Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 244 – Ancestry Search Tips

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 244 – Ancestry Search Tips

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke

Everyone is spending a lot more time at home and online. That means it’s the perfect time to dig into and talk about strategies that you can use to get the most out of it.

Today’s show comes from my Elevenses with Lisa YouTube Live show. Many podcast listeners have told me they hadn’t really thought about sitting down to watch YouTube videos. And my video viewers say the same thing about listening to audio podcasts. However, when they venture out, they find they really appreciate what each has to offer.

Podcasts let you exercise, work around the house and generally be pretty active even while you’re listening and learning. The live YouTube show is a chance to take a mid-week break, enjoy a cup of tea, watch the show and even chat with other genealogists in the show Chat. The video replays are great in the evening when there’s nothing to watch on TV.

They work together. You can watch the video first and enjoy the show’s community. Then you can listen again later to pick up what you may have missed or sit down to your computer to give the techniques a try.

My goal is that you’re going to learn something new that’s going to help you achieve greater success in your genealogy! Click the player below to listen to the podcast:

Ancestry Search Strategies and Tips

Watch the video and read the full show notes here.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can download the show notes PDF from the Resources section on that page.


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Profile America: On a Roll – The History of Toilet Paper

Sunday, August 23rd.
Often unmentionable and little regarded, a 130 year old American invention enjoyed—if that’s the word—considerable attention earlier this year.

In 1890, toilet paper on a dispensing roll was patented by the founders of today’s Scott Brand of paper products.

Toilet paper itself dates back about 1,500 years to China, but didn’t develop until the mid-19th Century. Some perforated and medicated versions were available in America before the Scott product, but weren’t successful.

In spite of demand-driven shortages, America is on a roll when it comes to stocking this species of sanitary paper.

Nationwide, there are 132 establishments producing sanitary paper products. These operations employ over 17,000 people in the $13-billion enterprise.

toilet paper patent

Toilet Paper Patent Application from 1889



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This episode is Dedicated to Howie

We adopted Howie in 2005, and soon after in early 2007 I started this podcast. Howie took his place at my feet, and he’s been there for every recording. He’s been my silent podcasting partner and he will be missed beyond words. 

How the Wonder Dog


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show notes episode 244

Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records

Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. 

How to Find Free Genealogy Resources

In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”

The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:

  • If the materials are available at a more convenient location
  • If the materials are available somewhere online for free
  • The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
  • Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.

The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.

New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.

The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.

The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy

Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.

Here’s our path of least resistance:

  1. Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
  2. Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
  3. Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
  4. Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
The path to free genealogy

Free Genealogy Records Online


FamilySearch is a free genealogy website.

The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.

 The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:

  1. Log in with your free FamilySearch account
  2. navigate to the desired page
  3. click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Click the Watchlist button to follow the page

Look for the Watchlist link, and the blue buttons that lead to free online genealogy records for that location.

Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.

You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.  

Get all of the Elevenses with Lisa episodes here.

how to get better google search results

Learn how to google for free genealogy in episode 13.

Find More Free Genealogy with these Google Search Strategies

The most comprehensive and best-selling book on the topic of using Google for genealogy: 
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. 

Google Alerts Finds Free Genealogy for You

Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.

Google Alerts for genealogy and family history

Google Alerts do the work of searching for free genealogy for you.

How to Create a Google Alert:

  1. Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
  2. Go to
  3. Sign into your free Google account
  4. Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
  5. Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
  6. Select how often you wish to receive alerts
  7. Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
  8. Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
  9. Click the Create Alert button

Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available

Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.

17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.

Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:

  1. Run your search
  2. Click an item
  3. Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
  4. The library closest to you will be listed at the top

Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like Downloadable Article. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.

How to Find Free Records at Genealogy Websites

If you don’t have a paid subscription to you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here. Then read my article Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber for more tips of free stuff at Ancestry.

To find free records at, go to In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria.  (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags.

To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to

(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)

Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy

A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.

Google Site Search for free genealogy

This Site search tip comes from Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox.

Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:

  • you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
  • you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
  • the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.

Here’s an example of a Site search:

Free Pennsylvania

Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.

Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.

Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information

To find what’s local and free:

  • Search (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
  • Use Google to search.
  • Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.

When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:

  • Databases they offer
  • Their online catalog to plan your research
  • Other associated libraries
  • Details on planning a visit

Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook

Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook. 

RAOGK on Facebook

Get free genealogy records help on Facebook.

Learn More with these Resources

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Resources for this Episode




House History Search – How to Find the History of a Home

House History Search – How to Find the History of a Home

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 20 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 13, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. (Please note: the sound temporarily goes silent at the end when I discuss the cross stitch picture. It is not your computer. See the story below at the end of the show notes.)

How to Find the History of a House

 Researching the history of a house takes a special combination of records and we’ll cover them in this case study.

Whether you want to learn the history of your own home, research for a friend, or find out everything you can about your ancestor’s home, this episode is for you.

Home is where the heart is, and each home has a history waiting to be discovered. Watch the video and follow along with these show notes.

My Guest: Kathy Nielsen

Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator.   She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science.  Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on  California’s Monterey Peninsula.  She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history.

Reasons for Researching the History of Houses and Land

  • Every home where your ancestors lived has a story.
  • Every home where you lived has a story.
  • This is where  your family lived, loved, laughed, cried, and maybe even died.
  • These homes left their mark on your family and perhaps on you.
  • And you and your family left your mark on that house or that land.
  • Learning about the house and land can give you insights into the daily lives of your ancestors.

What prompted Kathy to research her great grandparents land?
“As a child I visited Prunedale and Castroville and the dairy farm of my aunt and uncle frequently. I heard stories of the ranch house down the road…even visited it between renters….played an important role in my mother and aunt’s lives and their story.”

Questions to Ask When Researching Your House

  • When was the house built?
  • What is the architectural style of the house?
  • Who was the architect? The builder?
  • Who was the original owner?
  • Who else owned and lived in the house?
  • How has the house changed over the years?
  • How does the house fit into the history of the area? Of the time?

Architectural Styles of Houses

Identifying the house style can help you narrow time location and time frame.

Recommended Reading: A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester
Get the book here:

U.S. Architectural Styles

  • Colonial 1625-1840
  • Sod prairie 1800s
  • Folk Houses 1850-1930
  • Romantic Houses 1820-1880
  • Victorian Houses 1860-1900
  • Craftsman 1905-1930
  • Spanish Revival 1915-1940
  • Monterey House 1925-1955
  • Minimal Traditional 1935-1950
  • Ranch House 1950s
  • Mid-Century…Organic 1950s

Records that Help Pull the Story Together

  • Census
  • Voter Registration
  • Directories
  • Maps
  • Deeds
  • Wills
  • Newspapers
  • Photos
  • Local Histories


A timeline can help you identify the gaps in your knowledge and pinpoint research tasks.

The Prunedale Family Timeline

  • c1874 Marriage, Helen Georgina Ross and George Kemsley
  • 1891 Divorce
  • 1891 Trip West
  • 1891 Marriage
  • 1892 Purchase of Prunedale property
  • 1931 Construction of Highway 101
  • 1931 Death of Great-Grandfather
  • 1941 Death of Great-Grandmother
  • 1967 Death of Grandmother
  • 1960-1980 Accident on Highway 101
  • 1982 Sale of Prunedale property
  • 1986 Division of property into two lots

Research Log

Click here to download Kathy’s simple yet useful research log for land deeds.

The Prunedale Property History:

  • Purchased from Hiram C. Tuttle and his wife Rebecca, July 11, 1892
  • Hiram was an upholsterer and had nine children
  • Land purchased for $3000 in gold coins
  • Tuttles originally had 138 acres and they sold 50 acres to the Collins family
  • Tuttles remained neighbors

The property was part of the original Rancho Bolsa Nueva Y Moro Cojo land grant:

  • 31,00 acre Mexican Land Grant given to Maria Antonia Pico de Castro
  • Mexican Land Grant extended from Moss Landing to Prunedale and south to Castroville

Finding and Reading House Deeds

The deed that Kathy found described the Metes and Bounds. Learn more about metes and bounds here at the FamilySearch Wiki.

Check the county courthouse website for access information and to see if perhaps they are digitized and available online.

The Prunedale House

The house in Prunedale was a of the Folk House National Style:

  • Gable-Front-and-Wing Family Home
  • A shed-roofed porch placed within the L made by the two wings
  • Small windows in the attic
  • Common in rural areas
  • With the development of the railroads…abundant lumber and balloon framing

Kathy used the book Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary by Donald Thomas Clark. Check, Google Books, or your local library to see if a similar book is available for your county.

Excerpt from 1893: [Carl] Bates grandfather came to Prunedale in 1893 and ‘this place was orchard at that time,’ he says. ‘There was no prominent person to name if after, or any prominent features; so they just called it Prunedale.’

Using Census Records to Research a House

Kathy traced the home through the U.S. Federal Census:

  • 1900 census – no address, but we see the neighbors
  • 1910 census – more neighborhood changes
  • 1920 census – the street name is written in the margin.
  • 1930 census – The family owns their farm and a radio. The street name is written in the margin.

Census research tip: Always look at the page before and after the page of interest.

Record: Voter Registrations

Found at the Monterey County Historical Society:

  • 1900 – John F. Collins
  • 1904 – John F. Collins listed

Record: Telephone Directory

Directories can often be found at the public library or online. Kathy found the 1906 Telephone Directory found at the Monterey Public Library. J F Collins is listed but no address.

Find Photos of the House

Check with your local library reference librarian to see if they have local area photo collections.

Weather History

Try the (U.S.) National Weather Service: This Day in History Archive

The Timeline Continues

1931: Highway 101 Began Construction

  • Collins family sold the Right of Way, 2 and1/2 acres, to the State of California
  • March 6,1931
  • Received $2000
  • Deed of sale Monterey County Recorder’s Office, Salinas

Newspaper Obituary: John F. Collins passed away June 3, 1931

Record: Death Certificate: Helen Collins passed away December 1, 1941. The address is listed: 171 Prunedale Road (Prunedale District.)

The Property was Inherited by Kathy’s Grandmother and Great Uncle

  • Kathy’s aunt, Helen Lyons, managed the rental property because her grandmother and her brother lived in Tacoma.
  • In 1950 Helen Lyons married James Lyons. His family had a dairy ranch on Blackie Road. So it was convenient for her to look after the Prunedale Ranch.

Found in the Home During a Return Visit

Many years later upon returning to the house for a visit, Kathy found a book from the Grand Union Tea Company, New York, 1889!

1967: Kathy’s Grandmother Dies

  • The property then went to Kathy’s aunt, her mother and cousins (the children of her grandmother’s brother, Ray).
  • They continued to rent out the property until the accident on Highway 101

Find the Property Title

Address listed: 9575 Prunedale Road South, Salinas, CA 93907

Virtually visit locations by searching the addresses you find in Google Earth (free software.) There may also be Street View available. Click and drag the yellow peg man icon in the upper right corner of the screen over to the location on the map. Wait a moment to see if blue “Street View” lines appear. If they do, then Street View is available. Drop the Street View icon on the blue line and you will be able to look at the location from the street level.

Return to the Timeline – 1986:
The Property was Divided into two properties: 9575 Prunedale Road South and 9585 Prunedale Road South.

Survey & Tax Rate Area Maps

Check with the County Recorders and Assessors Office. You can also get the history of permits on your own home.

Additional Sources to Search

  • Architectural References
  • Zillow, Google Maps (sq. feet, year built)
  • Historic Surveys
  • National Register of Historic Places,
  • State Register of Historical Resources
  • County Local Register of Historical Resources

Maps that Can Help with House History Research

  • Plat Maps
  • Survey Maps
  • Sanborn Maps

Learn more about finding and using maps from Lisa’s Premium video classes and handouts.

Canada: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Canada

More Resources

  • Census
  • Local Newspapers
  • Directories
  • Voter Registration
  • Yearbooks
  • Wills
  • Monterey County Recorder and Assessor’s Office
  • Local History…library and local history society
  • The neighbors

More on How to Trace the History of a House

Read Tracing the History of Your Monterey House (Monterey Public Library, California History Room.) Although it’s focused on houses in Monterey, it includes many ideas and strategies applicable to all homes.

“Facts get recorded. Stories get remembered. So, what’s your home’s story?” Kathy Nielsen

The History that I Discovered About My Old House

From Lisa: This is a cross-stitch I did of an old 1905 home that Bill and I renovated in the 1980s in Tacoma, Washington.

Old House Cross Stitch

Cross Stitch by Lisa Louise Cooke

To learn more about the house, I went to the public library and asked if they had any resources. They handed me a manilla folder marked “unidentified homes” to go through. In it I found a photo of the house taken soon after it was built!

In the basement of the home was a long wall of very shallow and short bookshelves. We were told by the realtor that it was owned previously by a Col. Andrus and that he had been involved in the Nuremburg trials after World War II. He had taken copious notes in small bound books which he later stored on those shelves in the house.

Now years later, thanks to some quick googling I’ve been able to learn much more. Burton C. Andrus was the Commandant of the Nuremberg Prison which housed the accused during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. (Source: Wikipedia)

My realtor was taken with the framed cross-stitch, and soon hired me to create them for her to present to her clients as housewarming gifts. I enjoyed creating them for a few years while my children were young.

Free Webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke

How to Use Photo Discoveries, Photo Enhancement and Colorization at MyHeritage by Lisa Louise Cooke.
Watch it here on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.


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