2 Updates to MyHeritage DNA Upload You Need to Know

Since 2016, MyHeritage DNA has offered the ability to transfer your DNA data from other DNA companies for free, and now they’ve expanded that offering to include Living DNA and 23andMe v5. With this news comes additional changes to their free upload offerings, so get your data transferred now to take advantage of all their tools. 

Our friends at MyHeritage.com, one of the Genealogy Giants and a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, recently made the announcements we are sharing below.

MyHeritage DNA news you can use

1. Transfer your DNA results from Living DNA and 23andMe v5.

“We’re happy to announce another industry first from MyHeritage! We now support the upload of 23andMe v5 and Living DNA data files, in addition to supporting data uploads from all major DNA testing services, including Ancestry, 23andMe (prior to V5) and Family Tree DNA (Family Finder).

Since 2016, MyHeritage has allowed users who have already tested their DNA to upload their DNA data from Ancestry, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. They receive DNA Matches and ethnicity estimates on MyHeritage for free. Our free upload service is a unique benefit not offered by any of these other companies. However, previously MyHeritage did not support the upload of tests based on the chip called GSA (Global Screening Array), now being used by 23andMe (v5), and by Living DNA. Recent improvements to our DNA algorithms now allow us to support DNA data processed on GSA chips, and so we now support uploads of 23andMe v5 and Living DNA data files.

Uploading your DNA data to MyHeritage is fast and simple. For users that upload now, we offer full access to DNA Matching, Ethnicity Estimates, our industry-leading chromosome browser, and more, for FREE.”


Click below to upload your DNA now for FREE!

The announcement continues:

“If you manage additional DNA kits for some of your relatives, and you have their permission, upload their DNA data too, and MyHeritage will let you associate the data with the respective individuals on your family tree. DNA data uploaded to MyHeritage is completely private and secure. Only you can see the DNA data you upload.”

2. Upcoming Changes to Tools Access

The announcement goes on to discuss a few changes you can expect with their free upload service:

“As of December 1, 2018, our policy regarding DNA uploads will change: DNA Matching will remain free for uploaded DNA data, but unlocking additional DNA features (for example, ethnicity estimate, chromosome browser, and some others) will require an extra payment for DNA files uploaded after this date. We will announce the full details of the new policy once it is finalized, closer to December 1st. All DNA data that was uploaded to MyHeritage in the past, and all DNA data that is uploaded now and prior to December 1, 2018, will continue to enjoy full access to all DNA features for free. These uploads will be grandfathered in and will remain free.

So, don’t delay, and upload your DNA data to MyHeritage now, while all the DNA features are free (and they will remain free for you). If you have tested with 23andMe (any versions including v5) or Living DNA, you’re in luck, and you can now upload this data to MyHeritage too. You can also upload DNA data from Ancestry and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test. Instructions for exporting your data and uploading it to MyHeritage are provided on our upload page.”

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Three Southern Genealogy Record Types You Should Be Using

Researching your U.S. ancestors from the South can lead to frustrating brick walls. Isolation, the Civil War, and natural disasters are all playing a role in the shortage of records. But finding your Southern kin doesn’t have to be impossible.

The experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists are serving up 3 distinct record types you should be looking for to find these elusive missing folks in your family tree. 

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for this guest post! Learn more about them below.

Pre-1850 Southern Genealogy Records

Doing research in the United States pre-1850 can be challenging anywhere. The colonial and early federal period across the nation generally affords genealogists fewer record types with much less biographical information and variety than later eras. But the South is notoriously even harder to research than other parts of the country.


This is the case for a couple of reasons. First, the South has always been far more agrarian, isolated, and independent in nature than its northern counterpart. Thus, there were few cities and almost none of the vital record-keeping that occurred in New England, for example. With such great distance between communities, it could also be expensive and time-consuming to travel just for the purpose of recording an event like a marriage. In some cases, young couples simply relied on the circuit-riding minister to come around and didn’t bother to register their wedding with the civil authorities. In some areas within Catholic French Louisiana, parish priests were so sparse that they would only get a visit from their religious leader every decade or so!

The second – and perhaps most impactful – reason for the dearth of Southern records is the high rate of disaster and destruction, both natural and man-made. Floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, humidity, and insects could erase a courthouse or church’s collection in no time. Then there’s the Civil War and other frontier conflicts. The South sustained a much higher rate of devastation as a result of the war than the North did, and its records often paid the price.

These are important facts to keep in mind when researching Southern ancestors. However, though these things make it more difficult, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Most people who have performed any substantial Southern research are aware that you must rely heavily on records such as land, tax, and probate. Additionally, mysteries are most likely to be solved by stacking pieces of indirect evidence. Seldom is there a “smoking gun” answering that brick wall question.

Although most are not yet fully online and are rarely indexed, those land, tax, and other records are usually accessible on microfilm at the Family History Library, or they can be searched onsite at the location where they are housed. But what do you do when even those hours at the microfilm reader poring over land transactions in Georgia still doesn’t yield the answer? Consider that you may not have actually searched everything! In many cases, the answer lies within the court system.

3 Southern Genealogy Records

There are three particular key court-created records that are not yet as easily available for most Southern areas. They are not online, and sometimes not even held in the Family History Library’s vast collections. In fact, they tend to be still gathering dust on a courthouse shelf in the county of your ancestors, requiring an old-school phone call to the local clerk – or perhaps hiring an onsite genealogist to perform a lookup (which is something Legacy Tree Genealogists can help you with).

Civil and Criminal Case records

Civil and criminal court case records can be quite beneficial should your ancestor ever have had his day in court – and many did. Property disputes, lawsuits, guardianship, appointments to government office, and licenses for various activities are just some of the varied types of legal documents to be found.

If you’re new to court records, visit the FamilySearch Wiki’s United States Court Records page to learn more about them. Then, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the state where you wish to research. You’ll be taken to the web page devoted to court records in that state which will include the history of these records in that state, and helpful links.

Certain Probate Documents

True, sometimes administrations, inventories, and partitions of property can be found online or in the Family History Library, but not always. The biggest focus is typically on wills, but many of our ancestors did not leave one of those fortunate documents. What is not always commonly known is that just because there isn’t a will doesn’t mean that there is no record of the division of a person’s estate. These probate documents can name relatives, neighbors, minor children, and creditors; they’ll allow you to narrow down the date of death for the ancestor, and to gain insight into his or her financial affairs and socioeconomic status. Learn more about probate records from this article by Margaret Linford.

Divorce records

Divorce was rare in early U.S. history, particularly in the South, but that doesn’t mean that it never happened, and we must always be careful to exercise caution in assuming that the end of a marriage was always caused by death. Though marriage records are easily accessible in most places, divorce proceedings have not followed suit. But in a region and era with so few opportunities for finding exact dates and whole family units, divorce records can be a goldmine. Their level of specificity can vary from place to place, but most will at least give the original date of marriage, name of the parties involved, and any children or property to be decided upon. We report recently on a newly available collection of North Carolina divorce records in this article.

Digging Deeper into Southern Genealogy

Good genealogists do their best to perform reasonably exhaustive searches. In the case of Southern brick wall problems, don’t be afraid to dig deeper and expend a little more effort in less-accessible records. It usually won’t be quick or easy but let the potential reward of solving the seemingly unsolvable puzzle serve as motivation!


Getting Professional Genealogy Assistance

Exclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100. If you are interested in searching for your ancestors in hard-to-reach court documents, consider allowing Legacy Tree Genealogists’ staff of experienced researchers help you. Legacy Tree Genealogists is the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm.

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

6 Best School Records for Genealogy

School records can fill in the gaps in missing vital records, as well as provide a rare glimpse into the daily lives of our ancestors. Guest blogger Margaret Linford shares her personal stories about how schools can connect us to our families. She also provides great tips on what kinds of records and resources to look for, and where you might find them. 

The lazy days of summer are coming to an end.

The roar of school bus engines will again be heard echoing throughout towns and cities all across the country, delivering students to their respective schools. The smell of new books and freshly sharpened pencils will permeate the hallways as teachers greet their students and embark upon a new school year. The beginning of a new school year is a time of great anticipation. Excitement fills the air as school friends reunite, anxiously sharing their tales of summer adventures. Days spent lounging by the pool are abruptly replaced with early-morning alarm clocks and evenings occupied with homework.

This year, I suddenly find myself the mother of a fifth-grader and a high-schooler. On several occasions, I have caught myself lamenting over the speed with which my children are growing up. I have occupied several afternoons looking back at their baby books and school pictures, wondering where the time has gone. I am nostalgic for the days of preschool and Kindergarten, when the biggest concern was their mastery of ABCs, how high they could count, and how well they played with others.

Two weeks ago, I had the unique experience of escorting my oldest daughter to an orientation at her new high school—my alma mater. As we sat in the auditorium, scenes from my teenage years flashed before my mind’s eye. I could envision a young girl playing bass clarinet with her high school band on the stage, tapping her toe in time to the rhythm of the music. As we left the auditorium, more flashes from the past came to mind. “This is the hallway where my friends and I would congregate between classes. This is the room where Mrs. Goodman did her best to teach us the laws of physics, despite our attempts at an afternoon nap. That is the window through which I spent many moments in Mrs. Scott’s class, daydreaming about what the future held.”

On the evening of my daughter’s orientation, I was shocked to discover that, although much had changed, some things were strikingly familiar. The room where I learned to type on an old-school typewriter, with ribbon and ink, had now been transformed into a computer lab. The chemistry classroom still occupied the same space, with cabinets stocked full of beakers and all manner of scientific paraphernalia, waiting to introduce students to the wonders of chemical reactions.

I caught my daughter, Amelia, sometimes glancing my way as we navigated the crowded hallways. It was apparent that she was attempting to read my mind and the emotions I felt as I returned to this space that contributed significantly to making me who I am. It was evident to her that I was preoccupied with a barrage of memories. She took advantage of the opportunity to conduct her own family history interview. “Mom, where was your locker? What has changed since you were here? What was your favorite class?” As she formulated each question, I realized that she had gained a vision of the importance of family stories. I smiled as we walked the hallways together that evening, sharing stories from my past and hopes for her future.

There are fleeting moments like this in each family—moments when past meets future. These occasions often pass us by, their significance unnoticed or unappreciated. These flashes in time are offered to us as immeasurable gifts, whose value increases with the passage of years. How many of us would love to have the opportunity of walking down the halls of our parents’ and grandparents’ schools, hearing them tell of how things had transformed and what had remained unchanged? While circumstances may prevent us from having this experience with our ancestors, I’d like to share with you six of the best school records which can assist you in understanding what your forebears were like, as students. These records tell their own stories. As we discover them, we forge emotional connections with those who came before us. We gain a greater understanding of their strengths and their weaknesses.

Here are 6 of the best school records for genealogy research:

1. School Census Records

School census records were maintained to assist school districts in allocating resources and planning for the future, among other things. Much like the United States Census, these records provide genealogists with important information. If you are lucky enough to find census records for a family with school children in the 1880s and 1890s, they can even act as a wonderful resource for tracing families during the elusive final two decades of the 19th century.

In Smyth County, Virginia, three of these important volumes were saved from the clutches of a trash can. The books contained the names of children attending school from the years 1885, 1910, and 1915. They had been placed in a box, to be thrown away, when a member of the local genealogical society spotted them. She immediately recognized their worth and asked if she might spare them. Thanks to this instance of being in the right place at the right time, the books were rescued.

The oldest of the three books is a relatively small, brown ledger book. It has a marbled cover. Inside the front cover is written, “School Census taken by J. B. Rhea, clerk of Board of 4th School Dist. Smyth Co. Va., between June 8th and July 20th 1885.” Underneath, Mr. Rhea has done the math and determined that there are 815 students enrolled in the 4th School District. The pages within are fragile and have become brittle with age. Upon these pages are listed all the children “between the ages of one year (and less) and twenty-one years.” This census is a valuable genealogical resource because it lists the names of parents, occupation of father, names and ages of each child in the family, whether or not the child can read and write, how much education the child has had and, most importantly, the birthplace of the father. Many of the fathers were born in Virginia or Tennessee. In some cases, there is genealogical “gold.” For instance, Alex Campbell, father of Robert, Bell, and Mary Campbell, was born in Scotland. Another father, Richard Goodell, was born in New York. He is working as a merchant in Smyth County in 1885. Charles F. Lincoln, a local “mechanic,” is listed as having been born in Massachusetts. This can be a key piece of information for family researchers.

These records may be found in libraries, historical societies, State Archives, and within collections at Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

Virginia School Attendance Record2. Daily Attendance Registers/Class Grades

This record set contains precisely what the name implies—a register of attendance and grades. Each teacher was responsible for maintaining these records on a daily basis. Who was present and accounted for each day? Who was absent? What subjects were strengths? Where could they have improved? The quality of the records depends on the record-keeping of the teacher.

Recently, a filing cabinet full of these records was brought to my attention by our local Superintendent of Schools. He invited me to visit the county school board office and look through the old wooden filing cabinet, in an effort to determine whether or not the records might be of benefit to families conducting genealogical research. The records dated back to a time in our local history when one and two-room schoolhouses dotted the landscape. Children walked to school in these days. The classrooms were heated by pot-bellied stoves. The drawers of the cabinet were packed so tight that it was somewhat difficult to retrieve individual registers. Dust and cobwebs had not diminished the value of these records. Names of parents appeared beside each student, along with places of residence. A preservation plan is now being developed for the safe-keeping of these valuable family history resources. The countless hours of record-keeping by these teachers from long ago will not have been in vain. These records are typically found by contacting the local school administration office.

School Records-Filing CabinetSchool Records-Drawer

3. Report Cards

School Records-Grade sheetWe are all familiar with this sometimes-feared record set. Many of us can relate to the trepidation we felt as we submitted our report cards to our parents for review every six to nine weeks. Would our grades withstand the scrutiny of our parents’ watchful eyes? Would they note the number of times we were tardy to class? What had our teachers written in the comment section? We may have breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing there was nothing incriminating written on the pages of our report cards. The signature of our parents served as a stamp of approval, which we dutifully returned to our teachers.

This record set is most often found within the walls of our own homes. There are times we may be tempted to dispose of any evidence of poor behavior or less-than-perfect grades, but these records serve to tell our stories and inspire our descendants. They may learn that perfection is not necessary for success, or that even their parents and grandparents were sometimes caught talking in class.

4. Newspapers

Local newspapers are essential in researching the histories of our local schools, sports, and other countless activities that accompany student life. Small town newspapers are well-known for covering special events and recognitions that otherwise might go unreported in larger cities. These smaller newspapers celebrate the victories of their local students and proudly intertwine school news with other important headlines.

Many schools publish their own newspapers, offering students a taste of what life would be like in the world of media and deadlines. Creativity and responsibility are cultivated in the environment of a school newspaper classroom. Early issues of a local Marion Senior High School newspaper tell the story of what it was like to be a high school student during World War II. One of the headlines in the May 22, 1944, issue of The Hurricane Junior, was particularly interesting.

Excerpt from The Hurricane Junior newspaper

“Four Seniors Now Serve in U.S. Navy: Four members of the senior class are now on active duty in Uncle Sam’s forces. All four—James Snavely, Don Starling, Charles Daniels, and Herman Gullion—are volunteers in the Navy.

“James Snavely, the first to volunteer, received his ‘boot training’ at Bainbridge, Maryland, and is now studying to become a radio operator. Charles Daniels was initiated into the ways of the Navy at Sampson, New York, and is also studying radio engineering. Don Starling and Herman Gullion volunteered at the same time and were sent to the Great Lakes Training Station together. Both are now in the medical corps.

“Back home on recent furloughs, the boys found a warm welcome at the high school and were much in demand as speakers in their English and history classes, where they told of their new experiences.

“The senior class is proud of its first recruits, as well as of all the former Marion boys in the service, and wishes them all the luck in the world.”

How amazing it would be for the grandchildren of these men to discover this article decades later! Look for these records at your local historical society, library, newspaper office, and school.

5. Teacher Scrapbooks/Records

Teachers are a special group of individuals. They typically do not enter the profession for money. Instead, they have a passion for educating and are emotionally invested in the success of their students. It is no wonder that many of them maintain scrapbooks, or other collections, detailing the lives of the students they taught.

Last year, I learned that my former high school band director maintained impeccable records of his 30 years of service. He and his wife had preserved band programs, travel itineraries, competition notes, newspaper clippings, and countless photographs of three decades’ worth of band students. This collection was scanned and made available to the community via a Flickr album. It was met with great enthusiasm and appreciation for not only his years of dedicated service, but his preservation of the band’s history.

6. Yearbooks/School Photos

Yearbooks are some of the most sought-after school records. They contain the photographic history of not only a school, but the surrounding community. Upon discovering a yearbook for one of our parents or grandparents, we anxiously turn pages, looking for a familiar face or name. The sensation of being met with a younger version of a beloved countenance sometimes moves us to tears. Youth is brought into full view. We discover who they were before the responsibilities of adulthood demanded their full attention. The answers to these questions may be found in a yearbook: What clubs had they joined? Did they play any sports? Did they have a nickname? Who were their friends?

Old school yearbooks for genealogyThe experience of finding my great-grandfather, Francis McMurray, in a University of Michigan yearbook was one accompanied with great emotion. I had only ever seen pictures of him taken later in life. Based on these photos, I had a clear vision of a serious businessman. His yearbook photo offered a different perspective. I saw a much younger man in a baseball uniform, seated next to his teammates, with a full head of hair. In that moment, my perception of him changed. This experience taught me that our ancestors are much more complex than one snapshot, or one story that has been told. As we discover new records and new photographs, we gain a greater understanding of who they truly were. Our picture becomes more complete.

Most local libraries, historical societies, State Archives, and schools will have collections of yearbooks and school photos.

Just as each school year has a beginning, each school career has an ending. The records of these school years can offer some of the most satisfying discoveries in our family history research and should not be overlooked. I discovered a nostalgic reflection on school life in a college yearbook. It was written by my Uncle Weldon, who served as the editor. It stands as one more example of what treasures await us as we delve into these sometimes-neglected records. Perhaps, if he took me on a tour of his old high school, these would be the words I would hear. “We enter and we leave, taking with us memories that can only be forgotten by death. The school will always keep behind its solemn brick face our memories locked within its walls. Our voices will not cease to roar down the hollow halls, because our spirits live forever.”

Preserving the school records of your community

What success have you had in researching school records? Have you formed more emotional connections with your ancestors, thanks to these records? What is being done in your community to preserve these valuable collections? We’d love to hear from you! Share below in the comments if you’ve made a discovery in school records, and how you’re using them to share your family history with future generations.

Margaret Linford

Margaret Linford

Margaret Linford is a professional genealogist who specializes in the Mid-South Region of United States research and has logged over 20,000 research hours. Born and raised in Virginia, she has enjoyed traveling the world, and now lives in her childhood hometown with her husband and children. She enjoys teaching her children about heritage, taking them along on research trips and serving as President of the Smyth County Genealogical Society.

Family Tree Magazine’s 101 Best Websites 2018

Genealogy Gems is thrilled to be included in Family Tree Magazine’s list of the 101 Best Websites for 2018!

Each year, Family Tree Magazine’s team of genealogy experts scour the web for the best of the best websites where you can discover family history information. Then they compile it in a handy list, organized by category for easy research reference.

This year, there are 16 categories and you’ll find Genealogy Gems in the “Best Genealogy News Websites & Blogs” category.

The complete list of all 101 websites is included in the September 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine, which is now being mailed to subscribers and available for purchase. A full, clickable list of 101 Best Websites can be found online in their Best Genealogy Websites directory.

Family Tree Magazine has been a long-standing resource for genealogy research tips, expert interviews and instruction, and top tools for digging deep into your roots. Subscribe and get 7 issues each year delivered right to your mailbox or inbox. Their beginner-friendly approach to discovering, preserving and celebrating family history makes genealogy a hobby anyone can enjoy – and makes the magazine a great gift for the family history lover in your life! Click here to get started with your subscription today.

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

How to Research Your Pioneer Ancestors that Migrated West

To learn how to research your ancestors who migrated west you have to take a deeper look at the Westward Expansion. Understanding the pulls of the time will help you discover how or why your ancestors went west. Finding a pioneers path of migration isn’t always easy. Legacy Tree Genealogists has a team of specialists very experienced in answering the questions that arise while following your ancestors west and can help you reconstruct the details of their journey westward.

The Pull of the West

Settlers headed west for many reasons, among them were land, gold, religious freedom, military service, and perhaps to escape the law. Whether they traveled by boat, wagon, on horseback, or even on foot, the hardy men, women, and children that braved the dangers of the Old West faced many hardships. War, disease, starvation, and storms plagued western settlers every step of the way. The perilous and transient lifestyle of the pioneers also left a lasting effect on the surviving paper trail. Those records, if found, can allow modern researchers to reconstruct the paths they took on their journey westward. Though it can be quite difficult to recover their stories today, the rewards of doing so can be tremendous, revealing the connections everyday people had with storied events that have grown even more legendary with every passing year.

Land, Land and More Land!

An important thing to keep in mind is that the primary reason most people moved west was the availability of vast tracts of land west of the Mississippi River after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. With that one purchase of land by the federal government, President Thomas Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the United States. In less than twenty years, Missouri entered the United States, in 1821. In subsequent treaties and wars, the United States acquired most of the remainder of the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain West, and the Pacific Coast. The rush to take up the millions of acres of new land and search for riches buried in the earth began in earnest after 1830, with the advent of the Oregon Trail and the seductive allure of the California gold fields in the 1840s. However, in truth westward movement had been an integral part of American life since 1607.

Following Your Ancestors West: Where to Look

Among the most important sets of records for tracing western settlement in the United States are the documents held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at the General Land Office. This federal agency houses approximately 9 million land records dating back to the late 1700s. After a gargantuan indexing and scanning campaign, many of these records are now searchable and available to view at the agency’s website, glorecords.blm.gov. Searching for an ancestor in this database produce a number of hits that can help you place your ancestor along various waypoints to the West. Individuals often bought and sold federal land quickly, so many of these purchases might not reflect actual settlement. However, they can give you a good idea of an ancestor’s general path of migration.

In addition to the county deed records often found along an ancestor’s way west, another important set of land records is the mound of documents produced as a result of the Homestead Act. Though images of the land patents issued under the Homestead Act will usually be found at the General Land Office website, another crucial group of associated documents not found there is the Land Case Files. These files contain the original application for homestead land, which often include land descriptions, and sometimes citizenship documents and affidavits of witnesses.

Regardless of where they were created or recorded, land documents provide critical, and sometimes the only, documentation of an ancestor’s westward migration.

Census, Military, and More

While not exactly the same as land records, census returns can also document the migratory path of your ancestors. If the head of household is missing for an ancestor’s family in the 1850 census, try searching his name in the census index for California. You just might find him listed in one of the counties in the gold fields, possibly living in households full of single or married men seeking their fortunes in the far western country. Even if he is listed at home in 1850, check the returns for California. Occasionally men would be counted twice: once at home with their families in the East, and again in a camp in California, on the other side of the continent.

I learned this firsthand when I found an ancestor named Sylvester Crank living with his wife and children in Clinton County, Missouri, in the 1850 U.S. Census. I also found him listed in a household full of only men the same year in Placerville, El Dorado County, California, working as a miner. His son Jesse, also a miner, was listed in both households along with his father, who was close to fifty years old. Placerville was at the epicenter of the then exploding California Gold Rush and had only recently been known as Hangtown, after the predilection of the local judges to resort to the rope.

Sylvester Crank Census Image

Sylvester Crank recorded as living with his wife and children in Clinton County, Missouri, in the 1850 U.S. Census



Sylvester Crank Jesse Crank Census Image

Sylvester Crank and son Jesse Crank also recorded in the Placerville, El Dorado County, California 1850 U.S. census

If your ancestor served in the regular U.S. Army during the period of westward expansion, you’re in luck. U.S. Army enlistment registers have been preserved beginning in 1789, and running to 1914, when the last vestiges of the Old West had mostly been swept away. These enlistment registers often include place of birth and a personal description. They also allow you to trace the path of your Army ancestor in the West because they show each post he was stationed at throughout all of his periods of enlistment. These records make it possible to trace your ancestor from fort to fort throughout the Old West like almost no other documents can. Additionally, many of these same regular army veterans, including the famed Buffalo Soldiers, applied for and received pensions for themselves or their widows and descendants. These files are similar to the more familiar Civil War pension files, many of which run to hundreds of pages. They often document ancestors’ lives in minute detail, including their physical health and their experience during service, including wounds received in battle. Military records are an invaluable source for tracing the path of any ancestors whose path west was facilitated by military service.

Land, census, and military records are but a few of the many sources that you can use to assist you in your quest to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps as they made their way through the wild, western lands of the American frontier.


Do you have ancestors that migrated westward? Have you hit brick walls when it comes to finding records of them? Contact Legacy Tree Genealogists for a free research package quote! Their genealogy experts can help you recover the stories of your ancestors that lie waiting in thousands of documents that still survive from that tumultuous, endlessly fascinating era. Exclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. Based near the world’s largest family history library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Legacy Tree has developed a network of professional researchers and archives around the globe. More information is available at https://www.legacytree.com.

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