Archdiocese of Boston and American Ancestors Expand Historic Project
Historic Catholic Records Online Project Expansion
Announced by American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston
These historic records document several sacraments of the Catholic Church in Boston and surrounding towns including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. They are valued for research because they contain detailed information about the Catholic parishioners of greater Boston, their relationships with each other, the church, and often the community.
When announced in January 2017, the Historic Catholic Records Online Project—the first of its type in the U.S. to digitize a significant number of sacramental records from any U.S.-based Catholic archdiocese—encompassed 154 parishes in 84 towns within the Boston Archdiocese, covering the years 1789 to 1900.
Today’s announcement extends the project’s reach to cover records through the year 1920—adding 20 additional years of sacramental records to the project and eventually bringing more than 60 new parishes within it—all formed within the Boston Archdiocese after 1900.
Catholic parishes in the towns of
- Forest Hills,
- North Andover,
- and Winthrop
will now be included—covering important phases of greater Boston’s early 20th-century history and stories of immigration, social, and cultural change.
Brenton Simons, President and CEO of American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society, celebrated the amplification of the project, noting “Throughout our 175-year history, New England Historic Genealogical Society has collected and shared countless manuscripts, artifacts, data, and other resources that tell the inspiring story of the American family. The expansion of this historic collaboration between the Boston Archdiocese and American Ancestors will enrich the research of family historians in America and beyond and be especially informative in Irish, Italian, and French Canadian genealogy. Newer parishes from the 1900s add Lithuanian, Polish, and Portuguese genealogical data of interest.
“I offer our deep gratitude to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for recognizing the historical value of this data—especially Thomas Lester, the Archivist and Records Manager of the Archdiocese, whose forward-thinking vision toward preservation and collaboration inspired this important project and its expansion we are announcing today,” Simons said.
Lester, as the Boston Archdiocese’s leading advocate for records preservation, stated “We recognize the value of this collection to many groups, foremost among them historians and genealogists. This second, expanded phase of our project with American Ancestors, is a result of the overwhelming positive feedback received during the initial phase announced with them in January 2017.
“Use of the records by researchers around the world has exceeded our original expectations and we are excited to offer additional content, with more insights, and deeper glimpses into the history of the Roman Catholic people and parishes in greater Boston. Of equal importance is that we are continuing to create a digital backup to help preserve these irreplaceable records.”
“The completion of the expanded project, covering all records through the year 1920 is now anticipated to be by the year 2029,” stated Molly Rogers, Database Coordinator for American Ancestors, “with all browsable (non-indexed) and indexed names from all parish archives expected to be online by that time.”
The project is enormous in scope, with a large amount of data to be digitized and then laboriously, manually indexed, transcribed, and, in most cases, translated to English for name-searching capabilities.
Some of the first records from this expanded time period—browsable images of pages from parish archives—are available and may be viewed at AmericanAncestors.org/image-
Volunteers coordinated by the staff of American Ancestors undertake the greater portion of the work of scanning and indexing the Historic Catholic Records Online Project documents.
Resources for Using Church Records for Genealogy
Solutions for Broken Website Links
Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.
Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you.
I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:
“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.
Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”
That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.
How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared
I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!
Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!
The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!
Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:
1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites
1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.
If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.
You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.
One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.
This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages.
To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.
The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.
2. Google Your Question
You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it! And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google.
If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided.
Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.
Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:
- When did world vital records close?
- Sunset notice for World Vital Records
- Who acquired World Vital Records?
As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details.
When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.
Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.
3. Google the Content
As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.
Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.
Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.
Here’s an example of how this works:
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)
Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.
Obvious, But Not Always
While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.
Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.
This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?
About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke
Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and columnist for Family Tree Magazine.
The Music Theory of Genealogy
Lessons in life often translate to lessons in genealogy. Here’s an example of how digging deeper can have you singing a happier research tune.
The Music of My Childhood
When I was a kid I had a million interests (and I still do.)
I loved art of all kinds – painting, drawing, and paper mache. I enjoyed baking and particularly candy-making. I had a teal blue easy bake oven I used constantly, and a cotton candy making machine that spun sugar into treats – Yum!
At the age of eight I learned to water-ski. It came surprisingly easy, so much so that my Dad got me a pair of short trick skis on which I learned to do a full 360 degree turn.
And like most kids I took piano lessons starting in the first grade. My mom bought an old upright piano for $75, and painted it bright red (you can see where I got my artistic flair from!)
My first piano teacher was a lovely lady who happened to be a paraplegic. This meant that she sat across the room from me and the piano and never actually touched the piano. I learned a love of music from her for which I’ll always be grateful. She was a patient teacher with her rambunctious student. But years later after we moved and I started up with a new piano teacher, I discovered I was clueless about fingering which was why many songs seemed unreasonably difficult to me.
It’s eye-opening to realize you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
Something else that slowed me down was not really learning music theory. Oh I had learned the basics, and became a laser-focused sight-reader of music. But my while my second teacher taught me scales, I don’t recall her ever saying why we were doing them. Needless to say, I didn’t practice them because I didn’t know why we were bothering with these notes that weren’t songs. Therefore, I never learned them or their significance to music.
One of my all time favorite songs was and still is One Less Bell to Answer by the Fifth Dimension. I first heard it on the TV series It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner which ran from 1968 to 1970. The song was featured in the third season episode called Sing a Song of Murder.
The 5th Dimension were the guest stars that week, and Marilyn McCoo sang that torch song like no one else could. I drove my mom crazy as I belted it out from the top of my lungs and begged her for 5th Dimension albums for my birthday. I still have my original 5th Dimension Live double album and the 5th Dimension Greatest Hits on Earth, both of which feature the song.
Harder than the Average Song
The other day I was falling down a rabbit hole on Instagram where I saw that Marilyn McCoo and her husband Bill David, Jr. had started an Instagram account (you can follow them here). I started following them, enjoying reading about how they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and seeing old TV clips and new video of their performances.
I got to thinking about that To Catch a Thief episode and soon the rabbit hole led me to YouTube where I watched it. From there I found a tunnel to MusicNotes.com where I bought the sheet music for One Less Bell to Answer.
I sat down, excited to play it, and was stopped in my tracks. This Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic was as hard to play as any of Liszt’s classics!
Although I have continued to play piano all these years, I slogged and fumbled and scratched my way through to the end. My weakness in fingering skills and music theory was painfully apparent. I decided there and then that I wanted this one badly enough that I was willing to go back to the basics, learn what I didn’t know about music, and practice daily.
And so I found myself a good video series on music theory basics. I’ve been devoting a half an hour each day to learning the Circle of Fifths, scales and chords. I also put my husband through listening to me do another half an hour a day of practice, with an emphasis on One Less Bell to Answer. My husband says I’m getting better, though I’m still frustrated that it’s not yet quite where I want it to be.
Along the way though, something really interesting has happened.
I have noticed something wonderful after each painful, slow study and practice session. When I go back to my regular music (my sheet music stack includes the likes of Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Bach, Beethoven, Billy Joel, one of my favorite composers, Mr. Rogers), that music is much easier, and I’m much better at playing it! In fact, it’s more of a joy to play than ever, and I usually end up playing another hour in the evening, giving up time previously wasted on television.
So what does this have to do with family history and genealogy? Well…
Mastering the Music of the Genealogical Brick Wall
One Less Bell to Answer was not only my favorite song, but one of the toughest to master. So let me ask you, what’s your toughest genealogy case right now?
We all have a brick wall or two that has plagued us. I get emails every day from listeners of the Genealogy Gems Podcast outlining the family history challenge that has them stumped. Sometimes I think their hope is that I might have a genealogical silver bullet, or that I might be aware of some low-hanging genealogical fruit that they’ve over looked. I always encourage listeners to write in because many times there is a quick source or strategy that I can offer that they just may have missed. Or I can refer them to one of our articles, videos or podcast episodes that can provide a more in-depth answer. There’s always value in sharing with others the research challenges we face, and soliciting ideas and input.
However, in many cases, the answer is not so simple. Many of the cases described go well beyond a quick search at one of the Genealogy Giants websites. (You can learn more about them here.) These are cases that don’t have an easy answer. There isn’t one source just waiting to be found.
Sing a Song of Genealogy
Genealogical brick wall cases are much like the most glorious torch songs. They will require more education, steady relentless work, and a willingness to end each research session (like a piano practice session) unsatisfied with the current results. But when we stay focused and persist, we can remain optimistic that the end result will be worth it.
This answer to tough genealogical questions isn’t a popular one. That’s due in part to the increased tech tools and vast online databases (which are all fantastic boons for the genealogist by the way), that appear to offer instant gratification. This auto-generated “genealogy” can actually dilute our research edge when we really need it. We can be lulled into believing there should always be a quick fix. We find ourselves not as willing to stop, create a research plan, set up a tracking spreadsheet, and execute a plan to find the answer.
Many a family tree (particularly online) is filled with errors created by an unwillingness to take the time to dig deep. For example, are we really sure we have the right ancestor when there are several men by that name in that county at that time? Did we really prove it?
Genealogy Research Plans
Is creating and using a genealogy research plan new to you? That’s not usual.
These days, many people first come to climbing their family tree through a genealogy app. Several of the popular genealogy apps allow you to instantly start adding what you know already about your family to your family tree on the app. Then the app starts serving up record hints and matches – genealogical records it thinks may match the people you have added. It may also connect you to other users who share branches of your family tree.
While there’s a bit of instant gratification in all this, it doesn’t help us see the bigger picture, or develop our skills as a researcher. In a sense, we are following the app’s research plan (and I use that term very loosely here), rather than developing and conducting our own research plan.
When we finally take up the baton, and start leading our own research, we will gain more satisfaction and end up singing the right song.
To learn more about genealogy research plans, read my article Which Way Do I Go Now? Organize a Genealogy Research Plan. Genealogy Gems Premium members can watch the Premium video Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan here. (Membership and log in required.)
Finding Genealogical Answers
If you’re facing an imposing genealogical brick wall, why not set aside all your other searches, and just work on this one? Slog along, fight your way through it! Do it for an hour every day. If your knowledge is lacking, go find the answers. Get up to speed on the areas you don’t know enough about.
It helps to accept that this genealogical answer that you seek, like a really wonderful song, is going to require more learning and practice than the average answer. But when it’s done, you’ll have the satisfaction of having conquered a really tough one, and the confidence that you got it right.
I can promise you this. When you take the time to craft and work a real and true genealogical research plan, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that when you go back to your other research, you will find it easier, and more enjoyable.
And yes, I’m still working on mastering my favorite song. Follow me on instagram and when I have it mastered, I’ll play it for you.
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