Which are the Best Genealogy Websites for YOU??

Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!

“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch].  Where should you spend your time and money?  While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource.  If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites?  I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy.  Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?

Which paid sites do you regularly use?  Which free sites do you use?  Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day.  It is really getting rather confusing.”

What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:

“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.

It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.

  • For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
  • For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
  • When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.

download backblazeOur mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!

I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!”  Lisa

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

 

Finding Family History in WWII Newspapers: Narrowing the Results

Newspapers can fill in the gaps to the long-lost stories of your ancestors. These tips will help you narrow your search in digitized WWII newspapers for experiences directly relating to the war and to the lives of your ancestors.

wwii_newspaper2

In this previous post, I provided step-by-step tips for locating WWII-era newspapers. Those tips helped you locate the actual newspapers. In this post, I’ve got 7 tips for to help you focus on narrowing down a large list of results in search of war-related family stories.

Tip 1: Try Various Name Combinations in WWII Newpapers

If you are keyword searching in digitized newspapers, remember to try different name combinations. A man may be identified by just his first initial and last name. During the 1940s, a woman might be referred to as “Mrs. Ted Johnson” instead of Barbara Johnson.

Tip 2: Search for Addresses

You might find a family identified as “the Johnson’s of 132 Cherry Lane,” so try using street addresses in your searches, remembering that “Lane” might be spelled out or abbreviated. You may also find the family listed by their town or township. An example of this might be “the Johnson’s of Brown township,” or “the Johnson’s of Conover.”

Tip 3: Expand Your Search to Events and Organizations

Use any search terms you already know about for your family in World War II: a military unit, a battle or local service organization, or a war effort project that the folks back home may have helped out with. Do family stories mention rationing, air raid drills, bomb shelters, blackout rules, or one of the women getting a job at a certain factory? All these make excellent search terms.

Tip 4: Take Time to Browse

Browsing the pages will give you a sense of how the war affected everyday life at home. You may find recipes that make the most of ration allowances and reminders about blackout rules and curfews. You may even find tips on how to conserve gasoline or how to be fashionable without silk stockings!

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It's easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues).

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It’s easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues.)

Tip 5: Be Aware of Newspaper Stoppages

If your family lived in an area that came under attack or was occupied, the local newspapers may have stopped printing. In that case, search other papers to see if they reported what was going on in your ancestor’s town.

Tip 6: Keep an Eye on the Homefront

For relatives who served in the military, watch for updates in local papers about how they were faring on the fronts during the war. Watch for casualty lists of the wounded, dead, and missing. Here’s something cool: newspapers also printed maps showing the progress of the war on the various fronts.

Tip 7: History Provides Hints

If you’re looking for reports about soldiers’ bodies returning home and funeral services, it will help to know that according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the War Department didn’t start bringing back remains until the fall of 1947 because of the huge logistical challenges involved. Over 93,000 American soldiers who died in World War II are buried overseas in one of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries.

Making the Most of Newspapers for Family History

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersFind more tips like these in my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for my foolproof research process, along with everything you need for success: worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources (and websites worth paying a few bucks for), a massive amount of location-specific websites (U.S. and international)–and a case study that puts it all to the test!

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