Tech Tips: Download Absolutely Everything You Can Find on the Web

How to Download Absolutely Everything You Can Find on the Web by Field Guide is an invaluable resource for figuring out how to download most things from the internet.

There is a big caveat: While you can save and download everything and anything from the web, this does not give permission nor license for you to do whatever you want with it. Always check their copyright policy before using the image on your site, uploading to public genealogy sites and services, adding to a slide show, or any public usage. If they don’t offer an easily accessible copyright policy, assume it is copyrighted and treat it accordingly (limit usage to Fair Use limitations) or use their contact form to ask for permission. Most say yes, but you won’t know until you ask. I strongly believe in asking permission before instead of after. After could be costly.

Why would you want to download absolutely everything and anything on the web for your family history work?

There are so many reasons, where to start? Here are a few of the reasons I download things from the web.

  • Research: Find a web page with family history research associated with your research project? Knowing it could disappear at any moment from the web, you might be able to find it again through the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. Don’t count on it. Save it to an appropriate folder on your computer so you may find it easily with related research material without being online. Remember, save web pages as PDF files, not web pages. Consider also saving images and video related to your research.
  • Studies and Education: There are amazing tutorials, webinars, videos, and web pages with educational and historical information to help you learn more about your ancestors. As long as the usage is within their copyright and proprietary limitations, consider downloading the material to your computer so you can revisit it as needed as you continue with your studies. This option also helps you view the material offline without an internet connection, accessible any time you need. This has saved me many times as I struggle to remember a specific point from a webinar or tutorial.
  • Teaching: Paying close attention to the copyrights for the web page, image, video, and audio files, and asking permission when in doubt, I often use what I find on the web in my lectures, teaching, and keynotes, introducing my audience to products, services, topics, and concepts to help them learn more and understand how all these work.
  • Offline Usage: Slow internet access speeds and extensive travel often makes it a struggle to keep up with online content. Sometimes we visit or live in places where internet access is a luxury. Downloading your online materials when you have access is critical for viewing when you don’t have access later. I often do this before a long flight, giving me something to read and work on while traveling. If it is worth saving for the future, download it, then delete when done. It saves times when online and expands the possibilities when you are offline.

Among the tips Field Guide offers is how to save a web page, to which I suggest again you not save it as a web page but save it as a PDF file using your computer’s PDF printer driver (select it from the print options).

HTTrack Website Downloader downloading a website.

The article offers tips for also saving more than a web page, saving a whole site using HTTrack, one of my can’t-work-without-it favorite tools. It has a slight learning curve if you aren’t familiar with how websites work under the hood, but there are many tutorials available to walk you through the process. One of the great features of HTTrack is the ability to expand the download to include web pages the site links to, and the ability to control how far those links go. I recommend only one level, maybe two, as this feature tend to take a long time and eats up a ton of bandwidth.

Other examples of saves from the internet include images, video, and audio are also included in the article.

Download All Professional Firefox Extension - downloading files from a CNN article.There are many web browser extensions and add-ons offering the ability to download video, images, and audio, but there are two web browser add-ons I use frequently to download literally everything from a web page including files, videos, images, and more. They include:

Again, the use of these tools is for your private and personal use, not for sharing with the world unless the usage complies with Copyright Fair Use and is in line with their copyright policy, or you receive written permission.

Mobile and Portable Digitization Experiments in The National Archives

Photographing yearbook with portable studio and digital camera.Genealogists have been making their own digitization and portable (and not) photo studio kits since the beginning of photographic and digital history. While digital cameras and mobile devices make life easier, there is new hope on the horizon to make digitization not only more accessible, but faster and easier.

The US National Archives recently tested a new portable “digitisation on demand” system using a mobile phone and portable lighting studio kit. Both the mobile app and portable system are still in development, but the results could be a game changer for genealogical societies and individuals to digitize their genealogical and other research, materials, and inventories.

The mobile app is currently only available for Android devices, DocScan. There are many apps with similar names, so look for the one from HofApps.

The portable lighting box system is The ScanTent, and consists of a “pop-up” tent with a LED lighting strip box that clips in with magnets, and a platform at the top for the mobile device.

There are a variety of similar apps and light box systems available, so what makes this one different?

First, there is the tent system. The use of reflective surfaces definitely would improve illumination of paper, blocking the ambient light responsible for reflections and lighting color influences. Most portable light boxes feature white and black nylon fabrics, allowing some bounce and absorption properties, but this material appears to be better designed to accommodate paper and photographic images. According to the specs, the included LED light is a non-destructive light source, which means it won’t damage the delicate paper materials used within it, and the lights use polarization filters to reduce reflections. Other systems only offer photo lights, which have their own challenges, but polarized filters may be added to reduce reflections and glare, as can they be added to the camera lens. My only worry is the size. While this unit is designed for books and papers, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work with those precious old photo albums, too delicate and oversized to put on a flatbed scanner. Once they get the prototype set, hopefully they will offer it in various sizes.

Second is the mobile app, which is the truly ground-breaking tech.

According to The National Archives article, this system was tested during the week leading up to International Archives Day in cooperation with The National Archives of Finland and The State Archives of Zurich, all testing and discussing new archival digitization tools. They described the advantages of the DocScan app:

DocScan is ideal for those who wish to work hands free with the ScanTent because it has an auto-shoot feature that will take a photo every time a page is turned. DocScan also gives users the option to upload their images directly to the Transkribus platform, where they can be used as training data for Automated Text Recognition.

Transkribus is a transcription platform which enables the automated recognition, transcription and searching of both printed and handwritten historical documents of any date, language or style. The software is at the centre of the READ project, an EU-funded initiative which aims to revolutionise access to archival material through the development and dissemination of Automated Text Recognition and other cutting-edge tools. DocScan and the ScanTent have been developed by the Computer Vision Lab at the Technical University of Vienna, as part of the READ project. By facilitating the digitisation of historical documents, they too aim to enhance the accessibility of global cultural heritage.

The READ project (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) is a international program funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Their programs and funding for development of digitization programs could help bring this technology to your local library, genealogical society, or even to your home.

The article explained how The National Archives have been using Transkribus for Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) software on their collection of wills, considered better-crafted handwriting, for their testing rather than letters and general manuscripts. According to the success stories published by Transkribus, their training model covers multiple languages and handwritten script types, and the Character Error Rate (CER) for most of their projects is about 10%, or 90% accuracy. In a project transcribing the handwriting of Foucault, the French philosopher whose handwriting I could barely read, they had an 8% CER, which means 92% accuracy. The National Archives project with wills gives them hope of similar rates. I’ve found about the same or even worse ratings on some OCR software and apps, but these rates will vary with the complexity of the handwriting, typeface, and document quality.

More traditional glass plate book and document scanner in use at RootsTech in FamilySearch booth.

Traditional book and page scanners can cost thousands of dollars. Home systems range in the hundreds. When you add up all the associated costs, it can easily reach $1000 with a good quality camera (and/or your mobile phone or device), quality lights, stands, etc. Many people work with their flatbed printer/scanners, but the resolution is typically lower than a camera, and isn’t appropriate for delicate archival papers, books, or oversized materials.

Another alternative is to send your archival material out for scanning with a commercial service. Prices have come down tremendously recently as more and more people are using such services, but they still can add up quickly in price, and there is always a risk in transporting delicate materials.

When archives such as The National Archives, libraries, and even genealogy societies confront their digitization options, the costs and human-power to digitize is often overwhelming. Obtaining an affordable and easy-to-use system could inspire more confidence in such efforts.

I currently have hundreds and hundreds of scanned pages of typewritten content, and scores of handwritten material waiting for digitization and conversion to text (OCR). Imagine the ability to quickly and easily digitize this material for my personal use. Throw in easy-to-use and affordable machine translation and I’d be singing very happy tunes.

Reading through the description of some law students building a book scanner from a DIY kit gives you a taste of how far people have gone to avoid the high costs associated with non-destructive book scanning.

Their attempt is not the only one. David Landon’s Easy Book Scanner is estimated to cost less than POUND 200 (USD$260). The Book Scanning YouTube Channel with David Landon offers step-by-step instructions for using plastic plumbing pipes, plexiglass, ankle weights, household light, cheap portable wardrobe with cover, aluminum casserole pan, pipe insulation, two inexpensive digital cameras with infra-red controlled shutters and firing trigger remote and bike tripod mounts. It’s such a simple and clean-looking system, I’m even giving thought to building one myself.

The biggest challenge to genealogy research is access. Access to records and documents. Access to locations housing such records and documents. Access to fund such excursions and access. And access to the information to know that these record and documents even exist. Digitization and open access to archival records are essential to overcoming those barriers to access.

I often hear people claim that they can’t take their research back further than the 1700s because no documentation exists. That’s just not true. It does, but it is in too fragile a condition to digitize. New technology, such as using artificial intelligence technology on the Vatican’s archives, x-ray scanners to read burned and ancient papers at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York as well as around the world such as the 2016 announcement of the oldest hand-written passages from the Hebrew Bible dating back to the 3rd or 4th Century AD, and the Diamond Light Source X-ray facilities in England scanning charred bits of documents from 2,000 years ago, are changing our perspective on our written past. By reaching deep into the past with modern digitization methods, you may not learn something specific about an ancestor, but we are learning more about the past in which our ancestor survived every day.

The more we digitize the records of the past, not only are they more accessible, but they are better protected. We can seal these precious bits of parchment and paper from the ravages of time and use, and explore the digital images and the facts and information within them endlessly.

Products like the ScanTent and DocScan, combined with the power of services like Transkribus, will really transform the digitization process and industry. I sure hope so and I’m looking forward to playing with it myself some day soon.

Here is more information on book scanning and digitization processes.

Genealogy and Family History Games

Note: Some links may open in new web page.

Disclosure: Some links are affiliate links.

Games put the fun into genealogy, a subject often seen as dull, boring, and “must-dusty.” I’ve done a little research and found some ideas for genealogy and family history games for you to play with friends, family, and at family reunions. Some can even be played alone – though it is always more fun to play with others.

I’ve always loved question-and-answer games. You could keep it simple by having all the players write down 2-5 questions on a pieces of paper, put them in a bowl, and go around having players draw the questions and either answer them or ask them of another player, making it even more fun. Or write up your list of questions and put them in a bowl from one of the many family history interview questionnaires online such as 50 Interview Questions to Ask Your Relatives,

A fun and novel game to play at a family reunion is a spin-off from Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. Print out signs with short bios and place descriptions of family members and ancestors with no names, just hints, and tack them onto the wall. Hand out “playing cards” with the photos of the people and places and ask players to stick them onto the sign they think matches. This could lead to people debating over which bio or place matches their card, and a competition for who gets the most right.

Consider creating a “This is Your Life” program with one or more of the oldest members of the family. Or asking family members to dress up like their ancestors, bringing in a variety of fun clothing and costumes. “Guess the Baby” is fun to showcase baby pictures and have people vote on identification.

Games - The Game of Genealogy How to Find Your Ancestors game box.The The Genealogy Game was built by genealogists for 2-10 players from age 7 and up. A fun board game often featured at genealogy conferences, you play for points awarded for visiting locations or finding and verifying information to help identify the “elusive ancestor.” It is a great way to learn about the challenges associated with genealogy research, and recreate the research process, a good test of your detective skills as well.

Roots & Branches – The Connections Game is another family history game for family and non-family parties.

PANDO The Family History Game is described as the “siblings battle to reveal the story of mom and dad.” Not limited to parents, this is a great game to get people talking and sharing their family history stories in a fun and comfortable environment. Players are challenged to guess the answer of the other players such as “What is the first movie I ever saw in a theater?”

Hanging out with more experienced family history researchers? Consider playing the Family History Games App by Ponder Games on your smartphone to test family history vocabulary and word skills.

Want to be really creative? Consider creating your own customized genealogy family tree board game. Build a Custom Family Tree Board Game by Make: offers step-by-step instructions. Udemy offers a paid kit and educational course for those who are serious about their family tree board games.

Also check out the lists of genealogy and family history games at Games Genealogy on WikiTree Free Family Tree and Genealogy Games from the Victoria Genealogical Society in Canada.

Reunion Family Games

There are many articles and suggestions for games specifically designed for reunions. Some work better with reunions with a long history of gathering, and others are excellent as icebreakers for new family reunions. offers Family Reunion Icebreakers, Games, and Activities with some fun ideas for exploring the family history, lifestyle, and characteristics of those alive today as well as our ancestors, and excellent examples of trivia games.

While not specific to reunions, the Toss ‘n Talk-About Family History Ball is a plastic beach ball covered with great ice-breaking questions for any event to get people sharing family stories such as “Who were your friends when you were growing up?” and “Did you have any pets growing up?”

Genealogy Insider suggests Name Games to jazz up a reunion and test participant’s memories.

While the site is a bit dated, the site offers an excellent list of activities for a fun reunion including physical games for children and adults like the timeless 3-legged or sack races, and other games and ideas to make your family reunion a success.

Reunions magazine is a go-to source for information on hosting or attending reunions of all types, including game activities. They also offer workshops and classes around the US on reunion planning.

101 Fun Family Reunion Games List by Gathered Again features a long list of activities for a family reunion.

Check out 10 Steps to Family Reunion Success from Family Tree, Cyndi’s List of Reunion links and references for more ideas.

Online Family History Games

Games - BYU Tech Labs - Wheel of Family FortuneBUY Family History Technology Lab offers a wide variety of online games they’ve developed include:

Ancestor Games is a collection of other games they’ve created based on your FamilySearch tree data that includes a matching game, ancestral coloring, crosswords, word searches, and word scrambles.

Some of these games link into your FamilySearch tree and require you to be logged in at the time with your free account. If you have a large computer monitor or casting or web-TV capabilities, these would be fun to play around with in small groups.

FamilySearch Wiki offers a list of Family History Activities for Youth, designed for ages over 11. Examples include identifying for place in history, or that of your ancestors, using timelines, searching Wikipedia, and entering the date of birth (or event) in Google to search for what was happening on that date. They’ve also included other more creative activities, along with standard genealogical tasks such as entering information about the family into a family group sheet, creating trees, and conducting Family Interviews (pdf). At the bottom, they recommend some Fun and Games such as Kings and Queens, You be the Historian (play detective tracing the Springer Family), and Mystery Case Files.

The DNA Learning Center offers a sequencing game online with interactive 2D animation to use gaming to learn about how DNA works.

Games We Used to Play

I learned how to play Seven Card No-Peak Poker with my father before I was seven. We rarely bet with anything of value other than matchsticks and pennies, but it helped teach me basic math and comparative analysis, and a little risk-taking. He learned it from his father, and who knows where his father learned it. Likely from his fellow ship mates on the USS Arizona in the 1920s. What games can you pass onto the younger generation?

Also consider the games of old that our ancestors may have played:

  • Chess
  • Backgammon
  • Go/Wei Chi
  • Pente
  • Yahtzee
  • Shogi
  • Chinese Chess
  • Fanorona
  • Snooker
  • Roulette
  • Dominoes
  • Cricket
  • Cribbage
  • Baseball
  • Badminton
  • Shut the Box

The Online Guide to Traditional Games offers extensive information about many traditional games from around the world, including rules and guides.

Historic Games & Celtic Art, Macgregor Historic Games Store, and Ancient & Historical Board Games offer a wide range of period games for historical reenactments and “just plain family fun” worth exploring and using at your next reunion or reenactment, or for your education and enlightenment. Examples include a wide variety of playing card games, dice games, Hnefatafl & Morris, Captains Mistress, 3-way Chess, Cribbage, Game of the Goose, Mancala, Senet, Checkers/Draughts, Fox and Geese, Bagha Chai, Maj Jong, and other pub, outdoor, casino, and board games.

Consider adding the Dutch Blitz card game to your traditional game inventory. developed by a German immigrant from Pennsylvania Dutch country, it is still played today by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, and a fun card game where everyone plays at the same time. For up to 4 people of most ages.

Explore History

There are many online games to help you explore history, for children and adults. These games help us all understand better the life and times of our ancestors. I’ve listed just a few to help you get started.

Note: Some of these are online games that may have specific computer and web access requirements. The list includes online games, web games, video games, and games you can play offline.

Game for sale on Amazon - CatanOne of the hottest board games on the market right now is Catan. Published by Klaus Teuber in 1996, this board game now includes extensive expansion cards and player packs, travel set, web apps, and a long list of awards such as “Game of the Year,” “Hall of Fame,” and “Game of the Century” in the United States, Germany, and other countries. There is even a chocolate version. The goal of the game is to be the dominant force on the island of Catan through exploration, trade, building settlements, defenses, and culture. There are fun spin-offs including Rise of the Inkas, Game of Thromes, Star Trek, and Settlers of America. Played around the world by all ages, and popular in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs, this could be a modern board game to get your family or reunion into the joy of history, exploration, and migration. The game is available on for the starter kit and elsewhere.

Here are a few more I found on Amazon.

Genealogy and Family History Games Suggestions and Ideas

Have you played genealogy and family history games? With friends and family or at reunions? Please share them so we can build up this list to help others looking to use entertainment for education, and encourage the future of genealogy. After all, family history research isn’t as dull and boring as it seems.

How to Give Back to Genealogy

Part of the reason I became involved in the WordPress Community in 2003 was to give back. WordPress is free, open source programming that creates a web platform upon which I stand to publish. It’s free. Free as in costs-me-nothing but some time and energy. With all this free and freedom around, I, like millions of others, wanted to give something back, pay our dues for this amazing program.

So I volunteered.

I poked and prodded around the newly forming WordPress Community, hooking up on the live chat boards, helping answer questions around the web, and eventually in the WordPress Support Forums. Technical documentation was just beginning to find a home in 2004 with the WordPress Codex, our wiki, and it was a mess. I poured through the pages one by one as they were added slowly from other sources, then one day couldn’t resist hitting the edit button because I was so tired of seeing the word separate misspelled. My life would never be the same.

For over 10 years I was a senior editor of the WordPress Codex, writing, editing, and corralling others to volunteer their contributions to make the Codex the single most complete guide and manual for WordPress users. That wasn’t in my plan but it became part of my gift back to WordPress.

As I look at my years in genealogy, first as a passionate hobbyist, now moving into becoming a professional, I look at how I’ve given back to that community as well, and how much that giving paid off in the long run. Let’s explore opportunities for you to do the same.

Join a Genealogy or Historical Society

Michigan Genealogical Council Booth Sign Boards - FGS 2017Nothing says love and support than a check in the form of a donation and/or membership in a genealogy or historical society. You are giving back to keep alive the education and preservation of the heritage and culture of our ancestors.

Join a local group, or one associated with your genealogy location research or group such as a religious or cultural historical society. Even becoming a member of a local or far-off group helps increase their membership numbers and income. Be sure and ask for a digital copy of their newsletter rather than printed and mailed version to help them save even more money.

Participate. Don’t just join. Give back by your presence at regular meetings, board meetings, and educational programs and special events. A warm body does much to warm the soul of a society, knowing people care enough to show up.

Then do more. Volunteer to help with an event or class. Join a committee. Throw in your name when the election committee comes calling.

When you discover you have a little extra at the end of the month, or you are reviewing your donations every year, consider donating to a genealogy society to ensure they keep doing their good work for so many on into the future. Or consider donating to a historical or genealogy society your research, records, photo albums, whatever historical artifacts and treasures that your family won’t want, won’t appreciate, or would support.

Do a Google search for the name of your community, town, county, or state, or maybe genealogical interest such as DNA, Daughters of the American Revolution, or Quakers, with the words society, group, or association.

Also try the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) for the US, and check the calendar at ConferenceKeeper, the schedule of genealogy and family history events and activities.

Attend Genealogy Workshops and Conferences

Conferences - Stillaguamish Northwest Genealogy Conference 2017 - photo by Lorelle VanFossenIt may not seem like you are giving back when you attend local and distant genealogy workshops and conferences, but you are helping. Your ticket and presence keeps the event alive and prospering. And more.

The events you attend also help direct future events by your enthusiasm and feedback. It supports educators, teachers, and experts in the field who attend and speak at these events, helping others to learn more about their specialty.

If you cannot attend, consider giving the gift of a ticket to a family history event or workshop to someone else to help them learn more about genealogy, especially family members new to family history research. Or donate the ticket price back to the sponsoring organization so they may offer scholarships and tickets to those in need, a generous way to share the wealth.

Check with local, state, and national (and international) genealogy societies and organizations for event dates, as well as ConferenceKeeper to find a workshop and conference near you.

Help Digitize

More traditional glass plate book and document scanner in use at RootsTech in FamilySearch booth.As digitization methods become more affordable, many historical and genealogy societies and groups are working hard to digitize their record. With recent fires of historical archives and government agencies, and the risk of more, the urgency to duplicate their precious inventory of books, papers, photographs, manuscripts, photo albums, etc., increases.

Volunteer to help with digitization. This could involve donating money, helping to write grant proposals, or hands on labor to assist with the process. You don’t have to have technical expertise to volunteer, but it helps if you do.

FamilySearch features a web page for Active Projects displaying where the non-profit family history company has scanners, cameras, and other archiving resources around the world working to preserve local historical records. Check with local Family History Libraries to see what projects they may have available. Many work with local agencies and archives to assist with digitization and indexing. Contact your local historical or genealogy group or society to find out what help they need to digitize their records. Also check libraries, state and national archives (some accept volunteer help), and local museums.

And consider volunteering with the Internet Archive. Their projects range from local to international and they need help at every level and expertise. Their work to conserve and preserve history through digitization by working with governments, archives, and local level groups helps protect human history into the future.

Index Records

Years ago, I’d visit a local Family History Center or library and volunteer to help index records. Today, you can volunteer to index records right from within your home or on your laptop or tablet from anywhere.

It isn’t just words you are asked to transcribe and index today. It is maps, photographs, and a wide variety of scanned records and materials. The British Library has a volunteer program for georeferencing and geotagging points on a map, allowing old maps to be just as valuable as new ones.

In Oregon where I live, Betty Winn (90) was honored recently for her volunteer work of 17 years indexing historical records of the Oregon State Archives. Trust me, Betty needs some volunteer company.

Indexing and other transcription volunteer projects can be found at your local library, museum, historical society, government offices, or archives. Check with your local genealogical or historical society for other local projects, too. Note that some institutions hold special events to encourage indexing and transcription during a specific set of dates and times such as the Worldwide FamilySearch Indexing Event. Here are some other suggestions and examples.

Hunt for Graves

Find A Grave and BillionGraves are eagerly looking for volunteers to help find graves, document them, and create memorial pages for the residents when possible.

Both services include grave sites and cemeteries from around the world, so this is a give-back you can do locally or as you travel researching your ancestors and walking in their footsteps. Mobile apps make the task even easier.

Both services also link up needs with those living in the local area where someone needs cemetery and tombstone information if it is lacking. When you register to volunteer, let them know if you are available to research for those living far away.

Heirloom Reunions

Museum - Wood Plane from Brashear collection and photos - Heinz Museum History Display - by Lorelle VanFossenAn article on Genealogy Gems mentioned heirloom reunions, finding artifacts and reuniting them with their owner’s descendants.

Once lost objects such as bibles, photographs, photo albums, scrapbooks, military dog tags, school yearbooks, and other heirlooms can be returned to descendants with some serious genealogical research. There are an increasing number of stories about such discoveries and reunions reported, and many are turning it into a hobby as part of their passion for family history research and detective work.

If you have found some heirloom artifacts, consider researching them or donating the items to those who reunite such items with their original owners, or their descendants. It’s a worthwhile gift of history, and may reunite families with precious memories as well as historical souvenirs.

Give DNA Tests

The price of DNA tests are dropping rapidly, especially with the many sale events recently. Buy several from one or more companies and give them to your elder family members. Then make their DNA test results matter.

While waiting for the DNA results, which can take weeks or months, start building the family tree in the service where you purchased the DNA kit. This will help match DNA results with your tree, improving the chances of finding matches when the test comes back.

Once the DNA test results are available, download them from the paid service and upload them to GEDmatch, GEDmatch Genesis (the “new” version of GEDmatch), Family Tree DNA, and DNA.Land, as well as the other services you’ve joined as a member such as MyHeritage and

By sharing DNA test results across a wider spectrum of databases, you not only increase your changes of finding relatives and connections, but you increase other people’s chances of the same success: finding you and your relatives.

The more we share our DNA data, the more the entire system improves. Through triangulation and just the increase in data points, the better the results and findings.

Give Time

Give of your time and skills as a family history researcher and help others. They may or may not be members of your local genealogical society. Reach out into the community.

Genealogists helping each other on laptop during FGS conference 2017 - photo by Lorelle VanFossenHelp your grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and other family members to understand and preserve their family history.

Talk to your friends. Help them get started.

Be patient. Be kind. Move at their speed. Help them with the technology, and with the step-by-step process of researching their family. The more people around you enthused about genealogy, the more you improve your support group and the more you help others protect their family histories.

Give Away

Books - Old Books - The Ancestory and Family History books - photo by Lorelle VanFossenI have always believed in giving without expectation of return, enjoying the process of giving rather than seeking other rewards. Consider all the ways you may give to genealogy.

  • Besides donating money, consider donating records, research, photo albums, photos, heirlooms, antiques, artifacts, and other historical artifacts to your local genealogy or historical society, or even the state or national organizations if they welcome such gifts.
  • Gift historical and genealogy books to local libraries.
  • Donate a basket or bag of family history research supplies or kits to your local family history group for special events.Donations - Gift bag Stillaguamish Genealogical Society bag with family history research tools - photo and gift by Lorelle VanFossen
  • Donate an or other bookstore or office supply chain gift card to your local family history group for event giveaways.
  • Donate a couple hours of your time as an assistant researcher at your family history library, local library, or historical society.
  • Have a blog or are part of an active social media group? Consider donating some of the above ideas to them as well.

Do Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) is a global volunteer organization committed to connect volunteers with genealogical acts of kindness around the world.

Volunteers make themselves available to do local research at least once a month in an act of kindness. They visit cemeteries and take photographs of tombstones, look up records in local government offices, churches, archives, and wherever the records might be found, and help as best they can to answer questions and inquiries.

Volunteers donate their time, but the research request person must pay for all expenses incurred in the research process such as copies, printing fees, postage, parking fees, etc. I’ve been asked to compensate the amazing genealogists who’ve helped me around the world with little more than a LinkedIn endorsement, following them on Facebook, or other non-monetary request as well as covering extraneous expenses through a PayPal payment, far less than I would have paid a professional genealogist. Not to say you shouldn’t, but this is among your options when researching beyond your geographic range and expertise.

Have an expertise in a geographical area or specialty? Live near a popular library, archive, or research region? Have some free time and want to help others? Consider volunteering to become a member of RAOGK and help others solve their genealogical questions.

Give Back as Much as You Can and More

I’ve long believed that the more you give the more you get back. I’ve experienced it repeatedly throughout my life, and often in the most surprising ways.

I give without expectation of return, the secret to true gift giving. I recommend you do the same. Gifts without strings are a beautiful thing.

Also give because of the learning experience. Those times helping with indexing, researching other people’s family tree, and sitting through presentations that I thought would be snores that ended up teaching me new things about this whole research process I’ve been banging my head against since I was a child. You never know where a lesson will come from.

I hope this inspires you to give. How do you give back to the genealogy industry and community? What do you wish you’d do more of when it comes to encouraging others?

What First Graders Can Teach Us About Genealogy

In 2014, Else Doerflinger wrote “What Teaching First Graders Has Taught Me About Genealogy.” It’s one of those posts that continues to haunt me.

She talked about working with her first grade class on family history and learning some invaluable lessons. Here are some of her conclusions and my thoughts about them:

  • Family are the people that love you. I love this. The traditional family isn’t Ozzie and Harriett. It is the Kardashians. Traditional family trees won’t work when there are half and step children and multiple marriages, two mothers, two fathers, and children raised by their aunts and uncles or grandparents, or even great-grandparents, or non-family, friends, neighbors, employers even. This is no different than it has ever been. I’ve ancestors raised by grand or great grandparents along with many half and step children, it’s still hard to tell which belongs to which birth-parent combination. The “traditional” family tree structure myth should have been broken a long time ago. It’s time for the genealogy industry to learn from these first graders, and time to reformat our family structure forms and concepts.
  • Kids have zero concept of time, space, or geography. As I research, I sometimes find myself searching too narrowly, focusing only on the records of one town or state. I have to remember that our ancestors were mobile, not confined to any space or geography, and more mobile than we may think. I have one ancestor who crossed the Atlantic Ocean multiple times in his lifetime in the 1600-1700s, traveling alone and with family and employees, who also traveled throughout Europe. So many times I’ve thought of him as an aberration, the exception to the rule. I need to start thinking like a kid again and open up my mind to new possibilities. As for the children’s inability to consider a visit from President Lincoln, I feel it is our job as family historians to make sure that my family living today feel like they know our ancestors like they were sitting down in the same room having tea and a good chat. Let’s do a Doctor Who and defy time and space with our family history.
  • They L-O-V-E to be helpers. One of the complaints I hear from many family historians is that no one is interested in their research. I think they didn’t ask right. I believe that people want to help with family history, it’s just that it looks so overwhelming. Start bragging about the 64 great-x grandparents you’re searching, or the thousand in your genealogy software program tree, or even digging through the net or archives, people are going to cringe and look for the fastest escape route. If you make your request manageable, “can we sit down and have some tea and talk about what you remember about your grandparents,” or “do you have mom and dad’s marriage certificate,” or “I’d love to look at the old family photos from 1965 with you, is that okay?” Encourage them to get a DNA test as the least they can do to help, or even offer to gift them one. Tiny steps. Little requests. Help them feel like they can help you in little, manageable ways, and they might loosen up and realize that this isn’t such a complicated and intimidating process after all. At the very least, share your family finds with your family through Facebook, a blog, or just by email. Keep them involved and a part of the process.
  • First graders argue the way the same people do in genealogy groups on Facebook. This one made me laugh. Nothing changes. Whiners at five and six years old, whiners at 50 or 90. Yes, we shouldn’t have to pay so much for access to the records of our ancestors. Yes, we shouldn’t have to join eight different services to get twelve different answers. Yes, this should be easier. But come on! Family history research is easier than it has ever been. It is the money we paid that made businesses and archives sit up and say, “Hey, these records are worth money. We should digitize them and make them available online, and make money in the process.” While we can wish they were doing this out of the goodness of their compassion for preservation of historical records and documents, if greed gets them making our genealogy research easier, make your own coffee, pack your own lunches, walk or ride public transportation more than drive, turn down the thermostat and wear more layers, turn out all the lights and electricity vampires, and unsubscribe from those 1,400 cable channels. All you need is the Internet, a lamp or two, and all that savings going into family history access subscriptions. And feel blessed. Genealogy is one of the hottest and fastest growing industries around, and the better they get, the easier it is for us.

You can see why Elyse’s post was so memorable to me. It is a good reminder that sometimes we need to reach inside and reconnect with our inner child. He or she still has much to teach us.

How to Read and Find Ebooks

Books - Genealogy Books for Sale on Rack - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

As an avid ebook and audio book reader, I’m often asked about ebooks. The question of how to read and find ebooks is more complex than it sounds. For me, it is combination of the following questions:

  1. What device should I use to read ebooks?
  2. If I find an ebook online, how to I read it in an ebook reader?
  3. Where do I find ebooks online (free and paid)?

Let’s take these one by one.

What device should you use to read ebooks?

In the good old early days of ebooks, there weren’t many choices. You either used a proprietary ebook reader device, or read them in a web browser. Today we have choices, so which should you choose?

Books - Ebooks - Kindle Library on Smartphone - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

As with most personal use items, you choose the system that works for you and your needs.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, start there. If you are an Amazon user, install the Kindle app and begin the process of searching and buying books and magazines. There are over a million titles to choose from with new ones coming out every day, and many magazines, including family history and genealogy magazines, you can subscribe to and read on Kindle apps and devices. Kindle can also read PDF, DOC, HTML, MOBI, and TEXT files by simply opening the file on your device from within Kindle’s app, or you can email files to your Kindle Library using a unique email set up by Amazon Kindle. Today’s apps make the process simple and easy – a little too easy for my pocketbook.

If you are a serious reader, then consider the Kindle Unlimited book program. For USD $9.99 a month you can read as much as you wish from among the more than a million titles and audiobooks on the Kindle Unlimited program. You can check out up to 9 books at any time and read them on any Kindle device or app.

Ebook Readers - Read Magazines in Kindle - Family Tree MagazineSome people prefer to have one device just for reading. There are small sized tablets (notes), Nook, and Kindle devices. While the Kindle devices have some added benefits such as read-out-loud included, I recommend that you invest in tablet as it offers more options and flexibility. Kindle’s app will install on just about every type of tablet or phone, even on your desktop computer.

If you are not a fan of Amazon, or wish to read on something not Kindle, there are many book reader apps to choose from. My favorites for Android are Aldiko Book Reader, Cool Reader, and Moon+ Reader. Remember, these ebook readers do not access nor read proprietary Amazon or Kindle books, only books either downloaded free or purchased elsewhere.

For reading on a PC or Mac, I like Calibre, a powerful ebook manager, reader, and file converter.

Check out the lists of recommended ebook readers on Lifehack, TechRadar, and Make Tech Easier’s recommendations for iOS.

Ebook Reader - Kindle - Research Like a Pro.Once you have chosen an ebook reader, set it up to match your needs. The more comfortable your reading environment, the more likely you are to use it.

As I get older, I prefer larger font sizes. Some people find reading serif fonts easier than sans serif or the other way around. I also prefer reading white text on a black screen.

When reading on Aldiko, Cool Reader, and Moon+Reader, I experiment with the settings for auto page turning and scrolling to match my reading speed.

Check with your ebook reader on how to customize your reading experience.

How to read an ebook file in an ebook reader?

You’ve downloaded an ebook file from one of the many free ebook sources I’ve listed below. Now what?

An ebook is a file that can be read by a computerized device such as an ebook reader, tablet, smartphone, computer, and web browser. The key to reading an ebook is matching the file type with the ebook reader.

The most common ebook file types are PDF, Daisy, Doc, EPUB, HTML (browser), MOBI, RTF, and TEXT, besides Kindle’s proprietary file formats. When you hunt for books online, match the file format with the ebook reader’s ability to read it. For example:

Ebook Reader File Formats
Aldiko PDF, TEXT, MOBI, HTML, RTF, FB2, PRC, ODT, DBR, CBZ, LIT (non-DRM book formats)

If a file isn’t in the right format for your ebook reader or device, Calibre and other tools are available online for converting ebook files from one format to another, except for copyright protected and proprietary files.

Check the following for more information on ebook reader readers and file formats.

Also, check out Kindlepreneur’s tips on how to get free ebooks legitimately. It takes a little tech savvy, but once set up, easy to reproduce.

Where to Find Ebooks to Read?

There are many free and paid ebook sources online.

For Kindle and Nook users, start with the store built right into your app or device. They list free and paid books as well as easy access to audiobooks.

For free books, here is a quick list to help you get started. Note, some sites require registration or offer a combination of free or paid books.

Some of the above sources of free and open source books include specific categories for genealogy such as the genealogy collection at, which includes Family Genealogy, New York Passenger and Crew Vessel Lists from 1897-1957, US Passport Applications from 1795-1905, and a variety of war records.

If you are seeking strictly genealogy books, start with Cyndi’s List of books, ebooks, and online books.

In 2015, FamilySearch announced they’d added their 200,000th book to their online collection called Working with the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library and other libraries and genealogical societies and libraries, the work of many volunteers continues. Today, you can find more than 350,000 digitized genealogy and family history books, collections, and publications from Allen County Public Library, American Fork Library, Arizona State Library, BYU, Houston Public Library, and more.

Here is a short list of other resources for books on genealogy and family history:

Don’t forget that your local library is a great starting point for finding free books, in print and via digital download or access through their apps. Check your library for specific instructions and guides.

Amazon’s Kindle Store includes tons of free books, but finding them is often a challenge. Family History Daily offers search tips to ensure you open those digital archives in Amazon in pursuit of free books.

LibriVox is a site offering free audiobooks, including classics and out-of-print books, easily listened to through any MP3 player app or audio book app.

Fairly regularly, I will be publishing posts on various public domain books and book sources for genealogy and family history research and studies. Stay tuned for updates!

On a person note: If you are a published author and you haven’t converted your book to an ebook or audiobook, so do now. Don’t wait. You are missing out on amazing sale opportunities. The decision to purchase a book today is often based upon availability of a digital and/or audio book as well as print. Many buy one of each format, including myself. This allows me to read the printed book in a comfortable space, take the ebook with me on the road to lighten the load, and listen while driving or doing something else. It’s a lifestyle.

Kindle’s CreateSpace makes it simple and easy, and the process and tools to shift the book from print to digital are free and easy to use. If you can use Microsoft Word or Pages, you can create a digital version of your book.

Taking Your Apps on the Road

Thumb and flash drives on key chain - Lorelle in the Past is a free site offering links to over 300 portable apps including freeware, software, mobile apps, and other platforms that allow you to take your work offline.

A portable app is a travel version, if you will, of a full-fledged application or software, or a version that allows you to work with files from a full-fledged application, either with full functionality or partial, such as Adobe PhotoShop files. These portable apps allow you to take your work or online project on the road by installing them in a synced cloud folder, on a local computer, or install them on a flash, thumb, or portable drive, and work offline.

Consider this situation. You arrive at an archive or library and are told that you cannot take your computer or smartphone into the special collections area where you wish to do your research. Even though you might be doing digital research, you must do it on their computers, not yours. With these portable applications, you can install them on a flash drive or on the cloud, if you have access, and run them without your laptop, taking notes, capturing screen shots, editing graphics, whatever you might need to do while there. Just plug your thumb drive into their computer after you log in, and your programs are waiting to help you work more efficiently, and in a familiar working environment.

In addition, there are many helpful, lightweight apps useful for those using what I call downsized or streamlined laptops like Chromebook or notebook laptops. When there isn’t much storage or power capabilities on the computer, and its key ability is to run applications on the web, these smaller apps work great whether installed on the notebook or on a thumb drive.

You may download the PortableApps software program that allows quick access to downloadable apps and programs, or use the website. With the software program you can easily keep your apps up to date and organize things with folders, favorites, and searches. The majority of these programs are free, but some may have a fee or timed testing use limit.

For genealogists, there are a variety of apps listed that may help you with your research efforts. I’m listing just a few that I think are useful, but your choices may vary depending upon your needs. Some of these may be familiar as you might be using their full versions.

To use these, either install the PortableApps software or download the individual files and follow the instructions to install them on a thumb drive, portable drive, or the cloud. This typically involves double clicking on the app file and ensuring the installation folder is on your portable destination. Label the thumb drive, or if you installed on the cloud, write a note to remind you of where they are and how to access them, and make sure these are with you on your next research adventure. is also available in multiple languages including English.