How to Find Old Rural Addresses on a Map

Have you ever found an address for an ancestor but been disappointed that it is just a Route number and a town name? Have you wondered if it is possible to figure out where they actually lived? The good news is, it is! I’m going to show you how to take a rural “route” address from the early 20th century and find it on an old census enumeration district map. 

find old rural addresses on a map

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In a recent video I showed you how to find 1950 Census Enumeration District (ED) maps. These are super helpful and also free. In that video we used the address of an ancestor that we found by hunting through old letters and documents. But for many Americans in the early 20th century that address may have just been a route number and town.

That was the case for my viewer Lisa. She emailed me after she watched the video. She writes, “How can you find the E.D. number when you only have a Route number? My relatives lived in rural Arkansas.”

This is totally doable! Follow allow these steps of this case study and they will help you find the E.D. number and census enumeration district maps, and zero in on the location.

“Route 2” & Rural Delivery

A carrier route is basically the territory one letter carrier can cover on a daily basis. So, there could be a Route 1 or a Route 2 in thousands of places around the country. It just happens that your ancestor was on, say, Route 2 in a particular township area. Although it doesn’t tell us which house, it does dramatically narrow down the place because a daily route was the same and may not have been that large. Once we find that area we can then use other sources to help us try to get even more specific.

If you’re interested in some interesting history on early rural delivery routes read Riding a Rural Free Delivery Route, 1903.

Here’s a handy PDF download from the post office: Post Office: First Rural Routes by State.

Step 1: Gather the Details

The first thing we need to do is gather some details. We need:

  • The ancestors’ names
  • The Route number address which includes the town
  • The county – which is something we can easily find online with a quick search
  • The year – in this case the address she has is from 1950.

 So, here’s what Lisa sent me about her ancestors, the Blazers:

Names: Joseph Madison Blazer and Minnie Blazer
Route number: Route 2
Address: Frazier Pike
County: Pulaski

Joe and Minnie Blazer c1950

Joe and Minnie Blazer c1950 (Image courtesy of Lisa Egner.)

Step 2: Find the Family in the Census

Now we need to find the family in the census record closest to the date of the known address.

Since the 1950 census hasn’t been released yet because I’m recording this in Jan. of 2022, we can’t yet pull up their record. So, we’ll need to turn to the 1940 census. There’s a good chance that the family was in the same location since folks didn’t typically move around quite as much or as far as we do these days.

The 1940 census is available for free at many of the larger genealogy websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry.

Here’s the Blazer family in the 1940 census, and Lisa confirmed that she believes this is the same place.

census record

On the census record we are looking for three very important things:

  • the township (Badgett Township)
  • the ED number (60-2B)
  • and any address written along the left margin. If you don’t see anything, check the pages before and after that page. (Frazier Pike)

Step 3: Search for the Township

Once you have the location or township, search for them in an online map. I prefer to use Google Earth, but I often also use Google Maps. It doesn’t hurt to check both.

In this case we have two locations to look for: Badgett Township and Frazier Pike. We’ll start with the actual address which was Frazier Pike, Arkansas. Google Earth tell us that it’s a road just southeast of Little Rock, AR. When you click the pin it also tells you the current zip code for the Frazier Pike area, so we’ll make note of that. I’m like to create a project folder (Blazer Address) in my Places panel and then save the location pin in it. I will add additional items to the folder as I find them.

finding zip code in google earth

Click the pin to see the zip code.

Next, I’ll search for the other location found in the 1940 census, Badgett Township. It doesn’t appear in either Google Earth or Google Maps. That’s probably because it’s been renamed or incorporated. Googling may be able to help so I googled: badgett township arkansas history.

This led me to a website that provided several helpful clues. It says that Badgett is “historical”, meaning that it’s the old name of the town which has since changed. It also provides us with the latitude and longitude of Badgett which we can use in Google Earth to confirm it’s location.

Get a map website

Result: Latitude and Longitude from Get a Map 

Go back to Google Earth and enter the coordinates (34°42’10” N  92°12’0″ W) in the search box and press ENTER on your keyboard. 

google earth

The locations are very close.

And indeed, it’s very close to Frazier Pike.  (image above)

I also like to look at the image results when googling. The website results are organized by the most relevant images. When I ran a search on Badgett, AR, and click Images on the results page, I see that the first one showed a map showing Frazier Pike. So, they are nearly one and the same.

Another search result was the Home Town Locator website. It says “the Township of Badgett (historical) is a cultural feature (civil) in Pulaski County. The primary coordinates for Township of Badgett (historical) places it within the AR 72206 ZIP Code delivery area.” This confirms that it is historical, the coordinates pin the same place on the map, and the current zip code is the same.

I also ran a Google search for Route 2 Frazier Pike AR. The first result was College Station, AR mentioned in Wikipedia.

A quick Find on the page search (Alt + F) for Route 2 jumps me to a nice bit of history.

In the section discussing schoolhouses we get a description of the route: “…located in the main red-dirt road called Route 2 in Pulaski County. Route 2 is now known as Frazier Pike.”

Step 4: Find the ED Map for the Closest Census

Next, we turn our attention to the enumeration district or ED number we found on the 1940 census. As you’ll recall, 1940 is the closest available census record to the date of the address, and we found Lisa’s ancestors in that record in Badgett, AR which we now know is the Frazier Pike area in Pulaski county. On that record it says: Badgett Township. ED 60-2B.

 We could google for the year of the census and the words enumeration district map. However, there’s a great free tool for finding them over at Steve Morse’s One-Step Tools website at stevemorse.org.

In the menu under U.S. Census select the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder, select the year at the top of the page. In this case we will select 1940. Next, enter the state (Arkansas) and county (Pulaski). You can then select the city or town. However, in the case of rural addresses, don’t expect to find the town listed. If it offers you an “Other” option you can try and type the name of the town (Badgett) in the field provided. Don’t bother entering the route number (Route 2) because that’s not a street address, it’s a postal delivery address.

We could also run this same search on the 1950 census. Chances are you will see more ED numbers listed because the population was growing. Since an enumeration district had to be the size that one enumerator could cover in about a two week timeframe, they were often redivided as they decades went by.

Since we know from the 1940 census that township was in existence, we should receive a list of ED numbers as a result. In this case we got three: 60-2A, 60-2B. and 60-3.

steve morse census unified

Click the corresponding ED number.

Click the linked ED number that matches the one you found in the census record. In this case, the 1940 census record told us that the Blazer family was in ED 60-2B, so we click that link.

The next page lists each ED. Click the View link for the ED.

census ED numbers

Click the View link.

The View link will take you to the exact page for that ED in the ED Descriptions from the National Archives T1224 microfilm from Record Group 29. This description helps even further define the area.

1940 census description

1940 Census ED Description

60-2 A and B says, “Badgett Township – That part north of section line beginning at the southwest corner of section 19, Township 1 North, Range 11 and extending due east to township line. Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)”

This is perfect because its’ giving us the township, range and section! We can use this information to plot it in Google Earth.

How to plot a land description in Google Earth with Earthpoint:

  1. Go to earthpoint.us
  2. Under USA Utilities click Search by Description
  3. Enter the state, principal meridian (in this case there’s only one choice here thankfully), township, range and section numbers from the census description.
  4. Click the Fly to on Google Earth button.
  5. This may open automatically in Google Earth or you may be prompted to save the file to your computer. Do that and then click it to open. It is a KMZ file so it will automatically open in Google Earth.

And here are the results! The location is mapped out for you.

land description plotted

Census description mapped in Google Earth.

Notice I still have my placemark pins for the approximate location of Frazier Pike, and the center of Badgett Twp which we got using the latitude and longitude coordinates. Section 19 is outlined in purple, and the township is outlined in orange.

Since Frazier Pike is a road, turn on Roads in the Layers panel.  Now we can see that Frazier Pike is running north and south and our pin is right on top of it.

Now we can use the census description to further zero in on the area. “Badgett Township – That part north of section line beginning at the southwest corner of section 19 Township 1 North, Range 11 and extending due east to township line. Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)”

Mark that in Google Earth using the Path tool.  Click the Path button in the toolbar at the top oof Google Earth. Click on the southwest corner of section 19 (outlined in purple) and then go east and click the township line (in orange.) Give your path a title and click OK.

google earth path tool

Click the Path button in the tool bar.

Next in the census description, on the same line as “B” it says “Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)” We can find College Park by searching for College Station, AR in the Google Earth search box.

Next, we want to follow Frazier Pike going north until we are above the section line that started in the southwest corner of Section 19. Use the Path tool again to mark it on the map.

rural route address mapped

Use the path tool to draw lines in Google Earth.

Get the Enumeration District Map

Now it’s time to head back to Steve Morse’s website and get the ED map for 1940. On the page you started your search, click the See ED Maps for… button.

one step tool ed maps

Click the See ED Maps button.

On the next page select the state, county and city again and click the Get ED Map Images button.

get ed maps at steve morse

Click the Get ED Map Images button.

This will take you to a list of all of the available maps. The first link will take you to the National Archives webpage where you can look through all the maps for the area you selected. You could also look through all the individual maps by clicking each of the links listed under “Direct links to jpegs on NARA server”. However, I don’t recommend that will take longer because they are extremely large image files. It’s easier to quickly look through them on the NARA website.

get census maps at steve morse

Click the Link to NARA viewer.

Click the link to the NARA viewer and look for the township name in the map thumbnail images. In this case I’m looking for Badgett. You can do this quickly by clicking each image and then drag the larger map in the viewer around with your mouse. I found Badgett Township in the second map.

Census ED maps at NARA

Map images at NARA.

Download the full-sized map by selecting the thumbnail image and then clicking the download button (down arrow.) The full resolution map will load in your web browser. Right-click on it and Save Image As to save it to your computer.

how to download census ED map

Right-click on the map to save it to your computer.

It can help to create a map overlay in Google Earth using this map. (Learn how to do this in the newest edition of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.) I cropped the image to just include Badgett Twp.

In fact, you can overlay both the 1940 and 1950 ED maps. Click to select a map in the Places panel and then you can use the transparency slide to fade it to reveal changes.

opacity slider google earth

Select the map and use the opacity slider in Google Earth.

Step 5: Follow the Census

The census can provide even more clues about where in an enumeration district an address was located. Using the census record and the census description of the enumeration district, it can help to highlight the area of the map. In this case, ED 60-2 is “that part north of section line” which I marked with a red path line. The Blazers address was Frazier Pike (which I marked with a green line), so this eliminated the northern area and the Fourche Dam Pike road.  To make sure that I could eliminate that area, I verified in the 1940 census that Fourche Dam Pike was enumerated separately by running a keyword search of the Pulaski County census records at Ancestry. And yes, indeed folks living along Fourche Dam Pike were enumerated separately and the road was written along the margin just as Frazier Pike was. This gives me a lot of confidence that I’m identifying the right area.

highlight the rural route address on a map

The route highlighted on the census ED map.

As you can see, there are little black squares and other markings on the map. To find out what each of those means we can turn back to the National Archives and download the page from this map collection that includes the map key.

The black squares are “Farm Units”. A farm unit square is not one family , it is the entire farm, including the owner and other families who may live and work on the farm. We also see businesses, churches, the town hall, school houses and more. We may not be able to find the exact home, but it’s possible to get very close. To do that, we need to head back to the census records themselves.

On Ancestry.com , the Blazers appear on Image 27. The filmstrip makes it easy to quickly scan through the images and browse them.

In this case, there are about 33 images or pages in ED 60-2B. The enumerator would start at one end of Frazier Pike and then make her way to the other. The enumerator wrote “College Station Pike” on pages 1 and 2. That isn’t a road today, and I couldn’t find any references to with a quick search. However, all of the other pages say, “Frazier Pike”. My guess would be that the census taker started on the west side – the hub of College Pike – and made her way east. Census enumerators visited homes and farms in a logical path, although they may have criss-crossed back and forth across the road. They listed the order in which they visited on the census form itself. In cities we might also see house numbers listed, but that’s not the case in a rural area. However, you may see pencil dots with visitation numbers written on the ED map. They were instructed to do this in rural areas in the census enumerator instructions in 1940. Unfortunately, the person enumerating 60-2B did not.

We could also look at the types of businesses and buildings shown on the map, and then look through the census records at occupations. We see a “factory/industrial” building to the east so we would look for people working in that environment in the census and see where they are living. We see a denser population in College Station along with a schoolhouse and two churches, so it would be worth looking through the census pages to see where the school teacher and pastors are listed. Folks may not have lived on the premises, but it would make sense they lived near their work.

Wedding photo Joseph Madison Blazer Minnie Mae Peterscolor

Wedding photo Joseph Madison Blazer Minnie Mae Peters (courtesy of Lisa Egner)

And finally, we want to look for renters and owners. If a family rented, a capital “R” was entered on the census. Those who owned their property were listed with a capital “O”. Since the black squares are “Farm Units” we wouldn’t expect to see a square on the map for every house. If our hypothesis is that the enumerator started on the west side, we could count the number of owned dwellings listed in the census until we get to the family living in question. Then we would count them on the map, going east. Again, it’s not exact, but it’s a whole lot more than what we knew about the address Route 2 Frazier Pike when we started!

Resources

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. 

broken genealogy website links solutions

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.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

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.

wayback-machine-result

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. 

save this page Wayback Machine

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?

world vital records search

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?

Lisa Louise CookeAbout 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 ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow 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.

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DNA Ethnicity Results: Exciting or Exasperating?

Are your DNA ethnicity results exciting, confusing, inconsistent, exasperating…or all of the above?

Recently Kate expressed on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page her frustration with her ethnicity results provided by AncestryDNA. She gets right to the point when she writes, “the way they refer to the results is confusing.”

Kate, you are not alone. Many genealogists have been lured into taking the autosomal DNA test at one of the three major DNA testing companies just to get this glimpse into their past. Remember that the autosomal DNA test can reveal information about both your mother’s side and your father’s side of your family tree. Many take the test hoping for confirmation of a particular ancestral heritage, others are just curious to see what the results will show. Though their purposes in initiating the testing may vary, the feeling of bewilderment and befuddlement upon receiving the results is fairly universal.

Kate has some specific questions about her results that I think most will share. Let’s take a look at a couple of them. First up, Kate wants to know if our family tree data in any way influences the ethnicity results provided. The answer is an unequivocal “no.” None of the testing companies look at your family tree in any way when determining your ethnicity results. However, the results are dependent on the family trees of the reference population. The reference populations are large numbers of people whose DNA has been tested and THEIR family history has been documented for many generations in that region. The testing companies compare your DNA to theirs and that’s how they assign you to an ethnicity (and place of ancestral origin?).

Next Kate asks, “Do they mean England when they report Great Britain?” Or to put it more broadly, how do these testing companies decide to divide up the world? All of the companies handle this a little bit differently. Let’s look at Ancestry as an example. When you login to view your ethnicity results, you can click on the “show all regions” box below your results to get a list of all of the possible categories that your DNA could be placed in. These 26 categories include nine African regions, Native American, three Asian regions, eight European regions, two Pacific Island regions, two West Asian regions, and then Jewish, which is not a region, per se, but a genetically distinct group.

Clicking on each individual location in the left sidebar will bring up more information on the right about that region. For example, clicking on Great Britain tells us that DNA associated with this region is primarily found in England, Scotland, and Wales, but is also found in Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Basically, this is telling us that people with generations of ancestry in Great Britain are quite a genetic mix from many areas.

The first chart here shows that if we are to test the DNA of 100 natives of one of these primary regions (England, Scotland or Wales) then 50 of them willhave the great Britain “pattern” of DNA covering 60% or more of their entire genome, and 50 of them will have that pattern in less than 60% of their DNA. The fact that this half-way number is so low, only 60%, tells us that there is a lot of uncertainty in this ethnicity estimate because there is so much mixture in this region. Kate, for you that means that when you see Great Britain in your ethnicity estimate, it could mean England, or maybe it means Italy- Ancestry can’t be certain.

But that uncertainty isn’t the same for every region. Pictured here is also the ethnicity chart for Ireland. You can see that half the people who are native to Ireland will have 95% or more Irish DNA.  Kate, for us this means that if you have Irish DNA in your results, you can be pretty certain it came from Ireland. From these tables you can see your membership in some regions is more robust than others, and Ancestry is using these tables to try to help us tell the difference.

 

In the end, the ethnicity results reported by each DNA testing company are highly dependent on two factors: the reference populations they use to compare your DNA against, and the statistical algorithms they use to compute your similarities to these populations. Every company is doing both of these things just a little bit differently.

Kate, if you want to get another take on your ethnicity results, you can take your data over to Family Tree DNA, or you can be tested at 23andMe. A free option is to head over to Gedmatch and try out their various ethnicity tools. If you need help downloading and transferring, you can head over to my website: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring.  Most people have found after searching in multiple places that their “true” results are probably somewhere in the middle.

While these ethnicity results can be interesting and useful, for most they will just be a novelty; something interesting and exciting. I have found that their most useful application is acting like a fly on a fishing line. They attract our family members into DNA testing where we can then set the hook on the real goal: family history.

If you’re ready to bait your own hook, I recommend you check out my series of DNA quick guides. These guides will help you choose the right DNA tests for your genetic genealogy questions. You’ll become a smart shopper, more prepared to choose the testing company that’s right for you. And you’ll be prepared to maximize your results from each company, rather than look at them blankly and wondered what the heck you just spent that money on. Click here to see all my DNA guides: I recommend the value-priced bundle!

 

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!

What’s this Geneanet Ancestry Record Hint?

Show Notes: Have you seen records from Geneanet popping up in your Ancestry hints? Here’s the answer to a Premium Member’s questions about the Geneanet records she is seeing show up as Ancestry hints. Learn how to figure out what new record hints like this are and how to decide how much weight to give them. 

 

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout (Premium Membership required. Learn more or become a member.)

I received the following question from Monete, a Premium Member: What is this new thing I’m seeing on Ancestry hints, Geneanet community trees? It’s a good question, and a common one. Genealogy websites like Ancestry are adding new record collections all the time. It’s important to know how to quickly understand what the new record collection is about, where it comes from, the scope and most importantly, decide how much weight to give it. 

Records Included in Ancestry Hints

It’s important to note that not all records are included in Ancestry hints. Only 10% of Ancestry® records appear as hints. So we want to keep in mind that although we’re seeing lots of new hints for records, they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination all of the records in the Ancestry collection. Hints are made up of the most popular record collections. There’s always going to be a need to continue to do your own research and to explore other records.

Where to find Ancestry Hints

You’ll find hints in a variety of places such as:

  • the leaf icon at the top of the screen near your account profile
  • attached to ancestors in your family tree
  • on ancestor profile pages
Ancestry tree hint

Ancestry hint in family tree

Reviewing and Comparing Ancestry Hint Information

View the hint by clicking the Review button. In the case of hints from the Geneanet Community Trees Index, you’ll see the pop-out panel prompting you to evaluate the record.

Ancestry hint review panel

Click the Review button to reveal the side panel.

Compare the details of the hint to the known details in your ancestor’s profile by clicking the Compare Details slider button. This allows you to review and compare each piece of information.

In a case like this where we are unfamiliar with the record collection, it’s important to learn more about it before we compare and make decisions about the information. That way, as you evaluate each piece of information you are considering adding to your family tree, you will have a much better idea whether you trust the source, and you’ll be better able to interpret the information it is providing.

To learn more about the record, it’s a logical next step to click the hyperlinked record name at the top of the panel. However, in this case we notice it just brings up to a full-size page where we are again being prompted to review and add the information to our tree.

Use the Ancestry Card Catalog

When you run across something like this, the first thing to keep in mind is that this record collection they are referencing is obviously part of their total collection, which means we should be able to find it in the card catalog. That’s the best place on Ancestry to learn more about it. Copy the name of the record and then go the Card Catalog. You’ll find the Card Catalog in the menu under Search > Card Catalog. It can be helpful to access the Card Catalog in a new browser tab so that you can jump back and forth between the catalog entry and the record you’re reviewing. You can open it in a new tab by right-clicking on Card Catalog when selecting it from the Search menu.

The card catalog is something that we don’t think of using that often. But really, we should because this is where all the other records are that are not coming up in our hints are listed. It’s also a really terrific resource to tell us more about the record collections that we’re running into as we’re doing our research and evaluating our hints.

On the Card Catalog page, paste the name of the record collection that you copied in the Title search box. If for any reason it doesn’t come up right away, try typing just the keywords into either the Title box or the Keywords search box.

You should see the collection in the search result. When you hover over the collection title it tells you when it was published, if it was recently updated, and the beginning sentences of the collection description. You will see what type of record it is by the category in which Ancestry placed it, and get a sense of the size of the collection.

how to search the Ancestry record collection

Searching the name of the record collection in the Ancestry Card Catalog

In the case of Geneanet, the category is family trees. So, without knowing anything more about it, we would expect this is probably user-contributed information, rather than, let’s say, a census record created by the government, or a birth record recorded by a pastor in a church. These family trees were created by many other genealogists. They may or may not include source citations or even be accurate.

Let’s learn even more about the collection. Click the title of the record collection. The next page will feature search fields and related records. Skip that for now and scroll down to the bottom of the page. This is where you really get to the heart of things about the collection. First you’ll see Source Information. Basically, this is saying Ancestry is the source (that’s where you found the hint) and Ancestry got it from Geneanet.

Next you’ll see the About section. This will help us determine the original purpose of the collection, how it was created, and so on. The About section tells us that this is an online database. And it tells the original data came from the Geneanet Community Trees Index in Paris, France.

Next you’ll find Using this Collection which provides an overview of the kind of information you can expect to find in the records. Next is Collection in Context. This explains “Geneanet was created in 1996 as a way to connect genealogical resources. They use a unique, collaborative model to share family resources while building community. Genealogists, both amateur and professional, are connected with users and genealogical societies. Anyone may upload content.”

“Anyone may upload content” is the key phrase here. People add information to family trees for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are just testing out a theory and they aren’t even sure it’s accurate. And many people copy and paste information from other people’s trees. All of this means that we can only use this information as clues, not as facts. We must do our own research and homework to find the records that back up the assertions made in the record. Family tree records if used unwisely could easily introduce errors into your family tree.

Finally, in the About section we find the Bibliography which includes a clickable link over to the original sources for these records: Geneanet. Take a moment to visit the site. You can also learn more by some quick googling. Typically, companies like this are going to be listed on Wikipedia pages as well. That’s a that’s a good place to get a basic summary about when was this company founded, find out when it was purchased by the big genealogy website, if it is currently active, and the main website link. All that kind of stuff we can typically find over in the right-hand kind of summary column on the Wikipedia page.

Using and Managing Ancestry Hints

Hints can be great clues, but they can also put rabbit holes in your genealogical path and derail your research goals. This hint might not be your top priority right now. It might not be the most important aspect of your ancestor’s life. Or it might be super interesting, and in that case you can go for it. But I encourage you not to get addicted to just responding to hints. It’s OK to put it on the back burner, leave the hint and don’t even deal with it. You can mark it Maybe and then come back to it later. But don’t let it sidetrack you from your research goals.

That’s the thing about genealogy. It is becoming more and more automated. Have you found that it just feels like it’s happening more and more on its own? It’s sort of being fed to us through the automation, the machine learning, that’s happening on these websites. However, first and foremost, we need to keep our brains engaged. We need to be the one who does the evaluation and ultimately makes the decision as to what we think is accurate about our ancestor and our family history.

In the case of Geneanet, Wikipedia tells us it was created in France and ultimately was acquired by Ancestry in August 2021. We saw on the Card Catalog entry that the index was published on Ancestry in 2022. So, we are looking at information coming from an index. We’re not looking at the actual record. These records are housed on the Geneanet website. You can access the actual record by clicking the View on Geneanet link on the Ancestry record hint page

Resources:

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