October 23, 2016

Send a Letter, Make Cousin Connections

When was the last time you sent a letter or email to someone you didn’t know? Gail did, and you will be touched and inspired by her sweet story of finding a long lost cousin in Italy. Sometimes, all it takes is sending a letter to make a monumental cousin connection.

cousin connections with letters

I often encourage our readers and Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners to reach out of their comfort zone. Writing letters is just one way we can expand your search for records and cousin connections. I wanted to share with you this story of how reader Gail was rewarded by simply writing a letter.

Gail shared:

 Antonio Capetti Italy

The only known photo of Antonio Capetti – the ancestor who links Gail with her Italian cousins.

“It is because of listening to your podcast, that we just returned from the most amazing trip of a lifetime!

My husband & I had scheduled a fabulous trip to Italy, where I’d always wanted to go. It is the home of my father’s ancestors, and I have been researching this side of the family since the early 1980s.

A couple weeks before we left, I was determined to find a living relative still in Italy. I remembered your suggestion to write to the priest in the old family village. I wrote to the priest and included a letter to any “found” family member briefly outlining the family tree and including a return envelope. Imagine my excitement when, the week before we left, I received a letter from a long lost relative! 81-year old Mario was amazed that after over a century, the two branches of our family would get together again. We began texting and set up a meeting place.

We met Mario in Venice and all cried when we met – feeling that family connection immediately.

Trip to italy

Then, at his suggestion, we hired a car to take us to our old family hometown, where he walked us through town and showed us a concrete medallion on the building where our ancestors lived, inscribed with the family name.

Italy visit write a letter Gail

We went to the church and saw our name also inscribed on the baptismal font, as it had been a gift from our family. We walked to the cemetery and then had lunch together.  During lunch, we face-timed with my father back in the U.S. and everyone cried as we stated that “our relatives in heaven are smiling today!”

Our trip was the trip of a lifetime and the highlight was meeting family we didn’t even know we had, walking together down the roads that our ancestors walked!

the roads our ancestors walked

Thank you, Lisa, for your suggestion.  It made a wonderful trip so much more special and personal – one we will never forget.”

How absolutely fabulous! I am so happy to hear when readers and podcast listeners take a little Gem and turn it into such a once in a lifetime experience.

Thank you to Gail for taking the time to write and share this with me, and all of us who seek to know our ancestors!

More Gems on MAdvanced DNA Bundle by Diahan Southardaking Cousin Connections

Follow Gail’s example and put into action new ideas for cousin connections. If you’ve had your DNA tested, don’t miss Diahan Southard’s newest quick reference guides that will help you get much more value out of your results. And keep reading below for more ideas:

“We’re Cousins?!” DNA for Genealogy Reveals Surprising Relationship

How are We Related?? Use a Cousin Calculator

DNA Matches: What To Do With All Your Genetic 4th Cousins

New and Updated Genealogical Records for Scottish Genealogy

Scottish genealogy records are as popular as plaid this fall. Deeds, paternity records, and censuses are just a sampling. Also this week, records for Ontario, New York State, Philadelphia, and the women’s suffrage movement!

New records for Scottish Genealogy

Scotland – Deeds

Findmypast offers Scotland Deeds Index 1769 with over 1,000 transcripts. This collection contains the details found in minute books kept by the Court of Session and includes a variety of different types of deeds including: assignations, discharges, bonds, obligations, protests, and leases. Each deed transcript will record the type of deed, the date it was recorded, and the two parties named in the original court document, their addresses, and occupations.

By understanding what each type of deed is, you may be able to glean additional clues to your research. For example, a discharge is granted once evidence is shown to a granter that a debt or payment has been paid in full. Discharges were also given to release an individual from specific tasks or duties. A heritable bond, however,  is in regard to land, property, or houses that pass to an heir or next of kin. In some of these cases, the records could be proof of parentage. For more details about the types of deeds in this collection, read here.

Scotland – Paternity Decrees

Containing over 25,000 records, Scotland, Paternity Decrees 1750-1922 will help you find out if your ancestor was involved in a paternity dispute that appeared before Scotland’s Sheriff Court. These records could identify illegitimate ancestors and break down brick walls in your research. You will find cases from jurisdictions across Scotland including: Kirkcudbrightshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian, and Roxburghshire.

Each record offers a date of birth and sex of the child whose paternity is in question as well as the name, occupation, and residence of both the pursuer and defender.

Scotland – Census and Population List

Also at Findmypast, Scotland Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Lists now contains over 3,500 early census fragments and parish lists from Jedburgh, Greenlaw, Ladykirk, Melrose, Applegarth, and Sibbaldbie. Until 1845, these courts were for governing the local parish and overseeing parish relief. Many kept up-to-date lists of the parish residents, their occupations, and their birth places.

The details recorded in each transcript will vary, but most will include a birth place, occupation, and address.

Scotland – Registers & Records

Over 1,700 new records have been added to the collection titled Scotland Registers & Records at Findmypast. These additions include Written Histories of the Highland Clans & Highland Regiments.

Clans in Scottish genealogy

By Gsl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scotland Registers & Records contain images taken from 21 different publications related to Scottish parishes and families. The records vary and include parish records, topographical accounts, and memorial inscriptions.

Some of these records reach back as far as the year 1100! To see a list of each of the publications within this collection, click here, then scroll down to the subheading, “What can these records tell me?”

Canada – Ontario – Birth Index

Findmypast offers a collection titled Ontario Birth Index 1860-1920. It is comprised of 1.7 million civil registration records. Civil registration in Canada is the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories and it was not standard practice until the late 1800s.

Each record contains both a transcript and an image of the original document. Information should include:

  • Ancestor’s name and date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Parents’ names

In some cases, the record may also provide:

  • Parents’ occupations
  • Where the parents were married
  • Name of the attending physician
  • Address of residence

Special Savings for You


If you are interested in subscribing to Findmypast, we want to let you  know about a special savings. Findmypast is now offering a year subscription for $34.95, a savings of $79.95. Click here for more details!

United States – New York – City Directories

New York Public Library is digitiznewyork_directory_pageing its collection of New York City Directories, 1786 through 1922/3, and sharing them for free through the NYPL Digital Collections portal.

The first batch—1849/50 through 1923—have already been scanned and the 1786–1849 directories are in the process of being scanned. The whole collection will be going online over the coming months.

See the digitized directories here.

City directories contain more than just names and addresses. You may be surprised to learn that they record the price of travel and postage, the kinds of occupations around the city, the layout of streets, and at what time the sun was predicted to rise and set!

City directories might also contain images, maps, illustrations of buildings, and advertisements.

United States – Massachusetts – Women’s Suffrage

The Massachusetts Historical Society has announced that seven collections relating to women in the public sphere have been digitized. A grant made it possible to create high resolution images that are accessible at the MHS website, as well as preservation microfilm created from the digital files. The seven collection titles and links are listed below.

Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society records, 1837-1838

Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, 1895-1920

New England Freedmen’s Aid Society records, 1862-1878

Rose Dabney Forbes papers, 1902-1932

Society for the Employment of the Female Poor trustees’ reports, 1827-1834

Twentieth Century Medical Club records, 1897-1911

Woman’s Education Association (Boston, Mass.) records, 1871-1935

United States – Pennsylvania – Newspapers

Check out the Philadelphia Inquirer on Newspapers.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the oldest surviving papers in the United States. The Philadelphia Inquirer was established in 1829 and originally titled the Pennsylvania Inquirer. It was originally a Democratic paper that supported President Jackson.

This collection covers the years of 1860-2016.

If you’re looking for specific mentions of an ancestor, you might find them in lists of death noticesmarriage licenses, local social news, the day’s fire record, or building permits issued. This newspaper is searchable by keyword or date.

United States – Nebraska – Marriages

New this week at FamilySearch are the Nebraska, Box Butte County Marriages, 1887-2015. Information found in these marriage records does vary, but you may find any of the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Estimated birth year
  • Birth city/town, county, state, and country
  • Marital status
  • Marriage date
  • Marriage city/town, county, and state
  • Parents’ names
  • Previous spouse

More Helpful Tips for Scottish Genealogy

Lisa’s Premium Member episode 116 is Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Websitejust what you need. Marie Dougan, a professional genealogist specializing in Scottish research, joins Lisa in this episode to talk about how to research Scottish ancestors. If you haven’t taken that plunge and become a Premium Member, why not do so today! There are over 100 Premium Member podcast episodes and over 30 video classes on a wide variety of genealogy topics waiting to inspire and educate. Join today!


LaVar Burton to be Keynote Speaker at RootsTech 2017

RootsTech 2017 is already wowing us with their recent announcement of Friday’s keynote speaker, LaVar Burton. Not just known for favorites like Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, LaVar has been known by millions for his role as Kunta Kinte the 1977, ABC mini series, Roots.

2017 RootsTech keynote speaker

I can hardly wait until Friday, February 10th, 2017 when LaVar Burton is introduced on stage as a keynote speaker at RootsTech! One of my childhood favorites, I grew up listening to him share his love of reading in Reading Rainbow and teaching his best friend, Data, how to be more ‘human’ in the popular TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Mr. Burton is excited about the opportunity to speak at RootsTech where he plans to share personal stories about Roots, Star Trek, and his Reading Rainbow foundation. He also plans on sharing stories of his mom and her commanding influence on him. He says,

“The story of Roots traces a family’s journey from Africa to America and back. At RootsTech, I’ll share some of my own journey of family, storytelling and the influence of African culture on my American Experience.”

RootsTech Keynote Speakers and More

Lbooth_imageaVar Burton is the first RootsTech Keynote Speaker to be announced for 2017. More speakers will be announced over the coming weeks.

If you haven’t heard, registration has already started for the RootsTech genealogy conference in Salt Lake City. Visit www.rootstech.org to register or learn more.

Be sure to come by and visit the entire Genealogy Gems team in the Expo Hall. We have some very special things planned for the event. Stay tuned!

3 Ways to Improve Your Genealogy Blog

Creating and maintaining a genealogy blog is a fun and rewarding way to share your family history. Blogging is also effective in finding cousin connections! If you are worried your blog isn’t pulling in the cousins you expected, elevate your ranking in search results by implementing these 3 ways to improve your genealogy blog.

improve your genealogy blogI recently received this exciting email from Ruth:

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Several months ago, I attended one of your all-day seminars in Bossier City, Louisiana and I must thank you for motivating me!

I’ve been researching my family tree off and on for 25 years or so, and at times it has taken a back burner to whatever was going on in my life; only to be dusted off when I would get an inquiry or perhaps when someone in the family passed away. In the last 3 years, I have been attending these local seminars with a distant cousin. They were fun and I learned a few things, but none had generated the enthusiasm that I have at the moment!

The knowledge that you share and the easy manner in which you deliver your presentations are so down-to-earth and it inspires me to learn more. I left your seminar with a Premium Membership package and I have been listening to your podcast ever since.

You also encourage your readers to blog about their genealogy. I took your advice and I’ve done just that. Please take a look at my blog – any suggestions you might have would be welcomed. The title is My Family Tree: Hobby or Addiction? and I have dedicated it to my father who passed away in 2005! Here is the link: http://myfamilytreehobbyoraddiction.blogspot.com/

Thank you again for all you do that encourages us and for the new tools that you share with your listeners to help their journey along the way!

Many thanks,

Ruth Craig Estess

Ruth, thank you and congratulations!

improve your genealogy blog ruth

I love hearing how you have put it into action what you learned at the seminar.

Tips for Improving Your Genealogy Blog

Ruth is doing a terrific job including family information on her genealogy blog that others might be Googling. That means they are very likely to find her. But there’s more that can be done. Here are 3 additional tips for Ruth and anyone who wants to get more traction with their genealogy blog:

1. Add more images. Google looks postively upon websites that have images. It considers the website to be more of an authority on the subject covered in the blog. Images improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) In layman’s terms, SEO refers the ways in which you have made your blog easy to use, and easy for Google to understand what it is about. The better Google understands the subject, the better chance it has of delivering your blog as a result when people search on things you write about (like your family tree!) It’s important that your image files have names that accurately reflect what they and your blog post are about. Therefore, it’s a solid strategy to include relevant genealogical information such as names, places and dates in the image titles. If you don’t happen to personally have photos about the subject of your blog post, include images of documents or other related items.

2. Include a Call to Action. At the end of each post, invite your readers to comment and contact you if they are researching the same family. It’s amazing what a little invitation will do to prompt interaction. If you skip this step, your readers may just “lurk”, or in other words, quietly read and then go on to the next website. That’s a missed opportunity for connection and collaboration. Even though a reader may be researching the family you are writing about, they may not think to reach out to you or comment unless you prompt them to do so.

3. Make use of blog categories. Categories and Labels help organize you blog content. Create a category for each surname you discuss on your blog. The category can appear in the side column on your blog. That makes it easy for readers to click a surname they are interested in and jump directly to your posts that discuss that name.

Surname labels in genealogy blog

Categories and Labels are great for SEO too. Google loves well-organized websites because they are easier to understand and deliver in search results.

More Gems on Creating Your Own Genealogy Blog

Ruth wrote to tell me she has already started putting these ideas into practice. She’s on her way to rising in the search results and hearing from distant cousins. How exciting! Click below to continue reading about rewarding and effective family history blogging.

Why Marketing Experts Would Agree That You Should Write a Family History Blog

Why and How to Start a Family History Blog

Genealogy Blogging, the Future of Genealogy and More

Tell Us About Your Genealogy Blog

Do you have a genealogy blog? Well, here’s my call to action! Please share your family history blog, SEO tips, and success stories in the comments area below.

And I would so appreciate it if you would share Genealogy Gems with your friends and blog readers by including a link to our website in your list of favorite genealogy help sites on your blog. Thanks!

Learn to Leapfrog by Speaking Google’s Language!

Speaking Google’s language will have you “genealogy leapfrogging!” It’s a new phrase coined by Gems reader, Steve, after his amazing discovery using the Google search techniques shared by Lisa in a recent lecture. You too can make some giant leaps in your genealogy research by speaking Google’s language.

Leapfrog by Speaking Google's Language

After a recent lecture presentation, we received this email from Steve:

Hi Lisa,

Steve here. I just attended your Google Tools seminar in Kelowna. I have created a new term as a result of your workshop and it is called the “Genealogy Leapfrog.” That is when you leapfrog way ahead in your genealogy research because of something you have learned from Lisa! Here is the context. I am completely green at genealogy, this was my first conference and I have just recently commenced my family tree research. I have had a very, very hard time finding anything out about my mother’s maiden name Rochon and their family. Well, as a result of the tips I learned from you, I used my grandfather’s name “Joseph Rochon” OR “Joseph A. Rochon” Liliane (Grandmother’s name) and up pops the most incredible website I have ever seen. By clicking on the Rochon with Liliane, the complete family tree back to the 1600s is revealed. Wow…I am in complete shock. While I know that I need to research and verify this information, I am humbled at how you have enabled me to “Leapfrog” in my genealogy research. I now know more about the Rochon family than my cousin who has been researching our family tree for 20 years!

So, here is the real reason for my email – to simply say thank you. Thank you for coming to Kelowna to share your knowledge with us and thank you for your passion for genealogy research. I am a huge beneficiary of your knowledge which has enabled me to do the “Genealogy Leapfrog.”

Yours in genealogy,


Learning to Leapfrog by Speaking Google’s Language

We were tickled to hear this new phrase based on the exciting techniques that Lisa and we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast are sharing. Learning to speak Google’s language is a truly amazing tool for successful searching.

It is all based on using Google search operators correctly and Lisa shares that knowledge with you in this video below.

Happy hunting, friends! We know there is a wealth of information to comb through on the internet, but you can do it. Will you share your successes with us here in the comment section? We love to hear from you!

Learn even more about using Google for genealogy in Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxYou can find this book in the printed edition or a handy e-book edition in our online Gems store.


New and Updated Genealogy Collections from Around the World

This week, we bring you new and updated record collections from genealogy societies around the world. We are often familiar with the record sets available at FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage, but many more wonderful virtual repositories exist online. Check out these records for New Zealand, Belgium, Israel, Britain, and Ireland.

dig these new record collections

New Zealand – Civil Records

FamilySearch has added a large new collection this week for New Zealand. New Zealand, Civil Records Indexes, 1800-1896 is an index only, but numbers 857,382 records. This index collection contains birth, marriage, and death records between the years of 1800 to 1896. The original records are located with the New Zealand Government, Internal Affairs.
Birth records may contain:
  • First and last name of child
  • Date of birth
  • Location of birth
  • First and last name of father and mother
Marriage records may contain:
  • Date and location of wedding
  • Bride’s first and last name
  • Groom’s first and last name
Death records may contain:
  • Date and location of death
  • First and last name of deceased
  • Date of birth
  • Age at death

Belgium – Civil Registrations

Though FamilySearch has only added to these collections, it is a good idea to check back in to see what’s new. This week, four Belgium collections regarding civil registrations have been added to.
Belgium new and updated genealogical collections
You will notice in the chart above, some of these record sets are indexed records only. Belgium, Antwerp, Civil Registration, 1588-1913; Belgium, East Flanders, Civil Registration, 1541-1914; and Belgium, Liège, Civil Registration, 1621-1914 are the index only collections. Belgium, Limburg, Civil Registration, 1798-1906 is the only one that contains digital images.
Each of these civil registration collections contain birth, marriage, and death records for the town locations and time periods listed. The records for Limburg are written in Dutch or Flemish depending on the timeframe. You will find names, dates of events, and sometimes details such as residence, marital status, and names of parents in any of these civil record sets.

Israel – Misc. Records

Societies around the world bring a wealth of information to our research. A Gem’s reader, Elena, shared with us this next record collection set for Israel. The Israel Genealogy Research Association has over 730,000 records from over 260 databases on their website. You can search in English or Hebrew and for free, though you are required to register.
new and updated collections for Israel
The IGRA adds or updates their record collections about every two months. In particular, record collections cover:
They also have miscellaneous records from various parts of the world, such as a list of Russian Jewish POW’s in World War I and a list of Jewish soldiers in the International Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Britain – Registers

Findmypast has released the new Britain, Registers of Licences to pass beyond the seas 1573-1677 collection which records the details of early travelers who left Britain for Ireland, continental Europe, New England, Barbados, Bermuda and other overseas colonies.

The collection includes over 27,000 fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of original documents. It includes lists of soldiers who signed a statutory oath of allegiance before serving in the “Low Countries” between 1613 and 1633, licences for individuals traveling to Europe between 1573 and 1677, and registers of individuals traveling to America between 1634 and 1639.

The records showing passengers licensed to sail to the Americas are very rare, making this collection quite significant. They record groups headed for colonies in New England, Maryland, Virginia, Barbados, Bermuda, St Kitt’s, and the Providence Island colony during the 1630s. Very few original records from this early period of American history are available online. Registers record the details of some of earliest English settlers to arrive on the continent.

After 1609, all travelers over the age of 18 had to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch before the Clerk of the Passes could issue them with a licence to leave the country. The dates shown in these records are the date the oath was taken or the date the licence was issued – not the date of actual departure.

Ireland – Indexes

Societies around the world continue to amaze us, as does The Irish Genealogical Research Society with three recent updates. These updated collections include new birth, marriage, and death confirmations of citizen of Ireland.

In particular, the birth index was most recently updated to reflect information gathered from several thousand records taken from Index of Nuns, a CD publication in 2015 by the Catholic Family History Society. which notes biographical information for about 14,000 nuns, many of them from Ireland.

Also, there are entries from a census-substitute dated 1887 recording the Roman Catholic residents of the parish of Kirkinriola, Co. Antrim and entries taken from Emigrants from Ireland, 1847-1852.

genealogy societies around the world records

IGRS is another genealogy society around the world containing Irish records.

The full database is available only to Members. However, a restricted but free surname-only search of the database can be made by non-members. A search will tell you how many entries in the database match your search criteria. It will not provide all the details of those matched records. You can however become a member with all access by visiting their subscription page here.

Genealogy Societies Around the Worldthanks for sharing ancestor

You may never have considered joining a genealogical society outside of your country, but may find it is just what you need to break through that brick wall. Do you know of a genealogy society that has an extensive collection of records? If you do, would you share it with us? We would love to hear about it in the comments below. Be sure to leave a link so that we can check it out!

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)

Google Books for Genealogy Success Story

Using Google Books for genealogy is a successful tool to many. A Gem’s reader shares the remarkable story she uncovered using the tips for using Google Books she learned from a recent Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.

Google Books for genealogy

From Genealogy Gems Premium member:

“Hi Lisa,

Premium 137I was just listening to the newest Premium podcast concerning filtering the lists on Google Books (Premium episode 137). I would like to relay my story for using your hints and tips on Google.

My great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. At the age of 48, he married my great-grandmother and my grandmother was born the next year. I found much to my dismay, that he committed suicide when my grandmother was a few weeks old. It was stated that he had what would be described today as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the burning of the court house where he worked as a county clerk set off something. My Dad was born on what would have been my great-grandfather’s 90th birthday.

I have known for about 30 years that my great-grandfather wrote articles under a pen name. My aunt told me she had been told he wrote articles about the scenery in southern Utah where he lived. I searched and searched and never found any of his articles. Then, I had a breakthrough. I found the pen name by using several tips you mentioned for using Google. The pen name was Lock Melone. It was spelled differently than I had been told.

It turns out, he was a very well-known humorist. One of his stories appears in a publication alongside an article by Mark Twain. (He wrote articles in the 1870s and 1880s.)

Now, back to your tips on Google. I was Googling, checking all the old newspapers I could find to collect his writings. One of the sources continually mentioned in Google Books was a literary magazine called The Californian.  These were not all free on Google, but I was not to be deterred after all these years! I used the basic information and time frames listed in Google Books and looked at WorldCat. That led me to e-books and to some of the holdings in universities around the country.

As of today, I have found 69 of his articles! They have made an ancestor who I thought had a rough life with a tragic end, a new person, full of life and laughter! I am sure his stories are based on events that occurred during his “real life” adventures. He lived life to the fullest, traveling a great deal, and saw the world through a light heart.

I am continuing to search for more articles and have begun to compile his writings to give to my children and cousins for a Christmas present this year (if I can figure out how to put it all together!) With my grandmother as his only child, I will have given his life to all his descendants, a very special chore on which I have worked on with great pleasure.

Thanks for the tips on Google and other sites you have given over the years.”

This Gems member is certainly on the right track in many ways. She figured out how to harness the power of Google to search for the proverbial needle in a haystack—not just her grandfather’s articles but articles written under a pseudonym! Good for her for using Google Books and WorldCat. That’s a great combination. You can learn more about using WorldCat for genealogy in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers and in the Premium video Getting the Scoop Part 2: Tech Tools for Newspapers.

Follow-up Ideas for Using Google Books for Genealogy

Here are a few follow-up suggestions reGoogle Books and Scholar for genealogy success lating to finding issues of a literary magazine or another scholarly publication like The Californian:

First, turn to another powerful free tool in the Google toolbox: Google Scholar. It takes Google Books to the next level and you may hit on some things that Google Books may miss. Refer back to Premium Podcast 136 for a discussion of Google Scholar for genealogy, and Chapter 11 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

Second, remember that sometimes serial publications change names, or two different ones may have the same name. Wikipedia’s not the most expert source, but its article on The Californian says something you can follow up on. The Californian was published from 1880 to 1882, as a continuation of the earlier Overland Monthly which had stopped in 1875, and then in 1882 it switched back to its old name. This means you should look for both titles.

A third idea may be to check e-bay for back issues of old magazines and journals. Sometimes, it’s cheaper and easier to buy them than to try to borrow them through inter-library loan. E-bay does happen to have a CD version for sale of The Californian issues from 1880 to 1882. I talk more about finding family history items on e-bay in the Premium Podcast episodes 16, 76, and 131.

Lastly, don’t forget JSTOR. JSTOR is a shared digital library for scholarly journals and the like. It launched in 1995 to serve university and college libraries, running out of space to store old journal issues. Today, it includes over 2,300 journals and thousands of other materials. It’s even started including books. Over 50 million pages are digitized, with another 3 million being added every year.

The nice thing about JSTOR is that you don’t have to be affiliated with a major library to get access now. Individuals can register for free access allowing them to read some materials online. They offer free access to their Early Journal Content collection of scholarly content published before 1923 in the U.S. (and before 1870 in other parts of the world.) That collection alone has nearly a half million articles from over 200 journals.

Unfortunately in this case, JSTOR doesn’t have The Californian or Overland Monthly in its collections. But one can certainly use JSTOR to search for other journals. JSTOR is just a great resource for anyone to use when searching for historical articles, especially those you may come across in Google Scholar without the full article text.

Your Google Books for Genealogy Success Stories

It is so rewarding to hear your success stories in using Google Books for genealogy. Your stories inspire others. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Keep Reading: More Gems on Using Google Books for Genealogy Success

Free Video: Google Books Image Search for Genealogy and Family History

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

Wedding Bells are Ringing Across the U.S. with New and Updated Marriage Records

It’s not really wedding season, but we are hearing wedding bells across the United States! New and updated marriage records are dotting the country. Among other record finds this week, we share new sources from Latin America and Nicaragua.

dig these new record collections

United States – New York – Marriage Records

The not-for-profit organization called “Reclaim the Records” has just added the New York City Marriage Index to the public domain. We welcome this first searchable database of the 3,124,595 marriage licenses filed in New York City between 1950-1995. It’s free and searchable online at this time.

These records were finally won after a settlement was reached between the city of New York and Reclaim the Records. The organization won 110 reels of microfilm made from the masters in the City Clerk’s Office vault. This covers the handwritten marriage license index for 1930-1972. They also won a copy of a text-searchable database covering 1950-1995.

The search engine for these marriage records recognizes soundalike surnames, spelling variants, wildcards, common nicknames, year ranges, borough preferences, and more.

There are some records that are missing for Manhattan for 1967. Those Manhattan records do exist at the City Clerk’s Office on paper, however.

United States – Arkansas – Ohio – Tennessee – Washington – California – Marriage Records

FamilySearch joins the party by updating many of their U.S. marriage collections. Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, and California are among those updated over the past week.

The Arkansas Church Marriages, 1860-1976 collection is still rather small, but the newly updated records include items from Columbia and Woodruff counties.

Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013 collection is quite large and being added to regularly. Though not all have been indexed, you can browse through over 1.5 million marriage records by county. The collection consists of an index and images acquired from local courthouses. You may find:

  • Licenses
  • Certificates
  • Declarations
  • Affidavits
  • Loose documents
  • Abstracts
  • Licenses to perform marriages

The Tennessee, County Marriages, 1790-1950 is an even larger collection of marriages with more than 3.3 million records. I was particularly excited to see the Claiborne County marriage records from as early as 1838 are available online. You can see an example of these handwritten records below.

marriage records example

Early Claiborne County, Tennessee Marriage Record found on FamilySearch

Next on our list of new and updated collections of marriage records are the Washington, County Marriages for 1855-2008. The index includes marriage records for Clallam, Lewis, Pacific, Snohomish, Thurston, and Wahkiakum counties. Images for both indexed and non-indexed counties are available to browse. Additional records from other counties will be added to the collection as they become available, so check back often.

And lastly, the California, County Marriages, 1850-1952 of over 2.4 million records is a must see. This collection includes several different types of documents such as licenses, certificates, registers, applications, affidavits, and stubs. Currently, the collection is 99% complete. It should be noted that not all indexed names will have a view-able record image due to contractual agreements, however most will.

Latin America – Books

Over 50,000 early Latin American books housed at the University of Texas are now available online in the public domain. That means that anyone can search the digitized pages of these wonderful historical books.

You will find these digitized volumes online at Google Books or HathiTrust. If you need to learn about how to effectively utilize Google Books, take a look at this helpful video from Lisa.


Nicaragua – Civil Registrations

FamilySearch offers the Nicaragua Civil Registration, 1809-2013 records online. 2.5 million records have been digitized and 1.1 million are indexed. These civil records include birth, marriages, and deaths from Nicaragua. The text of the records is written in Spanish.

Civil registration is mandatory in Nicaragua; therefore most of the population has been registered. The civil registration records are considered a reliable source for doing genealogical research in that locale.

Birth records usually contain the following information:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Child’s name and gender
  • Legitimacy
  • Parents’ names
  • Parents’ age, race, status and residence
  • Occupation of father and mother
  • Names of witnesses

Marriage records may contain the following information:

  • Date and place of marriage
  • Groom’s name, origin and occupation
  • Bride’s name, age and residence
  • Bride’s origin and occupation
  • Names of witnesses

Death records contain the following information:

  • Name of deceased
  • Date, place and time of death
  • Cause of death
  • Legitimacy of deceased
  • Civil status and occupation of deceased
  • Name of spouse, if married
  • Parents’ names
  • Parents’ civil status and residence
  • Names of witnesses
  • Sometimes, burial information

More Gems on Marriage Records

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastTo learn even more about researching marriage records for family history, listen to Lisa’s free podcast episode titled Using Marriage Records in Family History. This episode is part of a series called Family History: Genealogy Made Easy. This specific podcast is all about marriage records and how to find and utilize them for your research.

If you have not yet taken the opportunity to engage with Genealogy Gems through our free podcast, please join us. You can find the free episodes listed here.

For further in-depth tips and techniques, subscribe as a Premium Member and enjoy the Premium Podcasts just for members! There is always something more to learn in the world of genealogy and we want to share it with you.

New Netflix Documentary: Twins Separated at Birth Reunited by Social Media

A new documentary on Netflix tells the story of twins who were separated at birth–sent to different countries–who rediscovered each other through YouTube and Facebook. Become inspired and learn the remarkable story of how they were reunited by social media.

Twins reunited by social media

A new Netflix documentary on twins separated at birth is getting great reviews–and it’s a great story. We’ve all heard about twins being separated at birth before, but these were sent halfway across the world from each other. They only reconnected because a friend of one twin saw the other in a YouTube video.

I first read this story in the Irish Mirror. Anais, now a college student, grew up in France. She always knew she was adopted and that her biological mother was a single woman in Korea. One day, a friend sent her a YouTube comedy sketch performed by someone who looked just like her. She watched the video over and over. There was no contact information on it. Eventually, the same friend spotted the mystery girl again in a movie trailer. Suddenly, Anais was able to learn more about her from the IMBD database. Her name was Samantha and her birthday was the same as her own.

Anais reached out to Samantha on Facebook, saying she thought they were twins. Samantha replied with a copy of her adoption paperwork—from the same clinic. Three months later, they met in London where Anais lived. Each young woman took a DNA test and traveled to Korea to attend an adoptee conference together.

Throughout it all, Samantha had the video camera running. She’d already been on-screen in Memoirs of a Geisha and now she took a shot at directing herself and her sister as they were getting to know each other. The result is Twinsters and it’s on Netflix. The show is getting some awesome reviews from critics and audience members alike. If you’ve got Netflix, check it out!

This unlikely reunion started entirely on social media: YouTube, Facebook, and Skype. Just goes to show you the amazing power of these technologies to bring family members together!

More Stories Like This One: Reunited by Social Media

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Twins Reunited 78 Years After Separation at Birth

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