December 5, 2016

Genealogy Research Trip Produced Amazing Family History Find

We love the ease with which we can search online, but a genealogy research trip can offer exceptional and unique rewards. If you have been apprehensive about visiting a courthouse or archive,  follow our 4 step plan for a successful genealogy research trip that could lead to your own amazing discovery!

Genealogy Research Trip of the past

By J. D. Cress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am spoiled. Spoiled because I did not join the genealogy craze before the dawn of the internet and the power that using the Web brings to our family history research. I don’t know the pangs of writing 100+ letters to possible relatives and then waiting…waiting…and waiting to hear back from at least one!

In my genealogy world, if an answer can’t be found on one of my favorite genealogy website repositories (like FamilySearch, Ancestry, or Findmypast) then a quick Google search usually does the trick.

However, we new genealogists of the Internet era may be banking on the fact that “everything” we need is online. This is obviously not true. In fact, many local libraries and archives are under-staffed and under-funded making digitizing of their holdings difficult. This is why making a genealogy research trip is a really good idea.

The Unprepared Genealogy Research Trip

Several years ago, I made my first research trip. I was woefully unprepared. On a whim, I drove three hours on a weekday to “go to the courthouse.” I arrived at lunch time…and it was closed for an hour. Sigh. However, a nice receptionist suggNewspaper genealogy research tripested I go to the local public library just down the street.

When I arrived at the tiny corner building, I asked at the circulation desk for the history department. She seemed a little taken back, but said, “We have a little room in the basement with some local history and genealogy things.” Note to self: not all libraries are large enough for a “history department.”

In the basement room, no one was on duty, but a nicely printed instruction sheet of what was available and how to use their files laid on the table. “I guess I just dig in,” I thought, and off I went.

Though this was my first genealogy research trip, it proved to be very fruitful. In a scrapbook simply titled “Walls Family,” I found a Xerox
copy of an article from an 1874 newspaper. In this article, my fourth great-grandmother (Susannah Harmarson Walls) had been interviewed because she was the oldest living woman in the township. Her interview began, “I was born in Delaware. The exact year, I do not know, but I suppose I will be 86 years of age on the 16th of July next. My father’s name was Levin Harmarson. He died when I was only three years of age. My mother’s name was Mary Woodard.”

The interview included the story of her mother re-marrying, the family leaving Delaware for Wheeling, Virginia, and she marrying her step-brother there. Then, they traveled on into Scioto County, Ohio. She named each of her eleven children and their spouses.

The information in this one interview was particularly helpful. Before this, we had no idea when or where Susannah and Levi married, and finding the spouses of their children had proved difficult!

Though this was an amazing find, I wonder what other records, items, or photographs I might have dug up had I prepared ahead of time. Perhaps, I would have had time to dig more into their microfilm holdings, archived pictures, atlases, or even had time to go to the local cemetery.

The Prepared Genealogy Research Trip

Fast forward several years and I am making much more prepared genealogy research trips. Get the most from your next genealogy research trip by following these 4 important steps:

1. Run a Narrative Report. Start creating your genealogy research trip plan by printing out a narrative report of your targeted family line. This can be done with the reports feature found in genealogy database programs like RootsMagic.

create a plan for genealogy research trip

2. Look for holes in your research. Carefully read through the report looking for holes in your research or where you may be missing a source. In this case, a “hole in your research,” may be the missing marriage date of a couple, or the missing birth date of a child. Circle these “holes” and make a list of what the needed piece of information is to correct it and where you can find it.

Example: Clark County, Ohio. Need a death date for Edmund West. County didn’t keep death records that early. Likely died between 1830-1840. Check probate record books, estate files, tax records, cemetery records, and tombstones at Wilson Cemetery.

Maybe you have a birth date, but no source. A source is the proof of a particular fact. For example, a good source for a birth date is a birth register or even a marriage record. If you are lacking sources for your genealogy facts or are not sure how to begin sourcing your genealogy, learn more about that here.

3. Decide what repositories you will need to visit. After creating your list, determine where these items are held by asking yourself important questions, such as: Will I need to visit the courthouse, a library, an archive, cemetery, or all the above? Which location will produce the most results? Should I visit the archives first, or the courthouse?

4. Contact each repository ahead of time. Finding out the days and times when each of these places is open before you go is a must! Try to pick a day when all, or most, of the places are open so that you can get a lot done. If this isn’t possible, consider making an extended stay overnight to accomplish your goals.

Keep in mind that not all websites are up-to-date. Just because the library says it is open from 10 to 5 every day but Sunday on the webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that is still the case. Always call each establishment to verify days and hours of operation.

10 items for the genealogy research trip

Remember, there are newspapers, maps, documents, and pictures just waiting to be uncovered. By thinking about what you want to achieve while on your trip and what information you need to find and where, your genealogy research trip can be a successful one. Happy hunting!

More on Genealogy Research Trips

Still feeling unmotivated to get on the road, read or listen to these features for inspiring tips to make a courthouse records research trip in your near future!

Courthouse Records Research TripGenealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Website

Premium Podcast Episode 126 – Road Trips for Genealogy

Premium Video – Using Evernote to Create a Genealogy Research Plan

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Another brick wall…busted! We all have trouble spots in our family history research. Sometimes, we just need a little help breaking through. Here’s a tried-and-true method for using the genealogy FAN club principle to overcome brick walls in your family history research.

Creating a FAN club tips

A FAN club stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbors. Using the FAN club principle is a process in which genealogists identify a list of people (family, associates, and neighbors) that lived and associated with a given ancestor. By researching these other people, you may flesh out some new hints for your own research. Ultimately, identifying our ancestors FAN club is an effective tool for overcoming brick walls in genealogy research.

Renowned genealogist and author Elizabeth Shown Mills, coined the phrase “FAN Club” for genealogical purposes. She points out the significance of not only searching records for an ancestor’s surname, but also paying attention to documents about the ancestor’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors). Historical information, she says, is like real estate: the true value of any piece of information is unknown until it is put into community context. [citation: “QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle),” Genealogical.com (http://www.genealogical.com/products/QuickSheet%20The%20Historical%20Biographer%92s%20Guide%20to%20Cluster%20Research%20the%20FAN%20Principle/3868.html: accessed 25 Oct 2016).]

Step 1: “F” Stands for Family

Searching out other family members may prove helpful. Like in the case of Michael Knoop of Miami County, Ohio, I noticed there was another man in the county named Jacob Knoop. What was even more unique is both Michael and Jacob were born in New Brunswick. How unusual, I thought! Two men with the same last name, both born in New Brunswick, living in a small, farming area in Ohio! They had to be related, and they were. Jacob was Michael’s older brother.

Because I was having trouble finding when Michael had come to America, I traced Jacob instead. I located the passenger list with Jacob’s name on it and in doing so, I viewed all the passengers and found Michael, their mother, and lots of siblings!

Creating a FAN club family

Creating a FAN club with Family

In the case of Catherine Fearer Coddington, wife of James Coddington, I was having difficulty finding who her parents were. By searching for other Fearer individuals in the area, I discovered a biographical sketch on a John Fearer, Jr. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2, reads:

In 1836[,]John Fearer [Jr.] brought his family to Illinois. From Wheeling, West Va., the journey was made entirely by water. A landing on the Illinois soil was made at Hennepin. James Coddington, from near the Fearer’s old home in Maryland had already settled north of Princeton, in Bureau County, and later married John Fearer’s sister Catherine. The family found a home at Coddington’s until Mr. Fearer rented land near by.

Catherine had a brother! With this new information, I was able to easily trace John’s father to John Fearer, Sr. of Allegany County, Maryland and finally connect Catherine to her parents through a probate record.

It’s easy to see what a powerful strategy researching the relatives of your ancestors can be!

Step 2: “A” Stands for Associates

Creating a FAN club with associates

Creating a FAN club with Associates

An associate could be a business partner, a witness on a document, a pastor, a lawyer, or the man that bailed Grandpa out of jail! Associates are often related. To create a list of associates, you might start gathering all witnesses to vital events, such as baptismal or christening records, marriage records, probate, land, and affidavits.

Were the courthouse records in your targeted area destroyed? Check the local newspapers for clues for possible associates. As an example, Jacob Trostel was a signee and vouched for Harvey D. Wattles’ tavern license. The license and names of the vouchers were listed in the newspaper, too. Eleven other men of the community appear on that petition. Later, Jacob himself petitions for a tavern license. That petition is signed by twelve men: George Filler, Conrad Slaybaugh, Lebright E. Hartzell, William G. Eicholtz, Isaac Yount, Joseph Dull, Isaac Myers, George W. Rex, Daniel Filler, William Harlan, and John Bream.

In both of these examples, relatives of Jacob Trostel had been vouchers. By tracing them, we were able to find out more about Jacob and his family.

Step 3: “N” Stands for Neighbors

Where can we find a list of our ancestors neighbors? A census, of course! When looking at a census page, we look for other people on the page with the same surname as our targeted ancestor. There’s a good chance those folks could also be related. But, your ancestor’s neighbors may also hold rich clues that can help you in your research. Many neighbors intermarried, sold land to each other, and even migrated to new locations together.

Besides looking at individuals listed on the same census page as your ancestor, remember to turn the page! Sometimes, a neighbor is not on the same page as your ancestor, but rather the pages before or after. Just because a person appears directly after your ancestor on the census rolls doesn’t necessarily mean they were neighbors. This only indicates the order in which the census taker visited the homes. You might also be able to identify close neighbors by looking at land ownership maps for the area. In this way, you can easily identify who lived near-by.

If you are having difficulty determining where your ancestors came from, researching the neighbors may give the answer. Many neighbors migrated together. Always check at least one page before your ancestor and one page after your ancestor in any given census.

census_ledford_together

Creating a FAN club with Neighbors

Genealogy Fan Club: Comments and More Resources

There are likely dozens of successful ways for creating a FAN club for your ancestor. We would love to hear your examples in the comments below. For even more ways to break through those genealogy brick walls, enjoy these links below.

Read our article Solve Your Genealogy Brick Walls: 3 Tips for Breaking Through!

Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and WebsiteEven better: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can watch Lisa’s one hour video class Brick Walls: Cold Case Investigative Techniques. In this video you’ll not only learn how to apply criminal cold case strategies to your brick walls, but you’ll also get loads of fresh and innovative ideas you can try right away. If you are not a Premium Member yet, learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member here.

Do You Know about Browse-Only Collections at Ancestry and Findmypast

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and Findmypast and open the lid on your family history research.

browse-only collections at Ancestry

Not long ago, Amie Tennant blogged about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Did you know that both Ancestry.com and Findmypast have browse-only collections of digitized records, too? Browse-only collections aren’t indexed yet, so they are not searchable by name, but they are a treasure chest of information. Though it might take some time to locate a record within one of these collections, it’s better than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here are a couple of tips for accessing these browse-only collections to whet your appetite.

Browse-only Collections at Ancestry

Unfortunately, Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only databases, or others that are partially-indexed.

From the main menu, select Search > Card Catalog. Use the filters along the left side to search for the collections you want by record type, location, and date. When you click on a collection, you will be able to select from the browse options along the right side. If it’s fully or partially indexed, you can also do name searches within just that collection.

Here’s a video tutorial by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com on how to find and browse their browse-only collections:

A series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917 is an example of one of these browse-only collections. The collection description includes useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” You can browse through the images like you would if you were using microfilm or leafing through a book.

Browse-Only Collections at Findmypast

I got a tip from a Findmypast rep on how to find the browse-only collections on their website. Just go under Search > A-Z of Record Sets. Enter the search term “browse.” It’s really that easy!

browse-only collections at Ancestry

A portion of a document in the Kindertransport browse-only collection at Findmypast.

A digitized collection of Kindertransport documents is among the browse-only collections at Findmypast. Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-occupied areas during World War II. There is a lot of information about refugee children in this collection such as who was taking care of them, how much they were being paid, and reports on the medical condition of refugee children from Germany. If Kindertransport was a part of your family’s past, these look like a must-read. Maybe I should have said, a must browse!.

More Tips on Searching Your Favorite Genealogy Websites

Ancestry one stop shoppingSearching Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch.org

4 Tips for Getting the Most from Ancestry.com

Using Ancestry Library Edition and Other Genealogy Databases at Your Public Library (in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (Premium Membership required to listen)

How to Find Recent Genealogy Records That Are Not Online Yet

recent genealogy records not online yet square

Records that have been created recently are difficult to find and access. Some privacy laws protect, and hinder, our being able to find more recent birth, marriage, and death records we need. Here are some tips for finding these and other genealogy records not yet online.

Recently, Tom in Olympia, Washington wrote us with a question about how to find recent genealogy records that are not online yet.

“My wife’s mother was adopted in 1925. We have found her biological mother’s name and through Ancestry.com, I’ve found several bits of information about her from census records. She also was a crew member on three steamships in the 1930s. On two of the ship manifests, her U.S. passport numbers are listed. Do you know any search options for finding information from passports in the 1930s?”

Maybe you have had a similar question. We hope our answer helps everyone more easily find genealogical records that are not online yet.

Obtaining Recent Passport Application Records

Tom will be interested in obtaining a passport application record which may hold more information about his targeted ancestor. As Tom already discovered, U.S. passport records are online at Ancestry and FamilySearch, but only those records prior to 1925.

My original hope was that the National Archives Records Administration would have had the passport application records for the 1930s. I googled passport applications National Archives, and the first search result took me to an excellent article. I learned the U.S. State Department has passport applications on microfilm between the years and dates of 1795 to 1905 and January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925. Sadly, these were not the years Tom was looking for.

To find information about passport applications in the 1930s, I needed to go another route. I opened a new window and googled U.S. State Department passport applications request copy. The first search result took me right to the page I needed. The Passport Services maintain the U.S. passport records from 1925 to the present. These records are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974.

Passport records in this time frame for a third-party person are processed under the Freedom of Information Act. These records need to ordered by mail. Tom can make a request in writing and send that request to:

U.S. Department of State
Office of Law Enforcement Liaison
FOIA Officer
44132 Mercure Cir
P.O. Box 1227
Sterling, VA 20166

I suggested he mention his desire for the information is for genealogical purposes and what his relationship is to the person in question.

Using the Same Strategy for Other Recent Genealogy Records

Remember, this same kind of strategy applies to other genealogical records you might be looking for that were created recently. You can use Google searches and follow-up phone to find out where more recent records are and the access policies.

As an example, a recent Indiana marriage license index can be searched and viewed online for free at the Public Access records website for the state. I found this little goody by googling Indiana marriage records.

Recent_Records_1

All of us at Genealogy Gems adore having the opportunity to find and share solutions like this one for overcoming the problem of locating recent genealogy records that aren’t online. If you haven’t done so already, sign-up for our weekly newsletter for more tips and tricks. Oh, and write to us anytime with your genealogy questions! We love to hear from you!

More Gems on Recent Genealogy Records

foia turns 50 featured image

Other recent genealogy records in the U.S. are also available via the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Click here to read about them! They include post-World War II draft registrations, immigration and naturalization documents and Social Security applications (SS-5).

Celebrating Freedom and Records Access: 50 Years of FOIA and Genealogy

FOIA turns 50 FOIA and genealogy Happy July 4th–and Happy 50th to the Freedom of Information Act! Read more about the FOIA and genealogy records we can access because of it.

Today we in the United States celebrate our Independence Day with grateful hearts and parades. Well, genealogists with U.S. ancestors have an extra reason for fireworks: today marks 50 years since Congresss signed the Freedom of Information Act into law, and the U.S. became one of the first nations to open its records to the public.

The Freedom of Information Act

The FOIA opens certain kinds of information about the federal government and certain information created by the federal government. It doesn’t apply to everything, including documents that relate to national security, privacy and trade secrets. The FOIA also only applies to documents created by the federal government, not state or local governments.

Since it was passed, the FOIA has continued to be expanded and amended. Over the years, the numbers of FOIA document requests has skyrocketed, too. In the first five years after the FOIA passed, it only resulted in about 500 total requests for information–that’s an average of just 100 per year. Last year alone, there were more than 700,000 requests!

The FOIA and Genealogy

So, of course we have to ask the question: how well do FOIA and genealogy go together? As it turns out, quite well. My favorite FOIA request is for an ancestor’s Social Security application (the SS-5 form). This is the form that generated the assignment of a relative’s Social Security number and was the first step to receiving any Social Security benefits. It’s what the very limited information on the Social Security Death Index comes from, as well as the much-richer (but not comprehensively available) Social Security Applications and Claims database at Ancestry.com. That was released last year and caused a LOT of us to do a serious genealogy happy dance.

But if you want to see everything in that SS-5 application, you should order an image copy of the original (you can now also order a computerized abstract of it, which is cheaper but might not get everything right). Here’s what an SS-5 application looks like:

Osby Johnson SS5 FOIA and genealogy

This one confirms the names of an African-American man’s parents–parents who survived slavery and left few other records of their existence. This man was part of the first generation in his family to legally learn to read and write. His signature is on the record.

You can also access other key 20th-century genealogy records that haven’t made it online yet–and in some cases, haven’t even been sent to the National Archives yet.

These include the following (with links to where to learn more):

There is some fine print on some of these records request procedures, so read carefully what records are there, what you’re allowed to order and how to request it. Happy Independence Day–and Happy FOIA anniversary!

More FOIA and Genealogy Gems

Social Security Death Index SSDI FOIA and genealogy Try This Now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 21 about military record requests through FOIA

Using the US Public Records Index for Genealogy

US Public records index for genealogyThe US Public Records Index can be useful for genealogy–if you understand what it is and how to use it properly. Here’s an example and some tips.

Not long Russ sent in this tip recommending the US Public Records Index for genealogy:

“I was listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast 181 [in which] you were talking about where do we search while we are waiting for the 1950 Census….I recently discovered a wonderful resource, on Ancestry.com, that I have used along with city directories. The name of the record group doesn’t sound interesting but it can be a Gem for you: the US Public Record Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2. Volume 1 is far more interesting with more data. A search will return a name AND birth date, along with more than one address, zip code and sometimes phone numbers.”

Here’s a sample search result:

US Public records index

Russ kindly sent me Ancestry’s description of the its online database for Volume 1, which says that original data comes from public records spanning all 50 states, such as voter registration lists, public record filings, historical residential records and other household database listings.

Collection Profile

What: U.S. Public Records Index

Where: Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage

Years Spanned: 1950-2009

Source Type: Lacking original source citations. “Hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.”

Then he shared the following example of using the US Public Records Index to find recent relatives that he can’t look up yet in the 1950 census:

“I had a hint for a cousin in a yearbook. I know that she recently lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know where she went to college and I know her birthday. The name is not unique, not also not common. At the same time, I had the hint for the Public Record Index. You know those things we can’t use in a proof argument, but there [she] was in Philadelphia. The yearbook had her picture and only her name, not spelled the way I know it, but the Public Record Index puts her in Philadelphia at the right time and place.

I have seen 2 or 3 addresses for folks in the 1980’s and 1990’s in these indexes. Not all addresses have dates, but some do. I have one cousin with 5 addresses since 1983 and he won’t be in a census until the 1960 Census Records are released.”

Russ blogs about his family history at worthy2be.wordpress.com/. Thanks for the tip!

The U.S. Public Records Index pops up in my search results sometimes, too. Both volume 1 and volume 2 are searchable on Ancestry.com, as Russ says, in separate databases. Each has over 400,000 records in it. There’s also a free partial version of this database for 1970-2009 at FamilySearch.org and yet a third version at MyHeritage, with 816 million records, with nearly the same time frame. The FamilySearch database says its data comes from “telephone directories, property tax assessments, credit applications, and other records available to the public.”

More on the US Public Records Index

Here are a few tips worth mentioning about the US Public Records Index. Some of these points come from the FamilySearch wiki:

  1. Not everyone who lived in the U.S. appears in the index, and you’re more likely to find birth information for those born between 1900 and 1990. What you’ll find is primarily where someone lived, and often when they lived there.
  2. It’s rarely possible to positively identify a relative in this index, since there’s limited information and it spans the entire country for up to a half century, and you can’t follow up on the record it comes from because the index doesn’t say where individual records come from. So as Russ says, this is a great resource to use in combination with other records. It’s a similar concept to the way you might consult family trees that lack sources: hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.
  3. When you find more recent listings, you can sometimes find telephone numbers for living distant relatives. If the thought of cold-calling distant relatives seems a little intimidating, listen to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14-15, for tips–and to get your courage up!

1950s family historyMore Gems on Researching Recent Relatives

The 1950 Census Substitute: What to Use Until Its Release Date

Google Earth for Genealogy: Map Your Own Childhood Homes

World War II Military Yearbooks

 

Calculate Lot Size for an Ancestor’s Property with Free Online Tool

Use this free online tool to calculate lot size for an ancestor’s piece of property. The drawing tools overlaid on Google Maps help you determine the area of a lot and distances along its perimeter. 

Researching a family piece of property can be tricky for several reasons. But there’s an easy and free tool you can use to help you calculate the size of an ancestor’s lot. It’s FindLotSize.com. This is what it looks like to use:

findlotsize 1 calculate lot size

Here’s how to use it to calculate lot size:

1. Go to FindLotSize.com.

2. Enter a street address and click Go. (If you don’t know an exact street address, get as close as you can, then zoom around on the screen until you can see the property of interest.)

3. Zoom in (or out) to the level that you can see all the lot boundaries.

4. Click on one corner of the lot. A red marker will appear. Then click on the other corners in sequence to draw the perimeter. You don’t need to “close the gap” by clicking a second time on the starting point; the site will automatically assume you mean for the last point you enter to connect to the first. The site will calculate the lot size in square meters/kilometers, square feet/yards and acres.

Here are a couple more tips for using the site:

  • findlotsize 2 calculate lot sizeIf you wish to know the distance around the perimeter, click Distance. (You can measure individual distances, such as the width of the lot at the back, by only clicking on the points between which you want to measure.)
  • In the upper left are options to view satellite or map images. The satellite view is a bird’s eye view of the land today. You’ll see fence lines, roads, hedges and other practical clues to property boundaries. But sometimes these are obscured by tree cover. If you click on “map,” you’ll see a simple line rendering, like a traditional map, but with many buildings outlined. Depending on the tree cover, you may find this view helpful.

georeference historic map overlay in Google EarthMore Genealogy Mapping Gems

Google Earth + Old Map = Family History Discovery

4 Great Local History Apps for Genealogy

4 Steps for Using Google Earth for Genealogy

 

 

 

Census Research Tip: Why Look at the Same Thing Twice

census research tipWhen may it pay off to look at the same records or indexes twice? When you can compare them on different genealogy websites. Here’s an example for this census research tip.

You’ve probably noticed that some record sets are available online at multiple websites. At each site, the images and indexes you find may be a little different. Online tools for viewing and searching at each site may also be different.

For example, a digitized image may be faded, dark, blurry, blotchy, cut off, or otherwise unreadable on one website but clearer on another site. Here are two images from the first few lines of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census taken in Bay Minette, Baldwin, Alabama. The first image comes from HeritageQuest Online (available at public libraries) and the second is from Ancestry.com. See the difference?

Alabama census image HeritageQuest census research tip

alabama census image ancestry census research tip

As you can see, depending on which line you’re reading, one image may be clearer than another.

Here’s another census research tip: The online tools available at each site are different, too. At HeritageQuest Online, you can view the image at original size, 200% or 400%, and you can look at the image as a negative, which sometimes helps faded text stand out a little more. Ancestry.com lets you zoom in and out, magnify specific areas, and rotate the image or view it in mirror form (in case you’re trying to read backward text bleeding through from the other side).

HeritageQuest Online improvesMore Gems for Online Genealogy Research

HeritageQuest Online Gets Better with Ancestry’s Support

4 Tips for Getting the Most out of Ancestry.com

Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 125: HeritageQuest Online, Ancestry Library edition and other great genealogy resources at the public library (Available only to Genealogy Gems Premium website members)

 

YDNA for Genealogy: 3 Scenarios When YDNA is Useful


YDNANot sure how to use YDNA for genealogy? Check out these 3 common reasons to test–or have a male relative do so.

The Y chromosome DNA test, more affectionately referred to as the YDNA test, is the darling of the DNA testing industry. (At least, I think so.) In fact, of the three kinds of DNA tests, the YDNA is my favorite. It has several excellent qualities that make it useful in many genealogical scenarios, but let’s look at three.

Use YDNA for Genealogy When…

1. You Have a Missing Father

Now all of us should be able to identify with this genealogical problem. Every line in your family history has this problem. Any ancestor whose father is currently unknown falls in this category.

And YDNA can help.

The specific quality of YDNA that makes it so attractive in this case is its faithfulness in passing down its record generation after generation, without fail, without changing, from one man to the next. That means that any living male today has the same (or very similar) YDNA as every male in his direct paternal line, back 8, 10, 12+ generations. Therefore every man’s YDNA is the clue that could lead you to discover that missing father. Usually what it takes is a match in the YDNA database with another descendant of your common ancestor. Ideally, this person knows something that you don’t about that missing father, and the two of you can work together to verify and extend your family history.

2. Your Relative is worried about Privacy

While DNA testing has certainly entered a season of relative acceptance among genealogists, there are still many skeptics who wonder what the eventual ramifications of having your DNA tested might bring. While this is a subject that certainly deserves some attention, the YDNA is actually the easiest test to sell to a nervous relative. The very qualities that make YDNA testing valuable, namely that every male descendant of a given ancestor will have the same YDNA, make it equally impossible to identify any particular individual uniquely. This means that the YDNA record that is created when a man takes a YDNA test cannot ever be traced back to him alone. That same record could have easily come from his brother, or 1st, or 5th cousin.

Similarly, the YDNA test results do not have a link to your health. The regions that are tested are generally parts that are not useful for determining any kind of personal health or trait information.

3. You Have a Surname Mix-up

One of the best applications of YDNA for genealogy comes when trying to disentangle the relationships of various men living in close proximity with other men of the same or similar surname. Having descendants of these men test their YDNA is like traveling back in time and conducting personal interviews of each of these men. It’s like saying, “Excuse me, Mr. Moffat? Is this neighbor of yours, Mr. Moffit, your uncle?” Wouldn’t you give anything for a chance to have that conversation? Well, YDNA testing gets you almost there. You might not be able to determine if they are uncle and nephew, but you will at least know if they are kin.

The bonus quality of YDNA is that it is only offered at one testing company, Family Tree DNA. So you don’t even have to decide where to be tested. Your biggest decision will be in determining what level of testing to choose. If your budget allows, you can go with the 67 marker YDNA test. But the 37 marker test is also a very good choice, and you can always upgrade to more markers at a later date without submitting a new sample.

So what are you waiting for? If you have your own YDNA, go out and start the testing process. If you have been blessed instead with two X chromosomes, send this article over to your favorite male relative and let him know that he holds a very old, very valuable record in his DNA and you want to help him make use of it.

Using DNA for Genealogy Ancestry Family Tree DNA GuidesIf this post gets you antsy to test some “Y,” I recommend you check out two of my DNA quick guides: Y Chromosome DNA for Genealogists and Understanding Family Tree DNA. Or learn more from me at YourDNAGuide.com.

3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories

WWI ancestorsHow did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors. 

Our current Genealogy Gems Book Club title takes place at the outset of WWI. The Summer Before the War: A Novel
by Helen Simonson has endearing characters who experience fairly light-hearted dramas–and then they are plunged into war.

Through their eyes, readers begin to understand that those who lived through ‘the Great War’ experienced something totally unprecedented. There had never been such a massive loss of life and devastation.

1. Ask family what they know. Ask all living relatives what they know about ancestors’ involvement in World War I. Listen for stories about anyone who may have served in the military, dodged military service, took care of things on the homefront, lost their own lives or loved ones or lived in an area affected by the war. Ask about any old documents, photos or letters that may survive.

There are lots of ways to ask your relatives these questions. Poll everyone at your next family gathering or reunion. Use Facebook (click here for some great tips) or other social media. Connect with other tree owners who have documented ancestors of WWI interest (see step 2, below) through communication tools provided at sites such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org.

2. Identify ancestors affected by WWI. Look for families and individuals who were alive between 1914 and 1918. Where did they live? Was it an active war zone?  Research local histories and maps to determine how their city–or even neighborhood or property–was affected. Scan death dates on your family tree–did anyone living in a war zone die during that time period?

Were they in a country that sent troops to war? If so, look for soldiers on your tree. The age of those who served in World War I varied. In general, look for men born between 1880 and 1900 who were alive in 1914. Again, look for death dates during the war.

3. Search military records on genealogy websites. Fold3.com’s WWI landing page is the place to start for WWI ancestors in the U.S., since it specializes in military records (you may be able to access it from your home library). Ancestry.com users can go to this landing page to search all WWI records from the U.S. and here to search U.K. records. Findmypast.com users can search WWI records here, including an extensive collection of British military records but also others from around the world. If you’re searching U.S. records, remember that draft registrations are not records of military service.

If you’re looking for a country or region not represented in these online collections, start Googling! Google search phrases such as “Germany WWI genealogy” will bring up results like these. (Click here to watch free video tutorials about Google searching for genealogy records.) You may discover new databases online or records collections you could access through archives or libraries.

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersThese tips are just to get you started. As you discover records, you’ll have a better sense for the stories of your WWI ancestors. Then you can start chasing those stories in newspapers, local histories and other sources. Turn to a book like Lisa Louise Cooke’s How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers to learn sleuthing skills you’ll need for searching out your WWI family stories in the news.

More WWI Genealogy Gems for You

WWI photos, World War I photographs, WWI ancestors

British volunteers for “Kitchener’s Army” waiting for their pay in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. August 1914. Wikimedia Commons Image

Europeana World War I Digital Archive

5 Ways to Discover Your Family History in WWI

More Great Books to Read, Including Orange Lilies, a WWI-era Novella in the Forensic Genealogist series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

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