Genealogy Basics

The Best Free Family Tree Templates for Microsoft Word and Excel

Want to create your own printed Family Tree reports? Do you have Microsoft Word and Excel or any word processor or spreadsheet program that can handle Word and Excel documents? If so, you will be interested in “41+ Free Family Tree Templates (Word, Excel, PDF)” on the Template Lab website.

The site includes blank, fill-in-the form templates that you can use to make some gorgeous looking reports. Best of all, they are available free of charge.

“I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve”

This is another bit of fiction that needs to be wiped out. I have often heard people (I won’t call them “genealogists”) at various times make the claim they have traced their family tree back to Adam and Eve. Of course, the “documentation” is always sketchy.

Robert C. Gunderson was a Senior Royalty Research Specialist, of the Church Genealogical Department, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). He was an expert in medieval genealogy and started the Royalty Identification Unit in 1972. He passed away in 2003. However, before his death, Gunderson once was asked if such research was possible. He replied:

“The simplest answer is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752).

Why You’re Related to Everybody Else

All of us are related to everyone else. Yes, you are distantly related to me, to your next door neighbor, to Donald Trump, to Queen Elizabeth, to every Hollywood star, and to everyone locked up in penitentiaries. Being related to everyone means that you have (distant) cousins who are black, white, Oriental, Middle Eastern and indigenous people everywhere. Your cousins also include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shinto, Hindus, and other religions. If you go back in time, you are also related to Nefertiti, Confucius, Socrates, and Attila the Hun.

I wrote about these relationships in an earlier article at but a newer video on YouTube uses graphics, cartoons, and more to provide an easier-to-understand visual explanation. You might want to watch the video at and then go outdoors to greet all your newly-found relatives.

You can also watch the same video in the video player below:

One Way to Preserve Your Genealogy Information Forever

NOTE: I recently published an article with the title of Converting My Personal Library to Digital at A newsletter reader posted a comment at the end of the article asking which method(s) I use of keeping my own family tree information safe and available. I decided to create a new article here with my answer in the hope that other genealogists who read the article will be inspired to do something similar.

What do I use and recommend?

Two words: “multiple means.”

I certainly hope that MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast,, and all the other websites will last forever and will keep my information online and visible to the public forever. However, in this ever-changing world of high technology, I doubt that will happen.

Pandemic, Privacy Rules Add to Worries Over 2020 Census Accuracy

Martin LaMonica has published a rather interesting article that describes problems that future genealogists may encounter when researching their ancestors: missing and/or inaccurate information in the 2020 U.S. census. Of course, the same census information is also used to determine all sorts of things, from the number representatives each state sends to the House of Representatives to how Federal funds are allocated for government programs and much more.

LaMonica writes:

“For the Census Bureau, the timing of national shutdowns due to the pandemic could not have been much worse.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Subtitle: Do as I say, not as I have done.

I well remember the day that I lost about 100 ancestors. It could happen to you.

In my case, early in my genealogy endeavors, I was adding information about “new” ancestors in great haste. Well, they weren’t really new; they had always been my ancestors, but their names were new to me in those days. I’d find a new ancestor, record his or her information, then move on and find the parents. In the early days of my genealogy searches, it was easy to add new ancestors. After all, everyone has thousands of ancestors and, when you are new to the game, the records can be easy to find. This is especially true for French-Canadian genealogy as the Catholic Church did a great job of recording almost every christening and marriage and most funerals, usually including the name of the parents in each record. Those records are easy to find on microfilms and in printed books and, in recent years, in online databases.

As a genealogy newcomer, however, I didn’t know about the need for double and triple-checking for accuracy.

Using the U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules

Almost all experienced genealogists have used the census records to find ancestors. However, how many of us have used the U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules? In fact, I have to wonder how many of us even know what the U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules are? And why would we find them to be valuable?

In 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, and 1900, the U.S. census enumerators were required to collect all the normal census information plus even more: information about all persons dying within the 12 months preceding the census taking. These lists are known as the “Mortality Schedules”.

Family Legends: Facts or Fiction?

Today I read a delightful article, People Share The Biggest Twists In Their Family History, written by Eric Spring and published in the web site at It was “delightful” because it listed all sorts of stories about ancestors, stories that have been handed down in various families through the generations.

As much as I enjoyed the article, I must say I was very disappointed the article never mentioned the word “accuracy.” I have no way or proving or disproving any of these stories but they certainly will look bogus to any experienced genealogist.

Even without any sort of proof, I have to say that all of these stories are “questionable.”

Here are a couple of examples:

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

Given the events of the past month with genealogy web sites laying off employees and cutting back on services, you now need backup copies of everything more than ever. What happens if the company that holds your online data either goes off line or simply deletes the service where your data is held? If you have copies of everything stored either in your own computer or stored in a different company’s online service, such a loss would be inconvenient but not a disaster.

Do You Have Backups or are You Simply Synching?

“I don’t need backups. I’ve got my files synced.”


I have written many times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups I won’t repeat all that here. You can find my past articles by starting at

However, I have to ask one question: Do you have backups or are you simply syncing your files?

In fact, there is a huge difference.

Calculating Birth Dates from Death Date Information

What day was that ancestor born? It seems like such a simple question, and yet finding the answer can be surprisingly complex, even when you have the numbers in front of you. Exact dates are often found in death certificates and frequently on tombstones. The problem is that these are often written as death dates followed by the person’s age at death.

Here is a common example:

Here lies the body of John Smith,

Died August 3, 1904,

Aged 79 years, 9 months, 29 days

How do you tell John Smith’s date of birth?

You obviously need to subtract 79 years and 9 months and 29 days from the date of death. Simple, right? Well, not as simple as it first appears.

Genealogy Myths

Family stories are a wonderful thing. They often give you insights into the lives of your ancestors. However, beware! Not all family stories are true. Many such stories are fictional. Yet, even the stories that are either entirely or part fiction may contain clues to facts. Good genealogical practice requires that we admit the fiction. But the next step the genealogist takes separates art from science. Before we discard these stories altogether, we need to mine them for nuggets of truth. Let’s look at a few of the more common “family legends” to see which ones you can mine for real gold.

Myth #1: Our name was changed at Ellis Island.

10 Letters We Dropped From The Alphabet

In my earlier article, How Do You Pronounce “Ye”?, available at, I discussed the thorn, a letter that used to be in the English alphabet (and in the alphabets of several other European languages) but has since been dropped and is no longer used (except it is still popular in the Icelandic language).

In the article, I wrote, “Yes, the letter thorn was one of the 27 (or more) letters of the English alphabet back in the Middle Ages.” Now a YouTube video explains the many lost letters that no longer exist in the modern English alphabet.

How Do You Pronounce “Ye”?


Many of us have encountered “ye” in old documents. Of course, we have all seen tourists shops labeled as “ye olde” something-or-other. How many of us know how to pronounce that?

For years, I assumed it was pronounced as it was written. I would pronounce it as “Yee Old.” I was a bit surprised later to learn that I had been wrong. Instead, The words above are correctly pronounced, “The Old English.”

What looks like a “y” is a written character deriving from the old English letter, “thorn,” representing the “th” sound. No, it is not the letter “y,” it is the letter thorn.

My Method of Filing Digital Images and Documents

A newsletter reader asked a question that I receive frequently. Here is a (slightly edited) copy of her message:

“I’d love to know how you handle the thousands of .JPG images of genealogy document scans and how to attach sources to them. I tried copying my .JPGs into Word, adding a title and source as text boxes. It was easy enough, but Word degraded the .JPG image so much that writing from earlier documents was almost unreadable. I’m trying it now in PowerPoint files with much better luck. I maintain .JPG integrity, can add titles and sources, and have multiple pages. I can copy the .JPG into other formats or convert the file into a .PDF. I would still love to know what you use before I get too involved in this format.”

I did answer her in email, but I thought I would also share my answer here in case others might have the same questions:

There Were Three Brothers And…

Genealogy newcomers often trip over the “three brothers” story. It has been repeated thousands of times. I have yet to see one instance in which it is accurate.

The story always starts with something like this:

There were three brothers who immigrated to America. One went north, one went south, and one headed west, never to be heard from again.

It is an interesting story, and you might almost believe it. After all, how else can you explain the fact that the same surname pops up in so many places?

What fascinates me is that there are always three brothers, never two or four or five or six. And didn’t they have any sisters? Why did they go in three different directions? Couldn’t two of them go someplace together while the third struck out on his own? Why does each one take a different trip?

Family Names on a Quilt

If you have ever used the Etsy web site, you obviously already know what it is all about. However, if you are unfamiliar with Etsy, I will first offer this description from Wikipedia:

“Etsy is an American e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. These items fall under a wide range of categories, including jewelry, bags, clothing, home décor and furniture, toys, art, as well as craft supplies and tools. All vintage items must be at least 20 years old. The site follows in the tradition of open craft fairs, giving sellers personal storefronts where they list their goods for a fee of US$0.20 per item.

“As of December 31, 2018, Etsy had over 60 million items in its marketplace, and the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods connected 2.1 million sellers with 39.4 million buyers.”

The Evolution of the American Census

What changes each decade, what stays the same, and what do the questions say about American culture and society? Alec Barrett answers those questions in an article that probably will interest all genealogists who are researching U.S. ancestry.

Here is a quote from the article:

“The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

A Word About the Privacy of Your Genealogy and Other Information

A newsletter reader wrote recently and asked a question that I think many people should think about. I replied to him in email but thought I would also share my answer here in the newsletter in case others have the same question.

My correspondent wrote:

I am relatively new to genealogy technology. Are there tips you can provide to ensure the security of personal information? Would building a family tree in software only my computer be more secure than syncing it to a webpage (like MyHeritage)? Is it a good idea to not include details (name, date and place of birth) for all living relatives and maybe back a generation or two? Thanks.

My reply:

Great questions! However, I don’t have a simple answer. In fact, I can offer several answers and suggestions.

The various web sites have lots of options to control your privacy, except for Facebook, a web site designed to steal as much of your personal information as possible and then to resell that info. You do need to read about each site’s privacy policies before using it. However, most of today’s online services have excellent methods of protecting your personal privacy and your sensitive information.

Unfortunately, the computer on your desk and your laptop computer and tablet computer probably have no such controls. Neither does your “smartphone” which probably contains more personal information about you than does any other computing device you own.

Converting My Personal Library to Digital

NOTE: This is an update to an article I published several years ago. I have changed hardware since then and have updated my procedures significantly. This updated article reflects those changes.

I keep my computers and genealogy material in a small room in our house. I am sure the folks who built the house intended this room to be a child’s bedroom, but there are no children in the house, so I have converted it into something I call “our office.” I bet many people reading this article have done the same with a spare room in their homes.

bookscanningI have several computers and a 32-inch wide monitor in this room, a high-speed fiber optic Internet connection, a wi-fi mesh router, two printers (inkjet and laser), two scanners, several external hard drives used for making backups, oversized hi-fi speakers connected to the computers, and various other pieces of computer hardware. Luckily, these are all rather small, and advancing technology results in smaller and smaller devices appearing every year as I replace older devices.  The newer devices are almost always smaller than the old ones. However, I have a huge space problem: books and magazines. They don’t seem to be getting any smaller. My older books still take up as much room today as they did years ago.

“My office” has two bookcases that are each six feet tall and four feet wide, along with two smaller bookcases and a four-drawer filing cabinet. Pam and I share this “office,” so we have two desks, each laden with computers and printers. We squeeze a lot into a ten-foot-by-twelve-foot room.

I don’t want to count how many books I have purchased over the years, but I am sure it must be several hundred volumes. I don’t want to even think about the bottom-line price. I only have space in my four bookcases to store a tiny fraction of them; the rest are stored in boxes in the basement. Out-of-sight books are books that I rarely use. “Out of sight, out of mind.” I probably wasted my money by purchasing all those books as I rarely use most of them. I may have looked at them once, but I rarely go back to them again and again.