November 24, 2015

Celebrating 1000 Genealogy Blog Posts: #7 in the Top 10 Countdown

n Genealogy Coundown #7The Social Security Applications and Claims Index was one of 2015’s most important new online resources for U.S. researchers (keep reading to see the other). No wonder it made the #7 spot on this week’s Top 10 genealogy blog post countdown!

This summer, quietly released a major addition to its U.S. record resources. We already rely on the Social Security Death Index to help us find 20th-century relatives. But so many of us have lamented at how limited is the info in that index, and how expensive to order the original application when there’s no guarantee we’ll find the person’s parents names (which are requested on the form).

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims IndexI’m guessing that’s why Lisa’s post on Ancestry’s new Social Security Applications and Claims Index made the #7 spot on our genealogy blog countdown this week! This enriched index adds parents’ names and more to millions of SSDI indexed entries. Click here to read more about it and search the index.

Want to read about another top database for U.S. researchers that was recently released? Click here!


Don’t forget about our countdown prize this week! Click here to see all Top 10 blog posts–and share that post on your Facebook page by THIS Friday (November 20, 2015). Use the hashtag #genealogygems, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win my Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download, kindly donated by our friends at Family Tree University. You’re welcome to add any comments on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.

media_icon_like_400_wht_9163Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping us celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.


Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 129

GG Premium 129Get inspired in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 129! You’ll hear about church records and YouTube for genealogy, locating hard-to-find records and–even better–locating ancestors’ parents.

How many ways can you think of to find family history? Lisa Louise Cooke can think of a lot–and she packs as many of them as possible into the newly-published Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #129.

In this members-only podcast, Lisa starts off with a rundown of some great new genealogy records online. I particularly enjoyed the back story she shares on the 1939 Register recently released by Findmypast for England and Wales.

Then Lisa tackles a tough two-part question that a listener sent in. We follow along with this listener’s progress in trying to track down an elusive record type. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t pan out. (Sound familiar?) So then it’s back to the drawing board with some follow-up Genealogy Gems advice and great feedback from yet another listener! I love how this show segment shows the inside process of multi-step research problems.

Family History and Genealogy on YouTubeA segment on YouTube for family history follows. Lisa is so great at figuring out how to use everyday technologies and online resources for family history, and YouTube is no exception. I admit I was a bit skeptical the first time I read about searching YouTube for ancestors in Lisa’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, but I have since found some amazing things on YouTube. Don’t miss these tips!

sabrina Riley Genealogy Gems Podcast Church RecordsTwo guests join the show today. First is an exclusive Gems interview with Sabrina Riley, a Library Director at Union College. Sabrina oversees an archive of Seventh-Day Adventist church records and gives us great tips on using these (and other denominational records) for genealogy.

Then Diahan Southard chimes in with an insightful DNA commentary on when our DNA circles don’t necessarily result in family connections.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and PodcastWhat a great lineup! If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium website member, sign in and then click here and start listening. If you’re not, click here to learn more about the benefits of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. Listening to this exclusive podcast episode is just ONE of MANY benefits you’ll receive for an entire year!

6 Sources that May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

Ancestors ParentsHave you reached a dead end on one branch of your family tree–you can’t find the parents’ names? Check out these sources for finding ancestors’ parents.

Recently Genealogy Gems podcast listener Trisha wrote in with this question about finding marriage license applications online. She hoped the original application would name the groom’s parents. Unfortunately, her search for the applications came up dry. So, she asked, “Are there other documents that would have his parents names listed on them?”

Here’s a brainstorm for Trisha and everyone else who is looking for an ancestor’s parents’ names (and aren’t we all!).

6 Record Sources that May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

1. Civil birth records. I’ll list this first, because civil birth records may exist, depending on the time period and place. But in the U.S. they are sparse before the Civil War and unreliably available until the early 1900s. So before a point, birth records–which will almost always name at least one parent–are not a strong answer. Learn more about civil birth records in my free Family History Made Easy podcast episode #25.

2. Marriage license applications. Trisha’s idea to look for a marriage license application was a good one. They often do mention parents’ names. But they don’t always exist: either a separate application form was never filled out, or it didn’t survive. Learn more about the different kinds of marriage documents that may exist in the Family History Made Easy podcast episode #24.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers3. Obituaries. Obituaries or death notices are more frequently found for ancestors who died in the late 1800s or later. Thanks to digitized newspapers, it’s getting SO much easier to find ancestors’ obituaries in old newspapers. My book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers is packed with practical tips and inspiring stories for discovering your family’s names in newsprint. Millions of newly-indexed obituaries are on FamilySearch (viewable at GenealogyBank). Get inspired with this list of 12 Things You Can Learn from Obituaries!

4. Social Security Applications (U.S.). In the U.S., millions of residents have applied for Social Security numbers and benefits since the 1930s. These applications request parents’ names. There are still some privacy restrictions on these, and the applications themselves are pricey to order (they start at $27). But recently a fabulous new database came online at Ancestry that includes millions of parents’ names not previously included in public databases. I blogged about it here. Learn more about Social Security applications (and see what one looked like) in the show notes for my free Family History Made Easy podcast episode #4.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast5. Baptismal records. Many churches recorded children’s births and/or the baptisms of infants and young children. These generally name one or both parents. Millions of church records have come online in recent years. Learn more about birth and baptism records created by churches in the Family History Made Easy Podcast Episode #26. Click these links to read more about baptismal records in Quebec and Ireland.

6. Siblings’ records. If you know the name of an ancestor’s sibling, look for that sibling’s records. I know of one case in which an ancestor appeared on a census living next door to a possible parent. Younger children were still in the household. A search for one of those younger children’s delayed birth record revealed that the neighbor WAS his older sister: she signed an affidavit stating the facts of the child’s birth.

Thanks for sharing this list with anyone you know who wants to find their ancestors’ parents!

missing birth recordMore Genealogy Gems on Finding Your Ancestors in Old Records

Missing Birth Record? Here’s What You Can Do to Track it Down
Try These 2 Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online

Finding Ancestors in Courthouse Records: Research Tips
(Premium website membership required)





Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online

When we showed one listener these tips for finding genealogy records online, she wrote back immediately: “I will be utilizing that research technique more often!” 

Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records OnlineNot long ago, Trisha wrote to Lisa to thank her for the free Genealogy Gems podcast and ask for help: “I am trying to find the marriage application from my grandparents marriage, from 1939 in Jackson County, Arkansas with hopes that it will contain my grandfather’s parents names. Do you have any information about how I can find this information?”

I tend to start my search for ANY record type with Google. Lisa has sharpened my Google search skills with everything I’ve learned from the 2nd edition of her book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, fully updated for 2015 with hundreds of search strategies and suggestions.

So first I Google-searched “Jackson County Arkansas marriage records.” I scanned the list for results from the “big” genealogy websites: FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast, etc, because there might be a database on one of those sites. In this case, the top result is from FamilySearch, but it’s not a direct link to online records: it’s a wiki page that will direct you to lots of Jackson County resources.

I mentally flagged that result but kept looking down the list. A result from popped up. I clicked on it, but it didn’t lead me to a database either, just a somewhat canned  summary of how to order the original records from the government office. That can be expensive and time-consuming, so it’s not my first choice if I can find the actual record online, so I came back up to the FamilySearch wiki result.
family search wiki find ancestors' names
The FamilySearch wiki can be an excellent signpost to finding genealogy records online all over the world (and offline records!). Wiki articles are written by volunteers, so some entries are spotty or outdated. But in this case, there are a couple of excellent resources. The wiki page for Jackson County, Arkansas starts off with a table of contents, which you can click to take you further down on the page to exactly what you want to know. For Trisha, it’s marriage records (under 4.2, Vital Records).

Clicking on “Marriage” under Vital Records will take you to this paragraph:

FS wiki marriage records

The first resource is not helpful to Trisha because the time frame is wrong. The second resource appears useful, but only if Trisha’s grandparents’ last names begin with K-Q. However, when you click on it (it’s free), you can quickly learn that Jackson County coverage has broadened since the wiki article was written: all the records for 1939 are now included. (How can you tell? Click on “Learn more” under the collection description, and then click on the record coverage table. Scroll down to Jackson County: you’ll see all the records for 1939 (1935-1940, in volume N (not for surname N)) are included.)

Unfortunately, these are records of marriage licenses and returns, not APPLICATIONS for marriage licenses, as Trisha wants. Specifically, she wants to find the parents of the bride and groom, not mentioned in these marriage records. So in this case, I would move on to the third resource mentioned on the FamilySearch wiki. It’s a link to Jackson County’s own index of marriage records. The index isn’t helpful, but click on Home and you’ll find the County Clerk’s email address. My next step would be to email the clerk and ask whether the applications for 1939 still exist. If her answer is negative, check with a local genealogical society, which may suggest alternate local records to help with those elusive parents’ names.

What genealogical record sets are YOU burning to find? Try this search strategy and see what Google and the FamilySearch wiki have to tell you!

MORE Gems to Help You Find Your Family History in Old Records

Google AlertsGoogle for Genealogy: Google Keyword Search Tips

Advanced Google Search Strategies for Adoptees in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #128 (Premium website membership required)

Google Alerts for Genealogy: Not What They Used to Be?

Thanks for sharing this post with others who would love to try these search strategies! You’re a gem!

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 128 Is Ready for YOU!

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast 128Courthouse research tips, adoption search strategies, an inspiring Google search success story, an important (but little-used) U.S. record type and more are packed into the newest episode of the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.

The Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 128 is ready for the listening pleasure of Genealogy Gems Premium website members!

One of our listeners sent in a question with a fascinating research problem. She’s an adoption “search angel,” someone who helps adoptees connect with birth roots. She describes her current research, which involves her own spreadsheet of FamilySearch data and an advanced Google search question on finding obituaries. I gave her some guidance that could help anyone looking for obituaries online.

That’s just the first segment in this episode of the podcast! You’ll also hear some great courthouse research tips with Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton, who wrote the curriculum for the Family Tree University course called Courthouse Research Made Easy. You’ll hear a letter from a listener with his inspiring “Google for genealogy” success story and a spotlight on state and regional census records. And our resident DNA expert Diahan Southard joins us to explain New Ancestry Discoveries at AncestryDNA.

About the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast

GGP thanks for sharingThe Genealogy Gems Premium podcast is a monthly podcast available exclusively to Genealogy Gems Premium website members. It’s similar in format to our free monthly Genealogy Gems podcast, but you get MORE news, stories, and in-depth interviews to inform and inspire your own family history research. Premium website members also have access to more than two dozen video tutorials that will also help take your research to the next step. Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership.

“Help! Why Is My Ancestor Listed TWICE in the Census?”

It’s a common problem to not find your family history in the census AT ALL. But what happens when you find them listed TWICE?

Ancestors Listed Twice in the Census

Donna recently wrote in with this head-scratching question: “Lisa, I love your podcast, and have been to several of your presentations, and lots of your webinars. You make everything seem like it is all within my reach. So when I came across this issue, I thought you’d be the perfect one to ask advice from.

“Like most of us…citing my sources has not always been the best.  So I decided to go back and redo my files, making sure that I have all the sources cited.  In looking at my husband’s family, I have found something weird.  Usually, I find that family is not included in the census, but have you ever found it where they are listed twice?”

She transcribed both 1910 census listings for Fred Dierks’ family with me, both in Whitman County, Washington (one in Harper Precinct and one in Colfax City). Then she wrote, “Not all the kids are in both households, but the younger ones are in both.  And both censuses are enumerated by different people. What do you make of this? What was the protocol for counting the same families in different locations? My family is from the South and I usually find them missing from censuses, not having them show up twice! How would you cite this?  Would you choose one and forget the other?  Or cite them both?  Or…?”

Really? An ancestor listed TWICE in the census?

Yes, this is very possible, and I have a case in my own family. Just this weekend a gentleman came up to me at a seminar and told me about a case in his family, and that his grandmother had birth certificates in not one, or two, but THREE different locations!

In the case of the census, there are a variety of reasons why you might find an ancestor listed twice in the census: owning more than one piece of property, living in one location and working as a domestic in another, or moving during the census-taking period, for example.

Without seeing the documents I can’t speak to Donna’s case specifically, but here are some suggestions for anyone who finds an ancestor listed twice in the census:

census informant 1940 census1. Look at the date each enumeration was taken.

2. For later censuses, look at who provided the information. In the 1940 census the informant is indicated by a plus sign with a circle around it. If there are two entries, each with a different informant, that might explain why the family didn’t realize they were counted twice. Unfortunately, in earlier census records it typically isn’t indicated who provided the information. (Click here for the census enumeration instructions for 1910, the year in question here.)

Ancestors listed twice in the census Meadow St

The street name (Meadow) shows up on one of this family’s listings in the census. Image from the 1910 census at

3. Compare the neighbors’ names and the street name in each listing: are they the same (evidence that both were taken at the same physical location) or different (evidence of different physical locations–or different routes taken in the same neighborhood that only overlapped by that household). This census image shows that the family lived on Meadow Street; the other listing doesn’t say (page backward to find the street name). But the next-door neighbors in both listings are different.

4. Look for an address for the family from that time period from another source, like a WWII draft registration card or city directory. Which census listing address matches up with it?

5. Look at local maps from the time period and census enumeration district maps (FamilySearch has many in this browsable collection). Did your ancestor live on the boundary of a census district and inadvertently get counted twice by different enumerators?

Google may be able to help map this last problem. I searched “1910 map Colfax WA” and found the 1910 plat map shown below on the left. Meadow Street is marked, but Almota Street (the next cross-street listed further down the census page) isn’t marked. A modern Google Maps image shows the intersection clearly, and I can compare them using the bend in the creek and the intersection of Lake St and Thorn St. Comparing this neighborhood to census enumeration district maps may help determine whether in fact these were overlapping census enumeration districts.

Colfax Washington map

1910 plat map from Washington State University Digital Collections. Click to view.

For Donna and others of you out there finding multiple census entries for your ancestors: you’re not alone! Here’s an interesting conversation on Ancestry about other genealogists who have experienced duplicate census entries. And here’s a fun page about famous people enumerated twice in the census.

By the way, be sure to cite both sources. Thanks for the question, Donna! You’re a Gem!

More Resources for Mapping Your Family History at Genealogy Gems

How to Find Enumeration District Maps

1940 Enumeration District Maps

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (all-new 2nd edition newly revised in 2015!) teaches skills like the ones used above for searching for modern and historical maps in Google, Google Maps and Google Earth.

5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps. A Genealogy Gems Premium website membership required–but you can watch a clip from it for free below:

thanks youre a gemThank you for sharing this post with your friends and genealogical society members! Just copy and paste the URL into an email or share the post on your favorite social media site using the social media icons on this page.

Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber

Many of us already know that some of Ancestry’s content is free to search for everyone. But did you know that you can use Ancestry’s powerful search interface to search genealogy databases on OTHER websites, too? This includes sites that may be in another language–and sites you may not even know exist!Ancestry Web Indexes 3


You may have heard that there’s a lot available on Ancestry for free to anyone. Like the 1940 and 1880 U.S. censuses. Australian and Canadian voter’s lists. A birth index for England and Wales. The SSDI. A few years ago, Ancestry also began incorporating off-site indexes into its search system. These are known as “Ancestry Web Indexes.” There are now more than 220 of these, and they point users to over 100 million records ON OTHER WEBSITES.

“Ancestry Web Indexes pull together a lot of databases that are already online from repositories all over the world, like courthouses and archives,” Matthew Deighton of Ancestry told me. “We index them here because we’ve found that people may not know their ancestor was in a certain region at a certain time. They may not know about that website that has posted those records. What you don’t know about, you can’t find.”

According to an online description, the guiding principles of Ancestry Web Search databases are:

  • “Free access to Web Records – Users do not have to subscribe or even register with to view these records;
  • Proper attribution of Web Records to content publishers;
  • Easy access to Web Records – Prominent links in search results and the record page make it easy to get to the source website.”

Better yet, you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. They may not recognize “Beth Maddison” or “E. Mattison” as search results for “Elizabeth Madison,” while Ancestry would.

Results from Ancestry Web Indexes point you to the host website to see any additional information, like digitized images and source citations. A subscription to that site may be required to learn all you want from it. But just KNOWING that the data is there gives you the option to pursue it.

Doesn’t Google bring up all those same results if you just do a keyword search on your ancestor’s name? Not necessarily. Not all indexes are Google-searchable. Even if they are, Google may not present them to you until the 534th page of search results–long after you’ve lost interest.

And Ancestry specifically targets genealogically-interesting databases. Your results there won’t include LinkedIn profiles or current high school sports statistics from a young person with your ancestor’s name. (Learn how to weed out Google results like these with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.)

Some may be skeptical: isn’t it bad form for Ancestry to reference other sites’ material, especially when they often do so without consulting the host of the databases? They do have an opt-out policy for those who wish their databases to be removed from the search engine. Matthew says a couple of places have opted out–because the increased web traffic was too much for them to handle. That tells me that Ancestry Web Indexes are helping a lot of people find their family history in places they may otherwise never have looked.


unofficial guide to ancestrycom

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of

Use Ancestry for Free at the Public Library: Tips in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125, available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members

Unofficial Guide to by Nancy Hendrickson, available in paperback and on Kindle!

share celebrate balloonsThank you for sharing this post with others who will want to know what they can do for FREE on Ancestry!







Don’t Lose Control When You Post Your Family Tree Online

Online tree out of controlWhen you post your family tree online at multiple websites, it’s easy to lose track of changes you make at each one. Maintaining a master family tree on your own computer can help solve that problem.

Recently Gems podcast listener Louis wrote in with a question many of us face. He recently purchased RootsMagic 7 software to keep track of his family tree, but he’s still finding it difficult to corral all his data in one place. Here’s the problem, he says:

“I have my family tree splattered everywhere: FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and Ancestry. I’m afraid of losing control of my tree and would like some advice on keeping things straight. Each of the sites I go on seem to offer different information, so I started posting tree information on different sites. Can you offer any suggestions that I can use to centralize my data across different sites?”

I can fully appreciate Louis’ situation. Here’s a quick summary of how I keep my family tree organized all in one place.

Websites come and go, as we know, so I look at my RootsMagic database on my computer as my MASTER database and tree. This kind of approach lets you post your family tree online but not lose control of it!

When I post GEDCOM files of my family tree on other websites (what’s a GEDCOM?), I do so to try and connect with cousins and gain research leads. With that in mind, I upload only the portion of the tree for which I want to generate those connections and leads. In other words, I don’t put my entire GEDCOM on each site (MyHeritage, Ancestry, etc.) because I don’t want to get bogged down with requests and alerts for far flung branches that I’m not focused on researching right now. To do this I make a copy of my database, edit it to fit my research, and then upload it.

As I find documents and data on these websites, I may “attach” them to the tree on that site, but I always download a copy and retain that on my computer and make note of it in RootsMagic. That way I retain control of my tree and my sources.

backblaze online cloud backup for genealogyAnd of course the final step is to back up my computer so everything is safe and secure. I do that with Backblaze (the official backup of The Genealogy Gems Podcast) and you can click here to learn more about their service for my listeners.

In the end, it is my family tree and history. I want to keep ownership of it on my own computer, even when I share parts of it online.


RootsMagic the Master GenealogistBest Genealogy Software: Which You Should Choose and Why

RootsMagic Update for FamilySearch Compatibility

Free RootsMagic Guides

Family Tree Builder for Mac

Thank you for sharing this post with others who may have the same question! Email it, share it on Facebook, pin it, Tweet it–just use our handy social media icons on this page.

(Full Disclosure: Some of the websites mentioned and links provided in our articles are for sponsors of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. They are sponsors because we think they are terrific and use the products ourselves. We include affiliate links for your convenience and appreciate when you use them because they help keep The Genealogy Gems Podcast available for free. Thank you!) 

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

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125: Research at the Public Library

Premium podcast 125 with library cardThese three quick tips and a new podcast episode can help you research your family history at the public library, which is both free and convenient!

In Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125, now available to Premium members in the members-only section of our website,  Lisa Louise Cooke welcomesCheryl 5 (2) Cheryl McClellan, the genealogist for the Geauga County Public Library system in Ohio. They chat about how to use your library card to check out your ancestors, not just books!

Cheryl shares seven great tips for researching at public libraries. Here are three of those tips:

  • Generally, using the Library Edition of a genealogy subscription database like Ancestry Library Edition or MyHeritage Library Edition is a little different than logging in at home as a subscriber. However, Findmypast Library Edition lets users login as a free user and build a tree on the site, so you CAN attach records while researching in the Library Edition.
  • HeritageQuest Online is a database available only at libraries, with quick access to U.S. census records being an absolute plus. Cheryl shares what she loves about it.
  • Library websites for your ancestor’s hometown may have a page of genealogy links to digital memory websites, obituary projects, etc. Sometimes they have indexes to local records, too!

We’ll also catch you up with mail from our readers and listeners, share new tips on using Gmail and Evernote and more.

Genealogy Gems Premium MembershipIf you’re ready to become a Genealogy Gems Premium member so you can access this and ALL previous Premium podcast episodes, as well exclusive full-length video tutorials on Lisa’s most popular topics (think Evernote, Google and Google Earth, and organizing your files), click here.