Trace your family tree on your lunch break

1. Google your ancestors.
“Google Genealogy” only requires Internet access and some information about your family tree. Take advantage of Google’s ability to combine search terms and find exact phrases. Enter the name of an ancestor in quotes, plus a location (as in “sampson doyle”” hamilton ohio). Be specific about the place, you can always widen your search. Also try using initials and nicknames, putting the last name first and Googling the names of two suspicious spouses, each in quotes.

2. Look inside the books.
Use the same search strategies as above, but this time with Google Book Search. Not all books searchable here can be fully previewed on the screen. Google “snippets” give you access to just a few lines of a book; you may still need to look up the actual title at a used bookstore or library.

3. Check your DNA.
Use your lunch break to order a test kit from a genetic genealogy service. Once the kit arrives, you can swab your cheek, bag your swab, and take it to the mail room, and you still have the better part of another lunch hour to go. When you get the results, spend another lunch searching the DNA databases for matches.

4. Download digitized military records.
Online genealogy sites offer key Revolutionary War and a growing number of Civil War records, plus selected files from other conflicts. You can view land seizure warrants, Civil War POW records, WWI and WWII draft registration cards, and more.

5. Request a death certificate.
Another task you can do on your lunch hour is requesting (and perhaps downloading) a death certificate. Generally, obtaining an ancestor’s death certificate requires writing to the appropriate government agency (for a fee) and then waiting. First, link to the vital records office in the state where your ancestor died. Verify that the deaths were recorded at the time and follow the instructions to apply (you may need to contact the state archives or county vital records office).

But maybe your ancestor’s record is online. Missouri, for example, catalogs deaths from 1910 to 1957 with links to images of certificates. Arizona offers a database of deaths (1844 to 1957) with PDF files of the certificates. Several states, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, have death rates in line, as does Chicago’s Cook County.

6. Interview with a family member.
Lunchtime is perfect for a local family call, or to make an appointment for a longer call or visit. His conversation with Aunt Ethel could become his favorite family stories. You might even have some questions prepared.

7. Order minutes on microfilm.
If your office is near a Family History Center, you have time to hurry through and order microfilmed records (about $5.50 per roll) from the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. If you’re too far away, use your midday break to plan your next foray into microfilm by searching the FHL’s online catalog. I like to start by clicking Place Search and entering a place name to see available records. When you find something useful, click View Movie Notes to get the movie number, then take it to an FHC after work.

8. Join a genealogical or historical society.
We’re not just talking about your local group: membership in a society for the area you’re researching (at the state or county level, or both) can pay off big. Many societies have websites with databases and message boards that allow you to sort through publications, ask about local cemeteries, get insider tips on how to get around that courthouse fire, and see if anyone can do a quick records search. Link to societies across the country from the Federation of Genealogical Societies website, Cyndi’s List, or the USGenWeb state and county pages.

9. Look, listen and learn.
Grab your headphones and munch on your lunch while improving your genealogy IQ. At Roots Television, you can watch expert interviews, documentaries, genealogy lectures, instructional videos, and more at your convenience. Also browse the Family Tree Magazine video channel for demos, library tours, and more. Then tune in to a tips-filled podcast like GenealogyGems, Genealogy Guys Podcast, or our very own Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

10. Make new genealogical friends.
Social networking sites like Geni and FamilyHistoryLink are a hot trend in genealogy. If your Facebook page is already keeping you busy, add a genealogy app like FamilyBuilder’s Family Tree to your profile. Most genealogy sites allow you to store and share your family trees; you can even forego traditional genealogy software. Use network features to collaborate with family members and other researchers, share discoveries, post family photos, and plan meetings.

11. Use the library.
You probably have a research to-do list that you can tackle a few at a time during your lunch hour at a nearby library. But you can also make your library card work remotely: Many library systems allow patrons to access databases from home (or the office) simply by entering a valid card number.

12. Update your family tree.
Websites like Ages-Online, Ancestry Member Trees, Family Pursuit, and Shared Tree allow you to dispense with boxed genealogy software and build your tree online. In addition to protecting your family files in the event of a computer crash, storing your family tree remotely means you can access your information from anywhere.

13. Back up your family tree files.
If you’ve brought your digital data to the office, lunchtime is the perfect time to back up your hard work. An external hard drive can be had for $100 or so. Simply plug it into your computer’s USB port and drag it over your files. Another option is to back up online. Free services offering modest amounts of Web-accessible storage space have proliferated rapidly; some better known ones include 4Shared, Dropboks and Openomy.

14. Read a blog.
Lunch is the perfect time to catch up on news, links, and chat on your favorite genealogy blogs, like Family Tree Magazine’s blog.

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