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New and Updated Genealogy Records – United States

New and Updated Genealogy Records – United States

Though the United States is a relatively young country, its history is a rich source of genealogical information! This week we’re featuring new collections available for United States family history, from the big and exciting to the small and fascinating. Vital records will provide specific names and dates, while newspaper and quilt archives will give a glimpse of your ancestors’ lives in the U.S. 

 

United States: Yearbooks, Freedman’s Bureau, & War of 1812 Pensions

Yearbooks. A brand new genealogy record collection is available at MyHeritage for U.S. Yearbooks 1890-1979. There are over 36 million pages from over a quarter of a million yearbooks from around the country. From the collection description: “Yearbooks are excellent genealogical records that include personal portraits and group photographs. These books can give a researcher insight into students, faculty, and staff who attended or worked at a school. The yearbooks in this huge compendium are primarily from high schools, which in the United States normally comprise grades 9 to 12 or 10 to 12.”

Freedman’s Bureau. FamilySearch has two new Freedman’s Bureau databases available online. The first is the collection of Records of Freedmen’s Complaints, 1865-1872. The complaints consisted of problems which freedmen brought to the Bureau’s attention. Many registers give the names of freedmen and the nature of the complaint, but others give only a synopsis of the case without names. The second new collection is the Freedmen’s Bureau Ration Records,1865-1872. These records include letters and endorsements sent and received, account books, applications for rations, applications for relief, court records, and more.

War of 1812. In a massive effort by the entire genealogical community, the War of 1812 Pension Application Files are now available for the first time online, hosted online for free at Fold3.com. The project is about 2/3 complete with nearly 2 million documents online today. The files generally contain documentation submitted in support of a claim, such as the original application form, affidavits, and statements from witnesses.

State-Specific Collections

California. All of the nearly 19,000 issues of The Stanford Daily (1892-2004) are available in a new online database. The collection is entirely searchable and provides a firsthand account of life at Stanford University from 1892 to today.

Another interesting new collection of California State Archives photos is also now available online. The archives digitized nearly 3,000 photos of early 20th century California taken by William and Grace McCarthy, who traveled throughout the state when automobiles were a new form of transportation, including images of long-gone North County landmarks.

Colorado. Ancestry recently added a new collection of Steelworks Employment Records, 1887-1979. Records may contain names, birth dates, spouses, parents, and more.

Georgia. 16,000 pages of the Walker County Messenger dating from 1880-1924 have been added to the Georgia Historic Newspapers (GHN) website. Also newly added to the GHN database are historic Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah publications, including the Bulletin (1920-1962) and the Savannah Bulletin (1958).

New Hampshire. Over at FamilySearch, a new collection of Vital and Town Records Index, 1656-1938 is now available. It includes birth, marriage, and death records.

New York. Reclaim the Records just announced that they’ve obtained and published the first-ever public copies of the death index for Buffalo, New York, for the years 1852-1944. Over 640,000 names are included, though be aware that the scanned copies may have some edges cut off.

Another unique collection now available is the New York Quilt Project, an archive of over 6,000 quilts and their histories. From the collection description: “Details were recorded like family background, religion, where a quiltmaker learned the craft, why they made the quilt, and where they obtained textiles, and a small tab was sewn into the back of each quilt for identification. These stories often chronicle immigration to New York, as some quilts were brought over from Germany or Italy, and visually show through their patterns and designs the influence of different populations from around the world in the state.”

 

North Carolina. A collection of 60 hand-drawn Civil War sketches have been added to Digital North Carolina, drawn by soldier Edwin Graves Champney. The original artwork includes scenes showing landmarks, landscapes, and Union military activity. From Wake Forest University also comes a collection of 19 newspaper titles dating from 1857 to 1925. They were written for Christian (primarily Baptist) communities across North Carolina. Finally, almost two decades of the newspaper The Carolina Indian Voice, from 1977-1996, have been added to the collection at DigitalNC.

South Dakota. From a recent press release: “Several Sioux Falls German titles have recently been added to Chronicling America: The Sud (Soot) Dakota Nachrichten (Knock-rick-ten), 1896-1900; the Sud-Dakota Nachrichten und Herold, 1900-1901; the Nachrichten-Herold, 1901-1907; and the Deutscher (Doit-shur) Herold, 1907-1913. To view these newspapers please visit the Chronicling America Website.”

Virginia. The Virginia Newspaper Project recently announced that they have digitized copies of Richmond Whig and Commercial Journal, a daily published by John Hampden Pleasants and Josiah Abbot from 1831-1832. Both are now available on Virginia Chronicle.

Dig deep into your American roots

If you want to dive into your American genealogy, you’ll definitely need the brand new 4th edition of The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. This new 4th edition has been completely updated, incorporating all the latest developments, principles, and resources relevant to family history research. There are now two chapters about technology as it relates to family history research–one dealing with significant concepts and definitions and the other with specific resources and applications, including major family history websites and Internet resources. Click here to get it right now!

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

How to Identify Old Cars in Photographs

How to Identify Old Cars in Photographs

Follow these tips to identify old cars in photographs from your family albums. You can often identify the make and model of the automobile; decipher and date the license plates, and even discover additional documents relating to the earliest drivers on your family tree.

how to identify cars in old photos

how to identify old cars in photographs

Image courtesy of Jennifer McCraw

A listener’s mystery photo question

Many of us have mystery photos in our family archives. Jennifer sent me a creative question about identifying hers:

“Have you ever come across any information on searching old license plate tag numbers to find an identity of the registrant? I have old photos that, according to my aunt, are the family of my grandmother’s boyfriend, Max, before [she married] my grandfather. The photos are amazing. Very ‘Great Gatsby-esque.’ Amazing clothes and car, right?! One photo has a smiling man standing in front of an old car with a portion of the license plate showing. I do not know the identity of this man or children. I’m thinking start with searches for plates beginning with 109 in the years before my grandmother was married in the state of Indiana, where she and Max lived.”I didn’t know if I had a ‘lead’ in that or not. I may be pulling at strings. I’d love your advice.”

What a great idea! I haven’t tried Jennifer’s exact approach to researching license plates as a way of identifying owners. But I have a similar story about researching an old car in my own family photo. My story, below, may help Jennifer and anyone else wanting to identify old cars in photographs. Keep reading for tips on researching the make and model of a car; deciphering the license plate to help date the photo and even on finding early drivers’ records. Owning a car was (and still is) a source of pride and excitement for many families, so it’s really worth taking a closer look at their cars in old pictures.

An old car photo in my own family

Here’s a photograph I love of my grandmother Alfreda as a teenager, beaming as she poses beside the newly purchased family automobile. In her diary, she divulges her excitement for the surprise she came home to after church:

Oct. 21, 1929 Sunday. “Went to Sunday school and when I got back there was our new car waiting for me.  Willy’s Knight. I drove it all around, went and gave Evelyn a ride. Made Mama mad.”

This diary entry piques my interest. What year was this? Where did the car come from?  What’s a “Willy’s Knight?” And if Mama got mad, who gave Alfreda the keys? I suspect Alfreda may have been a bit of a Daddy’s girl, but alas, this photo may not be able to reveal that family dynamic. However, the photo does contain important clues that has helped me answer at least a few of these questions.

1. Identify old cars in photographs

Before you start trying to identify an old vehicle in a family photo, it will help to know whether it’s categorized as a veteran, vintage, or classic car. What’s the difference? According to ItStillRuns.com:

“Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”

With these categories in mind, visit websites that can help you identify old cars by providing descriptions and pictures of various makes and models. Two sites I suggest are Hubcap Café.com: Collector Car Resources and a Flickr group called Vintage Car Identification. (This second one is for the truly stumped because you can submit a photo that car enthusiasts from around the world could help you identify.)

I already knew from Grandma’s diary that the car in the above picture was a Willys Knight. But I wondered if I could nail down the make and model. I ran a few Google searches and found some fantastic websites.

Paul Young’s Willys Overland Knight Registry website had just what I was looking for. The site features dozens of photographs of all the different makes and models of Willys Knight automobiles in chronological order. So I scrolled down to the late 20’s and compared each photo to the photo of my great grandfather’s car. Bingo! The 1928 Willys Knight 70A Cabriolet Coupe America matched the car to a T. Everything from the convertible roof, the headlights, bumper, and side view mirrors all matched up.

From there I clicked on the Willys Knight History link, which led to not only a written history of Willys Knight but a chart of Willys Knight Specifications. A quick scroll down led me to the specs for Grandpas 1928 70A series car. I learned that great-grandpa’s car was introduced in August of 1927 for the starter price of $1,295. (Here’s a free online inflation calculator. Try plugging in 1927 and $1,295 to find out what the car would cost in today’s money.)

I also learned that the car was a 6-cylinder, as well as specs on the horsepower, the wheelbase, and even the range of serial numbers that the car would fall within. This website was jammed packed with everything you could ever want to know about the Willys Knight car. (If you’re interested in chatting with others about Willys Knight cars, you could also visit this site’s Facebook page.)

My book The Genealogist’s Google Toolboxwhich is where you’ll find all the tips you need for doing these Google searches–has an entire chapter on finding videos on YouTube. A quick YouTube search on “Willys Knight 1928” brought up this short but cool video uploaded in 2014: “Take a ride in a 1928 Willys Knight made in, owned in and driven in Toledo, Ohio.”

2. Investigate old license plates

Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor is your ultimate guide to identifying old objects in pictures to help you learn more about your family history.

In Family Tree Magazine a few years ago, I read an article called “Motor Trends,” written by my friend Maureen Taylor. She said that said that by 1918 all states had adopted license and registration laws. It recommended that you look for a license plate in old photos. License plates often have a year on them and possibly even the owner’s initials.

Unfortunately, the license plate in my photo is so dark I couldn’t read it at all. My guess is that this is probably the situation in many cases when someone has a photo of a car. So here’s what I did to solve this problem:

  • I opened a digital copy of the photo with the basic photograph editing software that came with my computer.
  • I cropped the photo to just show the license plate and then zoomed in to make the image as large as possible.
  • I increased the brightness of the photo and adjusted the contrast. Often when you play with these two features, adjusting first one and then the other, you’ll get pretty good results.
  • The final touch was to apply an auto-sharpening tool which defined the image even more.

As you can see in the “before and after” images below, what once was a blob of darkness now read:  2L 67 24.

There was something printed under the license number, but I still couldn’t quite read it. It looked like CAL 29, which would make sense because they lived in California and the year they bought it was 1929. But I couldn’t be certain. So I ran a Google search for “old California license plates.”

Several websites proved interesting for learning more about old California license plates:

For example, I learned that California has required license plates since 1905. In that year, there were over 17,000 registered vehicles in the state. I found a replica 1929 license plate that read “CAL 29” across the bottom of it. Just what I’d thought mine said! And thanks to WorldLicensePlates.com, I was even able to determine that the license plate in my black and white photo had a black background and orange lettering.

What about the license plate in Jennifer’s photo? Only a partial plate is visible, but it’s enough to compare to images of Indiana license plates at WorldLicensePlates.com:

how to identify old cars in photographs

identifying old license plates

Jennifer can take several important clues from this comparison:

  • It quite a dark plate with very light numbers. Even though it’s a black and white photo, based on the contrast, I think the license probably doesn’t have orange in it. (Eliminate 1929, 1930, 1931, 1935)
  • There is no dash between the first 3 numbers and the next set (eliminate 1929)
  • The style is more of a Sans Serif font (we can eliminate 1929, and 1930)
  • Indiana appears at the bottom (eliminate 1931, 1933, 1935)

From these clues, I’d say that the 1932 plate is certainly the closest match.

3. Find records relating to early drivers

California state statutes of 1901 authorized cities and counties to license bicycles, tricycles, automobile carriages, carts, and similar wheeled vehicles. Owners paid a $2 fee and were issued a circular tag. Later, tags were either octagonal or had scalloped edges.

Registers of Motor Vehicles and Dealers in Motor Vehicles, with Indices 1905-1913

Motor Vehicles Records

So this got me curious. Could I access records associated with my great-grandfather’s license plate and automobile registration? Typically states move records of this age to their state archives. I started by Googling California State Archives. The Online Archives of California has a searchable database that includes the state archive holdings. The online catalog has motor vehicle records (61 volumes!) for the first several years they were issued (1905-1913).

A description in the online finding aid stated: “Motor Vehicle Records, 1913 transferred those functions from the Secretary of State’s office to the Department of Engineering.” There are actually two clues here: 1) the phrase “motor vehicle records” is what I likely want to use when searching for records, and 2) the office that likely kept the records for my time period (1929) was the Department of Engineering. A followup search using these search terms got 13 results. Unfortunately, none of these records included 1929, and an email inquiry to the State Archives wasn’t fruitful, either. But this showed me that driver registration records may exist.

ArchiveGrid

ArchiveGrid

So may other driving-related records. I did several searches in ArchiveGrid, an enormous online catalog for archival collections. No California motor vehicle registrations popped up. But I did find a collection of 1928 maps and guidebooks for the Automobile Club of Southern California, held at the Brigham Young University library in Provo, Utah. There was also a collection of thousands of images collected by the Automobile Club of Southern California (mostly in the 1920s and 1930s) at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.

If I really wanted to learn more about the early-1900s “sport” of automobile driving in California, I could spend some time with record collections such as those.

Does this discovery change the course of my family history? No. But it was a heck of a lot of fun to learn what I did about the oldest automobile I’m aware of my family owning. It’s exciting to discover these little gems: they connect me to the past in such an interesting way. Even better, it gave me something to share with my husband, Bill, who loves old cars!

Bill

Learn more!

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Hear inspiring stories and learn hands-on, try-it-now strategies for discovering your family history in my free Genealogy Gems Podcast. There are more than 200 episodes to get your genealogy motor running, with a new episode published each month. You’ll find the latest news, try-it-now online search strategies and inspiring stories to keep you on the road to genealogy research success.

The Christmas List that Continues to Speak to My Heart

The Christmas List that Continues to Speak to My Heart

Some family Christmas traditions carry over easily from generation to generation, and some don’t. Here’s one tradition I tried passing on to my children, and how it has played out. It reminds me that traditions themselves can be unexpected–which ones have staying power and how each generation reshapes heritage in its own way.

McClellan family Christmas traditions

That’s me in the green coat, between my grandma and my mom. My dad stands on the left, with my four younger brothers in the back of the truck.

I grew up with several family Christmas traditions: making candy cane cookies, tromping through the snow to cut a live tree and, on Christmas Eve, re-enacting the Nativity with my brothers as my dad read from the Bible. Over the years, my husband and I have tried several of these traditions. Some traditions have translated well into our lives, and some haven’t. (Though I loved it as a child, the year I walked a mile into the woods in heavy borrowed boots while pregnant was my last for cutting a live tree.)

One holiday tradition that has rooted itself in my children’s lives surprised me. It’s not exciting or tasty. Yet they have adopted it fully–and they’ve even started documenting it.

A family Christmas tradition that lives on

My mom always loved putting up the Christmas tree. She planned a made-for-memories event each year, hoping to have joyful carols, hot chocolate and pictures worth putting in the Christmas letter. What she got from me and my five brothers was usually less idyllic. We sang plenty of carols, loudly, but they were more likely to be “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” than “Silent Night.” Pictures always had someone sticking out a tongue or elbowing a brother. And my mom often had to wrangle us into putting up the tree and stringing up the lights first, which was guaranteed to make some of us grumpy.

But every year, my mom made sure we each had a new ornament to hang on the tree. Sometimes she made or bought it. Sometimes another relative sent us ornaments. I don’t know how she always had these ornaments amidst the chaos of Christmas preparations for six children. But she did it. She even labeled them with our names and the year.

When I left home, she gave me a box of my ornaments–along with a list, year by year, of which ornaments we received and extra notes about some of them:

Morton family Christmas traditions moms list

About six years ago when decorating our tree with my husband and children, I pulled out my box of childhood decorations with my mother’s list in it. For some reason, that year, her list especially spoke to my heart. I knew I wanted to do this for my own children. So I divided up the ornaments I’d given Jeremy, Alex, and Seneca over the years. I added a couple of ornaments for years that didn’t have them. I started lists. They weren’t fancy lists: just a piece of notebook paper, like my mom’s on yellow legal paper. I figured if I waited until I found holiday stationery, it would never happen.

Morton family Christmas traditionsThe following year, I presented my children with cute boxes for their ornaments. I slid my lists into sheet protectors and taped them inside each box. They were actually delighted to hang their own ornaments! No cajoling was necessary.

In fact, we had so much holiday cheer that my husband decorated his ear with an ornament. My oldest son Jeremy began snapping pictures. Seneca launched herself at Jeremy, Alex pounced, and they all dissolved into a pile of giggles on the floor, their Santa hats somehow still intact.

Morton family Christmas traditions playing

Since then, the kids have gone looking for their own boxes of ornaments each year. Some years I am more prepared than others: this year, they will get their 2017 ornaments on Christmas Eve.

I love that my children have come to own this tradition. Alex has actually begun documenting his new ornaments himself. You can see how he picked up where I left off:

Morton family Christmas traditions Alex list

Now that I’m a mom, I can’t help but look at my mom’s list a little differently. It’s a chronicle of a mother’s love, steady and shown in little things and relatively unappreciated. Across the top of her list, she wrote, “DON’T LOSE!” She was probably thinking of her carefree young adult children who might not appreciate this box of ragtag ornaments and what it represented to her. Today, I think her message is more than a warning not to lose the ornaments she so carefully tracked and packed away each year. It’s about never losing hold of her love for us–the heritage that matters most.

In our family, at least, the adoption of any tradition is a little messy and uncertain, especially now that I have teenagers. I never know whether’s it’s going to “take,” who’s going to roll their eyes or rebel, whether they will feel and respond to the message behind the time we spend together and the rituals we create. My solution is to try a lot of traditions. To not be afraid to change things up to suit my own little band of a family–even to create new traditions on the fly. To be flexible with my expectations–they may very well wrestle instead of sing “Silent Night” as they hang their ornaments, and that’s fine. As long as they are laughing and creating memories of the ways their family shared its love.

May you enjoy creating or reliving your own holiday traditions this year! Feel free to share any with us on the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas to your family from mine, and from all of us here at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems.

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