photos, go and see some of the historic sites, and do it more readily than I can do it.

Finally, one of the reasons is to teach and inspire the younger generation. I think this is really so important. My opinion, children, teenagers, they have a better appreciation for history when they can put their own ancestors in the context of that history.

Right now we’re coming up on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It’s one thing to talk about Civil War history, another thing to say your third great grandfather fought at this battle, or was injured here, or was killed here. And I think it really inspires them. Show them how and where their ancestors lived, what life was like for them, and you really never know who’s going to be the next family genealogist.

Grant: You know, when you go and you talk to these people, some of your family members aren’t as enthusiastic about genealogy as you are. What are some of the things you should do if your family members aren’t really all that interested?

Thomas: Don’t push too much. Don’t do any guilt trips, no emotional games or arm twisting. To me, timing is everything when working with family members. And there’s some family members that need time to understand exactly what is involved with genealogy and family history. Also, I find it helps to let the family members, my relatives, read and absorb the information and the research that I’ve put together so far on their own terms. This is why having a genealogy blog, or a website, or even a family tree is a great idea, because it’s sort of a self serve situation, where they can go and get the information they want when they want it, it’s always there. I can email them a link, I can even print out the pages for those people that don’t have Internet or computer access.

Also, you just have to accept the fact that not every family member is going to be interested. And they’re not going to want to help with research. They may not even come and visit your blog or whatever you’ve set up online. It’s not a reflection on you. It’s not a reflection on your interests in genealogy. It also doesn’t mean that they are disrespecting their ancestors at all, it’s just, you have to let it be what it is, and there’s some family members that just are not going to want to participate.

Grant: But, you know, one of the really compelling parts of Geni, is once you’re connected to the big tree, these people that have kind of a insularly interest in genealogy, they can see how they’re related to all these people very easily by looking through the relationship path. That’s a really great way that Geni can help you reach out to your non-genealogist family. What are some of the ways that you can go about getting the data from the family members? You know, getting as much information from the people. If you’re the one that’s sitting down talking to them in a friendly atmosphere where they don’t feel so constrained by kind of an academic setting, what are some of the ways, and especially in person, that these people can give you the data?

Thomas: In person, I think the best method is one that’s been around forever, even before the Internet, is conversation. I know that when I grew up, my great grandparents, I was lucky to have them in my life until the age… I was 26 when the last one passed away. And we didn’t watch TV at night, we talked — that’s what it was called — we had conversations, mostly about family and about family history. So, sit down and have a talk with your relatives, usually in person; telephone is fine as well. And what I also do is, when I’m talking to a relative, a new relative, especially, or someone that I don’t know or haven’t met before, I ask them, can I take notes? Can I write down notes? Can I record the conversation? Maybe with a handheld recorder, even a video if it’s something really important that I want to capture that information.

Another method that I do is bring along your laptop and your netbook and use a site like and start filling information right then and there. They also might then get interested in what you are doing in an online presence.

There is also a site called “Tpstry” at And they prompt you with actual questions such as, when was your mother’s prom, where did she go to school, where was her first job, and then the more questions you answer, the more questions you are prompted with. So that’s another helpful site.

So when you think of online sites, don’t think of just doing it online, use a method such as using a netbook or laptop, or even a mobile device to access them, and work with someone in person — this is great for older relatives especially.

Grant: Yeah absolutely. And it is very good that you mentioned “Tpstry”. Just this past week, Tpstry has announced that they now work with your Geni information. So if you fill out your family tree on and you sign up for Tpstry, you can import your information directly from Geni with just one or two clicks.

Thomas: I was very happy to hear that. And when I saw the announcement earlier this week, as I had been a big fan of both Geni and Tapestry, so it is sort of like me getting my peanut butter and chocolate together now, that’s what I call it.

Grant: You know, not all of your family members are near you, that where you can actually go to them and ask questions in person. Well dealing with people that are far apart on Geni is really great because when you go to their profile on Geni that you’ve made, you will see a field where you could enter their email address. So the next time they check their email, they see an invitation to join Geni and they are added right to your tree. So they don’t have to start a tree from fresh, they already had all the work that you’ve already done.

Thomas: Very often someone will find me from my blog, or from a website or I’ll get a message via that someone has found a match etc., or if I had been given a name to someone that’s maybe a cousin, I will send an email but I want to point out, Grant, that don’t just send an open ended email, send what I call a structured email. Be specific about the information you are looking for. Don’t just say “Tell me what you know about Grandma Jenkins.” That’s really not going to prompt them. I would fill in things like “Where she went to school? Do you know where she got married? Do you know what her kids’ names were?” etc. Let that person help you fill in the gaps on the information that you have.

Also, if the other person that you are communicating with is comfortable with writing on the computer and typing, maybe you should have them come up with a document listing their memories or their information that they have for specific ancestors or even family stories.

You can then later enter this information in your database. But again, it goes back to those little bits of information that we just talked about, that are in people’s memory banks and may help you later on.

Collaborative sites like are helpful because the family tree is a visual structure that really impacts a lot of people. They understand how relationships are set once they see the family tree.

You might have to help some of your older relatives that are not familiar with as to how to log in, how to get set up, how to work collaboratively together. What’s helpful is you may want to appoint someone the data gatekeeper, someone who sort of looks at all the information once it’s input and changes it for consistency.

Grant: Once you have a good base of information that you have — you’ve gathered, you’ve done the research, you have records, you have sources, all that good stuff — how do you get that out?

Thomas: Well, we all know that genealogy is never done and so you are right. You got to determine, you know, I’ve gotten to a certain point where the information, it’s reliable, and we can use it to create some type of what I call memory keeping or memory preserving device. So the options are really limitless. Some people are creating blogs, which you know, we all know about, or websites where they post their data and they have an online presence. You have to also realize that many of these sites have other options for what to do with your information. You can create very elaborate family tree charts, send them to a professional printer, and have them printed.

Grant: Yeah, right in the family tree interface on Geni, you can just click a print button, do a couple of customizations, and then you can order a professionally printed preposter with a frame right from the Greni interface. So it is pretty easy to go out and get these keepsake items.

Thomas: This is also great to take to family reunions, to share with those relatives that are not on the Internet or don’t have any computers. Also I wanted to point out there are some very creative people that are doing things such as creating quilts, ancestor quilts, where I didn’t even think this is possible, but I guess you can take photographs and have them scanned on the pieces of fabric and create a quilt. Other people are using the old craft that they are doing cross stitch, they are doing samplers, embroidery, even paintings. I know someone who is doing paintings based on family history stories.

Really, it depends on how creative you want to be. There are a lot of scrapbookers out there that have gotten into family history and I think that’s a natural extension of scrapbooking, preserving memories.

So really if you look at it, it is just information, and I would say go and look at what other people are doing out on the Internet and I would say an easy search would be Google. Just search for family history plus creativity or creative or quilt or needlework or any of that.

Grant: Yeah absolutely. So Thomas, I want you give us some places where people can go and find out more information about you on the net.

Thomas: In terms of what I am doing right now, I have got a webinar coming up, “Dropbox for Genealogists,” coming up on April 21st at one o’clock. This is a little bit of a change. It’s a Thursday. Usually my webinars are on Wednesdays so I want folks to know that. And Dropbox is a great program that allows you up to two gigabytes of free data storage in the Cloud. And it is a very, very popular webinar. So that said, our Legacy Family Tree Webinars, you can find them out on the web. Also, I have got GeneaBloggers Radio, another episode coming up this Friday, and we are doing what’s called “The Civil War” episode, with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.

We are going to have on the show, guaranteed right now, signed up as guests are Maureen Taylor, the photo detective who is going to discuss her new book on Civil War photographs, family civil war photographs, and Angela Walton-Raji is going to talk about the US Colored Troops, and how they fought and served, and how they are memorialized, how you can do genealogy research to see if you have USCT members in your family tree. We also are having a few other guests and some great door prizes.

Grant: So thank you very, very much for your time Thomas. It’s been quite an adventure. So for the Geni podcasts I am Grant Brunner. Thanks for listening, and have a good one.