Review: Trace Your German Roots Online – A Complete Guide to German Genealogy Websites

Genealogy author and educator Thomas MacEntee reviews Trace Your German Roots Online – a “must-have” guide for researching German family history.

[Editor’s Note: Trace Your German Roots Online is available in print as well as in e-book format and right now you can get it at a 36% savings, for only $13.99. PLUS if you use promo code SFTTHOMAS16 at checkout, you’ll save an additional 15%!]

Beidler, James M. Trace Your German Roots Online: A Complete Guide to German Genealogy Websites, Cincinnati: F+W Media, Inc., 2016, 208 pages.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that James M. Beidler, author of Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and a well-known genealogist had just published a new book specifically for those using online resources for researching German ancestors. My Henneberg line has been a difficult one to research, especially since most of my other lines are English and Dutch. I knew that German genealogy research meant tapping into different skills, but I would never have made any of my recent progress without the solid advice and techniques in Trace Your German Roots Online.

A Wealth of Information on German Genealogy

Do not think that Trace Your German Roots Online is limited to just online resources. Once I started reading, I realized that the book is an excellent immersion into general German research especially when it comes to resources, how to deal with German place names and surnames, and more.

The focus of Beidler’s work in Trace Your German Roots Online is how to use sites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry.com for German family history research. Besides the more well-known online sites, Beidler also introduces MyHeritage as well as Archion and its Protestant church records – this one was new to me!

The information is presented in easy-to-understand text and with screen captures that will help researchers get started on these websites. More than anything else, Trace Your German Roots Online is a workbook that you will be referencing frequently as you work on finding your German ancestors.

Your German Genealogy Questions Answered

Here is evidence that the author truly understands the plight of those of us with German ancestors: he has devoted an entire section to answering specific research questions. These include “How Do I Identify My Ancestors’ Place of Origin,” “Where Else Can I Access Church Records,” and “How Do I Contact People and Places in Germany?” are just a few examples.

I could easily relate to all of these research questions and the solutions offered were key to helping me find more information on my Hennebergs, my Pressners and other German ancestors.

A Sneak Peak . . .

Here are some tips you will find in Trace Your German Roots Online[i]:

  1. Remember that Germany is not America. Stateside researchers can forget that some of their assumptions about records in the United States don’t apply to the Old World. Because of its decentralized history and frequently changing borders, Germany has left behind fewer “national” records. Instead, be prepared to primarily look for records at the state (Land) and local levels.
  2. Know which resources are free. The Web has opened up incredible possibilities for researchers, but remember that not all online resources are free. Some sites require you to have a paid subscription, while others require you to pay per record. Before you invest in a subscription, make sure you can’t get the same material for free from another resource.
  3. Double-check translation sources. While the advent of automated translation services on the Internet has been exciting for genealogists digging through foreign-language records, take the time to fact-check translations you find. Even if provided by a German records repository, translations online may not be completely accurate and can lead to incorrect information in your family tree. Check your translations with multiple sources to minimize these kinds of errors.
  4. Put yourself out there. The Internet is nothing if not collaborative. Take advantage of this fact by reaching out to other researchers via social media and joining German genealogy groups on Facebook. You just might find that other researchers have faced (and conquered) research brick walls similar to your own.

Here is the book trailer for Trace Your German Roots Online[ii]:

Conclusion

After reading Trace Your German Roots Online, you realize that not only does the author know German genealogy, but also he is invested in helping you succeed in finding your German ancestors. I can guarantee that whether you get the print version or the ebook version, you will be bookmarking several sections and get lots of mileage out of the content in Trace Your German Roots Online.

About The Author: James M. Beidler

James M. Beidler came by his German genealogy expertise honestly: It took him more than twenty years of searching to find any ancestry that wasn’t from Germany. Beidler is the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide (Family Tree Books, 2014), a columnist for German Life magazine, and a go-to expert for German Genealogy articles and educational articles.

Jim writes the award-winning weekly newspaper column “Roots & Branches”—the only syndicated genealogy feature in Pennsylvania—and edits Der Kurier, the quarterly journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society. Jim is a frequent contributor to periodicals ranging from The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine to Family Tree Magazine. His speaking credits include all the nation’s largest genealogical conferences, as well as the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s acclaimed Commonwealth Speakers program (2002–2009). Jim also teaches online courses and webinars for Family Tree University.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statement.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

[i] Trace Your German Roots Online eBook product description, Shop Family Tree (http://www.shopfamilytree.com/trace-your-german-roots-online-ebook?source=igodigital, accessed 6 April 2016), used by permission of F&W Media.

[ii] Trace Your German Roots Online Book Trailer (https://youtu.be/FxfX77jx3Bc, accessed 6 April 2016), used by permission of F&W Media.

Review: Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist

Barry J Ewell’s latest book, Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist plagiarizes content from at least one well-known author in the genealogy community.

I recently purchased the Amazon Kindle version of Barry J. Ewell’s newest book, Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist*, published 26 February 2016 by One Leaf Press. At 580 pages, Google Guide is a useful tool for all types of genealogists although much of the information can easily be located on the Internet, including entire articles by other authors.

*Note: I purchased the Amazon version on 10 March 2016 which as of 14 March 2016 has been removed from Amazon. The link has been updated to show the paperback version which is currently listed as “out of print.”

WARNING: Google Guide for Genealogy Contains Plagiarized Content

Ewell has a documented history of plagiarizing the works of other authors in the genealogy community and he maintains this tradition with Google Guide for Genealogy. Here is a thoroughly documented excerpt from Chapter 3 entitled “Verifying Online Sources”[1] which is taken from an article at About.com by Kimberly Powell entitled “Five Steps to Verifying Online Genealogy Sources.”[2]:

Ewell content Powell / About.com content
Step One: Search for the Source

Whether it’s a personal web page or a subscription genealogy database, all online data should include a list of sources. The key word here is should. You will find many resources that don’t. Once you find a record of your great, great grandfather online, however, the first step is to try and locate the source of that information.

1. Look for source citations and references – often noted as footnotes at the bottom of the page, or at the end (last page) of the publication.

2 Check for notes or comments.

3. Click on the link to “about this database” when searching a public database. (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and FamilySearch.com, for example, include sources for most of their databases.)

4. Email the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step One: Search for the Source

Whether its a personal Web page or a subscription genealogy database, all online data should include a list of sources. The key word here is should. You will find many resources that don’t. Once you find a record of your great, great grandfather online, however, the first step is to try and locate the source of that information.

Look for source citations and references – often noted as footnotes at the bottom of the page, or at the end (last page) of the publication

Check for notes or comments

Click on the link to “about this database” when searching a public database (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and FamilySearch.com, for example, include sources for most of their databases)
Email the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step Two: Track Down the Referenced Source

Unless the web site or database includes digital images of the actual source, the next step is to track down the cited source for yourself.

If the source of the information is a genealogy or history book, then you may find a library in the associated location that has a copy and is willing to provide photocopies for a small fee.

If the source is a microfilm record, then it’s a good bet that the Family History Library has it. To search the FHL’s online catalog, click on Library, then Family History Library Catalog. Use the place search for the town or county to bring up the library’s records for that locality. Listed records can then be borrowed and viewed through your local Family History Center.

If the source is an online database or web site, then go back to step #1 and see if you can track down a listed source for that site’s information.

Step Two: Track Down the Referenced Source

Unless the Web site or database includes digital images of the actual source, the next step is to track down the cited source for yourself.

If the source of the information is a genealogy or history book, then you may find a library in the associated location has a copy and is willing to provide photocopies for a small fee.

If the source is a microfilm record, then it’s a good bet that the Family History Library has it. To search the FHL’s online catalog, click on Library, then Family History Library Catalog. Use place search for the town or county to bring up the library’s records for that locality. Listed records can then be borrowed and viewed through your local Family History Center.

If the source is an online database or Web site, then go back to Step #1 and see if you can track down a listed source for that site’s information.

Step Three: Search for a Possible Source

When the database, web site or contributor doesn’t provide the source, it’s time to be a detective. Ask yourself what type of record might have supplied the information you have found. If it’s an exact date of birth, then the source is most likely a birth certificate or tombstone inscription. If it is an approximate year of birth, then it may have come from a census record or marriage record. Even without a reference, the online data may provide enough clues to a time period and/ or location to help you find the source yourself.

Step Three: Search for a Possible Source

When the database, Web site or contributor doesn’t provide the source, it’s time to turn sleuth. Ask yourself what type of record might have supplied the information you have found. If it’s an exact date of birth, thenEmail the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step Four: Evaluate the Source

While there are a growing number of internet databases which provide access to scanned images of original documents, the vast majority of genealogy information on the web comes from derivative sources – records which have been derived (copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized) from previously existing, original sources. Understanding the difference between these different types of sources will help you best assess how to verify the information that you find.

1. Does the data come from a primary source? These sources, created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (i.e. a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate).

2. A significant amount of time after an event occurred or by a person who was not present at the event (i.e. a birth date listed on a death certificate by the daughter of the deceased). Primary evidence usually carries more weight than secondary evidence.

3. How close to the original record is your information source? If it is a photocopy, digital copy or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation. Compiled records — including abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories — are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. Information from these types of derivative sources should be further traced back to the original source.

Step Four: Evaluate the Source & Information it Provides

While there are a growing number of Internet databases which provide access to scanned images of original documents, the vast majority of genealogy information on the Web comes from derivative sources – records which have been derived (copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized) from previously existing, original sources.

Understanding the difference between these different types of sources will help you best assess how to verify the information that you find.

How close to the original record is your information source? If it is a photocopy, digital copy or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation. Compiled records — including abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories — are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. Information from these types of derivative sources should be further traced back to the original source.

Does the data come from primary information? This information, created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (i.e. a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate), is generally more likely to be accurate. Secondary information, by contrast, is created a significant amount of time after an event occurred, or by a person who was not present at the event (i.e. a birth date listed on a death certificate by the daughter of the deceased). Primary information usually carries more weight than secondary information.

Step Five: Resolve Conflicts

You’ve found a birth date online, checked out the original source and everything looks good. Yet, the date conflicts with other sources you’ve found for your ancestor. Does this mean that the new data is unreliable? Not necessarily. It just means that you now need to re-evaluate each piece of evidence in terms of its likelihood to be accurate, the reason it was created in the first place, and its corroboration with other evidence.

1. How many steps is the data from the original source? A database on Ancestry.com that is derived from a published book, which itself was compiled from original records means that the database on Ancestry is two steps away from the original source. Each additional step increases the likelihood of errors.

2. When was the event recorded? Information recorded closer to the time of the event is more likely to be accurate.

3. Did any time elapse between the event and the creation of the record that relates its details? Family bible entries may have been made at one sitting, rather than at the time of the actual events. A tombstone may have been placed on the grave of an ancestor years after their death. A delayed birth record may have been issued dozens of years after the actual birth.

4. Does the document appear altered in any way? Different handwriting may mean that information was added after the fact. Digital photos may have been edited. It’s not a normal occurrence, but it does happen.

5. What do others say about the source? If it is a published book or database rather than an original record, use an internet search engine to see if anyone else has used or commented on that particular source. This is an especially good way to pinpoint sources which have a large number of errors or inconsistencies.

Step Five: Resolve Conflicts

You’ve found a birthdate online, checked out the original source and everything looks good.

Yet, the date conflicts with other sources you’ve found for your ancestor. Does this mean that the new data is unreliable? Not necessarily. It just means that you now need to reevaluate each piece of evidence in terms of its likelihood to be accurate, the reason it was created in the first place, and its corroboration with other evidence.

How many steps is the data from the original source? A database on Ancestry.com that is derived from a published book, which itself was compiled from original records means that the database on Ancestry is two steps away from the original source. Each additional step increases the likelihood of errors.

When was the event recorded? Information recorded closer to the time of the event is more likely to be accurate.

Did any time elapse between the event and the creation of the record that relates its details? Family bible entries may have been made at one sitting, rather than at the time of the actual events. A tombstone may have been placed on the grave of an ancestor years after her death. A delayed birth record may have been issued dozens of years after the actual birth.

Does the document appear altered in any way? Different handwriting may mean that information was added after the fact. Digital photos may have been edited. It’s not a normal occurence, but it does happen.

What do others say about the source? If it is a published book or database rather than an original record, use an Internet search engine to see if anyone else has used or commented on that particular source. This is an especially good way to pinpoint sources which have a large number of errors or inconsistencies.

One last tip – just because a source is published online by a reputable organization or corporation doesn’t mean that the source itself has been verified. The accuracy of any database is, at its best, only as good as the original data source. Conversely, just because a fact appears on a Geocities personal page or the LDS Ancestral file, doesn’t mean that it is more likely to be inaccurate. The validity of such information is largely dependent upon the care and skill of the researcher, and there are many excellent genealogists publishing their research online. One last tip! Just because a source is published online by a reputable organization or corporation doesn’t mean that the source itself has been vetted and verified. The accuracy of any database is, at its best, only as good as the original data source. Conversely, just because a fact appears on a personal page or the LDS Ancestral file, doesn’t mean that it is more likely to be inaccurate. The validity of such information is largely dependent upon the care and skill of the researcher, and there are many excellent genealogists publishing their research online.

I also did “spot checks” of other content in Google Guide for Genealogy, and while most of it appears to be from Ewell’s website as well as his previous publications, my methodology of using search engines to check for plagiarized content cannot possibly verify published books and other sources that have not been indexed by Internet search engines.

Conclusion

I wish the author would not only stop the practice of stealing content from other hard-working authors, but also come clean with the genealogy community and explain why he feels the need to plagiarize. Looking at the stellar 5-star only reviews (as of 11 March 2016), it appears as if Ewell’s followers either are unaware of his plagiarism or are willing to give him a “pass” on his behavior. As I stated in Plagiarism: A Venereal Disease in the Genealogy Community on 10 March 2014, “While there may never be a cure for plagiarism, there is education and the need to teach new genealogists what is and what isn’t acceptable when it comes to educational content.”

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©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

[1] Barry J. Ewell (2016-02-26). Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist (Kindle Locations 931-992). One Leaf Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Powell, Kimberly, Five Steps to Verifying Online Genealogy Sources, About.com (http://genealogy.about.com/od/basics/a/verifying.htm, accessed 10 March 2016)

Review: BillionGraves Plus

Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee takes BillionGraves Plus for a test drive and shares why the upgrade is well worth the price!

Recently, as part of my own Genealogy Do-Over, I have spent more time researching death record information, specifically gravestone images and related data. Normally, I would use the Find-A-Grave site since I have been using it, well since forever. I also decided to start using BillionGraves and after setting up a free login and using its basic functions, I wanted to know more about the premium version, BillionGraves Plus.

The folks at BillionGraves have given me a behind-the-scenes look at BillionGraves Plus and after putting it through several tests with my own search criteria, I can say that going premium is definitely worth the price! (Note: see my special offer at the end of this review to get a HUGE discount on BillionGraves Plus!)

BillionGraves Plus Features

So what do you get when you sign up for BillionGraves Plus? Here is an overview:

  • Family Plots: 70% of all people are buried in Family Plots. This feature shows you where they are!
  • Nearby Graves: Family members that do not share the same family name are most likely found near other family graves. This feature allows you to see those headstones, sorted by distance from the one you selected. An example might be a headstone that is labeled only as “Infant”, “Mother” or “Father”.
  • Global Family: See everyone that shares the same family name on a map sorted by city, county, state, country or even the whole world. You can then zoom in and see the specifics.
  • Family Notifications: You will be notified immediately ANYTIME a NEW RECORD comes in that matches the name and location you have selected. You don’t have to search. We search for you.
  • Ad Free: No Ads. No distractions. Faster search results, bigger photos, and larger maps.
  • Priority Support: Click on the support link in the footer of any page and submit your question. Your question will be moved to the top of the support queue.

Overall Impression of BillionGraves – It’s the Community!

Being an accomplished user of Find-A-Grave, I figured I had all the features I needed for locating gravestone images with their site. Boy was I wrong. Not only does BillionGraves provide you with accurate GPS location information, but also the sense of community is much different from other sites.

I have had many issues with several contributors at Find-A-Grave in terms of “ownership” of memorials and images. The frustration level has been so much that many times I don’t think it is worth it to use the site. Genealogy should be enjoyable and not stress you out, right?

Well at BillionGraves, there is a better sense of community and “stewardship” for the content contributed. Every member is working towards the same goal: to document every gravesite in the world with accurate information that is easy to access and share.

Family Plots

I have several family members buried at the Grahamsville Rural Cemetery in Grahamsville, New York. So using BillionGraves Plus I was able to see plots grouped by families:

I have several family members buried at the Grahamsville Rural Cemetery in Grahamsville, New York. So using BillionGraves Plus I was able to see plots grouped by families

Nearby Graves

The Nearby Graves feature is different from Family Plots in that it includes those family members who have married or do not share the same family name. This is excellent for locating those headstones that say “Mother” or “Father” or “infant.”

The Nearby Graves feature is different from Family Plots in that it includes those family members who have married or do not share the same family name. This is excellent for locating those headstones that say “Mother” or “Father” or “infant.”

Family Notifications

As genealogists, we continue to have increasing access to large amounts of data, to the point where we can feel overwhelmed. So the Notifications feature in BillionGraves is a valuable way to manage genealogy data – just enter your search criteria and when other users add new data, you receive an email notification.

billion graves notifications

Here is how the Family Notifications feature works:

  • No more searching day after day looking for a particular ancestor! Let us do the work for you!
  • Set up an on-going search that notifies you the second your results are available! No need to keep searching again and again.
  • We’ll email you a photo and a link to the headstone details as soon as it is available.

Conclusion

After using BillionGraves Plus, I don’t think I could possibly use the BillionGraves site without these features. I can’t tell you the number of hours that features like Nearby Graves has saved me in terms of research. In addition, Family Notifications is worth the price alone since I can receive updates for my family names via email. The BillionGraves Plus feature enhances the experience of using the BillionGraves site and makes it easier to find the information I need for my family history research.

Special Offer from BillionGraves

Right now, BillionGraves is offering one of the lowest prices EVER for their BillionGraves Plus upgrade! This is an exclusive offer for readers of GeneaBloggers and instead of the normal $59.95 a year price, you pay just $39.97! You must use this link to take advantage of this offer, which expires on Monday, March 14th at 5pm MDT!

Power up your genealogy research using BillionGraves Plus and see how much progress you can make with headstone and death record research!

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.