16 ways to find your ancestors’ town of origin

Show Notes: Whether you want to visit the village where your ancestor was born on your next vacation, or you just want to find their records, you’ll need to know the exact place name and location. Professional genealogist Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogy joins me in this video to help us pin down those ancestral places.

find ancestral origin towns

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Show Notes

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Ancestral Villages: Why near enough isn’t good enough.

Lisa: This is such an important topic; we’ve got to know where people came from to be able to track them down. I was just reading your article. It’s called Hometown Heroes, and the September / October issue of Family Tree Magazine. In it, you said something really interesting right off the bat, which was you said that “near enough isn’t good enough.” What are you trying to help people understand when you say that?

Rich: When we start with our research, we’re often starting with censuses especially, right? Those are often kind of the backbone of a lot of American research. And so, if people are moving around a lot, or if you aren’t exactly sure where they lived, because of the decennial census, you might be able to track them around and say, for example, they were living in California. Then you could figure out what they were first in Los Angeles, and then we went to San Francisco ,or whatever. But a lot of other countries, especially Western and Eastern European nations, don’t have similar types of these censuses, or at least not that are available to us. And so, if we only know, let’s say, the state where they’re from, or the province or region in a different country, it’s often really difficult to figure out where the records are, because a lot of times the records are going to be held at a really local level. So, unless you know that exact town or village, more often than not, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty getting any records and moving your research further back in the old country, because you really need to pinpoint that exact location.

Lisa: That’s a great point. Sometimes a record says, Warsaw, but they weren’t really in Warsaw, they were just really close by. Is that fairly common?

Rich: Yeah, precisely. My parents, I got to tell them that we know the exact Italian villages where their grandparents were all from. They always said Naples, right, or they heard Naples as part of their family story, but none of them are from Naples. They’re all from 45 minutes or an hour and a half outside of Naples. But I think that happens pretty frequently in the type of research that we’re doing.

Even today, when you meet people around the world or across the country, they’ll probably won’t often say the suburb of New York or Philly or DC, where they’re from. They will usually just say the city that’s close by. So, I think that kind of pervades today. Remember that when you see big cities listed on a death record or something like that, you might need to dig a little further to ascertain whether it was indeed that city or if it’s someplace that’s close by.

16 Records that can help you find your ancestor’s village

#1 Ship Manifests

Lisa: In the article, you give 16 sources that we can turn to, to try to pin this all down. Let’s start with number one, which I think is excellent, which is ship manifest.

Rich: Ship manifests are a great way to start when we’re looking for our ancestors who came over voluntarily and were interested in finding a better life for their family.

The problem with manifests is that they weren’t really used to regulate immigrants because of the laws in the United States until around the late 1800s. And so, because of that, there’s not always great detail on them. So, if you’re like me, and you have a lot of 20th century immigrant ancestors’ manifests, and they can often give you most all of the information that you need. But if you’re researching earlier ancestors, you might very well never find a manifest because there wasn’t one created, or the manifest is only going to give you a country of origin as opposed to any place more specific.

#2 Naturalization Records

Lisa: Number two is naturalization records. I love these. I just think they’re an amazing resource. Tell folks about what these are and what they might have for us.

Rich: Naturalization records are often kind of the next steppingstone when we’re researching immigrant ancestors. They relate to the process to become a US citizen, which was never a requirement, so you may find them for immigrant ancestors, but you may not.

Again, starting in the 20th century, we see really helpful information on these records, we generally get exact places of birthplace of last residence, which certainly isn’t always the same information, ship of arrival, and lots of other great details. But because of kind of the lack of regulation of these, or lack of federalization of these records, the forms weren’t standardized prior to the early 1900s. And as such, again, we run into this situation where every now and again, you’ll find a record from the 1850s that is super helpful and gives an exact place of origin and lots of other great genealogical details. But most pre-1906, naturalization records aren’t generally going to give you that exact location of origin that you really need to go across the pond.

Lisa: Sounds like we have to do a lot of collecting of all the different records. You never know which one’s going to have it. I know, in the case of my great grandparents, that was the only document that mentioned this little village of Kotten in East Prussia. Everything else was much more generic, and kind of the general area. So, you never know.

#3 Vital Records

Lisa: Number three is vital records. Birth marriage and death, right?

Rich: Right. These are a great way to, again, collect a lot of documentation and see maybe where, if you’ve got 10, or 15, or 20, to order, only one or two of them might have the precise information that you’re looking for. But if you’re researching a family that came over at different times, if you’ve got  uncles and aunts and cousins, you want to get all of those records, because it might only wind up being the last nephew’s death record that lists the place of origin of his parents. And it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it before, where you gather together all of this documentation, and if there’s 30 possible records to get, it’s the last one that has what you need. But that makes it really important not to skip out on all the records because it could be the only thing that mentions it, especially sometimes for earlier immigrants.

#4 Marriage Licenses

Lisa: Number four is marriage licenses and, and marriage records, which typically are somewhat older than some of the other available vital records, correct?

Rich: Yeah. I do very little colonial research, but I do know, there’s often colonial marriage bonds that people might be able to find. But also, in a lot of places, like in Pennsylvania, where I live, for instance, the marriage licenses in the county start in 1885. But the births and deaths for the state don’t start until 1906. So, you do often find that marriage records or marriage licenses might wind up predating some of the vital records.

In some cases, like for New York City, for instance, you may have the opportunity to get two or more different records related to the same event. There might have been an application for a marriage license, and then a marriage license or a marriage certificate or marriage return. And a lot of times, they’re not necessarily filed together. You might need to go digging around and looking to see if there are other records.

For instance, in New York City, they have a second set of marriage records. They have marriage licenses that people have to fill out prior to getting married, and the marriage certificate. And so between, I think it’s 1908 and 1937, there’s the secondary document that you definitely have to get because it asked for birthplace. It also asked for parents’ birthplace, and that information is not listed on the certificate. So, if you just stop with a certificate, you might be missing some great additional information.

Lisa: Hmm, reading between the lines, I’m really hearing you saying we’ve got to research the jurisdiction to know what they have, and what kind of records are created in their process because that varies a lot.

Rich: In Pennsylvania, we started marriage record keeping in the counties in 1835. And actually, for the first six years, there was a second copy that went to the state. So, if you happen to have people married in this small timeframe, you’ve got a county record. That’s the county record that was sent to the state which should be identical but might not be.

There’s also the potential for the religious record, right. And in some places they had city marriage returns as well, so there might be a possibility to find three or four or even five different records that all document the same event, but because the records are kept by different people, for different reasons, there might be a lot more information on some than on others.

Lisa: Every record has possibility.  I love it!

#5 Church Records

Lisa: Church records can go much older too, right?

Rich: Right. Absolutely. And that’s especially for folks researching ancestors who were Catholic. The Catholics were, and are, notorious record keepers. And they’re often very interested in figuring out or noting down, where the parties had been baptized to make sure that people getting married were Catholic, or the people that were baptizing their children were Catholic.

We’ve also got great records that go quite far back like the Quakers. There’s the Friends records, many of which have been digitized by Ancestry. And of course, there are other religions that have their own records, many of which may have not yet been digitized, but which could certainly include the same type of information about origin or place of residents, place of baptisms, something like that. So, it’s always a good idea to make sure to look for those types of records as well.

#6 Draft Registration Cards

Lisa: For number six we go a new direction toward military records: World War One and World War Two draft registrations. This might be new to some people/ Tell us about these.

Rich: Sure. These are records that are generally relatively easily findable on the big websites, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, MyHeritage, etc.

Oftentimes, they did ask for a place of birth. And so most immigrants who were here in the early to mid-1900s, that were born sometime from about the mid-1870s forward, should end up in these records, but that doesn’t mean that they served in the military. But if they were a man of draft age, they would have needed to fill one of these out.

Again, we run into this issue of the more recent, usually the more records are available. But in this case, it’s great, because you’re not just looking for people that wound up becoming citizens, you’re not just looking for people that may have been Catholic or whatever. All men that would have been between these certain ages on these dates, would or should have filled out these records. And so, these records may indeed, specify that exact location of origin.

#7 Military Serve and Pension Records

Lisa: Yes, they are one of the most comprehensive collections available. it really does cover everybody, which is terrific. But if they did serve, for number seven you have military service and pension records.

Rich: These are one of kind of the first ports of call that I would want to look into for an earlier immigrant ancestor.

We have pension records back to the Revolutionary War, and they move forward. The War of 1812, of course, was the big preserve the pensions project a few years ago, and they go up to the Civil War, and even a bit later, to the Spanish American War.

Folks whose immigrant ancestors served in the military, even if they came over 250 years ago, their pension records or their military service records could be really helpful. A lot of times, there’s things like affidavits that say, my name is John Smith, but I was born on this date, and this place, or it might even just say, the county in Ireland, for instance, or England. But even still, that’s obviously much more helpful than just Ireland or England.

There’s sometimes things like copies of family Bible records, or marriage records, because you have to remember that when we’re talking about pension records, we’re oftentimes talking about other people that would have been affected. So, if the ancestor died in the war, or shortly thereafter, their widow or their minor children could have been eligible for this pension. And so of course, they would need to prove the relationship. So, if the marriage occurred back in the old country, or something like that, there might be copies of these records, affidavits, some type of testimony that provides that which could all lead us to clues about that immigrants’ origins.

Lisa: Yes, it’s a record collection that could lead to many different kinds of records.

#8 Employment Records

Lisa: Number eight might be a little bit rarer, but gosh, if it exists, it would be well worth going after: employment records.

Rich: Yeah, these records sets definitely require a bit more advanced research. You definitely first need to figure out where your ancestor worked. But also, a lot of times, you need to do a lot of digging to determine where the records are, if they even exist, right? A lot of times we’re talking in archives, you’ve got to get boots on the ground, you’ve got to get your hands dirty with old records. But there are some really excellent employment records, some of which have been digitized. But we’re talking very few of these records have had been put online. Some railroad records have been, and so some of those have been put on some of the big websites. But a lot of times, we’ve got to figure out where the company was headquartered. Is it headquartered in a different place now than it was 100 years ago? Where might these records be, and also what type of records might exist.

There are some great repositories. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Heinz History Center, in Pittsburgh, for instance, has a great selection of employment records for Pittsburgh based companies, Alcoa, Heinz, Westinghouse. If your ancestor happened to go to work at one of these places, these records have now been put in an archive. They’re much more accessible than if the archive still remains with the company which may be much more difficult to get your hands on.

You may find things like applications for employment, or even just information about employees. There could be information about place of origin, there might be newspaper, there might be periodicals, a lot of companies did newsletters. And so there might also be things about somebody that passed away, which can elicit information, or new hires, for instance. There’s all sorts of possibilities.

This is definitely not the type of thing that you search it, and you find it easily. These are often hard-won victories, but they can be some really great, really interesting records. And oftentimes, well, sometimes, they may include a photograph as well, which can be really special.

Lisa: I agree with you, they do pose more of a challenge. They are kind of a good back pocket item when nothing else is panning out. And I have to say, I had a grandfather and a great grandfather who worked for the railroad. I was amazed to see the Railroad Retirement Board records available through the Atlanta National Archives. I mean, it was well worth it!

#9 Social Security Applications

Lisa: Well, gosh, well, silly me! I forgot to ask rich about item number nine, and that record group is social security applications. In his article, he says, “Social Security began in the mid-1930s, and most everyone who was alive and eligible applied throughout the following decades. Social security applications known as the SS-5s, asked for both a place of birth (albeit, often just to country of birth) and parents’ names. The SS-5s are available for a fee through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Social Security Administration.

#10 Alien Registrations

Lisa: Next we have alien registrations. I haven’t done much research in this area. Tell us about this.

Rich: Alien registrations weren’t really very regulated until the latter part of the 1800s, early part of the 1900s. Prior to that point, there are only a handful of times where there might be some instances of alien registration. But we do see some during the Alien and Sedition Acts shortly after the country was formed in the late 1700s. Unfortunately, most of the alien registrations from that timeframe were destroyed.

There was a period of time where, if you were naturalizing, you had to provide a copy of that alien registration. There is a 12-year period in the 1800s where naturalization records will contain a copy of an alien registration and they can contain information about exact location when they arrived. All the members of the family, the minor children, what have you, and that’s just not what we often find on these early naturalization Records.

There are some instances where earlier you’ll find some alien registrations available. And then once we get to the 20th century, of course, we have many more available during World War One and World War Two. There were enemy aliens who had to register, there was a nationwide alien registration in 1940. There’s a couple of statewide alien registrations in Maine, Minnesota and North Carolina. So those records are also available.

Alien registrations are a bit more difficult to research and wrap your head around, because it really depends upon the location of where they were living. You have to determine if there was some type of alien registration happening at that time.

The only really comprehensive registration, in terms of alien registrations, would be the one that occurred right before World War Two in 1940 and continued on to 1944. If you do have ancestors that were 19th or 20th century immigrants, if they’re an alien and in the 1940 census, that’s a really good indicator that they should have an alien registration form.

Alien Registration records are currently only available through the USCIS genealogy program. It’s quite a hefty fee to order a record, but the hope is that eventually they’ll make their way to the National Archives. We don’t know when that will happen.

I have heard some instances where folks who emigrated in the 1860s, 1870s, that were old men, but had never naturalized, were found in this 1940 alien registration form, and it is the only American document that tells a location of origin. So, it’s really important and might very well be worth the money to make that request if you would expect them to show up in those records based upon their alien status in 1940. And if you’ve exhausted a lot of the other possibilities of places to look for their place of origin.

#11 County Histories

Lisa: Number 11 is one of my favorites, and I think probably one that I’ve had a lot of success with, perhaps you have as well, and that is county histories. Thankfully, those are much more readily available than alien registrations.

Rich: The great thing about county histories as you well know, was this big push at the centenary of the country to document the histories of the counties and the United States and the people who lived in them. And so, we will often again, see much earlier immigrant ancestors in these books. Even people that had had long since been deceased, because their children or grandchildren were noting how they were the founders of the county or what have you.

County histories are sometimes giving a mini biography of an immigrant. Whether it’s someone who’s alive, or has since deceased, it will often say, at least what part of their country of origin they came from. So, those can be really helpful in providing some of those details, as well as information about how long they’ve lived in the county, what they did, how they got to the county. There’s sometimes some really interesting stories in there, and sometimes photos as well. So, county histories are definitely a great option for folks whose immigrant ancestors were 18th and 19th century arrivals as opposed to more recent arrivals.

#12 Newspapers

Lisa: And that leads right into number 12, which is newspapers. As I hear you talk about the stories we read in county histories, I think newspapers would be a great place to go and look for another take on those stories. Right?

Rich: Yeah, absolutely!

When we think of newspapers, we usually think of obituaries, which might list a place of origin. But of course, there’s all sorts of other things that might be listed.

If people were named as the executor in the will of their parents or sibling that was left back overseas, that might be listed in the paper, because there might have been some requirement about a legal notice about that. Or you might find steamship arrivals specifying so and so are coming to join Mr. And Mrs. Smith of this city. And they might even specify where they’re coming from more precisely than just that they arrived on the steamship. So, there’s a lot of great opportunities in newspapers.

And of course, more and more are getting digitized. A lot of states have their own digital newspapers, projects. And there’s some outside the box possibilities as well like ethnic newspapers, like religious newspapers, or company newspapers, or periodicals.

There arew all sorts of places that you might be able to find some really interesting newspapers about your ancestors, whether they tell you place of origin or not. Newspapers were great gossip rags, right? So, you can find some really interesting stuff in there about who’s fighting with who or, who’s playing at the church baseball game that weekend, or whatever. There’s all sorts of fun stuff that can be found in there.

Lisa: Yeah, I’ve even seen articles where they’re talking about folks gathering, I think it was at a Catholic church, and they were saying they all knew each other back in County Mayo, you know.  It wasn’t the point of the article, but they mentioned it.

Rich: You never know when those types of little things are going to come up. I just can’t over overstate their importance. They can have so much utility. And, as more time goes on, more and more are being digitized. So, you know, if you were on the big newspaper websites a while back, look, again, in six months, look again in 18 months, because there’s just so many resources that are being added. And, and so many small towns, they have their own little weekly newspaper or whatever. And those are really where you want to go if your ancestors live somewhere rural. That’s where you’re going to find the really interesting articles, and also the articles that might be more detailed, which could give you things like place of origin or other genealogical details that you’re missing.

Lisa: Yeah, that is excellent advice about going back and revisiting. In fact, some of the websites even now have a way to alert yourself. They’ll message you if they upload something that matches something you searched in the past. I keep finding new things that weren’t there two years ago.

Resource: Watch Reconstructing Ancestors’ Lives with Newspapers

#13 Cemetery Records

Lisa: Okay, we’ve covered so many great resources. And we’ve got four left and you never know which one is going to be the goldmine. Tell us about #13, cemetery records. Tombstones?

Rich: We think of tombstones as the first place to look. I’ll often find, especially with Irish immigrants, their descendants love to place on the tombstones where their families were originally from.

There could be other records as well in the cemetery. They might be dusty books in the basement. You might have to ask real nicely or bring some chocolate or send a check to get access to them. But you never know what type of information you’re going to find in there. And even if it doesn’t give you the exact location of origin, it might be helpful to help you determine family relationships.

If you now have more people to research, and you know that they’re all related, there may be some records that relate to the other people that are in the plot that can give you the type of information that you’re looking for. So of course, we want to start with tombstones.

There could certainly be records at the cemetery office as well. Sometimes records have been digitized, so check with the local genealogical or historical society. We could be talking about a ton of other records that might possibly be available for your cemetery of interest as well.

Lisa: Great point, so many different options there.

#14 Probate Files

Lisa: Speaking of death, #14 is probate files in court records.

Rich: A lot of the earlier probate files pre 1900s for most counties in the United States have been digitized. They’re relatively well indexed.0

When we think about probate files, it often isn’t going to say this person born in this place died on this day. But there might be, perhaps lands that they had a share of back in the old country. Or it could be that, along the way, maybe they came from Europe through Canada, and they had some property in Canada, which could be a helpful piece of information for you to have.

It also might be that if they were a single person or had no family, it could be that the people that needed to be notified were back in the old country. So, you sometimes will find copies of correspondence sent through the consulate back in the old country, notifying the brother that they needed to provide X information if they had a share in this, and how is it going to be handled. And so, both in US consular records that you find at the National Archives or College Park, but also in probate files that I’ve just seen in different county courthouses, you’ll sometimes see these affidavits in other languages noting siblings or other people that needed to somehow be involved in the process.

Now, of course, there are not going to be many or even a lot of these files, but you never know. So, you definitely want to look. And this is, again, where we employ the FAN principle where, if it’s one of five brothers, you’ve got to look at all the siblings.

Lisa: That’s the good news about a location. Siblings may not share the same birth date, but they might all share the same birth location. So, it gives us more people to work on.

#15 Fraternal Organization Records

Lisa: #15 is fraternal organization records. And there’s a lot of different fraternal organizations, aren’t there?

Rich: Yes. Oftentimes, you’ll find these types of records in archives. Very few of these have made their way online. There’s a couple of really good resources available on Ancestry. For instance, they’ve got the Massachusetts Masons, they’ve got the Order Sons of Italy and America for a couple of different states, though, not all of the states. And there’s a handful of other ones that have made their way online.

However, with a lot of these types of records, we’re going to be again, looking for in regional archives and regional repositories. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has tons of these types of records from all over the country, not just from Pennsylvania. And I’m lucky enough that it’s just around the corner from me so I can go hop over and do some research there anytime. But that’s because they subsumed the collections of the Balch Institute for ethnic studies, which was at Temple University. And so, they have all of these types of ethnic-related fraternal organization records that had been housed at the Balch. Those records made their way over to HSP. And so, there’s a couple of different archives like this around the country. There’s also the Immigrant History Research Center and Archive at the University of Minnesota.  They’ve got tons of fraternal organizational records from all over the country.

Again, this is not beginner research. It’s not necessarily easy research. You first have got to figure out if your ancestor was a member of an organization.  Look at obituaries, things like that, to see. If so, where are the records, and are the records for the different lodges in different places. You might need to do quite a bit of calling around to figure that out.

Lisa: You’ve been leading us through some of the low-hanging fruit some of the tougher to get records, and so many of them kind of dovetail into each other and help us lead through a path from one record to the next until we get to the one that has it.

#16 Neighbors

Lisa: This all leads us to your final item here in your article. Number 16 is Neighbors. I don’t think you’re saying I need to go next door, right?!

Rich: You never know, maybe your neighbors can be helpful! Maybe they’re also a genealogist. Maybe they’re a long-lost cousin who knows. Funny story: a few years ago, before I became a genealogist I wound up working with a distant cousin of mine and she was my desk neighbor. So, it could be that your neighbors have what you need! (laughs)

What I’m talking about is the fact that, since the beginning of the country, America has been populated by chain migration. One individual comes from a small town or village, they write back home, their brother comes, then their parents come, then the cousins come and other people from the village come It’s been that way since the 1600s and continues to be that way today because of the need for community, and also people that speak your language. It helps with the ability to find a job more easily, what have you.

You’ll find people that are coming from the same village living in the same neighborhood are oftentimes in the same apartment building. If you’re researching your family, and you have looked at all the documents, and you’ve done all the things, and you can’t figure it out, but they’re living at an address like my Italian grandpa’s at 500, Adams Street in Hoboken, you may find that everybody who lived there was from the same village, or at least from the same area.

When they came to the US, they lived in the same place that allowed them to get jobs more easily, connect with employment opportunities, connect with religious organizations. And so, you also want to look at the people that they’re living with. Who are the people in their apartment block? Who are the people that live next door? Who are the people that are witnessing their deeds that are the executing their wills? Who are the witnesses to their marriage. All these kinds of things could be really helpful.

Of course, that increases the amount of research you have to do 100-fold. But if what you’re really looking for is to figure out exactly location of origin in the old country, and especially if we’re talking earlier immigrants, it can be worth it. It was the same in the 1920s, as it was in the in the 1780s.

You definitely want to branch out and research the folks that your immigrant ancestors surrounded themselves with, whether it’s physical neighbors, or people that continually show up on their documents, as informants as witnesses, as co-signers, as bond guarantors, all of those kinds of things, because those people could very well have come from the same place.

Lisa: Well, when we’re looking at a census record for example and we see Italy, Italy, Italy,  listed and they’re all in apartments, then we just grab your article, and we run them through the 16 record sources again, and see if we can at least find an origin for them, which then would at least give us a clue of a place to look.

These are all terrific ideas, and I really recommend that everybody get the Family Tree Magazine September / October 2022 issue and check out your Hometown Heroes article. Thank you so much for helping us today, Rich.

Rich: Thanks for having me. I always appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and to write for Family Tree Magazine.  I hope that y’all got some good ideas and I wish you the best of luck in in figuring out where your folks were from and maybe eventually getting to go visit as well.

Lisa: Oh, yes, that’d be even better, wouldn’t it? Thank you so much.

Rich: Thank you

Resources

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The Secret to Finding Old Family Photos

Show Notes: Discover more than 100,000 old family photos on Dead Fred. Founder Joe Bott explains how to find photos of your relatives on this free website.

Dead Fred old photos

Video Premiere and live chat

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Show Notes

Would you like to find more old family photos? One of the secrets is to search places where other distant relatives (and even people not related to you) are uploading old photos – hundreds of thousands of photos!

That place is DeadFred.com.

In this video, Dead Fred founder Joe Bott explains how to find photos of your relatives on his free website. Joe will also provide some of the back story on how he ended up devoting his life to helping families find their photos, and how in the world he decided on this most unusual name for his website!

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Interview with Joe Bott, Founder of DeadFred

From Joe: “I’m sitting down here in my little niche, scanning photos and putting them on my website so people can find them. That’s what I do for retirement now. I post photos, put them on the internet and wait for somebody to come knock on my door and say, “Hey, I know who that is! That’s my great, great whatever!” It’s happened already about 3000 times since I’ve started. Actually 3,157 times, just to be specific.”

What Does the DeadFred Website do?

“You take your photographs taken before 1965, and the people in the photographs have passed on. You can put them on there. It’s free to use. There are instructions on how to post your photos. Where it says Post Your Photos, click on that and just go ahead and do it.

When you post your first photo, you’ll receive a password in your email. You use that to manage your postings.

You can post as many photos as you’d like. Now, I might take a day or two to get it up on the website because I check every photo that comes in to make sure there’s nothing untoward. Because they do pop up every once in a while.”

After you post the photo, other DeadFred users will search the website, and that’s how old family photos can get reunited with descendants.

It’s also useful if you want to learn more about a photo. When you post your photo, include additional comments and questions. When you’re logged in you can post a sticky note.

Why was the website named DeadFred?

“People often ask me why it is called DeadFred, and that gives me the opportunity to tell them that Dead Fred is a photo.”

The photo Joe is referring to is of Frederick the Great, who died in Germany. “The young man had cancer of the throat and died. My great great grandfather was living during that time in Germany, so that’s sort of the genealogy connection to it.”

DeadFred website name

The reason behind the name DeadFred

Joe and his family were sitting around a table trying to figure out what to call the website. He had purchased the photo of Frederick the Great on ebay and it came in the mail. “We opened it up and one of my sons, I have four boys, one of them said, ‘Well, we’ll just call it that, Fred.’ Everybody seems to like it. That’s the story.

“That photo of Fred is on my website…Just scroll down on the right-hand side and you’ll see him.”

Has Joe always been fascinated with old photos?

“Not always. In fact, I didn’t know I was fascinated with photographs until 1965 while I was in the Navy. I was in Newport Rhode Island, and I was walking down the street and it started to pour, I mean really pour, and I didn’t want to get my suit wet, my sailor outfit. So, I ran into this antique store. I hadn’t looked like I was going to buy something, but I found something. I found this photo album, and it just totally amazed me. And it most likely said, “buy me!” and I had to. I didn’t have a lot of money back then. I don’t have a lot of money now, but I didn’t have a lot of money back then either. And I bought it for $18. Now $18 in ’65 was a lot of money, especially for a sailor that has just joined the Navy. So, I bought it. And that was my first album. I have it sitting up here on my cabinet. But that’s how it started. I just said, wow, look at this. I couldn’t get my eyes off it!”

Reuniting Photos with Families: A Success Story from Joe

“When I was working. I was driving up to Iowa. And I stopped in store at the antique store. I found some photos in a box – a whole family – and I bought it. I worked out a deal. I learned how to do that over the years. I got a good deal on it. I went home and I scanned the photos. They were from Saskatchewan, Canada.

I got a phone call, or I actually got an email. I eventually got a phone call from a woman from South Saskatchewan who says “that’s my whole family. My grandparents, their aunts and uncles, the cousins, the whole shebang!” And apparently, now this is in the 1980s, late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and those pictures were taken 100 years before. The family left Saskatchewan and they moved to Iowa and farmed there until they all died out. There wasn’t anybody to take the photographs. So, there were the boxes, so I bought them, and I put them up on the website. Somebody from Saskatchewan said they knew who they were. And they sure did. Then I sent them home. That was an exciting moment for me right there.

Now there’s a lot of stories like that. There are stories where people cry when they find their photographs. There are cases when somebody is dying, and there’s a picture of a wife or a mother and their family wants to show them a picture before they die. So, there’s a lot of stories to be told. I could write a book about people that have found photographs. I sent out a couple every week now. Matter of fact, I just sent one of a baby, which was great. The baby has died now, got old and died at the age of 88, and I sent it out to his grandson. Yeah. My mind’s getting older, so I can’t remember as much as I would like to as far as names and places. But these kinds of things, they stick in your head.”

How to Post Photos on DeadFred

The first step in submitting a photo to DeadFred is to make sure it meets the guidelines. Currently, they accept photos that are earlier than 1965 and that, for privacy reasons, the people in the photo are deceased. Make sure to identify the photo in some way. This could mean including a country, date, state, etc.  

Scan your photo in JPG format. Per the website, for best results, scan at 150 dpi resolution or higher and save at 72 dpi.

On the home page, under the Tools column on the right-side, click Post Photos in the menu. Under Step One, read the directions, check the box for the Terms of Service, and click the Choose File button to locate the photo file on your computer. Then click on the “Upload Image” button.

Your photo will receive a unique record number. Follow the prompts on the page, type in the identification information in the proper fields, and then submit.

You can expect your photos to appear on the DeadFred website typically within 3-5 days of being uploaded.

4 Ways to Search for Photos at Dead Fred

Every photograph on DeadFred website is unique, as is the information associated with the photo. That’s why there are 5 ways to search for them. Here’s how:

1 Surname Search

There are two options for searching Dead Fred for photos by surname. Option 1: Quick Search Field and Option 2: Linked first letter of the surname.

2 Detailed Search

On the home page, click the link for the Detailed Search. This will take you to a form that you can complete. The more information you can enter into the Detailed Search form, the better your chances of finding a match.

3 Search by Photographers

Of important note on the Detailed Search form is the Photographer field. Many old photos, particularly cabinet cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include the stamp of the photographer. Sometimes you’ll find a tremendous amount of detail about the photographer on the backside too. Use this information to conduct a photographer search.

Searching by a photographer is a great way to find other photos potentially related to your family’s history. Take a look at the photos you already have for the family you want to search for and make note of the photographers. Then, conduct a search by entering the surname of the photographer in the Photographer field. This will retrieve all photos listing that photographer’s name.

4 Keyword Search

Many DeadFred users include surnames that are related or associated with the photograph in the Comments field if they are not certain of the subject’s identity. You can take advantage of this in your search by using the Keyword search field on the home page of the website. For example, search on the word baby and you’ll get all the photos where that word is mentioned in the Comments.

DeadFred search tips

Keyword Search results for baby

Accessing DeadFred Photos

When you click a photo on the search results page, it will take you to that photo hosted on the Dead Fred website. Notice that the page URL ends in .jpg indicating this is the image file itself. You can right-click on the image for usage options.  

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Using Old Newspapers to Reconstruct an Ancestor’s Story – Podcast Episode 268

Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 268

Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Lisa Louise Cooke and Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com discuss how to use newspapers to fill in the missing stories in your ancestors’ lives. Jenny shares strategic tips on finding unique information many researchers miss.  
 

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Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

Show Notes: Discover Sanborn Fire Insurance maps with Julie Stoner of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. Learn the best search strategies, how to download the Sanborn maps for free, and hidden online resources! Sanborn maps are an invaluable tool for family history because they provide an up-close look at the places where your ancestors lived. 

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Sanborn fire insurance maps at the library of congress for genealogy

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

(This interview has been minimally edited for clarity.)

Lisa: Today we’re talking about Sanborn fire insurance maps and how we can use them for genealogy. They’re available at the Library of Congress. Here to tell us more about that is Julie Stoner. She’s a reference specialist in the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.

Julie: Thanks so much, Lisa. Happy to be here.

I adore the Sanborn fire insurance maps because they give us such a unique perspective and view of our ancestors’ world.

What are Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps?

Start us off and tell us exactly what are Sanborn fire insurance maps?

Julie: The Sanborn fire insurance maps are a uniform series of large scale maps. They date starting from about 1867, though, they mainly start in the 1880s, and they run mostly through the 1950s. There are some from later dates as well.

It was a company started by a man named D.A. Sanborn. He was drawing these maps at a building level to sell to fire insurance companies so that they could then assess how much to charge people for the fire risk of their building. We use them for a lot more things today than they were originally intended for because they show the building level details of a city.

We have over 12,000 cities and towns represented. Some smaller towns may only have a few sheets. But the larger cities may have multiple volumes. They would go back and create a new map every 10 or 15 years or so. Therefore, you can really see how a city changed over time and how the buildings changed over time, and how a neighborhood was built. These maps can be used for all sorts of things now.

Lisa: I love the fact that they have such detail and are really unique. There really aren’t any other maps quite like these, are there?

Julie: It’s true. We do have other maps, like real estate atlases, and things like that of maybe a few cities, here and there, like Washington D.C. or New York. We have land ownership maps, but nothing of quite this scale or detail.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online Collection

Lisa: Let’s talk about the scale of the map collection. At the Library of Congress you have the physical map collection, and then there’s the collection that we can access online. Tell us a little bit about the scope of the collection? And does it vary whether we’re online or in person?

Julie: It does vary a bit because of copyright restrictions. As I said, we have about 12,000 different cities and towns represented, that equals over 700,000 map sheets. So, that’s a that’s a lot of sheets of maps. And a few years ago, the library, in conjunction with a third party, took on a project to scan all of the public domain Sanborn maps. Public domain means that there are no copyright restrictions on those maps. So that included anything published before 1922 at that point. Then anything published before 1964, in which the copyright wasn’t renewed. The library took on this project to scan all those, and those are completed and are all online on our website and can be downloaded.

That copyright date is now a rolling date. This means that there are now maps between 1923 and 1926 that are public domain that we haven’t scanned yet, and we are working to get those scan to get those online. And as soon as new maps come into the public domain, we hope to process them and upload those when that happens. So, a very large chunk of the Sanborn maps are online. But, if they are not, you can always come and see them in person as well, because we do have the physical copies.

Sanborn Map Resolution

Lisa: You mentioned that the part that the part of the collection that is in the public domain is available online. And they’re downloadable. Are those pretty high-resolution maps, so that we’ll be able to use those in our own genealogy projects?

Julie: For sure! They are definitely high resolution. The library scans them at the highest resolution that we can and so there’s actually a variety of files that you can download. We have JPEG images, which are a bit lower quality but are good for something like PowerPoints or computer screens. And then we have our TIFF files, which are the largest high-resolution files which have. These are a good size for printing.

Lisa: I know that the online collection, which I think most of our folks would be interested in accessing from home easily, is at the Library of Congress at the loc.gov website at https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps. Tell us a little bit about what we’ll find there on the website.

Fire Insurance Map Research Guide at the Library of Congress

Julie: Sure, so that link that you said is a landing page for our digital images. Let’s start with the fire insurance map research guide that we have that is about our fire insurance maps in general, not just the Sandborn maps. There are a few other companies though Sanborn took those over in time. They became pretty much became the only one.

On the research guide page, there’s a large section on the left side of the page that says Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps. If you click on that, you will find a number of links to help you with your research of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps.

Sanborn fire insurance map resource guide

The Research Guide at the Library of Congress

How to Search for Sanborn Maps

I want to point out the easiest way to find the maps. Under the searching for Sanborn Maps tab you will see some information including a link to our Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Checklist. This is the easiest way to find the maps that you’re looking for. It will take you to our fire insurance map index. And this is the easiest way to search for maps.

It’s so large that it can be a little overwhelming. This checklist is taken from a 1981 publication produced by the library that lists all of the Sanborn maps that we have in our collection. While the library has the largest collection of Sanborn maps in the world, we do not claim to have every one ever made. We are missing some. For example, if you found a map at your historical society that is not on this list, it just means that we don’t have it in our physical collection. Not that it doesn’t exist.

You can search by state at the Map Index. If you click on U.S. from the drop-down menu, you’ll find all the states. Scroll through and pick your state. I live in Virginia and I was born here, so I will search for Virginia. I will then see a list of hyperlinks with all of the cities available with Sanborn maps in the collection. Scroll through here and click on the city of interest. For example, if you want to click on Richmond you will get the list of Richmond maps here at the library. It’s a table and on the far left side you will see the date of the volume. And then you will see the number of sheets in that volume. Other geographic areas included sometimes in larger cities. The Sanborn Map Company would pick some areas farther outside the city to include in that volume, perhaps a few sheets. You’ll see a column called Comments which is mostly about the physical binding of the maps your library. And then a column called Website. If you click on the website link it will take you to the digital images.

Why are there multiple dates on Sanborn maps?

And just one other note about the date. If you look at the date, sometimes it can look a little confusing because you’ll see two dates listed. For example, volume 1924 through April 1950. So what’s happening here is that starting in the mostly the 40s and 50s, the Sanborn Map Company, decided it was faster, instead of making an entirely new map to cut and paste over an old map. So, this 1924 date is the face of the map. The 1950 date is the last time that they updated it. So, it’s really showing a 1950 era Richmond, but they’re just using that base map of 1924.

Downloading Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

When you click through to these digital images, we can download them. Click on an image and you will see in the center of the screen the map that you can scroll in and out of, and then at the bottom underneath the image, you’ll see the download link. You’ll find that there are several options for JPEG images, a GIF file, and then the high resolution tiff file. It’s pretty great. We’re very happy that a lot of these are now online for researchers to use from outside of Washington, DC.

What do the colors and symbols mean on Sanborn maps?

Lisa: And when you look at these maps, there’s a lot of detail. There’s color coding, and all kinds of markings. Do you have resources on the website to help people interpret the map?

Julie: Sure we do. The best method first is to look at the first page of a volume. If you zoom in you will see that there is a map key. It’s a box usually at the top or the bottom of the sheet. That is going to show you what the colors and the symbols in each volume mean.

Different cities have different unique characteristics, and the Sanborn Map Company would map those. So, not every map is going to have every symbol. The key at the front is a really good way to see what specifically applies to that volume.

For example, pink typically means brick. Yellow typically means it was made out of frame, or wood. Green can change. I’ve seen it as cement, I’ve seen it as special, not exactly sure sometimes what that means. The colors indicate the type of building materials, and then you will see what the hash marks or the circles or the x’s mean, in various buildings. There are a lot of abbreviations that the Sanborn Map Company uses as well. D typically stands for dwelling, S for store.

If you want to see an entire list of the symbols, we have a great resource back on our research guides page. Go back to the research guide to the Interpreting Sanborn Maps section on the left. That’s going to tell you a lot more about the colors, the symbols, things like that.

If you go to the Internet Resources, under Websites, there’s a list called Sanborn Map Abbreviations and Legend created by Environmental Data Resources, who are the copyright holders of the Sanborn maps. They’ve created this great PDF that shows the most common abbreviations and symbols used to the Sanborn fire insurance maps. It’s pretty comprehensive.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Search Strategies

Lisa: That’s a fantastic resource! If we do the search and we don’t see the town that we have in mind in that list, is there another way or any other way to search to figure out if it is part of a bigger map? Perhaps it’s just too small of a town to have its own map?

Julie: That’s a great question. If it’s a really small town and you don’t see it on the list, the other thing you can do is search back on the index page. The main index page under the full text field. For example, there might be a few sheets of a smaller town on a bigger city. You can search for that in the all full text fields. That will search the other geographic location that we saw, like in Richmond. So say if we typed in Manchester, and we did a search for that. You would see that it’s here as well under Richmond, as well as its own city. So, you can see that maybe it had earlier sheets here in Richmond. If you don’t find it in the search, and you don’t find it in the search fields, and if you don’t find it in the list, then it’s likely that one was not made at that town. Unfortunately that does happen. A lot of small cities and towns just don’t have them sometimes.

Searching for counties and regions in Sanborn maps

Lisa: Well, that brings up another question. Are these always sorted by town or city? Or might we even see a county or even some other kind of regional area described in a map?

Julie: That’s a great question. You do sometimes see counties, I can think of an example off the top my head if you go to California, for example. If you scroll down to Los Angeles, you’re going to see that you have the city of Los Angeles, but then you also have Los Angeles County. That’s going to cover some of the county areas that are outside of the city itself. Typically they’re covering things like factories or industrial areas, or things of that nature, but you never quite know.

Another example would be in New Jersey. If you go to New Jersey, and scroll down to New Jersey coast which includes several different seaside towns. This would be an example of when you might want to do the full text search if you didn’t find it in the list. For example, New Jersey Coast includes Longbranch, and Monmouth Beach, etc. All of these volumes are kind of scattered down the coast.

I like to say that, for every rule for Sanborn maps, there’s an exception. It would be worth perusing that list just to see what other gems are out there are maybe very close by areas that would be worth taking a look at, even if we do find our cities listed or in a search.

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Index

Lisa: I can imagine there was a lot of effort that went into the indexing part of this collection,  just getting all these cities and counties and everything listed. Was that work that the Library of Congress had to do? Or was that given to you by the company who now owns the copyright on Sanborn? And does it include anything besides a geographic place such as for example, any map with a saloon or any map with a particular feature?

Julie: That would be pretty amazing! Unfortunately, no, we don’t have anything that would list every saloon ever found, though, if somebody wanted to do that project, we’d be happy to take that.

This list was created by the Library of Congress in 1981, and we’ve added to it as we gained new material. The library is always looking for Sanborn maps that we don’t have in our collection. And when we find them, we do try and acquire them and then add them to our index. So, this particular list was created by staff at the library in 1981.

Lisa: What made me think of that question was I know that the David Rumsey collection out at Stanford is now working with and experimenting with a special type of OCR to pull that kind of text off maps. It’s amazing to see what technology might be able to do for us in the future.

Sanborn Map GIS Project

Julie: It is amazing what technology could do. And you’re right, there is a great project going on right now called machine reading maps that is experimenting with pulling the text out of the Sanborn maps to then create new products out of that.

We also have a new GIS project. GIS is geographic, geographic information systems. It’s basically putting information on a map so that you can see it and comprehend it at a glance.

One of the problems that we were having with our Sanborn maps, especially for our very large cities, like New York, LA, Chicago, is that there are so many volumes covering that city, and people would want to know where their exact address was. Well, there are, let’s say, seven or eight volumes of New York City. Which volume includes that address, right? So, we’ve created what we’re calling the Sanborn Atlas Volume Finder. You can find the link on our resource guide page. Click the link and you will see a map of the country. It’s going to pinpoint our current volume blinders.

We are hopefully going to be making more as we go. But basically, the first map is an index of what we have. Tight now we just have Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. We’re working on getting Washington DC and New York City out.

But say, for example, you’re interested in a map of Detroit, or an address in Detroit. If you click on Detroit on the pink pin, you can then click on the Sanborn volume finder. That’s going to take you to the Detroit map. It’s going to show you exactly what areas are covered in Detroit. It’s going to show you the extent of the Sanborn maps for the different years that it was mapped in Detroit.

If you look on the left side of the screen you’ll see the legend. This is a range of years for each set of maps that was created. You might see 1884 to 1896 and then 1897 to 1899. You can click the years on and off.  So, if you just wanted to know the earliest maps of Detroit, you can see where it was mapped. And you can enter your address in the upper right corner of the screen. That’s going to pinpoint for you the address. Then when you click on it, it’ll tell you the volume where you’ll find the map, and a link that’ll take you to the digital images. So you don’t have to guess which volume your address is in anymore. It will tell you whether the digital images are available, or if the map is not available online, you can contact us to learn more about it.

Lisa: What an amazing tool. It’s exciting to think that will continue to expand particularly for these really big cities where like you said it, it’s like a needle in a haystack with the addresses.

Julie: Yes, there are a lot of volumes for some of these cities. It can be really difficult without expert knowledge how to find your address. We feel like this is really going to help researchers in diving deeper into the Sanborn maps and really finding what they’re looking for.

Accessing Offline Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Lisa: You mentioned that sometimes you’re going to see that it is not available online. That might be a copyright issue or something else. Explain to us a little bit about what our options are for getting access to a map that might only be available in person the Library of Congress. How might we go about the in person visit, or making a request online to get a copy?

Julie: It’s the geography and map division policy that we will not scan or send items that are possibly under copyright protection. In the case of the Sanborn maps, if they were renewed or after 1964 then they are copyrighted, so we can’t send those electronically to you. You can make an in person visit to the Library of Congress reading room. We’re open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5:00, and we will pull out anything you want to see.

Another option is that these volumes have all been scanned in black and white by ProQuest, a subscription database. Those are all scanned in black and white. A lot of universities and public libraries subscribe to the ProQuest database. Go to your public library and ask if they subscribe to the ProQuest database. If they do, you can see them there, and you can download them. However, those are black and white, so that’s a little bit not as helpful sometimes if you’re looking for building construction, and things like that.

There is also on our research guide page, under Internet Resources a link called the Union List of Sanborn Maps. This is a list compiled by the University of California at Berkeley of other institutions that have Sanborn maps other than the Library of Congress. So if, for example, you are in California, and you can’t make it to the library, you can see if other institutions also have those physical copies that you could go to that institution to see.

Lisa: I’m familiar with ProQuest. Do you happen to know, is there one place where you can look up and see which libraries subscribed to ProQuest? Or is that just too much to ask?

Julie: I think you would have to do that individually by library. I’ve never seen a master list. But I find that librarians are usually very helpful people. So, if you called your local library or university library, I’m sure librarians there could tell you help you track it down.

The Growth of the Sanborn Map Collection

Lisa: So it this indeed a growing database? And do you continue to get both stuff that can go online as well as maps that will just be available in person?

Julie: We are always looking for maps that we don’t have here in our collection. Usually, most of those are going to be more recent, like 1950s, 1960s and 1970s maps. The library gained most of our early collection from copyright deposit. It used to be that you had to send in a physical copy of something for to get it copyrighted and that’s how our collection was built. We are still always looking for new updated ones that we don’t have. It is a growing collection. I wouldn’t say that we’re receiving them every day or anything. But when we do find them, and we do like to acquire them.

Final Thoughts on Sanborn Maps

Lisa: Wonderful. Well, before I let you go, you are the guru when it comes to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps over at the Library of Congress. Anything else that we should really know about, or look for as we’re working with these Sanborn maps?

Julie: That’s a good question. First, I want to say that we always welcome questions to our division. On the left of the research guide, or on our main library of congress homepage, there’s a link that says Ask a Librarian, and you’re welcome to send us any questions that you have, that we haven’t answered on our research guide, or that you’re confused about. We’re always happy to answer questions.

The Sanborn maps are a fantastic resource for doing genealogy, for finding out more about the town you lived in, and the buildings that were there, and the types of buildings. A lot of the buildings will say what was in them, for example, a candy shop or a hat shop or whatnot. So, they’re a great resource to just find out more about the town. There’s always more to learn about them. I’m still learning about things that I didn’t know about Sanborn maps, years later.

Lisa: Julie, thank you so much for coming and sharing this terrific collection, and giving us such a unique view of the places where our ancestors may have lived. I’m sure you’ll be getting many inquiries through Ask the Librarian.

Julie: Yeah, dive in, reach out. We’re here to help.

Lisa: thank you so much for joining us here today.

Julie: My pleasure. Thank you.

Citing Sanborn Maps

Julie: The Library simply requests an attribution to the Library and the Geography and Map Division when publishing material from its collections, the format of the citation is up to you.

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5 Things You Should Be Doing at WorldCat

Show Notes: WorldCat.org just got a facelift. That means it’s time to revisit this library catalog website and do these 5 important things so you can effectively use it for your genealogy research.

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Show Notes: WorldCat

If you are interested in finding out more about your family history and you want to build out your family tree, you are going to need records and resources. That’s exactly what the WorldCat website provides.

WorldCat.org is a free website that provides access through its card catalog to millions of materials from libraries around the world. You’ll find items such as:

  • United States Civil War and other military records
  • Family Bibles, church histories, and records
  • Publications such as directories, handbooks, and magazines
  • Birth, marriage, death, wills, and obituary indexes
  • Microfilmed genealogy and local history collections
  • Newspapers from around the world
  • Photographs
  • Town histories
  • probate records

It’s important to keep in mind that not all libraries participate in WorldCat, and they can participate at different levels. Therefore, you’ll find different amounts of information about these different repositories.

The WorldCat website has received a facelift and now sports a new user interface, making it a great time to get reacquainted with this rich resource. Here are five things you should do right now to take advantage of WorldCat:

#1 Sign up for a free account or transfer your existing account.

To use all the features at WorldCat that we will be discussing you’ll need to have a free user account.

To create your WorldCat account, click the Create an Account link and follow the prompts.

If you already have a WorldCat account you will need to transfer it. Click the Sign In link and follow the prompts for transferring. You can transfer your favorited libraries and lists. However, because of the new website, the following data will not be transferred: profile picture, reviews, saved searches, watched lists, interests, and tags.

Transferring can take quite a while. Leave your browser open until it completes. In fact, when I transferred it never showed complete, so after about an hour I refreshed the page and attempted to sign in again. I was prompted to create a new password, which I did, and was then able to access my account and my transferred data did appear.

Sign into your account whenever you visit the site so that you can take advantages of the many features offered, including our next item, Lists.

#2 Create and Search Lists

Lists are a great way to organize the wide range of resources you can find through WorldCat. I like to create lists for surname and subject research.

How to Create a WorldCat List:

  1. After you run a search you will receive a list of results. Click the List (bookmark) icon on any item
    WorldCat Create a List

    Click the List icon

  2. The add Item to List box will appear. In this box you can add the item to an existing list or click the Create List button to create a new list.
  3. Name the list, enter a description and indicate whether it is public or private.
  4. Click the Create button to save the list.

You can find all your lists by clicking on your account icon (upper right corner on desktop) and select My Lists

In addition to creating your own lists, you can search the public lists of other WorldCat users. Click Lists in the menu to browser popular lists. To search for a list by keyword, go to the search bar and select Lists from the drop-down menu, and search by keyword. When you find a helpful list, click the Follow button.

You can have up to 50 lists with up to 500 items.

#3 Discover Libraries

The best way to discover libraries near you is to add your location. Click the Update Location icon just under your account profile icon. Enter your town or zip code and libraries will be prioritized based on their proximity to you. If you’re going on a research trip, try changing the location to the zip code of the place you are traveling to, and then search for libraries and materials.

To browse libraries near you click Libraries in the menu. Add libraries to your list of favorite libraries by clicking the star icon on the library entry.

You can find your list of favorite libraries by going to the account icon and selecting Favorite Libraries.

#4 Use the Advanced Search Feature

The best way to search for items is to use the Advanced Search feature from the beginning. Click the Advanced Search icon to the right of the search box. (See image below)

WorldCat advanced search

Click the Advanced Search icon next to the search box

Start your search by selecting the type of thing you want to search from the first drop-down menu. For example, select Keyword and then type a word (such as a surname) in the field next to it. To the right of the field, select what you want done with that keyword, AND, OR, or NOT. This will include, exclude or make the keyword options. Then go to the next line and do the same thing. You can set up to three parameters.

Next add a year range if desired. For example, 1900 to 1950. Then select the type of materials you want in the results by clicking Format. For example, you could leave it on All Formats to receive all types of materials or select just Newspapers.

You can also narrow your search by language. Once you’ve made all your selections, click the Search button.

On the results page you have the option to adjust the filters in the left-hand column.

#5 Search Name Variations

As you search for family surnames, it’s important to understand that it will not automatically search for name variations. Either search for variations in separate searches or use the Advanced Search using the OR or the AND feature. (See example below)

Searching for name variations at WorldCat

How to search for name variations at WorldCat

More strategies for getting great search results at WorldCat

Search for family names by entering the family name followed by the word “family” (e.g., “Mansfield family”)

Search for specific people by entering the person’s full name (e.g., “Emily Mansfield”)

Search for organizations by entering terms to describe the organization (e.g., “Lutheran”)

Search for geographic locations by placing name in combination with the abbreviated and full state name (e.g., “Union City IN” and “Union City Indiana”)

You can then narrow your search by returning to the main search page and entering more specific search terms such as “Mansfield family bible”.

Include multiple search terms in one search (e.g., “Lutheran” and “Union City IN”)

Final Thoughts on the New WorldCat

Like with any change to a website, the new WorldCat takes a little getting used to, and there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out. However, by doing these 5 things you’ll have access to millions of rich resources that can help you climb your family tree.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

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