September 3, 2015

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. It’s PACKED with European military records from WWII back to the War of 1812. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!

BRITISH POWs IN JAPAN. Over 56,000 records pertaining to the 37,583 British and Commonwealth soldiers released from Japanese captivity in 1945 are now available on Forces War Records. ‘This collection…lists the soldiers, along with the occasional civilian, who endured these conditions. Prisoners were only obliged to provide their name, rank and number so the amount of military information is limited, however the records do include the date of capture, the camp in which they were held and the date of liberation, be that through release, escape or death.”

BRITISH JEWS IN WWI. Findmypast’s new British Jewry Book of Honour 1914-1920 “contains nearly 57,000 color images and transcripts of [an original] two-volume book published in 1922 to record and honor” contributions of more than 50,000 Jews to the British and colonial forces during World War I. “It describes Jewish enlistment, casualties, military honors, Jewish units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action, those who were awarded military honors and the nominal rolls of Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.”

BRITISH WAR OF 1812. The British Army Casualty Index War of 1812 now at Findmypast “contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted, or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War)….Each record consists of a transcript of the original source material that will reveal the soldiers name, birth place, former occupation, rank, regiment or unit, place or action, company officer, company number, removal date and manner of removal – this may include information on how a soldier died or whether he deserted or was a prisoner of war.”

SCOTTISH CHURCH RECORDS. A new Findmypast collection, Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688 contains over 81,000 records of The Covenanters, a “Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, England and Ireland, during the 17th century….The records list the individuals who signed the Covenant…[and] a transcript created using sources held by The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland…[with] the Covenanter’s name, county, a description (often their occupation or relatives) and place.”

WWII in EUROPE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched a new online database of British, Irish, and Commonwealth WWII casualties. It will now be possible for the first time “to see the original records of all 1.7 million individuals the Commission commemorates.” According to a press release, “The digitized records cover British, Irish and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, together with records for most other nationals commemorated at CWGC sites: this includes the records for German soldiers.”

We love seeing all these new genealogy records online every week! The trick is to get the word out about them. Will you help us by sharing this post with others?

Chilling Historical Video Footage Found in Online Archive

Eastland disasterA determined graduate student found some chilling historical video footage of a ship that capsized in Chicago. It was in an online archive–but he still had to dig deep for it!

Recently Gems fan Kathy sent us a story about an amazing video footage find. The subject line of her email caught my eye: “Gems can’t always be found by ‘panning:’ sometimes we have to ‘dig!'” She went on to say:

“You’re always stressing the importance of looking in the less obvious places but this is one of the best examples. Attached is an article about a horrific tragedy that happened in Chicago 100 years ago….It explains how video footage [about this disaster] was found in a British online newsreel–but it was not referenced under “Eastland,” the name of the ship, or “Chicago,” the location. We all like the easy way of finding things but finding gems sometimes takes digging and you just can’t pan for it.” (Click here to see the footage, though it may not be something everyone wants to watch.)

Thank you, Kathy! I often encourage people to dig for historical video footage (see Resources, below). Old footage shows us the past so compellingly! Also, did you notice that the video for a Chicago disaster was found in a British archive?? Not even the same country! Not too long ago, we blogged about how the media often picks up out-of-town stories. We may discover coverage about our relatives in newspapers and newsreels far from their homes. Just a tip to help YOU find more gems.

 

Resources:

My Most Amazing Find Ever: Family History on YouTube (No Kidding!)

Find Your Family History in the 1950s (tips for finding video footage)

6 Tips for Using YouTube for Family History

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.)

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!

 

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 181

1950s family historySock hops. Drive-ins. Juke boxes. Fuzzy dice. Letterman jackets. Poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes. Do the 1950s come to mind? They will when you listen to the newly-published Genealogy Gems podcast, episode 181!

The 1950s are a great era to research your family history, but it may not seem easy at first. Federal censuses (1950 in the U.S. and 1951 in Canada, the U.K. and Australia) are privacy-restricted, and so are many vital records.

In this episode, I’ll inspire you with several very FUN approaches to learning about your family history during this time period. I’ll also give you some tips and factoids about those blacked-out 1950s censuses–including which census had women up in arms because the government asked them to be more honest about their ages!

There’s plenty of news in this episode, too, from a new Google innovation to two new record collections online that fill in some holes in U.S. documentary history (military and African-American). I’ll read some mail from YOU about the new Ancestry site and family history blogging and share some helpful resources. And we announce the latest Genealogy Gems Book Club pick: listen or click here to learn more about that!

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastClick here to access Genealogy Gems podcast episode 181. Love this and looking for more? Click here to access the FULL archive of FREE Genealogy Gems podcast episodes. If you love the podcast format but are looking for a more step-by-step approach to family history, check out our free Family History Made Easy podcast series.

NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club Title: Pioneer Girl (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Pioneer Girl Book ClubWhen Lisa and I were young we read the “Little House” series of children’s books about growing up on the western U.S. frontier. These books continue to shape the way Lisa and I imagine our ancestors’ lives during that era. Well, the “grown-up” version of the Little House series has finally been published!

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, is our newest Genealogy Gems Book Club. It’s the never-before-published autobiography Laura wrote in the 1930s. The stories and memories she shares in it are the basis for her  popular Little House children’s series.

Across the cover of a dime store paper tablet, Laura scrawled “Pioneer Girl.” Then she filled it with detailed recollections of family, and neighbors, wagon trains and homesteads. In other words, memories of pioneering in an American West that was fading away. Her stories will intrigue–and sometimes stun–any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

In the Book Club announcement in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 181, I asked Lisa what makes this book a standout and a prime candidate for genealogists. Her answer? “The immaculate research that went into it. The stunning example it sets for source citations, which consume large portions of most of the pages. And the often never seen before photos sprinkled throughout that bring the people and times to life visually for the reader.”

Look for more on Pioneer Girl in the coming two months on the Genealogy Gems podcast and website. In September, Genealogy Gems Premium members will get to enjoy Lisa’s full interview with editor Pamela Smith Hill. We’ll play an excerpt on the free Genealogy Gems podcast.

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryWant to see more great titles we’ve recommended? Click here to access the Genealogy Gems Book Club, with best-selling titles: fiction, memoir, history and family histories. OR click here to see our growing list of how-to genealogy titles we love and have featured on Genealogy Gems in the past.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124: Ancestry, Book Club Interview and More

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 124If there’s a theme for Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124, it’s travel! (Which works for us here in the U.S., where we are enjoying summer vacations.) Our ancestors sure traveled, and sometimes a paper trail followed them. In this episode you’ll hear Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s interview with Phil Goldfarb, author of two volumes on U.S. passport applications. More episode highlights include:

  • genealogy book club genealogy gemsThe exclusive Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of our featured title, The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist);
  • Another tip for photographing headstones on your trips to the cemetery, whether your own relatives’ or for sites like BillionGraves;
  • Follow-up tips on saving your data at Ancestry and navigating the remodeled Ancestry website;
  • An easy, inexpensive family history craft that would be perfect for a family reunion this summer.

liesHere’s a teaser from our conversation on passport applications: People lied on them, including those who became famous. Clara Barton lied about her age and Harry Houdini said he was born in the U.S., when he was actually born in Austria-Hungary. Also, passport applications can be an excellent place to learn an immigrant’s date of arrival in the U.S., the ship they arrived on and the court and date of naturalization.

Did you know that Genealogy Gems Premium members have access to our full archive of Premium podcast episodes, as well as hours’ worth of exclusive video tutorials on genealogy research skills, using online records and harnessing powerful technology tools like Google searching, Google Earth and Evernote for genealogy? Click here to learn more about Premium membership for yourself or for your genealogy society or library.

As always, our Genealogy Gems flagship podcast remains free, thanks to your support and purchases you make through the links we provide (like for the books we recommend on this page).

See the Incredible Piece of History This Auctioneer Stumbled Into

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

Every man-made object has a story behind it–and sometimes an entire chapter in history. One such object is a bottle of ale recently discovered in a garage in Shropshire, England. As reported by TheBlaze.com, a British auctioneer found the bottle. “It looked interesting, so I took a closer look — and, lo and behold, there on the cap were the words ‘Allsopp’s Arctic Ale,’ then embossed on the seal was ‘Arctic Expedition 1875.’”

Now the bottle is up for auction! Here’s the description from the auction site:

“An unopened bottle of Arctic Expedition beer dated 1875, with original intact label and contents. Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was brewed for The British Arctic Expedition of 1875. The Expedition was an attempt by the British Admiralty to reach the North Pole and included two ships HMS Alert and HMS Discovery under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Sir George Nares (1831-1915). Unfortunately the expedition failed to reach the pole but succeeded in mapping the coast lines of Greenland and Ellesmere Island.”

I wondered whether anyone else has sampled another bottle of ’75 Arctic brew. So I googled it. I found a beer blogger who loves the stuff! From Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile: Beer Now and Then blog post of June 10, 2012:

“One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times….There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some….

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet….Those frozen sailors on the 1875 British Arctic Expedition, some of whom set a new record for furthest north, traveling to within 460 miles of the North Pole, must have cheered whenever another bottle was thawed out and decanted into their mugs.”

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

What history do your family artifacts hold? Click here to read about other family heirlooms, lost and found, trashed or treasured, reported here on our blog, like a post about a Purple Heart medal like the one shown here.

Have you heard a great story like this? Post it on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page or email me!

 

Annie Barrows Talks Family History and The Truth According to Us

Annie Barrow interviewIf you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you know how brilliantly co-author Annie Barrows stitched together letters, conversations and history in her fictional love story and account of the Nazi-occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. I love that book. So I was super excited to hear her talking on The Diane Rehm Show recently about her new book, The Truth According to Us: A Novel.

Of course, Annie read from the opening of her book, which made me put it at the top of my reading list. Then she talked about how history can be so different, depending on who is telling the story and from what perspective. I loved her take on small-town history and family history: how it’s remembered so deeply and passionately by its own, and often so mis-remembered or mis-represented by outsiders.

Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

“In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.”

Annie did talk about the Guernsey book, too. I hadn’t realized her aunt wrote the original manuscript, then became too ill to do the rewrites her publisher wanted. So Annie took on the task. As the author of the acclaimed Ivy and Bean children’s series, clearly she was up to the task. But she didn’t dream it would become an international best-seller!

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryThat’s my latest recommendation as the “curator” of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We recommend mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles that resonate with people who love family history. Up soon on the Genealogy Gems Book Club schedule: our interview with author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) (we’ll put the link up on the Book Club page when it’s ready). We also recently published this new companion list of how-to genealogy books we love.

 

The 1910 Census in Puerto Rico: A Surprising Lesson on Using Census Records for Genealogy

Puerto Rico census screenshot

Sample census detail image from Ancestry.com.

Imagine taking a standard U.S. census form, translating it into Spanish, administering it to a newly-American population whose racial identity is highly politicized, translating the results back into English and trying to make sense of them 100 years later.

That’s what happens when you’re looking at 1910 census in Puerto Rico.

I stumbled on this story when my dad, a FamilySearch indexer, called my attention to a current project to index previously-missed parts of the 1910 census. A lot of the missing data was for Puerto Rico. The forms are in Spanish. My dad asked my help translating some of what he was reading, since I speak some Spanish. He was concerned that the computer was interpreting some of the abbreviations in English when they were likely Spanish abbreviations. I looked into it and what I found reminded me of these lessons:

Puerto Rico 1910 1920 census instructions

From “The US Census and the Contested Rules of Racial Classification in Early Twentieth-Century Puerto Rico,” by Mara Loveman, in Caribbean Studies, 35:2 (July-Dec 2007), 3-36. Click image to go to the paper.

Always read the record itself and seek to understand it. Don’t just rely on the index! The published images of this census on Ancestry interpret “B” in the race column as “Black,” but a little research (thank you, Google Scholar!) reveals that the census takers entered the race in Spanish–so “B” was for “blanco” (read about it in this academic paper).

When you see someone’s race change over the course of a lifetime, consider the historical context. Puerto Rican census data from the early 1900s “show a population becoming significantly whiter from one census to the next” because of “changes in how race was classified on census returns,” says the same paper. Not only were there changes in the official instructions, but the enumerators increasingly didn’t follow them. In fact, on several thousand census entries in 1910 and even more in 1920, “individuals’ racial classifications were manually crossed out, and a different ‘race’ was written in. These post-enumeration edits, it turns out, were done by a select group of Puerto Ricans hired to supervise and ‘correct’ the work of fellow Puerto Rican enumerators.”

google toolbox bookThis little historical trivia is not so trivial if you’re wondering why your ancestor may be identified by a different race than you expected. Learn more about finding academic papers like the one quoted here in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke. Her book shows you how to search Google Scholar for gems like this that make your family history more clear!

 

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