We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of cool new genealogy records online. Should you search any of these: an 1831 England census substitute; parish records for Hertfordshire; images of French forts in North America; Michigan death records; outgoing passenger lists for the US and War of 1812 pension records?

ENGLAND 1831 CENSUS SUBSTITUTE. There’s a new 1831 census substitute database at Findmypast!  England, Pollbooks and Directories 1830-1837  allows you to discover where your ancestors lived, how they earned a living and how they voted. This collection of assorted documents also plugs the important gap left by the lack of a complete 1831 census.”

ENGLAND PARISH REGISTERS. Findmypast now has a browsable collection of parish records for Hertfordshire. The collection spans 1538-1988: that’s 450 years and 1.9 million pages of baptisms, marriages and burials.

NEW FRANCE. Library & Archives Canada has published a new Flickr photo collection with images of North American forts built or captured by the French during the era of New France. It’s free to explore and the history is fascinating!

MICHIGAN DEATHS. A new collection of  Michigan Death Records, 1857-1960 is available to Ancestry.com subscribers. Death registers and certificates contain varying amounts of genealogical information.

US TRAVELERS ABROAD. Ancestry.com has a new database of departing passengers and crew from various U.S. locations (1916-1962) by ship and air. These include military transports. “Details requested on the forms varied, but they typically include the name of the vessel, departure date, ports of departure and destination, shipmaster, full name, age, gender, physical description, military rank (if any), occupation, birthplace, citizen of what country, and residence.” Later documents may include visa or passport information.

WAR OF 1812 PENSIONS (US). Images of pension records for US soldiers with surnames beginning A-M have been posted on Fold3, where they are available to view for FREE. This is part of the ongoing Preserve the Pensions project led by the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Click here to learn more and contribute to funding for this crowd-sourced effort.

google for genealogy quoteLooking for a specific type of record about your ancestor? Want to find more new genealogy records online yourself? Click here for step-by-step instructions on using Google to search for specific records.

 

Provenance: The Story Behind Your Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37 Show Notes

There’s a very important story behind each one of your genealogy records. In this video and article we discuss why it’s critically important to understand the provenance of each record. We also talk about specific things to look for as you analyze their meaning. Great genealogy research requires a great understanding of the story behind your genealogy records! Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

The story behind your records includes many important areas to be considered:

  • Provenance / History
  • The reason for the record
  • Information source (primary vs. secondary)
  • Motivating factors of the informants

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Provenance

In the art world,  knowing the provenance of a piece is crucial to understanding its value.

Provenance looks at an object’s origins, history, and ownership. Investigating and analyzing the provenance of a piece can shed light on:

  • whether the piece is authentic,
  • whether it truly was created by the attributed artist in the stated timeframe,
  • What the value of the item might be.
provenance definition

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37

The principle of provenance is true for genealogical sources, too.

The Story Behind the Records

Provenance is important because it helps us determine how much weight to give the information provided by the genealogical record.

We need to ask When and where was the record created? We are looking for:

  • Records created closest to the time of an event
  • Documents created in places associated with your relatives
  • Documents created by people who knew them or were authorities

Review the Record’s Source Information

It’s important to take the time to review the available source citation information for each record we use. Fortunately, many genealogy websites that provide access to the records of our ancestors also provide critical background information about that record. This can help us find the answers to our questions and help us evaluate how much credence to give the information.

Ancestry Record Source Information

Scroll down and click through to get the rest of the record’s story.

Sometimes it just takes a little digging to uncover the backstory on a record. For example, the census enumerators received detailed written instructions before being sent out into our ancestors’  neighborhoods to collect data. You can review digitized copies (or transcriptions) of those instructions at the United States Census Bureau website for all years of the decennial census except 1800 through 1840.

Enumerator Census Instructions

1860 Census Enumerator Instructions

Finding Aids

Whether you’re researching at home or in an archive, look for or ask for the finding aid or reference guide for the collection you are using.  

A finding aid may include the following sections:

  • provenance
  • how the materials were used
  • contents / physical characteristics
  • restrictions on use
  • scope and contents note, summary and evaluation
  • box or file list

Learn more about Finding Aids in Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 featuring the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. It includes a discussion of finding aids.

Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers: Learn more from a professional archivist about using finding aids in Premium Podcast episode #149. (Membership required. Learn more here.)

The same holds true for objects that are passed down through the family, whether it be a family Bible or a transcript of a reminiscence you find online.

Resource: Elevenses with Lisa episode 29.

Records as a Whole

Whenever possible, consider a source as a whole. It’s tempting to want to zero in on the paragraphs or photos that interest you most, but you may miss out on important information that changes what this source has to tell you.  For example, the specific placement of a photo in an album can be as significant as the printed photographic image. A photo’s position can indicate the relationship of the people in the photo to others on the same page, or the timeline of events.

Does the record appear complete?

Take note if any part of the source appears to be missing or illegible, especially if it appears that some of it has been deliberately removed, erased, or crossed out.

You may be able to make more sense of the partial information—or take a guess at why it was removed—as you learn more about the family. There may be a perfectly innocent reason for the change. But you may also be seeing evidence that someone who wanted to erase unpleasant memories or conceal a scandal.

Where has the item been over the years?

Where the source has been kept over time and who possessed it is an important part of provenance. Try as best you can to reconstruct and document the chain of custody of the item.

Resource: Heirloom Tracking Template
My Heirloom tracking page helps you document the complete story behind your precious family heirlooms. Premium Members can download the template from Elevenses with Lisa episode 6

Is the record the original?

Whenever possible, consult the original version of a genealogical record. Indexes, typed-up copies, or abstracts may not be as complete or accurate. Remember, handwritten or typed copies of older originals may have been made in the days before photocopying technology.

The Story Behind the Document: Motivating Factors

Another important question to ask about a record is Why was the record created? Understanding the motivation of the person, organization or governmental agency creating the document can help you anticipate their possible bias. It can also provide clues regarding information that you would expect or hope to find, but don’t. While the information may seem important, it may not have fallen within the scope of the original intent. Therefore, you may need to look for additional records that can help fill in the gaps.

Tax lists provide an excellent example of why we need to understand the motives and scope of the records we use. When reviewing a tax list, we need to determine if the government was taxing real or personal property and if it was including every head of household or just adult males.

Why was the information provided?

The original purpose of a source is highly relevant to how much faith you put in its contents. Here are a few examples of why the information provided might not be totally accurate:

  • A woman might have altered her testimony in divorce proceedings in an effort to minimize damage to her own reputation and future.
  • Newspaper articles may be filled with a variety of biases by the author, publisher, or those being interviewed.
  • A man may have lied about his age or citizenship on a draft card, either to avoid military service or in order to be included despite being underage.

Comparing the record with similar records can help reveal where the truth lies.

Who was the informant?

The information on a record is the person who supplied the information. Sometimes this is the same person who created the record, such as the writer of a diary. In the case of a U.S. census, the informant is the person in a household who told the census enumerator about the people who lived there. In many cases, it’s impossible to know who the informant was. Thankfully in 1940, census enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with a circled “X,” as shown in these two households. This is just another example of the value of doing 

Reliability of Informants

A source may have multiple informants. Each may have had unique knowledge of the situation. For example, on a death certificate a relative may provide the personal information while a physician provides the death-related information.

If the informant shares the deceased’s last name they:

  • likely are a relative
  • likely had first-hand knowledge of the deceased’s marital status, spouse’s name, and occupation.
  • (if father or brother) likely have provided primary information relating to the deceased’s birth, and parents’ names.

Even when a relative is close, we need to stop and think about whether they knew the information because they experienced it first-hand or were told about it. For example, if the informant was the deceased’s father, the  information about the deceased’s mother (his wife) such as birthplace would actually be secondary since he presumably wasn’t present when she was born! And that leads us to understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources and information.

Primary & Secondary Information

Historical evidence can either be considered primary or secondary information. Genealogical scholar Thomas W. Jones defines these terms in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:

  • “Primary information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.
  • Secondary information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay.”

Interestingly, the same document can include both primary and secondary information. It helps to think in terms of primary and secondary information instead of striving to designate the source document as primary and secondary. 

How do all these clues add up?

It’s clear that as genealogists our goal is not only to evaluate each family history source, but also each piece of information it provides. Asking the right questions helps us ultimately answer the all-important question: how much do you trust what this record is telling you?

Answers to Live Chat Questions 

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Debra L.: Is the book (A Cup of Christmas Tea) good to give to 12 year old tea lover?
From Lisa: It has a wonderful message for any age of caring for others in the family, especially older relatives. (It’s not really about the tea 😊)

From Mary P.: As custodian of my parents’ life memorabilia I need help with the 5ish address books. Can you suggest an attack plan to glean information, what to store/record\research online etc. ? I’m overwhelmed.
From Lisa: It’s really a matter of how much time you have. I would lean toward transcribing them into Excel spreadsheets that can then be searched and sorted, including a column to indicate the relationship (friend, co-worker, relative, etc.) Store the books in an archival-safe box like this one.

From Mary P.: ​I’m back, can you help with this project? My grandfather built two houses in Garwood, NJ about 1920. I’d like to find information on their construction and owners/renters over time.
From Lisa: Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 & episode 28 have everything you need!

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive

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Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

Land Entry Case Files in New and Updated Genealogy Records

U.S. land entry case files are now free to browse at FamilySearch. We give you a link to a free index to those–and MORE new and updated records for Argentina, Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, and other U.S. collections (Crimean War photos, Illinois birth certificates, and more).

Featured: U.S. Land Entry Case Files

Over a quarter million record images have been added to the free FamilySearch database of United States, Cancelled, Relinquished, or Rejected Land Entry Case Files, 1861-1932. This collection gives researchers access to browsable images of case files for those who unsuccessfully applied for homesteads (such as the one shown above; click the image to see its citation), mining claims, and land pre-emptions. Even better–the National Archives website hosts a name index to speed along your search of the browsable records at FamilySearch!

According to a National Archives description of the original collection, “A file may contain the original entry application, correspondence between the officials of the Lincoln Land Office and the GLO in Washington, D.C., receipts for fees paid, public notices, affidavits and witness statements, proof of military service, the entryman’s naturalization records, and documents concerning the cancellation or relinquishment of the entry.”

This collection of Land Entry Case Files includes Kansas land offices at Dodge City and Topeka and Nebraska land offices at Alliance, Broken Bow, Lincoln, North Platte, O’Neill, and Valentine. More records will be forthcoming.

Argentina—Church records

Over a quarter million indexed names have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of Catholic church records for Entre Rios, Argentina (1764-1983). Also noteworthy are over 118,000 record images recently added to FamilySearch’s Argentina, Corrientes, Catholic Church Records, 1734-1977.

Australia—Emigrants

Nearly 170,000 indexed names have been added to the free FamilySearch collection, Australia, Victoria, Outward Passenger Lists, 1852-1924.

England—Newspapers and Wiltshire

The British Newspaper Archive recently announced it now has a title online for every county in England. (Click here to learn more.) They’ve also updated several London titles and added two new ones, among them the North London News and West London Observer.

Findmypast.com has recently added more than 4.5 million records that can help those searching for ancestors in Wiltshire, in southwest England:

France–Census records

New indexes to French censuses for 1876-1906 are now free at FamilySearch:

Germany–Church and Family Tables

Ancestry.com has published two new collections of German Lutheran church records. Note that the time periods overlap, so try searching them both:

Also new on the site is a collection called Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Family Tables, 1550-1985. A tip from the collection description: “Use the browse fields to sort through the images by City or District and Description of records.”

Ireland—Newspapers

Nearly a million new articles have been added to Findmypast’s enormous collection of digitized Irish newspapers. This unique collection now hosts more than 35 million articles.

Netherlands

Over a million indexed records have been added to a miscellaneous archival index for the Netherlands at FamilySearch. If you’ve got Dutch roots, check it out–it’s free.

New Zealand—Probate records

Over a quarter million browsable record images have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of New Zealand probate records.

Scotland—Catholic records

As promised, Findmypast continues to expand its Catholic Heritage Archive. Recent additions include baptisms, congregational records, marriages, and burials for Scotland.

U.S.–Crimean War

A collection of Crimean War photographs from the Library of Congress is free to search online, and is the subject of a recent article on the Library of Congress blog: “Witness to History.”

U.S.—Illinois—Cook Co

Got relatives from Chicago, Illinois? Perhaps they’re among more than a quarter million newly-indexed names in Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940, free to search at FamilySearch.

U.S.—Kentucky

Newspapers.com has added Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal to its collections of digitized newspapers. Basic subscribers have access to just shy of 100 years’ worth of issues (1830-1922) and Publisher Extra subscribers also may access more recent years (1923-2016).

U.S.—Massachusetts

FamilySearch has added 1.3 million names to its free collection, Massachusetts, Boston Crew Lists, 1917-1943.

U.S.—Michigan

A new online database of The Michigan Daily brings more than 23,000 issues digitally searchable. This is the student newspaper of the University of Michigan. The newspaper archive spans 125 years: 1890-2014. Click here to search it for free.

Google your way to MORE genealogy records like these

Wish you could find similar records for another time or place? Use Google search strategies to target the record types, places and even a specific range of years. You can even search for digitized photographs on Google! Click here to read more about Googling old records online.

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

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