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.
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 theHome 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.
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.
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.
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 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:
Enter the state, principal meridian (in this case there’s only one choice here thankfully), township, range and section numbers from the census description.
Click the Fly to on Google Earth button.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
Show Notes: I’m excited to share with you my favorite new tool at Google Books. This is a game changer for utilizing the information you find on the digitized pages. Plus I’ll show you other new features recently added to Google Books.
Why use Google Books for genealogy? Well, Google Books features over 10 million free digitized books, most of which were published prior to 1927. That makes Google Books a gold mine for genealogy research. And when you visit Google Books, think “published on paper” NOT just books! In addition to books, the collection includes newspapers, magazines, journals, almanacs, city directories, catalogs, court papers and so much more!
Watch the Video
Why use Google Books for genealogy?
Google Books features over 10 million free digitized books, most of which were published prior to 1927. That makes Google Books a gold mine for genealogy research. And when you visit Google Books, think “published on paper” NOT just books! In addition to books, the collection includes newspapers, magazines, journals, almanacs, city directories, catalogs, court papers and so much more!
On the results page look for the filter menu. If you don’t see it, click the Tools
Click the down arrow for Any View
Click Full View
Now your results list only include free fully digitized materials.
If you haven’t been over to Google books for a while, this is going to look a little bit different. A while back they launched a new user interface. They’ve now made some improvements. The main difference is we’re going to see this menu along the bottom of the screen.
My favorite new feature: convert image to text
Before we even look at the new menu, I promised you my favorite item that they have added to Google Books.
In the upper left corner, click the three vertical dots icon. This reveals a menu that gives you access to a lot of items that typically are kind of ‘behind’ the book. If you were to close this book, you would see the catalog entry for it.
New menu at Google Books
My favorite new feature here is View as Plain Text. Click the toggle button to convert the entire book to plain text. This makes the digitized images of the pages usable in many other projects and programs. Google applied optical character recognition to the books to be able to read the words on the images to make the books keyword searchable. In the past, we had to use the clipper tool to capture a bit of the image and convert it to text. The box was really small and inconvenient. This new feature provides the ability to instantly use as much of the text as you want.
Convert digitized books to text in Google Books
Because this book is fully digitized, it’s already been cleared for copyright. These books are in the public domain. They are available to use for free, copyright free. You are free to copy the text and include it in your projects, in your genealogy database, in a family history book, and so on.
Download a book
Back over at the three-dot menu in Google Books, you can also:
download the book as a PDF or EPUB for free,
find the book in a store, if you need a hard copy
find the book in a library at WorldCat.
Keyboard Shortcuts Hot Keys
Another new feature is keyboard shortcuts.
Google Books shortcuts / hot keys
Find Book Catalog Entry
I mentioned that the catalog entry for this book is sort of ‘behind’ the book. To access that, click the X in the upper right corner of the screen. This removes the view of the book. We haven’t lost access to the book. You can still access it by clicking the blue Read free of charge button.
The nice thing about the book catalog entry page is that it contains all the details about the book such as where you can purchase it, finding copies at the library, and additional editions.
Source Citation Tool at Google Books
Also on the catalog entry page is the Source Citation tool. Click create citation to reveal the options. Click the desired style, and then copy the citation and paste it in your family tree database, or other places where you are referencing this book. So, there’s no reason not to cite your source for any book found at Google Books. Source citation is very important, because down the road you might discover something more about your family and realize that you need to access that book again. Without the source citation you may not remember where you got the original information. The source citation is your breadcrumb trail back to the previous research that you’ve done. Also, if anybody ever has a question about what you have put in your family tree, you can point them to the sources that you used.
New Google Books Menu
The final new feature at Google Books that I wanted to draw your attention to is the main menu for this item. It used to be at the top of the screen, but now you’ll find it at the bottom. At the top of the screen, we now have a search box that allows you to search the entire Google Books collection. But oftentimes, when you’re looking at a book, you’re going to want to be able to search for particular names, places, dates, events, topics. You will find the search field for that in the new menu at the bottom of the screen. Type in names or other words and press enter. You’ll be given all of the pages in the book that mention those words. Also, in this menu are:
chapters menu (if available for the book you are viewing)
page views (single, side by side or thumbnails.)
Clip and download an image from a book
Also in the new menu is the clipper tool. The materials in Google Books contain maps, drawings, photos and many other types of imagery that you may want a copy of. Or perhaps you just want an image of a section of text. The clipper tool allows you to capture it and save it to your computer as an image file.
Click the scissors icon, and your mouse cursor will turn into a clipper.
Draw a box around the desired area
In the pop-up box click to copy the link to the clipped image.
Open a new web browser tab and paste the link. (You can also paste the link into notes in your family tree, and other programs and documents.)
Press enter and the image will appear in the browser tab.
Right-click on the image.
Select Save Image As to save it to your computer’s hard drive.
There you have it, some of the exciting new features over at Google Books. There’s never been a better time to search for information about your family history in Google Books.
Google your family history with Genealogy Gems! Google has a great collection of free online search tools–all powered by the same Google search engine–that can help you discover your family history. In this new Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning video,...
Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!
It can be very surprising to discover that you lived somewhere that you never knew you lived. That was the case for Professional genealogist Alvie Davidson, who recently wrote to me. He’d done some fantastic sleuthing on his own recent family history, and discovered that his family had lived in Huntsville, Alabama when he was a toddler. “This is the first I have even known they lived in Madison County, AL.” But he was not sure about how to use Google Earth to help him locate the family addresses he’d discovered.
“I have learned from the U S Government that my parents lived at (three) different addresses in Huntsville, Madison County, AL when I was a toddler in 1944….I never knew we lived in Huntsville but I learned my mother worked for munitions productions during World War II at Redstone Arsenal. She worked several months toward the end of 1944 and had to quit due to onset of pregnancy. We moved to Florida shortly after she left employment at Redstone Arsenal because we show up on the 1945 Florida State Census.”
Alvie sent me three family addresses. Then he asked for some step-by-step help instructions on how to put Google Earth to work to identify their location today.
4 Steps to Revealing More with Google Earth
1. Search each address in Google Earth. Enter the address in the search box in the upper left corner of Google Earth. If you get a hit, mark it with a placemark (clicking the button that looks like a push pin in Google Earth’s toolbar) and name it. In this case I found two of the three street addresses.
2. Locate a map of the area for the appropriate time period. With a little Google searching, I found the 1940 census enumeration map for Huntsville at the National Archives website. Here’s what that map looks like. (Image right) I then went in search of each of the three addresses on the map.
In this case, I conducted a block-by-block search of the 1940 enumeration district map for the missing address: 110 Winston Street. Unfortunately, not all the street names were clearly legible on this particular map, and I was unable to locate it.
3. Overlay and georeference the enumeration district map in Google Earth to compare the past to the present.Georeference just means to match up known landmarks on the historic map with physical locations on the modern-day map, thereby allowing you to match the two maps up together. By so doing, I was able to locate on the enumeration district map the modern-day locations of the two addresses that I found using Google Earth.
There are businesses in both locations today. Below right is a screen shot showing the current location of one of those addresses. Clearly no longer the old family home.
4. Dig deeper for addresses that have changed. As I mentioned previously, I searched for the 110 Winston Street address in Google Earth with no result. If that happens to you, remove the house number and run a second search on the street name alone. Numbers can change, but it is important to verify whether the street still exists today.
In this case, Google Earth did not locate a Winston Street in Huntsville, AL. Knowing that errors and typos can happen to the best of us, I ran a quick Google search for Huntsville, AL city directories, and verified that indeed Winston Street did exist at that time in history. So, at some point between 1940 and today, the name appears to have been changed.
I headed back to Google and ran the following search query:
“winston street” “huntsville alabama”
The quotation marks tell Google that each exact phrase must appear in all search results. The phrases will appear in bold in the snippet descriptions of each result.
The result above caught my eye because it mentions the “Winston Street Branch Library.” Even when street names change, buildings named for those streets often don’t. However, in this case, the website discusses the history of the library, and the Winston Street Elementary School. According to the website, the library “became a part of the Huntsville Public Library (now Huntsville-Madison County Public Library) in 1943. In 1947, the branch was renamed the Dulcina DeBerry Library.” Perhaps the street was renamed at that time as well.
Jumping back into Google Earth I entered “Winston Street Branch Library” in the search box, and was immediately taken to the location, which is just south of the other two known addresses! At this point I would recommend to Alvie, who is a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, to watch my video class Best Websites for Finding Historical Mapsto track down additional maps from the time frame that may have Winston Street clearly marked on the map.
Once I identified this landmark, I then marked the location with a placemark. You can turn off the 1940 enumeration district map overlay by unchecking the box next to it in the Places Panel. Doing this revealed the location on the modern day map. Finally, I headed to the Layers panel and clicked the box next to the “Roads” overlay to reveal the modern day street names.
You can use this technique when you have more success than I did in finding an old address on an old map. Overlay the map, position a placemark on the location, and then turn the overlay off. With one click of the Roads layer you can now see the current street name for the old location you found on the map overlay.
Further digging online did deliver additional maps from the era and area:
We all have locations in our family history that have given way over time to new buildings and parking lots. By using the power of Google Earth, Google search, and historic maps, they don’t have to be lost forever.
Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy
Learn all these Google skills–with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations–in Lisa’s book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?