Genealogy Takes a Neighborhood

Genealogy Takes a Neighborhood

Where do you spend the majority of your time researching your genealogy? Most likely you are home alone searching on your computer for names.

Genealogy is often a solitary activity but it doesn’t have to be. To do your best research you should surround yourself with a virtual neighborhood. What does a genealogy neighborhood consist of? It might differ according to the location you research, the research questions you have, or the help you need to be successful.

Think of the neighborhood you live in. Your physical neighborhood has not only your neighbors but also businesses, services, and helping professions. In my personal neighborhood are my neighbors and a few blocks from my home are my eye doctor, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and the public library. I don’t need all of these services every day but I know where to go when I do need them. Your genealogy neighborhood should be very similar.

What do you need for your genealogy neighborhood? Consider:


We all need a support system that will listen to our successes, help us brainstorm, and be there when things don’t go as expected. In our genealogy neighborhood, this might be family, friends, or other genealogists.


What questions do you have? What is your brick wall? Genealogy societies near you and in the location where your ancestor’s lived, professional genealogists, researchers, and librarians are some examples of experts you may want to seek out.

Fellow Researchers

There’s a real benefit to joining a community of genealogists whether it’s a society, an online group, or even networking at a conference. Hearing about other people's experiences can benefit your own research. When I started I began by researching with a cousin, then I joined a few societies, from there I became a regular at my local Family History Center where I began volunteering. Little by little I gathered a group of genealogical friends who shared their experiences and benefitted my research.

Tech Help

I remember when it was unique for a society to have a “computer users” group. But today, all genealogists are computer users and most likely spend the majority of their time on the computer. Technology is great until it doesn’t work or you aren’t sure how to use it. Tech help may encompass everything from fixing a computer to better understanding how to use your Legacy software. 

Aside from identifying people or businesses that can help, make sure to take advantage of Legacy webinars that explain how to use technology, websites, and software. Take a look at the Webinar Library for webinars that might help you with your tech questions.

Genealogy is a Neighborhood

Your genealogy can benefit from a virtual neighborhood of people, repositories, webinars, and businesses that can help you do better research. Think about what you could use and start looking for “neighbors” who can help. 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


What's in Your Genealogy Research Bag?

What's in Your Genealogy Research Bag?

As I write this I’m finishing up my research trip to the Allen County Public Library (ACPL). Last year I wrote about the Genealogy Center at ACPL and everything it has to offer researchers. This year I returned to continue my research.

For some of the researchers here, this is the first time they have used a library for genealogy research. I imagine that can be intimidating. A new researcher has to consider what their research question is, what they want to find, and what to bring. When I research away from home, I have a bag that has, what are for me, “research essentials.”

What’s In My Research Bag?


Everyone is different, that’s a given. So it makes sense that some research “essentials” will be the same for most genealogists and others are more personal preferences. One thing to consider about your research bag is weight. What I take is influenced by what I can comfortably carry, especially if I have to walk a few blocks to the library. You may have some mobility issues that make a roller bag a better option.

What are My Research Essentials?


For me they include:

Office-type Supplies

  • Computer
  • Cell phone
  • Flash drive
  • Blank notebook (or two)
  • Pens, pencils, highlighters
  • Post-it notes or post-it tabs

Personal Needs

  • Water
  • Snack (remember you can’t eat in the library)
  • Cough drop
  • Aspirin
  • Eye-drops
  • Face mask (some libraries or repositories may require it)

What you want to pack may differ. To me, these are all essentials. Notice I didn’t discuss your genealogy research materials like charts or reports. It’s easier if you have your research in a software program on your computer or an online tree so that you can refer to it. A mobile app with an online tree makes it easier to take your research wherever you go. 

You need to think not just about research but also about what you need to be comfortable. And speaking of comfort, I always bring a sweater with me because it’s not uncommon for the library to be a little colder than you want. And nothing makes a research trip more miserable than being cold. 

So once you consider what to take, make sure that you also consider what NOT to take. My suggestions include:

  • Any drink that is not water
  • Your original documents/records
  • Valuables
  • Anything you absolutely don’t need

Once again, that list will be different for you and your research needs.

Ready to Research?

Researching away from home requires being prepared. Part of that preparation is your research question and plan but you also need to prepare for your time in the library. Start putting together a research bag now so that you’re ready to research when given the opportunity.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


It’s HOT! Our Ancestors and the Weather


A frequent topic of conversation this summer is the weather. England is experiencing record-breaking temperatures. Heat-related fires are active in Europe. The temperature is in the three digits where I live, and you can believe me when I say I'm extremely thankful to live in a home with air conditioning.

The summer heat has me thinking about our ancestors who didn't have modern-day comforts. My paternal grandparents moved from Los Angeles County, California to a desert city near Palm Springs in the 1950s and didn't have air conditioning. My grandfather worked for the railroad. The railroad company, realizing the difficulty their employees would have getting any sleep in the heat, made available special sleeping containers dubbed "submarines." These were "a one-room dwelling made for sleeping. Wooden frame structures were covered with sheets of galvanized iron and then overlaid with burlap. Water was piped to the roof where it trickled onto the burlap and flowed down the sides, cooling the metal and cooling the interior by 15 to 20 degrees." [1]

How did the weather affect your ancestor? Did they work in extreme weather? Did they move because of their health and the impact of the weather?

Weather, hot or cold, in some cases, led to tragedies for our ancestors. Illness such as frostbite or heat stroke. Hurricanes or tornadoes could destroy your ancestor's homes or precipitate a move. 

Have you considered how the weather impacted your ancestral family? Historical weather information might be found in:

  • Local Histories
  • General Histories
  • Weather websites
  • Newspapers

Searching for information about the United States, the National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration hosts historical weather maps on their Central Library website that dates back to 1871. Maps may be downloaded as PDFs. The website says:

The U.S. Signal Office began publishing weather maps as the War Department Maps on 1 January 1871. When the meteorological activities of the Signal Corps were transferred to the newly-created Weather Bureau in 1891, the title of the weather map changed to the Department of Agriculture Weather Map. In 1913, the title became simply Daily Weather Map. In 1969, the Weather Bureau began publishing a weekly compilation of daily maps with the title Daily Weather Maps (Weekly series).

The earliest weather maps featured only a map of the continental U.S. with the day's air temperature, barometric pressure, wind velocity, and direction, and a general indication of the weather for various cities around the country plotted directly on the map.[2]

If you are researching a county outside of the United States, search the Internet for the name of the country and the phrase "weather map."

Googling the name of the state, province, or country you're researching with the word "weather" or "historical weather" may help you find websites and books. For example, the book The Pennsylvania Weather Book by Ben Gelber (Rutgers University Press, 2002) includes historical information on great storms and weather extremes for the state and individual cities. A more familiar book, The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin (Harper Perennial, 2005) traces five families who experienced a blizzard that killed 500 hundred people along the prairie.

Consult digitized books websites and periodical indexes for books and articles. Consider:

Everyday life and all that it brings negatively or positively impacted our ancestors' lives. The weather affected where they lived, worked, and their health. Look for weather data and reports in online resources and books to get an idea about your ancestor's everyday life.

[1] "History of the Coachella Valley," California State University, San Bernardino ( accessed 19 July 2022). Pg 80.

[2] "U.S. Daily Weather Maps," NOAA ( accessed 19 July 2022).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

Google Tips for Your Next Search

Google Tips for Your Next Search

Everyone knows how to conduct a Google search, right? I know I only use a fraction of what Google (or any other online tool or software) offers. I'm always looking for tips to help me make the most of this resource so I can do better searches. Here are three Google search features you may want to use for your next Google genealogy search.

#1 Using Google Internationally

One way to access a country's version of Google is to use the website for that country. When you go to Google to start a search, you are accessing the Google screen for your country based on your IP address. So I'm in the United States and use the U.S. version of Google. If I'm conducting research for an ancestor who lived in another country, I may miss out on results that I would receive if I were using that country's version of Google. So I'm using, but if I want to use Google for Canada, I could go to


Genealogy in Time Magazine has a list of the Google website URL's that you can use. Remember that for best results, you may need to search in the language used in that country.

#2 Learn More About that Source

So you've conducted a Google Search and have your results list.

Poe search

For each result, you will see the URL, the name of the web page and/or website, and a description. You know that, but have you ever noticed three vertical dots to the right of the URL?

Poetry Foundation 3 dots

Click on these dots to reveal information about the website. In this example, I searched Edgar Allen Poe. One of the results is the Poetry Foundation. By clicking on the three vertical dots, I can view the "About this result" screen.

Poetry Foundation Source

This feature might help you as you analyze the results you receive and decide to pursue any specific source.

Another example is the source information for the Wikipedia entry for Edgar Allen Poe. Once I click on the three vertical dots in my Google search I see this box.


I can then click on More about this Page which provides me even more information to consider using Wikipedia.

Wikipedia about the source

Play around with this feature and see how it might help you make the most of your results.

#3 Always Click on Books

In my opinion, this is a must. When you get your Google results, always click on Books at the top to see the results for Google Books.

Google Books tool bar

You can then focus your search to narrow it to a time period or even look at historical newspaper results.

Googel Books types

Don't forget that you can search Google for an ancestor's name but also consider searching by the place they lived, their religion, or the membership organization they belonged to. Google Books might have a city directory, a local history, or other historical works that can benefit your genealogy.

What Will You Search?

We all could benefit from changing our search habits and trying something new. Don't forget their is a benefit to playing around with your search by adding additional keywords or clicking on features you've never tried. You might be surprised at what new items you find.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


When is a book a genealogical source?

When is a book a genealogical source?

It’s an unassuming book. It looks more like a marketing piece. Wedding Embassy Yearbook by Macy’s California (a department store chain) is a 130-page hardback. It begins with a store directory for everything the bride needs for her wedding and her first home. After that, the book provides helpful wedding advice about the engagement announcement, the wedding party attire, and etiquette surrounding brides who are widows and “older” (yes, older in this context means 30 years of age. The book states, “The woman of thirty or thereabouts is still sufficiently youthful to wear the traditional wedding gown and veil (p. 111). But for those in their later 30s, you’re better off with a “handsome dress.”)

If you found this in your family library during a decluttering exercise, you might be tempted to throw it out. After all, what genealogical use is it? It might be something you read for nostalgia, but not much else. But if you continue paging through to the back, you find this…


And this…


It’s a genealogical source masking as a department store wedding planner. The name of the bride and groom and attendants are here. The list of everyone who gave a gift, several pages, is here. The only thing not here is the wedding date, though judging from the list of when the gifts were received, it was most likely an October wedding. The book lacks a year, and the bride wrote “4” for the year in her list of gifts received and acknowledged. My original guess was that it might be 1964. Further research showed a California marriage index and a newspaper announcement that verified an October 1964 wedding.

This book is a source of many genealogical facts, from the bride and groom to the family members who gave gifts. Combining this with the online newspaper wedding announcement and a state marriage index, one can piece together that moment in time. Other details like the type of gift given provide some social history clues on what young couples received as they started their life together.

Now here’s the sad part of this genealogical record. This isn’t my family. It was given to me by someone who picked it up at a book sale. Why it ended up at the book sale is unknown, but further research uncovered a 1968 divorce for the couple.

The lesson here is that as we declutter our own home or that of a deceased family member’s estate, we need to remember that not all genealogical sources look like genealogical sources. Some look like marketing pieces or plain books, but in reality, they can hold so much more. Be careful as you go through things. It’s a tremendous job, but it can lead to exciting discoveries.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

My oldest son and I have been watching a popular TV show set in the 1980s. The show focuses on teenagers during an era when I, too, was a teenager. I've become the resident expert on all things 1980s, including the show's depiction of fashion, music, stores, cars, and just about everything.

Of course, my experience as a teenager in the 1980s will be specific to me, my family, and where I grew up. It will differ in some ways from a re-creation of that time period. But this show has allowed my sons to ask family history-related questions and get something more from the experience than just the entertainment value.

So many TV shows depict a specific time and place. Even watching older television shows (I'm binge-watching The Rockford Files right now) can be a catalyst for discussions of a particular time and place that you remember. (The Rockford Files has led to conversations about clothing, cars, food, and locations in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s).

How can you use popular culture to interest your family in family history? Consider taking clues from that show to discuss:

  • What you wore
  • Your hairstyle
  • What car/s you or your family drove
  • Food that was popular
  • Stores you shopped in
  • What high school was like
  • Popular slang for that time period
  • Technology for that time period
  • What songs you listened to
  • What activities you took part in
  • Did your work during high school? If so, what did you do?

So many times we think of family history as a pursuit back to much earlier times, but our story is also important. It can be difficult to start a conversation about your experiences, but commenting on the popular culture (television shows, movies, songs) can help start a story that will be remembered even after interest in the show goes away.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



The Hidden Treasures of Local Unindexed Periodicals

The Hidden Treasures of the Local Unindexed Periodicals

Decades ago, I was volunteering at a Family History Center. One day, the Director made the difficult but seemingly correct decision to toss out all of the aged society periodicals we had collected. Her reasoning was sound, they were taking up room and no one ever used them. At that time, using the new FamilySearch databases and viewing microforms seemed like a better use of time when one was limited by personal time constraints and the hours of the Center.

The problem with periodicals is that they have a limited shelf life. When they are first published, they are appealing and hold the promise of new insights, but after a few months, we tend to consider them fodder for the recycling bin.

While it's true that some genealogy periodicals achieve immortality through their inclusion into the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), that's not true of all society periodicals. However, they still may be available in a physical form at a genealogy library, the society's library, or even an extensive public library,

Last year when I researched at three genealogy libraries (Allen County Public Library, the Family History Library, and the Clayton Library for Genealogical Research), periodicals were shelved alongside the books for a particular county and state. In some cases, they were found at the beginning of the shelf for that location. Easy to find, but still might be passed over for other "more important" resources. Those periodicals were easy to ignore. After all, there is so much to look at in a genealogy library, and it's easy to turn your attention to other resources. Periodicals can be hit or miss and, unless indexed, take time to examine page by page carefully. Although there is likely a table of contents and maybe even an index, why bother?

It's a good question, and the answer lies in the difference between searching and researching. When we search, we are simply doing just that, entering search terms or keywords into a website search engine, and determining which results have value for our research. When we conduct research, real research, we are doing that and carefully studying collections that are not easily searched. We go page-by-page, reading and studying the content to discover mentions of our ancestors or a topic.

Research takes time, and often there are no shortcuts. There's nothing wrong with using an index to find what you need, but that periodical may not be indexed, so you'll have to research it the old-fashioned way, page by page, looking for what you need. At the Family History Library I studied the books for the area I was researching and then one by one I went through the local society newsletters to see if I could find mention of the woman who I was researching.



A reasonably exhaustive search requires us to use a variety of sources, including periodicals. These periodicals are valuable and rich in genealogical information such as oral histories, indexes to unique record sets, transcriptions and abstracts, histories, and more. Reading a local society periodical (whether genealogical or historical) can lead you to additional records or help you understand a place in time that you may have been unfamiliar with.

It's easy to feel like you've looked everywhere but take some time to exhaust available sources from the location you are researching, including society publications.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


5 Photos Genealogists Should be Taking Now

5 Photos Genealogists Should be Taking Now

In her recent webinar, Gena Philibert-Ortega asked us if we remembered our grandmother's kitchen. Do we remember her rolling pin, dishes or the way the kitchen looked? That got me thinking about all the kitchens I have known and the relatives who filled them with warmth and good food. But as a photographer, I couldn't help but start thinking about photographs too. As part of our role as genealogists we should be proactively thinking about taking photos so that our descendants don't have to rely simply on their memories.

Here are five photos every genealogist should be taking now in order to pass down more than just memories:

1) In the kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of most homes. Great smells emanate from the kitchen as family recipes are being cooked. During holiday celebrations conversations are happening, people are bumping into each other, laughter is peeling out. Other times the kitchen is the center for hanging out. A visitor stops by unexpectedly and everyone gathers around the kitchen table for lemonade. Or family and friends relax there after a high school soccer game or theatre production.

When capturing your kitchen in a photo try to consider all the uses of your kitchen. Take photos of the cook(s) and what they are cooking. Show images of friends casually gathered around the table. Don't forget to include special items such as heirloom china or your mom's favorite bowl. I know my kids will remember me wearing an apron. I am always wearing an apron in the kitchen. While I might not want someone to photograph me in an apron it would be a really meaningful photo for my children to have. It would bring back lots of memories for them.

2) Don't forget your pets

Everyone seems to have lots of photos of their pets which they've shared on Facebook. But do you have photos of you and your other family members with your pet? Photos of interest to genealogists will also contain family members. Take a family photo with your pet when he first joins your family. Then be sure to continue taking more photos through the years. Both your family and your pet will change as time passes. You will all grow and start to look older. Also, how did you interact with your pet? Did you take your dog on hikes or summer vacations? Did you ride your horse on a particular trail? You want to be able to capture those moments so that you can show your descendants how much your pet meant to you.

3) Multigenerational photos

Perhaps the most important photo of all for genealogists is the multigenerational photo. Every time you get together as a family you should consciously take a photo of the youngest person in the family with the oldest person in the family. Those photos serve as the link between generations many years into the future. The youngest people in your family will be grateful they have photos with a relative they were only able to meet once or twice.

Also, how many generations of living family members do you currently have - three, four, maybe even five? Get a group photo showing the span of the generations as they are now. 

Sometimes people like to take these photos based on gender - daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother. And the same photo for the men. Other options are to take a photo with all the men in the family and another of all the women in the family. A single photo showing the entire family is certainly good too but it gets more difficult to see everyone well. And not to mention it's nearly impossible to get a good photo of everyone the more people you have in the photo.

4) Gravestone photos with people in the photo

Genealogists love to go to cemeteries to locate and photograph the graves of their ancestors. But have you ever included yourself or your family in the photo? Gravestone photos are so much more meaningful when the people we love are in the photos. And it also serves to document for future generations that we have visited the graves of our ancestors. When my children were little I took them to cemeteries quite regularly. Some of my most precious photos are of my little boys next to an ancestor's gravestone. They may not remember the specific visit but they will always know that there were there once.

image from
Two of the Pierre-Louis boys in 2006

5) Photos of your passions

Back when I was in high school my local church was making a directory of all its members. They asked all the families to come dressed in the outfits that represented them the most. The father might be holding fishing gear, the mother in her running clothes, a son in his football uniform and a daughter with her camera gear. The photos were wonderful because they really gave a sense of who each person was.  It would be fun to create a staged photo like that just for our own family keepsake or maybe even a holiday card.

If you don't feel like staging an event like that then you'll have to keep in the back of your mind to capture these moments as they happen. Photograph your kids during scouting events such as Brownies, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Head off to a sporting event and get a photo of your kids in uniform before or after the game. Take photos of family members marching in the local 4th of July parade. And don't forget that photo of your Dad in his favorite hat when he's off sailing.

By going to the effort of taking these photos now you'll provide a much richer way for your descendants to get to know you. What other types of photos would you include? What images do you want to pass down to your descendants? Let me know in the comments.


Marian Pierre-Louis is a house history and genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


How to decide what heirlooms to pass down

How to decide what heirlooms to pass down

Recently I was giving a presentation about social history and telling the stories of our ancestors. Those stories can/should include the heirlooms we inherit. One of the participants asked, "how do I ensure my grandma's china remains in our family?"

Good question. We all have that question. The automatic answer is probably, "you can't." No matter how much you love a treasured family heirloom you can't control what happens to it once you shake off this mortal coil. That's just reality. We all treasure different material objects and assign meaning to some while viewing other things as disposable. However, this is a subject that weighs on us, especially for the family historian who has seen countless articles and books in the last five years about downsizing your life and what your kids want and don't want to inherit.

My take on this subject is simple. No one wants to inherit something they need to store long-term. Your children or other family members have their stuff; they don't have endless storage space for your stuff. So what does that mean for your treasured items, and how you decide what to do with them?

I think people are more likely to keep and treasure something that has meaning for them, no matter the inherent or perceived value. What does this mean for grandma's china (or apron, jewelry, furniture, etc...…)?

If it's not fragile and falling apart, use it. People will treasure what they see. That means they need to know the item, so display it, use it, tell stories about it, so they can build memories to it. When I consider my "treasures," it doesn't matter that an inherited item means a lot to me. It needs to mean a lot to my kids who didn't know my grandparents or have any memories of them.

I use my grandma's china. I need to use it more, but I use and display it. Could I accidentally break a piece? Absolutely. I'm surprised I haven't. But it's there for my family and me to enjoy. It does us no good hidden in a cabinet. Despite using it, my kids may not want it when I pass. That's ok. I won't be around to give them my opinion. I’ll write down what my wishes are and approach the person I think would want those pieces. I would love for my kids to want the china, but in the end, I need to enjoy using something that brings back memories of my grandmother, who I dearly loved.

Is there any guarantee that a treasured heirloom will remain in the family? No, nothing is guaranteed, and as life changes, so do people's attachments to specific items. People have circumstances that dictate what they keep, like, etc. Taste changes (if it didn't, there wouldn't be antique or thrift stores). But when something is meaningful, it is more likely to be kept and treasured. Telling the stories of our ancestors should include the treasures that remind us of their lives.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Not Another 1950 Census Article

Not Another 1950 Census Article

You will most likely be looking at the newly released US Census by the time you read this. The release will be in its infancy, so it won’t be thoroughly indexed, and there may be bugs to work out. But you’ll be closer to better understanding your family’s life in 1950s America.

Every census reveal is an exciting event in the genealogy world. Those waiting for the 1921 UK Census that was recently released know the feeling. I remember when the 1930 US census came out and all of the celebration, indexing, and overall sense of discovery (heck, I think I even have a t-shirt commemorating it). 

And lucky for us, there is a vibrant genealogy education community that has provided us with articles, lectures, and videos with information to conduct better searches on the 1950 census as we prepare for the release. Legacy Webinars has also helped us prepare with webinars like this one from Dear Myrtle and Russ Worthington and an upcoming webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke.

But this isn’t going to be another one of those 1950 census articles. 

Instead, I want you to think about something along the lines of “I’ve looked at the census, now what?” For most researchers, you already know that you will find a family member in the 1950 census. You probably created that list months before the release date. Yes, there are probably some who aren’t sure if the family member had died and looking to the census to verify an absence, but for the most part, you know who you are looking for and expect to find them.

Once you find your family, you will note the information, save the census to your computer and/or family tree. 

Now what?

What will you do next? Is our census search just about finding people on the census, recording them, and then moving on to the next record?

Once you found your family in 1950, what will you do next? The answer should be “analyze and build on what I've found.”

BlankCensus Form-top

Next Steps

How do we do that? It starts with transcribing the information and using the enumerator instructions to understand our ancestor’s answers. One problem with the 1950 Census is we won’t know who answered those questions, so we can’t determine how accurate the information is.

Once we have transcribed and studied the answers in conjunction with the enumerator’s instructions, we need to ask ourselves what these census answers tell us about our ancestors and what other records help complete this picture of their lives.

Ask research questions and then seek out the answers. Consider what the census tells us beyond a name, age, and race. For example, you might learn of a street address. The street address helps to answer where our ancestors lived, but we may want to know more about that place. What type of home is it? Is it a house or an appointment? Are they institutionalized or at school? We could follow up that address from the census with a look in our family photo collections for that house or a historical map (even the enumeration district map). We might want to look up that address today and see if a photo or description of the house exists online (if a house, maybe it’s on a real estate website) or Google Maps.

We need to look at our family in the census and verify we have all the relevant records for them, such as vital records or if they are one of the men asked about military service in the supplemental questions, any relevant military documents. Remember, our families in 1950 have just experienced a world war, and their lives were impacted both at home and on the battlefields.

Once we transcribe, read the enumerator instructions, ask research questions, and gather pertinent documents, we need to write up our findings. Even if the idea of writing makes your eyes cross, write up a simple paragraph stating what the 1950 census tells you about their life during that time. Adding personal photographs and newspaper articles from the 1950s can also help that story.

The release of the 1950 US census is exciting, but don’t let it become another record that is looked at and forgotten on your family tree. Make the most of what it has to tell you about your ancestor in that snapshot in time.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.