Podcasts for Genealogy

By: Carolyn L. Barkley


I freely admit that I am not a cutting-edge type of person with regard to new technologies. This tendency has become more pronounced with retirement, as I am no longer presented with new hardware or software by a progressive municipal IT department. Thus, I have only begun to listen to podcasts at a time when many of my genealogical colleagues have moved on to live webinars, Second Life, and other more innovative formats.

My interest in exploring the world of podcasts was heightened during the recent RootsTech 2012 conference in early February. Knowing my predilection to remain within my technological comfort-zone (I turn it on; it works; I don’t need to know how), I attended the conference to learn more about new technologies and how they can improve my genealogical research. I wasn’t disappointed.

Lisa Louise Cooke, the host of several podcasts, including The Genealogy Gems Podcast, Family History: Genealogy Made Easy, and the Family Tree Magazine Podcast, presented a lecture in which she discussed genealogical podcasts. From her lecture I learned that a podcast is basically an online radio show. A later Google search amplified my understanding with Dictionary.com’s definition of a podcast as a “digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, which can be downloaded from a web site to a media player or computer.” The term itself is fairly new, first mentioned in The Guardian newspaper in 2004. By the following year, Apple provided support for the emerging podcast format through iTunes. A series of copyright law suits over the use of the name “pod” ensued due to its apparent derivation from the name of Apple’s iPod.

The easiest way to locate genealogy podcasts is through iTunes. You do not need to be a Mac user to use iTunes; the software is available for download to your computer at no cost. You can listen to the downloaded files on any device with media player capabilities. Once on the iTunes site, select “podcasts” from the black navigation bar at the top of the page and then search for “genealogy.” I discovered two screens of available podcasts, although some of the topics were dubious subject matches (Bible study and other religious format podcasts, for example). Taxonomies being somewhat idiosyncratic, my subsequent search for “genealogy podcast” reduced this more extensive (and less relevant) list of podcasts to only fifty-six entries, most of which were more specifically genealogical in nature. The range of genealogical topics is wide and subscriptions are available at no cost. As a subscriber, you are notified automatically when new episodes are available. If you do not wish to subscribe to a series, you may select from individual episodes (more easily accomplished from the podcast website, I found, than from iTunes). Although all of the podcasts mentioned in this article are available on iTunes, all but one of the links provided are to the podcast websites.

A very good introduction to podcasts can be found in the Podcast Primer, published online by Family Tree Magazine. From the primer, I learned about PodcastAlley, a site that describes itself as “the best place to find all information relating to podcasts and podcasting. We are striving to develop the biggest and best directory of podcasts (podcast directory) available on the Internet.” You can also locate genealogical podcasts (currently twenty-nine are listed) at this site.

One of my favorite podcasts is The Genealogy Guys Podcast, hosted by Drew Smith and George Morgan. This podcast is described as the “longest running regularly produced” podcast (since 2005), with over 3,000 users worldwide. The most recent episode features interviews that Drew conducted at Rootstech 2012. Live from the expo hall, the background noise both produces the immediacy of a “you-are-there” experience and conveys the energy and excitement that existed during that event. The interviews on the 29 February 2012 segment included David Rencher, the FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer; author, researcher, and speaker, Lisa Alzo; and FamilySearch CEOs past and present Jay Verkler and Dennis Brimhall, both general session speakers. Other recent episodes discussed the new season of Who Do You Think You Are?, Fold3’s new Black History Collection, and a partnership between Ancestry.com and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to bring three hundred years of Pennsylvania records online. Even if you have subscribed to The Genealogy Guys Podcast through iTunes, you will also want to visit the Genealogy Guys website, which shares listener email and reviews of new genealogical resources. Both the podcast and the website are great ways to stay up-to-date with news and information about genealogical matters.

Genealogy on Demand is hosted by Shamele Jordon, whose accomplishments include, among other things, researcher for the PBS series African American Lives; Advisory Board member of the Family Reunion Institute of Temple University; and lecturer at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. Recent episodes include “Saving Stories,” Enhancing Your Digital Archives,” and Pedigree Analysis: Back to the Basics.

Lisa Louise Cook, mentioned earlier, is host to Family Tree Podcast, a product of Family Tree Magazine. This podcast is produced monthly and its audience is the genealogical beginner. That said, it also offers valuable news and information about resources, websites and genealogical records. A recent episode contained “news from the blogosphere,” with information on Who Do You Think You Are?; top tips from the most recent issue of Family Tree Magazine; a discussion of Evernote; information about organizing your family archive; the “Social Media Minute,” providing information about how to make it easier to connect with other genealogists online; and the publisher’s desk behind the scenes look at Family Tree Magazine. Family Tree Podcasts episodes are under an hour, but they offer new ideas or insights to pursue at more length.

Podcasts may have a regional focus. For example, Digging Up Your Roots provides access to four episodes of BBC Radio Scotland’s genealogical series. These episodes feature individuals sharing stories about their families and their research. I listed to an episode entitled “Artifacts and Family Heirlooms” during which an individual whose relative, Winifred Innis, joined famous aerialists, the Wallendas, during the 1930s, related stories gleaned from Winifred’s diary and discussed how the storyteller’s  research had uncovered more details about her life. Another individual called in to describe a Titanic medal that one of his relatives had been awarded while aboard the Carpathia. Other British Isles-related podcasts include BBC Radio 4’s Tracing Your Roots and The National Archives Podcast. Other regional podcasts include Genies Down Under (Australia), CanGenealogy Radio (Canada), Polish Genealogy, Irish Family Café, Fibis (Families in British India), and Nuestra Familia Unida.

Podcasts can also focus on specific techniques. One example is Ancestry.com’s Webinars, a collection of live online conferences that may be viewed later as podcasts. Sixty-nine episodes are available, with some of the more recent including “Using Tree Hints,” and “Did They Really Come Through New York?”

I believe that genealogists are some of the most active life-long learners in existence. Our research leads us down new paths that require us constantly to acquire new knowledge and new methodologies. Podcasts represent a useful tool in that learning process. Some of the podcasts mentioned above add new episodes on a regular basis; others are more dated, although still available. Listen to several episodes of a variety of podcasts to determine which subscriptions will be the most applicable to your research, and be alert to superseded or outdated information. More information about podcasts is available in Drew Smith’s Social Networking for Genealogists (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009). By spending as little as an hour a week listening to podcasts, you will be well-informed about what’s new in genealogy and will add to your skills. It will be time well spent.


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