How to Be a Better Genealogist Show Notes

Michael J. Leclerc is an associate of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and has been a professional genealogist for more than twenty-five years, working at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and Find My Past as well as independently. Each week he shares his experience as a research, author, editor, and content developer, teaching listeners How to Be a Better Genealogist. Find out more about Michael.

Listen to each episode here, or you can also subscribe on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.

The Infallibility of Resources (Episode 21)
As we gain experience in researching, we learn how to find reliable resources over some that are unreliable. There are record sets out there that were created with such excellent standards that we follow them without question. But it is important that we always question our sources, because even the best of them is not infallible. For this podcast, I’m using a case study from researching my French-Canadian ancestors, but the same issues and concerns apply to any sources that we use. 

Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionnaire généalogique des Familles Canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours
Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique
Mémoires de la Société Généalogique Canadienne-Française

Death and Taxes and Genealogy (Episode 20)
Today we are going to talk about an underutilized resource in our genealogical research: tax records. With tax day coming up this week (after the Covid delay), it is an appropriate time to discuss them. Taxes have been around since the beginning of civilization. That’s a good thing for genealogists, as they are a reliable record source to look for when you’re researching. Unfortunately, too many don’t understand them and underestimate their value to our research.

The Dating Game (Episode 19)
Today we’re going to be talking about calendars and dates and how they impact your genealogical research. The Julian Calendar was brought into use by Julius Caesar. Pope Gregory XIV introduced the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 to correct the problems of the Julian Calendar. But adoption was not universal, and it took centuries for it to be fully implemented. Understanding the differences between them is crucial for genealogical research.

Fighting in the Revolution (Episode 18)
Most Americans are taught about the Revolutionary War starting as young children. Annual Fourth of July celebrations expose us to stories about the war even before we start attending school. When I was young we had Saturday morning television cartoon Schoolhouse Rock teaching us about American History among other things. “Rockin and a rollin, splishin and a splashin, over the horizon, what can it be? Looks like its going to be, a free country.” Today young people are learning about the Revolution by listening to the cast album of Hamilton! But genealogists need to go deeper in their knowledge.

For more information:
American Battlefield Trust “American Battlefield Facts”
Smithsonian Magazine “Myths of the American Revolution”
History of Massachusetts Blog “British Soldiers in the Revolutionary War”
Schoolhouse Rock “No More Kings”

Catholic Marriage Dispensations (Episode 17)
The Catholic church is run according to Canon law, not civil law. There are different rules for marriage within the church. When it comes to marriage, there are special rules that dictate who can and cannot get married. But the pope and his agents are allowed to grant exceptions to the rules, excusing people from following Canon law. These exceptions are known as dispensations

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Black History in America (Episode 16)
Today is Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Today it is a state holiday in almost all of the states. African-Americans across the country celebrate their heritage with parties, parades, festivals, food and more. Learn more about how Juneteenth came to be, and why it is such an important day. 

For more information, visit:

National Juneteenth Observance Foundation
Original General Order 3 Found
Juneteenth on Wikipedia
History of Lift Every Voice and Sing 
Lift Every Voice and Sing with Lyrics 

Pride Genealogy: Researching LGBTQ Ancestors (Episode 15)
June is Pride Month. At this time of year we remember the Stonewall Riots which energized the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement. It is an appropriate time for us as genealogists to remember our LGBTQ ancestors and preserve their stories.

Cyndi’s List: Still Better Than Google (Episode 14)
A few years ago I wrote a blog post that discussed five reasons why Cyndi’s List is better than Google. The statement is no less true today than it was back then. Cyndi’s List is still the best place to look for genealogical resources on the internet. Today we discuss how to use Cyndi’s List for your research.

What’s in a Name? (Episode 13)
Family names were changed for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, some intentional and some unintentional. We’ve already discussed the fallacy of names being changed at immigration stations in the episode about The Biggest Myth In American Genealogy. Family names were changed once the immigrants were settling in their new homes. Sometimes the name changed quickly. For others it took some time.

Google Maps and Genealogical Research (Episode 12)
When researching where our ancestors lived, we often turn to modern technology to locate them. Unfortunately, tools that work well for modern times are not geared towards historical research, so we must be very careful how we use them. Google maps is great for locating modern-day addresses. When available, the street view can show detailed images of homes. But these are not necessarily the buildings our ancestors lived in. It is impossible, unfortunately, to use Google maps in isolation to locate your ancestors’ homes.

5 Big Mistakes Genealogists Make (Episode 11)
We all like to think that we are perfect. Everything we do, from the get go is exactly the way things should be done. Sooner or later, however, we realize the mistakes that we have made. And then we start to play catch up. Here are five common mistakes that can have an outsize impact on your research, and suggestions on how to avoid them.

Harvard Colonial North America Project (Episode 10)
A few years ago, Harvard Library embarked on a very ambitious project. Colonial North America at Harvard Library is working to digitize and make accessible the manuscripts and archives in its collection dealing with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America. This is one of the most significant resources anywhere to help genealogists in their family history research.

Pruning Our Family Trees (Episode 9)
Family trees can be very helpful for clues in researching your ancestry. But it is important to use them wisely and appropriately, with the same standards that we apply to other resources. Just like our yards at home, pruning our family trees is an important activity. It must be done regularly to ensure that as the tree grows, it continues to flourish with accurate information. And so that we can be certain that the people we have recorded in our trees are actually related to us.

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Mystery Cousin (Episode 8)
Today I’m going to share with you how the noted private detective Sherlock Holmes guided me to solving a photographic mystery. Being a genealogist is much like being a detective. We have to search through clues and analyze evidence to solve mysteries. Holmes was the first and one of the most famous of fictional detectives. He has many lessons for genealogists, but perhaps the most significant comes from  the very first Sherlock Holmes short story, A Scandal in Bohemia. And that lesson helped me to properly identify a mystery cousin.

Citizen Genealogists: Expanding Your Skills While Giving Back (Episode 7)
Today we are going to discuss being a “Citizen Genealogist.” We are used to commercial organizations like Ancestry, Find My Past, and My Heritage digitizing records and making them available to us online. But increasing accessibility to records is nothing new. Generations of genealogists have volunteered individually or for genealogical societies and historical archives to transcribe and create indexes for records that were not easily accessible. And contributing to this great tradition will not only help you in altruistic goals, but your personal ones as well. We discuss NARA’s Citizen Archivist, Smithsonian’s Digital Volunteers, From the Page, and FamilySearch Indexing programs.

Research Like a 3-Year-Old (Episode 6)
When doing genealogical research, it is important to muster the unbridled curiosity of a toddler. Continually asking questions and examining sources, information, and data in order to answer our research questions.

Online Translation Tools (Episode 5)
Most genealogists, at one time or another, will have to confront records that are in a language other than modern English. For example, even those whose entire ancestry is English will, at one point of another, have to deal with records written in Latin. Modern technology provides us with great tools, but the good ones are not necessarily the ones that first come to mind.

5 Steps to Becoming a Professional (Episode 4)
Genealogy is very enjoyable to many people. For some it is so enjoyable that they consider making a career of it. I’ve been a genealogist for more than thirty years, and a professional for more than 25 of that. It is a great career, but one that should not be entered into lightly. If you’re one who is considering transitioning to professional genealogy, make sure you plan appropriately. Think about these five steps before you transition.

Getting Expert Help (Episode 3)
Genealogists are always moving into unexplored territory. Whether we are just beginning to look for our families or are experienced veterans, we are constantly expanding our knowledge base to do our research. Every time we solve one problem, we can create multiple new ones that can take us to places that are unfamiliar to us. We need to learn how to do research in those places. For that we turn to experts. But how do we find them? And how do we know to whom we should turn for a particular question?

The Biggest Myth in American History (Episode 2)
This week Michael discusses the biggest myth in American history. There are many false stories in history that can send you up the wrong path in your research. One myth in particular is so pervasive that it has been repeated over and over again by families across the United States, often for more than a century. But no matter how many times it is repeated, it is still a myth, with absolutely no foundation in truth.

The White Queen Test (Episode 1)
When we’re researching, we are constantly reviewing information that we’ve found, analyzing it on a number of levels, and When we’re researching, we are constantly reviewing information that we’ve found, analyzing it on a number of levels, and combining it with other information to form conclusions. This is the only way to ensure that the people we put into our family tree are actually related to us. Every time we find information and develop a theory, it is critical that it pass the White Queen Test. I first learned about the test years ago, from my friends Robert Charles Anderson and Patricia Law Hatcher. The test is based on characters in a book by Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.