Best of ESM

After hanging up the speaking mic in October 2021, Elizabeth Shown Mills, genealogy’s pioneer in problem-solving methodology, returns in 2023 with Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Join us each month as Elizabeth encores her top-12 most beloved classes, teaching us how to break down our genealogy problems and create solutions with innovative strategies and sound methods. The classes are pre-recorded for the live watch parties.

This series is accessible only with a webinar membership. Webinar members have access to the live events, the class replays, and the class syllabus materials.

To attend the live events 1) register for the webinar (must be logged in as a webinar member to register); 2) on the day of the webinar, obtain the password (located at the top of FamilyTreeWebinars.com when logged in as a member); 3) click the Join Webinar link in your confirmation email, and enter the password when prompted.

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1:17:15
Finding Females: Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters & Paramours
One of the toughest challenges faced by genealogists is the difficulty of identifying and tracking females. Wives and mothers traditionally have been “supporting characters” to the roles played by their husbands and sons—bearing no known name other than that of the males they married or bore. Historically, social mores and law codes made them second-class citizens, without a legal identity of their own and few rights or opportunities to create the range of records that genealogists customarily use to trace males. This session presents an array of resources—and, more importantly, techniques and strategies backed by case studies—we can use to establish the identities of elusive females.
One of the toughest challenges faced by genealogists is the difficulty of identifying and tracking females. Wives and mothers traditionally have been “supporting characters” to the roles played by their husbands and sons—bearing no known name other than that of the males they married or bore. Historically, social mores and law codes made them second-class citizens, without a legal identity of their own and few rights or opportunities to create the range of records that genealogists customarily use to trace males. This session presents an array of resources—and, more importantly, techniques and strategies backed by case studies—we can use to establish the identities of elusive females.
Fri, February 23 2024: 19:00 UTC
1:18:24
2.7K views
CC
Free
Finding Fathers: Tracking Males Who “Disappeared” or “Just Showed Up”
The legendary Choctaw Chief Pushmataha swore that he sprang full grown from Mother Earth. As genealogists, we sometimes wonder whether our ancestors did the same. Most elusive men do have traceable origins, once we learn to deal with the issues that thwart us—migration, high mortality rates, and illegitimacy being not the least of them. This hour offers practical suggestions and strategies for extending paternal lines, focusing upon the pre-1850 period when censuses don’t identify children in parental households.
The legendary Choctaw Chief Pushmataha swore that he sprang full grown from Mother Earth. As genealogists, we sometimes wonder whether our ancestors did the same. Most elusive men do have traceable origins, once we learn to deal with the issues that thwart us—migration, high mortality rates, and illegitimacy being not the least of them. This hour offers practical suggestions and strategies for extending paternal lines, focusing upon the pre-1850 period when censuses don’t identify children in parental households.
Fri, January 26 2024: 19:00 UTC
13:19
1.3K views
CC
Free
Genealogy’s Biggest Challenge: Identity!
Elizabeth Shown Mills and Geoff Rasmussen preview the second year of “The Best of Elizabeth Shown Mills: Genealogy Problem Solving” webinar series. Elizabeth discusses what she hopes genealogists will gain from the series, what brings her back for another year, and what advice she has for genealogists of all expertise levels. She also reveals genealogy’s biggest challenge—identity—and how we will overcome it through this year’s classes.
Elizabeth Shown Mills and Geoff Rasmussen preview the second year of “The Best of Elizabeth Shown Mills: Genealogy Problem Solving” webinar series. Elizabeth discusses what she hopes genealogists will gain from the series, what brings her back for another year, and what advice she has for genealogists of all expertise levels. She also reveals genealogy’s biggest challenge—identity—and how we will overcome it through this year’s classes.
Thu, January 18 2024: 0:00 UTC
Advanced
1:16:13
Using Evidence Creatively: Spotting Clues in Run-of-the-Mill Records
The records we use are filled with “trivia,” bits and pieces of information that seem to have no “genealogical” value—at least not until we become more innovative in our research and analysis. Each piece of trivia in every document is an opportunity waiting to be connected to something else. Our ability to resolve problems depends upon our ability to make those connections. This class explores eighteen types of records and the kind of hidden clues each offers to help us resolve problems of identity, kinship, and origin. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
The records we use are filled with “trivia,” bits and pieces of information that seem to have no “genealogical” value—at least not until we become more innovative in our research and analysis. Each piece of trivia in every document is an opportunity waiting to be connected to something else. Our ability to resolve problems depends upon our ability to make those connections. This class explores eighteen types of records and the kind of hidden clues each offers to help us resolve problems of identity, kinship, and origin. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Fri, December 22 2023: 19:00 UTC
Advanced
1:17:07
Dissection & Analysis of Research Problems: 10 Steps to a Solution
Solutions to tough problems are not just “found.” They are analytically constructed. This session explains how to break down problems into their most-critical elements. It summarizes the types of questions and tests that should be applied to each. Then it demonstrates how to analyze, rank, and assemble the resulting answers into an effective research plan. In this process you’ll walk through ten steps, learning how to apply micro and macro analysis, evaluate prior conclusions, argue with their evidence, develop targeted worksheets, and complete a plan of action that can be pursued as time permits. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Solutions to tough problems are not just “found.” They are analytically constructed. This session explains how to break down problems into their most-critical elements. It summarizes the types of questions and tests that should be applied to each. Then it demonstrates how to analyze, rank, and assemble the resulting answers into an effective research plan. In this process you’ll walk through ten steps, learning how to apply micro and macro analysis, evaluate prior conclusions, argue with their evidence, develop targeted worksheets, and complete a plan of action that can be pursued as time permits. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Fri, October 27 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:14:30
Using Negative Evidence: The Power of Silence in the Records
Can genealogists take a negative (the absence of something) and develop it into a positive (proof of something)? Yes! If we understand what we’re working with and how to develop it. Negative evidence is a tool used by many investigative fields; but its definition varies between disciplines. This session defines the concept used by genealogists and historians: contextually suggestive silence. In layman’s language, Mills clearly separates negative evidence from concepts that are often confused with it: negative searches, negative findings, negative arguments, and negative conclusions. Case studies using autosomal and Y-DNA, censuses, church records, death certificates, land deeds and grants, topo maps, and other source types to demonstrate how to recognize contextually suggestive silence and develop it into solutions for situations in which no document explicitly answers our research question. *** This class requires a password and an active webinar membership to attend. On the day of the webinar, obtain the password (located at the top of FamilyTreeWebinars.com when logged in as a member). Then click the Join Webinar link in your confirmation/reminder email, and enter the password when prompted. ***
Can genealogists take a negative (the absence of something) and develop it into a positive (proof of something)? Yes! If we understand what we’re working with and how to develop it. Negative evidence is a tool used by many investigative fields; but its definition varies between disciplines. This session defines the concept used by genealogists and historians: contextually suggestive silence. In layman’s language, Mills clearly separates negative evidence from concepts that are often confused with it: negative searches, negative findings, negative arguments, and negative conclusions. Case studies using autosomal and Y-DNA, censuses, church records, death certificates, land deeds and grants, topo maps, and other source types to demonstrate how to recognize contextually suggestive silence and develop it into solutions for situations in which no document explicitly answers our research question. *** This class requires a password and an active webinar membership to attend. On the day of the webinar, obtain the password (located at the top of FamilyTreeWebinars.com when logged in as a member). Then click the Join Webinar link in your confirmation/reminder email, and enter the password when prompted. ***
Fri, September 22 2023: 19:30 UTC
Advanced
1:24:26
Turning Witnesses into Evidence
Witnesses are not afterthoughts tacked onto the end of documents. Although they filled a routine role for our ancestors, they are significant informants for us—once we learn how to use those names to develop evidence. This session approaches the topic in two ways: theory and application. It explores record types that offer witnesses, ways in which witnesses were used, situations that affected the choice of witnesses, signals that indicate whether a witness would be important to our research, and methods to apply in our development of the clues they offer. A challenging case study presents an unmarried freedwoman, never named in any census, who died about 1817—and applies key strategies to determine her death and burial sites.
Witnesses are not afterthoughts tacked onto the end of documents. Although they filled a routine role for our ancestors, they are significant informants for us—once we learn how to use those names to develop evidence. This session approaches the topic in two ways: theory and application. It explores record types that offer witnesses, ways in which witnesses were used, situations that affected the choice of witnesses, signals that indicate whether a witness would be important to our research, and methods to apply in our development of the clues they offer. A challenging case study presents an unmarried freedwoman, never named in any census, who died about 1817—and applies key strategies to determine her death and burial sites.
Fri, August 25 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:19:08
Problem Solving in the Problem-Riddled Carolina Backcountry
The Carolina backcountry is known for its genealogical roadblocks: from social and geographic challenges to record destruction, to the failure to create records in the first place. This session begins by examining the cultural influences that have created the problems—influences we need to understand if we are to develop alternative resources and approaches. Building on this foundation, Mills then explores thirty-two strategies for overcoming research obstacles, using a variety of short case studies and little-known materials to illustrate key points. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
The Carolina backcountry is known for its genealogical roadblocks: from social and geographic challenges to record destruction, to the failure to create records in the first place. This session begins by examining the cultural influences that have created the problems—influences we need to understand if we are to develop alternative resources and approaches. Building on this foundation, Mills then explores thirty-two strategies for overcoming research obstacles, using a variety of short case studies and little-known materials to illustrate key points. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Fri, July 28 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:17:52
What’s the Evidence? How to Probe Documents Beyond the Obvious
Whatever our research dilemma, a correct solution depends upon a reliable evaluation of the evidence we are using. Evidence is not concrete. It is not definitive. It is not a source. It is not a fact. It is not “proof.” It is, instead, our interpretation of what a piece of information means. Evidence is both singular and collective. We analyze it piece by piece. We correlate each piece with everything else discoverable, and then we analyze the whole to reach conclusions that are reliable. This session walks us through the three levels at which each piece of information should be evaluated, in order to draw a reliable conclusion from it. The principles are then illustrated with a common but thorny problem: a Revolutionary War–era case study that might be called: How to Identify Someone Who’s Been Mangled by ‘Facts.’ *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Whatever our research dilemma, a correct solution depends upon a reliable evaluation of the evidence we are using. Evidence is not concrete. It is not definitive. It is not a source. It is not a fact. It is not “proof.” It is, instead, our interpretation of what a piece of information means. Evidence is both singular and collective. We analyze it piece by piece. We correlate each piece with everything else discoverable, and then we analyze the whole to reach conclusions that are reliable. This session walks us through the three levels at which each piece of information should be evaluated, in order to draw a reliable conclusion from it. The principles are then illustrated with a common but thorny problem: a Revolutionary War–era case study that might be called: How to Identify Someone Who’s Been Mangled by ‘Facts.’ *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Fri, June 23 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:25:12
Samuel Witter vs. Samuel Witter: Separating Same Name Men, War of 1812
Online research today is immensely rewarding. Major genealogical data sites and software perform automatic searches for us and suggest documents bearing the names of people we are pursuing. However, every document we collect presents an identity issue we have to resolve before we can validly use it to build our family tree. This presentation demonstrates why, using three men named Samuel Witter whose descendants have all claimed for him the same War of 1812 service. As Mills separates the three Samuels, she explores the standards that govern our development of evidence, the Congressional laws that must guide our decisions, and the strategies needed to differentiate between men and correctly assign military service. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Online research today is immensely rewarding. Major genealogical data sites and software perform automatic searches for us and suggest documents bearing the names of people we are pursuing. However, every document we collect presents an identity issue we have to resolve before we can validly use it to build our family tree. This presentation demonstrates why, using three men named Samuel Witter whose descendants have all claimed for him the same War of 1812 service. As Mills separates the three Samuels, she explores the standards that govern our development of evidence, the Congressional laws that must guide our decisions, and the strategies needed to differentiate between men and correctly assign military service. *** This class requires an active webinar membership to attend. ***
Thu, May 25 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:16:38
Okay, I ‘Got the Neighbors’—Now What Do I Do with Them?!
We’ve all heard the mantra Get the Neighbors! But exactly how do we use “other people’s” information to solve problems of identity, kinship, and origin for our own ancestors? This session teaches critical skills for building networks around problem ancestors, methods for analyzing and prioritizing associations, and strategies for milking clues from the records those neighbors created. All can be developed into solutions for our toughest research problems.
We’ve all heard the mantra Get the Neighbors! But exactly how do we use “other people’s” information to solve problems of identity, kinship, and origin for our own ancestors? This session teaches critical skills for building networks around problem ancestors, methods for analyzing and prioritizing associations, and strategies for milking clues from the records those neighbors created. All can be developed into solutions for our toughest research problems.
Fri, April 28 2023: 18:00 UTC
Advanced
1:11:30
Elusive Ancestors: Never Too Poor to Trace
Everyone has ancestors who seem to mysteriously appear and then dissolve into the ether, existing nowhere except a family story, a census, or a Bible entry. When deeds, wills, and other standard records fail to yield more information, “too poor to trace!” is a common conclusion—but a wrong one. Many neglected sources include propertyless men, women, and children. This class explores those sources and defines strategies we can use to develop clues, even from records that do not specifically name our ancestors.
Everyone has ancestors who seem to mysteriously appear and then dissolve into the ether, existing nowhere except a family story, a census, or a Bible entry. When deeds, wills, and other standard records fail to yield more information, “too poor to trace!” is a common conclusion—but a wrong one. Many neglected sources include propertyless men, women, and children. This class explores those sources and defines strategies we can use to develop clues, even from records that do not specifically name our ancestors.
Fri, April 14 2023: 21:00 UTC

Upcoming Live Webinars

View all (147)
Census Clues: Sweet Potato Simon, White Potato Willie, & Cows that Grow Wool
Fri, March 22 2024: 18:00 UTC
Census records are the most used—and yet the most underused—of all genealogical resources. Every major provider offers them, along with an index so we can easily find our people. Aside from a year here or there, when a pesky ancestor seems to have eluded the census taker, the use of censuses seems fairly straightforward: We use a search engine to find our person and we copy down the data. There, done! No. Not at all! Censuses provide “facts,” but in between those “facts” there are a wealth of clues we can mine to solve our worst problems with identity, origin, and parentage. This session is for advanced researchers who think they “already know all about census records” and for newer researchers who want to avoid the mistakes most researchers make.
Census records are the most used—and yet the most underused—of all genealogical resources. Every major provider offers them, along with an index so we can easily find our people. Aside from a year here or there, when a pesky ancestor seems to have eluded the census taker, the use of censuses seems fairly straightforward: We use a search engine to find our person and we copy down the data. There, done! No. Not at all! Censuses provide “facts,” but in between those “facts” there are a wealth of clues we can mine to solve our worst problems with identity, origin, and parentage. This session is for advanced researchers who think they “already know all about census records” and for newer researchers who want to avoid the mistakes most researchers make.
Fri, March 22 2024: 18:00 UTC
Tax Rolls: Getting Our Money’s Worth from the Taxes Our Ancestors Paid
Fri, April 26 2024: 18:00 UTC
Tax rolls have traditionally been used as a “census substitute”—a list of names to show that someone of a certain name was in a certain jurisdiction, in this year or that. But tax rolls can be developed into so much more. This session demonstrates how to use tax rolls to separate same-name people, determine ages of men and date their marriages, establish times of death, identify parents and the maiden identity of wives, track migration, document inheritances when probate records are destroyed, and so much more!
Tax rolls have traditionally been used as a “census substitute”—a list of names to show that someone of a certain name was in a certain jurisdiction, in this year or that. But tax rolls can be developed into so much more. This session demonstrates how to use tax rolls to separate same-name people, determine ages of men and date their marriages, establish times of death, identify parents and the maiden identity of wives, track migration, document inheritances when probate records are destroyed, and so much more!
Fri, April 26 2024: 18:00 UTC
Identity Crises: Right Name, Wrong Man? Wrong Name, Right Man?
Fri, May 24 2024: 18:00 UTC
What do we do with ancestors whose names don’t “match” from one record to the next? Or those who pose the opposite problem: too many men or women of the same name? This session examines a litany of social customs and naming patterns that cause ancestors to be known by different names—then offers techniques and strategies by which we can establish that any two records do or do not apply to the same person. A variety of case studies demonstrate the problems and the methods we can use to overcome them.
What do we do with ancestors whose names don’t “match” from one record to the next? Or those who pose the opposite problem: too many men or women of the same name? This session examines a litany of social customs and naming patterns that cause ancestors to be known by different names—then offers techniques and strategies by which we can establish that any two records do or do not apply to the same person. A variety of case studies demonstrate the problems and the methods we can use to overcome them.
Fri, May 24 2024: 18:00 UTC
How to Find the Truth about a Family Story
Fri, June 28 2024: 18:00 UTC
Oral history provides the foundation for all family research. Documentary evidence builds structure on that foundation. But documents often conflict with family traditions. How do we determine the core truths that are essential to understanding our own past? This class examines the causes of those conflicts and demonstrates how to peel away generations of confusion to find the real story that underpins family lore. Case studies include both Native American and African American traditions.
Oral history provides the foundation for all family research. Documentary evidence builds structure on that foundation. But documents often conflict with family traditions. How do we determine the core truths that are essential to understanding our own past? This class examines the causes of those conflicts and demonstrates how to peel away generations of confusion to find the real story that underpins family lore. Case studies include both Native American and African American traditions.
Fri, June 28 2024: 18:00 UTC
Genealogical Research & Writing: Are You a Saint, Sinner, or Bumfuzzled Soul?
Fri, July 26 2024: 18:00 UTC
As researchers, family historians, compilers, bloggers, or writers of other ilk, genealogists face legal and ethical perils they often do not anticipate. This crash course offers practical guidance to enhance your skills and keep you safe as you explore history, reconstruct lives, and “write up” your findings. While the issues are serious—from the legal issue of copyright to the ethical issue of plagiarism—the lessons are taught with a light heart and humor.
As researchers, family historians, compilers, bloggers, or writers of other ilk, genealogists face legal and ethical perils they often do not anticipate. This crash course offers practical guidance to enhance your skills and keep you safe as you explore history, reconstruct lives, and “write up” your findings. While the issues are serious—from the legal issue of copyright to the ethical issue of plagiarism—the lessons are taught with a light heart and humor.
Fri, July 26 2024: 18:00 UTC
Analyzing Deeds & Wills: I See What It Says—but What Does It Mean?!
Fri, August 23 2024: 18:00 UTC
Legalese. Boilerplate. Obsolete laws. Ancestral idiosyncrasies. The documents our ancestors created are full of such traps. This session uses two typical documents from different regions to illustrate, line by line, how to sort chaff from wheat, interpret deceptive language, and develop clues.
Legalese. Boilerplate. Obsolete laws. Ancestral idiosyncrasies. The documents our ancestors created are full of such traps. This session uses two typical documents from different regions to illustrate, line by line, how to sort chaff from wheat, interpret deceptive language, and develop clues.
Fri, August 23 2024: 18:00 UTC
Fri, September 27 2024: 19:30 UTC
Finding Origins & Birth Families: Methods That Work
Fri, September 27 2024: 19:30 UTC
The most important path an ancestor blazed along the way from his place of birth to where we first find him is usually not a trail that cartographers have conveniently charted for us. Successful researchers learn to recognize and analyze the elements of an ancestor’s life and times, as well as people, that serve as pointers to his path. This session examines the nature and causes of stalemates in our research; ten common traps and ways to avoid them; and innovative methodologies for working smarter, not harder!
The most important path an ancestor blazed along the way from his place of birth to where we first find him is usually not a trail that cartographers have conveniently charted for us. Successful researchers learn to recognize and analyze the elements of an ancestor’s life and times, as well as people, that serve as pointers to his path. This session examines the nature and causes of stalemates in our research; ten common traps and ways to avoid them; and innovative methodologies for working smarter, not harder!
Fri, September 27 2024: 19:30 UTC
In a Rut? 7 Ways to Jumpstart Your Research
Fri, October 25 2024: 18:00 UTC
Stuck? It happens to everybody. So, how do successful genealogists “prime their pumps” when their research wells seem to go dry? This session offers a slew of sources, methods, fresh ideas, and case studies to recharge your innovation when you think both you and your opportunities are totally exhausted.
Stuck? It happens to everybody. So, how do successful genealogists “prime their pumps” when their research wells seem to go dry? This session offers a slew of sources, methods, fresh ideas, and case studies to recharge your innovation when you think both you and your opportunities are totally exhausted.
Fri, October 25 2024: 18:00 UTC
Information Overload? Effective Project Planning, Research, Data Management & Analysis
Fri, November 22 2024: 19:00 UTC
Data management is not just an organizing system. Data management is a critical analytical tool. Research standards tell us that conclusions must be supported by “proof.” Standards insist that “proof” is more than “a document”—rather, it’s a conclusion based on a body of evidence created by reasonably exhaustive research. Meeting this standard creates a paradox: The more data we gather, the more confused we get!—unless we maintain that body of evidence in a way that enables us to digest it, analyze it, and correlate it with everything else we’ve found. This session presents a framework for projects of all types and sizes, building on sound research practices that carry us smoothly from problem analysis to problem resolution.
Data management is not just an organizing system. Data management is a critical analytical tool. Research standards tell us that conclusions must be supported by “proof.” Standards insist that “proof” is more than “a document”—rather, it’s a conclusion based on a body of evidence created by reasonably exhaustive research. Meeting this standard creates a paradox: The more data we gather, the more confused we get!—unless we maintain that body of evidence in a way that enables us to digest it, analyze it, and correlate it with everything else we’ve found. This session presents a framework for projects of all types and sizes, building on sound research practices that carry us smoothly from problem analysis to problem resolution.
Fri, November 22 2024: 19:00 UTC