September 4, 2015

Ancestry Publishes HUGE Collection of U.S. Wills and Probate Records

US Wills and Probate Ancestry More than 100 million people are mentioned in Ancestry’s newest database of U.S. wills and probate records, an exclusive collection spanning over 300 years. To celebrate, Ancestry is offering free access through September 7.

This morning, Ancestry launched an enormous–and enormously significant–new online records collection. According to its press release, “More than 170 million pages from the largest collection of wills and probate records in the United States is now available online exclusively on Ancestry. With searchable records included from all 50 states spread over 337 years (1668-2005), this unprecedented collection launches a new category of records for family history research never before available online at this scale the United States.”

Wills and estate records are one of those record types that have been less-accessible online. First, the records themselves are not easy to digitize or even index. They are often thick files, packed with various kinds of documents that may be fragile and of varying sizes. Several people may be mentioned throughout the file, but finding and picking out their names to put in an index is time-consuming.

Furthermore, the U.S. has no central will or probate registry. This happens on a county level, generally. Compiling a centralized database from all those county offices or archives is a huge undertaking.

According to the Ancestry release, “Ancestry spent more than two years bringing this collection online, working with hundreds of different archives from individual state and local courts across the country and making a $10M investment to license and digitize the records.”

Better yet, “the documents cover well over 100 million people, including the deceased as well as their family, friends and others involved in the probate process. Ancestry expects to continue to grow the collection, with additional records available over the next several years.”

Todd Godfrey, VP of Global Content at Ancestry, loves the fact that wills and probate records can reveal not just names, dates and family relationships, but stories. “Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors…providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Godfrey. “Reading these records you will find a deeper level of understanding about who your ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived.”

Learn more about this collection in Finding Your Family in Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry’s new in-depth guide) or click here to search the collection. Great news for those without Ancestry subscriptions: The U.S. Wills and Probates collection is free to access on Ancestry, along with all U.S. birth, marriage and death records, through September 7 (10pm MT).

share celebrate balloonsPlease share the great news! Click on your preferred social media channel on this page or copy the link into an email and send it out to your family and friends!

Resources: More Great U.S. Records Online!

U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses

NEW! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy 

NEW! Try this now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Ancestry Publishes U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

The new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index 1936 – 2007 is a critical update to our ability to access information in U.S. Social Security applications, and perfect companion to the SSDI.

“This database picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off by providing more details than those included in the SSDI,” says the database description. “It includes information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. While you will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI in this database, data has been extracted for more than 49 million people.” Some data will not appear for newer records; click here to read more about it and access the index.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the SSDI and the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. (Click here to read a great article by the Legal Genealogist about the limitations of the SSDI.)

First a search on Charles A. Burkett in the SSDI:

Social Security Death Index SSDI

As you can see, the information is fairly limited. And there’s something else very important missing here. In the Suggested Records list on the right, the new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index is not listed. This is an important reminder that we must not rely solely on the bread crumb trails on any genealogy website to lead us to all online available records.

Now I’ll search for him in the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index:

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

And now I have his mother’s and father’s names!

Check back tomorrow (and every Friday) here at the Genealogy Gems blog for our full list of new and updated records from around the web.

 

HeritageQuest Online Gets Better With Ancestry’s Support

HeritageQuest Online improvesHeritageQuest Online is now even more worth the trip to your local library to access for free, now that its new interface is powered by Ancestry.

For the past few months, library patrons have been getting used to a new version of HeritageQuest Online. This online genealogy resource, available only at libraries or through their websites, “has a new interface powered by Ancestry, enriching the search experience and streamlining the research process,” as described by a company press release a few months ago.

“The intuitive interface provides a fresh user experience that will be familiar to Ancestry.com users,” states the release. “A new Image Viewer offers basic and advanced capabilities without any plug-in, making it easy to share images with family and friends. Image resolution…is significantly improved with the addition of greyscale and color. The Research Aids resources for learning opportunities for novice, intermediate, and advanced searchers.”

Other bloggers have commented on the improved user interface, but what caught my eye was a more detailed, mouthwatering description of all the census extras and other new HeritageQuest Online content (from its site):

  • “Now available for searching is the entire U.S. Federal Census collection from Ancestry.com including supplements (e.g., 1940 Enumeration District Maps) and several schedules (e.g., non-population schedules) previously not included for searching.
  • 20,000 city directories have been added to the existing city directories in the Book collection, increasing the size of the Books collection to more than 45,000 titles.
  • Expanded content in the Revolutionary War Collection. The entirety of the NARA Series M804 is now included here, providing access not only to the previously available “Selected Records” (Series M805) but now also to the “Non-Selected” records of each file.”

Finally, four of the six HeritageQuest Online data collections (Census, Books, Revolutionary War, and Freedman’s Bank) have “brand new search pages with limits, exact matching options, and additional fields for searching.”

Resources:

5 Genealogy Resources to Look for at YOUR Public Library

WorldCat for Genealogy: 40 Million Records and Digital Gateway

Premium podcast 125Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using HeritageQuest Online and other fantastic resources in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125. (Premium membership required: learn more about that here.)

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 181

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

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

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

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

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

Free Records at Ancestry Now through Sunday

free records at Ancestry.comFree Records at Ancestry are available now through Sunday July 5, 2015.

(Use our convenient social media buttons at the top of this post to get the word out to your genealogy friends!)

Ancestry is inviting you to “Discover your American story this 4th of July” by making available their “13 Colonies Collection.”

You can now search more than 160 million birth, marriage, death, and divorce records plus their newly released Virginia collection.

Click here to check out the full list of free records at Ancestry that you will be able to access.

Don’t forget to use our convenient social media buttons at the top of this post to get the word out to your genealogy friends!

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 180 is Ready!

podcast logo 180The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 has been published!  Click here to enjoy an episode about big names, like Ancestry and Google and FamilySearch. And big numbers, like the possible price tag for Ancestry at auction, AND small numbers, like the small price of a new handheld computer.

In this episode, we’re also talking about researching on road trip tips, an important online Civil War database, a leading Canadian digital archive and EXCLUSIVE tips for using FamilySearch’s free digitized book collection, which now tops 200,000 titles. Because we’ve gotten so much demand for it, we’re also sharing tips for backing up your data at Ancestry–not just your tree but your sources and DNA, too.

Nathan Goodwin logoThis month we also feature a meaty excerpt from our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist). (Premium subscribers can catch the full interview in Premium episode 124, to be published soon.) He tells us how he got started. We talk about the plot and characters and the challenges of creating genealogical mysteries with dangerous consequences for the present and more!

Mixed in with all this news and how-tos is an assorted cast of listeners-with-questions and an inspiring story about long-lost siblings reunited by radio. Enjoy!

 

The New Ancestry Site: New Features, Mixed Reviews

Ancestry new site screenshotAncestry’s new site is now available to all U.S. users–across browsers, mobile devices, and the PC/Mac divide. It’s more than just a cosmetic or branding overhaul. The way Ancestry explains it, many changes boil down to helping users find family stories and improving their mobile experience. And while using the new site is still optional (see below), there are good reasons to start using it now. Mostly because the old site will be going away–possibly along with data you enter in it from this point forward. Many users adapt without much thought; for others, these changes are painful.

Ancestry logo new site“The new Ancestry experience was based on extensive research of problems our users are facing and their current needs,” states an FAQ on Ancestry. “We surveyed and interviewed thousands of users and found that new and long-time users wanted to be able to find and write their family stories. Based on this information we decided to provide more powerful storytelling features (LifeStory), coupled with tools to make research easier (updated Facts view) as well as organize media efficiently (Gallery)….Also, “the new experience was designed to work better across all mobile devices. You’ll be able to see the media gallery, Historical Insights, and LifeStory, too. More improvements for the mobile experience are planned.”

If you’ve been using Story View, the news is mixed. The new LifeStory feature is the next generation of Story View and “is better integrated into the overall profile page.” But Story View is going away–and as of June 1, “if you edit a Story View, the information will not be changed in the new LifeStory.” Also, the current FAQ says that Ancestry still hasn’t decided whether to transfer data from the Story View to the LifeStory.

Ancestry expert Crista Cowan explains the updated Facts view in the new Ancestry site: “Just like before, you will find the facts you’ve discovered and entered about the life of a person in your tree running down the page like a timeline. You will also find that the parents, spouse and children of the person are on the right-hand side of the page just where they have always been. The big change you will discover is that the sources that support those facts and relationships are now front and center.” Read more from her blog post here. The comments on that post and on the original announcement are great places to read the mixed opinions about the new site.

Below is Ancestry’s video about the new site:

Users can currently opt in or out of the new site (click Classic Site or New Ancestry on the username drop-down menu), but that option will go away soon. If you’re still on the fence about using the new site, read Ancestry’s FAQs about the changes, especially those that affect what changes you make from this point forward. Here’s a detailed list of the planned feature roll-outs, along with the estimated dates for them.

Ancestry for saleHave you backed up your Ancestry tree lately? It’s a good idea to do it regularly. We found ourselves reminding people how to do this recently in the wake of news that Ancestry may go up for auction. Read our how-to post here.

 

Ancestry Up for Sale?

Ancestry for saleReuters recently reported that Ancestry “is exploring a sale that could value it at between $2.5 billion and $3 billion, including debt.” According to unnamed sources, Permira (a buyout firm that owns most of Ancestry) “has hired investment banks to run an auction for the company.”

It’s far too soon to say what this might mean for paying customers, users of Ancestry Library Edition and corporate and community partners. The sale of a company can mean possible changes in direction and organization. Ancestry currently boasts delivery of 15 billion genealogy records to 2.1 million subscribers, and has stated its intent to acquire additional records at an aggressive pace. In an ever changing corporate and technological environment we believe it’s important to retain ownership and responsibility of our own data.

Our best advice to those whose master family trees are on Ancestry? Download and backup your data! We’re not being alarmist. This announcement is just a good opportunity to do something we routinely recommend anyway.

First, download your current tree(s) to GEDCOM files onto your computer. Under the Trees tab, choose Create and Manage Trees. For each tree you have there, choose Manage Tree, then Export Tree.

Next, check your sources! The Ancestry help section states, “Any pictures, charts, books, views, or similar items found in the original file will not be included in the [downloaded] GEDCOM. Vital information, notes, and sources are usually retained after conversion.” Check your GEDCOM to see whether your source notes are intact. Then make sure you have copies of documents, videos, photos and other items you may have attached to your tree. You don’t want them to disappear, should there be a hiccup (or worse) in service.

Finally, if you have used AncestryDNA, download a copy of your raw DNA data. Click here to learn how. We especially recommend this step! These tests are expensive. Tests for loved ones who are now deceased can’t be re-rerun. And Ancestry has disposed of DNA samples in the past when the company has switched directions. (Again, not trying to be alarmist, just cautious.)

how to start a genealogy blogIf you have relied on Ancestry or any other cloud-based service to host your only or master family tree, we recommend you do your homework and consider your options. Please click here to read a blog post about keeping your master tree on your own computer at home, and which software may be best for you.

Puerto Rico Civil Registrations Now FREE Online

puerto_rico_flag_perspective_anim_300_wht_5482Do you have family from Puerto Rico? Newly-searchable at FamilySearch.org are Puerto Rico Civil Registrations. Ancestry published these last year for their subscribers. Ancestry describes this as their “largest single collection of Puerto Rican records.”

According to FamilySearch, “The civil registration records in Puerto Rico are an excellent source for genealogical research after 1885. Important genealogical data can be found in these records; see below. The data may even help to find information about an earlier generation.” They include birth, marriage and death records.

The description on FamilySearch indicates that records go back to 1805. But other hints (and a comparison to the Ancestry dataset) indicate that most of the records are for 1885 and later, just like Ancestry’s. Civil registration didn’t start in Puerto Rico until 1885 (before that, look to Catholic church records for BMD data). Of course, like many records, they may contain information about family dates and relationships from earlier in that person’s life.

book_leaning_against_question_mark_400_wht_12575Those who know about Puerto Rico’s connection to the U.S. may wonder why Puerto Rico had civil registrations at a time that U.S. states and territories did not. Puerto Rico was actually a colony of Spain when civil registration started. Only after the Spanish-American War of 1898 did Puerto Rico become a U.S. protectorate.

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