Category: NextGen Genealogy Network

Suit Up and Show Up

I am a young genealogist. True, there are days when the gray hair pokes through and I pop when I walk, but since I am not yet forty I am clinging to the fact that I am among the younger members of the field. Even when I may feel like I’m falling apart, I still suit up and show up making my presence known. Do you?

What do I mean by that? Well, I like to think that we are the future of this field. One day we will be the mentors, the establishment, I guess you could say “the man.” However, nothing happens overnight and many times becoming a trusted member of a community takes years. Are you working towards that goal?

If you are not actively working to safeguard the future of genealogy, why not? Many people tell me they are scared or do not know where to start. Some do not want to rock the boat of their local society. To that I say, sometimes you have to splash in the water to keep a community on course. Trust me, getting a little wet never hurt anyone. If you are interested in spreading those wings and trying to become a leader in your area, here are a few things you should think about.

Suit Up

Continuing education: We are primarily a self-taught community since there are only a few (when compared to other professions) degree programs or professional outlets. Genealogists have to make the commitment to themselves to suit up and show up to advance their knowledge in the field. Making yourself accountable to participate in whatever way possible will only help you be a better researcher and professional. Then try teaching what you learned to others.

Dress the part: While there is a time for jeans and grubby clothes (like in a cemetery), if you want to be taken seriously you should dress the part. If you are lecturing, wear a suit or something appropriate for the venue. If you are attending a conference, seminar, or society meeting, consider wearing business casual. You do not want people distracted by your appearance. You want them to think, “Yeah, he/she has it together.”

Smiling and manners: Did you know that smiling on the phone, even when the person can’t see you, still comes across in your tone? Being friendly, approachable, and easygoing are traits that people respond to. No one wants to be around a sourpuss, so even on my grumpiest days I put on that smile and save my smart aleck comments for my close friends and family. Frequently, I see genealogists with very bad manners and habits. You can be polite yet firm if you are upset, just like you can patiently sit through someone’s family brick wall without looking bored.

Stay focused: You have to hold yourself accountable. It’s the hardest thing to do, but the only one who can keep it all going is the person you see in the mirror every morning. Your success will not be handed to you. Work hard every day. Accomplish something (even if it is as simple as writing an email) every day. Lead by example in all things.

Learn from the mistakes: It is very hard for me to put myself out there. Many times I do not feel confident in my abilities. I have made mistakes and there are things that now I would have done differently. Working through the setbacks and learning from those mistakes, especially when I started my genealogy career, only made me better. If you can kick aside the failure when it happens and see the accomplishments along the way, you will find a better path. Your successes should be touted and your failures learned from.

How do you suit up and show up in the genealogy community? 

Shannon Combs BennetShannon Combs-Bennett is the owner of T2 Family History, Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist, and Education Coordinator for the NextGen Genealogy Network. Based in Virginia, she writes and lectures on a variety of topics from genetics to methodology and is a contributor to Family Tree Magazine / University.


Twitter for Genealogists

Twitter. To many in the genealogical community, this leading social media platform is confusing, overwhelming, and just plain frustrating. What can we possibly share about our ancestors in 140 characters or less?

Not very much.

But don’t let your imagination be stifled by character count. Our research endeavors require a lot of imagination, do they not? No one should stop short of giving Twitter a fair shake just because of character count, just as no one should stop their research when vital records get dicey.

Twitter is, to me, the coffee house of family history. You walk into a coffee shop with friends, and as you converse, the topics change, the conversation flows. That’s what Twitter is. A 24/7 conversation that we get to jump into whenever we’re ready.


Getting Started

Creating an account on Twitter is easy, and the setup process will guide you through finding topics and people you might be interested in following. Look for leaders in the field, like FamilySearch, the National Archives, and your local or state genealogy society.

The more people and organizations you add right from the beginning, the more Twitter will be able to adjust its recommendations to you. Adding genealogy television – like PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, as well as co-host D. Joshua Taylor – will ensure that the behind-the-scenes algorithms will work in your favor. From there, it will be easy to identity Kenyatta Barry and Mary Tedesco.


Use hashtags on Twitter to follow certain subjects. You can search by a hashtag like you would a search term on any search engine. Also be sure to include an appropriate hashtag in your own messages, so people will see what you want to share, too. Remember that these count in your 140 characters, so make sure to leave yourself some room. It’s one of the many reasons why users of Twitter tend to include abbreviations and shortened words – just enough for people to interpret without taking all of the space in the message itself.

The most commonly used hashtags in family history are listed below:


Note that there are no spaces in any of these hashtags, nor is there any punctuation. You can create any hashtag you want; for example, I use #fraternalgenealogy when I share something based on fraternal societies and their role in history.

Twitter Chats

Chats are common on Twitter, and there are currently two that are specific to family history: #genchat and #AncestryHour. Both are excellent for sharing information, ideas, suggestions, and generally being a part of the genealogy community. #genchat is hosted every two weeks and each chat is focused on a specific topic. #AncestryHour is more of an “open mic” style, and allows people to ask specific research questions and gain advice. If you would like to take part in a Twitter chat, consider using a platform such as Tweetdeck or Twubs to keep up with the flow of conversation.

Let’s review. A 24/7 online resource where fellow researchers gather to exchange ideas, sympathize with struggles and dead ends, and serve as an excellent resource when you get “stuck,” offering suggestions and tips? A great place to go when you realize it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve been falling down the rabbit hole for hours…?

Where do I sign up?

Oh, wait. I already did. You can find me on Twitter @ancestryjourney – pop in, say hello, and feel free to ask questions. And don’t forget to follow @NextGenNetwrk!

Jen_BaldwinJen Baldwin is the North America Data Licensing Manager at Findmypast and the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Outreach Coordinator. She writes and lectures on technology, social media, the Colorado gold rush, and fraternal societies, and volunteers with Preserve the Pensions. Jen is also the host of #genchat, a biweekly genealogy chat held on Twitter.


Something Worth Sharing: Creating a Family History Book

You’ve put countless hours into researching ancestors, digitizing photos and collecting stories. Now what? Of course the family tree with all its records and photos can be thrown onto a USB drive and passed out to interested parties, but there’s a good chance the drive may just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Sometimes the best way to generate interest and appreciation in family heritage is to make a good old-fashioned book or poster.

As the Internet has grown up around us, we’ve begun to discover some amazing ways to express ourselves through the printed word. Services like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and even WalMart offer the ability to design and build a photo book through a web browser. Photos are uploaded to be manipulated and arranged, clip art is available to make frames or embellishments, and text can be added throughout the book as captions for photos or even entire stories. But using these sites to make a family history book may be the hard way to do it.

If you are a user of, you should be aware that they actually have their own media printing service called MyCanvas. The really, really handy thing about MyCanvas is that all of the family tree work done in is actually linked up to MyCanvas. To get to it from, click on “Extras” along the top, then click “Photo Books and Posters.” The site has family history books and poster templates and once a project is chosen (a family history book for example), all of the relevant names, dates, locations, and profile pictures will be pulled from your tree on and laid out in a book in MyCanvas within seconds. Once the general template has been filled in, pages can be added, layouts edited, media inserted, and stories shared.


I have found that the MyCanvas page editor is easy to use and very flexible for creativity. All family tree records and media are accessible under each ancestor’s name, and photos not yet in your tree can be uploaded directly to MyCanvas to be used within your project. Books can be made with up to 250 pages and five generations deep. Posters can be printed in various styles from the standard family tree or descendant layouts as well as a combination poster showing the union of two families. The poster can display from three to nine generations and range from 16 x 20 inches up to 24 x 36 inches.

In my experience, it has taken a lot of time and patience to tweak my books and posters to the way I ultimately wanted them, but an unexpected benefit is that the exercise actually pointed out various holes I had in my own research. It pushed me to find missing dates, spouses’ names, pictures, records, and newspaper articles. The result is something to be very proud of, something which locks context and connections together in a permanent way and gives the family’s heritage a better chance of outliving its author.


EricEric Wells is a Missouri-based construction contractor in between his genealogy work. He frequently gives talks about publishing family history to his local society and regional conferences. He has published several books and posters for his family, friends, and clients, and is a volunteer with the NextGen Genealogy Network.


Call for Volunteers

Young genealogists don’t always have a lot of time on their hands. Whether we’re preoccupied with school, careers, families, or all of the above, it can be hard to find a spare hour to research our own family history, much less engage with the genealogical community at conferences or online.

We know your time is valuable. That’s why we’ve broken down our volunteer opportunities into bite-sized pieces. Are you squeezing in one genealogy conference this year? You can spend your lunch break there as a Meetup Coordinator. Are you always on Facebook and Twitter? Do double-duty and help us engage with our online community as a Social Media Assistant.

Read about these opportunities and more below:

    • Content Contributor: If you love to write and would like to expand your professional exposure by reaching out to a growing community of young genealogists, consider writing for us. Learn more…
    • Social Media Assistant: Can’t stay away from Facebook and Twitter? Volunteer your time online to share content and engage with our active community of young genealogists. Learn more…
    • Graphic Design Assistant: If dreaming up eye-catching graphics and getting creative on is your idea of a good time, help us connect with the next generation of genealogists. Learn more…
    • Community Liaison: Are you planning to attend an upcoming genealogy conference? Do you love to meet new people? Represent our organization wherever you may be. Learn more…
    • Meetup Coordinator: Whether you plan to attend a local, state, regional, or national genealogy conference, we encourage you to lead a fun and informal meetup event for young genealogists. Learn more…

Have a different idea? Complete our Volunteer Application and let us know how you’d like to get involved. We would love to have you join our growing team of volunteers – all dedicated to engaging the next generation of genealogists.