122 Tools to Plan and Build Your Family Tree

As a group, family historians and genealogists are generally meticulous, detail-oriented, highly organized workers. These aficionados tend to document their activities, recording not only data about their ancestors, but the processes used in collecting and understanding that data.

These family historians enjoy constructing systems to manage their collection and storage efforts. Sometimes those systems turn into sets of instructions, and sometimes they develop into usable database and charting software. In either case, the family historians and genealogists usually pass on their expertise to the interested public, because what they seem to enjoy above all is sharing their experiences with the world and making a personal contribution to history. You’ll find some of their best ideas collected, summarized and listed below. With these 122 simple tools, you too, can join the ranks of the family historians.

  1. Society of Genealogists (UK) – The UK’s Society of Genealogists offers its members a storehouse of searchable web databases containing genealogical information. This professional library is constantly growing, and the newsletter will keep you informed about new acquisitions.

    Society of Genealogists (UK)

    Waldburg Ahnentafel, the family tree of Sigmund Christoph von Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg. Courtesy of http://www.ahneninfo.com/de/ahnentafel.htm, illustrator unknown, late 18th century

  2. XY Family Tree – XY Family Tree is an easy-to-use Windows program that can import GEDCOM files and display all your media files in the correct formats. It’s free and portable.
  3. Family Email Hosting – Family Email Hosting has posted some advice on how to build your own family history website, including planning your research, gathering your source material, and choosing your hosting company.
  4. Family Tree Scriptorium – The Family Tree Scriptorium was established in 1983 to design family trees with calligraphy and other traditional techniques, and you can split the services by requesting family research or calligraphy for other purposes.
  5. Family Tree & Me – Family Tree & Me lets you create family trees with photographs, and as you can see the results can be large (the pictured tree is 54″ x 24″ and contains five generations).
  6. Family Tree application – This application was written to work on high-resolution Apple devices. It uses a very simple, stripped-down interface and generates family tree models with mapping capacity.
  7. Family Tree Art – The Family Tree Art site belongs to a professional graphic designer who has produced a wide variety of visual presentations for the family tree, many including photographs.
  8. Family Tree Designs – Family Tree Designs will do the necessary research to produce a history of your family and has expanded to offer tree artwork that can be framed.
  9. Family Tree Magazine – Family Tree Magazine is an online collection of resources to help you compile your family’s history. Its genealogists’ toolkit includes forms, worksheets, tips on research, and links to research materials.
  10. Family Tree Printing – Family Tree Printing will print a chart generated by your genealogy program onto one sheet of paper, and can print onto canvas if so desired.
  11. Family Tree Template – The Family Tree Template site discusses different types of family history charts and how to fill them in, including suggestions about where to find information on your ancestors.

    Family Tree Template

    De Orestis-Galea family tree chart, no author available. Courtesy of Flickr

  12. WordPress family tree plugin – Try this WordPress family tree plugin to display a genealogical reference on a web page, including information for each member of the family (birth dates, mother, father, and so on).
  13. Ancestoring – Ancestoring is a series of posts aimed at training the beginning genealogist, and it carefully describes all the basic steps in family history research. The Toolbox has a number of helpful links.
  14. Blurb – One of the most helpful tools in performing any task is the collective wisdom of experience, and if you’re interested in meeting people who make family trees suitable for publishing, you can find some on Blurb.
  15. MySQL – If you want to learn how to use MySQL to design a database for your family history website, you can find detailed instructions on part of the process here.
  16. RootsMagic – RootsMagic is one of the many genealogy software companies available to help with the technical end of housing and presenting your family’s data. Their latest offering is RootsMagic 6 Essentials.
  17. Genealogy Printers – Genealogy Printers promises to print your family’s history onto a single piece of paper, providing blank charts, completed trees, and intelligent service from a family of genealogists.
  18. Ancestral Quest – Ancestral Quest was one of the first family history programs ever sold, beginning in 1994, and you can download a free Basics version to test-drive the software.
  19. Geneodesign – Geneodesign offers customized illustrations of your family tree in a number of sizes and styles. Each picture is constructed for you personally without using a template.
  20. vitalrec.com – vitalrec.com is a centralized source for locating links to records housed all over the country, showing births, marriages, deaths, and census records. There’s also a page of international links.
  21. GenScriber – If you’re transcribing images of family history documents like census and vital records, the GenScriber viewer lets you see your current image in one window while you type its data into another window below.
  22. Visual.ly – Visual.ly has fresh ideas for presenting all kinds of information, and you can find family tree graphics describing all types of inheritance histories, from the British royals to Norse mythology.
  23. Paper Tree – Paper Tree gives you a complete set of instructions on how to fill in family tree forms, with notes on type of ink required, making notes in pencil, then overwriting and erasing to produce the final result.

    Paper Tree

    General William Clark’s Family Tree wall chart, no author available. Courtesy of Flickr

  24. House Beautiful – For ideas on designing your family tree, look at House Beautiful’s depiction of the American Design family tree, including its architectural roots. The trend toward industrial family trees is producing exceptionally clever artwork, and this is one example.
  25. GED-inline – GED-inline is a web utility that lets you validate your GEDCOM files, pinpointing any data that’s not conforming. The site respects your privacy by discarding all uploads after analysis.
  26. Family Historian – Family Historian is a well-regarded genealogy software package, for Windows only, and it’s capable of creating charts, CDs and DVDs, and books exploring your family’s history.
  27. DoroTree – DoroTree is highly specialized software constructed by experienced genealogists who needed a product suited to the unique features of Jewish history. Includes a Hebrew data entry feature and Hebrew-Gregorian dates.
  28. Genbox Family History – Genbox Family History lets you turn out charts showing your family history and specially organized reports containing your research. You may try the full version for a month at no charge.
  29. Famtree – Famtree is Windows shareware, and it’s continually improving the basic features of its design by providing GEDCOM imports, user interface enchancements, ability to add half-siblings, and so on.
  30. Cumberland Family Tree – Cumberland Family Tree is multilingual and simple to use, providing automatic name linkage at time of entry and space for multiple marriages. You can even generate an indexed family history.
  31. Roots-Forum – Roots-Forum is a genealogists’ networking site where you can give and receive advice and research tips. Topics include One-Name Studies, Brick Walls, and Missing Links.
  32. Custodian 3 – Custodian 3 databases are designed specifically to accommodate the various types of records likely to be found in genealogical research. Recommended for indexing projects and local histories.
  33. Family Origins – Family Origins is genealogy software for Windows, and it has some very helpful features like specialized record types, multiple relationships tracking, marriage searches, and GEDCOM support.
  34. Back to Roots – If you’re looking for genealogical data from the UK, Back to Roots has an extensive catalogue containing many years’ worth of directories from the British isles.

    Back to Roots

    St Augustine of Canterbury, Upton Lovell: church hall. Courtesy of Basher Eyre, photographed for Geograph Britain and Ireland

  35. Sovereign Ancestry – Sovereign Ancestry is an international firm of historical researchers concentrating on not only family histories but related projects like studies of locales and even individual houses.
  36. RootsMap – The RootsMap company has a very interesting genealogy product called the surname distribution map, which can show you occurrences of any name in Great Britain and Ireland.
  37. My History – My History is a supplier of all items you need to create, record, and display your own family history. They carry many stationery items intended to store and preserve old records.
  38. Heritage Family History – Professional genealogist Celia Heritage (yes, that’s her real name) heads the Heritage Family History reasearch company, and she offers a wealth of information on how to succeed in your own family studies.
  39. RootsChat – RootsChat is a networking resource especially for family historians interested in tracing their British origins. You can ask for help with documents, dating sources, or even balky software.
  40. ROOTS Consulting Services (Scotland) – The goal of ROOTS Consulting Services (Scotland) is to translate the results of your family history research into a travel itinerary so you can plan to visit places of interest or do some on-the-spot delving.
  41. Neil Bromley – Neil Bromley does truly beautiful artwork in the style of medieval illumination, and if you want the best in a custom rendering of your family tree you can do no better.
  42. Family Folios – If your idea of the perfect research tool is someone to do the work, try the FamilyFolios service by professional genealogist Angela Aldam, who produces studies of families in the UK.
  43. Simple Family Tree – Simple Family Tree was created by a programmer who writes free software as a hobby. It supports GEDCOM files, and you can even take a look at the source code.
  44. GenoPro – GenoPro draws family trees for you based on the genealogical information you supply, using the highly detailed genogram format. It includes a Family Wizard to insert an entire family in one process.
  45. Bygones – Bygones is freeware, and it has a Mac version as well as a Windows version. It’s intended for use in keeping digital notes on family history research.

    Bygones

    Sleepy Hollow Cowboys And Cowgirls. Courtesy of Pete Newman, 1936, Flickr

  46. Brigham Young University – Mormons are very interested in genealogy, and that’s why Brigham Young University has an entire department devoted to family history studies. The website offers a number of online resources.
  47. Lifelines – Lifelines uses GEDCOM as its data storage format, and to start using Lifelines you simply export your existing GEDCOM files, then import and start scripting a wide variety of reports.
  48. Hypertext Indented Narrative – Hypertext Indented Narrative is a web adaptation of the original Burke’s Peerage pedigree format, which provides a means of inserting hyperlinks into an individually drawn, freeform family tree chart.
  49. All-Things-Family-Reunion – All-Things-Family-Reunion is a website that grew out of many years of planning family events, and one of the dimensions of the work turned out to be producing family trees in the word art style.
  50. Modern Software Experience – The site owner, Tamura Jones, is an expert on genealogy software, and much of the knowledge collected on Modern Software Experience will help you navigate the different programs discussed.
  51. Genea-Musings – Genea-Musings is the product of avid researcher Randy Seaver, and a typical web post might walk the reader through a flexible series of steps with the goal of teaching a particular family history research technique.
  52. GenDetective – GenDetective is a data analysis program that examines your existing family history data to discover what’s missing, then generates lists of the specific missing pieces needed to complete your work.
  53. WinGeno – WinGeno is a free downloadable program that lets you diagram your family’s history in the form of a genogram. It’s available in the English amd German languages.
  54. Ultimate Family Tree – Ultimate Family Tree (UFT) is an old FoxPro-based artifact in the world of genealogical software, but it still works and has an active, passionate group of users that will be glad to offer software assistance.
  55. Behold – Behold is a Windows program that shows all your data, according to your selections, in the aptly named Everything Report. Behold will import your GEDCOM files and find any errors.
  56. Geves – Geves is genealogy software for Windows that lets you input your historical data and output family trees in different styles. It’s capable of using GEDCOM files and displaying media.

    Geves

    Family tree of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on the thrones of Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal & Bulgaria, updated. Courtesy of JMvanDijk, 31 July 2012

  57. FamilyPursuit – FamilyPursuit offers a chance to collaborate with other community members online in building an online family tree according to the wiki principle. You can also start a tree just for your family.
  58. Family Crossings – Family Crossings is a do-it-yourself family website service that lets you post and share your family’s history only with other members of your family, as opposed to sharing on Facebook.
  59. The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding – The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG) lets you store and manage your genealogical data in MySQL tables in your website. Instead of HTML pages, you display the data directly using PHP.
  60. Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine – Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine is a highly recommended community and networking tool to find family history resources, meet other researchers, and ask genealogical questions.
  61. Scottish Genealogy Research Tool 5.01 – Interested in learning about your Scottish roots? Try the Scottish Genealogy Research Tool 5.01, a freeware download that walks you through genealogical web searches, which you can save.
  62. MyFamily.com – MyFamily.com is another site that hosts the family profile pages you create for yourself and your relatives, letting you build family groups online and upload your historical documents.
  63. Familyrelatives – Familyrelatives is a family history website that lets you pay to search its genealogical databases and store your family tree information using an interactive history builder.
  64. Hereditree – Hereditree not only displays your family tree in a visual format but bases its navigation capacity on that design, so you can see and edit your tree’s data while you’re in tree view.
  65. Family for Elgg 1.7 – Family for Elgg 1.7 is a family history widget that displays family relationships attached to the user, based on existing profile information. Licensing is GNU General Public.
  66. Gramps – Gramps is free genealogical research software open to the community (think SourceForge), and it’s written in Python. Gramps has data analysis widgets for the dashboard and an interactive map.
  67. Second Site – If you’ve been storing your family history data in a The Master Genealogist (TMG) database, then Second Site will use it to create HTML pages you can post on your own website.

    Second Site

    Illustration by David Henry Friston for Carmilla, in The Dark Blue, reproduced in Best Ghost Stories, ed. Bleiler. Courtesy of Haunted Images: The Illustrating of Le Fanu at jslefanu.com, February 1872

  68. Family History Hosting – If you’re a researcher rather than a website builder, Family History Hosting provides a simple construction option that comes with technical assistance and the capacity to add enhanced features.
  69. Penn State DuBois – Penn State DuBois hosts an FTP page from which you can obtain many GEDCOM utilities, including a pedigree printer, relationships analyzer, and wall chart generator.
  70. Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group – Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group pools the intense concentration and organizational ability of the area’s inhabitants and applies them to family history research, and the members love to help other researchers.
  71. Wakefield Family History Sharing – Wakefield Family History Sharing is ordered around the central idea of amassing and sharing genealogical data for one location, in this case Wakefield (UK). Imagine the entire world’s family history described by such sites, and you’ll see the goal.
  72. Dynastree – Dynastree is a free family tree builder you can download to generate your own family history chart, and there’s a URL available for display of what you’ve created.
  73. ProGenealogists – ProGenealogists is a genealogical research firm that will construct an entire family history for you or fill in a gap in your existing work that you just can’t finish on your own.
  74. Ahnenblatt – Ahnenblatt is free Windows software that you can download from the maker. It creates detailed family trees and reports based on your family history data.
  75. Heritage Consulting – Heritage Consulting provides professional research services on genealogy and related fields like estate research for probate attorneys. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company has access to the famous Family History Library.
  76. USGenNet – USGenNet Barrel of Genealogy Links is a very lengthy web page that contains nothing but helpful links to aid the family historian, including surname and location lists.
  77. Myblood-line – Myblood-line works for both Windows and Mac, and its built-in search tool lets you look through all your data storage (families, media, timelines) at the same time to locate your search term.
  78. GenealogyWise – GenealogyWise was developed by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, and it hosts a thriving community of family history researchers. Newest group announcement is the Society for One-Place Studies.
  79. Trace Your Dutch Roots – If you have Dutch ancestry, as many Americans in the New York City area do, Trace Your Dutch Roots is an essential tool for learning about genealogical resources covering the Netherlands.

    Trace Your Dutch Roots

    The Blind, Pieter van der Heyden, published by Hieronymus Cock. Courtesy of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, circa 1540-1570

  80. AncestorSync – AncestorSync is a data synchronization program that lets you share the same database on multiple computers, meaning you’ll have different data entry sources putting information into the same table.
  81. Adam: The GEDCOM Family Tree Builder – Adam: The GEDCOM Family Tree Builder, from genealogist and programmer Tim Forsythe’s toolbox, is a free web service that lets you build your family tree online and port it as a zip file.
  82. National Institute for Genealogical Studies – The National Institute for Genealogical Studies will teach you how to research your family’s history using online courses, both standalone offerings and longer programs including certificate courses.
  83. Heredis – Genealogy software maker Heredis has put a lot of thought into making the data storage process easy, and its unified Family group view for entering data is a real time-saver.
  84. GedStar Pro for Android – GedStar Pro for Android lets you see all your genealogical information on your Android device, using a Windows utility to move the data off your PC and an Android app to import.
  85. Treelines – With Treelines, you can build an illustrated family history on the web, creating each page as a single story. That sounds simple enough, but the evocative power of the technique becomes apparent when you read some of the existing submissions.
  86. American Ancestors – American Ancestors belongs to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and you’re invited to use their online databases or ask them for assistance in your family history research.
  87. Ages! – Ages! lets you create a family tree beginning with the person window, for entering a single family member, then moving on to connect all those individual components.
  88. Family ChArtist – Family ChArtist lets you design and print your famliy chart online in a matter of minutes by uploading a GEDCOM file and choosing layout options.
  89. Progeny Genealogy – Progeny Genealogy offers a suite of genealogy charting programs, including standard box charts as well as timelines, maps, and even charts to display your family’s history in three dimensions on a two-dimensional page.
  90. Filiopietism Prism – In a post on Filiopietism Prism, John D. Tew explores genealogical uses for old financial records, describing the conversion of documents that now occupy 12 linear feet into a digital history of his family’s activities.

    Filiopietism Prism

    An engraving entitled “Music Hall and Exposition Buildings” from Cincinnati Illustrated by Kenny, D. J. Courtesy of Robert Clarke & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, publishers, 1879

  91. GeneWeb – GeneWeb is a genealogy program from Europe, with an English language option. It includes a consanguinity calculator, list of correct titles for nobility, and space for family events.
  92. Ancestris – Ancestris is free open source code written in Java, meaning it works with Windows, Mac, or Linux. It prefers the GEDCOM 5.5 standard. Some of the available views are tree, chronological, table, and geographic, so you have a number of ways to see your data.
  93. Genealogy of Automobile Companies – If you want ideas about how to construct a visual portrait of your family’s evolution over time, examine this graphically designed family tree created to describe the American automobile industry.
  94. RootDig.com – Michael John Neill’s RootDig.com provides a list of downloadable webinars that discuss topics like Civil War pension records, federal land descriptions, and 1940 census indices.
  95. German Roots – German Roots is an excellent first stop for any family history researcher with German ancestors. It’s the most complete English-language collection of German records you can find.
  96. Researching Your Family Tree – Researching Your Family Tree is a helpful web tutorial for beginning genealogists, providing clear, simple instructions on how to perform basic web research like reviewing vital records.
  97. Linkpendium – Linkpendium has a handy list of genealogy resources by state and by surname. There’s also a special search feature that lets you check all the available name data at the same time, in one query.
  98. One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse – One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse offers an outstanding collection of what may be all the American vital records currently available online, including immigration lists and links to genetic information.
  99. Gerard Aflague – Gerard Aflague will produce a four-generation family tree to your specifications, printed on poster stock or as a banner, and promises a two-to-three day turnaround.
  100. Can Genealogy – Can Genealogy by Dave Obee is an online guidebook to Canadian genealogy resources, including information on the Acadians, Loyalists, and Metis or First Nations. Alternately, you can browse the regional links.
  101. AncestryDNA – AncestryDNA will provide a combined genetic analysis and family history profile that describes your chromosomal inheritance in terms of ethnicity, and if you read the blogs of people who subscribed to the service, you’ll see how surprising the results can be.

    AncestryDNA

    Chromosomes with stain. Courtesy of Flickr

  102. Family ChartMasters – Family ChartMasters is the result of a passionate genealogist asking a talented computer programmer for organizational assistance with a family history presentation. The website walks you through the process of designing your own chart.
  103. Forensic Genealogy – Forensic Genealogy explains how to analyze photographs and databases in conjunction with DNA profiles to identify and track down your family history. For example, you’ll learn how to determine whether photos were taken on the same roll of film.
  104. Find My Past – Find My Past holds a large collection of genealogical records drawn from Australasia (that is, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands).
  105. Civil Rights Documentation Project – Many Southerners’ lives were redefined by the civil rights struggle, and one of the best sources for information on people involved in that critical intersection of American and personal history is the Civil Rights Documentation Project.
  106. Small-leaved Shamrock – Other specialized genealogy research links for those with Irish or Catholic ancestors can be found on the Small-leaved Shamrock site, which also hosts links for records relating to people connected to Schuylkill County (Pennsylvania), railroads, and coal mines.
  107. Genealogica Grafica – Genealogica Grafica is downloadable shareware that provides multiple output methods for the family history information contained in your GEDCOM files, including text, charts, and web pages.
  108. Zotero – Zotero is a specialized research tool that analyzes web page content and copies/saves the subject matter, so you can store what you find in web searches by simply clicking when you want to add content to your database.
  109. The In-Depth Genealogist – Free magazine The In-Depth Genealogist offers news, tips, tricks, and other genealogy-related material for the benefit of its readers. Current topics include research using divorce records and bad news concerning the 1890 U.S. Federal Census.
  110. Family History with the LineageKeeper – Family History with the LineageKeeper has posted a set of instructions on Preparing for Family Interviews, beginning with the principle “Start with what you know, then move outward in your research.”
  111. Lucidchart – Lucidchart lets you create a family tree chart online using their interactive templates, and you can even collaborate in real time with other members of your family.
  112. Clan Henderson Society – The Scots take exceptional pride in descent, and once you discover which clan you belong to, you’ll have a home for life. If you’re a Henderson, you can learn all about your roots from the Clan Henderson Society.

    Clan Henderson Society

    A romantic depiction of Highland Chiefs in the Stewart and Gordon tartans. Coloured engraving after J. Logan by R. Havell. Courtesy of J. Logan, The Scottish Gael, 1831, uploaded 17 January 2012

  113. Trace Indian Ancestry – If some of your forebears belonged to Native American tribes, the U.S. Department of the Interior has created a Trace Indian Ancestry webpage to serve as a gateway to their records.
  114. NativeWeb – NativeWeb keeps many pages filled with categorized links to help you research genealogy by ethnicity (American Indian, First Native, African-American) and location (state and hometown).
  115. DNAeXplained – DNAeXplained offers a wealth of commonsense advice on how DNA analysis can (and cannot) help you expand your genealogical research, and one of the best examples of this explanatory technique can be read in a post called “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.”
  116. Brother’s Keeper – Brother’s Keeper is genealogy software written for Windows, with database tables to hold your information and output options including charts and reports. Sample output is posted on the site.
  117. Relativity Explorer – Relativity Explorer is a Windows tool that lets you navigate effortlessly through a graphic display of your genealogy information based on a text list of your family members.
  118. The Genealogy Timeline – The Genealogy Timeline is software that was developed by a Florida family of genealogists to merge their family history with larger historical events (local, state, and national history).
  119. Genota and Genota Forms – Genota and Genota Forms are two programs designed to organize your family history research material, in whatever form it appears, in such a way that you can locate where you found any given piece of information.
  120. MudCreek Software – MudCreek Software has a number of utilities designed to work with your data files or other genealogy software. One example is the GENMatcher, which searches your data for duplicates.
  121. GenSmarts – GenSmarts is software that can analyze your existing genealogical data, log the gaps, and create a to-do list telling you what you need in order to complete your family history.
  122. Ancestral Author – Ancestral Author for Windows can generate hyperlinked PDFs containing your family history information drawn from GEDCOM files, text input, images, and other digitized sources. Output appears in NEHGS report format.

    Ancestral Author

    Gisborne Court at Peterhouse, Cambridge. Courtesy of Roger Kidd, photographed for Geograph Britain and Ireland

  123. Clooz – Clooz by Ancestral Systems is a genealogical data management program capable of organizing all your sources and displaying all interlinked information for any single entry in a unified Composite View.

Teachers: 20 Ways to Motivate Your Students to Learn More of their Family History

tips for family historyIf you’re tired of assigning students projects like working on their family tree or writing a story about the life of an older relative, and getting a tired, bored, unenthusiastic response from your classroom, there is hope for you. Students may be hesitant to explore their family histories and mysteries for a wide variety of reasons: they may be shy to ask their parents for help, they may not have had a comfortable past experience with their extended family, or they may think that their parents will be hesitant to share information about their other relatives. Whether learning their family history means meeting a distant cousin they haven’t yet met, looking over mom’s old scrapbooks, or phoning grandpa to talk about what his childhood was like, your student will end up getting to know their family and getting insight into their own lives.

Motivating your classroom to investigate into such deeply personal and sentimental material can be like pulling teeth – students are scared of what they might find out if they look too hard, and even parents can be wary, shy or maybe even embarrassed of what their family is “really” like. Jump start your kids’ journey into their family tree by learning ways to encourage them to dig deeper, reach out further to relatives, and genuinely enjoy the chance to study their own beginnings. Look no further for nearly two dozen handy resources, references and tips from one teacher to another on how to get your students excited, interested, and proactive when it comes to delving into their past first-hand.

  1. There’s no better way to teach than by example. In this case, there’s no better way to encourage students to become their own detectives of their mysterious pasts than by doing the same. Bring your family tree, a favorite old photo album of your grandparents, your parents’ wedding pictures, or a framed copy of your family coat of arms into the classroom. Do a day of show and tell where students are asked to bring in one item that represents their family and talk about it. Be open about your extended family, and see how much more willing to open up students are once you have taken the plunge and show them how it’s done. Learning and sharing about your family history can be a new and vulnerable aspect of life that students may never have encountered. World history teacher at a Mulrennan Middle School, Andrew Schwartz, shared his deeply personal story of his father’s death in the 9/11 tragedy with his 6th grade students in a shining example of teacher-student communication. Make sure you create a safe space in your classroom that is a judgment-free, bully-free and open to all. Start by being transparent about your background and show kids that there is nothing to be ashamed of in having grandparents who were immigrants or struggled through hard economic times. Learn to use different family backgrounds as a great example of the beauty of diversity, and be sure to be sensitive to children who might be less than forthcoming about their family – they may have never known as much as they do now about where they came from.
  2. The task of studying genealogy shouldn’t be resigned to biographers, retired scrapbookers and historians. Students who learn the art and science behind each individual’s ancestral origins in elementary school can carry this interest all the way through college and gain deeper understanding of their own history as they go. If students are unfamiliar or hesitant to study their own genealogy, get them hooked into the field by having them research the life of a person they are interested in. Ask students to choose one person, living or dead – they could be a hero, a celebrity, a sports figure or a royal princess – and have them investigate their family history. Have your students make a family tree for their person, write a short paper on their life and background, and find out the names and other details of their extended relatives. They could use the internet, local library, or reference books as resources. At Ancestry.com, students can search historical records, use a slick family tree maker, and learn about genealogical preservation and documentation techniques in an easy-to-understand language.

    brizzle born and bred

    Image courtesy of Brizzle Born and Bred from Flickr

  3. Turn students into their own personal historians, but do it using modern day technology as an aid and way of making genealogy a fun and multimedia study. By incorporating audio, video, and web into your student’s family history projects, you will not only make it more fun for them, but you will turn the study of genealogy into a multi-subject lesson combining history, sociology, geography, technology, writing and research. Include interviewing and speaking skills practice by having your students interview an older adult they admire and using a tape recorder, video recorder and/or camera and notebook to capture their words. Good questions that students can pose to their family members include: What was the highlight of your life? What was the town like where you were born? What is your first memory? What was the most memorable decade of your life and why? How would you like people to remember you? Grab more interview questions here at Family Tree Kids.
  4. Make a family tree with your students. Family trees can be as simple or as complex as your students can handle. For younger students, get out the construction paper, markers, and stickers and have pre-drawn tree outlines that they can color in, along with box shapes that they can fill out with relatives’ names and birth years. Older students may want to build online family trees using a software program or application. Family Tree Magazine, a great resource which offers online genealogy classes, monthly informative podcasts, research toolkits and family history reference site recommendations, is a great go-to to help with all things family tree. Their website is chock full with free and helpful information, including plenty of forms and worksheets to store historical data, help with creating various kinds of visual aids, and a special section devoted just to our Junior Genealogists.

    Family Art Studio

    Image courtesy of Family Art Studio on Flickr

  5. Build a time capsule to commemorate special family heirlooms, treasures, books, jewelry or relics from the family’s past. At Your Library is a superb resource on time capsules that features historical capsules from long ago, ideas for future capsules, and archival projects for young historians. Have each student choose 5-10 items that are significant to their family and that they can borrow for a period of time. Hand out written assignments that involve these objects of importance, asking questions like: How were they used? Who used them? Where do they come from? Are they part of the past, or could they be used also in the future? Are they something you might want to inherit or pass on to your kids? They can then add these pieces of writing to the time capsule, along with photographs, video or audio they choose to record. Advanced computer students may opt to store time capsule information on a free website of their own making, along with sound, pictures, or movie clips from their family or writing assignments they have completed.
  6. You don’t have to wait until Halloween to tour a cemetery with your classroom. Chose a local cemetery, perhaps one where a volunteer or employee can give you a tour. Practice reading gravestones and tombstones with your students, and have each child pick out a favorite quote or phrase from one of the stones. Take the opportunity to learn about symbolism on tombstones, such as a flags or flowers, and how they speak to the life of the person. Be sure to be sensitive to any uneasiness or sadness this may bring up in your students. This would be a great time to read a book that opens a conversation about family members who have passed on. Family Tree Kids also has some great ideas for cemetery tours as chances for kids to be detectives about their own history.
  7. Reading Stu Feinstein’s story of his penpal dialogue with his grandson Brandon is an inspiration to get kids to learn about their family history by writing letters. Ask students to choose an appropriate older relative who does not live locally and ask them to be their penpal, communicating in the old-fashioned style of handwritten letters and stamps. With each letter exchange, have the child ask questions about a different time period or a different event or place in their relative’s life. Have the student write to their relative about the place and time where he or she lives. This historical exchange will play two roles: to increase the student’s knowledge of their relative’s life in their own words, and to help them to better express themselves through letter-writing about the times they are living in. At the end of the semester or year, take the letters the student has received from their penpal and ask the student to put them into a scrapbook or other form of record keeping journal for a keepsake.
  8. Read with your students. Beyond biographies and historical fiction, though, there’s a great and succinct freebie resource from a prominent genealogist that is a go-to resource for tips and hints to get kids raring to go on their family history projects. Learning Through Family History, by Stephanie Fishman, co-founder of the In Depth Genealogist and Editorial Director of Corn and Cotton Genealogy, is a short and downloadable ebook aid to help kids, parents, and teachers connect more easily and deeply with their roots by using writing exercises, integration techniques and social studies material to include genealogy in every day life and learning. It’s a great start to a classroom year full of learning about pedigrees, census records, birth and marriage certificates, and family trees. Sign up for the newsletter and then access the guide here.
  9. Get students hands and voices involved with their family history by having them act out short vignettes from their families. First, assign each student to go home and ask an older adult about a time in their life that they remember clearly when they were happy, sad, scared or excited. Have the adult tell the child a story about that time, either orally or in writing. Back in the classroom, each child should pair up with another and the two should act out a skit about each relative’s story. For instance, the two students could act out one’s grandmother trying to scrape enough food together to make it through the toughest times of the Great Depression, and they could then act out the story of the other student’s uncle driving his first brand new Chevrolet. These intergenerational skits will help the students to live those small moments of history that become so important, as role-playing adds an extra dimension to learning that will be memorable, exciting and expanding.
  10. Check out census records from around the times of the births of students grandparents or even great-grandparents. Community centers, museums, newspapers, schools, churches and libraries can be great hubs for this kind of information. Students will be able to find out details about the who, when, where, and how many of their family histories all by looking at the historical data that is collected using a census. Print off the most recent US census form that is distributed and see if your students can fill it out to the best of their ability. Compare the census in your town between 100 years ago and now, and let your students see if they can distinguish the differences. Why might there be smaller average family sizes than a century ago? Why is a family’s typical income so much higher now? The National Archives have the best access to free census information from the federal government. Ancestry.com and Heritagequest.com, however, also provide access to plenty of federal census data.
  11. Ask parents to get involved with their own genealogy. Encourage families to have “Family History Night” at their house, where the parents and the children cook a traditional or favorite family dish for dinner, perhaps something that Grandma or Aunt Kathy always used to make. Then have parents dig out all those old photo albums, holiday pictures, or vintage heirlooms that are hiding in the attic and do a show and tell with the kids. Ask parents to tell stories of their childhood or their extended family. Parents can make a matching game by writing story hints, events, or trigger words on index cards, and then writing a family member’s names on other cards, and having kids match the event or cue word with the relative. Or play a personalized version of the Family History Game that you make with your own stories and life happenings.
  12. Transform one wall of your classroom into a Coat of Arms Hall of Fame. Have each student obtain a copy or print-out of their family name’s coat of arms. If none is available, have students design their own using a basic template and then have them draw in objects of significance or things that best represent their family (i.e. a dog, sports medal, or tree). Some teachers may choose to even use a resource like Make Your Coat of Arms, a company that will design a family crest for you based on your specified family values and interests. Alternatively, plenty of coat of arms templates can be found online for common use, printed, and then colored in by students. Then have each student tape or paste their coat of arms to the wall to admire them. Activities that can take place at this point might include a guessing game to match the family to the image, or a drawing project where students design family flags to go along with their coat of arms.

    P Gordon

    Image courtesy of P Gordon on Flickr

  13. Perhaps there is no surer way of getting kids off their chairs and excited about a project than the old-fashioned method: baiting them with a prize. The National Genealogical Society sponsors an annual contest that does just that for us. That means all teachers have to do is the easy part: assigning work. The NGS heads up the Family History Writing Contest as well as the Rubincam Youth Award. Seniors (between 16-18 years) or juniors (between 13-15 years) can enter separately. Lucky winners receive a $500 cash prize, a plaque, a home-study course and membership in the Society. These generous awards go to the most impressive correctly-prepared genealogies and are meant to encourage students as the future generation of family historians by getting them in touch with their roots and educating them on how to properly store historical data. The deadline is the 31st of December.
  14. Make your own book of your family history using one of three binding styles: accordion, hot dog, or stick and elastic. The junior section of At Your Library includes links to resources that, through video, teach students how to make their books with the hope of archiving their information for safekeeping. Over a month, have students collect weekly stories from important relatives in their lives, including ones who they may know the least and ones who they may be closest to. Compile these stories on notebook paper, assemble them with a cover as shown above, and then have students design family trees to act as the front of the book. Each student will come away with a collection of vignettes of their aunties or cousins, and the chance to call themselves a book-maker while they’re at it.
  15. Introduce junior researchers to the fun of family trees and history exploration through the hands on activities at Family Tree Kids. The website is packed with colorful and interactive games and word puzzles that help young children learn about themselves and their past, and great craft ideas for making photo-magnets, doing a scavenger hunt in grandma’s attic, and more. Kids can even learn how to make a grave or tombstone rubbing here to preserve some of that priceless historical value from a deceased relative’s place of rest.
  16. Make family history lessons tie in seamlessly to your literature classes by reading books that tell the tales of family units from around the world. Scholastic has a great list of book suggestions for diverse and kid-friendly reading that will sneak bits and pieces of genealogy so effortlessly into their learning, that the kids will never notice they’re gearing up for their next family history assignment just by reading. Some of the Scholastic recommendations may even be found right at your school library, like Elvira Woodruff’s The Memory Coat, the narrative of a family who immigrates to the US through Ellis Island when Russian soldiers invade their home.
  17. What’s in name? Well, kids, just about everything. Get kids to tune into their cultural identities and family heritage by exploring their first, middle and last names to find out where they originated from, what they mean, and who else might share them. Teachers can use the reproducible What’s In A Name worksheet, offered here by Scholastic through the We Are Family curriculum, to pass out to students and have them complete at home. Ask students to discuss their name choice and reasoning behind with their parents, do research about their family name, and then offer to the class the information they discovered behind their name and its origins.
  18. Kids and teachers both love time lines. They are easy to create, great aids for visual learners, and a super way to condense a lot of valuable information into a simple format. Teachers, have your kids make a timeline of their mom’s, dad’s, or grandparent’s lives, from birth to the present. Timelines could include special memories, birthdays, holidays, important life events, moves and career changes. Then have your students create a special timeline for themselves where they can write things they may want or dream of in the future. For instance, a student could have “Graduated from college” ten years from the present on their timeline, or “Became a pro football player.” This exercise is a great way to tie dreams into reality, and gives young children a visual connection between themselves and their older relatives.
  19. Practice makes perfect. Take a break from the oral or written tradition of passing history down and try something a little more hands on with your students. Ask students to discover from parents, grandparents or extended relatives a craft, hobby, skill or trade that someone in their family has done that they don’t know how to do. It could be cursive penmanship, basket weaving, cookie making, using a typewriter, playing an instrument, or cross-stitching. Have that relative teach the student their hobby, or at least the first few steps of how it’s done. Next, have each student write an assignment beginning with the sentence, “I never knew how to ____ until my _____ taught me to…” For instance, “I never knew how to make a cat’s cradle out of yarn until my Grandmother Patricia taught me to…” and have them illustrate the process of that skill being passed on to them from their family. Bonus: Have kids think of something they might want to pass on to future generations when they are older adults.
  20. Get connected on the net. Though family history is about connecting with the past, sometimes the best way to do it is by plugging into the future. Databases, forums, photo websites and blogs like the Genealogy for Kids facebook page, MyHeritage.com, and 1000Memories.com allow kids to find out information about and create family history profiles that are safe, secure and private. Encourage your older students to get active on these kind of websites, as they are probably already using the internet and can use these tools productively and simply with a little guidance from you. If your students have histories involving immigrant parents or cross-cultural heritage, point them to Scholastic’s Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today website for virtual field trips, data, and first-hand accounts to add some details of the past to their memory banks.

50 Genealogy Resources Found on Facebook

Everybody loves Facebook because it allows us to reconnect with old friends and family. Many of these people are from so far back in the past, we may have even forgotten about them until their name popped up on the recommended list. In much the same way, there are many resources on Facebook to track down your family history. Unless your family has been keeping a scrupulous record of your ancestry, chances are there are a few surprises to be found.

Genealogy has been emerging as one of the most popular pastimes in recent years, and as it is meant to do, Facebook reflects this reality. Until recently, you had to travel all over the country and/or world to have access to concrete genealogy information. Now it is available to you in your own home, with a few clicks of your mouse. There are well over 1000 pages on Facebook that are related to genealogy and ancestry research. Obviously, it would be impractical to list all of them here. Instead, we’ve decided to supply a small sampling of what can be found on Facebook.  Here’s a breakdown of 50 pages to get you started.

The Workhouse (image courtesy of Paul Townsend on flickr)

The Workhouse (image courtesy of Paul Townsend on flickr)

  1. GenealogyBank has been around for about five years now. As a division of NewsBank, Inc., a top information provider for over 35 years, they have an ever growing database of newspapers from all 50 states, dating back to 1690. Newspapers are the heart and soul of tracing your ancestry. Much information can be garnished searching through the database of obituaries, birth and wedding announcements, news articles and more. In addition, they offer access to other helpful resources, including military records, casualty lists, revolutionary and Civil War pension requests and much more. Additional contact information is available on their Facebook page.
  2. Genealogy Beginner offers an eight week class and unlimited access to live Genealogists to help you get started in your pursuit of your family heritage. This community is offered to everyone from newbies to seasoned professionals who just wish to share the wealth of their experience. They offer a wide range of research materials as well, including: a free 6-generation family tree chart, getting started lessons and tutorials and other charts, guides, and beginner research tools. If you just want to check out the community, a free, no-obligation two week trial membership is available.
  3. Sponsored by GenealogyBank, Genealogy Tip of the Day (GTotD) is a blog post maintained by genealogist Michael John Neill. It is a treasure trove of helpful hints to aid you with your genealogy search in ways you may never have considered otherwise. These include such things as not narrowing a census search to just the person in question, but encompassing close relatives as well, in case the name you are looking for doesn’t show up for some reason. Michael also gives practical tips such as watching out for poison ivy in graveyards,  and remembering that different places will have different rules for access, so you need to always ask! In addition to these helpful tips, GTotD offers links to other online resources, webinars, and a newsletter with case studies to give you more ideas you can use in your own search. The daily tips are posted on the Facebook page as well.
  4. Facebook is a great resource for finding genealogy events in your area. The study of family ancestry has become so popular that there are classes, seminars and other events happening all over the country, all the time.  Some examples of events happening at the time of the writing of this article include: Southwest Florida Germanic Genealogy Society MeetingMonaghan Genealogy Training, and Genealogy Class . While you read this, these events may  have passed, or are not happening in a location near you. However, chances are something is happening, at least in your state, in the near future. Try your own search using broad terminology to start. That is type in ‘genealogy’ and maybe your state and hit enter. When the page list comes up, narrow it to events to find what’s happening near you.
  5. RootsMagic is a software company that has been developing family-uniting software for over 20 years. They offer a number of different products. RootsMagic will help you with researching, organizing and sharing your family history. Personal Historian helps with the daunting task of translating the volumes of information you’ve collected into an interesting narrative. Both of the products are also available in the Essentials edition, which is a free version of the software, and comes with fewer features. Family Atlas is a fun way to follow your heritage around the globe, and Family Reunion Organizer will help you prepare for those special events.
  6. Genealogy Inc is a virtual smorgasbord for any level of genealogist. It is stuffed full of useful tips not only on how best to begin your search, but to keep you going throughout your ancestral pursuit. In addition, there are links to more resources and societies than you could possibly imagine. Access to birth records, marriage licenses, divorce and death records, census reports, and court, cemetery and obituary records are all available. But that’s just the beginning. Access to information is available on a state to state, and even county to county basis. Larger databases for military records and other government records are easily accessed as well.
  7. Genealogy: LOST and FOUND is a Facebook group maintained by Alicia Woolridge Morgason. This group has a more specific purpose than many of the other resources available here. Namely, this is where people can post images or information about items that they have or are looking for, that relate to family history. It is also open to browsing for those searching for items such as photographs, letters, bibles, postcards, etc. Maybe you found a box full of interesting trinkets or memorabilia at a rummage sale, antique store, or in grandma’s attic. This is a good place to try to gather more information on what you found. Or, this could turn out to be that special location where you find your own long lost treasure.
  8. Genealogy Trails is a free online resource of all sorts of genealogy related information, and extra little tidbits. Started in Illinois back in 2000, Genealogy Trails is completely staffed by volunteers. They never have been, nor will they ever be, associated with any for-profit organization. Their volunteers transcribe data from numerous sources that may be useful to those interested in unearthing their family history. In 2006, they expanded to other states. They now have websites encompassing all 50 states and Washington, D.C. They require all of their sites to have continual updates, to assure the information is fresh, and they are always looking for more eager contributors.
  9. This  Genealogy page is a simple Facebook interest page, created automatically by Facebook software, based on the interests of multiple users. First, it gives a very detailed definition of genealogy, taken from Wikipedia. The page is fleshed out with links to books, related groups and related pages. Though, in and of itself it is not a very informative source, it does serve as a good starting off point. It can give you an idea of some of the groups and pages available on Facebook that are related to genealogy. This page does not have a comprehensive list of pages in itself, but it can give you more ideas for search queries, and many of the pages offered will have good leads into family tree tracing. If you are new to the whole process, this is a good place to start.
  10. GenealogyBuff.com is a free resource of all types of records that can be useful in a genealogical search. Though it consist mostly of obituaries, it also includes marriage records, birth and death records, military records and even school yearbooks. Additional support includes a newspaper directory and research tools like the surname search tool. Extra sections are added for user-submitted data and obituaries as well as breakdowns of information by county and city. Links to each individual section of the website can be found of their Facebook information page.

    family tree (image courtesy of Broderick on flickr)

    family tree (image courtesy of Broderick on flickr)

  11. Founded in 1999, Genealogy Today offers help to those tracking their family roots in a number of ways. They provide a wiki of useful genealogy terminology, a search tool powered by the Live Roots search engine, which accesses over 200,000 sources – including major repositories like Ancestry.com, articles pertinent to those interested in – or actively pursuing – their bloodline, and a database of rare and unique information from sources like Masonic rosters, rural school and college catalogues, railroad seniority rosters, fraternal group and business member associations, all sorts of clubs and societies and more.
  12. Irish Genealogy is the official facebook page for from-ireland.net, an extensive directory of information for those interested in Irish ancestry, genealogy and family history. It is a free resource of data from Irish sources including marriage, death and birth records, photographs and more. It goes even more in depth with frequent updates, adding a variety of materials like church and court records, including interesting murder cases, funeral details and more. In addition, extra help is provided in other forms, such as instruction on cemetery and grave marker terms.
  13. The Genealogy Tree Community is actually a place to register when you try out the facetree app. This app allows you to use facebook to build your own family tree through your connections. You simply enter the information to build the “trunk” of your genealogytree-facetree, and add as much information as you can, then invite and share with family members (or your facebook family, if you prefer), to allow them to add and modify the tree, so you can watch it grow.
  14. JewishGen Genealogy is the facebook page for jewishgen.org, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. JewishGen is the premiere website for Jewish genealogy. It was founded in 1987, as a bulletin board with only 150 users. Today it is powered primarily by over 700 volunteers worldwide, who contribute constantly to the ever growing database, and currently hosts more than 20 million records. In addition, they provide a series of tools and resources set up to assist those interested in tracing their Jewish ancestry.
  15. GenealogyWise has a fan page on facebook that supplies users with chat notices and a link to the site. The site itself was compiled by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, and is actually a genealogy social network that combines community interaction with tools and resources for people interested in tracing and sharing their family history. You can set up your own page (and view others), join groups, take courses, participate in forums (and as mentioned above, informative and fun chat sessions) and view and post blogs, videos and photos and more. There is even a store for archival supplies, charts and forms, and several other genealogy related products and services.
  16. MY Genealogy Services is a full service genealogy company formed by Madeline Yanov and Karla Henderlong. Both women have experience in the legal field, and many of the investigation skills they developed in that profession aid in their current endeavor – offering research, document retrieval, family locator services, and personalized genealogy products. They have experience with inquiries in ten states, including Native American research, and tracing European lineage back to Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and Russia. These traces have gone back as far as the 17th and even 10th century. They also offer adoption research services. More information on their skills and qualifications are available on their website
  17. GenealogyMagazine.com is the current portal of Datatrace Systems. They have been producing quality genealogical research and publications since 1985. They first published American Genealogy Magazine from 1987 to 1999, and now maintain this presence on the web. The website is used as a reference for major organizations, and has been named one of the top ten online genealogy magazines. This site provides access to a large database of records and photographs, numerous publications and articles about all areas of ancestry research – including techniques, advances and people in the field – which are available both for purchase and online perusal.
  18. Genealogy Links UK is a site run by a mother and daughter team based in Lancashire, that specializes in supplying genealogical and probate research services. Utilizing databases worldwide, they can help you build your family tree, track down a missing relative or help with uncovering missing and/or unclaimed assets. Though there is no professional regulation of probate genealogists, the women of Genealogy Links UK have professional memberships with Heir Hunter and Private Investigation services, as well as belonging to the Society of Genealogy. To further comfort their customers, they are also registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and Companies House.
  19. Olive Tree Genealogy supplies several unique databases and research tools to help you track down those hard to find relatives. They specialize in ship’s passengers lists (with ship search), and certain specific heritage lines like German Palatines, Huguenots and Walloons, Mennonites, New Netherlands (New York) and more. They also offer histories of these cultures, as well as data sources specific to each one. An array of specialized search engines is also available for users to target information lists within Olive Tree, or other databases online. Additional resources to help with your bloodline research are available as well, and best of all, it’s all free.
  20. Genealogy Freelancers offers a specialized service to people interested in tracing their family history. Their site allows you to enter the parameters of your project, and submit it to a team of professional genealogist and other ancestry specialists around the globe. These experts will then review your project and submit a bid, letting you know the price for their services. In this reverse auction method, users are able to shop for the consultants they need, at the price they want, without conducting an exhaustive web search. This makes the entire process of ancestral search that much easier by knocking down that first big hurdle – where to start.

    family tree (image courtesy of takato marui on flickr)

    family tree (image courtesy of takato marui on flickr)

  21. ‘Onward To Our Past’ Genealogy and Family History Services offers up a multitude of free genealogy tips, family history learning and ancestry fun, via Genealogical Historian, Scott Phillips. Unique resources are available for Bohemia (Czech Republic), Italy, Cornwall and Kent, the UK and US genealogical research. With his emphasis as an historian, Phillips focuses almost as much on the history of the times, society and location of the ancestors being studied as the raw data, creating a much more robust picture than traditional genealogy. With this information, and several tools and articles close at hand, ‘Onward to Our Past’ aims to make the whole process of ancestral tracking both rewarding and fun.
  22. AfriGeneas ~ African Ancestored Genealogy is one of the top sites available for African American genealogy and African ancestry research in general. They maintain huge surname and death record databases, as well as large marriage and slave record collections. In addition, census schedules, cemetery listings and an extensive document and article library are available for perusal. And to enhance the entire process, the website contains multiple forums and regular chats, and offers a number of mailing lists to create a complete and easy experience for anyone interested in tracing their African roots.
  23. Similar to finding local events, Facebook is a great resource for genealogical communities and groups. Several are regional, like Michigan Genealogy Research, Mexico Genealogy Research, Tennessee Genealogy Research, and Genealogy of Wyoming Co WV . However, these are not limited to location. Some are dedicated to a certain heritage like Irish Genealogy , German Genealogy and Norwegian Genealogy. And there are many others open to anyone and anything, like Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy Again, start with a simple search for ‘genealogy’ and maybe another single word. When your results appear, narrow the search to groups and see what you find. Play with your search words for more options.
  24. West Kentucky Genealogy collects and posts research on the Jackson Purchase area of Kentucky and surrounding areas. They post the photos, ask for any information anyone may have available to help identify them, and offer them up for sale. They scan all the photos they purchase and store them in a database, to keep a digital record of them. Though they will sell CDs of photos to anyone who requests them, originals are sold only to those who have proper claim to them. That is the main purpose of the site – to return vintage photos to their rightful owners. Since most items have been purchased from auctions, antique shops and the like, in the case the family comes forth to claim their pictures, WKG asks only to be reimbursed the cost they paid for the items.
  25. findmypast UK actually began as Title Research way back in 1965, long before the concept of keeping records online was even conceived. A team of genealogists worked diligently for years tracking and transcribing records from microfiche. Years later, in 2001, the idea of transferring these records online was entertained, and after attaining the proper licensing, in 2003, the first website was launched, and became findmypast in 2006. Today, they are one of the top family history suppliers on the planet. With an ever growing database of over 1.6 billion records, and always using – and sometimes creating – cutting edge technology, they make searching for ancestry history in the UK easy and fun.
  26. Genealogy Guys Podcast is the longest running genealogy podcast in the world. It features George G. Morgan and Drew Smith. In production since 2005, the site has been listed in the top 101 best websites by Family Tree magazine in both 2012 and 2013, as well as in the top 40 blogs list in 2010 by the same magazine. Each show is an hour long, and every podcast dating back to September 2005 is available for download. They feature everything to do with genealogy – news, book reviews, interviews, and conference and product announcements. In addition, at least two main topics pertaining to ancestral searches are discussed, and listeners emails are answered. George and Drew also share their own stories, experiences and whimsy, to both teach and entertain.
  27. Ireland Genealogy Projects is a collection of websites, broken down by counties, and one for the entire country of Ireland and outlying areas. Each website varies slightly in its format and what is offered, but all are intended to help anyone trying to trace their Irish ancestry. The resources on each page include items such as: Vital records (birth, marriage, death), church records, cemetery records, court records, education, emigration, family histories, land records, military and constabulary service records, and newspapers (including obituaries). In addition, miscellaneous information and local histories are given to flesh out the picture of Irish culture and history.
  28. The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the popular online genealogy newscast hosted by Lisa Louise Cooke, the owner of Genealogy Gems, a multi-media genealogy and family history company. Lisa also works closely with Family Tree magazine, writing articles and producing and hosting the Family Tree podcast. She also works as a curriculum builder and teacher at Family Tree University. Her podcast is full of genealogy news, interviews with stars in the field, research strategies and general inspiration for aspiring genealogists in the 75 countries worldwide that receive the show. The podcasts can be found on the website (along with many more helpful resources), on itunes, and through the Genealogy Gems app and the free Genealogy Gems toolbar.
  29. Gould Genealogy is a family run business started in 1976 as a hobby by Alan and Anthea Phillips. Since then it has grown steadily into the booming behemoth it is today. They currently offer over 10,000 genealogy related products to customers living in (or with ancestors from) Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland, most of Europe and the United States. In addition to record access, they offer genealogy software and books, as well as a blog and newsletter for all the latest genealogy news. Sister sites offer information on events, services, ebooks, a family photo album and other resources – even a genealogy conference/cruise!
  30. Genealogy Researcher is a company based in Jefferson/Lewis county in New York. Tanya Stringer is a certified genealogist and member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, with over 25 years experience. She has extensive experience with histories in Canada, England and the United States, and specializes in surname research. Tanya is available for consulting, if you just need a fresh pair of eyes, or help with a brick wall. She can be more hands on as well, helping with locating documents (possibly even gravestone rubs in New York) and she even offers a complete compiling, research and organization package.

    Birth Records (image courtesy of Government & Heritage on flickr)

    Birth Records (image courtesy of Government & Heritage on flickr)

  31. Scotlands Genealogy is a good resource for people interested in their Scottish heritage. Chris Halliday is a professional genealogist based in Edinburgh. He turned a 30 year hobby into a career by earning his MA in Scottish cultural studies, and his MSc in genealogy. He also belongs to several genealogy societies and associations, and is registered for data protection. Mr. Halliday is available for helping build your family tree with both pre- and post-1855 research (1855 is when Scotland began compulsory registration of vital records), finding the history of land or property in Scotland, transcribing old Scottish documents, taking photographs of desired sites, and will even help you apply for a Scottish Coat of Arms.
  32. Israel Genealogy Research Association is a genealogy society based in Israel that is open to all. Their aim is to make documents in Israel available to people all over the world. They work with many nationalities, and in as many languages as possible. They are continuing to build a database of documents in Israel from the Ottoman period to the early years of the state of Israel, and combining it with data from countries where relatives lived before moving to Israel. They work with people outside of Israel to help them find relatives living in Israel, especially if they were separated in the Holocaust. In addition, a number of teaching aids to help people with their ancestral search are available including webinars, mentoring, hands-on visits to document archives, regional meetings and seminars.
  33. The German Genealogy Group was established in 1996 by a team of experienced genealogists to assist anyone interested in researching their Germanic ancestors. They offer easy to use database searches that are always available to anyone at anytime. For members, there are additional resources available including a monthly newsletter, a surname directory, mentoring programs, a new member pack filled with valuable information, a lending library, monthly meetings, and special events such as dinners and day trips to places of interest. The German Genealogy Group is based in Hicksville, NY. For members outside the area, some materials that are not available online can be mailed to them.
  34. Foxhound Genealogy is the family history research firm created by Joseph Fox. Based in West Virginia, Mr. Fox is available for on-site investigations in all of West Virginia, as well as parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. With over ten years experience, he has a strong background in West Virginia history and early American family history throughout the east coast. Free consultations are available to discuss your project needs and desires to determine the right plan of pursuit. Document lookup is available to those who just need to track down certain information on their own search, as is cemetery and grave marker photography. Adoption Search Services are available as well.
  35. Italian Family Genealogy is managed by Karen Baleno, an Italian genealogist based in Italy. She will work with clients to help unravel their family history through on-site investigations. She will supply much more than a bare bones, names and dates genealogy. Rather, she will paint a much fuller portrait of your ancestors, including their job and life before emigration, why they left, a taste of the culture and land they enjoyed while still in Italy and more. She will work with you to customize the search to your desired results. Karen is a member of several genealogical organizations including: The Association of Professional Genealogists, the New England Historical Society, Sons and Daughters of Italy and Casa Italia.
  36. Genealogy for Kids is a special mission for genealogist and founder of Generations, Jennifer Holik. She has been researching and writing about genealogy and history for over 20 years, and is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and other professional societies. In addition to extensive research and writing services, Ms. Holik offers lectures and workshops for both children and adults on various genealogical subjects. She will also work with parents, teachers, home schoolers, libraries and whomever else would like training in teaching genealogy practices to kids. In addition, Jennifer has written several books on family tree tracing. Her Branching Out series offers lessons for everyone from first graders to adults, and Engaging the Next Generation: A Guide for Genealogical Societies and Libraries was written specifically for groups interested in starting their own youth genealogical studies programs.
  37. Social Genealogy LLC is a family history research firm founded and run by Jason Victor. Jason has been conducting genealogical research for several years, but he puts an interesting twist on it, showing clients how their ancestry affects them socially, culturally and psychologically. Going beyond the bare bones of the who, where and when of a search, Jason also includes the social, cultural and psychological (including mental health and medical conditions) history of his client’s ancestors. This gives a much better picture of their lifestyles and motivations, and makes for a much fuller biographical study. Mr. Victor works closely with each individual, and under the scrutiny of their guidelines, to ensure personal satisfaction.
  38. GenealogyU is a relatively new player on the scene, having only launched in December of 2012. The idea behind the site is to create a collaborative network of contributing genealogists and family tree historians. You can sign up for the weekly newsletter or tips, tricks and how-tos for ancestral research. A focus is placed on the use of computers, the internet and improved family tree research. They are currently looking for contributing authors with genealogical experience, for both guest post and regular contributor levels of commitment. In the meantime, as the online magazine grows, the GenealogyU facebook page is updated on a regular basis, and newsletters are being sent out.
  39. Evidentia Genealogy Software helps take out much of the guess work involved in an ancestral search, and supports your research by guiding you through the Genealogical Proof Standard, by which acceptable conclusions are judged. If you have conflicting sources, Evidentia lets you view them all on one screen, so you can more easily discern the facts. If you aren’t sure about the strength or validity of a source, Evidentia can help identify the gaps in the story. Using this type of software not only makes your genealogical work easier and more fun, it gives you comfort of mind that the family tree you’ve constructed is more fact than fiction.
  40. Inishbofin Genealogy is the living result of a project Marie Coyne began almost 25 years ago, researching the families of Inishbofin, surrounding islands, mainland and overseas. She began this arduous task by traveling home-to-home in person, writing down and compiling names and information for many, many years. She then bought an online “Family Tree Maker” software package, which she diligently filled with the mountain of information she had compiled. Since that was published, it has travelled the globe and been used extensively by people with roots in Inishbofin. If you are interested in conducting your own family search, contact Ms. Coyne for information.

    Deaths (image courtesy of Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC on flickr)

    Deaths (image courtesy of Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC on flickr)

  41. K.B. Genealogy & Research is the company Kelly Leary founded, after discovering her passion for genealogy while uncovering some information for her grandfather’s 91st birthday. Ten years and dozens of ancestry searches later, Kelly is well versed in the techniques required for genealogy, and continually hones her skills through continuing education classes. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Association of Professional Genealogists. Kelly makes sure to interweave all of the aspects of data she collects to produce the most compelling story she can create for her clients. She also specializes in assisting clients with obtaining Irish Citizenship by Descent.
  42. *****Genealogy Pieces (Family Quilt Genealogy) is an “all Inclusive” family ancestry research facebook page created by Terry Marie Varela. Posts on this page include anything and everything involved with genealogy. Terry shares information on genealogical tools, blogs, softwares, search engines, other websites, literature (both digital and not), family history stories, seminars, conventions and more.
  43. The Allen County Public Library (ACPL)  Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana has been serving the genealogy community since 1961. The ACPL Genealogy center is a versatile and viable resource for not just the Northwest Indiana population it was initially intended to serve, but rather the entire global genealogical community. This facility not only maintains one of the largest research collections available – which incorporates data collected worldwide, but they also have a staff that specializes in genealogy and is always available to answer questions and help solve problems. This is not just some spectacular claim, ACPL actually employs eight librarians that are genealogy specialists to help you trace your personal family history.
  44. Free Genealogy Resources helps ease the financial burden of genealogy study. This site was developed by an individual who wanted to trace his roots. Before he began, he believed that his search would be very costly. As he progressed through his research, he found more and more free resources for his inquiries. He felt that it was incumbent upon him to share the knowledge he had gained in his search. In addition, he adds some tips and tricks he has come across that may save fellow genealogists some time. This in-depth blog offers many useful tips to any do-it-yourself family tree builders.
  45. Alaska Genealogy is quite simply, an extensive resource of worthwhile record resources for doing a genealogy search in Alaska. All of the records are neatly organized by county, town and record type. All sorts of records are available, including: birth records, cemetery records, census records,  church records, city directories, death records, genealogies, land records, marriage records, military records, newspapers, obituaries, probate records, school records and, of  course, vital records. The information is presented in a very straightforward and easy to access format, making it an essential resource for anyone tracing Alaskan ancestry.
  46. The Arizona Genealogical Advisory Board (AzGAB) states their mission as: “facilitating education and communication among organizations and individuals who are dedicated to the promotion of genealogy and history.” In this spirit, AzGAB aims to improve communications among genealogical societies, libraries with genealogical collections, professionals, and the general public. It is also concerned with records preservation and public access to records. Open membership is offered to all genealogical societies, groups, libraries, professionals or individuals sharing these goals. In addition to access of public records, membership in AzGAB offers a bi-monthly newsletter publishing current information, contact with other societies throughout Arizona, and knowledge of programs and seminars throughout Arizona.
  47. The Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies (CCGS) contributes to the needs of the Colorado genealogical community by supporting and contributing information to member organizations. The goals of having groups become members of this group are to encourage new and growing genealogy organizations, to promote the collection, preservation and dissemination of genealogical knowledge and information, keeping all member groups informed on upcoming events to avoid overlap, upholding genealogical standards, keeping member organizations up to date on current legislation and encouraging each member group in their individual missions. In addition to these goals and providing vital information, CCGS will sometime sponsor genealogical projects and issue awards to outstanding members.
  48. Usgenweb Archives Genealogy Project is the central domain for access for public domain records across the United States. There are links available to all state resources in both html and ftp format, as well as contact information for the individual maintaining each state’s information. As each state is individually maintained, there are some differences in format and content, but they all follow a similar template. Each state is broken down into counties, and within each county public domain records such as obituaries, marriage records, census, cemetery records, photos and many others can be found. The project is run by volunteers and provided as a free resource for genealogy research
  49. The Big Sandy River Genealogy Club was created to preserve the stories of the past, including photos and information about the pioneers and present day families who settled in the Big Sandy River watershed. Over the course of time, the focus of this group has centered primarily on counties that have or had borders on the Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia lines. This is currently a closed group to control an overflow of extraneous information. However, membership can be attained through request and approval.
  50. Bloodlines of Salem ~ Descendants of the accused of witchcraft in 1692 is the place users can go to share information and ideas about the Salem Witch Trials (most notably those held in 1692) including those who participated and their families. Many of the members have proven direct lineage or personal relation to the participants, However, as students of the Salem Witch Trials, members are not only interested in direct lineage, but the overall implications of the event in the studies of history, law and religion. To this end, the forums are open to anyone with useful information, while the website serves as a storehouse for all the information contributed thus far.

Once again, this is very, very far from an exhaustive list. As we all have our own family trees, we all have our own requirements to find the information that pertains to us specifically. Use the Facebook search tool, and play with words and search options to find the resources that will best serve you.

50 Best Family History Blogs

Difficult as it was to choose only 50 family history blogs as top selections, here are the most entertaining examples of what is traditionally an amusing genre. There’s a vast range, a library’s worth of different perspectives to be found on these sites: some are very personal stories, glimpses of not only family history but also human nature. Others are scholarly historical works that compile every known detail on a particular set of related families. You’ll discover facts about the lives and times of everyone from crowned heads of Europe to medieval weavers of silk tapestries and American pioneers who came to the colonies, won their independence, and kept roaming farther south and west. It’s a series of history lessons related by the participants. In addition to being entertaining and educational, it is our aim that these top sites also help you to explore otherwise hidden parts of your own family history.

  1. Adams Family Papers – The Adams Family Papers are billed as “An Electronic Archive,” which reflects the precision and thorough nature of their acquisition and presentation. These documents were assembled by the venerable Massachusetts Historical Society, which was founded in 1791 and thus is part of history in its own right, and they contain the personal records of John Adams, second president of the United States, and his wife Abigail, a staunch advocate of public education. The site has posted beautifully organized collections of letters, a diary belonging to Adams, and Adams’ autobiography, plus detailed descriptions of what the collections contain, transcripts, and images of the pages themselves.

    Adams Family Papers

    A painting of President John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd president of the United States, by Asher B. Durand (1767-1845). Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

  2. Jewish Gen – The Jewish Gen site is a central repository of genealogical records belonging to Jewish families in countries all over the world, from Belarus to Austria to Scandinavia to South America. Based in New York City, Jewish Gen is affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, known for its focus on the Holocaust, and the sheer volume of information in its possession is impressive, as you can see from the databases section. Examples of what you can find are a searchable database of surnames and towns (the Family Finder) and a burial registry covering 4,000 cemeteries in 81 countries.
  3. Van Antwerp Family – The Van Antwerp Family blog is a charming little scrapbook created by George Van Antwerp in 2007. The author stated in one of his first posts, which concerned the city of Antwerp, that he wanted to start a conversation about the family, and his notes on other Van Antwerps (a pottery company, a set of condos, a building in Mobile, Alabama) are cleverly designed for that purpose. There’s a post with some 17th century history of the Van Antwerpens of the Mohawk River Valley, an article about the author’s father’s missionary work in Brazil, and many other highlights from the family’s chronicles.
  4. Kemp(e) Family History – This site, which is devoted to the genealogical project known as a one-name study, also includes information on the surnames Kemps and Kempf, and although data for living members of the family is not made available on the web, you may use the contact link to make that type of request. The site layout is exceptionally logical, showing a selection of data types (from photos to headstones) and a division of the family tree into maternal and paternal lineage. There’s even a page of statistics on the Kemp(e) data collection, with fun facts like the total number of family members (94,825) and the lifespan of the oldest Kemp known (125 years).
  5. ScotWeb Clan And Family Histories – ScotWeb is the web commerce branch of that famous producer of woven tartans, D.C. Dalgliesh, and its research into the Scottish clans for which its artisan fabrics are named contains any number of fascinating footnotes to the country’s history. For instance, the son of the original laird of Anstruther was known for his generosity to the monks of Balmerino Abbey, and the founding father of Clan Mackintosh obtained his lands by fighting under King Malcolm IV. If you’re inclined to don a particular plaid, you can also pick up some facts about those who originally wore it on ScotWeb.

    ScotWeb Clan And Family Histories

    Soldier of the Black Watch. Engraving of Samuel MacPherson of the 43rd Regiment of Foot. Courtesy of National Army Museum, London; John Prebble, Mutiny, 1984 edition; colour realization by Helena Zakrazewska-Rucinska.

  6. Andy Randazzo family history – This page was started in 2010, and it has material on not only Randazzos but other Sicilian families like the Vitales, Cianciolos, and Palmisanos. Sicily is the largest Mediterranean island and it has passed through the hands of many rulers beginning with the Greeks and continuing through the Roman and Byzantine empires to ancestors of the French (Normans), Germans (Hofenstaufens), and Spaniards (Catalans). Accordingly, to learn the history of Sicilian families like the Randazzos is to learn centuries of regional history. The current access code hint to view data on the site refers to the castellated city in which the family originated, and if you can solve this or a similar riddle, you will be admitted.
  7. Williams Family Tree – The Williams Family Tree site announces itself as a new, improved iteration of the original, and while it is delightful it’s also flash-intensive, so not all its image enhancements are available on every device. However, it is well worth moving to a browser that can view the Williams Family Tree as designed, because the webmaster put years of experience into the product and obtained a very good result. The site welcomes reader contributions, and the number of additions by members of collateral branches (Hake, Harper, Hoggett, and so on) has turned the collection into a vast library of valuable information on British families.
  8. Minnesota Historical Society – The Minnesota Historical Society has set up a family history/people finder page on its website, holding indices of birth and death certificates, a catalog of resources from local public libraries, state census records, and an online assistant to help you construct your family’s history. There’s a list of links to special databases on other sites, such as Veterans Graves Registrations, family history searches for descendants of the Dakota and Ojibway tribes, maps, and histories of towns and buildings. You can also search for information about your ancestors’ lives in the oral histories, Civil War data, and national/ethnic groups collections such as lists of Chinese and Norwegian settlers.
  9. Richison Family History – Jerry Gregory reserved part of his personal website for a compilation of data on the descendants of George Washington Richison and Sarah Marade Barrow, who married in 1846. Neither was a lettered individual, so the name is alternately recorded as Richardson and Richison (even sometimes Richeson, Richerson, and Ritcheson), and modern genetic testing suggests the Richisons were indeed members of the Richardson family of North Carolina. The great flexibility in spellings mirrors the ease with which many of them moved around from state to state in the southern U. S. There’s an extensive alphabetized list of surnames belonging to people who married into the family, and a linked assortment of photos taken over many years.
  10. Jewish Encyclopedia – The Jewish Encyclopedia was published in 12 volumes between 1901 and 1906 by Funk & Wagnalls, and it is a compendium of information on Jewish families, histories, literature, theology, and many other aspects of Jewish life and tradition. One could easily spend weeks wandering around the histories of families like that founded by Sir Albert Abdallah David Sassoon, an Anglo-Indian merchant born in Baghdad, or reading tales of various Rosenbergs (Russian-American writer Abraham Hayyim, Prussian physician Albert, or Julius, a Hungarian deputy of the 19th century). The Jewish Encyclopedia is well respected for its scholarly scope, accuracy, and thoroughness.
  11. Ten Generations – Three Centuries – Another scholarly approach to family history, this time studied as a bridge to a greater understanding of the recent history of Finland, is the five-year project recorded on the Ten Generations – Three Centuries web page. The Academy of Finland is financing this study of cultural transmission from generation to generation of Finland’s families, and when completed it will contain detailed information on fifty thousand individual Finns, including interviews to gather the family history of each as well as genealogical data. These researchers will trace the progress of social changes at the national level by observing their effects on single families and their members.
  12. The Sanchez Family Tree – The Sanchez Family Tree is filled with Sanchez news, photos, and links to individual descendants’ sites, which in turn have pages for each of their family members, and so the network of multiple linkages created on the web traces the same paths as the family’s relationships. The family tree for which the site is named is a very clearly laid out genealogical flow chart showing six Sanchez generations. The stories of the three sons are very different: one is living in Oregon and studying to be a priest, another is married and teaches mathematics at a high school in California, and the third teaches biology at the college level.
  13. A Guide to the Bellamy Family Papers – This collection, and its web page, are housed in the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries (look in the Special and Area Studies Collections). The Bellamy documents consist primarily of personal correspondence, chiefly that written by Eliza A. Bellamy and her son Burton William Bellamy in the period 1825-1894. The site includes a history of the Bellamys of East Florida, who moved to Tallahassee at the city’s inception in 1821. The patriarch of the family, John Bellamy, is remembered as the man who built the Bellamy Road running east to west along the route of the old Mission Trail.
  14. A Family History of the Thomas, Goldsmith, Button and Barrow Families – This site unites the four related families, hosting a link for each: the Thomas family (Halifax, Yorkshire), the Goldsmith family (Portsea/Portsmouth, Hampshire), the Button family (London and Suffolk), and the Barrow family (New Forest – Hampshire and Dorset). Each family has an interesting history in its own right, all dating back to the latter half of the eighteenth century (1760s-1780s), and each site has its own Family Finder index to locate connected surnames and related individuals. There is a meticulously assembled downloadable .pdf available for each family, giving names, occupations, and brief lives of all descendants.

    A Family History of the Thomas, Goldsmith, Button and Barrow Families

    Buccleuch Cottages, Beaulieu, New Forest. Courtesy of Jim Champion.

  15. GeneaNet – GeneaNet is an online collection of historical resources boasting over 400 million records in the following categories: family trees, records from sources like parish churches and government census rolls, and photographs. The beauty of a set of hypertext genealogy pages like that created by GeneaNet is that you can link every single piece of information, so it’s quite simple to trace where a particular piece of data originates. For instance, if you follow the name link for Salomé Groehly of Alsace, you’ll discover all her personal information was located in her hometown of Illkirch-Graffenstaden, and that for Veit Harsch comes from Vaihingen-sur-l’Enz (Germany, called Allemagne on the Francophone subject page).
  16. The Story Curator – The Story Curator takes a literary approach to a family history, inserting the reader intimately into a virtual museum of family life at the point of a European-American woman named Moussia, a cosmopolite artist whose daughter is a poet. Moussia is summed up from her daughter’s perspective as “Russian by birth, French by taste,” which is a lovely phrase, and her sophistication and elegance are the informing spirit of the Story Curator blog, the aesthetic that guided the writing, the image selection (old family photographs of artistic quality), and every detail of the web presentation. There are fifty finely crafted episodes in Moussia’s story.
  17. Windhorst, Bottge, Leistikow & Vandervoort Genealogy – This site collects old photographs and local histories of the Windhorst, Bottge, Leistikow, and Vandervoort families, with some material from relatives belonging to the Seebach, Jepson, Bratsch, and Schuyler branches. The histories are linked at the top of the page, and the downloadable report called Windhorst Genealogy, by Richard Windhorst, a history of the Windhorst family of Olivia, Minnesota that was completed by its author in 1995, is a fascinating read. Cousin Peter Windhorst added newly discovered information and an updated Foreword in 2010 which describes the origin and nature of the additions (for instance, the family tree in Wesenstedt, Germany now stretches back to Gercken Windhorst, fl. 1600).
  18. Greek Genealogy – The Greek Genealogy site traces the family tree of a Greek-American dentist named Lica Hariclea Catsakis (Bywater), who grew up in Greece and emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 42. The emigration triggered a deep interest in her Greek roots, and Dr. Catsakis has made numerous trips back to her homeland, beginning in 1977, to interview relatives and search local records in order to amass a collection of her family’s historical data. She has uncovered previously uncollected materials on four ancestral families belonging to the Katsakis, Kitsikopoulos, Mantafounis, and Vlahopoulos branches, and has written several treatises on her research in both English and Greek.
  19. L’Association de la Famille Boudreaux/Boudreau/Boudrot/Boudreault – The Boudreaux Family Association embraces all the variants on the name found in South Louisiana. Based in a town called Lafayette, this clan has a governmental organization structure (president, vice-president, and so on) to handle the genealogical business of the family, in which the student of French government will recognize an echo of the mairie. Sadly, former president Donald Joseph (Don) Boudreaux recently passed away, but new webmaster Larry Boudreaux has stepped up to meet the challenge and make sure the Boudreaux family history and site remain available, which is an especially important function since the planning for the family’s 2014 congrè (congrès, or reunion) is now underway.
  20. South Carolina – Genealogy and Family History – This state genealogy page is hosted by Sciway (South Carolina Information Highway), an online repository for South Carolinian resources. Resource categories are extensive, listing everything from cemeteries and churches to maps and plat books. Sciway has compiled a very useful list of links to individual counties’ genealogy sites, and a look at the counties shows you that many are named after American revolutionaries, as you might expect from one of the original 13 colonies. For example, Horry County was named after a Revolutionary War colonel and General Francis Marion was the inspiration in naming Marion County, while Lee County’s name honors the Confederate commander.
  21. House of History, LLC. – The House of History will be happy to help you research your family’s history, and even arrange a trip for you to visit your forefathers’ homeland (called an “Ancestry Event” by the Hvizdos family, owners of the business). For an example of the available research services, visit the Review page, where the owner’s mother describes the many documents assembled by the House of History in a research effort which eventually permitted the women of the line to fulfill a long-cherished ambition and join the Daughters of the American Revolution. On the other side of the family, successfully tracing the peregrinations of the Gulas family of Slovakia resulted in a trip to Europe to meet long-lost relatives for the first time.
  22. RoyaList – The RoyaList, or “royal list” site is a compendium of biographical data on the royal families of England and Scotland painstakingly collected by Alistair Grieve. The genealogy section explains a number of interesting aspects of the database: due to multiple intermarriages spanning many centuries, it contains information on many of Europe’s royal houses as well. The target population is confined to immediate family of the royal lines, but you will also run across the occasional distantly related celebrity (George Washington and George Bush are two). The database design is worthy of note, offering features like a kinship calculator for any two individuals on record, and as the examples show many of the relationships you will discover are multiple.

    RoyaList

    The Hampden Portrait, Steven van der Meulen. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Catalogue #L07123, Important British Paintings 1500-1850 22 November 2007.

  23. The Oliver Family – The Oliver Family site was created by a descendant named Jennifer Kolthammer who decided to research the history of the family founded by William Oliver and Ann Wilson, a Devon couple of the 18th century. Ms. Kolthammer has traced her family back to a son of those Olivers whose sons emigrated to Canada, and includes a link to the related Bonnycastle family site. Incidentally, the strikingly clean lines of the site’s design are due to a genealogy site builder called Second Site, which does achieves beautiful technical results but works with only one database format (called The Master Genealogist, trademarked).
  24. Digital Diaspora Family Reunion – In counterpoint to the single-family history that contains only relatives by blood and marriage, the inclusive model of the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion is filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris’ bid to unify the family photos of African-Americans as a collected whole, a digital document memorializing the African Diaspora. It is intended to be a project created by users who upload their media (including photos, video, audio, and text files) to a central repository, an online museum of family histories. This is your chance to participate in a national project online and contribute your family research to a collection of lasting historical value.
  25. Idaho County Genealogy Society – The Idaho County (Idaho) Genealogy Society is one of the local offshoots of the USGenWeb Project, which aims to create free, publicly accessible genealogy websites at the state and county or parish level. The goal is to encourage Americans to preserve and share records of their families’ history, and for the residents of Idaho County, this website serves as a collective resource, a shared scrapbook/historical volume. If you have any questions about the site, or you’d like to add your own research, web mistress and Idaho County native Penny Bennett Casey is always happy to hear from you.
  26. Lowcountry Africana – This is a truly impressive expansion of the old site, showcasing a large collection of genealogy and history resources covering the African-American population of South Carolina and northeastern Florida, specifically the Gullah or Geechee culture originating on the old rice plantations. The collection is sponsored by the Magnolia Plantation Foundation of Charleston, South Carolina, and their account of the development of this unique culture is remarkable: the rice workers from Africa had a resistance to malaria not shared by the plantation owners, and thus they worked and lived with minimal oversight. As a result, much of the workers’ ancestral heritage of language and tradition was preserved in their new homeland, and it is now presented on Lowcountry Africana.
  27. Layers of the Onion – A Family History Exploration – Susan Weinberg is the blogger who created Layers of the Onion, and it details her search for her family’s roots, undertaken with the consciousness of her personal identity as a Jewish writer and artist and seen in the context of what it has meant, historically, to belong to that faith. Weinberg’s journey has taken her back many centuries, and across many miles to far-flung locales (Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus) that also require covering a great distance in terms of cultural and linguistic shifts. Her travels have helped Weinberg define herself as a person and as an artist.
  28. Kansas Heritage Group – The Kansas Heritage Group was a pioneer in the field of digital access to historical and genealogical records. The group takes great pride in the facts that as the Kansas History Gateway, it was the second WWW public web site, and in 2004 its creator received a public shout-out from internet patriarch Tim Berners-Lee. The odd family facts found in the Kansas family history links should not be missed: imagine a journey from California that takes so long your own children don’t recognize you when you return (Amsbury), or buying 160 acres of land for only $200 (Beedles), or living in such an unsettled era that voting for President Lincoln would make it impossible to buy land in the state of Missouri (Clogston) to get a sense of 19th century American life.

    Kansas Heritage Group

    1880 advertisement for land in Kansas. Courtesy of “Where to go to become rich: Farmers’, miners’ and tourists’ guide to Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado,” Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1880.

  29. Elrod Family History – The Elrod family comes from Germany, and they have meticulously assembled family documents drawn from many different sources to piece together a lengthy history, with a family tree containing over 55,000 names. You’ll see many posts containing material from Germany like a history of a city named Gefrees, which uses many quotes from a 19th century ancestor, one Anton Christian David Ellrodt (one of the older spellings of the name), and a note on the home page of a town called Kulmbach that credits Jacob Ellrod with drawing Kulmbach’s first plan in 1666. There’s even a French 10th cousin who sings opera.
  30. Goodwin Family History – The Goodwin Family History site is an online document repository, and it has been very neatly arranged using a site builder known as TNG, which uses a MySQL database foundation to hold whatever the family decides to upload (for example, photographs, written histories, cemeteries and headstones). There’s a quick-access menu to go directly to dates and anniversaries, places, and family statistics (1,236 people in the database along with 5,449 photos, earliest known birth is that of Josselyn Goodwin in 1414). As you can see, the site interface itself adds a great deal of helpful information about the family that updates automatically every time new data is added.
  31. Mallett Family History – The subtitle of the site is “Malet/Mallet/Mallett — from 1066 to the Present Day,” which is a very economical means of conveying the fact that the family originated in France and came over to England with William the Conqueror. The site itself has an interesting history, beginning in 1997 as a simple essay in family history research and then moving on to a detailed and thorough exploration of the surname itself, including placing several Mallett variants on record in the Guild of One-Name Studies registry. There’s a motivating intelligence behind the site design and its writing that is very engaging, and the explanation of its Mallett survey in terms of the one-name study is brilliantly clear.
  32. Wilson-Maynard Genealogy Pages – This site is also infused with a lively personality, as the URL of the home page informs the reader (here it is, in relevant part: “thispagedoesnotexist.html”). That is one of the old standbys from the precommercial internet, and it’s still a welcome universal signal denoting a light-hearted attitude. You can investigate the Maynard/Vail side of the family or head for the Wilson/Boggess family tree, if you prefer, and in either location you’ll see the web master has achieved a remarkable moving-backward-through-history effect by arranging the text and photo boxes for each family member from newest to oldest. It’s almost unnecessary to check dates, as you can see the photography techniques becoming more and more dated until the photographic record ends.
  33. Celtic-Casimir: Genealogical Links Page – That is an approximate title for the site, as it is evidently meant to be used as a collection of personal pages rather than a resource intended for public use. There are a number of skillfully executed designs in the Celtic style, some in color and some that remain in grayscale in order to highlight the fine line work, all credited to Australian artist Bernard Casimir. Casimir’s designs are the type of mesmerizing serendipitous discovery you’re liable to make at any moment on a family history site, and they make a visit to Celtic-Casimir highly recommended. There is also an extensive page of links to abstruse data sources (Collectanea topographica et genealogica, Dictionary of Victorian London, Fragmenta Genealogica).
  34. The Ancestor; a quarterly review of county and family history, heraldry and antiquities – This digital reproduction of the original 1904 volume demonstrates one of the highest and best uses of technology, and the book itself contains issues of an English periodical that drew its genealogical material from contributors who wished to share it with fellow enthusiasts. Without doubt, some of its contents will be found nowhere else, as can be inferred from a sample of the subjects (a putative Samborne family tree, letters from members of the Fane and Incledon families, genealogists’ histories of litigation in Chancery), and special poignance is derived from the dating of the volume itself to the decade before the first great war of the 20th century.
  35. Caudle Family History – The history of the Caudle family is the perfect counterpoint to a review of The Ancestor, providing a contrast of raw American vigor to set against the demure portrait of English country gentlemen anxious to record their heraldic devices. Created by J.R. Caudle as an homage to a genealogically inclined father (Preston Milford Caudle, Sr.), the site begins with a mysterious family crest (explication from knowledgeable members of the public is invited) and moves on to the origin of the Caudle name. Apparently it is derived from a location name, the parishes of Caldwell in Ripon and Peterborough (England).
  36. Our Family History – This simply titled site covers descendants of the following families: Pirtle, Pearson, Remington, Kimbrough, Harper, and their relatives. Like the Goodwin Family History, the site is built on top of a TNG database, and its organization is characteristically sound. Web master Patricia Ann Pirtle Durda has been elaborating this family history for decades, beginning in 1969, and has enlisted a number of contributors from among her family members. Do not miss the romantic tale of Douglas and JoAn Pirtle Dillard: Douglas first proposed at the age of 5, and finally won his heart’s desire 72 years later, and everyone who’s read that saga wishes them all the happiness in the world.
  37. Roger Williams – This site belongs to Roger Williams, who is not a descendant of the original person of that name who founded Rhode Island after being expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony but is related to Williams’ contemporary and fellow exile Anne Hutchinson. The 21st century Williams works in commercial web technologies, but the site reveals him as an outdoorsman and an artist, and his disquisition on his Huguenot forebears is nothing short of superb. After escaping religious persecution in France, his Marmoy, Malandain, and Le Doux ancestors settled in Spitalfields to weave silks, since the French industry had effectively set up shop in that location after the Edict of Nantes was revoked (1685).

    Roger Williams

    Engraved print depicting Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, meeting with the Narragansett Indians. Courtesy of New York Public Library (original engraving by James Charles Armytage).

  38. Holden-Cudworth, Wilson-Wason Ancestry – This new Canadian site lists four families that were united in 1970s Montreal by the marriage of a Holden and a Wilson. The Irish Holdens settled near Markham, Ontario around 1822, and the Scottish Wilsons arrived in Montreal in 1952. The Wasons, like the Wilsons, originated in Glasgow, and the Cudworths of Yorkshire came to Ontario at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the collateral surnames like Ianson, Juriannse, and Thistlethwaite are very unusual, even unknown to the average reader. There is an 1898 study of the Cudworths of Sandal Magna and Darlington, including information on their engineering careers.
  39. The Ottolenghi Web Site – Ottolenghi is another name not commonly found in the U.S., and indeed these Ottolenghi or Ottolangui families are scattered abroad in Australia, Israel, and New Zealand. The family members who created the Ottolenghi site trace their ancestry back to David Ottolenghi of Livorno (Italy), born in 1730, who emigrated to London. David’s parents were Menahem Ottolenghi and Judica de Immanuel de Valletro, and the site contains a list of family members showing the name was sometimes anglicized to Langley (for example, Jacob Nathan Ottolangui became Jack Langley in Melbourne, Australia, and Marcus Lewis Ottolangui took the name Mark Louis Langley in Dunedin, New Zealand).
  40. My Family History – This site is recognized less often by its formal title and frequently by a memorable part of its URL, Gone2Texas (so named because both sides of web master D. A. McGee Core’s family did in fact end up in that state). The tale of Ms. McGee Core’s genealogical data illustrates the perils inherent in digital archiving, due to several severe losses of stored information, but her persistence paid off in a beautiful new website which includes a complete series of technical notes on how the reconstruction was accomplished. Don’t miss the collection of headstone photos from Greenlawn Memorial Park and Oak Bluff Memorial Park (Jefferson, Texas).
  41. My Tapley Tree…and its Branches – Web master Liz entertains with a vivid history of her years of research into the Tapley, Drake, Ranney, and Schwalls families of Georgia. After inheriting a steno pad on which her grandfather had kept his work on the Tapley family tree, the effort grew into the digital age and eventually became My Tapley Tree. There’s a fresh sense of the intertwining of everyday life with family history in the site’s schedule, where snippets of family history are specially selected for presentation on certain days (such as Tombstone Tuesday, Surname Saturday, even Military Monday with items like a recap of an uncle’s service during World War Two).
  42. Our Southern Heritage – Blog owner Ivan Lewis wrote the treatise of the same name detailing his family’s genealogy, including the Southern offshoots of the Lewis, McCartney, Chapman, and Sones families. He finally moved the book online in 2003, and has separate links for the book text and for each of the four families with which it’s concerned. Lewis has much to be proud of, because the genealogy pages are consistent, thorough, and obviously produced through a patient ongoing effort, a true labor of love. Lewis’ description of his residence in Arkansas is very funny: the property retains a large number of trees, and the house retains a wild raccoon, also large, in the ceilings.
  43. Terry Mason’s Family History Site – The Mason genealogy has amassed 62,529 names and the alphabetical index containing them spans many pages and includes a few rarities (Daffron, Faubion, Wodell, Yeiser). Each individual name has a link that takes you to that part of the site where the history of that person’s immediate family resides, and the organization is intuitive (which is fortunate, as the site is clearly designed for initiates rather than the public, and accordingly does not provide a site map). Anyone who has family from the South will find the place names to be resonant echoes of old towns found in pilgrimages along the blue-line highways (older roads whose traffic was diverted onto the newer interstate highway system in the 1960s).
  44. Branson / Cook Genealogy – The history of the Branson and Cook families can be accessed through systematically grouped and titled links, and much of the site’s content seems to be available from the home page. This provides a perfect example of the effectiveness with which an active mind can produce superior organization and ease of use when compared to a packaged website-solution type of design, because the Branson/Cook page is able to dispense with the design frills (menus, category links, cascading styles) endemic to many genealogy blogs without losing any capability. The Genealogy Links page is similarly well-crafted and clear, and anyone interested in beginning a research project could very well start here.
  45. Mariposa Footprints – This site was created by web master Tom as a gift for the future, addressed to his beloved granddaughter. It intends to relate the doings of those Margraves who lived in Mariposa County, California, between 1850 and 1918. Tom discovered an important truth known to everyone who tries to reconstruct the past through research: what any one person has experienced and been told about family history may have little to do with what you will find on paper when you delve into official records, and the Mariposa Footprints site attempts to communicate both versions of history. Don’t miss the Stories section, particularly the legal anecdote titled “Thomas Margrave Vs William G. Grable.”
  46. A Family History – This genealogy page lives on a Tolkien fan site, but the history collected here is very real, as the portrait photo of distinguished ancestress Edia Legnon Marceaux makes clear. There are 26 pages of family photographs and other images at 50 per page, meaning 1,300 images altogether, which makes a very impressive digital museum. These were assembled with a sense of humor, too: there’s a movie poster advertising El Cid (Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren) to represent ancestor Rodrigo Diaz of Vivar, who was the Cid of the film. That Rodrigo is sometimes confused with a later Cid of the same name, and A Family History is one of the few sites that sorts out the muddle properly.

    A Family History

    First lines of the Latin epic poem Carmen Campidoctoris, a life of El Cid. Courtesy of Infinauta, Wikimedia Commons.

  47. The Roane County Heritage Commission – The Roane County referred to here is the one located in Tennessee, which location is described by the commissioners in an almost poetic fashion: “in the Tennessee Valley, at the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau.” If you’ve ever wanted to imagine that region before the Tennessee Valley Authority altered the landscape and the culture, you can find a wealth of material here courtesy of Roane County. Incidentally, Roane County’s Heritage Commission was given the historic Roane County courthouse, built not long before the Civil War (1853-1854), which is currently being restored to its original luster.
  48. The Genealogy of Michael Steven COLE & Jeannie (JOHNS) COLE – The Cole family’s interest in genealogy began in the mid-1960s when father Michael was given a Bible with a blank genealogy chart printed inside. He enlisted his grandmother’s help and started to fill in the tree in July of 1974. If you have not yet heard of an ahnentafel, or ancestor table, there is an excellent example provided by the Coles, complete with index and well-written instructions. The ahnentafel‘s most interesting feature is that it lets you assess degrees of relationships with one glance at the numbers assigned to individuals.
  49. Mitchell family tree blog – The Mitchell family tree blog is subtitled “Digging up my ancestors,” which as a prologue is irresistible. Interestingly, the site unites two previously mentioned elements, Margrave relatives and Roane County history since the Roane County Heritage Commission generously contributed some of the documents found here. The initial post, a touching memoir called “Reflection,” contains memories of the author’s father and childhood experiences (hiding in a hay barn, feeding ducks, picking blackberries amid the brambles), ending with a last conversation in the hospital and a moment of recognition. The Mitchell family tree uses a number of census record images from the 19th century, and they are both well preserved and clearly digitized.
  50. Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites – Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites is a repository of facts, some historical and some current, about royalty, titled persons, and other figures and traditions of a bygone age. It is delightfully eccentric– where else can you find news items about the trust rating of new King Filip of Belgium, or a historical biography of Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, Chevalier of the Order of Leopold, or the recent wedding of Prince Muhammad Ali of Egypt and Princess Noal Zaher of Afghanistan? More importantly for the student of European genealogy, the sources linked in the site serve as a list of collectors of the type of ancestry-oriented minutiae in which scholars delight.

50 Celebrities Whose Past May Surprise You

As a culture, we find ourselves fascinated by both celebrity and gossip. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all are intrigued, at least to some extent, by other people’s dirty laundry. It helps us put our own lives into perspective. Perhaps we feel a sense of security when we see someone of prominence take a hit, because it helps us realize no one is immune to the prat falls of life. Maybe we just like to laugh at others troubles and think, “Better them than me!”  And then there is our kinder side that feels for those who are suffering. After all, these are people we have taken into our homes in one form or another, and rational or not, we consider them friends and family. And then of course are the tales of inspiration – learning how some of our favorite people overcame devastating odds to become the success we know.

Whatever the reason, it’s always entertaining to find out more about our favorite celebrities’ families and past. In that spirit, we present this list of 50 celebrities with backgrounds that may surprise you. If nothing else, it should be able to distract you from real life for a while.

  1. Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron carries herself with such grace and charm that she makes it look natural, almost as if she came from a life of elegance and refinement. However, quite the opposite is true. She actually grew up in a South African farming community with an abusive, alcoholic father. At the age of 15, she witnessed her mother shoot this man in self defense, after he threatened to kill them both. A year later she moved to Milan to start her modeling career, having won a contest to placate the urging of her mother. Read more about it in her interview with Oprah.

    Charlize Theron (image courtesy of jingdianmeinv on flickr)

  2. Woody Harrelson has built a reputation of playing a versatile range of characters, but has been particularly successful portraying grisly, shady and even violently psychotic characters like Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers, and Charlie in Seven Psychopaths. Could it be he comes by some of these emotions naturally? It turns out, Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Voyde Harrelson, was a contract killer, or at least that was the claim. He was convicted of killing U.S. District Judge John H. Wood, and grain dealer Sam Degalia, Jr., for money. However, Woody spent many years trying to get his father a new trial. Find out more here.

    Natural Born Killers (image courtesy of Rick on flickr)

  3. On April 22, 1937 in Neptune, New Jersey, June Nicholson brought forth unto this world the one and only, Jack Nicholson, star of movies too numerous to mention. However, young June was just 19 years old at the time, an aspiring actress, and unsure of exactly who her newborn’s father was. Her parents (Jack’s grandparent’s), John and Ethel May agreed to raise him as their own son, and he knew his mother as his sister. They all kept this secret to their grave, and it wasn’t until a TIME magazine reporter was writing a cover article on the famed actor that the truth was uncovered. Read the Jack Nicholson Biography to find out more.

    Jack Nicholson (image courtesy of TRF_Mr_Hyde on flickr)

  4. Robyn Rihanna Fenty, better known as R&B star Rihanna is an exotically beautiful recording artist, actress, and fashion designer. Born in Barbados, but now a worldwide sensation, Rihanna, as is the case for many celebrities, has had “secret” relatives crawling out of the woodwork. However, in her case, at least they started coming forth before she was famous. It seems Robyn’s father, Ronald was quite the philanderer before meeting her mother, Monica. The first surprise came when Rihanna was just 15, and 32-year old Kandy showed up on the doorstep, explaining to the stunned family just who she was. Since then, another sister, Samantha, 30, and a brother Jamie, 27 have also come forward to claim their father. Ronald and Monica have two other boys as well, Rorrey, 21, and Rajad, 15.

    Rihanna (image courtesy of oouinouin on flickr)

    Rihanna (image courtesy of oouinouin on flickr)

  5. Kevin Spacey’s older brother, Randall Fowler has maintained that his family has a dark and hidden past. According to the multi-oscar winner’s sibling, their father was an ultra-conservative sadist and child molester. What’s more, Randall says his father not only groomed his hair and moustache to resemble Adolph Hitler, but he was, in fact, a member of the American Nazi Party. Fowler further claims that he was a frequent victim of his father’s abuses, physical, mental and sexual. He says the only thing that kept him from killing himself was saving his brother from the same fate. Spacey, meanwhile disputes the stories. Read more about it here.

    Kevin Spacey (image courtesy of rivier50 on flickr)

    Kevin Spacey (image courtesy of rivier50 on flickr)

  6. Oprah Winfrey is recognized worldwide as not only one of the most powerful women in entertainment, but one of the most influential people in the world overall. This is no small achievement for a woman of African-American descent, and the story becomes even more remarkable when you learn the whole story of Oprah’s life. She was born into a broken family in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1954 – not the most opportune springboard for a black girl at that time and place. She was raised by her grandmother until the age of 6, and spent much of her childhood living in the ghetto outside Milwaukee with her mother and half-siblings. However, she attributes her success to the non-stop work ethic impressed on her by her father. Read more in Oprah’s Official Biography.

    Oprah (image courtesy of Alan Light on flickr)

    Oprah (image courtesy of Alan Light on flickr)

  7. To say Liv Tyler had an interesting childhood is quite an understatement. Her mother Bebe Buell, was a Playboy playmate in 1973, and had a habit of hanging out with eccentric artists and musicians. She was known to have relationships with the likes of Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, and Todd Rundgren. In fact, she was living with Rundgren at the time her daughter was born and he was assumed to be the father. They named the girl Liv Rundgren. Liv went back and forth between joining her mother in this wild lifestyle, and the calmer surroundings of her grandparents home until her early teens. It wasn’t until she was at least 9 years old, when she met Steven Tyler and saw the resemblance between his daughter and herself, that she first suspected he may really be her father. By the time she was 11, this was confirmed. Find out more, not in the biography of Ms. Rundgren, but in that of Liv Tyler.

    Liv Tyler (image courtesy of Henry Burrows on flickr)

    Liv Tyler (image courtesy of Henry Burrows on flickr)

  8. Michael Jackson is the epitome of the rags to riches story. He was born the seventh of nine children to Joe and Katherine Jackson. Joe was a crane operator in Gary, Indiana in the 50’s. In a place and time where most black men were restricted from any type of professional advancement, so the family lived in squalor. Both parents had musical aspirations – Katherine with country and western leanings, and Joe yearning to be a bluesman. They not only instilled, but Joe literally pounded music into his children, forming the Jackson 5, made up of Michael and his brothers. They rocketed to fame in the 70s, and Michael went off on his own to create the groundbreaking Off the Wall  and Thriller, forever changing the pop world and creating the biggest musical icon since Elvis and the Beatles. Of course, that’s just the beginning of the story. Find out more from the Rolling Stone biography.

    Michael Jackson (image courtesy of Francesco on flickr)

    Michael Jackson (image courtesy of Francesco on flickr)

  9. Leighton Meester, the young actress who portrays Blair Waldorf on the popular television series Gossip Girl came into the world in a somewhat unusual way. Her mother was in prison, serving time, when the blessed event occurred. It seems Leighton’s mom, Connie – along with Leighton’s dad, Doug, and Connie’s sister and father as well – were all arrested for smuggling 1,200 pound shipments of marijuana from Jamaica in 1983. Leighton was actually born in a hospital, but her mother still had to serve out 16 months of her prison sentence afterward. Find out the rest of the story here.

    Leighton Meester (image courtesy of David Shankbone on flickr)

    Leighton Meester (image courtesy of David Shankbone on flickr)

  10. We’ve all had moments of panic and desperation, and the same is true for Tobey Maguire’s dad, Vincent. His sister died of cancer, and left him with not only the fear of having cancer himself, but the added responsibility of caring for her two children (in addition to Tobey), with the meager wages he made as a chef. So, he cooked up the half-baked idea to rob the bank across the street from his house, on foot, during the day, without a mask. Needless to say, he was apprehended very quickly. Because he was unarmed, and it was a first offense, he was only served two years in prison. Read the whole story here.

    Tobey Maguire (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

    Tobey Maguire (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

  11. Anyone who follows the Hollywood press knows that some celebrity relationships tend to raise eyebrows. However, Woody Allen took this to a whole new level when he married Soon-Yi Previn, a girl 35 years his junior, and the stepdaughter of his former lover Mia Farrow. Farrow first became aware of the relationship when she found nude pictures of her daughter, then 21, in Allen’s apartment. Several ugly and very public lawsuits involving Farrow and Allen’s children ensued, some accusing Allen of molestation. The actor/writer/director was cleared of all charges, but still has restricted visiting rights with his children.

    Woody and Soon-Yi (image courtesy of Rubenstein on flickr)

    Woody and Soon-Yi (image courtesy of Rubenstein on flickr)

  12. Many of us have dreamed of running away and joining the circus. However, this may not be the dream vocation many of us have envisioned. Take Christian Bale, for example. The star of American Psycho and the Dark Knight series was actually born into the circus lifestyle. His mother, Jenny, worked as both a clown and dancer. The family traveled extensively, and by the age of 15, Bale had lived in over 15 cities across Europe. This may have led to some of the problems he faced later in life, culminating in the accused beating of his mother and sister. Find out more here.

    Christian Bale (image courtesy of Asim Bharwani on flickr)

    Christian Bale (image courtesy of Asim Bharwani on flickr)

  13. Liev Schreiber’s latest character, Ray Donovan, is a bitter, father hating man. Schreiber was able to pull on some of his own love-hate relationship with his father for inspiration. Liev says that it’s not that he doesn’t love his father but they have a bit of a shady past. At the age of one, Schreiber’s WASP father and Jewish mother moved to a sex commune, and broke up soon after. Liev’s father hired detectives to track the boy down, and ultimately ended up kidnapping him from his mother. The boy was returned shortly after, but lived a hard life with his mother, despite his father’s affluent background. Read more of the story here.

    Liev Schreiber (image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on flickr)

    Liev Schreiber (image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on flickr)

  14. Just looking at Mark Wahlberg, most people would think he’s not the type of person you’d want to meet up with in a dark alley. There is a lot more truth to that than you might imagine. Wahlberg dropped out of school at the age of 14, already the victim of cocaine addiction for a year. He turned to a life of crime, surviving on the streets of Dorchester, MA, as a drug dealer, thief, and gang member. This lifestyle caught up with him at the age of 16, when he was arrested for attempted murder, for brutally beating a man after a botched robbery. Because he plead to the lesser charge of assault, he only spent 45 days in prison. Find out more about his story, and how he turned his life  around here.

    Mark Wahlberg (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

    Mark Wahlberg (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

  15. You might think that growing up with a celebrity as a relative would have its advantages. However, listening to Ashley Judd speak about growing up in the shadow of the mother-sister music act The Judds in her memoir: All that is Bitter and Sweet paints a much different picture. She writes that she attended 13 different schools from age 5 to 18, and was a victim of both neglect and abuse. She recalls feeling alone and depressed by age 7, and felt she not only had no one to turn to, but was exposed to much too much inappropriate behavior at a tender age, witnessing rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and having to fend off various sexual predators. She is now using what she’s learned to heal from her experiences to help other young women suffering similar abuses through Southeast Asia.

    Ashley Judd (image courtesy of Genevive719 on flickr)

    Ashley Judd (image courtesy of Genevive719 on flickr)

  16. In a list of interesting famous families, how could we not include the Osbournes? Father Ozzy is the famed frontman of Black Sabbath, and a solo artist in his own right. He met his wife Sharon, in Amsterdam in 1979, while he was still married to another woman, with whom he had two children. Shortly after, Ozzy was kicked out of Black Sabbath for his excessive drug use. Sharon offered to manage his solo career, and knew she was already in love despite the occasional presence of his wife. The two were married in 1982, and have borne two children of their own – Jack and Kelly. To say the family dynamic is a bit unusual doesn’t even begin to tell the story. MTV found it so interesting they turned it into a reality show. From there, the roller coaster ride just continued,launching the entire family into positions of fame.  What their future holds is anyone’s guess.

    Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne (image courtesy of Shankar S on flickr)

    Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne (image courtesy of Shankar S on flickr)

  17. The Kardashians are a prime example of celebrity families famous for being famous. Robert Kardashian was a successful attorney brought to prominence by his role in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He married Kris Houghton and they had four children together: Kourtney, Kim, Khloe’ and Rob. The couple divorced, and Kris remarried former Olympic star Bruce Jenner in 1991. The Jenners had two daughters of their own: Kendall and Kylie. Kim worked as a stylist for the stars, (as did her sisters) and remained in the spotlight with high profile relationships to the likes of Nick Lachey and Ray J (who later released a sex tape of Kim and himself ). The entire family has since been brought into the national spotlight through their bewilderingly popular reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians, still running on E! entertainment television.

    Kim Kardashian (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

    Kim Kardashian (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

  18. Alana “Honey Boo-Boo” Thompson is the namesake of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, a reality TV show that has been criticized for dropping the bar of entertainment to a low thought unattainable. This, of course, means the ratings are through the roof. The show features Alana and her family – June “Mama” Shannon, Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon, Anna “Chickadee” Shannon, Jessica “Chubbs” Shannon and Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson. The family was first introduced on Toddlers in Tiaras another reality show based around junior miss beauty pageants and those who participate. Alana’s family was found to have a distinct appeal that’s been related to rubber-necking a horrible car accident. Their white-trash,Georgia redneck lifestyle has been recorded for austerity for the past two years, and been renewed for yet another season.

    Honey Boo-Boo (image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció  on flickr)

    Honey Boo-Boo (image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció on flickr)

  19. Nicole Richie gained fame through her FOX reality show The Real Life, where she and cohort Paris Hilton paraded outside the safety net of the posh life styles in which they were raised, to experience how the other half lives. It is widely believed that Nicole is the natural born daughter of Lionel Richie, given the shared surname, and even some similarities in appearance. The truth, however, is quite different. Born Nicole Escovedo, she is actually the daughter of Richie’s former bandmate, and moved in with the former Commodore front man and his wife at the age of 3, for financial reasons. Six years later, the Richies officially adopted Nicole. Find out more in her biography.

    Nicole Richie (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

    Nicole Richie (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

  20. Joaquin Phoenix was born the third of five children to John Lee and Arlyn Bottom in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The couple were married in 1968, and soon joined the controversial cult the Children of God, a mixture of free love culture and the love of Christ. They began traveling all over South America and soon built their family with their children River, Summer, Joaquin, Liberty and Rain all being born between 1970 and 1978. By 1978, the parents had grown weary of the cult, and moved back to the US. They changed their last name to Phoenix to symbolize their new beginning. The kids became street performers, and they faithfully sang and played instruments to provide food and support for the family. Before long, a talent agent was hired, and the kids entered the world of acting, to varied levels of success. Read the rest of Joaquin’s roller coaster ride of a career in this biography.

    Joaquin Phoenix (image courtesy of Stephanie Lenz on flickr)

    Joaquin Phoenix (image courtesy of Stephanie Lenz on flickr)

  21. Shania Twain has shown she’s got what it takes to be a top country star, and has 5 Grammys to prove it. But then, this troubadour has a wealth of experience to draw on for the heartfelt emotion portrayed in her songs. Twain’s mother, Sharon married her stepfather, Jerry Twain when Shania was four. Though there was love and support in the family, there often wasn’t money or food. As a result, the parent’s had a tumultuous relationship, and Shania was not only a witness, but sometimes even a victim of the violence that ensued. Then, in 1987, Twain’s parents were both killed in a car accident, leaving the 21 year old alone to raise her siblings. Over the next six years, the children grew up and moved on, and Shania was finally able to share her music with the world. Read more in her incredible biography.

    Shania Twain (image courtesy of Sara Collaton on flickr)

    Shania Twain (image courtesy of Sara Collaton on flickr)

  22. Kathy Griffin has made a career out of dishing out the dirt on anyone and everyone who crosses her path, from the nuns she experienced early in life, to the celebrities she tries so hard to harass on a daily basis now. It is good to see that she is not afraid to be candid about her own life as well – or at least her brother’s. In her memoir, Official Book Club Selection, Griffin reveals that her brother was a wife beater and pedophile who was sexually inappropriate with Kathy since she was a wee child. Read more about this and other snippets from her book here.

    Kathy Griffin (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

    Kathy Griffin (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

  23. MacKenzie Phillips is the daughter of famed musician John Phillips, founder of the Mamas and the Papas. MacKenzie came into acclaim of her own as a child actress, first starring in American Graffiti, and then for a run on the TV show One Day at a Time. However, she was fired from the latter because of a drug problem that spiraled out of control. Several years later, MacKenzie admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with her father as an adult. She has since come to consider herself a victim of incest by her predatory father. Read more about her revelations here.

    MacKenzie Phillips (image courtesy of Greg Hernandez on flickr)

    MacKenzie Phillips (image courtesy of Greg Hernandez on flickr)

  24. Jason Sudeikis is one of many celebrities to participate in the television series Who Do You Think You Are? He wanted to find out more about his grandfather, who died when Jason’s father Nick was only two. However, Sudeikis got a much bigger surprise than he expected. Reviews of census reports from around the turn of the century through the 20’s revealed that Stanley Sudeikis, Jason’s great-grandfather, actually had a dual life, with a second family. Find out more about this strange twist here.

    Jason Sudeikis (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

    Jason Sudeikis (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr)

  25. At the age of 17, Jordin Sparks became the (then) youngest-ever contestant to win American Idol. Since then her life has been a whirlwind, filled by concerts with stars like Alicia Keys, Britney Spears and the Jonas brothers, as well as performing for both Presidents Bush and Obama. She has also racked up a number of awards and nominations. However, This little wunderkind is far from new to the shine of the spotlight. Her father is Phillippi Sparks, a former NFL corner back, who played for both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

    Jordin Sparks (image courtesy of Christine Leiser on flickr)

  26. Rose McGowan has become an actress of some note, starring in the film Scream and TV’s Charmed, but she has not always led such a charmed life. The first nine years of her life were spent growing up in the controversial religious cult known as Children of God (now Family International). The group mixed the ideals of a free love culture with the love of Christ. Even at an early age, McGowan saw something suspicious in the cult’s practices. She saw that women were treated as sex slaves for the men, and knew she did not want to be one of those women. Her father pulled her out of the organization when the group began considering allowing sex between children and adults. Read the whole story here.

    Rose McGowan (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

    Rose McGowan (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

  27. Jaden Smith, though only just a teenager, has already made quite a name for himself as an up and comer on the Hollywood scene. He has already starred in three major movies that all opened at number one including The Pursuit of Happyness and The Karate Kid. He also earned a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a young actor for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Of course, the young star comes from sturdy acting stock. He is the son of actor Will Smith and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, and older brother to another bright new face, Willow Smith. Though, they were born and raised in the glamor of Hollywood, their parents try to keep the kids grounded by having them work with charities, to help remind them how lucky they have it compared to so many others.

    Will and Jaden Smith (image courtesy of El Hormiguero  on flickr)

    Will and Jaden Smith (image courtesy of El Hormiguero on flickr)

  28. Miley Cyrus is a former child star cum pop diva with famous family roots. Her father is, of course, country music star Billy Ray Cyrus. Miley began her career early as an actress, with one of her most memorable characters being Disney’s Hannah Montana, a persona the songstress has been trying very hard of late to shake. But did you know that Miley has some seriously talented siblings as well? It’s true! Step-brother Trace is a tatted up rock star, and step sister Brandi has recently signed with Interscope Records as part of the pop duo Frank and Derol. You can read more about this talented family here.

    Miley Cyrus (image courtesy of benyupp on flickr)

    Miley Cyrus (image courtesy of benyupp on flickr)

  29. Robin Thicke has been tearing up the R&B charts lately, most notably with his multi-platinum album The Evolution of Robin Thicke. Though his younger fans might not see it, their parents probably instantly recognize the rock star as the son of songwriter/actor Alan Thicke. Robin not only shares his father’s name, but is a much better looking version of the elder Thicke as a young man. However, what you may not know is that Robin is also the son of daytime soap star Gloria Loring of Days of Our Lives fame. You can find out more about Robin here, or better yet, find out what his mother has to say about him.

    Robin Thicke (image courtesy of Ambika on flickr)

    Robin Thicke (image courtesy of Ambika on flickr)

  30. Robert Downey, Jr. is known worldwide as Iron Man’s Tony Stark, the genius son of Howard Stark – a genius entrepreneur in his own right. However, what few people realize is that Downey, Jr.’s namesake and father is also a Hollywood talent. Even though, like Tony and Howard Stark, Robert, Sr.’s star has not burned as bright as his son’s, Downey, Sr. has built up quite a cult following as a writer, director and producer, as well as an occasional actor. He did include his son in some of his earlier projects, including Pound, and perhaps his best known and most controversial work Greaser’s Palace. You can read more about the father here, and the son here.

    Robert Downey, Jr. (image courtesy of Alyssa Patton on flickr)

    Robert Downey, Jr. (image courtesy of Alyssa Patton on flickr)

  31. Drew Barrymore has been in the spotlight most of her life, having captured America’s heart at the age of 7 for her role in ET, directed by her godfather, Steven Spielberg. Not long after her film debut, she gained a reputation as an out of control party girl, gaining the reputation while still a young teen. She has since overcome her addictions and recovered in her career. She may have been forgiven for her trespasses somewhat because of her growing up in a famous Hollywood family. Her father was actor John Drew Barrymore, Jr., her grandparents John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, and her great-grandparents Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew. Find out how this latest member of the Barrymore clan is carrying on her family’s tradition in her biography.

    Drew Barrymore (image provided courtesy of Ale Vergara Frade on flickr)

    Drew Barrymore (image provided courtesy of Ale Vergara Frade on flickr)

  32. Angelina Jolie is without question one of the most recognizable people anywhere, and possible of any time, and it is not without reason. Unquestionably, Jolie’s beauty places her solidly along side the most memorable Hollywood starlets, but she also has the acting chops to back up her reputation as one of today’s top stars. This is not really a surprise, considering she’s the offspring of Oscar winning actor Jon Voight – though their relationship has been admittedly strained over the years. Of late, Jolie has started a family of her own with partner Brad Pitt. Though the two announced their engagement in 2012, they said they won’t get married until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere. Still, the two have accumulated quite a brood over the years. Their kids include Phnom (adopted in Cambodia), Zahara (adopted in Ethiopia), Shiloh, Pax (adopted in Viet Nam), and twins Knox and Vivienne.

    Angelina Jolie (image courtesy of brandflair on flickr)

    Angelina Jolie (image courtesy of brandflair on flickr)

  33. Lindsay Lohan has built up quite a reputation for herself as a child star gone bad. She continually appears in the media in the most unflattering of situations. She has faced several criminal charges and battled with drug abuse. However, though people aren’t exactly forgiving of her behavior, they are at least somewhat understanding when her upbringing is more closely examined. And as if to stoke that fire, it recently became public knowledge that Lindsay has a secret half-sister, Ashley Kaufman, who is 17 years old, placing her right between Lindsay’s younger siblings Aliana and Dakota. Ashley is a product of Lindsay’s father’s infidelity, just one of the many factors in the star’s stormy childhood.

    Lindsay Lohan (image courtesy of jingdianmeinv1 on flickr)

    Lindsay Lohan (image courtesy of jingdianmeinv1 on flickr)

  34. Kiefer Sutherland has been a staple in Hollywood since the early 80’s starring in such films as The Lost Boys, Stand By Me, and  Flatliners. However, he is probably best known as Jack Bauer on TV’s 24. He was born the son of acting parents Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas in 1966 in London, England. However, when his parents divorced in 1971, Kiefer went with his mother to Canada, where he attended Catholic boarding school until the age of 15. At that time, the acting bug took over, and he left on his own to pursue a career in Hollywood.

    Kiefer Sutherland (image courtesy of Kristin Dos Santos  on flickr)

    Kiefer Sutherland (image courtesy of Kristin Dos Santos on flickr)

  35. Martin Sheen is an actor of great accomplishments, perhaps known best for his roles as U.S. Army special operations officer Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, and as the president we all wish we could have, Jed Bartlet, in The West Wing. Actually, Sheen has played the president several times, but this is probably the most favored role. But it seems leaving behind a lengthy list of film, stage and television credits wasn’t enough for Martin. He has also added to the entertainment industry his four children, Emilio, Ramon,Carlos, and Renee’. All of them have followed in their father’s footsteps in one way or another. They all work under their given names (surname Estevez) with the exception of Carlos, who adopted his father’s moniker, and is better known as Charlie Sheen.

    Martin Sheen (image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció on flickr)

    Martin Sheen (image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció on flickr)

  36. Christopher Walken was the son of Rosalie and Paul Walken, both first generation immigrants. Following their mothers dreams of stardom, Christopher (born Ronald) and his two brothers, Kenneth and Glen were child television actors in the 1950’s, launching Chris’ Hollywood career. For a short stint as a teenager, Walken had another father of sorts. There was a man who ran a circus, and had a lion taming act. He thought it would be great to have his son join him during performances. Unfortunately, he had no children. So he asked young Ronald (Christopher) to don the costume and play his son, which is how Chris Walken gained a second father and  became a lion tamer. Read more about this and more interesting Walken tidbits here.

    Christopher Walken (image courtesy of David Shankbone)

    Christopher Walken (image courtesy of David Shankbone)

  37. Tom Cruise grew up in a Catholic household filled with chaos. His father Thomas Cruise Mapother III, was an electrical engineer by trade, which led to the family moving about constantly. But more than this, his father was a manipulative and abusive man. Tom has called him a bully, a coward, and a “merchant of chaos”. Cruise’s mother divorced his father when he was 12, and took Tom and his sisters to the US. His mother remarried soon after, and his father died of cancer at the age of 49. Tom went to see his father on his deathbed. It was the first time they’d spoken in 10 years, and the elder Cruise only agreed to the visit on the condition they not speak about the past. Having made it through all the rough times, Cruise sees it as an important lesson in his life. But has it affected his ability to have a relationship? Find out here.

    Tom Cruise (image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on flickr)

    Tom Cruise (image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on flickr)

  38. Nicolas Cage first came on to the acting scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. A close inspection of the credits will not reveal a Nicolas Cage, however, but instead you’ll find Nicolas Coppola. That’s because Cage is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola, and wanted to eliminate the appearance of nepotism in his career. Soon after Fast Times, he changed his name in honor of comic book character Luke Cage. However, his famous relatives stretch even further, including actress Talia Shire, actors Robert Carmine and Jason Schwartzman, and of course many more Coppolas. He has been married to both Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie Presley. His current wife, Alice Kim, a former waitress, bore him his son Kal-El (after Superman’s Kryptonian birth name). Luckily, to maintain his legacy, Cage had a 9 foot tall pyramid shaped tomb built for his final resting place in New Orleans.

    Nicolas Cage (image courtesy of Kevin Tostado on flickr)

    Nicolas Cage (image courtesy of Kevin Tostado on flickr)

  39. Britney Spears was on the track to stardom from early on in life. She started attending dance classes by three, and was trying out for the Mickey Mouse Club when she was eight. At the time, she was rejected for being too young, but pushed into further training. By 11, she was a cast member and on her way to stardom. A blockbusting pop career followed, and then she tried to start a family. Her first marriage lasted 55 hours. In 2004, she married dancer Kevin Federline, and the two had two children, Sean in 2005, and Jayden in 2006. Pictures surfaced of Brittney driving with her son on her lap instead of a car seat, in February 2006. Both Spears and Federline exhibited outrageous behavior over the next several months, and were divorced in 2007. Federline unsuccessfully sued for custody of the children, though the couple leave many wondering if either is fit for parenthood.

    Britney Spears (image courtesy of Eva Renaldi on flickr)

    Britney Spears (image courtesy of Eva Renaldi on flickr)

  40. Toni Collette is an Academy Award nominated actress, most well known for her roles in The Sixth Sense and Little Miss Sunshine. Apparently, she came by acting quite naturally. She tells a story about fooling her doctors at age 11. It seems her mother had appendicitis when she was 11, and had told her daughter about the experience, including the symptoms. “I just wanted to fake my appendicitis and see what it would be like to be cut open,” she said. Collette faked appendicitis so well that doctors actually removed her organ.

    Toni Collette (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on Google Images)

    Toni Collette (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on Google Images)

  41. Few actors can claim a career as diverse as Leonardo DiCaprio. Starting as a bit player in several TV sitcoms, he moved into the movies with Critters 3 in 1991, at the age of 16. Six short years and several critically acclaimed roles later found him starring as Jack Dawson in the blockbuster Titanic, and his legacy as a Hollywood icon was sealed. He has his parents to thank for much of this. His father, George DiCaprio, was an underground comic book writer, publisher and distributor, and worked with the likes of Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. He and his wife recognized their son’s talent and ambition early, and got him signed with an agent as a young child. Leo has never forgotten their support, and recently brought his father with him to Cannes.

    Leonardo Di Caprio (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr

    Leonardo Di Caprio (image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi on flickr

  42. Katey Sagal is probably best known as Peg Bundy from the TV show Married with Childre., She has also gone on to do much voice over work including Leela from Futurama. Previous to these engagements she had some success, but other family members beat her to the limelight. Her father was a director of films and TV shows, and she has twin sisters, Jean and Liz who were both actors as well. They were the twin cheerleaders in Grease 2, as well as starring in their own television show, Double Trouble.  They also starred in Wrigley’s long-running “Doublemint Twins” ad campaigns. Today they keep busy working mostly behind the scenes.

    Katy Sagal (image courtesy of Joella Marano on flickr)

    Katy Sagal (image courtesy of Joella Marano on flickr)

  43. Diane Lane has made a great acting career starting with movies like A Little Romance, The Outsiders, and Rumble Fish. More recent films include Unfaithful and A Perfect Storm. Lane says now that in some ways, her early life was a perfect storm. Her mother, Colleen Farrington was a Playboy Playmate of the Month (October, 1957) and nightclub singer. Her father, Burton Lane was a drama coach. The two split when Diane was just 13 weeks old. Her mother went to Mexico and obtained a divorce, maintaining custody of her daughter for six years. Her father regained custody when Lane’s mother moved back to Georgia. At 15, Diane declared her independence from her father and ran off to Los Angeles with Christopher Atkins. She soon regained her senses and returned to Manhattan, only to be kidnapped by her mother shortly after. Diane and her father successfully challenged her mother in court, and Lane was able to return to New York. She did not talk to her mom for another three years, though there has been some reconciliation since then. Read more in her biography.

    Diane Lane (image by Siebbi)

    Diane Lane (image by Siebbi)

  44. Demi Moore has been a popular actress for several years, first coming to prominence as the tragedy-wrought Jules in St. Elmo’s Fire. It’s possible Moore pulled on many of her own experiences to bring depth to this character. Demi’s biological father abandoned her and her mother before she was even born. Her mother soon married Danny Guynes, whom Moore assumed was her real father until she was an adolescent. Unfortunately Guynes was a gambler who couldn’t keep a job, and kept the family on the move constantly. To make things worse, both he and Moore’s mother were alcoholics and fought both verbally and physically. This culminated in Guynes suicide by carbon monoxide asphyxiation when Moore was 16. This finally pushed Demi, with encouragement from her friend Nastassja Kinski, to drop out of school and become a pin-up model, which soon launched her career. Read more in Demi’s biography.

    Demi Morre (image by David Shankbone on flickr)

    Demi Morre (image by David Shankbone on flickr)

  45. Eric Clapton is known as a master of the blues, and he has a background that certainly supports his right to sing them. Eric Patrick Clapton was born in his grandparent’s house in 1945. His mother, Patricia Clapton was just 16 years old, and his father was a married Canadian soldier named Edward Fryer, who was stationed in England during World War II. When the war ended, Fryer returned to his wife, and Patricia was left to raise their child alone, quite a daunting task for a 16 year old girl. Instead, her parents, Rose and Jack Clapp, stepped in as surrogate parents, and raised Eric as their own. Clapton’s last name came from his grandmother’s first husband, and Pat’s father, Reginald Clapton. Eric did not realize the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother until he was 9 years old, though he always thought it strange that he signed his last name as Clapton, when his parent’s name was Clapp. Read more in Clapton’s biography.

    Eric Clapton (image courtesy of Alex G on flickr)

    Eric Clapton (image courtesy of Alex G on flickr)

  46. Keanu Reeve whose first name loosely translates as “cool breeze over the mountain” is known for playing brooding, emotional characters. Some of this may come from his early life issues. His mother was a showgirl and his father abandoned him as a toddler. A succession of stepfathers and moves around the world assured an unstable environment for the young man. He attended five high schools in just four years, and though even trying to finish school while acting, never attained a high school degree. Keanu’s life has continued to be marred with tragedy, despite professional success.

    Keanu Reeve (image courtesy of Y! Musica on flickr)

    Keanu Reeve (image courtesy of Y! Musica on flickr)

  47. Alexander Skarsgard is becoming a household name for his portrayal of Eric Northman on HBO’s True Blood. He is not new to the acting scene however, he worked for several years in Sweden, getting his first acting break at the age of seven by a director friend of his father and fellow actor, Stellan Skarsgard. Stellan has been a fixture in both Swedish and American media for over 40 years, in such films as Good Will Hunting and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Like Martin Sheen, apparently a strong body of work was not enough of a legacy. He also has six children, Alexander, Gustav, Sam, Bill, Eija and Valter, four of whom are also actors.

    Alexander Skarsgard (image courtesy of David Shankbone on flickr)

    Alexander Skarsgard (image courtesy of David Shankbone on flickr)

  48. Jennifer Aniston is known as “America’s girl next door” She once spawned the highest demand haircut in modern history, and is a permanent fixture in people’s minds as Rachel from TV’s Friends. Though her movies have never amounted to anything of particular note, she has managed to amass a significant filmography of at least somewhat profitable projects. One thing she can claim however, is that she’s managed to outshine her acting father, John Aniston. A native of Greece, John has been in and out of television roles for the past 50 years. He is best known for his role as Victor Kiriakis on Days of Our Lives, whom he has portrayed since 1985, though he has been a regular cast member since 1975.

    Jennifer Aniston (image courtesy of Pimkie on flickr)

    Jennifer Aniston (image courtesy of Pimkie on flickr)

  49. Josh Brolin was born to wildlife activist and aspiring actress Jane Agee and actor James Brolin, though he spent much of his time surrounded by the Hollywood lifestyle, he was determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps. In fact he spent much of his first 15 years trying to avoid it. However, after performing in a high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire, he had the acting bug. He has gone on to star in a number of movies including True Grit and Men in Black 3. His parents divorced when he was 16, and his mother was tragically killed in a car accident years later. Not that anyone could ever replace his mother, but his stepmother is none other than Barbra Streisand. Read more about Josh in this bio.

    Josh Brolin (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

    Josh Brolin (image courtesy of gdcgraphics on flickr)

  50. And finally, what list of interesting celebrity families would be complete without the most famous family of all -The Royal Family. The Queen is Sovereign to 16 Commonwealth realms around the world from Australia to Antigua, Canada to Cameroon, not to mention the UK itself. The Queen and other working members of the royal family carry out a number of official duties, which mostly involve public appearances and overseeing some matters of state. Of course, it is the fairy tale like lifestyle of the royals (and catching them being not so royal) that holds the public’s constant interest. The lives of the likes of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Diana, Fergie, Harry and so many more have kept the masses entertained for years. Royal weddings are the things of folklore, and events such as the birth, or anticipation of, a new royal heir such as William and Kate’s son George, will always be solid headline fodder.

    Wedding of William and Kate (image courtesy of Comrade Foot on flickr)

    Wedding of William and Kate (image courtesy of Comrade Foot on flickr)

If you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the lives of celebrities. You can find many more interesting stories with a little work of your own. http://www.biography.com  and its sister site, http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk are great resources for all sorts of biographies, both condensed and in depth. http://www.starpulse.com has hundreds of short celebrity sketches, loaded with interesting tidbits, as does http://www.nndb.com if it’s musicians you’re interested in, you cant beat http://www.rollingstone.com their profiles of musicians is nothing short of amazing, and they leave no details unreported. Of course, these are only a few of the hundreds, even thousands of sites that cover celebrities. The list of newspapers and gossip pages out there would take days to list, much less read. But there you are, a wealth of information at your fingertips. Happy Hunting!