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DNA for Genealogy Is Popular on TV and in Denver

DNA for Genealogy Is Popular on TV and in Denver

In the last several years genealogy-themed TV shows have become hugely popular, and more recently, the addition of DNA testing (genetic genealogy) has also found its way into these shows.

Two new DNA/genealogy reality TV shows debut this week.  I plan to watch and hope you do, too.

Relative Race

Relative Race premieres tonight, February 28 at 6:00pm MT on BYU TV.  It is an original competition family history-based reality show that has been described as Amazing Race meets Who Do You Think You Are.

Relative Race maps

Relative Race features four married couples as they travel across the US in search of long lost relatives, armed with only paper maps, a rental car, a $25 per diem and a flip phone. Using the science and technology provided by AncestryDNA, the couples embark on a journey that starts in San Francisco, ends in New York City and leads them to unknown relatives along the way. Cameras follow all four teams as they drive across the country -more than 4500 miles- in just ten days, stopping each day to complete a challenge and find (and stay with) their newly discovered relatives in a different city. At the end of each day, the team that finishes last receives a strike; after three strikes, teams are eliminated and the remaining teams travel to NYC for the grand finale where there is a $25k grand prize for the winning couple.

BYUtv is available on Dish (Ch. 9403), DirecTV (Ch. 374), and carried by nearly 600 cable television providers nationwide.  Episodes can also be streamed live or watched on demand on BYUtv.org, or via a variety of smartphone apps that can be downloaded.  View the trailer on the Relative Race official site.

Long Lost Family

A new 8-episode season of Long Lost Family will premiere on TLC on March 6 at 9:00pm MT.  The show has aired on British TV for a couple of seasons, and the trailer and TV schedule for the current season can be viewed on the TLC website.


The show premieres with an episode titled, “I’ve Waited for This Call for 45 Years,” in which a mother is reunited with a child that she was forced to give up for adoption.  The show utilizes DNA testing to help establish close family relationships when reuniting biological family members.

Finding Your Roots

Season 3 of Finding Your Roots continues with two more episodes to round out the current season on March 1 and 8.  Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. continues to explore the backgrounds of celebrities by utilizing DNA testing and consulting by genetic genealogist CeCe Moore.


The remaining schedule can be found on the PBS website, and full episodes of this season can also be watched online.  The Behind the Scenes blog provides more information on how DNA testing was used to solve some of these cases.


DNA Seminar and Q&A Sessions at Denver Public Library

If you are in the Denver area and lucky to be one of the 225+ individuals who have a seat in CeCe Moore’s sold out all-day seminar at Denver Public Library on March 5, you will no doubt hear about some of the ways she has used DNA to solve these cases.

I will be providing 4 DNA Q&A sessions in the weeks following CeCe’s seminar to give attendees an opportunity to have their DNA questions answered in a small-group format limited to 40 attendees each.  Registration for the sessions scheduled on March 10 and 26 will open on this website on March 6.  Check the calendar for a session that meets your schedule and submit your questions in advance via the registration form.

DNA with DigiDeena Facebook Cover



Disasters Affecting Our Homes and Possessions

Disasters Affecting Our Homes and Possessions

Those who know me know that I am usually prepared.  Overprepared.

Whether it is showing up for my speaking engagements with every possible cord or adapter combination…or when working on a genealogy or photo project that has multiple redundancies of everything important saved offsite and in the cloud…I am usually the one with a plan.  And a back-up plan.

I recently listened to a presentation by The Family Curator on disaster preparedness.  It covered the usual perils like fires, floods, tornados and earthquakes–you know, things that wreak total havoc.  As I pondered the presentation, I made a mental checklist of everything I had backed up that could be recovered after a total loss and decided I was in pretty good shape.

But this week I experienced a new kind of unexpected disaster.  A micro-disaster in the grand scheme of things:  a ceiling collapse in my home.

IMG_4969   IMG_4974   IMG_4947

It is unfathomable how much damage can be done by a mere 5×5 foot section of drywall, or more precisely, the blown-in fiberglass insulation that came crashing down 20 feet from the attic along with the water-logged drywall.

Dust.  I hate dust.  But now my entire home is covered in a thick film of attic dust from the debris that catapulted into all of the living spaces in my second and main levels.  It makes breathing difficult.  It makes your skin and eyes dry and itchy.  And it is completely unsafe for kids and pets to walk on the floors or touch anything.

IMG_4972It makes me sad to see what I’d normally consider insignificant things–like the dogs’ favorite toys–now covered with debris.  Sure, the dog toys can easily be replaced for a few bucks, but it stirs a deep sentiment that was previously hidden under the surface of the subconscious:  a sense of loss.

Being displaced from your regular living space makes you think about things.  You can’t follow your normal routine, you can’t have a meal in your own home, and you certainly cannot access any of your treasured family photos or memorabilia.  Your office becomes a lawn chair on your front porch where you can at least breathe fresh air.

The clean-up efforts began today and will continue for several more days.  Next will come the restoration efforts that will take several weeks to patch, repair and repaint.  And then life will go on.

20150609_14170620150609_141654  20150609_141903

I now have a new appreciation for those who have gone through major disasters.  Although my family’s inconveniences are only temporary, life will eventually return to normal after a few weeks.

As I continue to ponder, I have some questions for you to consider:

  • When faced with the threat of a disaster, what would you grab and take with you if you only had a few moment’s notice?
  • If you must leave bulky items behind, how can you protect them from water or debris?
  • Do you have your most precious items stored in a location that is out of harm’s way, in appropriate containers to protect the items from common disasters?
  • Do you have supplies and tools on hand to immediately clean up a disaster or prevent further damage?
  • If you cannot access your originals, are backups readily available?

If you can’t immediately answer these questions, don’t you think it is time to put together your own disaster preparedness plan?

Please comment if you have ever experienced a loss of sentimental family photos, heirlooms, or other information, whether physical or digital.  What did you do to recover?



FGS/RootsTech 2015 Conference Recap

FGS/RootsTech 2015 Conference Recap

RootsTech logoThe Federation of Genealogical Societies/RootsTech combined conference was held February 11-14 in Salt Lake City, and was the largest genealogical conference ever in the U.S. with over 23,000 attendees.  This year was the first time the separate FGS and RootsTech conferences were held together, which enabled a huge expo hall with vendors covering many aspects of genealogy, storytelling, photos, games, and historic preservation.

The FGS conference had a librarian’s day and society day before the main conference, and RootsTech held an Innovator’s Summit for tech developers who work to build software or apps for genealogists. The core FGS conference sessions mainly focused on genealogical methodology and records, while the RootsTech sessions covered technology, software and online searching or connecting with family.

FGS2015 SpeakerBadgeI was honored to deliver one of the FGS keynotes and three other lectures during the conference:

  • Society Day Keynote:  New Growth
  • Communicating on a Shoestring Budget:  Cost-Effective Solutions for Societies
  • Using Constant Contact’s Toolkit for Society Communications
  • Beyond the Census:  The Non-Population Schedules

RootsTech is sponsored by FamilySearch, so it is no wonder that many of the new companies or developers who debuted their apps were certified partners of FamilySearch. Most of these apps provided extended functionality or unique views of the FamilySearch Family Tree, making it more apparent where gaps in research or possible errors exist.

FamilySearch logoSeveral of these newer Family Tree apps include:

  • KinPoint – Mainly a research aid by use of color-coded dots, that provides error notifications, missing records, hints, timelines, photos, and the ability to explore ancestors’ occupations or countries of origin
  • RootsMapper – Plots the birth location and migration paths of ancestors with lines on a Google Map for up to 10 generations
  • Puzzilla –  A descendant and ancestor viewer that uses color-coded dots to diagram a 360-degree view of a family tree, visually indicating where additional research could be done at end-of-line locations on the tree
  • TreeSeek –  The ability to print decorative charts directly from Family Tree or via GEDCOM file, including fun charts like popular male or female name clouds from your own tree
  • RecordSeek – A bookmarklet app that makes creating source citations easy by saving website links with genealogy documentation directly to Family Tree or into a “source box” to review later

In order to use these apps, an individual needs to have a free FamilySearch username and password to access the features, and should build out a few generations on the Family Tree if they aren’t already there. Some apps also offer additional premium features for a modest subscription price. After seeing the features of these apps, I had an “a-ha” moment that I really needed to build out more branches on the Family Tree so I wouldn’t miss the analysis benefits these tools can offer.

One new company named MooseRoots provides free ad-supported “interactive data visualizations” of historical records and trends to such things as demographics and name popularity. Searching for the name Rufus reveals that its most popular year was 1880 when it was the 88th most common baby name—not surprisingly, my great-grandfather was given that name in 1881. Searching for a 1920 census record of one of my ancestors allowed me to drill down into statistics from the county where he lived, providing insight on such things like racial and urban/rural composition of the county, literacy rates, and historical facts from that decade placed into the context of my ancestor’s life. Clicking around on this site and seeing various charts, graphs and statistics was fun, and revealed social context that can help enhance the story of an ancestor’s life.

Another new company named HistoryLines debuted in beta at the demo theater, and just recently went live last week. This company has a simple “discover-build-share” model. Based on a date and place, discover how life was for an ancestor, including education, clothing styles and cultural influences in his or her region. Build upon this base story by adding personal events, stories and memories to the historical timeline. Then finally, share the ancestor’s story in a variety of online platforms or in printed copies that can be handed out at a family gathering. This company is one of several that is using historical context to enhance our understanding of what it was like for our ancestors; this context is what aids us in appropriately interpreting the records and clues we locate so that we draw correct conclusions from them and can write a fuller story of their lives.

Last, on the fun side, I picked up a couple sets of The Game of Genealogy. This board game resembles the game of Clue, but is adapted for genealogy where you visit courthouses, cemeteries or archives to gain clues or points and “discover” more ancestors. The game made a fun family activity while on a recent visit with relatives, and could also be used at society game nights or family reunions.

The FGS/RootsTech conference offered many opportunities to learn, whether in the classroom sessions, computer labs, or when wandering the various demos in the expo hall. If you have not been to a large genealogical conference, consider attending one—you may be pleasantly surprised at all you can learn!

RootsTech 2016 will be held in Salt Lake City February 3-6. FGS 2016 will be held in Springfield, Illinois August 31 to September 3.  I hope to see you there!

Deena Coutant & Jen Baldwin

Deena Coutant & Jen Baldwin before FGS Society Day keynote 11 February 2015. Photo by J Paul Hawthorne.


APPO 2015 Conference – Orlando

APPO 2015 Conference – Orlando

I’m excited to speak at the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) 2015 conference Picture Perfect Profits this week in Orlando.  I’ll be conducting a 90-minute breakout entitled “Creating a Marketing Toolkit for Small Business and Event Success” on Friday afternoon where I’ll share about my experiences conducting events from start to finish with the help of Constant Contact’s Essential Toolkit.

Organizing and digitizing heritage photos and memorabilia is something I’ve been involved with for the last decade, and is a significant part of my genealogy business activities.  There’s always something new to learn, and I look forward to gaining fresh perspectives from my colleagues at the APPO conference this week.

For more about this speaking engagement, see the APPO conference Speakers or Breakouts pages.

APPO Conference Breakouts Graphics

APPO Conference Breakouts Deena Coutant Session

APPO Conference Deena Coutant Bio


Election Day

Election Day

Genealogists seek any scrap of information that places our ancestors in the context of place and time.  As we reach back farther in time, this can become difficult as surviving records become spotty.

Voting is a practice that has been around since before America was founded, so there is opportunity to locate records that were created related to the political process.  Election campaigns and voting laws may have resulted in a paper trail that helps us locate information about our ancestors involvement in the political process.

Voters had to register.  Often finding a voters list may be a research lifesaver, especially in the eras where census records many not be extant.  Because elections were taken more often than the decennial censuses, they are a great substitute to placing a person in a specific geographic area in a given year.

Consider what is available by conducting a catalog search for “voter” at Ancestry.com.  There are 14 searchable databases for various areas:

Ancestry.com card catalog search for "voter"


Similarly, consider the holdings of the Family History Library by searching the catalog at FamilySearch.org.  There are over 1,200 results, although many of them are books or microfilmed records that are not yet available to search online.  The microfilm can be rented to view at a local Family History Center or Affiliate Library, but books must be viewed in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library.

FamilySearch.org catalog search for "voter"


Voting has not always been available to all segments of the population.  Although Wyoming was the first U.S. state to allow women to vote in 1869, not all states held the same views on equality.  The women’s suffrage movement worked hard for many years to establish the right to vote; however, women didn’t gain the right to vote in all states until well into the 20th century when the 19th Amendment was passed on May 19, 1919.

 Women's suffrage broadside  Women voting responsibilit of citizenship  Women suffrage poster Texas poll tax

And other segments of the population have been disenfranchised over the years.  After the Civil War, many areas passed laws that implemented poll taxes or other measures that limited the rights of blacks or poor whites from voting.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and other discriminatory practices.

Newspaper headline McKinley and RooseveltPolitical campaigns of the past were just as heated as they are today, although the newspaper ads and broadsides of yesteryear have been replaced by TV ads and pre-recorded robocalls today. If an ancestor ran for political office, chances are good that evidence may be found in newspaper or ephemera collections.

A great place to start looking is at the Library of Congress:  the Chronicling America collection contains over 8 million pages of digitized newspapers 1836-1922, and the American Memory collection contains “An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.”  Many states also have digitized newspaper projects, and even small-town local libraries might have microfilm copies or the original newsprint in their collections.

Although most genealogists are researching for deceased ancestors, present-day voters lists may be available in some states.  For instance, Colorado open voter laws allow anyone to buy a copy of the registered voter list for $50.  This list contains names, addresses, and birth years of anyone registered to vote.

A genealogy website has been setup for Colorado voters at Coloradovoters.info.  This site currently contains all the registered Colorado voters as of September 2, 2014.  In reviewing the site, I see that it does contain my personal information, as well as my husband’s and his ex-wife—the only 3 Coutants publicly registered to vote in Colorado.


Although genealogists rejoice when finding records about their ancestors, they may not be as thrilled about having their own personal voter info publicly available while they are still living, citing privacy concerns.  Colorado voters can ask for a confidential voter form if they do not wish to appear on the public list; the form is available from the county clerk and recorder’s office for a $5 fee.

But once information is on a website list like Coloradovoters.info, it may not be that easy to have personal information removed.  If the website’s “Our Policies” page is consulted, it provides information in an in-your-face-tone for “calm, sensible persons” and “hot-headed crazies” to submit a notarized request to be removed from the list.

Colorado Voters Removal Instructions

Love it or hate it, public records are one of the most common ways we are able to conduct genealogical research.  If you have an opinion on  having voter information publicly available, please comment below.  And don’t forget to vote today if you haven’t already!