Jewish Genealogy Research

Each area of genealogy research comes with a unique set of challenges. Jewish genealogy is no exception, but thankfully there are fantastic websites and online resources available to help. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, these resources may prove very helpful for researching Eastern European branches of your family tree. Many provide detailed maps and information about towns that have long since vanished. 
 
In this week’s Elevenses with Lisa episode professional genealogist Ellen Shindelman Kowitt (Director of JewishGen’s USA Research Division and National Vice Chair of a DAR Specialty Research Jewish Task Force) joins us to share:
  • unique features that JewishGen.org has to offer
  • the best regional websites
  • what you need to do before you dig into these websites


You can watch here, or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel where you can also view the live chat by signing into YouTube with a free Google account. 

Episode 57 Show Notes

Interview Transcript

Lisa Louise Cooke: When I think of Jewish genealogy, immediately my mind goes to JewishGen.org, and I was hoping you could start us off with an overview of that. I know that you’re involved with them and boy, do they have a lot to offer!

Ellen Kowitt: JewishGen is really the premier main source for Jewish records on the internet today.

It’s run as a non-profit and it’s actually a part of a museum on the lower side of Manhattan called the Museum of Jewish Living Heritage. It’s run by a professional executive director, Abraham Grohl, but then there are thousands of volunteers that participate as research division directors, who help to identify records, index records, and translate records because language is a big issue in Jewish genealogy.

They’ve developed some really great data sets that can be searched for free by anyone. There is no charge to search JewishGen. Similar to FamilySearch, they ask that you register for a username and a password, but they don’t sell your name and it’s not going to go anywhere past accessing that website.

JewishGen

They have different tools they have developed that are unique to searching Jewish records.

I think there are a lot of entry points into JewishGen. For a novice, particularly beginners who have not done a lot of research anywhere on the internet, it can be a little overwhelming. They have a unified search, which combines the data sets from hundreds of records into one search function, because you can search each of these data sets separately. But if you’re just browsing and curious, and just want to throw your names in, the unified search is a great place to start.

Something that is really exciting about it is that they’ve had these special algorithms developed that are unique to Jewish names and Jewish languages. I’ll mention the Jewish languages in a minute, but it’s similar to the National Archives in the United States, which developed what we call the Soundex, which is an alpha-numeric code assigned to your name. It helps you navigate other spellings to your name that are similar, but maybe your family didn’t spell it that way, but it could be found in a record that way. The American Soundex doesn’t always work on Jewish or mostly Eastern-European names, so these special Soundexes were developed on JewishGen that are now used throughout the Jewish genealogy world on other databases as well. One is called the Daitch–Mokotoff. Another is called the Beider-Morse, but JewishGen doesn’t call them that. When you go in, it’s blind to you.

You’ll put your name or your town name into the search engine and there is a form with fields that you can populate. It doesn’t matter if you’re spelling the names of your given name, your surname, or your town name correctly, because you’re going to be able to pick a couple of different ways to search in a drop-down menu.

The first one will be called “Sounds Like,” the second is “Phonetically Like,” and then it goes into “Starts With,” “Is Exactly,” “Fuzzy Match,” “Fuzzier Match,” and “Fuzziest Match.” My recommendation is always search on “Sounds Like” and “Phonetically Like” because those are Daitch–Mokotoff and Beider-Morse Jewish algorithms for Jewish names and places. So that’s really, really helpful.

Many times people coming to Jewish genealogy are just hung up on names, where they come from, and figuring out an immigrant’s place of origin. Because, think about it: nobody spoke English in the Russian Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where a majority of Jews came from after 1880. So, they’re speaking languages like German and Russian, Lithuanian and Polish, and even Yiddish, which is linguistically more like German although it is written with Hebrew letters.

These immigrants come to American ports and there could be an immigrant from another part of the world with a different kind of accent, like an Irishman. So, an Irishman in America listening to a Yiddish speaker from Russia – of course they’re going to butcher spelling the names. It’s just par for the course.

People can’t get hung up on the spellings of Jewish names, particularly the surnames and the towns of origin where they are emigrating from. Of course, those towns are important to narrow down and understand where they were, because that’s where you’re going to look for the records.

JewishGen’s Communities Database

That’s a second point about JewishGen that’s so helpful. They have a Communities Database, and that lists over 6,000 places where Jews mostly lived in the largest populations around Eastern Europe. In many of those places, Jews don’t live there anymore, but they will outline for you in different time periods where the records are or where they were.

We always refer to Jews coming from Russia because we see that on passenger manifests or census records. But a lot of times when you see Russia as a place of origin for a Jewish family, if they came before 1917, that was Russian Empire. The Russian Empire doesn’t exist anymore, and what was the Russian Empire pre-1975 is not Russia-proper today.

There are a lot of countries where your family could have come from, including Poland, because part of Poland was in the Russian Empire. Your family might actually be from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, or Ukraine, or even some places in the south that don’t exist anymore. There used to be an area referred to as Bessarabia, and another one, Bukovina. These don’t exist anymore. Even Prussia, when you talk about the German Jews who came over, and this is true for non-Jews, too. There is no Prussian Empire anymore, and what was the Prussian Empire is now largely Poland, parts of Russia, and Germany of course. But it’s misleading that if your family spoke German and said that were Prussian, that they were German the way we think of Germany today. A lot of Jews came from Prussia, so that’s why I mention it.

Those are the key things about JewishGen. It helps with you the name complications and determining what other spellings there might be in records. It also helps you with locating these towns and what the administrative districts today would be.

How to Get Started in Jewish Genealogy Research

If you’re researching a Jewish family, it’s no different than any other American family, if you’re starting in America. You start with the civil records, the vital records, the census records, and the passenger manifests. None of these American records are divided by faith or ethnic group. So, a Jewish person, or if you’re researching a Jewish branch, should be starting the same way as any other American research. Start with yourself, work backwards, go through and exhaust all of the American records that you can, which will help you determine what those original names and place they came from are. That’s where JewishGen really helps you. It’s kind of like a 102 class. You have to do the American 101 records, and then when you’ve exhausted all of that, you jump to the Jewish records, which are largely available through JewishGen.

JewishGen Networking

And the big point about JewishGen is the networking, because there’s this huge discussion group. They are now on Facebook with a group.

They have something called the JewishGen Family Finder, where you can register the names you’re looking for and/or the towns. Likewise, you can search to see whom else is researching the same names and towns that you are.

Through the messaging on JewishGen, you can get in touch with them and say, “Hey this is my story. Can I see your tree?” or “Do you have any family photos?” or “Have you had any success finding records for the little town in the middle of Ukraine?” Or even, “Have you hired a researcher that was helpful in pushing your research back in this particular archive in Lithuania?” It’s a fantastic way to find people researching the same obscure, small areas of the world that you are.

Lisa Louise Cooke – That’s an amazing resource, and you’re so right that we still have to follow the basic genealogy methodology. We still need to go through those records here. It’s tempting – I know people will say, “Well I know they were Jewish” so they’ll want to jump into that, and yet you miss so many clues that would probably come in super handy once you get over to JewishGen and you’re ready for that.

Ellen Kowitt: Absolutely…I find people who come to Jewish genealogy as beginners have not done that. I’m often backtracking and teaching American research before I ever get to a single Jewish record. I think that it’s really important that people take a look at (American records).

If they’re not in the United States and they’re listening, Canadian records or British records, wherever you might be starting from. You need to start in the country where your person that you’re researching is located, with those records first.

JewishGen Research Divisions

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great point. I know for my own Sporowskis who were German-East Prussians, really they’re out of Belarus. I’m pretty sure that even though my great-grandfather later was going to the Lutheran church in America, I think they were a Jewish family back in Belarus. JewishGen has been one of the few places to find information about some of these locations that have changed names and boundaries. It’s just an amazing resource in that way.

Ellen Kowitt: Belarus is a good example. JewishGen has maybe over 20 research divisions. I happen to be the director for what’s called the USA Research Division, and just to define that, it’s not census records and passenger manifests. It’s looking at records held at Jewish repositories that are in the US, like the American Jewish Archives or the Southern Jewish Historical Society.

There are research divisions geographically all throughout Eastern Europe and there is one for Belarus called the Belarus Research Division. If you click on their link from JewishGen’s drop-down menu, they have their own website and they give a lot of maps, from now and then, of what Belarus was, and lists of towns divided by province, or what was gubernia. There are ways to connect with people and search what their records are.

Here’s a little tip I have about Research Divisions and any project on JewishGen. If you don’t find what you’re looking for and you really think it might be there, or you’re spelling it wrong and it’s not showing up in the Soundex, contact whoever the person is on that record set or who the Research Division director is, or who the town leader is.

In Ukraine, there are hundreds of town leaders for these little towns and what we find is that the town leaders and the Research Division leaders often know or are holding onto records that are not online. If you’re not finding something, it’s free to send an email! Just inquire and say, “Do you know anything else about Grodno, Belarus in 1854? Or the name Cohen?” or whatever it is, and you just never know what these folks have because I have found there are a lot of offline lists that the experts know about.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s very good insider information. It’s true, as you go into your genealogy research you get more and more daring and send that email. All they can do is just not be available. But it sounds like those folks are more than happy to help. What a wonderful idea.

Regional Jewish Genealogy Resources

Lisa Louise Cooke: We were talking about specific regions and I’m sure there are all kinds of different things here, but what other types of websites might be out there for regional Jewish genealogy?

Ellen Kowitt: It’s a little confusing. There is kind of a hierarchy. It’s not coordinated by any organizing body, but there are three independently run Jewish database sites. When I say the names, sometimes people say, “Oh that’s part of JewishGen.” They’re not. They are run independently. The three are:

  • JRI-Poland which stands for Jewish Records Indexing Poland,
  • Gesher Galicia, and I’ll define that for you.
  • And what we used to call LitvakSIG, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.

All three of these groups kind of have roots in JewishGen and then for different organizing reasons all wanted to organize as independent non-profits. But they share their data. Now, do they share all of their data? Do they share their data at the same time? Are they sharing it in the same place? The answers really vary. This is why, I always say, if you’re brand new, check out Unified Search on JewishGen.

Ancestry actually has some of LitvakSIG, some of JRI-Poland, and some of JewishGen’s records. Just recently LitvakSIG released some of their records to MyHeritage. So, there is some overlap back and forth on the data sets. But if you’re from these three particular geographic regions, I would not only be looking on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and JewishGen. I would always go to their original databases on each of their original websites.

LitvakSIG

LitvakSIG really stands for Lithuania, but Lithuania today is really different than the geographic borders of Lithuania a hundred years ago. When you look at modern-day Lithuania on a map, if your family is coming from a part of Latvia or Belarus or an area of Russia that surrounds that area, you might want to look there. I have this corner of southwestern Lithuania that part of my family came from, but it has also been Prussian, it has been Suwalki, Poland, and it’s right near Belarus, but yet I found records in Lithuania in LitvakSIG. I have also found them in Suwalki from JRI-Poland. So, loosely when you define your location, consider what’s geographically around the modern-day borders. But LitvakSIG is predominantly Lithuania and a lot of Jews came from Vilnius and Kaunus and all these places up there.

JRI-Poland

The second one is JRI-Poland. They are fantastic in their records acquisition. They’ve had partnerships with the Polish state archives. They give locations of microfilm that are for Polish municipalities at the FamilySearch digital collection. They have tons of volunteers who have worked there for 30 years. It’s extremely extensive.

For listeners who don’t know, the Polish State Archives has largely gone online, so a lot of vital records are digitized and you can go right to the record. Now, it may be in Polish or Russian, but you can get to those records for free, just like you can on FamilySearch sometimes.

JRI-Poland is just a powerhouse for getting access, using their indexes first to locate if there are records for your family in a town, using the Soundexes that are the Jewish Soundexes, and then getting to the original record. I just love JRI-Poland.

And be loose on those borders because it’s going to include Suwalki and those areas north on the Lithuanian-Russian border. Even the Belarus border and that Prussian border on the other side. For JRI-Poland, ‘cast a broad net’ is areas that were ever considered Poland, even on the southern side, too.

Gesher Galicia

The third one is called Gesher Galicia, also run independently, and also shares data with JewishGen. Galicia does not exist anymore. It was a designation for an area that today you would think of on a map as western Ukraine and eastern Poland, and a lot of Jews lived in Galicia. Unique to that area is that it was Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point, so the records are in German, not so much in Russian or in Polish.

But Gesher Galicia has got a fantastic search engine on their database, and they are another powerhouse that is just continuing with their volunteer army of adding so many great data sets.

They’re really good, too, at allowing you to list what towns you’re researching if you join, and I think they have a small membership fee. In fact, each of them have a membership fee that they’ve added on, and I think that just gives you access to records maybe a little bit sooner.

These three are often lumped in with JewishGen but are really organized as separate organizations and they acquire records and index them in a different way.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great overview and it reminds us, like with all genealogy, that when you see partners working together and they end up with records on multiple sites, I find myself wanting to look at those records, even if they’re the same, on every site. You never know what the nuances are. You never know if their image is clear. There are so many different possible variations.

Jewish Records at Ancestry.com

Ellen Kowitt: There are! I have taken a deep dive on Ancestry’s records of JewishGen. They started an arrangement awhile back, I think in 2008, and JewishGen gave them a bunch of records in return for Ancestry housing their servers. So a great business arrangement for a little non-profit like JewishGen, but confusing for people like researchers that only use Ancestry and never look any further. 

Certainly if you’re finding things on Ancestry (Jewish Records at Ancestry) that are JewishGen, you want to go to JewishGen and search also because JewishGen has not updated all the records that they sent to Ancestry ten or more years ago. There are unique records that were never sent to Ancestry, and you pick up those Jewish Soundex search capacities on JewishGen.

Now, Ancestry’s search has definitely advanced in recent years but it’s not the Beider-Morse the Daitch–Mokotoff Jewish algorithms for searching Jewish names. If you can’t find somebody on the JewishGen collection at Ancestry, go to JewishGen and try running the search there.

Holocaust Research

Lisa Louise Cooke: Another area I can think of as a roadblock area for folks in their research is around the Holocaust. What kinds of resources do we have to conduct research when it comes to the Holocaust?

Ellen Kowitt: I started doing this about 25 years ago and it used to be that either the records were not released by some of the archives in Russia or in the East, or they weren’t in English, or they weren’t indexed. You would put in these requests and it would take literally years for certain repositories to answer a basic inquiry with “Yes” or “No” if they have a card on your family.

I think there was a lot of mythology build around ‘you can’t document the Holocaust and what happened to people’ and what we’re finding all these years is later is that there are so many records. Plenty of people are documenting their families. We are continuing to find more resources available online, even from repositories that are traditionally not in English.

It’s hard to say where to start, because the story of the Holocaust has also evolved. It used to be we learned in school, if we even learned at all about the story of the Holocaust, that it was the story of the concentration camps and the Jews being gassed, and that’s certainly true. But there are so many other elements of the Holocaust like the story of the 1 ½ million Jews killed in Ukraine before anyone ever was killed at Auschwitz. We call this “the Holocaust by bullets” (and the story and most of what was the Soviet Union at that time), was the Jews were rounded up and, this is gruesome, but they were executed and left in mass graves that are unmarked, largely, throughout what was the Soviet Union.

Even Jews who knew their family was tied up in those kinds of stories thought there was no way to figure out what happened to their family or the town. But we do have records. The Russians kept records. It turns out the Germans kept records. A lot of this has become available online that you can search in English.

It really depends, for a family that knows they have a Holocaust story, where they were, what country they originated in, if you know the story that they went to a camp, or if they were in a small town where there was a mass grave. You’re going to be looking at very different resources.

I would say, if you only had to look at one and you wanted to just start this process, Yad Vashem’s website in Israel, in English, would be the place to do a general top-level search. The reason is because Yad Vashem is like the US version of the (United States) Holocaust (Memorial) Museum in DC, and they have resources too, but the one in Israel is called Yad Vashem and it has a larger collection.

They have also collected these pages of testimony from survivors who talk about their family members and where they last saw them, or if they know the exact story about what happened to them or their whereabouts throughout the war. Thousands of these pages have been submitted and they’re searchable. You can see the original pages that people submit and you can even get in contact with the people submitting them. It’s a great networking opportunity for people looking to connect. Yad Vashem has these great success stories, less and less because the survivors are aging out, where they connected people who still had living relatives in Argentina, Australia, or in Europe, and they’re just fantastic renewal stories.

But yes, complicated topic. It is possible to learn what happened to a community, hopefully to an individual. Records are at Bad Arolsen, the Arolsen archives in Germany, in addition to Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Museum.

JewishGen does have a Holocaust collection worth searching, although it’s smaller than these other larger repositories. There are all kinds of things on the internet – webinars, speakers, and even books that have been published on how to track down victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

And non-Jewish, too. I recently was looking into someone who came from a Ukrainian Orthodox family and they were shipped out of Ukraine to what would be now the Czech Republic, and they were in a work camp. Sometimes these repositories you think of as Jewish record repositories for Jews in the Holocaust also tell the story of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I so appreciate your vast knowledge on this. I know you teach people about genealogy, Jewish genealogy – tell us a little bit about you got started in genealogy and then into it professionally.

Ellen Kowitt: I guess like everybody out there, I just have that gene. Even from a young age, I was the one who just gobbled up the stories at the holiday tables and remembered the names and connected the relationships and just kept track of it in my head, long before I realized that was not normal, it was unusual and not everyone does that.

There is a woman, Sallyann Sack, who writes a lot of books on Jewish genealogy and she’s one of the publishers of Avotanyu, which is both a journal on Jewish genealogy and also a publishing company on books about Jewish genealogy. In my twenties, I happened to go to a lecture she gave at a synagogue in Washington DC, 25 or more years ago. She said “Hey we have this club! It’s a Jewish genealogy society and we’re doing a beginners workshop. Do you want to come?” I went and there was no looking back. I just got the bug. I started interviewing relatives like we all are taught, to talk to the oldest people first and the records can wait.

It just went from there. I got super involved as a volunteer. I actually think volunteering is a great way when you’re a beginner to learn about record sets. I have seen probate records, naturalizations, and Jewish records that I would never have found in my own family by helping index through a project with a local society. That was fascinating to me.

Then one day a friend insisted on paying me money to do some research on his mother, and I actually liked it. I thought, wow, if I can make a few extra dollars to pay for my genealogy obsession – and these websites can be expensive, the conferences cost money – but if I can make money and help to pay for my obsession, then I’m going to be a professional. So, that’s how I fell into that and it’s grown from there.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I think those of us who caught the bug when we were young are really fortunate because we got opportunities and I think had a focus on talking to and recording some of those stories. I know that’s probably people’s biggest regret, when they didn’t think about it back when they had an opportunity to interview some of the older relatives. I know in my case I just treasure the few interviews that I did do and I still have.

Ellen Kowitt: Me too.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I really appreciate you sharing all these wonderful resources. And of course, folks can visit you at your website at EllenKowitt.com, and I know that you do lecturing and all kinds of professional work on genealogy, and the wonderful article, Find Your Jewish Roots Online, in the May/June 2021 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Ellen, it’s been a delight to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us here on the show.

Ellen Kowitt: Thank you so much for having me, I enjoyed it!

Jewish Genealogy Reading

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Why I’m Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

I’m on my computer a lot for genealogy, communication, shopping, entertainment and pretty much everything else!

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

https://www.expressvpn.com/genealogygems

 
I’m also concerned about my privacy and security online. Chances are you are too. VPNs add an important layer or online protection and are one of the hottest tech trends right now. I receive a lot of questions about what tech tools I use, so in this episode I’ll explain:
  • why I’m using a VPN (don’t worry, you don’t need to be techy at all to use a VPN!)
  • what I looked for in a VPN
  • how I set it up (oh my gosh, it was so easy!)
  • how it protects my online activity
  • the surprising BONUS benefits that I love and you will too.
My goal is to help you find your family history safely and privately. I took a deep dive into VPNs and I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned so you can do it yourself.
 
Click the play button below to watch or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
 

Episode 56 Show Notes

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a top tech trend right now, although their origins can be traced back to the 1990s.

According to the top tech blogs VPNs usage in the U.S. jumped by 41% between March 13 and March 23, 2021 and is expected to continue to surge. Today I’m going to explain what that is, and the top reasons why I use a VPN and why you might want to start using one too.

What Does a VPN Do?

Sending data over an unencrypted internet connection is like mailing a postcard. Your message is wide open for the mailman and any other nosy people to see.

Whenever you’re connected to an unencrypted internet network on your phone, computer, tablet, TV, etc., you’re sending countless pieces of information out into the digital world that can be seen and intercepted by many different parties before they get to their intended destinations.

While not every message and piece of data I send out over the internet is sensitive (such as banking information) I like knowing that my activity is private. It’s a lot like why we always protect the identity of living people in our family tree. It’s always best to err on the side of privacy and security when working online.

A VPN creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet. In other words, it puts an envelope around your postcard so that no one can sneak a peek at your private correspondence. That way none of your data going in and out of your devices can be seen – not the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or even by the VPN.

The best VPNS also don’t create or keep activity logs or connection logs. This means if they are asked by government or law enforcement to hand them over, there’s nothing to hand over.

Since every device has a unique IP address, your device can be traced back to you. However, when you use a VPN, your connection gets routed through one of thousands of servers, hiding your real IP address and replacing it with one of their own. This allows you to browse the web anonymously.

Top Reasons I Decided to Use a VPN

There’s no one way to make everything you do completely private. But a VPN does add a nice layer plus some great added benefits. I’ve been thinking about doing something more for a long time, and then my brother-in-law who worked for years for one of the largest tech companies in the world told me he set up a VPN and that I should too. I did my own homework, and here are the top reasons why I use a VPN:

1. I want to be able to use public Wi-Fi safely

Libraries, archives, traveling to speaking engagements, visiting ancestral locations, vacation. Public Wi-Fi is often provided and it’s really convenient, plus I don’t have to use my phone as a hot spot which uses up cellular data not to mention battery. Your favorite coffee shop could be a favorite spot for hackers who steal personal information. And you can even get hacked on your own home Wi-Fi. With only basic computer knowledge, the hacker could gain access to your passwords, financial details, or even your emails!

Any time you’re on public Wi-Fi a VPN hides your IP address encrypts your internet connection using encryption.

2. I want my privacy and don’t want to be tracked by my ISP

Your internet service provider (known as an ISP) can see everything you do.

In the US, ISPs can legally sell your data to ad companies.

In the UK and Australian ISPs are required to keep logs of the websites you visit, the apps you use for around a year.

Governments, large corporations, and websites potentially surveil your activity regularly to harvest your data for their own agendas.

A VPN makes your online activity private and secure with tunneling and encryption. Your messages go through a tunnel of sorts so others, including your ISP, can’t see where you’re located, or that the data is from you. It also applied encryption (AEs-256 is what you’re looking for in encryption) so that your message is essentially locked by you and the service delivering the data for you doesn’t have the key. Only the recipient does (such as the website you’re trying to communicate with.)

But you may be wondering, isn’t your activity safe because you only visit secure “HTTPS” websites?

In an interview with TechRadar.com Dan Pomerantz, Co-Founder of ExpressVPN explains it this way: “Many of those companies know your identity, and they might store and resell those data about you without your knowledge or approval. Why is that the case even when you use https? Because technologies called DNS and SNI transmit those data in plain text, and because the pipe operators can still see the destination of your traffic.”

3. I want the best deals when online shopping

Many websites offer deals based on your location. Countless times I’ve been shopping for airlines tickets and watched the price go up each time I checked the price. It’s an effort to get me to buy before the price goes up more. The website can do this because it knows who I am and my location.

Have you noticed more and more websites asking you to allow them to know your location? You can click “Don’t allow” but if you’re not using a VPN you can’t be sure they don’t know who and where you are. Using a VPN means you’re accessing their website through that tunnel which hides your location, opening up opportunities for deals you might not have gotten otherwise.

A VPN allows you to select from servers in different location to be your “location”. So, I may live in Texas but my internet traffic might be by way of London. And by going through the “tunnel” the website doesn’t know it’s me. This gives me more flexibility to shop for the best deals.

Will a VPN slow my connection speed?

I was a little worried about a VPN slowing down my connection speed. But I’ve not found that at all, and in fact if your ISP is throttling your speed, which many do, it can actually speed up your connection because again your ISP can’t tell where you’re located. Connecting to a server closer to your location increases the speed, and switching servers is super easy in the app. Smart location will automatically pick the best server to you too.

What to Look for in a VPN

  • Lots of global servers – The VPN I chose has 3,000+ servers in 160 VPN server locations in 94 countries.
  • High speed
  • Best encryption – Look for AES-256 encryption
  • Usable on all your devices – If you’re like me, you have multiple devices and a variety of platforms. I have Windows computer, iOS mobile devices and a smart TV. ExpressVPN has super easy-to-use apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as platforms that other VPN companies don’t support, like Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and routers.
  • 24/7 customer support – Look for live chat with a real person.
  • Ease of use – You should be able to fire up the app and connect with just one click. And it should be super easy to change servers.
  • Privacy / No activity logs – They should have a transparent privacy policy and state out right they don’t create or store logs.
  • Trusted as Secure – Look for high start ratings from a large number of users. It should also be highly-ranked by trusted tech review sites.
  • Affordable – It’s normally $12.95 a month, but I’ve arranged with ExpressVPN to get my viewers and listeners 3 extra free months with the 12 month plan. Comes out to just over $8.00 a month plus the first 3 months free.
  • Money-back guarantee – ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so there was no risk in trying it.

The VPN I Chose

There are tons of VPNs out there but it’s important to know they don’t all offer the same features, especially the free ones. (My theory is that nothings ever really free particularly when it comes to security.) After doing my homework I decided to use ExpressVPN. It’s top-rated and has all the features I was looking for. I’ve been using it for a while now and I’m really happy with it. It’s super easy to use. So I reached out to ExpressVPN and they’ve agreed to extend a special offer to us. This is an affiliate link so I’ll receive compensation when you use my link. That helps make this free show possible, so thank you! Plus you’re going to save money.

Special Deal for Genealogy Gems Viewers:
Get 3 extra free months with the discounted 12-month plan.
Comes out to just over $8.00 a month (+ 3 months free) Gosh, I feel like I would have spent more than that just to gain access to the additional shows it gives me access to with ExpressVPN. Keep reading below to learn more about that. ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee so there’s no risk to try it.

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

https://www.expressvpn.com/genealogygems

Rated #1 by CNET, The Verge, Wired, TechRadar, & many more! Learn more about their approach to security at the ExpressVPN Trust Center. (Includes Network Lock which protects you if there’s an interruption in your internet connection.)

BONUS Reason #4: Access to regionally specific online content.

And speaking of being able to access the internet through any global server, this allows you to access regionally specific content. Did you know that many websites or apps are blocked or restricted depending on where you are located?

I discovered this while on the road for some genealogy speaking engagements. I was keynoting in London several years ago, and at the end of the day in my hotel room I sat down to watch my favorite show on Netflix. But when I logged in it said that I was not allowed to watch the show in England. My iPad was telling the internet provider that I was in London, and the ISP told Netflix. Had I had a VPN at that time, I could have rerouted my server connection through England and binged watched as many episodes as I pleased.

So is this helpful even if you aren’t traveling right now? You bet it is!

Remember when the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are? came out. We were going crazy over here in the U.S. because we would go to the website to watch it only to get an access denied message. It said you had to be in the UK to use the BBC iPlayer. A VPN allows you to switch locations and enjoy the show.

This is true of subscriptions like Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, ITV, Sky Go, and more.

You’ll also find that various subscription services offer different content based on your ISP location. By switching locations you can get access to shows not available in your home country with the same subscription.

My experience specifically with Amazon:

  • It may tell you to turn off your VPN. Try a different server. Thanks to the ExpressVPN live chat I found a server that allowed me to stream on Amazon.
  • Amazon restricts your access by your billing address.
  • Servers that let me access Amazon videos were San Francisco, Jersey 1, and Jersey 2. 

How I Set Up ExpressVPN

Start on your computer by getting your subscription at https://www.expressvpn.com/genealogygems 

  • Can be used on 5 devices.
  • Download the app from the website to your computer.
  • Install the ExpressVPN extension on your web browser (Chrome, Firefox)

More about Web Browser Settings:

Spoof Your Location
When you visit a website and it wants to know your location, it asks because it’s not getting that information based on your IP address. It’s based on nearby Wi-Fi networks, your systems location settings, or your device’s GPS. This means in that situation your location can still be potentially revealed via your web browser. If you decline the request for your location, you might find that some websites or content will be blocked for you. The Spoof Your Location feature helps solve the problem. When you’re connected and it’s turned on, the extension hides your location by automatically sharing the ExpressVPN server location instead.

Block WebRTC
WebRTC is an HTML5 specification designed to enable voices and video communication to work inside web pages without needing to install any special plugins in your web browser. (Examples include Google Meet, Facebook Messenger and GotoMeeting.) In some situations, Web RTC could potentially leak your IP address even while connected to a VPN. Block WebRTC allows you to block it entirely.

HTTPS Everywhere
Automatically makes websites switch from HTTP to a secure encrypted HTTPS connection where available.

How to Set Up ExpressVPN on your smartphone and tablet:

  1. Go to the app store and search for ExpressVPN
  2. Download app
  3. Open the app
  4. Sign in with your ExpressVPN account
  5. Tap button to connect. You will be connected to the “smart location” ExpressVPN has selected for you – typically considered the fastest connection.
  6. Tap the three dots ( … ) to change servers. Be aware that when you change to a European server you may see different types of GDPR “cookie” pop-ups that you aren’t used to seeing. These have to be accepted / managed before visiting the website. 

Resources

Questions and Comments

One of advantages of watching the show live is the chance to ask you questions. I answered many at the end of the show, but here are the remainder with my answers. 

flounder1st​: Does VPN only work for Wi-Fi data or Cellular Date also?
Lisa: Yes. 

Mary S: ​I may get a new computer soon, should I wait and install it on the new one?
Lisa: You don’t have to. When you get the new one simply uninstall the VPN from the old computer and install and sign in on the new one. 

Linda G: So I can use a VPN but my husband can continue doing his own thing through his regular ISP?
Lisa: Yes. 

Please share your questions and comments below.

Top 10 Family History Interview Questions

The Top 10 Family History Questions to Ask Your Relatives

Episode 55 Show Notes & Video

Probably the thing I hear most from my viewers and podcast listeners is that they regret not having interviewed their parents, grandparents and other older relatives when they had the chance.

However, it’s never to late to start interviewing relatives about family history. Even if you’re one of the oldest in your family, you have siblings and cousins who have stories to tell.

Every person in your extended family is walking around with a piece of your history in their head. Their memories are unique. No one else knows what they know. And all those memories from all of those relatives piece together like a puzzle to fit into your personal story…and your family’s story…and your kids and your grandkids stories. This means you have a pretty important job to do. You need to capture these stories not just for you, but for all the generations to come.

Use my 10 family history questions to kick off the conversation. Then, move quickly, yet sensitively, into the memories you want to hear about. And memories is the key word here. You want to tap into memories, not just “answers.” That’s why these questions are geared to help your relative go back in time, and provide thoughtful memories while avoiding simply answering yes or no.

These family history questions are also designed to fill in your relative’s backstory, and flush out how it fits into your story. The goal is to open up some new opportunities for learning more about the family’s history.

One important thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same energy level and enthusiasm for an interview like this. So don’t try to cover too much in one sitting. With that in mind, we’re going to focus on the top 10 questions that will give you a lot to work with after the interview. You’ll be able to take what you learn and head out for exciting new research that adds color and interest to your family history.

Great questions can uncover great stories, so in the Live YouTube Premiere of Elevenses with Lisa episode 55 I’m going to share with you:
  • my top 10 family history interview questions
  • my Pro Tip for getting an exceptional interview
  • a Bonus Idea that will add value to your family history TODAY.

Now’s the Time to Interview Your Relatives

Probably the thing I hear most from my viewers and podcast listeners is that they regret not having interviewed their parents, grandparents and other older relatives when they had the chance.

However, it’s never to late to start interviewing relatives about family history. Even if you’re one of the oldest in your family, you have siblings and cousins who have stories to tell.

Every person in your extended family is walking around with a piece of your history in their head. Their memories are unique. No one else knows what they know. And all those memories from all of those relatives piece together like a puzzle to fit into your personal story…and your family’s story…and your kids and your grandkids stories. This means you have a pretty important job to do. You need to capture these stories not just for you, but for all the generations to come.

Use my 10 family history questions to kick off the conversation. Then, move quickly, yet sensitively, into the memories you want to hear about. And memories is the key word here. You want to tap into memories, not just “answers.” That’s why these questions are geared to help your relative go back in time, and provide thoughtful memories while avoiding simply answering yes or no.

These family history questions are also designed to fill in your relative’s backstory, and flush out how it fits into your story. The goal is to open up some new opportunities for learning more about the family’s history.

One important thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same energy level and enthusiasm for an interview like this. So don’t try to cover too much in one sitting. With that in mind, we’re going to focus on the top 10 questions that will give you a lot to work with after the interview. You’ll be able to take what you learn and head out for exciting new research that adds color and interest to your family history.

Ice Breaker Questions for a Family History Interview

Both of you might be just a little nervous about how the conversation will go. So, just like kicking off a great party, you might need a few good icebreakers.

The first way to break the ice is just let them know how appreciative you are, with something like: “I’m so happy we’re making time for this, and I want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me and share your memories.”  Everyone like to feel appreciated, and you’ve already put that word “memories” out there instead of just “answers.”

Here are a few ice breaker questions you could use. The first two help you reveal how they are feeling about participating in the interview.

Icebreaker Question #1:
Were you surprised that I asked you to sit down for this interview?

Icebreaker Question #2:
Were you looking forward to sitting down for this interview today?

These questions might help uncover any hidden hesitancy on the part of your relative, and help you determine if a little more reassurance is in order. They may have questions about how you are going to use the information they share and where it might be shared. This is your chance to work out the details and make sure you are both on the same page.

Icebreaker Question #3:
Have you done an interview like this before with anyone else in the family?

It’s very possible that you aren’t the first person to interview them. If that’s the case, this is your opportunity to find out who else has been working on family interviews. There may be an opportunity to follow up with the other interviewer and compare findings.

These next two are just for fun:

Icebreaker Question #4:
If you had a whole day with no demands or responsibilities, how would you spend it?

Icebreaker Question #5:
What’s the coolest thing about you in your opinion?

Chances are that the answers to these icebreaker questions may elicit a few laughs getting you both warmed up for a great interview.

It’s totally up to you whether or not your use any or all of these ice breakers. If you have a really great relationship with the person, and you don’t sense any resistance, by all means feel free to jump right into the family history questions.

Pro Tip for an Exceptional Interview

Now before we jump into the 10 family history interview questions, I want to share a Pro Tip with you that will help ensure the interview goes well.

As a genealogy professional speaker, broadcaster and someone who has interviewed hundreds of people, I’ve learned the single most key to a successful interview. If you do this one thing you can’t go wrong, and I can almost guarantee that interviewing your relative will be an incredibly rewarding experience for you both.

So here it is:  Don’t worry about being a great interviewer – be an amazing listener.

Every interview has the potential to be rich, and revealing, but not if you’re not carefully and passionately listening. While you’ll be armed with these 10 questions, only actively listening will reveal where the opportunities are to learn more.

Care more about what you are hearing from your relative than how you are coming off conducting the interview.

If you hear something intriguing, unexpected, or a little tantalizingly vague, stop and inquire about that. Don’t worry about going off script or following the questions exactly. The questions help identify the layers of the onion, but it’s your job to peel off the best pieces. I can’t stress this enough.

I thoroughly prepare for every interview, both family history interviews and interviews I do for the various genealogy shows I produce. But the best and sweetest moments come from something I heard and then asked more about.

Top 10 Family History Questions to Ask Your Relatives

Now that you’ve broken the ice and are focused on actively listening, it’s time to jump into the interview with your relative. 10 questions may not seem like a lot, but these are designed to uncover lots of future opportunities for discovery about your family history. And because you’re going to be actively listening for those intriguing, unexpected, and a little tantalizingly vague comments, you’ll want to reserve plenty of time to dive deeper into them.

Question #1:
Did you know your maternal grandparents?
What do you remember about them most?

Your goal is to get them in “memory mode” and away from yes or no answers. If they struggle initially with remembering, try to help them visualize a time, event or something else tangible and ask for a few details. Often a lack of memory is really a bit of shyness about being “on the spot.” Once they tap into a few specific memories, things will likely start to flow.

Question #2:
Did you know you paternal grandparents? What do you most remember about them?

Question #3:
Who’s the oldest relative you can remember meeting?

The beauty of this question is that it has the potential to reach far back into the family tree. If your relative is in their eighties or nineties, and they met someone when they were a child who was in their nineties, you could potentially gather first-hand information about someone born in the first half of the 19th century!

If no one comes to mind right away, ask them to remember when they were a child, and think about family gatherings and holidays. These were often the times when a rare visit with an elderly relative would likely have occurred.  

Question #4:
Did you have a favorite relative? Who was the relative you most enjoyed seeing?

This is a wonderful tidbit to uncover because it tells you something more about the characteristics they personally value. This interview question is also likely to uncover some fun and entertaining stories.

Question #5:
Who was the funniest person among your relatives?

Like question #4, this question tells you about their sense of humor (what they found funny) as well as some entertaining stories. It also reveals a relative who might be a lot of fun to research further.

Feel free to change “funniest” to any quality or attribute that intrigues you. If you get an enthusiastic response, go ahead and run a few more past them such as:

  • Who was the most serious person in the family?
  • Who was the most unpredictable?
  • Who was the hardest working?
  • Who would be the most likely to give you the shirt off his back?
  • Who was the smartest?

Question #6:
Which relative do you wish you had known better and why?

All of us have relatives we met once or twice but never had an opportunity to really get to know. The nice thing about the answer to this question is that it puts an opportunity in your lap. The person they name would be an ideal person to research further after the interview. Ask about the person in your other interviews with relatives. Do some independent research on them. Pull together what you learn and write a little something up for your relative to include in a thank you card or email. This small effort will further demonstrate your commitment to the family’s history and provide the perfect expression of your gratitude for the interview.

Question #7:
Who was the family historian in the family when you were growing up?

Even if your relative is a lot older than you, and the person they name has passed away, it’s still worth asking. Learn what you can about the person named and then try to get in contact with their descendants. Ask your relative how they knew them, where they lived, and the names of their kids. If you need help finding their living descendants, check out my video How to Find Living Relatives and download the handout (Premium Membership required.)

Question #8:
Remembering back to your childhood, was there a storyteller in your family?

If no one comes to mind initially, ask your relative if they recall hearing stories in the family. Ask, was their “family lore” that everyone was well aware of? You may get a few nuggets of information that could open up new avenues of genealogical research.

Question #9:
What family traditions did you most enjoy?

Family Traditions help bind generations together. Hearing about traditions that may have gone by the wayside can provide clues to the family culture and ethnic heritage. You might even hear about a tradition worth resurrecting.

Question #10:
What haven’t I asked that you’d like to tell me about?

You could also phrase this question as What haven’t I asked you that you were hoping I would? I like both and use them interchangeably. Either way, this interview question is a little insurance policy that there will be no regrets of missed opportunities after the interview is over.

Family History Interview Bonus Idea

Here’s a way to get even more from these 10 questions. Grab a piece of paper (or open a document on your computer), go back and watch this video again and answer these questions yourself. This is your chance to finally write down what you remember.

As the family historian, it’s easy to neglect doing these things for ourselves. Don’t let not telling your own story be yet another regret. Your memories are also an important part of your family’s history. Download the ad-free show Family History Interview Worksheet  (Premium Membership required) in the show notes Resources section. Fill it in and add your stories to your family history today! Then learn more about telling your own story by watching these Premium videos:

Resources

Comments

What are some of your favorite family history related interview questions that you would add to this list? Share yours in the comments below.

Ultimate Guide to 1890 Census and Substitute Records

Video & Show Notes 

Click the video player to watch episode 54 of Elevenses with Lisa about the 1890 census and substitute records. Below you’ll find the detailed show notes with all the website links I mention. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free PDF cheat sheet of these show notes at the bottom of this page in the Resources section, along with my BONUS 1890 Census Gap Worksheet. 

What Happened to the 1890 Census

The census shows us our ancestors grouped in families, making it a valuable resource for genealogy. Soon the 1950 census will be available, but for now the most current census publicly available in 1940. In it we may find, depending on our age, ourselves, our parents, our grandparents, and our great parents. In many cases it’s quick and rewarding to make your way back in time to  the 1890 census which was taken starting June 1, 1890.  And that’s where the trail hits a bump. In January 1921 a large fire broke out in the Commerce Building in Washington DC where the 1890 census records were stored, and most were destroyed as a result. Only 6,160 individual names remain in the remnants. (Learn more about the destruction of the 1890 census at the National Archives.)

Prior to the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, the last census taken was in 1880. With about 99% of the 1890 being destroyed as the result of the fire, this leaves a 20 year gap in the census (1880 – 1900.)

Much can happen in a span of twenty years. For example, your ancestors could have been born and reached adulthood. Filling in their timeline for this period requires a bit more effort, but the results are worth it.

In this video and article we’ll cover:

  • How to find the remaining fragments of the 1890 population enumeration
  • What you can learn from the 1890 census records
  • Lesser known 1890 census schedules that can still be found.
  • The best 1890 substitute records and how to find them.

Surviving 1890 Federal Census Population Schedules

A very small portion of the 1890 census has survived, but it’s more than just the population schedule. Here are the six types of records still available.

1. 1890 Federal Population Schedule Fragments

How to find the records:

List of the locations covered by the surviving 1890 federal census:

Alabama: Perryville Beat No.11 (Perry County) and Severe Beat No.8 (Perry County)

District of Columbia: Q Street, 13th St., 14th St., R Street, Q Street, Corcoran St., 15th St., S Street, R Street, and Riggs Street, Johnson Avenue, and S Street

Georgia: Columbus (Muscogee County)

Illinois: Mound Township (McDonough County)

Minnesota: Rockford (Wright County)

New Jersey: Jersey City (Hudson County)

New York: Brookhaven Township (Suffolk County) and Eastchester (Westchester County)

North Carolina: South Point and River Bend Townships (Gaston County), Township No. 2 (Cleveland County)

Ohio: Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Wayne Township (Clinton County)

South Dakota: Jefferson Township (Union County)

Texas: J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovilla Precinct (Ellis County), Precinct No. 5 (Hood County), No. 6 and J.P. No. 7 (Rusk County), Trinity Town and Precinct No. 2 (Trinity County), and Kaufman (Kaufman County)

Questions Asked in the 1890 U.S. Federal Census
The following questions were asked by the census taker:

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Sex
  4. Address
  5. Number of families in the house
  6. Number of persons in the house
  7. Number of persons in the family
  8. Relationship to head of family
  9. Race: white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
  10. Marital status
  11. Whether married during the year
  12. Total children born to mother
  13. Number of children living
  14. Birthplace
  15. Birthplace of parents
  16. If foreign born, how many years in the United States
  17. Naturalized or in the process of naturalization
  18. Profession, trade, or occupation
  19. Months unemployed during census year
  20. Able to read and write
  21. Speak English; if not, language or dialect spoken
  22. Suffering from acute or chronic disease (if so, name of disease and length of time afflicted)
  23. Defective in mind, sight, hearing, or speech
  24. Crippled, maimed, or deformed (with name of defect)
  25. Prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper
  26. Home is rented or owned by the head or a member of the family
  27. (if so, whether mortgaged)
  28. Head of family a farmer, if he or a family member rented or owned the farm
  29. If mortgaged, the post office address of the owner

2. Schedules for Union Soldiers & Widows

According to the National Archives, “The U.S. Pension Office requested this special enumeration to help Union veterans locate comrades to testify in pension claims and to determine the number of survivors and widows for pension legislation. (Some congressmen also thought it scientifically useful to know the effect of various types of military service upon veterans’ longevity.) To assist in the enumeration, the Pension Office prepared a list of veterans’ names and addresses from their files and from available military records held by the U.S. War Department.

Index and images of schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows of veterans of the Civil War for the states of Kentucky through Wyoming. Except for some miscellaneous returns, data for the states of Alabama through Kansas do not exist. Some returns include U.S. Naval Vessels and Navy Yards. The schedules are from Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration and is NARA publication M123.

Nearly all of the schedules for the states of Alabama through Kansas and approximately half of those for Kentucky appear to have been destroyed before transfer of the remaining schedules to the National Archives in 1943.”

How to find the records:

Search the United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890 (index & images) at FamilySearch.

These records can tell you:

  • State, county and district where census was taken
  • Date census was taken
  • Full name of surviving soldier, sailor, marine, or widow
  • Rank, company, regiment or vessel
  • Date of enlistment
  • Date of discharge
  • Residence
  • Disability
  • Length of service in years, months, and days
  • Remarks

Learn more:

3. Schedules Oklahoma Territories

The 1890 Oklahoma Territorial Census lists people who lived in the Oklahoma Territory. The seven counties making up the Oklahoma Territory at the time are listed below. Note the number as they were often listed only by these number on the census.

  1. Logan County
  2. Oklahoma County
  3. Cleveland County
  4. Canadian County
  5. Kingfisher County
  6. Payne County
  7. Beaver County

How to find the records:

4. Selected Delaware African American Schedule

One of the primary uses of the census by the government is to compile statistical reports using the data gathered. Many of these can be found online at places like Google Books.

The Delaware African American Schedule came about because of one of these statistical reports. According to the National Archives, in 1901 the Chief Statistician for Agriculture wrote a report about agriculture in the state of Delaware. Just before it was to be published, some of the conclusions reached in the report were disputed. The controversy centered around what was then referred to as “Negro” farmers. The results was that additional research was conducted in an effort to find all “Negro” farmers in the 1890 and 1900 Delaware census records. The dust up over the statistical report was fortunate indeed because these records are now available.

How to get the records:

The list is roughly in alphabetical order according to surname and contains the following information:

  • Name
  • Census Year
  • Enumeration District (ED) Number
  • ED Description (locality and county)
  • Occupation

5. Statistics of Lutheran Congregation & Statistical Information for the U.S.

These record collection offers limited usefulness because they don’t name people. However, if you have questions about Lutheran ancestors around 1890 or would like more contextual information about the time period, they might be worth a look.

Statistics of Lutheran Congregation reproduces a list of each Lutheran church or local organization compiled by the Census Office from information submitted by officials of the Lutheran officials.

How to find the records:

The National Archives – Contact the National Archives regarding National Archives Microfilm Publication M2073, Statistics of Congregations of Lutheran Synods, 1890 (1 roll).  Records are arranged by synod, then state, then locality.

For each church or local organization, the following information is given in seven columns:
(1) town or city
(2) county
(3) name of organization
(4) number or type of church edifice
(5) seating capacity
(6) value of church property
(7) number of members.

6. Statistical information for the entire United States

Statistical reports were compiled and analyzed by the Census Office after the 1890 census was completed. These massive statistical reports are available in National Archives Microfilm Publication T825, Publications of the Bureau of the Census.

How to find the records:

Google Books – Some of the statistical reports have been digitized and are available for free on Google Books. One of the most interesting is the Report on the Social Statistics of Cities in the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890.

Best Substitute Records for the 1890 Census

Now that we’ve scoured every inch of available records remaining from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, it’s time to go on the hunt for substitute records. We’ll be focusing on the best available and easiest to find resources.

1885 & 1895 State Census Records:

The U.S. federal government was not alone in taking the census. Some states also took their own state census. These were usually conducted in the years between the federal censuses, most commonly on the “5” such as 1875, and 1885. You may find some as far back as 1825 and as recent as 1925, as in the case of the state of New York.

How to find the records:

Look for state census records at state archives, state historical societies, and state libraries. Many are also conveniently searchable online, most commonly at FamilySearch (free) and Ancestry (subscription.)

Arizona, U.S., Territorial Census Records, 1882 (Ancestry)

Kansas 1895 (FamilySearch)

Kansas 1895 (Kansas State Historical Society)

Colorado State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Colorado State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

Michigan State Census 1894 (FamilySearch)

Michigan State Census 1894 (Ancestry)

Minnesota State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Minnesota State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Minnesota Territorial and State Censuses 1849 – 1905 (Ancestry – select year, then county)

Minnesota Territorial Census records from 1849, 1850, 1853, 1855, and 1857 and Minnesota State Census records from 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Florida State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Florida State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

Iowa State Census, 1885 (FamilySearch)

Iowa State Census, 1885 (Ancestry)

More on the Iowa 1885  and 1895 censuses from the Iowa Data Center

Iowa State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Iowa State Census 1895 (Ancestry)

Nebraska State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Nebraska State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

New Jersey State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

New Jersey State Census 1885 (Ancestry

New Jersey State Census 1895 (FamilySearch

New Jersey State Census 1895 (Ancestry)

New York State Census 1892 (FamilySearch)

New York State Census 1892 (Ancestry)

New York City Police Census 1890 (FamilySearch)

New York City Police Census 1890 (Ancestry)

Rhode Island State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Rhode Island, U.S., State Censuses, 1865-1935 (Ancestry – Filter by year then county)

Wisconsin State Census, 1885 (FamilySearch)

Wisconsin State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Wisconsin, U.S., State Censuses, 1855-1905 (Ancestry)

Missouri, U.S., State Census Collection, 1844-1881 (Ancestry – Filter by year then county)

Missouri, U.S., State Census Collection, 1844-1881 (FamilySearch)

South Dakota, U.S., Territorial Census, 1885 (Ancestry)

South Dakota, U.S., Territorial Census, 1895 (Ancestry)

Lisa’s Pro Tip: Get a Bit More with Mortality Schedules

Do you happen to have someone in your family tree who was alive and well in the 1880 census but nowhere to be found in the 1900 census? Official death records may not have been available during this time frame where they lived, compounding the problem.

The U.S. Federal Censuses from 1850-1880 included a mortality schedule counting the people who had died in the previous year. Since the 1880 census began on June 1, “previous year” means the 12 months preceding June 1, or June 1 (of the previous year) to May 31 (of the census year).

Ancestry has a database of these schedules which fall just before the 20 year time frame we are trying to fill. However, this collection also happens to include Mortality Schedules from three State Censuses: Colorado, Florida and Nebraska. There were conducted in 1885. They weren’t mandatory so there are only a few, but if you happen to be researching in one of these states, you just might get lucky.

How to find the records:

While you’re searching, be aware that not all of the information recorded on the census is included in the searchable index. This means that it is important to view the image and don’t just rely on the indexed information.

Ancestry 1890 Census Substitute Database

Ancestry has compiled a special searchable collection of records that can be used to fill in the gaps left behind by the loss of the 1890 census. It includes state census collections, city directories, voter registrations and more.

How to find the records:

Find More 1890 Census Substitute Records at Ancestry

This substitute collection is a tremendous help, but don’t stop there. You can also manually hunt for substitute records to see if there might be something helpful that is overlooked in the 1890 census substitute search. This works particularly well if you have a specific research question in mind.

You might be wondering, why would I need to search manually? Many people rely on Ancestry hints to alert them to applicable records, and they figure the search engine will find the rest.

This is a mistake for two reasons.

  1. only approximately 10% of Ancestry® Records Appear as hints.
  2. Not all records at Ancestry are indexed and therefore searchable. There are thousands of browse-only digitized records. Read my article How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist.
  3. There may be a record that meets your needs that was not captured in the 1890 Census Substitute Collection. Try going directly to the Card Catalog and filtering to USA and then by decade such as 1890s.

FamilySearch 1890 Census Substitutes

While FamilySearch doesn’t have one massive substitute database, you can find several focused 1890 census substitute collections available online, at Family History Centers around the country and world, and in book form at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

How to find the records:
1. Go to FamilySearch
2. Log into your free account
3. In the menu go to Search > Catalog
4. Click Titles
5. Search for 1890 census substitute
6. If desired, filter down to records available or at a Family History Center near you.

City Directories as an 1890 Census Substitute

Some of the best and most comprehensive substitute records are city directories. If published in your ancestor’s area when they lived there, they can offer a year-by-year record. And that can do wonders for filling in the gap between the 1880 and 1800 census.

How to find the records:

You can find city directories at the big genealogy websites like Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch, as well as state archives, historical societies and libraries. Google searches also come in very handy in unearthing lesser known websites and repositories. Two of my favorite places to look that are both free and online are Google Books and Internet Archive.

  • Google Books
    Search for the state and county. On the results page click the Tools The first option in the drop-down menu will be Any View. Change it to Full View. The third option is Any Time. Click the down arrow and select Custom Range and set it to 1880 through 1890.

    10 surprising things to find at Google Books

    Episode 30: Lisa’s 10 surprising things to find at Google Books

  • Internet Archive
How to Use the Internet Archive

Watch episode 43 on the Internet Archive.

Like Google Books, the Internet Archive has a vast array of materials digitized and available for free. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 43 for ideas and search strategies.

Finding More 1890 Census Substitutes Online

We’ve touched on some of the most popular and helpful records that can be used to fill in the gap left by the loss of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census. As you expand your search look for:

  • County histories
  • Land records
  • Maps (plat and insurance maps)
  • Newspapers
  • Probate records
  • Tax records
  • Voter registers

Resources

Watch Next

Learn more about 1950 U.S. Federal Census Records. Watch episode 51 and episode 53.

 

Did you enjoy this episode? Have a question for Lisa?

You’re part of the family, so please leave a comment below!

Questions Asked in the 1950 U.S. Census

What questions were asked in the 1950 census? In this week’s video I’ll explain what was asked, and how the answers given can help provide clues for additional research about your family. You’ll also learn what was not asked and which questions were asked for the first time in 1950. Then we’ll wrap up with my Genealogy Pro Tip for the 1950 Census.

Episode 53 Show Notes  

We’re all looking forward to the 1950 census coming out in April 2022, followed soon after by the searchable index. But before we dig into it, it’s helpful to know what kinds of questions were asked and what kind of information you can expect to find about you, your parents, your grandparents or even your great grandparents.

If you haven’t watched it already, check out Elevenses with Lisa episode 51 for an overview of the 1950 census.

And I’ll have that video link for you again at the end of this video. And of course the best way to find your own genealogy gems is to follow my genealogy gems channel, so click the YouTube Subscribe button and that will toss me and this channel into your favorites list on YouTube for safe keeping and happy viewing for years to come.

The U.S. Federal Census is taken every 10 years here in the United States. Typically in genealogy we see more and more questions being asked each decade, which is awesome for us as family historians. But did you know that the 1950 population questionnaire actually asked FEWER questions than its predecessor in 1940.

Yep, according to the U.S. Census bureau, in 1940 every household was asked 34 questions. However, in 1950 they were asked just 20 questions. As we go through the questions I’ll let you know what’s the same, what unfortunately you will NOT being seeing, BUT also the few NEW questions that were asked.

Questions Asked on the 1950 U.S. Federal Census Questionnaire

The following questions were asked of everyone in the household.

1. Name of street, avenue or road where the household is located

2. Home or apartment number

3. Serial number of dwelling unit

4. Is this house on a farm (or ranch)?

5. If no, is this house on a place of three or more acres? (New question for 1950 thanks to the expansion of suburbia.)

6. Corresponding agriculture questionnaire number

7. Name

8. Relationship to head

9. Race

Census takers were instructed to assume that all members of the related household were the same race. For unrelated people they were to ask. And if you see a description you are unfamiliar with, consult the 1950 census enumerator instructions.)

10. Sex

11. How old was this person on his last birthday?

It was expected that there would be some folks who either didn’t know their exact age or didn’t care to share it. Census takers were instructed to try to zero in and get as accurate as possible. If age wasn’t known, they were instructed to enter an estimate as the very last resort, and footnote that it was an estimate.

12. Is this person now married, widowed, divorced, separated, or never married?

Marriage codes found in this column:
MAR = married
WD = widowed
D = divorced
SEP = separated
NEV = never married. People under the age of 14 were automatically labeled as never married. Also, common-law marriages were reported as Married, so while marital status can be an indicator to look for marriage records, it is possible that there may not be any.

13. What State or country was the person born in?

It’s important to note that if the baby was born in a hospital across the state line, they were reported as being born in the state where the family lived. This is important to keep in mind when hunting for birth certificates.

14. If foreign born, is the person naturalized?

This will be a yes or no. But if you see “AP” it means the person was born of American parents abroad or at sea. Also, if born at sea they were an American citizen if their father was, or if they were born after 5/24/1934 and either parent was American.

Before we get to the last six questions which were asked only of people 14 years of age and older, let’s take a look at the questions you might have expected to see that were asked in the previous 1940 census but were not.

Questions Not Asked in the 1950 Census that Were Asked in 1940

These questions include:

  • Home owned (O) or rented (R)
  • Value of home or monthly rental if rented
  • Attended school or college at any time since March 1, 1940?
  • Highest grade of school completed
  • Residence, April 1, 1935
    • City, town or village having 2,600 or more inhabitants. If less, enter “R”
    • County
    • State (or Territory or foreign country)
    • Farm?

Questions Asked in the 1950 Census of People Over the Age of 14

You may be wondering why the last 6 questions of the 1950 census were only asked of people over the age of 14. It’s because these questions were about employment status. Not surprisingly, these questions vary a bit from what was asked about in employment in 1940, but they are pretty similar.

  1. What was this person doing most of last week – working, keeping house, or something else?

Employment Codes used in questions 15:
WK = working
H = keeping house
U = unable to work
OT = other

16. If the person was “keeping house” or “something else” in question 15, did the person do any work at all last week, not counting work around the house? (Including work-for-pay, in his own business, working on a farm or unpaid family work)

17. If the person answered “no” to question 16, was he looking for work?

18. If the person answered “no” to question 17, even if he didn’t work last week, does he have a job or business?

19. If the person was working, how many hours did he or she work in the last week?

20. What kind of work does the person do?

    • What kind of business or industry is the person in?
    • Class of worker the person is.
      • Enumerators were to mark “P” for private employment, “G” for government employment, “O” for own business, or “NP” for working without pay

Here’s an example of an entry you might see for someone’s employment: Jewelry, Salesman, P. Armed forces was used for all types of military service.

The one glaring omission in 1950 is questions about whether the person worked for one of the government program  such as the Works Progress Administration known as the WPA or The Civilian Conversation Corp known as the CCC. This actually makes sense because these employment programs were focused on helping the unemployed during the Depression. WWII had most Americans working and doing their part in some fashion creating low unemployment. Therefore, the WPA was ended in 1943.

Genealogy Clues in the 1950 Census

Let’s quickly recap what you will learn from the answers to the questions asked during the 1950 census that can help you learn more about your family history:

You’ll see the names of your relatives and ancestors, where they lived and the relationships within the family.

You’ll find out where they were living and get the actual address. You can then use this information to find old maps, search city directories and learn much more about their neighborhood and their lives.

If your relatives lived on a farm you’ve got another genealogy gem to find which is their listing in the Agricultural census. Remember the population enumeration, the one counting people, is just one of the enumerations that was conducted. The 1950 population enumeration will give you the number where you can locate them in the agricultural questionnaire.

You’re also going to learn your relative’s age which will get you even closer to determining their birthdate. This in turn will help you locate their birth records. You will also learn the state or country where they were born.

If they were foreign born you will find out if they were naturalized. It’s a little disappointing that it doesn’t tell us the year of immigration or naturalization. However, a “yes” in the “is the person naturalized” column does provide you with an excellent clue to go look for those naturalization records. Learn more about finding and using naturalization records for genealogy in my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:

Episode 29: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1
Genealogy lecturer and blogger Stephen Danko, PhD, begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.

Episode 30: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2
Stephen Danko continues this series by focusing on passenger departure records created in European ports. He also talks more in-depth about U.S. naturalization records.

Episode 31: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 3
Stephen Danko talks in-depth about passenger list annotations and the immigrant’s experience at Ellis Island. You didn’t know what you were missing with those mysterious scribbles on 20th-century passenger manifests!

And finally, you’ll not only find out if they were married and if they had any previous marriages.

Lisa’s Pro Tip for the 1950 U.S. Census

After my first video on the 1950 census I got this question from Suzanne:
Will the 1950 census also have the children born to mother/children still living question?

The answer is, maybe.

Genealogy Pro Tips

Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for additional questions.

As in 1940, 5 percent of the population were asked an additional slate of questions. This was to provide sample data about the population. One of those questions asked was “If female and ever married, how many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?”

Supplemental Questions Asked in the 1950 Census

Here are the additional questions that were asked of just 5% of the population in the 1950 U.S. Federal Census. (Note: They were asked of all ages.)

21. Was the person living in the same house a year ago? If the answer was no, then…

22. If no to question 21, was the person living on a farm a year ago?

23. If no to question 21, was the person living in the same county a year ago?

24. If no to question 23…

    • What county (or nearest place) was he living in a year ago?
    • What state or foreign country was he living in a year ago?

25. What country were the person’s mother and father born in?

26. What is the highest grade of school that the person has attended?

    • Enumerators were to mark “0” for no school; “K” for kindergarten; “S1” through “S12” depending on the last year of elementary or secondary school attended; “C1” through “C4” depending on the last year of undergraduate college education attended; or “C5” for any graduate or professional school.

27. Did the person finish this grade?

28. Has the person attended school since February 1st?

    • Enumerators could check a box for “yes” or “no” for those under thirty; for those over thirty, they were to check a box for “30 or over.”

For members of the household who were 14 years and older, they also answered these questions centered around employment details, money, military service previous marriages and the question Suzanne is hoping to have answered – children born to women in the household.

1950 census supplemental questions

1950 census supplemental questions asked of 5% of the population.

29. If the person is looking for work, how many weeks has he been looking for work?

30. Last year, how many weeks did this person not work at all, not counting work around the house?

31. Last year, how much money did the person earn working as an employee for wages or salary?

32. Last year, how much money did the person earn working at his own business, professional occupation, or farm?

33. Last year, how much money did the person receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (aside from earnings)?

34. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did his relatives in this household earn working for wages or salary?

35. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did the person earn working at his own business, professional occupation, or farm?

36. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did the person receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (aside from earnings)?

37. If male: did he ever serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during…

    • World War II
    • World War I
    • Any other time, including present service

38. To enumerator: if the person worked in the last year, is there any entry in columns 20a, 20b, or 20c?

39. If yes, skip to question 36; if no, make entries for questions 35a, 35b, and 35c.

      • What kind of work does this person do in his job?
      • What kind or business or industry does this person work in?
      • Class of worker

40. If ever married, has this person been married before?

41. If married, widowed, divorced, or separated, how many years since this event occurred?

42. If female and ever married, how many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?

The 1950 U.S. Census – A Valuable Genealogical Record

So now you know all the details on what you can look forward to learning about in the 1950 census. If you would like to learn more about the 1950 census, watch The 1950 Census for Genealogy. You can watch the video and get the complete show notes here.

The 1950 Census for Genealogy

WATCH NEXT: episode 51 and get the show notes here

Yakety Yak – Talk Back in the Comments

Elevenses with Lisa is a genealogy community, and discussion is a big part of the experience. In the Comments below please share on one of these topics:

  • What question are you most looking forward to getting an answer to in the 1950 census?
  • Who you’re hoping to find in the 1950 census?
  • What question do you have for me about the 1950 census?

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