November 24, 2017

Find Undiscovered Treasures at Ancestry.com: Expert Tips

Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures–and some of them you’ll never find from a search box. Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding them, and reminders for improving your research.

(As with all of our posts, we provide links for your convenience to the various online resources, and some of these may be affiliate links for which we would receive compensation. Thank you, because those help us keep the free Genealogy Gems Podcast free!) 

Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history. You probably already know that–but are you getting all you can out of Ancestry.com’s vast collections and many research tools?

Nancy Hendrickson, the author of Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook: A How-To Manual for Tracing Your Family Tree on the #1 Genealogy Website recently shared these tips for taking your research to the next level. We’ve added in some examples and additional things to consider.

How to Use Ancestry.com More Effectively

1. Verify what you learn.

Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread (by you or an indexer). Double check its assertions by looking for that same information in additional sources–and make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. (Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!)

Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you DO want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path. The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information: parents’ names, a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity, a burial place.

Let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. Don’t stop there! The SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place.

Under Search, select Catalog, then use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.


2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.

Just because seven different online trees name the same parents doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Those folks may all be misquoting the same wrong source!

You’ll often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “shaky leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, watch for these hints that the tree may be worth exploring:

 

  1. Purple arrows: Multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.
  2. Red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail seen here. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes–you do want to see that news article!
  3. Blue arrow: In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.

This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. BUT then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree. INSTEAD, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:

Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor–you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.

3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.

Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. Looking at old maps can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. Your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.” Top collections include:

  • U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918, with nearly 7 million records extracted from about 1,200 county and land ownership maps from across the country. These are indexed by property owners’ names. According to the collection description, “They also indicate township and county boundaries and can include photos of county officers, landholders, and some buildings and homes.”
  • U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984: This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin….In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.” Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.
  • Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps. Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures. Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.

4. Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too!

“They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around,” says Nancy. “Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”

More info:

  • Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives (remember to confirm the information you find here).
  • Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.
  • RootsWeb: This is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry. “The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” Click here to explore various way to use RootsWeb: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.

Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. Save 10% (even off sale prices) with promo code GEMS17 (good through 12/31/17) when you click on the book title or image to purchase. To get the most out of this book:

1. Read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog! Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog.
2. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records. Choose a chapter that fits your current goals.
3. Don’t just read the workbook: do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research.
4. Don’t skip the chapter on social history! That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life.
5. See the book for forms to help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.

Thanks for sharing these tips with your friends on your favorite social media site! You’re a Gem!

Ohio Genealogy Research and the Virtual Courthouse

I have thoroughly enjoyed having Amie Tennant as a blogger for the past year. In her final blog post for Genealogy Gems she takes us on a tour of her home state’s digital records. Then she will be turning all of her attentions to her own genealogical certification. Thank you Amie for all of your helpful and thoroughly enjoyable posts!  – Lisa Louise Cooke  

Ohio genealogy research goes digital. You can now virtually walk into any courthouse in Ohio with the click of the mouse. Check out the amazing browse-only databases at FamilySearch for Ohio and other states, and take your family history research to the next level.

Ohio genealogy courthouse records
I use FamilySearch.org to search courthouse record books all the time. In particular, the Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996 now have nearly 7 million digital images of county record books such as wills, estate files, guardianship records, naturalization records, minutes, bonds, and settlements. In fact, many other states have their court record books online at FamilySearch, too. So, why haven’t you noticed before?

Browse-only Databases vs. Indexed Databases

Ohio genealogy guardianship recordYou may have read our previous post on step-by-step instructions to using browse-only databases at FamilySearch. If you didn’t, you should know that when you are searching for records at FamilySearch using the traditional search fields, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. In other words, there may be thousands of records you need on the site, but you won’t find them. They have not been indexed by a searchable name, place, or date. Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door.”

Step 1: First, go to FamilySearch and sign in. Next, click Search at the top right. Now you will see a map of the world. Click on the desired location. I have chosen the U.S., but you can choose any country you are interested in.

Step 2: Once you choose your desired country or continent, a pop-up list will be available and allow you to choose the state (or country) you wish to search in. In this case, a list of the U.S. states appears and I clicked on Ohio.

Ohio genealogy at FamilySearch

Step 3: The system will direct you to a new page. You will first see the Ohio Indexed Historical Records. These are the records and collections that have been indexed and are searchable by name, date, and place. Though these are great, they are not the record collections I want to share with you today.

Instead, scroll down until you see the heading Ohio Image Only Historical Records. You will notice several databases such as cemetery records, church records, naturalization records, etc. All of these are browseable. That means you will use them like you would microfilm.

Step 4: I want to bring your attention to a specific record collection, so scroll down even further until you see Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996. Click it.

Ohio genealogy probate records

At the next screen, you will see you can browse the 6,997,828 Ohio probate records and you are probably thinking, “What!? I can’t possibly browse through nearly 7 million records!” But, you can, so go ahead and click it!

Step 5: At the new screen, you will see everything is broken up into counties. Click on the county you are interested in researching. You will next see a list of possible record books available for that county. Each county will vary, so where you may find guardianship records available in one county, you might not find them in another.

Ohio Genealogy Research at the Courthouse

As a refresher, courthouse research is often imperative to thorough genealogy research. Here is a helpful chart of the type of information you may find in these types of court records. Be sure to remember: records and the amount of information they contain change overtime.

Ohio genealogy records

More on Courthouse Research Techniques

Ohio genealogy courthouse researchAre you looking to understand the value of courthouse research and how to use those records to overcome brick walls in your family tree? Try this video class taught by Judy Russell, available to download from the folks at Family Tree Magazine. “From confusing legal jargon to busy clerks and inconsistent records from one county to another, the courthouse can be an intimidating place to conduct family research. Learn to carry yourself with confidence in the courthouse and fight through obstacles to discover important records about your ancestors.” Click here for Courthouse Research Tips and Tricks, and use coupon code GEMS17 for 10% off at checkout! (Valid through 12/31/17)

Also, read 4 Ways to Power Up Your Courthouse Research Skills from our own Sunny Morton.

Savvy Tips to Help Identify Old Photos

A local genealogist used these strategies to help identify old photos taken on holiday in England by an Australian family. Read more about her savvy tips below and view the free video on using Google image search by Lisa Louise Cooke.

Sandra Stocks can’t resist solving genealogical mysteries–her own, or someone else’s. So when she saw an  article in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner of West Yorkshire titled, “Can you solve the mystery of these old photographs?” she had to answer.

The photos in the article belonged to an Australian family. They included a series of images taken in the 1930s while the party was on holiday along the Great British coast. A partly-legible name and address on a picture postcard in the group provided a clue.

A few of the article’s readers responded with assistance. One of these readers was Sandra, who volunteers with the Kirkheaton Family History Group. Her answer was featured in a follow-up article (“Mystery SOLVED!”). We reached out to Sandra ourselves, to see if she would share the research strategies she used to identify these old photos. Very generously, she did!

Sandra Stocks, left, with Ann from Canada. Their grandfathers were cousins; they met via Ancestry.com and Ann visited England. They met up at The Croppers Arms pub, where a mutual ancestor was a 19th-century landlord. Photo courtesy of Sandra Stocks.

How-to Identify Old Photos in 4 Easy Steps

Genealogy Gems Premium website members can listen to her full answer in the Genealogy Gems Premium Episode 143. In the meantime, here’s a helpful summary for everyone:

1. Look closely at the photo for any identifying names or words. Sandra begins by saying, “Although the name on the postcard looked like Mr. J. Stogley, when I looked on the newspaper’s website there were other photographs, one which showed the name P. Hogley, Druggist, above a shop window.” (Don’t see anything? Skip to step 4, below.)

We recommend: Learn more about finding clues in old photos with the book Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor. (Get 10% off when you use this link and the coupon code GEMS17 through December 31, 2017.)

2. Use any names or places you identify to consult historical records for that place and time. Sandra continues, “I then searched on Ancestry.co.uk for Joseph Hogley, which, being an unusual name, was easy to find…In the 1911 English census he was living with his wife at the address on the postcard, so I knew I had the right chap. I then searched for him in [an] earlier census and found his family, and his brother Percy Hogley, a druggist, the writer of the postcard.”

3. Follow up in other historical records to identify additional relatives–and possible subjects in the photos. Sandra most often consults birth, marriage, and death records on Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.co.uk. “Not everybody wants to pay for a subscription,” she acknowledges, so she also recommends FreeBMD.org.uk “which allows you to search births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales. A quick search of births for Hogley between 1850 and 1932 would have given me the births of Joseph and Percy Hogley in Huddersfield in 1875 and 1877, respectively. I used FreeBMD to discover that Joseph and his wife had a son, Bernard Thomas Hogley, in 1913 and Bernard married in 1945.”

4. If the photos have no identifying names or places, go straight to those who might recognize them: the locals. Lastly, Sandra shares, “There is a great family history forum where I could have posted a photograph and within a very short time somebody would have told me an approximate year when the picture was taken. The website is RootsChat.com and they also have pages for each English and Welsh county where local people are more than happy to help with genealogy queries.”

More on How-to Identify Old Photos

Unidentified old photos exist in nearly everyone’s family history holdings. Pull those old photos out and discover what else you can discern using these additional tips in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video titled “How to Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos Using a Smartphone & Tablet.” By learning how to match the images you have to other images on the web, you may find some great new clues for your genealogy! This trick works great for distinct or well-known images, such as a location, or perhaps an important person in your family tree. Give it a try!

West Virginia Genealogy Research and Working with Changing County Boundaries

As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!

West Virginia genealogy research

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.

County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.

But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:

I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?

Birth Records in the 1800s

The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. [1]

Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)

West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level

Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.

There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries

I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!

  • 1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
  • 1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
  • 1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
  • 1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
  • 1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
  • 1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
  • 1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier

As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.

Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)

There is also a free guide at Family Tree Magazine for West Virginia genealogy research that we highly recommend.

More on Advanced Research Strategies

Creating a FAN club tipsChanging county boundaries is just one area that must be mastered to ensure accurate genealogy research. Here are 3 more articles that will help you beef up your genealogy research skills:

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Missing Census or Missing Family: Legacy Tree Genealogists Answer

Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy

ARTICLE REFERENCES

[1] Johni Cerny, “Births and Deaths in Public Records,” originally written in “The Source: A Genealogist’s Guidebook to American Genealogy,” online article, Ancestry Wiki, accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy

Resolving conflicting evidence in genealogy research is sometimes difficult. Some types of conflicting evidence we come across are common. Here are some tips to resolving three of the most common conflicting records and why they exist.

weigh conflicting evidence

I joke about our recent “cookie incident” here at home. No one wanted to fess up to who ate all the cookies, but it didn’t take long to evaluate the evidence and come up with the culprit. The trail of crumbs, the height at which the cookies were stored, and who was home at the time, were just a few of the ways in which I came to a sound conclusion.

As genealogists, we have to weigh disagreeing or conflicting evidence all the time. Maybe you have two records giving two different birth dates for a great great grandmother. Whatever the conflict, here are some tips to resolving three of the most common conflicts and why they exist.

Item 1: Resolving a Birth Date Conflict

I have found numerous birth date conflicts in my personal family history. Some reasons may include:

  • Transcription errors
  • Delayed recording
  • Lying to protect the couple from embarrassment of a pre-marriage pregnancy
  • Engraving mistake on the tombstone
  • To avoid a military draft

These are just a few of the many reasons why you may find a conflicting birth date. Resolving a birth date conflict, or any genealogical data conflict, may be possible by remembering the following:

The record recorded nearest the time of the event, by those who have first-hand knowledge, is typically considered the most reliable source.

Here’s an example. Nancy Blevins Witt has two possible birth dates. Using her death record, we can only calculate a birth date based on her age-at-death given in years, months, and days. That calculated birth date would be 19 Nov 1890. However, the date of birth recorded on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census is October 1890, and we were never able to find a birth record. Which birth month is likely correct, October or November?

To make this determination, we will need to consider the following:

1. A death record has an informant. Who was the informant of Nancy’s death record? Did this person have first-hand knowledge of her birth, such as a parent? In this case, the informant was her uncle. There is no way to know if the uncle was present at the time of her birth, but he was alive at the time.

2. Who was the likely informant of the 1900 census? Was that a person with first-hand knowledge of Nancy’s date of birth? We can’t be absolutely sure, but we could suppose that Nancy’s mother was the one who gave the census taker that information. Since the mother was obviously present at the time of Nancy’s birth, we would consider her a reliable witness to the event of Nancy’s birth.

3. Do any of these informants have a reason to lie? Is there something, like money, to be gained by providing a certain birth date? The answer is no.

We can say that the likely accurate date of birth for Nancy is October 1890. Of course, we want to make note of both the records and the discrepancies in our personal database and remember that it is always possible a new piece of evidence will pop up that makes us re-evaluate this assumption.

Item 2: Resolving a Marriage Date Conflict

Marriage date conflicts can be found for a variety of reasons as well. Some of these reasons may include:

  • Transcription error
  • Delayed recording
  • Lying to avoid an embarrassing situation
  • Altering the date for the benefit of widows pension

conflicting evidence alternatives

Again, these are just a few of the reasons for a marriage date conflict.

In this next example, John and Eliza are said to have married about 1857. Unfortunately, no actual marriage record was ever found.

There are however, two sources for a marriage date. Both of these sources are found in the War of 1812 Pension Application Files which was viewed online at Fold3.com. A War of 1812 Pension Application is a great place to find marriage information. The widow would have needed to prove that she was indeed the widow of the veteran before being able to receive her pension. Widows sometimes supplied actual marriage certificates, or like Eliza, they may have included affidavits instead.

This pension file for Eliza contained two documents, the first of which was an affidavit given by Eliza herself stating that she and “Jackson Cole” were married in March 1857 in Harlan, Kentucky by Stephen Daniel. Sadly, throughout the application, Eliza changes dates, ages, and names making us wary of whether her information is accurate. She had also been denied pension once before, and this was her second attempt. Because this is a pension and dealt with money allocation, and because she had been denied before, there is a reason for her to lie or fudge dates and details of the facts to meet certain criteria. We will want to take this into consideration. The second document is an affidavit from Stephen Daniel who states he married the couple in 1854.

Now, we want to further evaluate the two sources.

  • Stephen has nothing to gain (i.e. money, land, etc.)
  • Both Eliza and Stephen had first-hand knowledge of the event.
  • They were both remembering this marriage event and testifying to it almost 45 years later.
  • Stephen was a minister who married perhaps hundreds of couples.
  • Eliza only ever married once.

Who do you think would most likely remember the date of marriage? If you said Eliza, I think you are right. Further, the fact that Eliza had her first child about 1857 is also a strong indication that a marriage had taken place fairly recently. Based on all these reasons, we could assume the most likely date of marriage was March 1857.

Item 3: Resolving a Death Date Conflict

Reasons for conflicting death dates may include:

  • Transcription error
  • Engraving mistake on the tombstone
  • Delayed recording
  • Misprint in a newspaper obituary or biographical sketch

An example of a conflicting death date might be that an obituary says the person died on 20 February 1899, but the death record and tombstone give the date as 19 Feb 1899. We all know that newspapers are notorious for misprints. Further, a death record indicating the death date of 20 February 1899 is a record typically made on or near the date of death. This is typically when information is most fresh in the minds of the informants. A newspaper article, however, could have been printed days or even weeks later.

More Gems on Conflicting Evidence in Genealogy and Using the Genealogical Proof Standard

Whatever the conflict, you can typically use these practices to come to a sound conclusion. Oh! And by the way, have you ever heard of using the “GPS?” We aren’t talking about the little device that tells you how to get to that really cool new restaurant. We are talking about the Genealogical Proof Standard. Resolving conflicting evidence is just one of the components of the GPS. To learn more about this high standard, listen to podcast episode #23: Using the Genealogical Proof Standard.

ARTICLE REFERENCES

[1] “1913: Statewide Flood,” article online, Ohio History Connection, accessed 27 Dec 2016.

 

Genealogy Research Trip Produced Amazing Family History Find

We love the ease with which we can search online, but a genealogy research trip can offer exceptional and unique rewards. If you have been apprehensive about visiting a courthouse or archive,  follow our 4 step plan for a successful genealogy research trip that could lead to your own amazing discovery!

Genealogy Research Trip of the past

By J. D. Cress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am spoiled. Spoiled because I did not join the genealogy craze before the dawn of the internet and the power that using the Web brings to our family history research. I don’t know the pangs of writing 100+ letters to possible relatives and then waiting…waiting…and waiting to hear back from at least one!

In my genealogy world, if an answer can’t be found on one of my favorite genealogy website repositories (like FamilySearch, Ancestry, or Findmypast) then a quick Google search usually does the trick.

However, we new genealogists of the Internet era may be banking on the fact that “everything” we need is online. This is obviously not true. In fact, many local libraries and archives are under-staffed and under-funded making digitizing of their holdings difficult. This is why making a genealogy research trip is a really good idea.

The Unprepared Genealogy Research Trip

Several years ago, I made my first research trip. I was woefully unprepared. On a whim, I drove three hours on a weekday to “go to the courthouse.” I arrived at lunch time…and it was closed for an hour. Sigh. However, a nice receptionist suggNewspaper genealogy research tripested I go to the local public library just down the street.

When I arrived at the tiny corner building, I asked at the circulation desk for the history department. She seemed a little taken back, but said, “We have a little room in the basement with some local history and genealogy things.” Note to self: not all libraries are large enough for a “history department.”

In the basement room, no one was on duty, but a nicely printed instruction sheet of what was available and how to use their files laid on the table. “I guess I just dig in,” I thought, and off I went.

Though this was my first genealogy research trip, it proved to be very fruitful. In a scrapbook simply titled “Walls Family,” I found a Xerox
copy of an article from an 1874 newspaper. In this article, my fourth great-grandmother (Susannah Harmarson Walls) had been interviewed because she was the oldest living woman in the township. Her interview began, “I was born in Delaware. The exact year, I do not know, but I suppose I will be 86 years of age on the 16th of July next. My father’s name was Levin Harmarson. He died when I was only three years of age. My mother’s name was Mary Woodard.”

The interview included the story of her mother re-marrying, the family leaving Delaware for Wheeling, Virginia, and she marrying her step-brother there. Then, they traveled on into Scioto County, Ohio. She named each of her eleven children and their spouses.

The information in this one interview was particularly helpful. Before this, we had no idea when or where Susannah and Levi married, and finding the spouses of their children had proved difficult!

Though this was an amazing find, I wonder what other records, items, or photographs I might have dug up had I prepared ahead of time. Perhaps, I would have had time to dig more into their microfilm holdings, archived pictures, atlases, or even had time to go to the local cemetery.

The Prepared Genealogy Research Trip

Fast forward several years and I am making much more prepared genealogy research trips. Get the most from your next genealogy research trip by following these 4 important steps:

1. Run a Narrative Report. Start creating your genealogy research trip plan by printing out a narrative report of your targeted family line. This can be done with the reports feature found in genealogy database programs like RootsMagic.

create a plan for genealogy research trip

2. Look for holes in your research. Carefully read through the report looking for holes in your research or where you may be missing a source. In this case, a “hole in your research,” may be the missing marriage date of a couple, or the missing birth date of a child. Circle these “holes” and make a list of what the needed piece of information is to correct it and where you can find it.

Example: Clark County, Ohio. Need a death date for Edmund West. County didn’t keep death records that early. Likely died between 1830-1840. Check probate record books, estate files, tax records, cemetery records, and tombstones at Wilson Cemetery.

Maybe you have a birth date, but no source. A source is the proof of a particular fact. For example, a good source for a birth date is a birth register or even a marriage record. If you are lacking sources for your genealogy facts or are not sure how to begin sourcing your genealogy, learn more about that here.

3. Decide what repositories you will need to visit. After creating your list, determine where these items are held by asking yourself important questions, such as: Will I need to visit the courthouse, a library, an archive, cemetery, or all the above? Which location will produce the most results? Should I visit the archives first, or the courthouse?

4. Contact each repository ahead of time. Finding out the days and times when each of these places is open before you go is a must! Try to pick a day when all, or most, of the places are open so that you can get a lot done. If this isn’t possible, consider making an extended stay overnight to accomplish your goals.

Keep in mind that not all websites are up-to-date. Just because the library says it is open from 10 to 5 every day but Sunday on the webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that is still the case. Always call each establishment to verify days and hours of operation.

10 items for the genealogy research trip

Remember, there are newspapers, maps, documents, and pictures just waiting to be uncovered. By thinking about what you want to achieve while on your trip and what information you need to find and where, your genealogy research trip can be a successful one. Happy hunting!

More on Genealogy Research Trips

Still feeling unmotivated to get on the road, read or listen to these features for inspiring tips to make a courthouse records research trip in your near future!

Courthouse Records Research TripGenealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Website

Premium Podcast Episode 126 – Road Trips for Genealogy

Premium Video – Using Evernote to Create a Genealogy Research Plan

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Another brick wall…busted! We all have trouble spots in our family history research. Sometimes, we just need a little help breaking through. Here’s a tried-and-true method for using the genealogy FAN club principle to overcome brick walls in your family history research.

Creating a FAN club tips

A FAN club stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbors. Using the FAN club principle is a process in which genealogists identify a list of people (family, associates, and neighbors) that lived and associated with a given ancestor. By researching these other people, you may flesh out some new hints for your own research. Ultimately, identifying our ancestors FAN club is an effective tool for overcoming brick walls in genealogy research.

Renowned genealogist and author Elizabeth Shown Mills, coined the phrase “FAN Club” for genealogical purposes. She points out the significance of not only searching records for an ancestor’s surname, but also paying attention to documents about the ancestor’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors). Historical information, she says, is like real estate: the true value of any piece of information is unknown until it is put into community context. [citation: “QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle),” Genealogical.com (http://www.genealogical.com/products/QuickSheet%20The%20Historical%20Biographer%92s%20Guide%20to%20Cluster%20Research%20the%20FAN%20Principle/3868.html: accessed 25 Oct 2016).]

Step 1: “F” Stands for Family

Searching out other family members may prove helpful. Like in the case of Michael Knoop of Miami County, Ohio, I noticed there was another man in the county named Jacob Knoop. What was even more unique is both Michael and Jacob were born in New Brunswick. How unusual, I thought! Two men with the same last name, both born in New Brunswick, living in a small, farming area in Ohio! They had to be related, and they were. Jacob was Michael’s older brother.

Because I was having trouble finding when Michael had come to America, I traced Jacob instead. I located the passenger list with Jacob’s name on it and in doing so, I viewed all the passengers and found Michael, their mother, and lots of siblings!

Creating a FAN club family

Creating a FAN club with Family

In the case of Catherine Fearer Coddington, wife of James Coddington, I was having difficulty finding who her parents were. By searching for other Fearer individuals in the area, I discovered a biographical sketch on a John Fearer, Jr. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2, reads:

In 1836[,]John Fearer [Jr.] brought his family to Illinois. From Wheeling, West Va., the journey was made entirely by water. A landing on the Illinois soil was made at Hennepin. James Coddington, from near the Fearer’s old home in Maryland had already settled north of Princeton, in Bureau County, and later married John Fearer’s sister Catherine. The family found a home at Coddington’s until Mr. Fearer rented land near by.

Catherine had a brother! With this new information, I was able to easily trace John’s father to John Fearer, Sr. of Allegany County, Maryland and finally connect Catherine to her parents through a probate record.

It’s easy to see what a powerful strategy researching the relatives of your ancestors can be!

Step 2: “A” Stands for Associates

Creating a FAN club with associates

Creating a FAN club with Associates

An associate could be a business partner, a witness on a document, a pastor, a lawyer, or the man that bailed Grandpa out of jail! Associates are often related. To create a list of associates, you might start gathering all witnesses to vital events, such as baptismal or christening records, marriage records, probate, land, and affidavits.

Were the courthouse records in your targeted area destroyed? Check the local newspapers for clues for possible associates. As an example, Jacob Trostel was a signee and vouched for Harvey D. Wattles’ tavern license. The license and names of the vouchers were listed in the newspaper, too. Eleven other men of the community appear on that petition. Later, Jacob himself petitions for a tavern license. That petition is signed by twelve men: George Filler, Conrad Slaybaugh, Lebright E. Hartzell, William G. Eicholtz, Isaac Yount, Joseph Dull, Isaac Myers, George W. Rex, Daniel Filler, William Harlan, and John Bream.

In both of these examples, relatives of Jacob Trostel had been vouchers. By tracing them, we were able to find out more about Jacob and his family.

Step 3: “N” Stands for Neighbors

Where can we find a list of our ancestors neighbors? A census, of course! When looking at a census page, we look for other people on the page with the same surname as our targeted ancestor. There’s a good chance those folks could also be related. But, your ancestor’s neighbors may also hold rich clues that can help you in your research. Many neighbors intermarried, sold land to each other, and even migrated to new locations together.

Besides looking at individuals listed on the same census page as your ancestor, remember to turn the page! Sometimes, a neighbor is not on the same page as your ancestor, but rather the pages before or after. Just because a person appears directly after your ancestor on the census rolls doesn’t necessarily mean they were neighbors. This only indicates the order in which the census taker visited the homes. You might also be able to identify close neighbors by looking at land ownership maps for the area. In this way, you can easily identify who lived near-by.

If you are having difficulty determining where your ancestors came from, researching the neighbors may give the answer. Many neighbors migrated together. Always check at least one page before your ancestor and one page after your ancestor in any given census.

census_ledford_together

Creating a FAN club with Neighbors

Genealogy Fan Club: Comments and More Resources

There are likely dozens of successful ways for creating a FAN club for your ancestor. We would love to hear your examples in the comments below. For even more ways to break through those genealogy brick walls, enjoy these links below.

Read our article Solve Your Genealogy Brick Walls: 3 Tips for Breaking Through!

Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and WebsiteEven better: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can watch Lisa’s one hour video class Brick Walls: Cold Case Investigative Techniques. In this video you’ll not only learn how to apply criminal cold case strategies to your brick walls, but you’ll also get loads of fresh and innovative ideas you can try right away. If you are not a Premium Member yet, learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member here.

Do You Know about Browse-Only Collections at Ancestry and Findmypast

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and Findmypast and open the lid on your family history research.

browse-only collections at Ancestry

Not long ago, Amie Tennant blogged about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Did you know that both Ancestry.com and Findmypast have browse-only collections of digitized records, too? Browse-only collections aren’t indexed yet, so they are not searchable by name, but they are a treasure chest of information. Though it might take some time to locate a record within one of these collections, it’s better than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here are a couple of tips for accessing these browse-only collections to whet your appetite.

Browse-only Collections at Ancestry

Unfortunately, Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only databases, or others that are partially-indexed.

From the main menu, select Search > Card Catalog. Use the filters along the left side to search for the collections you want by record type, location, and date. When you click on a collection, you will be able to select from the browse options along the right side. If it’s fully or partially indexed, you can also do name searches within just that collection.

Here’s a video tutorial by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com on how to find and browse their browse-only collections:

A series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917 is an example of one of these browse-only collections. The collection description includes useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” You can browse through the images like you would if you were using microfilm or leafing through a book.

Browse-Only Collections at Findmypast

I got a tip from a Findmypast rep on how to find the browse-only collections on their website. Just go under Search > A-Z of Record Sets. Enter the search term “browse.” It’s really that easy!

browse-only collections at Ancestry

A portion of a document in the Kindertransport browse-only collection at Findmypast.

A digitized collection of Kindertransport documents is among the browse-only collections at Findmypast. Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-occupied areas during World War II. There is a lot of information about refugee children in this collection such as who was taking care of them, how much they were being paid, and reports on the medical condition of refugee children from Germany. If Kindertransport was a part of your family’s past, these look like a must-read. Maybe I should have said, a must browse!.

More Tips on Searching Your Favorite Genealogy Websites

Ancestry one stop shoppingSearching Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch.org

4 Tips for Getting the Most from Ancestry.com

Using Ancestry Library Edition and Other Genealogy Databases at Your Public Library (in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (Premium Membership required to listen)

How to Find Recent Genealogy Records That Are Not Online Yet

recent genealogy records not online yet square

Records that have been created recently are difficult to find and access. Some privacy laws protect, and hinder, our being able to find more recent birth, marriage, and death records we need. Here are some tips for finding these and other genealogy records not yet online.

Recently, Tom in Olympia, Washington wrote us with a question about how to find recent genealogy records that are not online yet.

“My wife’s mother was adopted in 1925. We have found her biological mother’s name and through Ancestry.com, I’ve found several bits of information about her from census records. She also was a crew member on three steamships in the 1930s. On two of the ship manifests, her U.S. passport numbers are listed. Do you know any search options for finding information from passports in the 1930s?”

Maybe you have had a similar question. We hope our answer helps everyone more easily find genealogical records that are not online yet.

Obtaining Recent Passport Application Records

Tom will be interested in obtaining a passport application record which may hold more information about his targeted ancestor. As Tom already discovered, U.S. passport records are online at Ancestry and FamilySearch, but only those records prior to 1925.

My original hope was that the National Archives Records Administration would have had the passport application records for the 1930s. I googled passport applications National Archives, and the first search result took me to an excellent article. I learned the U.S. State Department has passport applications on microfilm between the years and dates of 1795 to 1905 and January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925. Sadly, these were not the years Tom was looking for.

To find information about passport applications in the 1930s, I needed to go another route. I opened a new window and googled U.S. State Department passport applications request copy. The first search result took me right to the page I needed. The Passport Services maintain the U.S. passport records from 1925 to the present. These records are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974.

Passport records in this time frame for a third-party person are processed under the Freedom of Information Act. These records need to ordered by mail. Tom can make a request in writing and send that request to:

U.S. Department of State
Office of Law Enforcement Liaison
FOIA Officer
44132 Mercure Cir
P.O. Box 1227
Sterling, VA 20166

I suggested he mention his desire for the information is for genealogical purposes and what his relationship is to the person in question.

Using the Same Strategy for Other Recent Genealogy Records

Remember, this same kind of strategy applies to other genealogical records you might be looking for that were created recently. You can use Google searches and follow-up phone to find out where more recent records are and the access policies.

As an example, a recent Indiana marriage license index can be searched and viewed online for free at the Public Access records website for the state. I found this little goody by googling Indiana marriage records.

Recent_Records_1

All of us at Genealogy Gems adore having the opportunity to find and share solutions like this one for overcoming the problem of locating recent genealogy records that aren’t online. If you haven’t done so already, sign-up for our weekly newsletter for more tips and tricks. Oh, and write to us anytime with your genealogy questions! We love to hear from you!

More Gems on Recent Genealogy Records

foia turns 50 featured image

Other recent genealogy records in the U.S. are also available via the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Click here to read about them! They include post-World War II draft registrations, immigration and naturalization documents and Social Security applications (SS-5).

Celebrating Freedom and Records Access: 50 Years of FOIA and Genealogy

FOIA turns 50 FOIA and genealogy Happy July 4th–and Happy 50th to the Freedom of Information Act! Read more about the FOIA and genealogy records we can access because of it.

Today we in the United States celebrate our Independence Day with grateful hearts and parades. Well, genealogists with U.S. ancestors have an extra reason for fireworks: today marks 50 years since Congresss signed the Freedom of Information Act into law, and the U.S. became one of the first nations to open its records to the public.

The Freedom of Information Act

The FOIA opens certain kinds of information about the federal government and certain information created by the federal government. It doesn’t apply to everything, including documents that relate to national security, privacy and trade secrets. The FOIA also only applies to documents created by the federal government, not state or local governments.

Since it was passed, the FOIA has continued to be expanded and amended. Over the years, the numbers of FOIA document requests has skyrocketed, too. In the first five years after the FOIA passed, it only resulted in about 500 total requests for information–that’s an average of just 100 per year. Last year alone, there were more than 700,000 requests!

The FOIA and Genealogy

So, of course we have to ask the question: how well do FOIA and genealogy go together? As it turns out, quite well. My favorite FOIA request is for an ancestor’s Social Security application (the SS-5 form). This is the form that generated the assignment of a relative’s Social Security number and was the first step to receiving any Social Security benefits. It’s what the very limited information on the Social Security Death Index comes from, as well as the much-richer (but not comprehensively available) Social Security Applications and Claims database at Ancestry.com. That was released last year and caused a LOT of us to do a serious genealogy happy dance.

But if you want to see everything in that SS-5 application, you should order an image copy of the original (you can now also order a computerized abstract of it, which is cheaper but might not get everything right). Here’s what an SS-5 application looks like:

Osby Johnson SS5 FOIA and genealogy

This one confirms the names of an African-American man’s parents–parents who survived slavery and left few other records of their existence. This man was part of the first generation in his family to legally learn to read and write. His signature is on the record.

You can also access other key 20th-century genealogy records that haven’t made it online yet–and in some cases, haven’t even been sent to the National Archives yet.

These include the following (with links to where to learn more):

There is some fine print on some of these records request procedures, so read carefully what records are there, what you’re allowed to order and how to request it. Happy Independence Day–and Happy FOIA anniversary!

More FOIA and Genealogy Gems

Social Security Death Index SSDI FOIA and genealogy Try This Now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 21 about military record requests through FOIA