Trace Your Family Tree on Your Lunch Hour
9/28/2009
Short on time? You can do these 14 genealogy  projects on your lunch hour.
No time for genealogy?  Here are 14  genealogy to-dos you can accomplish on your lunch hour:

1. Google your ancestors.

“Genealogy googling” requires only Internet access and a few facts about your family tree. Take advantage of Google’s ability to combine search terms and find exact phrases. Enter an ancestor’s name in quotation marks, 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 two suspected spouses’ names, each enclosed in quotes.

2. Search inside books.
Use the same search strategies as above, but this time, with Google Book Search. Not every book searchable here can be previewed in total on screen. Google “snippets” give you access to only a few lines from a book; you may still need to track down the actual title at a used bookstore or the library.

3. Check your DNA.
Use your lunch hour to order a test kit from a genetic genealogy service (see our DNA section for help). Once the kit arrives, you can swab your cheek, package your sample and run it down to the mailroom, and still have most of another lunch hour left. When you get the results, spend another lunch searching for matches in DNA databases.

4. Download digitized military records.
Footnote, which runs $7.95 a month or $59.95 annually, to date has most key Revolutionary War and a growing number of Civil War records, plus selected files from other conflicts. At Ancestry.com ($19.95 per month or $155.40 per year), you can view bounty-land warrants, Civil War POW records, WWI and WWII draft registration cards and more. Or comb the free FamilySearch Record Search pilot site for WWII draft cards of men born between 1877 and 1897.

5. Request a death certificate.
Another task you can accomplish on a lunch hour is ordering (and maybe downloading) a death certificate. Usually, getting an ancestor’s death record requires writing to the right government agency (with a fee), then waiting. First, link to the vital-records office in the state where your ancestor died. Verify that deaths were recorded at the time and follow the instructions for making a request (you may have to contact the state archives or a county vital-records office).

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

6. Interview a relative.
Lunch hour is perfect for a local family call, or to make an appointment for a longer call or a visit. Your cconversation with Aunt Ethel might just turn to her favorite family stories. You even could have some questions prepared—see our suggested questions to ask and other interviewing advice.

7. Order records on microfilm.
If your office is close to a Family History Center, you’ve got time to zip over and order microfilmed records ($5.50 per roll) from the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. If it's too far, use your noon break to plan your next microfilm foray by searching the FHL’s online catalog. I like to start by clicking the Place search and entering a place name to see available records. When you find something useful, click View Film Notes for the film number, then take it to an FHC after work.

8. Join a genealogical or historical society.
We don’t mean just your local group: Membership in a society for the area where you’re researching (at the state or county level, or both), can pay off big. Many societies have Web sites with databases and message boards that let you order publications, ask about local cemeteries, get insider advice on circumventing that courthouse fire, and see if someone can do a quick record lookup. Link to societies nationwide from the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Web site, Cyndi's List or USGenWeb’s state and county pages.

9. Watch, listen and learn.
Grab headphones and munch your lunch while enhancing your genealogy IQ. On Roots Television, you can view expert interviews, documentaries, genealogy lectures, how-to videos and more at your convenience. Also surf over to Family Tree Magazine's video channel for demos, library tours and more. Then tune in to an advice-filled podcast such as GenealogyGems, the Genealogy Guys Podcast or our very own Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

10. Make new genealogy friends.
Social-networking sites such as Geni and FamilyHistoryLink are a hot trend in genealogy. If your Facebook page already keeps you busy, add a genealogy application such as FamilyBuilder’s Family Tree to your profile. Most genealogy sites let you store and share your family trees; you even may be able to forgo traditional genealogy software. Use the networking features to collaborate with family members and other researchers, share discoveries, post family photos and plan reunions.

11. Use the library.
Surely you have a list of research to-dos you can tackle a few at a time on lunch hours at a nearby library. But you also may be able to put that library card to work remotely: Many library systems let users access databases from home (or the office) simply by typing in a valid card number.

12. Update your family tree.
Web sites such as Ages-Online, Ancestry Member Trees, Family Pursuit and Shared Tree let you dispense with boxed genealogy software and build your tree online. Besides securing your pedigree 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 brought your digital data to the office, lunch hour provides the perfect time to back up your hard work. An external hard drive can be had for $100 or so. Just plug it in to the USB port on your computer and drag over your files. Another option is making online backups. Free services offering modest amounts of Web-accessible storage space have proliferated fast; some better-known ones include 4Shared, Dropboks and Openomy.

14. Read a blog.
Lunch is a perfect time to catch up on the news, links and chatter in your favorite genealogy blogs. For recommendations, see the blogroll on the left frame of our Genealogy Insider blog. Also see our Now What? and Photo Detective blogs.