October 13, 2015

Do You Need these WWII Documents at The National Archives [UK]?

Recently I heard about a slew of WWII documents at The National Archives [U.K.], some newly available online. Look closely at the descriptions: they have holdings of records of non-British forces, too!

Battle of Britain WWII documents at National Archives UK

Battle of Britain air observer. Wikipedia Commons image. Click to view.

Recently The National Archives [UK] promoted some of the WWII documents in its vaults, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Below are resources and collections they’ve highlighted.

The National Archives’ guide to researching WWII. This is an overview to researching British government and military records of WWII.

Guide to Royal Air Force Service Records. Use this overview to see what records are available at The National Archives, and learn about related records that have been digitized and indexed at Findmypast.

Royal Air Force combat reports. These are “official reports which pilots or air gunners filed after they had encountered enemy aircraft on operational flights,” says a description on the site. “The reports cover action seen by the squadrons, wings and groups serving with Fighter Command, Bomber Command, Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm. Now held at The National Archives in series AIR 50, they include Commonwealth, United States Army Air Force and Allied units based in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.”

Royal Air Force operations record books for squadrons. “Most of them date from the Second World War but there are some from the 1920s and 1930s and a few from the First World War,” says the site. “The ORBs, in series AIR 27, were created to provide a complete record of a unit from the time of its formation. Each book includes an accurate record of operations carried out by the unit. This online collection also includes some operations record books for dominion and Allied Air Force squadrons under British Command.” Part of the series is viewable online.

More Exciting WWII Resources from Genealogy Gems:

10 Maps for Family History at David Rumsey Map Collection

The Ghost Army of WWII Author Interview in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 182

The Bombing of London in WWII: Interactive Map of The Blitz

thank you for sharingI love it when people share! Thank you for passing this post along to others who will want to know about it.


Tell Your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy

Do you wish you knew more about your ancestor’s everyday life experience? Use social history for genealogy: to fill in the gaps between documented events.

social history for genealogy family history

Recently we heard from Barbara Starmans, a social historian, genealogist and longtime listener of three of Lisa’s podcasts. She wrote to share a new blog she started.

“While I’ve maintained my Out of My Tree Genealogy blog for many years, I’ve just launched The Social Historian, a longform story website featuring social history themed articles from across the centuries and around the world.”

Social history is about “the lives of ordinary people,” explains Barbara. “It is a view of history from the bottom up, rather than from the top down…. [It’s about] understanding…how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. It is often the minutia of someone’s life that tells the story of who they were and what they believed in.”

“By exploring social history, you will be able to research all the circumstances of your ancestors’ lives and to build their life stories from the details you find.” Barbara send us a great list that we adapted and boiled down to a few core topics:

  • Life cycle: Birth and birthing customs, health and lifestyle practices, medicine, diseases and epidemics, mental health, mortality rates, death and burial customs.
  • Life at home: Clothing and fashion, food and cooking, housekeeping, land and property, alcohol and drug use.
  • Life at work: Economy (prices, cost of living and salaries), occupations, working conditions and the labor movement, businesses and employers, social welfare and relief.
  • Relationships: Morality, marriage and divorce, children and childhood, ethnicity and prejudices,
  • Community life: Celebrations and holidays, traditions, education, language and literacy, religion/church, faith, crime and punishment, societal unrest, leisure pursuits.
  • Game changers: War, emigration, inventions, transportation, communication, slavery and emancipation.

Barbara’s social history blog gives lots of great examples of her belief that “beyond just names and dates, those who came before us have a story to tell….By learning about their time and place and how they lived in it, you can add to your understanding of who they were.”


Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition cover

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke is packed with strategies for learning about your ancestors’ lives online. There’s an entire chapter on using Google Scholar for genealogy!

Where can you look for social history online? I’d start with these sites:

1. Make sure you’re using all of Google’s fantastic resources, including Google Books and Google Scholar

2. Click to find Social history resources at the Library of Congress

3. American Social History Project at the City University of New York

Have fun! I think learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors is one of the most fascinating parts of family history.

media_icon_like_400_wht_9163Thanks for sharing this post with others who will enjoy it!

Celebrate Constitution Day with The National Archives on YouTube

anniversary of the US Constitution DayToday is Constitution Day: the 228th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. The National Archives is celebrating with free programs and a special Family Day. 

Most of us won’t be able to attend in person, but the National Archives will be webcasting several of its free public programs live on the National Archives YouTube Channel. These include:

Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding DocumentThursday, September 17, 12 pm. “Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) tells dramatic, little-known stories behind six of the Constitution’s most indispensable provisions and explains why some of today’s issues are the direct result of how the courts, Congress, and the executive branch have minimized or ignored them. A book signing will follow the program.”

The Young Madisons: Why a New Generation Is Standing Up for the Constitution. Thursday, September 17, 7 pm. “A rising generation of civic leaders, shaped by the digital revolution, is reaffirming its commitment to the rights-based principles of the U.S. Constitution. The ninth annual State of the Constitution Lecture at the National Archives…focuses on the voices of young leaders in the spheres of policy, governance, and citizen engagement who are shaping America’s future as a constitutional democracy.”

The Constitution: An Introduction. Wednesday, September 30, 12 pm. “Practically every aspect of American life is shaped by the Constitution….Yet most of us know surprisingly little about the Constitution itself. In his book The Constitution, professor Michael S. Paulsen, one of the nation’s leading scholars of constitutional interpretation, has written a lively introduction to the supreme law of the United States, covering the Constitution’s history and meaning in clear, accessible terms, and provides us with the tools to think critically and independently about constitutional issues.”

More on the U.S. Constitution from the National Archives:

Will you be in town that day? Here’s what you should know:

  • The original U.S. Constitution is on permanent display in the National Archives. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. due to a morning naturalization ceremony (which is not open to the public).
  • Programs will be held in the William G. McGowan Theater, unless otherwise noted. Attendees should use the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue at 7th Street, NW. Metro accessible on the Yellow and Green lines, Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter station.
  • FAMILY DAY: Between 1-4 pm in the Boeing Learning center there will be special hands-on activities for families and children.
  • Advance registration is required for the free program “The Young Madisons.”

More Resources

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryGenealogy Gems Book Club. We have lots of great reading picks for family history lovers, both for pleasure reading or more serious how-to genealogy books.

Digitizing Colonial America: Help is on the Way for Your Colonial Genealogy

Top 25 Tips for Finding Your Colonial Ancestors on-demand webinar by D. Joshua Taylor

thanks youre a gemSometimes we recommend resources available through ShopFamilyTree, Amazon and other affiliates. If you decide to purchase these, thank you for using our links which supports the free Genealogy Gems blog and podcast! 




What I Learned from the Family Work Ethic: Happy Labor Day!

I just came across this  Labor Day post in the Genealogy Gems article archive. I’m sending it out again as a salute to our hard-working forebears and all of YOU who work hard, too.

Labor Day work ethic celebrate ancestors

Originally posted on Sept 2, 2013:

On August 15, I posted a compelling video and article on my Facebook page about the importance of hard word and making your own luck, values I am fortunate that my ancestors passed on to me. The speech came from an unlikely source: a young Hollywood actor. In the video, Ashton Kutcher stands in front of a bunch of teenagers at the Teen Choice Awards talking about the importance of hard work:

“When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground,” Kutcher said. “And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”

The video went wildly viral (which is how I came across it) and it got me to thinking about my own work ethic. The credit for it sits squarely on my dad’s shoulders, and also my grandparents shoulders, and their grandparents shoulders.

Dad and Grandpa

My dad was the first in his family to get a college degree. He went to school and studied all day and worked in the local hospital morgue at night! (image left: Dad and my proud Grandpa at Dad’s Graduation) I remember endless nights as a kid creeping up behind him as he sat in at the makeshift office in my parent’s master bedroom, puffing on a pipe and studying for his CPA. We didn’t have much in common to talk about, but it was what I saw in action that was communicating to me. Dad went on to become a successful businessman in a large company, and later created several vibrant businesses.

I guess it was that non-verbal communication between father and daughter that inspired me as a kid to pull weeds, babysit and yes even shingle the side of the garage to make a few bucks.  And I vividly remember taking a temporary job caring for a 100 old year woman for a few weeks one summer. She was testy at first as she felt generally ignored, but warmed up to her inquisitive caregiver until she was soon sharing stories of traveling as a little girl in a covered wagon. She’d found her audience and I was entranced.

At 15 I lied about my age so I could get a job at pizza place washing dishes. Within two days they promoted me to cook, a position a girl had never held in that restaurant.

Later I went on to my teenage dream job – sales clerk at the Mall record store. (Sheer persistence helped me beat out all the other teens for that one!) And then, on to a job at Radio Shack (this time the first female to be hired in the state!) as the TRS-80 hit the shelves.

I started my professional career working for free at a travel agency to get a little resume cred as I finished travel agent school, and was the first to land a job a week before graduation. I went on to working in corporate America where I received invaluable career development.

grandkids help2

Signing books with my grandsons.

But like my dad, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve created a couple of businesses and positions for myself over the years, and find myself now with Genealogy Gems living my dream and drawing from all of my past experiences.

There have been many challenges along the way – no one ever said work was easy. And in fact, my mom’s favorite saying that was drilled in to us as kids was “life isn’t fair – get over it!” She was absolutely right, and she removed the obstacle of fretting over fairness from my life, so I could just get on with working hard and creating my own dreams. I was one lucky kid!

Now whenever a challenge arises, my instinct is to say to myself: I can’t wait to find out what future opportunity this dilemma is training me for!” Almost without exception, I can look back over my past work experiences and see how they are helping me today. Some of the very worst have turned out to be blessings. (Update: I talk more about this and my career in an interview I did on the Genealogy Professional Podcast Episode 29.)

So what “lucky” opportunities have you had and created? On this Labor Day I hope you’ll join me in the comments and also share what you learned from your previous generations.

The good news: Even if the most recent generations that came before let you down, family history offers you centuries to pull new and positive values from. Your ancestors were survivors and yep, that’s why you’re here! You may have parents or grandparents who went astray, but you have countless ancestors to find, and learn from. And best of all, you get to pick which values you wish to embrace, and which will fall by the wayside.

www.geneaogygems.comLet us pass on what our ancestors taught us so our kids and grandkids can enjoy the opportunities, growth, reward and freedom that comes from good old hard work.

Why not share this post with someone YOU know who works hard? Let them know how much you admire them.


We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!

AUSTRALIA WWI WOMEN. New media resources, including a television series, Facebook page and Twitter feed have been created to share more information about Australians and New Zealanders who participated in World War I, particularly women. Click here for a related blog post from The National Archives (Australia).

COLOMBIA CHURCH RECORDS. More than a million browsable records have been added to an existing database at FamilySearch, Colombia Catholic Church Records 1600-2012. “These records include: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, marriage dispensations, deaths, and indexes.” Some of the collection is already indexed.

ENGLAND ELECTORAL REGISTERS. Electoral registers for Manchester, England (1832-1900) are now browsable on Findmypast. Details about an ancestor’s residence and property ownership may appear.

NEW JERSEY STATE CENSUS. FamilySearch just added more than 2.7 million records from the 1915 New Jersey Census  to its free online collections. These records include “the names of each member of the household, location, gender, birth date (month and year) and birthplace.” Click here learn more about this and other state censuses.

TEXAS MARRIAGE RECORDS. More than half a million indexed records have been added to an existing free database, Texas County Marriage Records 1837-1977, at FamilySearch. Covering 140 years, the records include “various types of marriage records (registers, licenses, intentions to marry, etc.) from 183 of the 254 counties in Texas.”

share notes with evernoteThank you for sharing these new genealogy records online with your genealogy friends and fellow society members via email and your favorite social media channels. Just use the Share buttons on this page!


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.



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.