genealogy alerts

[Editor’s Note: Genealogy thought leader and WikiTree team member Thomas MacEntee shows how you can automate the search for your ancestors through alerts and notifications.]

As WikiTree unveils its new MatchBot feature this week, more and more websites as well as search engines are making it easier for us to find our ancestors.  What do I mean? Well, let’s examine the online research habits of one genealogist who we’ll call Debbie Cantsearch.

Each week, or at least when she remembers, Debbie sets out at a series of sites including, Google, and others to perform the same sets of searches, over and over. This takes time to do, and then she has to determine which results are new and which she’s already reviewed in the past.  You have to admit, it isn’t an easy process, but who said finding your ancestors was easy, right?

Now let’s look at Debbie’s distant cousin, Desiree Cansearch (the “t” in the Cantsearch surname was dropped coming through Ellis Island).  Desiree’s approach towards data access and research is a bit different.  She has learned how to leverage the power of alerts and notifications on a variety of sites so that she finds out about new content when it is made available.  In doing so, Desiree saves time and actually makes these sites work for her, not the other way around.

Notifications at WikiTree

There are several ways you can receive notifications at WikiTree.  One prime example is that you can be alerted via RSS feed (used in Google Reader and other RSS feed readers) to G2G questions on any surname by adding or to your reader. Simply substitute your own preferred surname at the end, right before “.rss” in the hyperlink and then subscribe to that feed.

Here are more ways you can get notified at WikiTree:

  • G2G (genealogist-to-genealogist) Q&A Forum: When someone responds to a question, the person who posted the question receives an e-mail notification.
  • Public Comments: When a public comment is posted on a profile, the profile manager is alerted.
  • Private Messages: Members can be contacted privately with an e-mail without publicly revealing their e-mail address.
  • Watchlist Update: A once-a-week update summarizes all changes and additions to the profiles in the member’s Watchlist.

Work Less, Research Smarter

Almost every site has some sort of alert or notification method if you look closely.  Here are a few that genealogists will find useful:

  • Google Alerts. The best of all search alert tools is Google Alerts ( which will notify you of new search results either via e-mail or in an RSS feed (meaning you can access them in Google Reader or other RSS readers). Remember to set up alerts for each surname (uncommon surnames are better) and don’t forget geographic locations. Also, set up an alert for the address where an ancestor used to live.
  • Did you know that Ancestry ( has several types of alerts available besides the “shaky leaf?” These include alerts for family trees, message boards, DNA results and even something called Obituary Hunter? Your alerts can be managed in one spot at ( Note that some features with alerts are only for Ancestry subscribers.
  • FamilySearch Forums. There are many genealogy-related forums where you can not only post your questions, but also learn from the responses posted to other questions. The FamilySearch Forums ( are organized by topic and geographic location. Once you’ve located a forum that interests you, click Forum Tools (you will need to be signed in to FamilySearch for this to work), and then select Subscribe to This Forum. Next, choose your notification preference and click Add Subscription.
  • Mocavo. If you use the Mocavo Plus version of this genealogy-centric search engine (, you can create a Discovery Alert which will notify you of new finds in Mocavo. Search criteria for alerts include event type, event date, surname, relationship and keywords. This alert feature is not available with the free version and is a good reason to go for the premium version of Mocavo.
  • Genealogy Mailing Lists. RootsWeb ( maintains a list of over 30,000 genealogy mailing lists to which you can subscribe. Search for specific surnames and geographic locations then sign up and wait for the emails to arrive in your mailbox.
  • eBay. Yes, eBay ( is a genealogy resource for many, believe it or not. You can find genealogy-related items as well as family Bibles, diaries, letters and more. Use eBay’s Saved Search function to be alerted via email when new items are posted which match a specific surname or location used as a keyword. Simply perform your search on eBay then click Save this search at the top of the results page and make sure the email alert option is checked. The search will be saved and you’ll receive a daily email listing items that match your search criteria.
  • Google Reader. Most of us may not think of an RSS feed reader like Google Reader ( as an alerting service, but in essence that’s what it is. You “sign up” to a variety of sites by using the Subscribe button and then when you visit Google Reader, any new articles for that site appear in bold. You can even organize items and create searches using tags to display new articles based on surname, geographic location etc.

No Alert Function? Don’t Panic

If you can’t find a possible way for a site to alert you, then remember that you can always use RSS feeds and Google Reader to stay up-to-date on changes at a site.  Even if you can’t find the RSS link, copy and paste the URL address into the Subscribe field of Google Reader and you can still receive alerts.

Seek Smartly and Ye Shall Find

Remember that the researcher with the smart tools has more time to search more places for ancestors.  So get smart and leverage the power of alerts and notifications to learn more about your ancestors.

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  3 Responses to “Be On Alert: Your Ancestors Are Here!”

  1. This is a very helpful reminder about the power of automated searches. Earlier this week I blogged about a family heirloom from 1820 which I found as a result of an eBay alert:

  2. Thanks, WikiTree, for these useful tips. There were several mentioned here that I was not aware of previously. I enjoyed reading this post and look forward to future posts.

  3. This is a great list of methods. I’ll save this URL and try to “leverage the power of alerts and notifications.” As an amateur, I’ll take some time to absorb this. But it’s a good goal!

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