Using the US Public Records Index for Genealogy

The US Public Records Index can be useful for genealogy–if you understand what it is and how to use it properly. Here’s an example and some tips.

Not long Russ sent in this tip recommending the US Public Records Index for genealogy:

“I was listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast 181 [in which] you were talking about where do we search while we are waiting for the 1950 Census….I recently discovered a wonderful resource, on Ancestry.com, that I have used along with city directories. The name of the record group doesn’t sound interesting but it can be a Gem for you: the US Public Record Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2. Volume 1 is far more interesting with more data. A search will return a name AND birth date, along with more than one address, zip code and sometimes phone numbers.”

Here’s a sample search result:

US Public records index

Russ kindly sent me Ancestry’s description of its online database for Volume 1, which says that original data comes from public records spanning all 50 states, such as voter registration lists, public record filings, historical residential records and other household database listings.

Collection Profile

What: U.S. Public Records Index

Where: Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage

Years Spanned: 1950-2009

Source Type: Lacking original source citations. “Hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.”

Then he shared the following example of using the US Public Records Index to find recent relatives that he can’t look up yet in the 1950 census:

“I had a hint for a cousin in a yearbook. I know that she recently lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know where she went to college and I know her birthday. The name is not unique, not also not common. At the same time, I had the hint for the Public Record Index. You know those things we can’t use in a proof argument, but there [she] was in Philadelphia. The yearbook had her picture and only her name, not spelled the way I know it, but the Public Record Index puts her in Philadelphia at the right time and place.

I have seen 2 or 3 addresses for folks in the 1980s and 1990s in these indexes. Not all addresses have dates, but some do. I have one cousin with 5 addresses since 1983 and he won’t be in a census until the 1960 Census Records are released.”

Russ blogs about his family history at worthy2be.wordpress.com/. Thanks for the tip!

The U.S. Public Records Index pops up in my search results sometimes, too. Both volume 1 and volume 2 are searchable on Ancestry.com, as Russ says, in separate databases. Each has over 400,000 records in it. There’s also a free partial version of this database for 1970-2009 at FamilySearch.org and yet a third version at MyHeritage, with 816 million records, with nearly the same time frame. The FamilySearch database says its data comes from “telephone directories, property tax assessments, credit applications, and other records available to the public.”

More on the US Public Records Index

Here are a few tips worth mentioning about the US Public Records Index. Some of these points come from the FamilySearch wiki:

  1. Not everyone who lived in the U.S. appears in the index, and you’re more likely to find birth information for those born between 1900 and 1990. What you’ll find is primarily where someone lived, and often when they lived there.
  2. It’s rarely possible to positively identify a relative in this index since there’s limited information and it spans the entire country for up to a half-century, and you can’t follow up on the record it comes from because the index doesn’t say where individual records come from. So as Russ says, this is a great resource to use in combination with other records. It’s a similar concept to the way you might consult family trees that lack sources: hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.
  3. When you find more recent listings, you can sometimes find telephone numbers for living distant relatives. If the thought of cold-calling distant relatives seems a little intimidating, listen to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14-15, for tips–and to get your courage up!

1950s family historyMore Gems on Researching Recent Relatives

 

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online that caught our eye. This week there are a lot of US records: Alabama Episcopal church registers, Connecticut sourt records, Kansas probate records and New York Evening Post death notices. Immigration records for Brazil and Italian civil registrations are also on the list!

ALABAMA CHURCH. The Birmingham Public Library’s index to Alabama Episcopal Church registers (1832-1972) is now also searchable on Ancestry as a Web Index (click here to learn about Ancestry Web Indexes).  The index includes “confirmations, baptisms, marriages and burials for more than 14,000 people in sixteen Alabama parishes for the period of the 1830s to the 1970s.”

BRAZIL IMMIGRATION. Over 2.2 million indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of Brazil Rio de Janeiro Immigration Cards (1900-1965). These records, in Portuguese, “contains immigration cards issued by Brazilian buy tapeworm medication dogs consulates around the world. These cards were then presented at the port of entry by foreigners visiting or immigrating to Brazil through the port of Rio de Janeiro from 1900-1965.”

CONNECTICUT COURT. Over a quarter million indexed records have been added to FamilySearch’s free index to Connecticut District Court naturalizations (1851-1992) 

ITALY CIVIL REGISTRATION. Nearly a quarter million indexed records have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection of Italian civil registrations for Taranto, 1809-1926.

KANSAS PROBATE. Ancestry’s collection of Kansas wills and probate records has been freshly updated. Kansas wills and probate records  The current database covers nearly two centuries (1803-1987) and covers at least some time periods in nearly half of Kansas’ 105 counties.

NEW YORK DEATHS. An index to over 100,000 death notices from the New York Evening Post (1801-1890) is now available to subscribers at AmericanAncestors.org. “Page images and an index searchable by first and last name, location, and year are included.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

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3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories

How did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors. 

Our current Genealogy Gems Book Club title takes place at the outset of WWI. The Summer Before the War: A Novel
by Helen Simonson has endearing characters who experience fairly light-hearted dramas–and then they are plunged into war.

Through their eyes, readers begin to understand that those who lived through ‘the Great War’ experienced something totally unprecedented. There had never been such a massive loss of life and devastation.

1. Ask family what they know. Ask all living relatives what they know about ancestors’ involvement in World War I. Listen for stories about anyone who may have served in the military, dodged military service, took care of things on the homefront, lost their own lives or loved ones or lived in an area affected by the war. Ask about any old documents, photos or letters that may survive.

There are lots of ways to ask your relatives these questions. Poll everyone at your next family gathering or reunion. Use Facebook (click here for some great tips) or other social media. Connect with other tree owners who have documented ancestors of WWI interest (see step 2, below) through communication tools provided at sites such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org.

2. Identify ancestors affected by WWI. Look for families and individuals who were alive between 1914 and 1918. Where did they live? Was it an active war zone?  Research local histories and maps to determine how their city–or even neighborhood or property–was affected. Scan death dates on your family tree–did anyone living in a war zone die during that time period?

Were they in a country that sent troops to war? If so, look for soldiers on your tree. The age of those who served in World War I varied. In general, look for men born between 1880 and 1900 who were alive in 1914. Again, look for death dates during the war.

3. Search military records on genealogy websites. Fold3.com’s WWI landing page is the place to start for WWI ancestors in the U.S., since it specializes in military records (you may be able to access it from your home library). Ancestry.com users can go to this landing page to search all WWI records from the U.S. and here to search U.K. records. Findmypast.com users can search WWI records here, including an extensive collection of British military records but also others from around the world. If you’re searching U.S. records, remember that draft registrations are not records of military service.

If you’re looking for a country or region not represented in these online collections, start Googling! Google search phrases such as “Germany WWI genealogy” will bring up results like these. (Click here to watch free video tutorials about Google searching for genealogy records.) You may discover new databases online or records collections you could access through archives or libraries.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Available at http://genealogygems.com

These tips are just to get you started. As you discover records, you’ll have a better sense for the stories of your WWI ancestors. Then you can start chasing those stories in newspapers, local histories and other sources. Turn to a book like Lisa Louise Cooke’s How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers to learn

WWI photos, World War I photographs

British volunteers for “Kitchener’s Army” waiting for their pay in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. August 1914. Wikimedia Commons Image

sleuthing skills you’ll need for searching out your WWI family stories in the news.

More WWI Genealogy Gems for You

Europeana World War I Digital Archive

5 Ways to Discover Your Family History in WWI

More Great Books to Read, Including Orange Lilies, a WWI-era Novella in the Forensic Genealogist series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

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