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Genealogy Guide

The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Genealogy

About Rachel Hey Rachel here! Thanks for making it to the end of my guide, I know it’s not exactly short :p Hopefully I’ve given you everything you need to get started with the world’s most popular hobby. In a little over 2 years I’ve managed to trace my family back to the 1600s – something I’m very proud of. Now it’s over to you…! Follow Us facebook 0 Followers Search Hobby Help

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Genealogy is a captivating hobby that not only brings the past alive, but also informs you of your place in the present: how did you come to exist?

You may be surprised to discover the influence that your ancestors have had on your life in the present day.

And you may even learn a cool family story or two about Great-Aunt Irma’s life aboard a pirate ship or Cousin Christopher’s job in the White House.

This guide will help you get started with your research. It will explain:

  • step-by-step how to organize your findings
  • which records to examine first
  • how to conduct oral histories
  • and more.

But first, in case you still need convincing…

what genealogy is so great

6 Reasons You’ll Love Genealogy!

1) Learn more about your cultural heritage

where do all your family traditions come from?

From food and holiday celebrations to music and hobbies—so many beloved aspects of our lives are often passed down to us by our ancestors.

Once you have a solid grasp of your family’s history, you’ll know why you live where you live, speak the language you speak, and more. Plus, you’ll finally know how your third cousin twice-removed is actually related to you!

2) Connect with living family members

Maybe your grandfather fought in WWII or your great-aunt immigrated from Poland or your distant cousin was imprisoned during a high-profile protest.

Get to know your relatives better by speaking with them as you piece together your family story. Additionally, if you opt to order DNA tests, you may discover living relatives you never even knew about!

3) Find out if you qualify for citizenship in another country

Different countries have different rules, and things can get very complicated. But if your family has close ties to another country, then you might have a chance of acquiring dual citizenship. More on this topic below.

4) Hone your research skills

Compiling data, synthesizing and organizing it in a sensible way, interpreting a variety of source material, and learning how to navigate libraries and archives are all crucial and transferable research skills.

5) Indulge your love of history

Genealogy offers a fascinating mix of local, family history and much broader historical trends.

As you research, you’ll likely find that your family members have been involved in or affected by major world events.

Wars, plagues, famines, mass immigration movements, environmental disaster, large-scale religious conversions, changes in labor and production, new technology: you’ll gain an appreciation for how your family members adapted to their surroundings. Plus, you’ll learn a ton about history in general.

6) You might just get hooked

I’m not saying you should quit your day job to become a professional genealogist, but stranger things have happened!

What’s the difference between genealogy and family history?

In many ways, what you get out of genealogical research depends on what you want to learn.

Here we can draw a distinction between genealogy and family history.

Some enthusiasts are super into genealogy: they want to identify as many ancestors as they can going as far back as possible and to understand the web of relationships binding them together.

Other people are more into family history, which has a narrower focus.

They may concentrate on a small handful of ancestors or trace only one line back through their family trees, but they learn everything possible about that narrow slice of history.

Often, family historians seek to craft a cohesive narrative telling the story of a branch of the family.

Of course, there’s plenty of overlap between genealogy and family history, and in fact, with enough time on your hands, you can do both!

5 steps to getting started

Endless records (or frustrating gaps in records), dozens of cousins, and an absolute glut of potential resources to use…Many newcomers to genealogical research find it daunting, and rightly so!

That’s why I’m boiling it down to a step-by-step process.

This guide is long and packed with info, but you don’t have to do everything all at once!

Here are the first few steps you should take as you begin to explore your past:

1) Get (and stay) organized

Decide now how you’ll keep your research organized.

Do you have somewhere—a filing cabinet, a set of folders, or some binders—to keep track of any paper documents you acquire?

Perhaps a photo album for images?

Do you want to arrange things alphabetically by surname, chronologically by birth year, or according to some other system?

Will each individual ancestor be kept in a separate file, or will you group family units together?

Next, consider computer programs, such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic 7, and decide if these programs will help you organize your findings. Alternatively, look into online platforms such as

family tree maker

Finally, remember to keep information standardized.

One general rule of thumb is to use birthnames; people change their names for various reasons, often for marriage, and consistently using birthnames will make it easier not to confuse people.

Same goes for nicknames—maybe your great-grandmother went by her middle name instead of her first, or everyone called your distant cousin by a nickname.

When this comes up, simply decide how you want to refer to them, and keep it consistent.

2) Make a family tree

Whether you’re a budding genealogist seeking to trace your family back to ancient Rome, or a family history fan tracing just a few family members, it’s helpful to draw up a family tree to stay organized.

As you go through the process, you’ll discover what format for organizing your tree works best for you.

This tree will serve as a valuable framework that helps you keep track of everyone and the relationships between them. Sort of like making a character map for a complicated work of fiction like Game of Thrones!

Here’s a list of 20 online family tree builders so you can get a sense of the possibilities. And remember it’s just fine to start out low-tech with a pencil and paper.

3) Consider what you want to know

Deciding what is most important to you will help you decide where to start.

Have you always wanted to know more about Grandpa Joe’s wild stories?

Are there unconfirmed family legends that you’re related to a celebrity?

You have to start somewhere, so it’s often best to start with something that intrigues you.

4) Talk with your oldest living family members

Ask them to share stories about their own lives and about their parents, grandparents, and other members of the older generations.

Do they have old photos, records, or historical items they can show you? You’ll likely want to record these interviews so that you can revisit them later. Jump to our section on oral history below for more tips.

5) Go to census records

Once you’re ready to take the research plunge, consider starting with census records.

These records tend to be very accessible: online and searchable! And they’re quite simple and easy to interpret.

Census records are therefore an excellent first foray into the vast world of family records and documentation that awaits you.

All about records

Here is an overview of the many and varied kinds of records you will use to learn more about your family.

Census Records

1940 census poster

The census is a solid record of people living in the United States all the way back to the 18th century.

Since 1790, the United States government has conducted a census once every decade to obtain information on the country’s population and the composition of its households. There are gaps in census records however—for example, most of the 1890 census went up in flames!

Where can you find census records?

They are accessible online through, as well as through HeritageQuest, available at some libraries.

Another option is to visit the National Archives or one of its branches, or a Family History Center.

You can also check in with your local public library to see if it has census records available, or if it can order them for you through interlibrary loan.

What does the census tell you?

It gives the name and living place of a given person and their household members.

Because of the way the census is set up, it can sometimes be hard or impossible to tell that two people are related simply by census records. It can even be tough to determine who was married to whom.

Census records come with some challenges

It should be noted that before the 20th century and in some areas even later, lots of people could not read or write, so you can expect some creative name spelling in census records.

Smith or Smythe, Galloway or Galway, Conley or Connolly. Plus, some people with foreign names had trouble getting them spelled correctly in the records.

Other immigrants changed their names to sound more American.

Remember The Great Gatsby back in high school literature?

The fictional Gatsby was born to a poor farming family with the name Gatz, but he changed his name to Gatsby at age 17 so he could fit more easily into American high society.

These kinds of name changes were quite common, especially among German, Jewish, or Irish immigrants trying to avoid discrimination.

As a side note, the myth that immigration officers at Ellis Island took it upon themselves to change immigrant names is just that, a myth. In fact, immigrants themselves were most often the ones who decided that a name change was in their best interests.

There actually is a way to get around the issue of inconsistent name spelling. It’s called Soundex, a system used by websites like Ancestry, which groups names by their sounds.

In this system, Smith and Smythe will both appear in the same group of names because they are simply alternate spellings of each other.

Soundex even adds some more unusual variants of names. It really is the best way to sort your way through the confusing maze that can be English spelling before literacy rates increased substantially.

Another complication? Many people did not keep track of birthdays, so you can expect ages to be rough or even contradictory. John was 19 in 1835, so how is he 24 in 1842?!

This may all sound discouraging, but as long as you keep in mind that census data is flawed in some cases, it can be incredibly useful. Here’s how:

The census gives you names. The census gives you dates. The census gives you places.

Names, dates, and places allow you to pinpoint your ancestors on the timeline.

If John and his wife Sarah appear in the Bronx, New York census for 1835, St. Louis, Missouri for 1842, and San Francisco, California in 1849, they were probably chasing after the gold rush. The census allows you to see where they were and when they were there.

Later censuses also include some additional information. Censuses conducted after 1850 supply information on every person in the household, including age and where they were born.

This makes later census data a lot more useful as it allows you not only to track individuals, but their families as a complete unit.

It’s a good place to begin any ancestry investigation because once you know time and place, you can widen your search to other sources that will provide better detail.

As you do this, be aware that towns change their names, new states form, and counties split, change names, or move. So if you know you had an ancestor in a certain area but cannot find records online, try to find out if the place they lived has changed names over the years.

Overall, census information is great for locating your ancestors in a particular moment in history, but you’ll need other sources to get the real details.

Courthouse records


Image source

So you’ve located some particular family members of interest by using old census data. Where do you go now?

Well, since you should now know where they lived in a given year, try the official courthouse records of that town or city.

Some (but certainly not all) of these records are now online, available through sites like Ancestry.

Though Ancestry does charge a subscription fee, many libraries around the country have their own subscriptions, so definitely try going to your local library and using their subscription if you’re on a tight budget or want to test it out first.

Local courthouses themselves typically have records on paper if you still live in the area or are willing to travel.

Court records include birth and death certificates, documentation of marriages and divorcesadoption recordsdeeds and property transfersrecords of legal issuestax records, and wills—basically anything that attracted the interest of the government enough to be written down.

Looking to track down some old family heirloom? Court records of wills may be able to help you with that one.

Of course, as the records get more recent, they also tend to get more complete and detailed, as already noted regarding census data.


Next, don’t hesitate to look up books on the local history of areas in which your ancestors lived.

These books may or may not mention the ancestors in question, but they will almost certainly provide valuable background information which can help you narrow your search.

Land Records

Land records are some of the most interesting records for learning more about the lives of your family members.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a massive compilation of federal land grants over the centuries.

If your ancestors went West in the 19th century, for example, they may well have used the Homestead Act of 1862 to acquire their land from the Federal Government. If this is the case, then there should be a written record of the transfer, and the BLM should have a copy.

A note on African-American ancestry: Another interesting aspect of land sale records is that after the Civil War, quite a few freed slaves decided to abandon places where they had been previously held in bondage and go West.

The edge of the expanding nation offered them opportunities that they did not have in the post-bellum South.

If you have African-American ancestry, one valuable online resource is the Freedmen’s Bureau (Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands).

This searchable website offers a wealth of records, including land records as well as information on military service and family matters such as births and marriages.

Land sale records may tell you where some of these former slaves went to build new lives for themselves.

Were they Oklahoma Sooners? Or maybe they eventually traveled as far from their old oppression as they could, and participated in the Alaskan Gold Rush in the Yukon.

Land records have real potential for revealing not only when and where individuals were, but also some of their motives.

Unlike the census, land records on their own tell a real story. The census simply shows who lived where and when. But land sale records show where people moved. You may have to speculate, but these speculations will be grounded in solid historical evidence.

With additional background research, you might just find out why they moved.

Perhaps your ancestors escaped slavery in Georgia and moved to New York, left New York due to debt, and then acquired land in what is now the state of Kansas. And then if you find them leaving Kansas and buying land in Wisconsin in 1858, they may well have been fleeing Bleeding Kansas, the violent prelude to the Civil War.

Or let’s say you find that your ancestors lived in Mississippi in 1923 but by 1935 had relocated to Albany, New York. Could they have been part of the historic Rapp Road community?

African-American migration to New York is part of the much larger Great Migration movement in the 20th century, in which 5+ million African Americans left the South to seek better opportunities in Northern and Western cities.

Land sales and their dates can begin to build a story.

If you find your ancestors selling land and moving during a time of crisis it’s quite likely that they were somehow swept up in the upheavals.

Immigration records

immigrants ellis island circa 1907

Most people who now call themselves American have ancestors who came to the country by ship from somewhere else. How should you go about tracking your immigrant ancestors through history?

There are several kinds of immigration-related records.

Since most immigrants arrived by ship, passenger lists are a good place to start.

Depending on the list, you may find information such as: names, ages, last known address, payment records, and intended destination in the United States.

Naturalization records will show you when and where your ancestors were accepted into the United States. Applications for naturalization typically state the person’s name, date and place of birth, and other information.

Where to find these kinds of immigration records? Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index is an excellent resource that indexes published passenger lists.

You can find this index through World Vital Records. Some passenger lists and naturalization records are now available online. To find applications for naturalization, try local court records.

By knowing when and where your family members came into America, you can begin to track them as they moved through the nation.

Once you know where your ancestors began their lives in the United States, you can use census records or land sale titles to pinpoint them further as they carried out their lives.

Military Records

fold3 military record

What about ancestors who served in the military? Can you find their service records? is a great resource for this, with records going all the way back to the American Revolution. Of course, given the chaotic nature of war, records may be incomplete, but this is a great place to start.

A lot of old unit rosters are also public information, as are lists of decorations and awards.

You can also ask people within your family, since military stories are often the type that get passed on through the family for generations.

Though your grandmother may have only been an infant in the First World War, she may well have sharp memories of what her father told her after he returned. Or what her own mother told her after her father didn’t return. This gets a bit more into the category of oral history, so more on that later.

As for written sources, try somewhere like Fold3 or the local courthouse to find indications of your ancestors’ military service.

Church Records

Where else to look to find further details on your family so that you can have a real story about their lives? Try your ancestors’ local church.

Churches historically have kept excellent records of their parishioners.

These records will naturally include birthsbaptismsmarriagesdivorcesdeathsburials, and the like, but may also have details on education.

Many people, especially in past centuries, received their education through their local religious institution, so church records may have clues about your ancestors’ schooling.

Also, what if you think you have a link to someone who lived very, very long ago? For instance, a medieval European ancestor?

Well, in the pre-industrial West, churches were effectively the best (in some cases only) source of written material. Using some of the sources above, you may manage to track some of your ancestors all the way back into the 16th century or beyond.

You can next try combing your way through old church documents, as it’s pretty likely that once you get far enough back, these will be the best records in existence. (Medieval and early modern genealogical research is tricky—more on this topic below).

Death Records

It might be morbid, but death records have a lot to teach us! These sources include death certificatesgrave markers, and obituaries.

The first is a good way to find where, when, and in some cases how your ancestor died. These are almost always stored in a local courthouse, but as already noted, websites like Ancestry should have these records in digital form for ease of reference.

Grave markers are a bit more personal and are typically not included in online databases unless they are special or unique in some way. Nonetheless, try searching to see if you have any luck!find_a_grave

Grave markers of course include names and dates, but may also contain additional facts, details, or quotations which either the deceased or the family thought significant.

Many tombstones include details like military unit, profession, or major achievements. They are often grouped by family, so you can find entire family units together in one place.

Grave markers also often have sayings or literary lines which that person liked, or which were fitting to the deceased’s personality. This is great, because now instead of knowing plain, dry facts, you can actually catch a glimpse of what the person was like.

Obituaries can do the exact same thing if written well. They’re typically found in newspapers: try checking, run by Ancestry, for copies of old newspapers from around the United States.

Obituaries not only give information on birth, education, career, and death, but often include more personal details. What music did the person like? Any hobbies? Tastes in art or literature?

Obituaries, again, if they are well-written, can work wonders in not only giving you plain facts, but in humanizing the person in question.

For example, one of the final lines in my great-grandfather’s obituary is “Atque in perpetuum frater, ave, atque vale.” This is the final line of a famous Latin poem by Catullus, which translates as “And so into eternity brother, hail, and goodbye.” This single line tells me that he appreciated Latin poetry, and that he and the friend who wrote his obituary were well-versed in classical literature.

Among records of death, obituaries possibly have the most potential to take your ancestors from names etched on headstones to real, breathing ghosts of who they once were.

If you are searching not only for dry facts and dates, but also for details that bring your ancestors alive in your mind, then obituaries are likely to serve you well.

Family Photos

Old photographs let you match names to faces!

Of course, there’s only so far back in time you can go, since photography was invented during the 19th century, but imagine how great it would be to have visual images of several generations of your family!

The simplest way to go about collecting photos is to call your relatives—odds are someone has an old photo or two floating around.

In addition to asking your relatives, you can wade through online collections of old photos: try and other genealogy websites. Online photo collections are hit-or-miss, but definitely worth a search.

Visiting the National Archives

National Archives in Washington D.C.

If you get the chance, visit the National Archives in Washington D.C. The Archives are a phenomenal resource to any genealogist. Many of the kinds of records described above are housed here. For instance:

  • Passenger lists
  • Native American records
  • Census records (1790-1940)
  • Military records
  • Information on federal land grants

Visit their website to get a sense of how the collections at the National Archives can help you and to start planning your visit.

On a more local level, consider a visit to your State Library, as these libraries contain similar records (census data, old newspapers, and so on) and can put you in touch with librarians and other genealogists.

Online Resources

Genealogical research can be painfully time-consuming, but there are websites that have done some of the work for you by collecting and compiling data.

These sites include the well-known (itself run by Ancestry), (similar to Ancestry), (for U.S. military service records),, and

The last one in particular, Cyndi’s List, is a massive list of virtually every genealogical website out there. Struggling to find the exact database you need? Cyndi’s List should have it, which makes it an especially useful tool in your search.

Remember that many of these sources charge a subscription fee, which can be hefty and also add up over time.

To keep your expenses low, check with your local library or university library, which probably has a subscription to all sorts of sources. This can save you a lot of money over time.

Heritage and genealogical societies

Local, county, state, and national heritage or genealogical societies are invaluable resources for you as well.

No matter what your heritage, a little Googling will probably turn up the relevant society. A few examples:

These societies are staffed by experts who can help get you past any roadblocks you encounter in your genealogical research.

They often have access to documents, images, or other records relevant to your heritage.

Many groups publish informative journals. And many hold festive community events, which can be a fun way celebrate everything you’ve learned so far about your family and meet other likeminded folks!

Oral history

Now for something a bit different.

We’ve gone over all sorts of paper records, all sorts of places you can find written documentation. But we’ve forgotten something in this whirlwind of paper: the oldest form of history is oral history.

Beowulf and The Song of Roland were spoken or sung in great halls before crowds of people long, long before either was written down.

Before the invention writing itself, there is no doubt that small family units huddled around their fires telling stories about their past, their present, and their hopes for the future.

It would be wrong of us to ignore history’s original medium: storytelling. So how do you begin collecting oral histories?

Start right now!

People often remember countless fantastic details of their lives, which you can match up with broader historical records not only for confirmation but for context.

Go and interview the most interesting people in your family, and start as early as you can.

It’s sad, but these people will not live forever. When they die, all their memories die with them.

Everything they ever knew or did or thought or said is gone forever. And your grandparents may even remember their own grandparents, thus pulling you two more generations into the past.

The elderly have truly amazing experiences and are incredible resources for learning about the past.

So interview your elderly relatives: you’ll be surprised by how much they know, by what things they have done or seen.

I had no idea until I asked my paternal grandmother that her own father was a machine gun officer in the British Expeditionary Force who had a leg blown off at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Now she and her father are both gone, and if I had never asked, I would never have known.

Oral history, history based on memory itself, is an invaluable tool which, unlike paper records which only seem to multiply, shrinks every day.

Here are some general guidelines for conducting oral history interviews:

  1. Record your interviews. You may be tempted to scribble notes as you interview, but it’s usually best to give the interviewee your full attention. With a recording, you can rest assured that you won’t miss anything.
  2. There are several ways to go about recording your interviews, so decide what best suits your needs. Do you want high-quality visual and audio that’s ready for a documentary? Or will a simple audio recording be sufficient? How long and where do you intend to store your interview recordings? And of course, what is your budget?
  3. Whatever equipment you choose, give it a test-run before you use it for interviews.
  4. Pick a quiet place for the interview if at all possible. Avoid the sounds of heavy traffic, construction, and so on, or you’ll pay for it later when you try to play back or transcribe the interview recording!
  5. Make a list of questions and topics you hope to cover. Otherwise, you are likely to forget something. That said, this shouldn’t be a definitive or exhaustive list; if your relative mentions something interesting that you hadn’t thought of, you should absolutely pursue that avenue as well.
  6. As for questions: aim for mostly open-ended questions, rather than ones that will elicit a simple yes/no answer. Instead of “So you immigrated to the US in 1940…?” try, “Why did you immigrate to the US in 1940?” or “What was it like immigrating to the US in 1940?”
  7. Start out each interview with a clear statement identifying the person being interviewed and the date and location of the interview.
  8. Listen attentively to your interviewee and resist any urges to interrupt (even with simple phrases like “Uh huh” or “Oh wow…”). If you wish to encourage or acknowledge your relative, try nodding your head or smiling instead, or commenting after s/he is done speaking. Above all, you want to give your relatives space to talk and tell their stories, and you also want a nice clean transcript without multiple people speaking at once.
  9. Pauses and silence are okay. Let your relative have time to think if necessary.
  10. Don’t go on for hours and hours. An hour or two should be enough for a good interview, and if you like, you can always go back for another!
  11. Take your relative out for lunch! (Or at the very least say thank you).
  12. Transcribe your interviews. It’s always good to have a searchable written record, as this will make finding information easier.

And there you have it: the raw material of oral history. Now it’s time to start thinking about how these stories and details fit into your larger genealogical project.

Where should I look to hire a professional?

You may run into roadblocks as you research.

Maybe you need to read documents in another language, travel to far-flung archives, or simply aren’t finding as much information as you’d hoped.

Or perhaps you need to build a rock-solid account of your ancestry to satisfy dual citizenship requirements.

In these cases, it may be time to bring in a professional if your budget allows.

You can find accredited genealogical researchers at the following places:

How much can you expect to pay for the services of an expert genealogist?

It’s impossible to say, since that will depend on the scope of the project, the skills and expertise needed to complete the research, the necessary timeframe, and various other factors.

I suggest using the above websites to find professionals who specialize in the area relevant to your interests (for example, Native American, Scots-Irish, or Greek Orthodox heritage). Contact a few professionals to discuss your needs and request a quote.

In general, a qualified genealogy professional will charge at least $35/hour, and often more ($50+/hour), plus expenses (for example, the fees incurred when ordering copies of documents).

To make the hiring process go more smoothly, I recommend checking out the 10-step checklist compiled by ICAPGen.

What about DNA testing?

23 and me dna test

In addition to written records and documentation, there remains another option for learning more about where you come from: DNA.

Over the past decade, DNA testing has grown in popularity as the technology involved has become more affordable.

So why might you want to consider DNA testing? And what are the benefits and limitations of this method?

First, DNA testing is not a substitute for good old-fashioned research.

This goes double if you, like countless other genealogy enthusiasts, are most interested in uncovering family stories and understanding the complex webs of relationships that tie your family together.

For many of us, proving relations is one thing, but the real perk is that through careful research, you can actually bring your ancestors’ stories alive and make them personal. DNA testing does not and cannot do this.

However, DNA testing is useful for discovering your ethnic background or broader family groups.

Depending on which test you use, it can help you identify close living relatives (who you may not have even known about), or confirm that you are related to a particular person (if you weren’t completely sure).

In addition, DNA results can fill in the gaps where written records fall short.

Maybe, due to the nature of your family’s history, relevant documentation has been destroyed or never even created in the first place. In this case, DNA is your best option for learning more about your ancestry.

There are three types of specific DNA testing, each of which searches for something different. These three types are:

  • Autosomal DNA testing
  • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing
  • Y-DNA testing

Autosomal DNA testing

First, there is Autosomal DNA testing, which tries to find matches between your DNA and that of other people.

It takes into account the DNA of both of your parents, since autosomal DNA is a combination of your mother’s and father’s DNA.

This method is quite useful for discovering long lost cousins or other more distant blood relatives.

This is a commonly performed test, because it will actually link you with other living people. Moreover, it gives an indication of your ethnicity and can tell you from which general regions your relatives originate. Bear in mind that it’s only useful going back around five generations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing

This is perhaps the most interesting form of DNA testing, as it uses DNA from the mitochondria, which are essentially tiny power plants located within cells. mtDNA is matrilineal, meaning a mother passes it on to all children of both sexes.

This form of testing will allow you to verify your mother’s line by using a method similar to that of Y-DNA testing, though non- sex-specific.

Now why exactly is mtDNA testing so interesting?

Well, in the case of individuals looking up their ancestry, mtDNA isn’t necessarily too special—but given that mtDNA changes at glacial speeds, this type of testing has been used in research on early human evolution, as matrilineal lines are easier to trace over tens and hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, there is evidence that even as hominid species (like us!) evolved, our mitochondria have remained almost unchanged, making mtDNA ideal for long-term testing of group relationships.

Y-DNA testing

This kind of testing earns its name from its use of the Y-chromosome, found only in males. Y-DNA tests can link you back to a long-dead male ancestor.

Most famously, Y-DNA tests are the basis for the belief that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave Sally Hemings.

The way this test works is by taking the Y-DNA of a verified descendent of a dead individual, then by taking the Y-DNA of someone seeking to know if they are also descended from that person.

If the Y-DNA is a match, then it proves that the two currently living individuals come from the same male lineage.

However, it is unprovable through Y-DNA that you are descended from one specific person, as you could also be the descendent of his brother or father, both of whom have identical Y-chromosomes.

If you are not male and do not have a Y-chromosome yourself, you can still have a Y-DNA test done by asking your brother or father to take the test for you.

DNA testing companies


If you do decide to get your DNA tested, there are a few major companies which will do it.

Whichever you choose, the process is simple: buy a DNA test package, give a sample, either of saliva or a cheek swab, then send it in and await results. Most people hear back within six to eight weeks.

Here are your options for DNA testing companies:

Ancestry DNA: This service offers only autosomal DNA tests. It’s run by, so if you have created your family tree on that platform, you can link up your tree and your DNA results. Plus, you can find and reach out to other people who have been DNA-tested and allowed their results to be public.

23andMe: The three different types of genetic testing are available, and once again you can connect with other people who use this service. 23andMe also offers genetics-based health information.

Family Tree DNA: Choose from any of the three types of tests. This company is especially known for its high-quality autosomal DNA tests. You can contact other people who have DNA similar to yours.

Depending on which test and company you choose, you can expect to pay anywhere from around $75 up to $200 or so.

Finally, before you actually get your DNA tested, you really should do archival research. Simply learning that you are related to someone typically isn’t all that important, unless they’re incredibly important, in which case DNA testing may be a good early option.

But generally, the point of extensive genealogy research, as I’ve already said, to find out more about your distant family members and to learn their stories.

Humanizing your ancestors is an incredibly gratifying goal, one far deeper than simply proving a blood lineage with someone who died centuries ago.

History is not a catalogue of dry events, births, deaths, weddings, and so on, it’s a robust and flowing story which stretches through time. Learning the stories of your family is the greatest gift of knowing your ancestry.

DNA results constitute one piece of the puzzle, but if you have a strong interest in genealogy or family history, you’ll most likely want to delve deeper.

Know your history

So you’ve made a family tree, pored over records, and made countless fascinating discoveries about your long-lost ancestors. Awesome! Now what?

You may be interested in putting your newfound knowledge into a cohesive narrative, or gaining a better appreciation for your family’s place in history.

Which means that if you haven’t already, it’s time to brush up on your history!

I’ve already hinted at the importance of history above, in the sections on acquainting yourself with records, but now it’s time to drive this point home. Broader historical trends can tell you so much about the specific story of your family.

Create a family timeline and a general historical timeline listing major events in the relevant region, country, and the world at large.

Do you notice any points of intersection? One place to look is at times of immigration. Historical research often helps explain what drives an individual’s desire to immigrate.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a Silesian great-aunt who immigrated to Texas in 1862. With a little research, you’ll find that numerous Silesian Poles who had been living in the Prussian partition of Poland moved to Panna Maria, Texas starting in the 1850s.

Now you might be asking, “What is the Prussian partition of Poland? Didn’t my aunt just come from Poland? What does Prussia have to do with it?”

Many people don’t know that Poland was partitioned by other powers (Prussia, Russia, and Habsburg Austria) three times during the 18th century.

After the Third Partition in 1795, independent Poland was wiped off the map: for over a century, Poland did not exist as an independent nation.

It only reemerged as a sovereign state in the aftermath of WWI. So your Polish aunt lived in a time when Poland itself didn’t exist as an independent country!

Further research will tell you more about life was like for Poles in Prussian Poland during the 1850s, why your great-aunt might have left, and what life would have been like for her in this new Silesian settlement in Texas.

Plus, you’ve expanded your knowledge of history; you’ve learned about a major event in Eastern European history—the partitions of Poland—and about general trends in immigration to the United States during the 19th century.

Doing your historical research will give you insight into the choices your ancestors made.

  • Were there wars that they either participated in or tried to avoid?
  • And how did war or conflict affect their lifestyle?
  • Did religious or political persecution lead them to change their names, emigrate, or be imprisoned?
  • Did outbreaks of disease have an impact on your family?
  • How did the labor market influence the kinds of jobs your ancestors had?
  • Why did your ancestors convert from one religion to another?

Unless your ancestors all kept meticulous diaries explaining their thoughts and actions, your best bet for understanding them better is to understand the context in which they lived and made decisions.

The bottom line: ask whatever questions most interest you! And don’t be discouraged if you find that some questions are simply unanswerable—that’s the nature of delving into the past.

How far back will I be able to trace my ancestors? Can I find out if I’m related to Charlemagne?

That depends! A few lucky people are able to identify ancestors going as far back as the Middle Ages. Often, your success depends on those who came before you.

Have past family members maintained good records?

Did anyone in your family a few generations ago keep a journal, write a family history, or put together a family tree?

If you have aristocratic ancestors, you’re at an advantage, since noble families are much more likely to have kept records on themselves and their family lines.

Compared to the thorough records of today’s world, medieval records were sparse.

Someone could be born, live, and die in the 10th century without ever having their birth, baptism, marriage, or death officially recorded. In addition, last names weren’t necessarily a thing yet, making it even harder to identify people.

The practice of using inherited surnames developed during the Middle Ages, but it took time for surname use to become consistent. Plus, the “same” surname could often be spelled in a handful of ways, and sometimes people decided to change their names.

Another roadblock? Medieval texts were recorded in manuscripts.

Some of these texts have been digitized, made available in printed editions, or translated from the original language, but you’ll still need to learn how to use the relevant databases and search engines to find them.

If you’re looking for digitized manuscripts, for example, go to DMMapp, the digitized medieval manuscripts app.

And then there are some manuscripts which simply aren’t available in either printed or digital form.

To complete your research, you’ll either need to request images from the relevant archives, or request permission to use the archive’s collections and travel all the way there yourself.

Even if you are able to access a manuscript, you’ll find that it’s written in another language (Latin, Old French, Classical Arabic, etc.) and in headache-inducing handwriting.

Excavating your family’s medieval and early modern history may therefore require an added set of skills (languages and paleography) that take time to develop.

This is one area in which it’s a good idea to bring in professional help.

All in all, tracing your family back in time before ~1600 or so is hard. But it can be done, and it certainly is rewarding.

Since premodern research is a specialized subject, it’s  beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide, but if you find that your curiosity is whetted, take a look at this guide by the UK National Archives and this free webinar by Prof. Nick Barratt.

Do I qualify for dual citizenship based on my ancestry?

Some countries offer citizenship or residence visas based on ancestry. Rules vary widely and are often complicated, so do your homework before you send off your application.

For more information on gaining citizenship by ancestry in (mostly) EU countries, check out this guide and this list. And here is further, more specific information for a few countries: PolandItaly, and the UK (ancestry visa allowing a 5-year stay).

These sites will help you start your research and determine if you might qualify for a visa or citizenship.

Acquiring a second citizenship takes time, effort, and meticulous record-keeping, so this path should really only be pursued if you have plenty of time on your hands. Otherwise, there are often faster, easier ways of acquiring residency or citizenship.

And of course, not everyone will qualify!

While some countries are happy to accept new citizens with fairly remote ancestral ties, others are much more stringent and demand that at least one of your parents be a citizen.

So again, don’t despair, and remember that you have plenty of other options.

Overall, genealogy is best enjoyed as a hobby and educational pursuit in its own right—discovering that you may qualify for additional citizenship is just a potential added bonus.


I wish you the best of luck as you begin your journey into the past.

Whether your primary motivation is to connect more closely with your heritage, fact-check family legends, create a record of family history for future generations, or all of the above, there is no better time to start than today!

Toffler is Dead, but Future Shock Still Exists


If Toffler Had Lived, He Would Have Written About the Fourth Wave

After the announcement came last week that author and futurist Alvin Toffler had died, I immediately thought about another expert I knew during my years teaching at the California Institute of Technology.  Dr. Peter Drucker held many conferences for top management at Caltech’s Industrial Relations Center, and I knew him personally.  He told me to read Toffler’s book because it gave an excellent insight into what was happening in the world of technological change.  Drucker, of course, was the genius management thinker who coined the term “knowledge worker” and was very adamant about society’s need to change quickly to meet the new demands of technological progress.

In his landmark book, Future Shock, Mr. Toffler startled the world by showing how the “new literacy” would be defined by how well a human can learn, unlearn and relearn a variety of skills.  This was certainly required in a new culture that used digital technology.  Unless we can keep up with the constant changes, businesses and individuals will fall by the wayside, never to be heard from again.

I believe the next or “Fourth Wave” of technology will be turning manufacturing and publishing over to the individual.  Just imagine creating a product in your home, getting it “printed” by computer printer, and having your customers pay you directly online or through their mobile devices.  Or, as in the publishing game (my business), imagine the individual creating his or her own publication that can be instantly marketed, sold, and read by mobile subscribers that can be constantly updated as to your next big project or book right through their mobile device.

In other words, the Fourth Wave of technology is creating the liberated business person, who can go it alone, and reap most of the profits alone.  Certainly, the big conglomerates will be screaming holy hell, but what the hell?  The technology is already in place, and it will only take the “newly intelligent” to take advantage of this development.  It’s already happening, by the way.  Self-employed businesses are the fastest growing industries in the world.

For example, here’s my pitch to a person who has an inspiration story he wanted to publish to brick-and-mortar bookstores.  You can hear how I explained to him that because of the changes in technology his best bet would be to publish and market via mobile device:

Thanks for your inquiry about publishing options at EMRE Publishing.

We are somewhat of an unconventional publisher, in that we turn the money-making options over to the author to reap the greatest profits from his/her title. As you may or may not be aware, the publishing industry is changing drastically. Self-publishers, like yourself, have been able to achieve brisk sales through outfits like Lulu and Smashwords. However, we take your publishing abilities one step further by allowing you to sell directly to your audience and establish a following that will brand you on their mobile devices as an inspirational author.

Social marketing is the new method of marketing that we use, and with our Embellisher (TM) Mobile Publishing and Marketing platform, you’ll be able to sell your title(s) in more formats (print, conventional eBook, and ePub3 multimedia). I believe it would be to your best profit-making benefit to leverage all the print possibilities and market these through a single platform. Why? Well, you collect 97% of the list price, and it goes directly into your bank account. We use the Stripe purchase system that’s built right into our platform. With Lulu, they probably took a slice of your percentage (usually around 30%).

In addition, you don’t have control over the users who inquire about your book(s). In our Embellisher (TM) platform, you control the complete back-end or Admin side of things, which means you determine the price, you decide when and how you want to market, and you gain followers that can be marketed to again and again for any future titles (or online educational courses) you may have. Our direct social marketing method is the safest way for you to sell your books (especially your eBooks) because of the over three billion dollars a year that publishers are losing to eBook piracy.

As a former Caltech professor, and author, I wanted to be able to sell directly to my readers without getting ripped-off by pirates. That’s how and why the Embellisher (TM) platform was born. Frankly, getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores is a political process these days. You need to be with a publisher who’s willing to pay a lot of money just to get your book on the shelf, and to get it featured means you have to pay even more. Why not collect your profits directly from your reader and keep them with you for life? Especially with a heart-warming story like you have, people will want to have an app they can install that features you, and whenever they want to see what you’re up to, they just have to click on your app on their desktop in whichever mobile device they happen to have at hand.

Dr. Drucker and Alvin Toffler would be very gratified to see how technology is continuing to cause “tidal waves of change” in the business community.  We hope you can ride that wave to both profit and better communications.

Click to get your free copy!

How to Use the Embellisher (TM) Mobile Publishing App in Education

Connecting Teacher and Learner for Instant Education

instant education

I initially developed the Embellisher™ Mobile Publishing App for online education.  Why?  When I taught online for 15 years, I discovered that the best way to reach learners was through their mobile devices.  My students were on-the-go and self-motivated.  After using Blackboard and Moodle, which were the most common Course Management Systems in use, I discovered I had to spend a lot of my personal time (usually at the start of the course) getting my students properly registered and logged into my CMS instead of starting to teach.  As a result, many students became distanced from the learning experience (a bad thing–especially when online education is already an isolating endeavor).  Therefore, in order to provide the educational intimacy necessary for the best learning experience, I came up with my present system of publishing and learning.

Using Occam’s Razor in Education

While I was at Caltech, the method of teaching most enjoyed by instructors utilized the “occam’s razor” technique.  Indeed.  When one has a collection of students which averages a 4.0 GPA out of high school, one quickly learns to adapt to the method of teaching which proves most productive.  Let me be both bold and controversial with my statements here:


  • Students are getting ripped-off by educational publishing.
  • Students are getting ripped-off by Course Management Systems.

    These two realities were the proximate causes of my developing the Embellisher™ Mobile Publishing App after my retirement from education.  After winning online teaching awards, I soon saw that teaching needed to move to the next level of excellence:  delivering content to mobile devices.  Not only could students pay less for textbooks (they can be created by the instructor(s) right inside a virtual studio), they could also become connected instantly with the teacher 24/7, and updates to both the textbook and the curricula could be made without additional middlemen (administration and big academic publishing) getting in the way.

    Make no mistake. Professors are well aware of the stranglehold that big academic publishing has on the education establishment. However, since academic freedom still trumps profit, the course and textbook delivery system that can both provide a seamless learning experience and save the students a lot of money, should win out in the end. If my system isn’t used, then some variance of it should be adapted in the near future. If not, then students and their parents should begin to apply pressure on the administration to make it a reality.

    The Reasons Why Mobile Publishing and Course Delivery Will Prevail


  • The costs to deliver course content and publish textbooks and curricula can be decreased over 50%.
  • The login and communication problems between instructor/facilitator and learner can be reduced immediately.
  • Academic freedom will become more important once the communications through mobile app become prevalent.
  • Many more interactive add-ons can be utilized with an open-source application.

    According to the 2011 report referenced above from the United States Navy (as a Navy vet, I have always been a proponent of the Navy’s advanced educational system and early adoption of the newest methods), the student satisfaction after taking a course using a mobile app, was quite good. “The participants were asked to rate the overall
    satisfaction with the mobile TIP course. The question
    was rated on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (very
    satisfied). Thirty-eight percent of the respondents rated
    the mobile Tip course with a “5”, 46% rated it with a
    “4”, 13% rated it with a “3”, and 1 person gave it a “2”
    rating. There was definitely a high level of satisfaction
    among the participants. Out of those who had
    previously completed the eLearning version of the
    course, 70% of the participants actually preferred the
    mobile version to the eLearning version.”

    Educators Can Try EMRE Publishing’s System for Free

    We want educators to try our system for free. In order to do this, we must be certain you are an educator who can implement our system at your school or college. We also accept private and for-profit institutions. Once approved, you will receive Admin access to our basic app system. You can see how the various components work, and perhaps come up with some needs you might have if we were to install our publishing app on your server. Our basic installation (with tailoring for brand) costs $500 for one Admin access. Our “turnkey app” is now available for installation. This version will cost $750, and it includes unlimited Publisher interfaces for individual teachers/publishers. In fact, for more progressive institutions, students can also be given privileges to create ePub3 (multimedia) eBooks and share them via our Forum component with other students and the instructor. Please contact us for a free consult to determine if you would benefit from free access and if you qualify. The key is to work with you and your institution to get the ingredients that will most benefit your student population and the instructors who teach them.

    Authors at EMRE Publishing Perform Like the Big Publishers

    How to Expand Your Readership Base


    Because many of our clients are authors, we do a lot of consulting with them about how to increase their readership.  This is especially important to those members who have installed our Embellisher™ Mobile Publishing, Marketing and Distribution App.  Why?  When each of the readers installs the author’s app, the reader becomes an exclusive member of the author’s book club.

    Book Clubs, Instant Messages and Feedback

    We encourage our members to utilize the Mobile Forum to create social communications like book clubs.  The more you get your readers interested in your titles, the more they will return to your app to buy your new titles.  In addition, the Mobile Forum is inside your app, so your readers can refer their friends and post samples of your writing they want to discuss in more detail.  This helps create the viral quality of our app to benefit your overall marketing effort.

    Everyone who owns a Smartphone knows that instant messages are at the heart of the new marketing efforts by companies all over the world.  Authors can also use this marketing bonanza by creating short messages that tell your audience when your next title will be ready, offer them coupon codes to use inside your app for price reductions, or allow them to preorder your titles right inside their cell phone.  Again, the marketing synergy caused by instant messaging is invaluable to the author who must compete with the big publishing giants that pay for this kind of promotion on a regular basis through companies like  Now, with your own app, you can do the same thing at a small fraction of the cost.

    One of the first advantages that our authors discovered when they decided to “go mobile” was that they could instantly post changes to their titles and it would instantly appear changed on their app subscribers’ interface library desktop.  In fact, several of our authors have begun innovative ways of using this feature by creating serial novels and “choose your own adventure” novels that can be uploaded on a systematic basis through your ePub Creator Studio component of our app.  Therefore, your subscribers can give you feedback instantly concerning what they like or would want inside your books, and you can virtually publish it in the time it takes you to type it out and push a button inside the studio.

    Using Our Direct Mail Campaigns to Get New Readers


                                                EMRE Publishing’s Client Mailing Campaign Interface

    We often do marketing research for our clients in order to obtain email addresses of prospective readers who are interested in the subject matter written by our authors.  First, we find out the focused audience for the client (like the nursing graduates in Shirley Lorraine Franks’ story).  Or, you could aim for readers of mysteries or self-help books.  You purchase your list from a curated “opt-in only” broker that we can send you to, and then we take this list and install it inside your personal app campaign interface.  We send out a notice to all of these people on the list in a “campaign” offering them something special if they would install your app on their portable mobile device.  Many of our authors offer a free eBook of the first title in their on-going series, or they even hold promotional giveaways right inside their app.

    As our app install list grows, you instantly gain more readers and more purchasers of your books.  These happy readers, in turn, share your app with their friends, and you become even larger without buying additional email addresses.

    Vearsa Distribution Gives You Worldwide Coverage


    All of our premium members get their titles converted to print and electric copies, which are then sold over the 1,000 Vearsa online eBook retailers and 65,000 libraries around the world.  The print-on-demand copies of your book come from, owned by Amazon, which is the most advanced POD distributor of titles available to independent publishers and authors.  Therefore, in addition to your app coverage, you also get the powerhouse distribution network of Vearsa, for digital titles, and Createspace, for your print and full-color titles.

    More Marketing Ideas and ePub Creator Tutorials

    All members who purchase an installation of our app for their website also get access to these tutorials.  Each tutorial shows how to use the features included inside their new marketing app.  In addition, we created this Slideshare which shows authors how to market the titles loaded on their app.  Remember that your titles can also be print-on-demand using Createspace, and we can do the formatting of interiors and covers if you need this done.

    Blowing Up Your Virtual Bookstore

    We have seen astounding results from our authors.  Not only do they expand by using the components in our app for teaching, marketing and unique multimedia (ePub3) promotions, they also watch their reader base grow exponentially from each campaign they devise right inside the app.  We own the first application that allows authors to create, publish and market their titles across mobile platforms.  We have been nominated at Book Expo America in Chicago as an “Innovative Digital Award” product, so if you attend, I hope you can stop by and see why we are rated so highly by our clients.

    BEA Tour

    BEA Tour

    What Do You Do with Innovative Technology?

    We Work to Get You into a Branded Business


    Many prospective clients ask us what happens when we take over and install a tailored version of our flagship product, the Embellisher™ Mobile Publishing, Promotion and Marketing App.  Since I have a soft spot in my heart for nurses, and my darling wife, Ellen, is now being treated daily in our home for her tragic case of Lewy Body Dementia (Ellen was also a nurse for 13 years as well as a college English teacher), I want to talk about a client nurse who wanted to teach.

    She came to us with a book she had written and published through the iUniverse program, A Foreign Nurse’s Guide to America.  She said she hadn’t seen much sales revenue from her publication, and she also believed the editing to be poorly done.  As an independent author and business person, I understood her problems immediately.  Therefore, I proposed that she get her book edited by us and that I would also include a new “branded look” in her cover and in the installation of our app on a dedicated website that would attract her audience from around the world (her “vision” was to instruct foreign nurses about how to circumvent the complex system in place in the United States medical profession so they could get jobs here).

    When I explained how we would help her achieve her dream as a business woman, she become much more enthusiastic.  I told her that our application would allow her to prepare all the educational materials her students would need to achieve their goals, and this was the way she would be able to sell courses in the most technologically advanced and easiest way for the independent entrepreneur.

    Many of our clients are authors or businesses with a specific niche audience they need to reach.  I always encourage the educational route to reaching those audiences because when your client believes he or she is getting a reward that will improve their financial, mental or emotional condition for the better, he or she will be more inclined to continue reading what you have to present or buying what you have to sell.

    What follows are the steps we took to get Shirley into her business.  We work with each client in different ways (because they each have different dreams, goals and audiences), but the efficiency and dedication to success are always foremost in our minds as we help them.

    Step 1:  Get Your Product Prepared for Delivery

    Every professional author knows that without a well edited manuscript and interesting cover, most audiences will view the product as unprofessional.  However, this also includes the complete brand of the prospective business person, as the author must make that “leap” from secluded creator to inventive entrepreneur when working with technology that requires such innovative measures.

    We gave Shirley a new look.  Although I won’t show you her original manuscript, I do want to emphasize that its content was extremely unprofessional, full of basic grammar and sentence structure mistakes.  As for the cover, here’s the one iUniverse created for her (and you can see the iUniverse website to see what she got charged for editing and cover):

    nurses guide
                                   iUniverse Cover

    This book was being sold as a hard cover, paperback and eBook title.  The graphics and color are not immediately recognizable to the audience—nurses—unless they want to read a Romance novel, I suppose.  Also, the background image of Lady Liberty is hardly seen.

    What we did for her was to create a new look that would coincide with her branded image as educator and business woman.  I suggested the hands and globe to serve as her logo, and I also thought having nurses on the cover would appeal more to other nurses.  This is the result:

                                                                   Shirley’s new cover for paperback version.

    We then converted her manuscript into the proper formats for print-on-demand distribution through Createspace and digital distribution through  For example, her book would be sold to over 1,000 online eBook retailers around the world and to over 65,000 libraries.  With this in mind, we converted her text into .epub, .pdf and .mobi formats.  Each book format also had its own ISBN to be able to track sales and distribution more effectively through the publisher interface at Vearsa.

    In case you want to see the price for what she got at iUniverse and through EMRE Publishing, LLC, we charged her a total of $172.00 for this prepress step in our business make-over plan for her.


    Step 2:  Prepare for Your Business Reality

    We encouraged Shirley to be prepared as to what she could do with our app to serve her audience.  The focus should always be on better ways to convenience the client and make him or her more comfortable with you and with what you’re selling them.  In this instance, Shirley had the education and experience to teach foreign nurses what they must expect when moving to America and seeking employment as a nurse.

    I explained that her app would be carefully designed by our technicians to give her audience easy access to her materials and books.  In what we charged her, she would be receiving a business website with unlimited storage, with a business URL (, and the “3-in-one” tools she would be using to supply her students with the latest information they needed to succeed.  With scientific courses, the use of a mobile app for training is the best way to reach them.  Once the app is installed on their mobile devices, they can quickly access whatever materials they need through their desk-top library, and they can also converse with each other and with the instructor using our Forum component of the app.  What’s much better than the usual method of accessing course management systems like Moodle or Blackboard (I was forced to use these during my 15 years of college teaching), is our mobile platform of course delivery of .ePub3 (multimedia) technology.  We are open source in our development, so this means students and readers of materials developed easily inside your ePub Creator Studio app component, can instantly get updates and messages about the latest developments in science and medicine that you want them to receive.  Students can use a smartphone, tablet or any other mobile device, and they won’t lose their place or have to login over and over to access these materials.

    Shirley was getting a complete website app designed with Shirley Franks Nurse Consultant in mind, complete with her own domain name, logo and easy access mobile publication and delivery of student materials.  Students could access their course materials, pay for courses, and become involved with other members in the course, without the problems of logging into other websites to buy books, take tests or do other tasks unrelated to the task at hand.  In my opinion, once the education establishment sees how much easier mobile apps are to deliver content, they will allow educators the freedom to use this technology the way it was intended:  to make learning more convenient for the learners and teachers and not for the administrators and big publishers.

    What did we charge Shirley to become her own business person and to reap the rewards of giving her students the latest mobile app delivery method available (we are the only app that can create, publish and promote ePub3 materials inside the single application)?

    What We Can Do for You

    Naturally, your needs won’t be the same as Shirley’s.  Perhaps you want to be a publisher and not a creator and author of materials.  Maybe you’re a business person who wants to sell subscriptions to our app so that each author and business person can create his or her own products and sell them on his/her own mobile platform, with his/her own admin and store components.  We can do that for a bit stiffer price of about $2,850.00.  This would be a turnkey operation that you could collect on without necessarily getting involved in the creative and marketing end of the business.

    We enjoy working with each client who wants the latest in technology to become a professional.  We work with authors, small publishers, small businesses, and even public and non-profits.  I invest time with them to see that their “vision” is made real and that they understand what’s being done every step of the way.  We enjoy the success stories of our clients, and we hope you can soon become part of our team at EMRE Publishing.

    BEA Tour

    BEA Tour


    Becoming Your Own Niche

    Becoming a Trusted Niche to Sell More Books or Products



    The best advantage you have over other independent publishers is the fact that with EMRE Publishing’s Embellisher™ Creation, Publication and Marketing System you control your niche audience.  The following three steps explain how you can maximize the return on your investment in order to put you way ahead of the competition in mobile publishing, the fastest-growing method of reaching special readers and keeping them engaged with your content.

    For this example, I will be using an author who happens to write self-help books for recovering addicts (alcohol, drugs, sex and food).  We work with you to establish your best audience and then we show you how to use our system to create your niche audience and then how to create content that will keep them coming back to your app to read more!

    Step 1:  Find Your Audience


    Because you’re working in the world of mobile communications, you need the best way to reach people who use smart phones, tablets and iPads.  Of course, you can also publish print versions of your titles, but many mobile readers are today reading their books “on the go,” so you need to provide them with attractive digital books as well.  Luckily your smart purchase of our system gives you the ability to not only reach your audience where they “hang-out,” but you can also gather your email list in a more conventional way.

    The best scenario is the author who already has an established readership and also has their emails.  However, since many of our clients need to establish their niche audience, they must first gather what’s called “opt in” readers who are interested in their subject matter.

    In this example, we need to find readers who want to find out information they need to learn about their possible or present addictions and how to recover from them.  The least expensive but time-intensive way is to visit social websites where your audience hangs-out to discuss their problems.  You, as the expert, can easily search many of the groups on the variety of social marketing websites such as Google Plus (Communities), Facebook Groups, Linkedin (Groups), and Goodreads (Groups).  Also, I would advise the particular author to do a general search on Google for:  “groups + addiction recovery” and cull out the groups that you believe would be most beneficial as an audience for your books.

    The more expensive and less time-intensive method would be to purchase an email list that can narrow your audience down to its most specific potential readership.  Again, you want a list that’s “opt-in,” meaning the emails are from folks who voluntarily placed their addresses on the list because they wanted to know more information about the topic.

    Once you have politely asked your readers if they are interested in your information, then you can ask them if they want to install your free Embellisher™ eReader, which comes with your installation.  If your eReader is tailored to fit your company look and feel, your reader can immediately be impressed by your professional look and be more inclined to be responsive to your content.  That brings us to Step 2.


    Step 2:  Have Your First Duck Ready


    When your prospective niche audience receives your request to install the eReader app, they are making a commitment to you.  Therefore, you must have something prepared for them to read when they login to their app.  This may sound like a “no brainer,” but you’d be surprised how many authors think having only Amazon or Smashwords links is sufficient for the reader to be attracted to their subject matter.

    No, you must spend a lot of time developing the first book that they will read or you can lose them forever.  This is why I usually recommend that an author have more than one book in their genre before marketing in this way.  You can still sell a single title, of course, but it’s more advantageous to you as a career author if you have a series of titles to sell.

    That brings me to the point of your using the first book as a “lead in” to your other books.  Offer it for free, if possible, so the reader can feel an obligation to you as the provider of information.  In this case, perhaps a free multimedia guide to recovery would be nice.  It could be a general guide that lists places one can go to get help and perhaps some videos and playlists inserted using our Embellisher™ ePub Creator Studio, which is included in the “3-in-1” installation that you purchased.

    What’s really cool about having your own tailored app is the fact that once you’ve properly screened and collected your audience, and they then install your portable app, they then see you as their “go to author” when they need up-to-the-minute advice and suggestions.  Apps are especially helpful when doing this kind of direct communications, and this brings us to Step 3.


    Step 3:  Keep Your Ducks Swimming


    Most authors fail because they don’t have the time or commitment to create the content their niche audience wants.  However, since you also have an “Author and Reader Mobile Communicator” installed in your app, you have the ability to find out what your audience wants to read and give it to them in future publications.  Also, since your list will be constantly growing (you must always be handing out free installations to your app, Step 1), you must also continue to provide what’s most interesting to your special readership.

    Make them “special” by creating surveys and emailing them through your built-in communications system.  Your ducks (your new books) will be constantly provided to them with your brand, through your app library, so they will have no need to go elsewhere to find the best and latest information on your topic of expertise.  They can read cross-platform, on their mobile devices, giving you the advantage over your competition.

    The most advantageous result of following these three steps is that you will have established a friendly and cordial personal relationship with your reader, which, ultimately, is the best marketing tool in the world!  We enjoy helping our clients establish this relationship with their readers, and we hope you allow us to assist you in your goals to become an expert in your chosen professional field.

    Advice for Our New Members

    Five Steps to Get the Most Out of Your New Installation

    We’ve had quite a few new members ask about how they can get the most out of the new installation of their EMRE 3-in-1 Embellisher™ Mobile Publishing, Reading and Marketing App.

    Our techs will be helping you with the installation on your server, but there are some things you can do before your install is completed.  Here are five steps of advice you can take to prepare yourself for your new duties as a publisher:

    1.  Take the tutorials to use the Embellisher™ ePub Creator.  These tutorials will also be available inside the studio, and you will have premium membership.  In addition, you will also have access to the document templates and the specially-designed templates to use in your projects.

    2.  Learn how to market your books once they’ve been created.

    3.  Learn how to use the various marketing techniques available with your 3-in-1 app.

    4.  If needed, take the basic and advanced ePub Creation Courses.  These are both free to those who have purchased the installation.

    5.  Follow Roy’s adventures in money-making marketing using the Embellisher™ marketing system.  Roy’s Adventures

    Vision and Creativity in Writing


    I was reading Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, and then I was thinking about the course Patterson was teaching (selling) on creative writing. This new novel is probably the worst novel I have ever read by Patterson (and Ledwidge), or by anyone, in many moons. It’s so bad that it’s even difficult to articulate the ways that it’s bad. The protagonist is supposed to be a scientist (at least, a failed PhD), but he thinks and speaks like a character in a situation TV comedy for sixth graders (he even likes Doom Metal music and is ADD). I now know why: Big Marketing (the ones who truly run the show at Big Publishing) has finally taken over the reins of creation.

    Characters are no longer people who are meant to be true scientists or lovers of just plain old “logic” (God forbid!).  No, they have to be snappy and cool riders of bikes in the big city who have sexy neurologist girl friends who don’t understand basic psychology but can certainly pick apart our hero’s foibles to cause the “problems” in his life. OMG. Can’t the marketing people stand logic? The entire plot of this suspense-thriller, is that there’s an animal versus man “plague” happening all over the world. However, our “hero,” Oz (that’s right, the same name as that “doctor” we hear so much about in the media!), keeps a “pet” chimp named (wait for it) “Attila” (you know, like the Hun guy). Basic logic would hold that a failed (yet promising) Columbia PhD candidate with a theory he believes in that has made him an outcast (I can see why) in the intellectual community about HAC (Human-Animal Conflict), would quite possibly expect his chimp to MAYBE????? contract the same plague and turn against him????: YA THINK????

    Oh no. Not our hero. And more people have animals in the midst of this horror story. His South African buddy has two giant dogs, etc., until I found myself shouting at the pages of my eReader: LOSE THE ANIMALS MORONS! Then I remembered the formulas that are hyped by the marketing folks in Big Publishing. Americans love their pets! We can’t have people not liking pets–even if it’s in the middle of the carnage of animals turning against humans. What would all the company sponsors think? Besides, it makes an easy way to add conflict in our pea-brained characters’ lives. No, I haven’t gotten that far in the novel. But, I would bet dollars to donuts (cliche) that this chimp Attila will be biting the hand of the Wiz of Oz (or else I would be).

    I’m sorry, Mr. Patterson (and Mr. Ledwidge). I can’t continue with your little novel. I have worked with ACTUAL SCIENTISTS (at Caltech, of all places). The way you’re portraying them in this book is beyond belief and into the pages of every marketing person’s dream world. So many products (by the way) are mentioned in this novel that it also reads like commercials stuck inside the flow of creativity. I wouldn’t doubt that BIG PUBLISHING now has a handy algorithm that inserts these commercial names at “appropriate” points in the action, and we readers won’t ever be the wiser (but we are).

    Here’s a quote I turn to whenever I learn that major publishing has turned to such “writing assistant methods.”  I always remember that true artistry in writing is a natural gift to the author, who works at gaining basic grammatical competence in the chiseling out of the story, but this gifted author can never learn “vision” or creativity.  The author who shares this quote helped to establish one of the most respected MFA writing programs at the University of Iowa, so she understands what is meant by being a “merely” competent writer:

    “In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel’s worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class.”

    So, if one of the most “visionary” writers of our times, Ms. Flannery O’Connor, says you can’t really learn anything from a writing class taught by visionary writers, then what the heck is James Patterson doing teaching an online class on novel writing, you might ask?  The answer is easy:  money.  Mr. Patterson has become a person who no longer even writes his own novels.  This may seem horrendous to you if you’re a true creative genius locked in his garret, slaving over your visionary opus, but if you’re a former head of the largest advertising agency in New York (which Patterson was), it makes complete sense.  Readers no longer expect vision or art;  all they expect is an easy read that does little to make them think on deeper levels.

    I’m afraid I can’t share this vision for the future of creative storytelling.  Without artists with “vision,” we will remain a lackluster society, willing to drink any swill thrown to us by the “best-seller factories” out there.

    Vision is not complicated.  In fact, I read a very short visionary piece that made me both laugh out loud and enjoy the irony on the inside.  Remember those short bits on Saturday Night Live by Jack Handey?  His piece in the latest New Yorker can demonstrate vision so you can understand it in a very short “lesson.”

    I also offer a short online course that doesn’t cost you anything, but it was created in order for you to see if you have any of this “vision” inside yourself.  I happen to believe that when you find you have this spark of “vision,” you will apply it by creating stories and plays that satisfy your curiosity.  O’Connor said she wrote in order to “find out what I thought about something.”   How can this happen when one gives the job over to a writing assistant?  It can’t.  Your vision is yours to create and to mold into something uniquely yours and uniquely memorable to your readers, whom Shirley Jackson called “the enemy.”  In order to win over your enemy, you must be willing to try anything in the way of visionary creativity, and I hope you can find that source of miraculous curiosity and playfulness within yourself!

    The Image as Garlic



    One of my favorite authors is the late Shirley Jackson.  Like her, I married a Jew.  Like her, I had problems with alcohol and drugs.  Finally, as a writer of “dark fiction,” I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Jackson’s take on what writers must do to make their creative work more interesting to the enemy:  you, the reader.

    In the piece she wrote about writing that was recently re-published in the New Yorker, called “Garlic in Fiction,” Ms. Jackson gives specific examples from her classic horror novel, The Haunting of Hill House.  She also comments in the beginning of the article about the “distractions” the reader has to contend with while reading.  I find these distractions have become almost insurmountable in today’s reading atmosphere, as the Internet and accompanying media have become a problem in and of themselves when it comes to providing the enemy with the interest and excitement he or she deserves on the written page.  Be that as it may, I still believe that the suggestions Jackson provides in this article still ring true for creative writers in our era of high technology and “white noise.”

    In fact, in order to perhaps update the personal examples that Ms. Jackson gave in her article, I want to give you writers two examples from one of my most recent works.  I want to illustrate the basic concept of using images to make your writing more interesting to the reader–even today–while still understanding that the reader of today, just like Jackson’s reader, can still “close his eyes at any moment.”

    I recently completed a novella about a young Jewish southpaw in the Padres organization who makes a Faustian deal with an Israeli computer scientist.  The novel is called Smartarm, and I want to discuss the character of Jacob Aryeh Golden, the young pitcher and main character in my piece of creative writing.  Just as Jackson was aiming to attract the enemy readers into reading “horror,” when they may not have been specifically interested in the horror genre in the first place, I wanted to attract readers who may not be interested in reading the conventional baseball story.  Instead, my “garlic” was the world of science fiction.  My love-hate relationship with SciFi began with authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Phillip K. Dick.  In addition, my years at Caltech in Pasadena also gave me a worshipful attitude about the underlying wonder and threat that technology can bring.

    I wanted to give Jacob Golden the symbolic curiosity needed to cause the enemy reader to play along with him as he makes his way up the ladder to the major leagues.  First, the name.  Golden becomes as important to my overall purpose in the novella as Jackson’s “white cat” is important in order to weave her main character’s inner fantasy world.  In the Hebrew Bible, the “golden calf” is worshiped.  Jacob becomes “Israel” after he wrestles and defeats the angel of the Lord.  These images symbolize my main character’s basic problem, which is learning how important technology is to his achieving his goal of pitching in the big leagues.  In fact, I wanted the reader to follow Jake as he, step-by-step, passes over into the state of existence as “living android.”  As an author of SciFi, I believe androids and robots will soon be an every-day part of our social reality.

    In point of fact, they already are.  We have just not anthropomorphized the technology sufficiently enough for us to recognize them.  Therefore, although the reader may feel a bit threatened as my story causes problems for Jacob, my young pitcher, I wanted to also show how this technology is an inevitable complication of our social structure that has been woven into the very fabric of our existential being.  This programming of technology is, of course, Jacob’s main enemy.  On the one hand, he knows he needs the extra boost that technology is bringing to his performance on the mound.  On the other hand, as he gets more into the guided programming of this technology, he also realizes the acute dangers of becoming a slave to that same technology.

    To conclude, I want to discuss the two major symbols I created for my novella, just the way Shirley Jackson discussed her symbols in her novel.

    First, Jake’s philosophy of pitching is implanted in his programming, and it is a highly symbolic image that incorporates all the dangers to come in the novella (if the enemy is paying attention):

    After the call, Jake began to pace the locker room.  His mind was focused on some of the information given to him by Hirsch’s programming.  When he passed by the ball bags, Jake reached down and picked one of the balls up and began to fondle it with both of his hands.

    The circle.  It’s the counter-point to the geometry of the baseball diamond.  Just as the star is the nucleus of the planetary system, so is the baseball the center of all that revolves around it.  You, Jake, are the controller of this nucleus, this star in the systematic chaos of geometry around you.  Feel this ball for the first time.  I know you’ve felt it before, as a child, as a young boy dreaming of his heroics on the mound.  Why a mound of dirt?  It’s to poise you above the fray, is it not?  Sixty feet, six inches away from home.  You control the power over that home plate, that disk of Euclid’s dreams, where everything converges in the heat of the moment.  The moment of scoring runs by your opposition.  The moment of arcing your ball toward that pendulum of doom, the bat, the vehicle of terror that can swat a ball over one hundred miles per hour back at you—blind you like Herb Score was almost blinded by Gil McDougal’s line drive.  Score was a lefty power pitcher like you who lived in a dark room as a broadcaster and never really came out of that darkness.  Now, I am giving you the chance to be the light that shines through all the line drives, the shattered bat shrapnel rocketing toward you, the runners stealing home, the hitters digging in like tanks on the battlefield, leaning over the plate, your home plate, your place of peace and quiet until they attempt to shatter that round sphere you hurl toward them to defuse your power over the sport.  I am returning you that power, Jake.  Smell the ball.  Turn it around in your hands.  Those seams are the woven links, like Indra’s Net, holding together your private universe of circular concentration.  You can mold your fingers into the ball like a man holds hands with infinity.  Feel its power?  The possibilities of rotation are almost unlimited.  We have programmed them.  The spin on the ball, whether it’s scuffed or moistened, what happens when the ball is without spin, the knuckle effect, we will explore the vast reaches of baseball physics.  You will need to know this in order to guide the players behind you.  You are the spin-doctor, like the modern journalists, you control the way the game is seen by the fans and played by the players.  We will give you the power of spin, the power over home, the power over the game itself.  Get ready, Jacob Golden, to get rocketed into a new dimension of glory for you and for your team.

    This first symbolic rendering of the circle can help the reader understand what alien presence has been implanted inside our uneducated 20-year-old.  He had no philosophy before it was implanted in him.  Thus, there is the first hint of danger to give my story an interesting overtone.

    The second major symbol was the Jewish “Shema,” or prayer of the dedication of faith.  This symbol proves to be the only safeguard Jake will have against the increasingly ominous technology that comes his way later in the story.  This is how I rendered this for the reader:

    Jake slept that night in a large Victorian house near the stadium where many of the bachelor players on the Missions stayed.  His bed creaked loudly, and it took about an hour of games on his smart phone to put him to sleep.

    Thousands of orthodox men with automatic weapons shot into the air.  The bullets rained harmlessly down on Jake as he stood on the pitcher’s mound.  The shots fell from the clouds like manna and then quickly turned into loaves of his mother’s challah bread for Friday Shabbos.  As Jake stood there, attempting to tell the crowd that it was all a trick and that he was a complete fraud, his face began to grow a beard, and his sideburns sprouted into long, curly peyot.  From the stands around him, people covered their eyes with their right hands and began to chant in Hebrew, but the words came to him in English, out of the bread as he ate it: 

    Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.

    Then, they spoke to Jake in a whisper:

    Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.

    You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

    And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L-rd your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L-rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L-rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

    The L-rd spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to attach a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. They shall be to you as tzizit, and you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of the L-rd and fulfill them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray–so that you may remember and fulfill all My commandments and be holy to your G-d. I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d; I, the L-rd, am your G-d. True.

    Thousands upon thousands of people in the stands began to converge toward him like a wave of humanoids.  Each person was a robot, and their eyes glittered, and their bodies moved with mechanical precision.  They were wearing clothing of the orthodox, however, and when they reached Jacob they suddenly began to converge into one shadowy being.  It was the tall form of Saul Hirsch, and his body glowed with the power of the masses.  Saul’s form fell upon Jacob, and they wrestled in the dirt of the pitcher’s mound.  The powerful grip of Hirsch’s hands was around Jake’s neck, and he thought he would soon suffocate, but from within a sudden and other-worldly strength took over Jake’s body, and he reversed positions with Saul.  Jake’s hands were now around the older man’s neck, until Saul screamed, ‘I give up!  Turn me loose!’

    Saul’s body once again separated into the thousands of orthodox robots, and they all turned toward Jake proclaiming, ‘Oh, Jacob, you are now the arch-father.  You are now Israel!’  They all came at him and began pulling at his arms until Jake could feel his body begin to separate.  His tendons stretched, his bones snapped, and the blood began to spurt like a river all over the pitcher’s mound.

    Jake woke-up screaming on the wood floor of the room.  The first thing he wanted to do in the morning was to call Saul Hirsch to find out about the orthodox invasion into his life.  Even in a dream, Jake knew he could never have remembered the entire Shema prayer of the dedication of faith.  Something or someone had planted it in his mind, and Jake wanted to know why.

    In conclusion, I admire the guts of authors like Shirley Jackson.  She had the fortitude to not mince words and to create the symbols that both threatened the sanity and the resolve of the enemy readers everywhere.  If my work can do 1/4 of what Ms. Jackson was able to do in her work, I will be quite pleased indeed!

    The Business of Writing a Book

    Why Write?

    Why did the chicken cross the road?  That’s about the gist of it.  Flannery O’Conner said she wrote because she wanted to find out what she thought about something.  To me, that’s as good a reason as any.  Whatever your purpose for placing those symbols on the page, it is important for you to own what you write.  You need to own your own thoughts once they become inscribed because the law gives you dominion over them as a copyright.  Whether you get paid or not, of course, is a horse of a very different color.  Once an author is paid for his copy written work, this writer then becomes a professional author.

    Related: How to Publish an Enhanced eBook

    How to Write

    Funny you should ask.  As a college writing teacher for over 20 years, I was, from time to time, a pretty good instructor.  I especially enjoyed using the Internet to teach my “eager” writing students.  I put the quotes around the word “eager” because writing, after all, is work.  Even though writers like John Updike (rest his soul) bemoaned the Internet for dragging down the quality of writing in general, I was an optimist about maintaining the quality of creativity in writing—especially in my students. Long story short, I now have my own business, and I present to the public a free, online creative writing course aimed at teaching anybody the basics of using “creative writing techniques” to extract the proper prose from one’s head and to put it down on the page so it is attractive to the reader’s senses.  That’s right, my business revolves around creating multi-sensory experiences in writing, so that’s the aim of my online course.  In addition, since I train my clients how to create enhanced or what we like to call “embellished” multi-sensory eBooks, I also offer an advanced course that is not free.

    When to Write

    You knew this was coming, didn’t you?  You should not write as a professional until you’ve learned your craft.  In my specific case, I want all my students to be able to create multimedia eBooks, so they must not only be competent authors of ordinary books, they also must learn the new craft of ePub3 technology.  Do not fret, our ePub3 Creator’s Studio is available to all our authors 24/7, so they can learn as they create by using the provided tutorials and taking the aforementioned creative multi-sensory writing courses.  When to write then becomes, “when the spirit strikes you.”

    So, as we can see, writing can be a profession, a hobby or a way to create multi-sensory eBooks.  At EMRE Publishing, we have the only eReader application that contains not only the best reading experience in multi-sensory format, but we also include a forum for authors and readers to hang-out together, and the only ePub3 creation studio on the market.  If you happen to enjoy putting symbols on the page, then you may want to explore with us the cutting-edge of this exciting new craft.