Oldest Known Photographs of Cities: Did Your Ancestors Live Here Then?

Boulevard du Temple, Paris, by Louis Daguerre, 1838. Wikimedia Commons image, Scanned from The Photography Book, Phaidon Press, London, 1997.

Boulevard du Temple, Paris, by Louis Daguerre, 1838. Wikimedia Commons image, Scanned from The Photography Book, Phaidon Press, London, 1997.

London. Paris. Athens. Berlin. Bombay. Rome. New York City. Copenhagen. Dublin. Edinburgh. Jerusalem. The oldest known photographs of these cities and more are featured in this post at Abroad in the Yard.

I love the details in these photos that are usually left to our imagination. An 1858 image of a Toronto thoroughfare was likely taken in at its best, since the photo was part of a (failed) bid to become Canada’s capital. And yet the streets are still muddy enough you wouldn’t want to step off that freshly-swept sidewalk, especially if you were in a long dress.

You can read the shop signs in these pictures. See signs of construction and destruction, an eternal presence in these metropolises. Count the number of levels in the tall tenements and other buildings that sheltered our ancestors’ daily lives without air conditioning, central heat or elevators.

Despite the busy city streets shown here, they don’t look busy. So much time had to elapse during the taking of the image that anyone moving wasn’t captured. Only a few loungers and the shoe-shine man (and his customer) appear in these photos of busy streets.

Although not shown in the blog post above, my favorite historical image of a city is the Cincinnati Panorama of 1848, the oldest known “comprehensive photo” of an American city. The resolution of this series of photos is so high, you can see details the photographers themselves couldn’t possibly have caught. The panorama can be explored at an interactive website, which offers “portals” to different parts of the city and city life when you click on them. Whether you had ancestors in this Ohio River town or not, this is a fascinating piece of history.

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverLooking for pictures of your ancestor’s hometown or daily life? There are some great search tips in Lisa’s newly-revised and updated 2nd edition of her popular book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Maybe you already use Google to search for images. Learn how to drill down to just the images you want: black and white pictures, images with faces, images taken of a particular location during a certain time period and more!

Read more

Premium Episode 120 – What’s New with Google

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and Podcast

Download the Show Notes

In this episode we’ll be discussing what’s new in using Google for your genealogy online searches. And in the mailbox Lisa will talk with you about a new genealogy blog, getting your paper organized, how to find topics that interest you on the Genealogy Gems website, and her upcoming appearance at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree 2015.


Shelley has a new blog:
“Hi Lisa, I have listened to every podcast you record, read every blog you write, purchased every book you write, needless to say, I am a fan. I love the new book club and wanted to recommend a book. It is called A Secret Gift by Ted Gup. His web site is:


This book is wonderful and full of amazing stories. I HIGHLY recommend it.

I also wanted you to know you inspired me to start a family blog. It is called My Northern Ancestral Souls www.northernancestralsouls.blogspot.com check it out if you have time.

Thanks for all you do.

My answer:
You are so sweet! I’m thrilled that you are enjoying Genealogy Gems! And thank you for the book recommendation. We will definitely take a look at it.

Your blog is excellent. I really like your attention to storytelling, and the large photos with white space. Your approach makes it easy to read on a mobile device which is how everyone seems to reading blogs these days. I will be happy to give your blog a shout out on an upcoming episode.

Beth recently became a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. She writes:
“Thank you for your warm welcome. I look forward to viewing all the videos, especially as I signed up for the premium subscription. I do have one question.

In a few days, I will be helping my father ready his genealogy materials to be passed on. Do you have any suggestions or resources on how to organize everything? When I searched your site, I only came across digital organization tips. We need to deal with all his paper files first. Help!”

Answer: Premium Podcast episode 4 is titled “How to Save Your Research from Destruction” which is all about preparing to pass your materials on. There are free download documents available from that episode’s web page too.

Check out Premium Podcast episode 114. It’s devoted to paper organization.

On the Genealogy Gems homepage in the bottom left corner you can search blog posts by topic. “Preservation” might be worth taking a look at.

From MaryAnn:
I ordered your new book within a few days of your announcement that it could be pre-ordered. I started listening to your podcasts in early 2012, listening to the new ones and also working my way forward from the oldest ones then available. I learned so much from you on my then “long” seven mile commute to work. When I got through them all I went back and listened again, because they are all so interesting and your presentation is so, for want of a better word, friendly. I eventually joined the Premium group, too.

At first, when hearing your Google tips, I was really only interested in the search tips. I could even make use of them at work! By the time I wanted to start with some of the other things you were sharing about Google, they (Google) were starting to cut back. I had just started setting up my…dashboard? (I used it so briefly that I can’t even remember what it was called)…when you broke the news to your listeners that it was going to be dropped. About that same time, I had been going to order your Google Toolbox book but decided to wait because of all the changes. That’s why I was so thrilled when you announced that you’d been re-writing the book, that it would be released January 31, and that we could pre-order. Hurray! Now I could have a ready reference close at hand. After the holidays were over I started looking forward to the end of the month, and now it’s buy pain relief medication online nearly here!

Thank you, Lisa, for everything you teach your listeners (and readers, and viewers). I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to hear you in person. Now that, after three years of only working 30-32 hours a week jobs, I have a REAL full-time job (a trained secretary/admin asst., I am now working as a church receptionist…only bad thing is that this drive is just three miles, leaving less time to listen to you during the commute), maybe this year I will be able to go to the Jamboree. It would be perfect if you will be speaking there…extra incentive to take a day off work.

Answer: Congrats on the new job Mary Ann! And that Google dashboard was called iGoogle, and I still miss it, but thankfully there are tons of other great Google offerings to keep us productive. It felt great to get the book all updated and to have a chance to add all the new goodies.

And good news, I will be speaking at Jamboree:

SA-007 Google Tools & Procedures for Solving Family History Mysteries.
In this session we will put Google to the test. Discover Google tools and the process for using them to solve the genealogical challenges you face. You’ll walk away with exciting new techniques you can us right away.

SA-022 Get the Scoop on Your Family History with Newspapers.
While a fraction of newspapers are currently digitized online, your computer is always your starting point. Discover cool new tech tools that make locating newspapers easier than ever whether they are online or in an archive.

SA-047 Update: Google! Everything New That You Need to Know for Genealogy.
One thing guaranteed about working online is that everything is subject to change! Get the scoop on all the latest changes you need to know about for effective genealogy searching.

I also plan on giving short sessions at my booth. I hope you will be there and come by and say “hi”!

GEM: What’s New in Google Search
Search Operators Changes:

OLD: Plus sign (+)

NEW: Quotation Marks (“ “)

Put the word or phrase in quotation marks to ensure every result will include it.

Example: “Lars Larson” “Winthrop” MN

OLD: Tilde (~) This used to be a synonym search.

NEW: You must now include the various synonyms in your search query. Use the OR operator to assist you in searching for alternative terms.

Example: Train OR Railroad OR Locomotive history

Best Operators for Genealogy


Application: When you want to allow a letter, word, or two words to be able to appear between two words. It can hold the place for an initial in a name.

Example: city * directory returns results such as city directory, city telephone directory, etc.

NumRange (..)

Application: When you want to narrow the search results within a certain timespan. This only works for your 4-digit years. Don’t include month or day.

Example: Jehu Burkhart 1790..1830


February 28, 2015

Saturday, February 28th. Although February is the calendar’s shortest month, it looms large in America’s history of railroad development. In 1815, the first state charter for a railroad was issued by New Jersey for a never-completed line between Trenton and New Brunswick. On this date in 1827, the famed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was chartered to carry passengers and freight. And February 1830 saw the first charter for an interstate railroad to serve Virginia and North Carolina. The peak year for the number of railroads was 1907, with over 1,500 lines in operation, and the greatest extent of track mileage came in 1930 at nearly 430,000 miles. While the iron horse is no longer so singularly vital to transportation, nearly $16 billion worth of rolling stock are manufactured annually. You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at <www.census.gov>.

Chartered railroads: Kane’s Famous First Facts, 6317 & 6322
Baltimore & Ohio RR
Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1976, p. 728

NAICS 336510
Manufacturing: Industry Series: Product or Service Statistics for the United States: 2012 more information 2012 Economic Census of the United States

Read more

Share World War I Family History

flagTo commemorate the centennial of the First World War, and to mark the last full month of the exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture, the Wolfsonian at Florida International University (FIU) created a special Tumblr for sharing family stories, WWI memorabilia, and genealogy research tips called #GreatWarStories.

I first crossed paths with FIU’s Digital Outreach Strategist Jeffery K. Guin in 2009 when he interviewed me for his Voices of the Past website and show. Jeff was an early innovator in the world of online history, and he’s now brought those talents to the Wolfsonian, a museum, library and research center in Miami that uses its collection to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design.

The Wolfsonian team of historical sleuths is inviting the public at large to help them unearth the forgotten impact of the Great War by posting family facts, anecdotes, documents, and photographs. They were inspired by their current art exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture which focuses on artists’ responses to the war. They hope that #GreatWarStories project at Tumblr will be a “living, breathing digital collection of personal WWI stories, photos, documents and letters compiled in remembrance of the transformational war on the occasion of its centennial.”

Great war

Jeff asked me to join in on this buy add medication online history crowd-sourcing effort, and it was easy to comply. Several years ago  in going through the last of my Grandmother’s boxes, I found a booklet she had crafted herself called The World War.As a high school student, and daughter of German immigrant parents she set about gathering and clipping images from magazines and newspapers, depicting this turning point in history. I’ve been anxious to share it in some fashion, and this was my opportunity. Here is the result:

Do you have a piece of World War I history hiding in our closet? Why not join in this experiment in storytelling, sharing and curating, and share World War I family history?

Here are some ways you can contribute:

  • Sharing the story of your family’s WWI-related history through photos, documents, or anecdotes (possibilities include guest blogging, video/podcast interview, or photo essay)
  • Using your expertise and unique perspective as a launching pad for discussing the war’s impact in a different or surprising way
  • Alerting the museum to related resources or materials that would dovetail with the mission of the project

To see the living, digital collection, visit http://greatwarstories.tumblr.comIf you would like to participate, send an email to greatwarstories@thewolf.fiu.edu and the Wolfsonian team will be in touch to discuss storytelling ideas.

Read more

Recent Ohio Adoption Records Now Open

e639359d72f66679cd7b7cdab94f5ddbRecently Genealogy Gems Premium member Katharine Ott wrote in this with newsworthy gem:

“Recent adoption records are being released in Ohio. Such an exciting time for those adoptees yearning to connect with their bloodlines! Before the bill took effect, they allowed birth mothers to redact their names. Out of 400,000 only around 110 took them up on that.  There’s also a preference form with the birth records where the mother can request not to be contacted. I wonder how often that might not be respected.  It’s such an interesting situation for someone to be in.”

Wow, that’s huge news about Ohio adoption records! Thanks for the news, Katharine. She sent us this link to a local news story that covers the story. The Ohio Department of Health posted this webpage about ordering adoption records.

Want to learn more about accessing adoption records in any state? Check out the U.S. Adoption Research page at the FamilySearch wiki for a terrific overview and helpful links.

Also, try running a Google search for the name of the state and the keywords adoption and genealogy. You’ll find lots of great resources, like this page on adoption records at the Pennsylvania state library or this online resource from the State Historical Society of Missouri.

The right Google search can shorten your search for the records you want! This tip brought to you by the newly-published, fully-revised and updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke.

Read more

Knowles Jewish Genealogy Collection Has Over a Million Entries

Ketubah Circa 1860. This is the ketubah (marriage contract) of Hannah and Hayyim from their marriage on Tuesday, April 6, 1886 (א׳ ניסן תרמ״ו) in the town of Brody. Image by Yoel Ben-Avraham on Flickr Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/epublicist/1355967207/in/photolist-.

Ketubah Circa 1860.
This is the ketubah (marriage contract) of Hannah and Hayyim from their marriage on Tuesday, April 6, 1886 (א׳ ניסן תרמ״ו) in the town of Brody. Image by Yoel Ben-Avraham on Flickr Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/epublicist/1355967207/in/photolist-.

Looking for an online resource of Jewish family trees?

“The Knowles Collection, a quickly growing, free online Jewish genealogy database linking generations of Jewish families from all over the world, reached its one-millionth record milestone and is now easily searchable online,” says a recent FamilySearch press release.

“The collection started from scratch just over seven years ago, with historical records gathered from FamilySearch’s collections. Now the vast majority of new contributions are coming from families and private archives worldwide. The free collection can be accessed at FamilySearch.org/family-trees.

According to FamilySearch, “The databases from the Knowles Collection are unlike other collections in that people are linked as families and the collection can be searched by name, giving researchers access to records of entire families. All records are sourced and show the people who donated the records so cousins can contact one another. New records are added continually, and the collection is growing by about 10,000 names per month from over 80 countries. Corrections are made as the need is found, and new links are added continually.”

The database was started by Todd Knowles, a Jewish genealogy expert at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Jewish communities from around the world have added to it: “The Knowles Collection has grown from Jews of the British Isles (now with 208,349 records), to Jews of North America (489,400), Jews of Europe (380,637), Jews of South America and the Caribbean (21,351), Jews of Africa, the Orient, and the Middle East (37,618), and the newest one, Jews of the Southern Pacific (21,518).” Keep up with the Knowles Jewish Collection at its blog.

Read more

Pin It on Pinterest