April 28, 2015

Find Your Family History in the 1950s

1950s Fords by Bob P.B. on Flickr Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

1950s Fords by Bob P.B. on Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

When we try to research our family history from recent decades, we often find privacy barriers: U.S. census records for 1950 and beyond are closed, as are many vital records. Here are some ideas for finding family history in the 1950s and beyond:

1. Interview relatives. The good news is that in many families, there are relatives around who remembers the 1950s. If there’s not, then look to the memories of the next living generation.

Interviewing a relative is one of the most fun and meaningful ways to learn your family history. You can ask specific and personal questions, deepen your relationships with those you interview and gain a better understanding of the lives that led to you. Older people often love to have someone take a sincere interest in them. The free Family History Made Easy podcast episode 2 has a great segment on interviewing your relatives.

2. Read the newspaper. Use newspapers to find obituaries and discover more about daily life, current events, popular opinions of the time, prices for everyday items and more. It’s getting easier than ever to find and search digitized newspapers online, but more recent papers may still be under copyright protection.

Use online resources like to discover what newspapers served your family’s neighborhood, or even whether an ethnic, labor or religious press would have mentioned them. In the US, I always start with the US Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America to search for ALL newspapers published in a particular place and time, as well as the names of libraries or archives that have copies of these papers. Historical societies and local public libraries are also wonderful places to look for newspapers. My book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, teaches readers what to look for in papers and how to locate them online and offline.

3. Search city directories. By the 1950s, most towns and cities published directories of residents, mostly with telephone numbers. I use annual directory listings to track families from year to year. These might give you your first clue that someone moved, married, separated, divorced or died! I can often find their exact street address (great for mapping!), who lived at the house and sometimes additional information like where they worked, what their job was or who they worked for.

Ancestry.com has over a billion U.S. city directory entries online, up to 1989. But most other online city directory collections aren’t so recent. Look for city directories first in hometown public libraries. Check with larger regional or state libraries and major genealogical libraries.

4. Search for historical video footage. YouTube isn’t just for viral cat videos. Look there for old newsreels, people’s home movies and other vintage footage. It’s not unusual to find films showing the old family neighborhood, a school or community function, or other footage that might be relevant to your relatives.

Use the YouTube search box like you would the regular Google search box. Enter terms like “history,” “old,” “footage,” or “film” along with the names, places or events you hope to find. For example, the name of a parade your relative marched in, a team he played on, a company she worked for, a street he lived on and the like. It’s hit and miss, for sure, but sometimes you can find something very special.

My Contributing Editor Sunny Morton tried this tip. Almost immediately, with a search on the name of her husband’s ancestral hometown and the word “history,” she found a 1937 newsreel with her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire truck with his celebrity dog! She recognized him from old photos and had read about his dog in the newspapers. (Click here to read her stunned post.) Learn more about searching for old videos in my all-new second edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which has a totally updated chapter on YouTube.

Click here to read more about the 1950s U.S. census: when it will be out and how you can work around its privacy restrictions.

Google Scholar and ProQuest Team Up!

stick_figure_book_pile_9092This just in! Google Scholar and ProQuest are teaming up to provide a publicly-accessible index to all of ProQuest’s scholarly journal content. Google Scholar already delivers search results on your favorite genealogy keywords (names, places and records) from scholarly publications like dissertations, academic articles and more. (Click here to read my blog post about Google Scholar for genealogy.)

Now the search experience will become more powerful and inclusive. According to a press release, “ProQuest will enable the full text of its scholarly journal content to be indexed in Google Scholar, improving research outcomes. Work is underway and the company anticipates that by the third-quarter of 2015, users starting their research in Google Scholar will be able to access scholarly content via ProQuest.”

“ProQuest has rich, vast content that advances the work of researchers, scholars and students,” blogged the CEO of ProQuest. “Respecting the different ways researchers and librarians choose to conduct their research is essential to ensuring that content is simple to discover and use. We know Google Scholar is a popular starting point for researchers of all kinds. Our teamwork with Google will enable these patrons to be automatically recognized as authenticated ProQuest users and seamlessly link to their ProQuest collections, where they can connect with full-text scholarly content.”

It appears that there will still be a charge to access copyright-protected material (“authenticated ProQuest users” in the quote above are those that have access via a ProQuest subscription). According to the press release, “Users who are not recognized will be sent to a landing page with the abstract or an image of the first page, protecting all rights holders. To read full text, the users will authenticate themselves. There is nothing for libraries to set up – the linking will be seamless and automatic.”

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverLearn more about using Google Scholar and other advance Google search techniques to discover your family history online in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition. The newly-updated and fully-revised book is available now!

We Dig These New Genealogy Records Gems every Friday!

We dig these gemsEvery week, we see so many new genealogy records posted online! We highlight major resources in individual blog posts. But sometimes smaller or regional collections catch our eye, too. We’ll round these up for you in a post like this on Fridays.

Watch for the genealogy records that your ancestors might appear in–but also watch for the kinds of records that may be out there for your kin, which might help you break down your family history “brick walls.”

PRISON RECORDS. Kingston, Canada, Penitentiary Inmate Ledgers, 1913-1916, are now available on Flickr. According to GenealogyCanada.blogspot.com, “The ledger includes frontal and profile mug shots, the inmate’s name, alias, age, place of birth, height, weight, complexion, eye colour, hair colour, distinctive physical marks, occupation, sentence, date of sentence, place of sentence, crime committed, and remarks of authorities.”

CEMETERY HEADSTONES. The Canadian Headstone Photo Project is now also searchable at FamilySearch.org. The original site with over a million headstone photos isn’t new. But some people don’t know about the site, and its search interface isn’t as pretty or flexible. So we think it’s nice that FamilySearch is hosting that data, too. According to FamilySearch, the collection is still growing. “This collection will include records from 1790-2013. The records include a name index of headstone inscriptions, courtesy of CanadianHeadstones.com, which is a family history database of records and images from Canada’s cemeteries.”

HISTORICAL PROPERTIES MAP INTERFACE. The state of Delaware in the United States has launched an updated version of its CHRIS (Cultural and Historical Resource Information System) GIS tool. Use this interface to explore houses, districts and National Historic Landmarks in your ancestor’s Delaware neighborhoods. Maybe a place they lived, worked, shopped, worshiped or attended is still standing!

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064Not sure how to find record sets like these for YOUR family history? Here’s a tip! Use the “numrange” search operator in Google to locate records from a particular time period. Do this by typing the range of years to search (first and last year) into your Google search box, with two periods in between (no spaces). For example, the search “Kingston Penitentiary” 1900..1920 brings up the ledgers mentioned above.

This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.

 

Google Scholar for Genealogy? Here’s Why to Try It

stick_figure_reading_on_top_of_books_11968Recently I heard from Sue Neale, whose story offers a compelling reason to use Google Scholar for genealogy research! Read it below–then I’ll tell you a little more about Google Scholar.

“I’ve been using computers for genealogy research (among other things) for about 30 years and am pretty good at finding most anything on the internet whether it pertains to genealogy or something else. It’s a continuous learning experience because computer, the internet and genealogy on the internet are always changing and updating.

[After hearing your seminars at RootsTech 2015], I tried out a couple of Google searches for my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather Silas Fletcher. Silas lived on Indian Key in the Florida Keys in the early 1820s.

My husband and I and our son visited Indian Key several years ago and the young lady who took us out in the boat had actually written her college thesis on Silas! Of course, we didn’t think to get her name or any other information. So I Googled “scholar paper Silas Fletcher’ and the first item on the search turned out to be her thesis!

I also found a second thesis on Indian Key and a research paper a third person had written–and they both contained information on Silas. In the footnotes I found references to deed books (book number and page number) that contained statements written by Silas, his wife Avis, their daughter Abigail and Mike’s 2nd great grandfather William H. Fletcher about their lives and movements in the Florida Keys.

With that information I went to Familysearch.org and found the deed books I needed for Monroe County. I was able to go find their statements very easily instead of having to ‘browse’ through the books on the off-chance I would find something (which I do if I don’t know the exact book where the record would be).

I can hardly wait to try out the rest of what I learned at your seminars to see what else I can find!”

Sue’s experience is a great example of using Google to dig for your family history. One little-known feature on Google is Google Scholar, which would help Sue and anyone else more easily find material like what she describes: doctoral dissertations, theses, academic papers and more. Your keyword searches in Google Scholar will target results from academic publishers, universities, professional societies and more.

scholar

Though scholarly literature gets a bad rap sometimes for being boring or highbrow, they do something genealogists love: THEY CITE SOURCES. Sue cleverly read the footnotes of the materials she found and they led her right to a key source she needed.

Here’s another resource she could find using the details found on Google Scholar in a Google Image search: a map of his community!

IK-annotated-sketch

 

My newly-updated, revised book The Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverGenealogist’s Google Toolbox has an all-new chapter on using Google Scholar. Among other things, I show you advanced search strategies and how to use Google Alerts with Google Scholar for continuous updates on your favorite search results. Click here

 

Which are the Best Genealogy Websites for YOU??

money_tree_PA_500_wht_3903Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!

“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch].  Where should you spend your time and money?  While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource.  If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites?  I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy.  Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?

Which paid sites do you regularly use?  Which free sites do you use?  Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day.  It is really getting rather confusing.”

What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:

“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.

It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.

  • For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
  • For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
  • When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistOur mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!

I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!”  Lisa

5 Most Popular Searches in Historical Newspapers–and Tips for Improving Yours!

Genealogy Research in NewspapersThe British Newspaper Archive celebrated its 3rd birthday recently by looking back at how people are searching its 9 million+ newspaper pages. To date, the five most common searches are:

1. Football

2. Murder

3. Death

4. Jack the Ripper

5. Railway

Not what you expected? Your digitized newspaper searches as a family historian may be a little more specific and less sports-and-murder oriented. But are they too general to yield successful results?

Here’s a tip from Lisa: “With 9 million searchable pages, the key to finding what you want is to use the Advanced Search.

british search“You’ll find it under the search box. My initial search for my husband’s great grandfather resulted in tens of thousands of hits until I included mandatory keywords, his name as a phrase, a defined time frame, and zeroed in on advertisements. The 299 results were far more manageable and resulted in several fantastic finds!”

Armed with these tips, those with Irish or English roots should explore The British Newspaper Archive, even if you’ve searched there before. “We’ve come a long way since the website launched on 29 November 2011 with 4 million historic newspaper pages,” says a press release. “The collection is now more than twice the size, with over 9 million fully searchable pages available from 300 British and Irish titles. The newspapers cover 1710 – 1954, a much broader time period than at launch. If you weren’t able to find a particular person, event or place when The British Newspaper Archive launched, it’s well worth looking again now.” Visit www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk to try a search for free.”

Learn more about searching historical newspapers in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Chapter 4 is all about the newspaper search process, and includes a copy-able Newspaper Research Worksheet.

Last of all, check out this fun infographic below from the British Newspaper Archive in honor of its birthday:

 

British Newspaper Archive

What to Do When Genealogy Records Were Burned

flames_300_wht_8629Recently Sue from Elk Grove, Illinois wrote in with a question about what to do when records were lost due to fire (or war, or disasters, etc.):

“We have been trying to locate information on my great great grandparents Hugh and Mae Sullivan. I have never been able to find marriage or birth records and have realized that it was mainly due to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Interestingly, through a directory from 1866, they may have lived only blocks from the origin of the fire. I have them in 1880 with 4 sons, the first of which was born just 10 months following the fire.

“I suspect that they may have lost other children in the tragedy. I am unsure which direction to go to find more of their story and any suggestions would be helpful. Several newspapers are reported to have lists of the missing but I have either been unable to read them or to locate them. Sam Fink’s list [an index of Cook County marriages and deaths] did not provide any information. I suspect that my ancestors were among the very poor immigrants that flooded into Chicago. There were relief societies and I have wondered if records were kept of those who were rehoused.”

Here’s my response to Sue:

genealogy gems podcast mailboxI think you are on the right track with newspapers. Newspapers.com (owned by Ancestry) carries the Chicago Daily from 1871. Here is a screen shot of the List of Missing from Oct. 11, 1871.  It might be worth a subscription to Newspapers.com to be able to really comb through all the issues.

newspapers com missing clipHere’s a tip on working with less-than-the best digital images of historical newspapers. You can “invert” the actual image (have it read white-on-black instead of black-on-white), then darken it and add a little more contrast to get the most readable copy possible. This can be done right from the Newpapers.com viewer.

Also, in Family History podcast episode #37 I discussed a book specifically on Chicago research: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide To Family History In The City Of Chicago by Grace DuMelle. As I recall, it was a very comprehensive book and could give you good leads on where to look.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

 

For more tips like these, read my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Inside you’ll find:

  • Step-by-Step Instructions
  • Worksheets and Checklists
  • Tech Tools You Probably Aren’t Using But Should
  • A Massive Amount of Location Specific Websites  and a Case Study that Puts It Al Together

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Advice from Your DNA Guide

dna_magnifying_glass_300_wht_8959Knowing your genealogical question can make DNA testing for adoptees (and anyone else) more focused and relevant. Being patient and determined—not quitting after a single test’s results—can also pay off, as it did for Paul Dobbs, a Welsh-born man who followed his adoptive father to Canada only to learn he was fathered by a U.S. serviceman.

Paul Dobbs didn’t find out that Len Dodds wasn’t his biological father until after the man who’d raised him to adulthood passed away. The truth came out during a genetic investigation into Len’s rare medical condition. He learned that he was child of an American soldier stationed in Wales during World War II. But years of traditional genealogical research led to dead ends. Then Paul turned to DNA and found a match: a first cousin.

With the help of his new-found cousin and the traditional genealogical records available about servicemen serving in Cardiff at the end of World War II, Paul was able to form a convincing hypothesis about the identity of his biological father.

He reached out to a potential half sibling who agreed to conduct a DNA test to explore this option.

She was a match.  Paul had found his biological family! (Read his story in the Vancouver Sun.)

Not everyone will find their birth parents through DNA testing. But Paul took an approach that can serve anyone looking for biological kin through DNA. His experience reminds us that knowing your genealogical question can make DNA testing more focused and relevant. Being patient and determined—not quitting after a single test’s results—can also pay off, as it did for Paul.

For any male adoptee seeking his father, the yDNA test is a logical route to take. This is where Paul turned first. The yDNA provides an undiluted record of a direct paternal line.  This can often help adoptees identify a surname for their paternal line. However, Paul did not have the success he was hoping for with yDNA testing.

He then turned to autosomal DNA testing. Remember that this kind of test traces both your paternal and maternal lines and reports back to you matches in the database that have predicted relationships like, “2-4th cousins” or “3rd-5th cousins” and then you are left to decipher who your common ancestor might be.

DNA testing is a great option for adoptees to get a jumpstart on their genealogy. However, before testing, everyone, adoptees included, should carefully consider how the results of testing may impact you and your family, both biological and adopted.

Genealogy DNA Quick Reference Guides Cheat SheetsReady to learn more about your family with DNA testing? Learn how to with my series of quick guides. Purchase each guide individually or pick up the bundle of all 4 for the best deal!

Visit my website to learn about expert consultations with me. You’ll get customized guidance on which tests to order and how to maximize your results for your genealogy research.

Premium Perks! Genealogy Technology Tools Video, Life Story Writing AND Scottish Research

Are you a Genealogy Gems Premium member–or have you thought about becoming one? If so, you’ll want to know about the NEW content we recently published for Premium members only:

10 Technology Tools for GenealogyPremium Video: 10 Genealogy Tech Tools You Can’t Live Without

Most of us want to use the best technology tools available for genealogy. But we don’t want to wade through every app, software and gadget out there. We just don’t need them all! This video session focuses in on Lisa’s favorite 10 technology tools that keep the focus right where it belongs: on our research, not on technology overload. In this one-hour class, you’ll learn how to:

  • organize your research notes with Evernote
  • harness mobile genealogy with a tablet or iPad
  • save, share and transfer genealogy files through the cloud
  • access your home computer from a mobile device
  • safely and securely backup all of your family history files
  • curate and consume genealogy-related content
  • and much more!

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 116: Life-story Writing Inspiration and Scottish Roots

Laura Hedgecock life story writingGenealogy Gems Premium MembershipThe newly-released Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 116 includes–in addition to news you can use and inspiring asides–two great conversations. The first is an interview between myself (Contributing Editor Sunny Morton) and Laura Hedgecock, author of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. We talk about the challenges and rewards of writing life stories, whether your own or someone else’s. Learn some practical tips for writing family stories and helpful advice on what to do about family secrets.

Lisa also chats with Marie Dougan on the shores of Scotland to talk about researching Scottish ancestors. Marie is a professional genealogist based in Scotland who has been researching for more than 12 years. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and is currently a tutor on a range of genealogy and family history courses at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Marie loves to talk genealogy technology tools, which is one of Lisa’s favorite topics, too! So listen in on their conversation and see what tips you pick up!

HOW are We Related?? Use a Cousin Calculator

Genealogy relationship cousin calculatorRecently, I heard from Shirley in Austin, Texas (U.S.) with a question about how her relatives are related to each other:

“My GGM (Caroline ‘s) great grandfather (Franz Joseph)  is the same as my GGF (Eduard ‘s) grandfather (Franz Joseph). How would they be related to each other?  Half 2nd cousin twice removed?

The relative in common (Franz Joseph) and his same wife, had two sons: Franz Carl who is Eduard’s Father, and Johan Anton, who would be Caroline’s Grandfather.”

My answer: 

genealogy gems podcast mailboxI like this Cousin Calculator tool (also called a relationship calculator) at Searchforancestors.com. If Caroline is the Great Grand daughter of Franz Joseph and and Eduard is the Grandchild of Franz Joseph, then according to the Cousin Calculator they are first cousins one time removed. Hope that helps!

What kind of complicated or double family relationships have YOU discovered on your family tree? Enter them into the cousin calculator. Then tell us how they’re related on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!