August 1, 2015

HeritageQuest Online Gets Better With Ancestry’s Support

HeritageQuest Online improvesHeritageQuest Online is now even more worth the trip to your local library to access for free, now that its new interface is powered by Ancestry.

For the past few months, library patrons have been getting used to a new version of HeritageQuest Online. This online genealogy resource, available only at libraries or through their websites, “has a new interface powered by Ancestry, enriching the search experience and streamlining the research process,” as described by a company press release a few months ago.

“The intuitive interface provides a fresh user experience that will be familiar to Ancestry.com users,” states the release. “A new Image Viewer offers basic and advanced capabilities without any plug-in, making it easy to share images with family and friends. Image resolution…is significantly improved with the addition of greyscale and color. The Research Aids resources for learning opportunities for novice, intermediate, and advanced searchers.”

Other bloggers have commented on the improved user interface, but what caught my eye was a more detailed, mouthwatering description of all the census extras and other new HeritageQuest Online content (from its site):

  • “Now available for searching is the entire U.S. Federal Census collection from Ancestry.com including supplements (e.g., 1940 Enumeration District Maps) and several schedules (e.g., non-population schedules) previously not included for searching.
  • 20,000 city directories have been added to the existing city directories in the Book collection, increasing the size of the Books collection to more than 45,000 titles.
  • Expanded content in the Revolutionary War Collection. The entirety of the NARA Series M804 is now included here, providing access not only to the previously available “Selected Records” (Series M805) but now also to the “Non-Selected” records of each file.”

Finally, four of the six HeritageQuest Online data collections (Census, Books, Revolutionary War, and Freedman’s Bank) have “brand new search pages with limits, exact matching options, and additional fields for searching.”

Resources:

5 Genealogy Resources to Look for at YOUR Public Library

WorldCat for Genealogy: 40 Million Records and Digital Gateway

Premium podcast 125Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using HeritageQuest Online and other fantastic resources in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125. (Premium membership required: learn more about that here.)

How 75-Year Old WPA Records May Help You Find an Ancestor

WPA Church Record Inventory Sheet, Eliam Baptist Church, FL. Click to view.

WPA Church Record Inventory Sheet, Eliam Baptist Church, FL. Click to view.

Got a research brick wall? A “national temp agency” created resources that may help you find your family history in obscure historical records.

During the Great Depression, so many Americans were out of work that the federal government launched the Works Progress Administration (later renamed the Works Projects Administration, thankfully keeping the “WPA” acronym intact).

I think of the WPA as a national temp agency that put thousands of residents to work on bookkeeping, building and conservation projects around the country. It’s the same concept I use when my kids want to earn some spending money: I give them a list of back-burnered chores: weed the flower beds, inventory the pantry, wash the walls.

The federal government did this on an enormous scale. Their “inventory the pantry” chores included jobs like indexing immigration and naturalization records and inventorying extant church records. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Let’s use the church records inventories as an example. In several states, WPA workers used a standardized form to capture data about church congregations. Included were:

  • the church name(s) and address, pastor name, details about the building(s), race and size of congregation;
  • a brief history of the church; and–even better–
  • the description and location of existing records, like minute books, financial records, and registers of baptisms, marriages, members and deaths.

The original inventories, where they still exist, have been scattered. They were not collected and maintained by any national agency. But some were published and some are now online. For example:

WPA handout blurbChurch records inventories are just one type of helpful resource compiled by WPA workers. Learn more about WPA records from leading genealogical expert Paula Stuart-Warren–and get the full version of her detailed, helpful handout–in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 2. (A Premium membership required to access–and it’s totally worth it! Click here to learn about its many benefits.)

Evernote for Genealogy: Should Evernote Be My Digital Archive?

Evernote digital archive“If I put a PDF copy of a newspaper article or a jpeg photo into Evernote, can I get a copy back? I am putting them there for safe keeping and an easy way to archive them but I want to be able to use them in other places in the future.”

Recently Pam sent me the excellent question above. She’s been using Evernote for a couple of years, she says, “but not very well.” I’ve heard that before! I like how she’s now thinking carefully about not just organizing her genealogy research materials (which is important!) but also digitally archiving them effectively.

As I told Pam, folks have tried to accomplish this in a variety of ways. Here’s my two-cent’s worth on how I look at it.

First, I don’t save newspaper articles to PDF because you have to have a Premium Evernote in order to annotate PDFs and have OCR applied to them. (At least the last time I looked last week.) Personally, I prefer web clipping the article as a note and saving it directly to Evernote.

I haven’t found a simple free way to export a PDF that has been saved to Evernote back out as a PDF. This is a weakness of Evernote. (Click here for a blog post about this.)

organized videoIf you are keen on saving items to PDFs, I would suggest not bothering to store them in Evernote. If you really want a “note” of the item in Evernote, you could use this technique: First, save the PDF to your hard drive (using my Hard Drive Organization Premium Videos).

click_PDFThen right-click the PDF and “Create a Shortcut.” Drag and drop the short cut into a note. Now with one click of the shortcut in the Evernote note, you can instantly open the document on your hard drive and make any additional notations in the note about the item.

If you would rather save the PDF to a cloud service such as Dropbox rather than your hard drive, you can right click the PDF in Dropbox and select “Share Dropbox Link” and then paste that into a note. This, again, gives you one-click access to the item.

I don’t worry about making Evernote the holding tank for absolutely everything. Sometimes other technologies and services are better suited for the task at hand. But it’s pretty easy to create connections so that Evernote is still your central service. There is another alternative called CloudHQ, which can help you export items, but it is a paid service, and I don’t think the value is there for the price when you can use the method I’ve already described.

To get more answers to questions like these about using Evernote for genealogy I invite you to follow this blog.

Resources:

  • Ultimate Evernote Education abbreviatedEvernote for Genealogy Quick Guides for Windows and Mac will help you begin using Evernote immediately and effectively.
  • Become a Genealogy Gems Premium member to access the Ultimate Evernote Education: a series of videos that take you from beginner to advanced user.

Join the Family History Relay Race: FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing Event

FS Worldwide Indexing Event 2015The FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing Event: It’s like a big, happy relay race for family historians: a display of skill with record-setting accomplishments and the coming together of a community for a cause.

Last year, 66,511 FamilySearch indexers helped set a new record for the most people indexing in a 24-hour period. Their efforts resulted in more than 5.7 million records being processed in a single day!

This year, we encourage you to participate in FamilySearch’s Worldwide Indexing Event from August 7-14, 2015. “You have one week to participate by indexing at least one batch in the language of your choice,” said FamilySearch in an invitation to current indexers. “If you are fluent in French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish-our focus languages for 2015-please help index records in one of those languages. Let’s help our friends in other countries to find their ancestors too! All it takes is one batch indexed sometime during the week to be counted.” (Special training is available.)

I’ve learned that indexing for others feels great, but I get something out of it, too. I use indexing to become more familiar with different record types, like naturalization records, border crossings or church registers (my favorite record type) from different places or time periods. I become better at reading old handwriting and picking out genealogical details from old documents–great skills that help me in my own research!

Last year, more than 18,000 new indexers joined the fun during the 24-hour challenge. Why not do the same this year? Click here to learn more about FamilySearch volunteer indexing or read the articles below to learn about other indexing opportunities out there.

Resources:

how to start a genealogy blogFind Your Ancestor in Freedmen’s Bureau Records–Or Help Others Do the Same

Want to Help Index De-Classified CIA Records?

Volunteer Gem: He Indexed Milwaukee Journal Obituaries Himself

 

Use Forensic Genealogy Tools: Technology Sheds New Light On History

forensic genealogy toolsThe forensic investigator pulls up to the crime scene and snaps a fresh set of rubber gloves. She props open the trunk of the car and carefully, slowly, sweeps a tube of florescent light back and forth inside the trunk, watching with an eagle eye for the glimmer of something that shouldn’t be there.

It’s a familiar scenario – well, that is, if you watch Court TV or CSI or one of the other of myriad of television shows featuring forensics. If you’re like me, you’re fascinated by this type of investigation. Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists: they are  looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.

So it will be be no surprise that this recent news item grabbed my attention:

Image from the National Library of Wales website. Click to view.

Image from the National Library of Wales website. Click to view.

Poetry and pictures drawn in the margins of a medieval manuscript–and then erased–have been rediscovered using modern imaging techniques. The Black Book of Carmarthen is the oldest known surviving Welsh language manuscript. Written in 1250, it’s now “throwing up ghosts from the past after new research and imaging work revealed eerie faces and lines of verse which had previously been erased from history,” according to a National Library of Wales blog post.

“A combination of ultraviolet light and photo editing software” were used to better see ancient doodles that had been erased from the margins. The process revealed “images, and snatches of poetry which are previously unrecorded in the canon of Welsh verse.”

We’ve featured several types of forensic analysis as applied to genealogy over the years. In fact, forensic genealogy principles inspired my popular presentation, How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case (if you’re a Premium Member of this website you can sign in right now and watch it under Premium Videos).

Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists:
they are  looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes 89 and 90 features Dr. Robert Leonard, a forensic linguist featured on an episode of Forensic Files on TV. It was such a riveting interview that I brought him back for Premium episode 48 where his brother Dr. George Leonard joined us. And way back in the pioneer days of this podcast (2008) Episode 18 featured “Vehicular Forensics.”

vehicular forensics genealogyIt was my genealogical take on using alternative light sources on not the trunks of cars, but rather their faded license plates as they appear in old photos. That episode has been “retired” but will soon be Gems ebook remastered and available for listening (stay tuned to the free Genealogy Gems email newsletter for the publication announcement.) In the meantime you can read about it in depth in my very first book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.

Have you looked to see what lurks on the pages and photos of your ancestors? Email me and we may share it in an upcoming blog post or episode.

She was a “Rounder?” Use Google Search Operators to Define Old or Unfamiliar Words

define rounder

McSorley’s Bar, a 1912 painting by John French Sloan. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

Get quick definitions of old and unfamiliar words with the Google “define” search operator.

Recently, Shelly wrote to us about some correspondence she didn’t understand from an older relative. One mysterious phrase particularly stuck out:

“She has mentioned several times that various relatives of mine were ’rounders.’ An example: ‘I found out later she was a real rounder.’ Does this mean a drinker, a promiscuous person, or just someone who ran around a lot as a younger person? Apparently, I come from a big family of ’rounders’!”

The answer to Shelly’s question is a perfect example of how Google can help with genealogy questions like this one. Google’s Define search operator is the key here. Go to Google.com and type define:rounder and you’ll get the following answer:

Define Google Search operator

So yes indeed, it sounds like Shelly’s ancestors enjoyed “making the rounds” to drinking establishments!

Did you know that Google is getting smarter about answering our questions with search results? Instead of just showing us links to sites with the keywords in our questions, Google has started providing answers at the top of the search results. Click here to see an example!

Resource:

How to use Google for Genealogy

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox covers the use of search operators for genealogy in depth. I’ve fully revised and updated this new second edition.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records online

Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with genealogy buddies or societies that might be interested! This week: Midwestern U.S. newspapers (Cleveland, OH and Chicago, IL) and records of Pennsylvania coal and canal workers’ and English and Welsh criminals.

CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS. Technically this isn’t new content, but access to the Cleveland Jewish News is newly free, so it’s new to most of us! You do need to provide your name and email address for free access to 125 years of Cleveland Jewish newspapers. Subscribers have immediate access to all content as it is published; the public can access materials 90 days after they go online.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE ARCHIVE. For a very limited time–during beta testing of its new archive–old issues of The Chicago Tribune are free to search on its Archives website. Click here for their FAQ page or read a more detailed report on the National Genealogical Society (US) blog.

ENGLAND & WALES REGISTER OF CRIMINAL PETITIONS. Findmypast added over 77,000 records to its Registers of Criminal Petitions index to imaged registers of correspondence relating to criminal petitions. Documents usually give the outcome of any appeal and registers note the place of imprisonment.

PENNSYLVANIA COAL AND CANAL WORKERS. Ancestry just posted employee cards and applications from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company for first half of the twentieth century. “The cards may list name, marital status, occupation, birth date, record date, residence, spouse, nationality, number of children and their ages, citizenship, date range for jobs, who to notify in case of an accident, and pension date. Applications can contain other details, including parents’ names, schooling, employment record, birthplace, and height and weight.”

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064When searching digitized newspaper sites, remember that the search technology used (optical character recognition) is much less thorough for historical newspapers than modern text, especially for capitalized words. Use creative search terms if searches on an ancestor’s name aren’t productive, like the person’s occupation or death date. Click here to learn more about using Google to search digitized newspaper pages, or read Lisa Louise Cooke’s newly-revised and updated book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, available now both in print and e-book format.

Want to Help Index De-Classified CIA Records?

classifiedBy now, many of us have tried our hand at volunteer indexing and transcribing projects. We can index censuses, civil and church vital records, gravestone images, and more with FamilySearch, BillionGraves, Ancestry’s World Archives Project and even with individual archives like The Congregational Library.

What about de-classified CIA records and other government documents? Love letters between President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson? These are among the indexing projects currently on the National Archives (US) Citizen Archivist dashboard.

“We have millions of pages of digitized records available in our online catalog,” says the Citizen Archivist website. “Transcription is an important way for us to improve search results and increase accessibility to our historical records. Your contributions make a big impact.” Other current projects include Confederate government papers, interviews relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks and letters to President Eisenhower about integrating schools.

These are all historically vital important records for the U.S. that may also shed light on our ancestors’ lives. My grandfather worked on classified government projects and I’m hoping to find his name in formerly “top secret” papers someday! Why not give it a try–index a batch of records through the National Archives Citizen Archivist project?

how to start a genealogy blogLearn more about inspiring genealogy volunteers on our blog! On the lower left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, click the category “Volunteer.” See what others do to help–and perhaps you’ll get inspired yourself!

 

 

Was This My Ancestor’s Neighborhood? Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Earth Jones St neighborhood

Jones Street, Olyphant, PA, 1910. Image courtesy of Michael Grayson.

When Lisa blogged recently about Google Earth’s 10th birthday, it reminded me of something on my family history “to do” list. A few years ago I found a postcard of what I thought was an ancestor’s neighborhood. Could Google Earth confirm it?

Lisa uses Google Earth’s powerful 3D renderings of the world’s streets to identify where old pictures were taken. I knew from deeds, a plat map, and addresses on censuses and draft registrations that the O’Hotnicky lived on a certain block of Jones St. (now named Grant St.), around the corner from and behind Holy Ghost church.

This postcard of “Jones Street, Olyphant” looks like its viewpoint is from the end of the block behind the church. This would mean the tall tree shown here was shading–and blocking our view of–the O’Hotnicky home.

Olyphant view Google EarthI opened Google Earth and flew to “117 Grant St, Olyphant, PA.” The initial view, hovering from above, was promising. The camera icon shows where I thought the photo was taken. The left arrow points to the former line of trees, in front of the ancestral address. The right arrow points to the church tower behind.

Unfortunately, when I enter Street View at that exact spot, the new church on the corner and a tall apartment building block the view that would have been seen a century ago. There is no Street View available on Grant Street itself so I couldn’t move up the street toward the church. So I moved into Street View along the side street (parallel to the bottom of the photo).

In the opening between two buildings, Google Earth gave me a glimpse of the church tower. I compared the postcard view with Google Earth’s photo. The church towers look so similar: a simple cross on top, pointed copper roof, arched tower and the building roof line. Even more striking to me is the white frame house. Was this the same white house shown in the postcard view?Olyphant detail view Google Earth

These two visuals taken together–the church tower profile and the position of the white house–seem consistent with my theory of where the photo was taken. Which means that yes, indeed, this 1910 postcard shows the trees in front of an ancestor’s home as they appeared 105 years ago.

Google Earth can fly you to an ancestor’s neighborhood–and whatever clues its current landscape gives you into the landscape of the past. Click here to watch Lisa’s free video about using Google Earth for genealogy!

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Nominated! Academy of Podcasters Award

Academy AwardWe’re so pleased we just had to tell you our great news….The Genealogy Gems Podcast has been nominated for the first-ever Academy of Podcasters Awards!

Ten nominees were named in each category by The Academy of Podcasters in an event expected to become annual, according to the Academy website. We were chosen “by a combination of input from the Academy, the board,  and from other podcast rating services.” The Genealogy Gems Podcast was nominated in the “Parenting, Family and Kids” category.

Podcaster and comedian Colt Cabana will host the actual awards show on July 31, 2015 at the Omni Fort Worth in Forth Worth, Texas. It’s not far from home and I hope to stop by to celebrate on my way home from speaking at the BYU Family History Conference!

GGP award finalistIn case you’re not already a listener….The FREE Genealogy Gems Podcast, our flagship “online radio show” with 1.75 million downloads, helps you make the most of your family history research time by providing quick and easy-to-use research techniques. As the producer and host, I do my darndest to bring you the best websites, best practices, and best resources available for genealogy!

Listening has never been easier because now you can easily stream podcasts on your smartphone or tablet in addition to listening online at our website or in iTunes. To listen on your mobile device, just get the Genealogy Gems app for iPhone or iPad and Android. To learn more about the show or read FAQ, click here.

Try our other podcasts, too:

  • Family History: Genealogy Made Easy, a free step-by-step series for new or starting-over genealogists
  • The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, a monthly in-depth news and how-to show with MORE great interviews, tips and tricks. This is available as part of our annual subscription package, which also includes a year’s access to a full range of genealogy education videos.

Thank you Academy of Podcasters!