Cemetery Research for Genealogy: 4 Steps for Finding Your Ancestors’ Graves

Cemetery research is a crucial family history skill. Tombstones are monuments to our ancestors lives and may have key genealogical clues engraved in the stone. Follow these four steps to finding your ancestors’ burial places and the records that complement them.

Many of my ancestors are buried just two miles from my house in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. I drive by the cemetery each day, as I take my daughters to school. I never pass by without glancing up at the hallowed ground which holds the remains of those who came before me. The sun perfectly illuminates their resting place each morning and a majestic tree stands at the very top of the hill–a living monument to the lives they led in the town where I now raise my own family.

It is an emotional experience to stand in the place where an ancestor’s remains have been laid to rest.

Each time I visit the grave of my grandma, I have a vision of a family standing around a casket on a bitter cold day in March. It was a just few days before the official start of spring, but it was the dead of winter to me. That ground is sacred to me, now.

Each time I visit, I am transported back in time to that day. A wound is re-opened for a moment, but the moment is fleeting because I quickly remember her life, not her death.

I remember the stories she told, the service her hands rendered to her family and, most importantly, the love that transcends time and even the icy grip of death. Death truly loses its “sting” as we stand before a monument of stone and see beyond to the life it represents. Scenes like this one have played out at each grave.

I am reminded of this quote from Fear Nothing, a Dean Koontz book, whenever I visit the cemetery:

“The trunks of six giant oaks rise like columns supporting a ceiling formed by their interlocking crowns. In the quiet space below, is laid out an aisle similar to those in any library. The gravestones are like rows of books bearing the names of those whose names have been blotted from the pages of life; who have been forgotten elsewhere but are remembered here.”

I have often gone to my ancestors’ resting places to take pictures of headstones and search for relatives I may have missed in the past. It seems like each time I visit, I notice something new.

This library of marble holds many clues that have helped me break down brick walls in my family history research. These clues have been there, etched in stone, for decades. It wasn’t until I recognized how to read the clues that I began to understand the importance of cemeteries in family history research. 

These resting places have become much more to me than merely a place to go and offer a bouquet of flowers. There are answers waiting to be discovered. The key to getting the answers is knowing which questions to ask.

In my experience, the best genealogists are not the ones with the best cameras, the best software, or the best gadgets–they are the ones with the best questions.

asking questions good questions

Curiosity is the most important tool to the successful genealogist.  The next time you find yourself in a library of marble, take a few moments to let your curiosity run wild. Ask yourself: 

  • “Who are the people surrounding my family members?
  • What are their stories?
  • What do the etchings on their headstones mean?”

That curiosity will lead to the most remarkable discoveries and you will see for yourself how a piece of marble truly can break down a brick wall.  

Below I’ve outlined the steps for finding family cemeteries and which questions you should be asking when you get there. Get inspired by my own examples of breaking down brick walls, and implement these methods I used for your own success!

Cemetery research step #1: Identify the cemetery

The first step in cemetery research is to identify the name of the cemetery where an ancestor was buried.

The best places to start looking are death certificates, funeral home records and obituaries. Each one of these records should contain the name of the cemetery where a family member was buried.

We sometimes fail to look beyond the names and dates on death certificates. If we get in the habit of taking the time to absorb all of the information on these important documents, we will find genealogical treasure.

Sometimes, the death certificate will not give us the name of the cemetery.

This was the case with my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. I was frustrated to see that the death certificate only indicated that she was buried, as opposed to cremated or removed to another location. While the certificate did not provide me with the name of a cemetery, it did offer the name of the funeral director: W.B. Seaver.

cemetery research for genealogy

Luckily, I was able to follow this lead to the local funeral home. Within their records, I discovered that she was buried in Round Hill Cemetery, along with many of my other ancestors.

cemetery research for genealogy

Cemetery research step #2: Locate the cemetery

Once you have located the name of the cemetery, several resources can guide you to its location.

Three helpful websites are listed below. Which you choose may depend on personal preference or familiarity but also on which site seems to have more records for the locales of most interest to you.

1. One of my favorite online resources is Find A Grave.

This website allows you to search for cemeteries all over the world. 

At the home page, click on the Cemeteries tab (#1, below).

Then enter the name or location of the cemetery (#2). In the screenshot below, you can see part of the Google Maps interface that shows you the exact location of the cemetery, should you want to visit in person:

cemetery research for genealogy

Find A Grave also has pictures of many of the headstones located within cemeteries.

2. cemetery research for genealogyBillion Graves allows users to collect photos of headstones by using an iPhone/Android camera app.

The app, available on Google Play and the App Store (for iPhone and iPad), tags the photos with the GPS location and, essentially, maps the cemetery as headstones are added.

Search for cemetery locations using the Billion Graves app or on the website by selecting the “Cemetery Search” option and then entering the name of the cemetery or a known address (to see it on Google Maps):

cemetery research for genealogy

3. Interment.net can also be helpful.

From the home page, scroll down just a little until you see “Browse Cemetery Records by Region.” This can be especially helpful if you’re looking for all records within a specific county or other region. However, it’s not quite as useful if you’re trying to locate all cemeteries within a certain radius of a location, regardless of local boundaries.

cemetery research for genealogy

In addition to these resources, it is essential to contact the local library, genealogical society, and/or historical society where your ancestors are buried. These organizations are well-known for maintaining detailed listings of local cemeteries within their collections.

For instance, within Smyth County (where I live) there is a four-volume set of books that contains the work of two local historians, Mack and Kenny Sturgill. They spent several years mapping local cemeteries and collecting the names on all of the headstones.

Although these books were completed in the 1990s, the information is still valuable to genealogists. Detailed driving directions were given to help future researchers locate cemeteries that would otherwise be difficult to locate. Many of them are on private property and even in the middle of cow pastures or wooded areas.

Furthermore, some of the headstones that were legible in the 1990s have now become difficult to decipher due to weathering or have altogether disappeared. It is likely that the counties in which you are conducting cemetery research offer similar resources.

Cemetery research step #3: Prepare for a visit

Once you have found the cemetery you want to visit, you will want to take the following items along with you to make the most of your visit:

  • a camera
  • pair of gloves
  • grass clippers
  • notebook and pen
  • long pants
  • sturdy shoes

You may also want to use a damp cloth to bring out the carvings on headstones. A side note: if you are like me and have an aversion to snakes, you will either choose to go on cemetery expeditions during the winter, or you will invest in a pair of snake chaps.

Get more help! The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide (above) contains detailed step-by-steps for using FindAGrave and BillionsGraves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings.

Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting our free podcast by using our link.

Cemetery research step #4: Visit and search for clues

cemetery research for genealogy

This headstone shows something unusual: the couple’s ham radio call signs (the codes engraved just below their names).

The headstones found in cemeteries can reveal much about your family. You will find more than birth and death dates. If you look closely, you will discover symbols related to military service and religious beliefs, maiden names of the women in your family, and you may even find family members that you never knew about. Many times, you will find children buried in the family plot. Look around to see who is buried near your ancestors. It is likely that you will find connections to other family members when you are visiting the cemetery. These connections may lead you to break down long-standing brick walls within your family history.

In my own experience, there have been several instances in which cemetery research has helped shed light on a family mystery. I had grown up hearing that there were members of our family who had fought in the Civil War. Who were these men? What experiences did they have during the war?  Where had they fought?

The answers to these questions came as the result of a visit to the cemetery.  I had gone to Round Hill Cemetery to photograph the headstones of my Weimer ancestors. As I worked my way down the row, I encountered an unfamiliar name—William Henry Wymer. At the top of his headstone, there was a Southern Cross of Honor—a symbol used to denote a soldier who fought during the Civil War. Below his name was the following inscription: “Co. A, 6 VA RES, C.S.A:”

cemetery research for genealogy

When I went home that afternoon, I began to search for more details. With some census research, I learned that he was the uncle of my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. Upon confirming his relationship to our family, I began searching for a pension application for his wife, Rhoda:

cemetery research for genealogy

The application had been submitted in 1926 and told the story of William’s life. Among other things, I learned the answers to my questions about his service during the Civil War. His wife indicated that he enlisted during the last year of the war and was present during a well-known battle in our county—the Battle of Saltville. I am sure that my great-grandmother had grown up listening to tales of this battle and William’s experience during the war. The details of the story had been lost but were now re-discovered thanks to a trip to the cemetery.

Subtle clues like this one await you as you search out your own ancestors. The next time you make a trip to one of these libraries of marble, take a few moments to look closely at the clues that surround you. They may not be obvious, but they are there, waiting for your curiosity to uncover them. So, bring your cameras, your gloves, and your grass clippers to the cemetery on your next visit—but don’t forget to bring your questions and your ability to perceive the minute details, as you stand beneath the towering trees, among the rows of marble, waiting to offer up their long-held secrets.

More cemetery research tips

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One-Step Tools for the 1950 Census with Steve Morse

One-Step Webpages by Steve Morse helps genealogists find relatives faster in the U.S. federal census. Steve Morse explains how to use his one-step tools for the 1950 census.

Show Notes

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The 1950 US federal census is going to be released on April 1 of 2022. And getting the records fully indexed, and therefore searchable is going to take a little bit of time.

If you’re anxious to get digging into the records, you’re going to need to know a couple of things like where your ancestors lived. You’ll also find the enumeration district, or what’s called the ED number.

Thankfully, Steve Morris has developed a terrific free online tool at his One-Step Webpages website that can help you find those ED numbers.

00:54
Lisa: Wow, it’s a really big year for you! I imagine it is every 10 years or so when a new census record comes out, right?

01:03
Steve: Well, yes, we’re doing what we can to get ready (for the release of the 1950 U.S. Federal Census.) I’m trying to get the interfaces to tie into the actual census pages when they come online. So that’s been a big activity right now.

01:17
Lisa: Let’s talk about that. I want to talk about the website and how people can use it. And of course, I’d love to know even more about you. First of all, why do you call it One-Step Webpages?

The History of One-Step Webpages

01:33
Steve: That goes back to the origins of the site back in 2001.

The first major tool that I put up on the site was (designed for) researching the Ellis Island database. That database had just come online at that time. I was anxious to use it because there was some real answers that I had not been able to find up until then.

But when I got into it, I realized it was very difficult to use. And I saw that I could do everything they were doing in one step many steps on their website. So, without giving it too much thought, I put up my own tool, which was called Searching the Ellis Island Database in One-Step. I didn’t realize that by choosing that name, I become branded. All tools hereafter have that One-Step name now, and it became known as the One-Step website.

If I realized the significance of that choice of name, I might have gone with my second choice which was Searching the Ellis Island Database with Fewer Tears. And in which case, we would now have the Fewer Tears website! But we have the one we’re stuck with, the One Step website.

02:37
Lisa: Well, I’d say the One-Step site certainly does mean fewer tears, that’s for sure! I remember when you first launched it, I use it to find my great grandmother’s passenger list. Using your site I found that she was listed twice in 1910. The first time was in first class, and then also in second class. I have a feeling they found her in first class and moved her down to second class! But really, I found it because of your site and not the Ellis Island site. So, thank you.

And now of course, you’ve been creating One-Step tools for census records. I’d love to have you give us an overview of those tools. Tell us a bit about what’s on the website. And how can it help genealogists accomplish their goals?

Genealogy Tools at One-Step Webpages

03:24
Steve: Well, it’s whatever strikes my fancy!

I got started with Ellis Island passenger lists records because I was trying to find a particular relative, my wife’s great grandfather. A year later, the website was used quite a bit, and the census was coming out. I got notified by a fellow that I worked with that he was working on the 1930 census. He was he was a volunteer at the National Archives, and he realized that people were going to be coming into find their records, and he wasn’t going to be able to help them. The census was not indexed. It had to be accessed by enumeration district. And these Eds were not easy to obtain.

I realized that would be a fun thing to get into. So instead of being known as a one trick pony – you know, I had the Ellis Island stuff – what if I could do two things? Maybe the site would be a little more important. So, I got involved with the census work then.

Through this fellow that contacted me who I’d worked with, he found Joel Weintraub. So, then the three of us started working on this together.

There are other sections as well. Again, it’s whatever strikes my fancy. I have the vital records section. I have a section for creating your own One-Step search application. I have things that have nothing to do with genealogy at all. They’re all on the website.

So, over all there are 300 tools. I tell people just go through them and see which ones strike your fancy and use them. I know nobody’s going to like all 300 tools, that’s impossible. But hopefully each person will like a certain subset of them. And all those subsets together will be the entire website.

05:12
Lisa: Wow, I didn’t realize there were 300 tools on the website. That’s amazing!

About Steve Morse of One-Step Webpages

So, what’s your background? Are you a computer programmer? Do you do all the programming for the website?

05:26
Steve: Well, I have a PhD in electrical engineering, specializing in computer science. It was not computer science in those days. So, I been in the field ever since – my entire career. I’ve done research, development, consulting, writing, so forth.

The 1950 US Census Project at One-Step Webpages

05:42
Lisa: The 1950 census is just about here. When did you first start working on that?

05:48
Steve: Well, we finished the 1940 census in 2012. When the 1940 census went online, it was about a year later that we first started putting out the call for volunteers. By 2013, we started fetching volunteers to do the work for the 1950 census.

It involved looking at the various cities that we were going to support. We needed to have a list of all the streets in that city, and the EDS that each street pass through. And we did that by looking at the ED maps and using other tools as well.

Working with Joel Weintraub, we’ve had our team about 60 volunteers over the years. They weren’t all working at once, but in total, we had about 60 volunteers.

We set our sights a little higher for 1950 than for preceding years. I forget what the criteria was. But for 1950 we wanted to get every rural area that had a population of more than 5000. And we have succeeded in doing that.

So, we have all those cities index on the One-Step website. You can search any of those cities, by streets. Giving the streets and cross streets, you can get down to the enumeration district.

07:05
Lisa: Oh, that is fantastic!

You know, I just did a video (How to Find Old Rural Addresses on a Map)  where we talked about how to take these rural addresses and using your tools, trying to help people figure out where their rural ancestors once lived.

I didn’t realize that there were so many people involved in creating the website. Is the National Archives pretty cooperative and kind of helping you gain access ahead of time?

07:36
Steve: No, we don’t have any access to the National Archives. We’ve had some questions from them. They’ve been very tight-lipped with the 1950 census. They’re keeping it very secret. Of course, the census pages are secretive, but even getting information as to how the census is organized or what have you. We’ve not been able to get much information out of them. We had a lot of cooperation with the 1940 census, but not so much with the census.

08:01
Lisa: Okay, interesting.

How to Find Enumeration District (ED) Numbers in One-Step

Well, we’ve talked a lot here on the Genealogy Gems channel about enumeration districts, or Eds, and the ED maps. But I would love to hear it from the one step man himself, how do we go about finding ED numbers?

08:20
Steve: I have a tool called Finding Enumeration Districts in One-Step. It covers both large cities and rural areas.

For the large cities, use our tool and put in the street. That will give you all the enumeration districts that that street passes through.

Then, you put in the cross streets. That will narrow it down to just those EDs that are common to the street and cross street that you entered. Hopefully you can get down to one ED.

Rural areas are different. We used to have two separate tools, one for large cities and one for rural areas. And that was sort of cumbersome to explain to people, but we had the two different tools. So, I’ve since merged them into one tool with one user interface. (The Unified Census ED Finder)

If you put down the streets in the streets, you’re using it in a large city mode. And there’s a drop-down list of the cities. In the state you select the state. And under City if the city is not on that list, it means we don’t have the tables for that city. So, then you select Other and you type in the name of the of the city. In that case, we’re going to search the ED definitions instead of the street to ED maps. We have the ED definitions, and we search those to see which definitions mentioned the name of that city. And for all of those that are mentioned, we report back. Hopefully there won’t be too many these for a small town. And then you know where to search.

Enumeration District Definitions

How do we give you these ED definitions? Well, the National Archives has them on microfilm, but you can’t go searching on microfilm. So, we’ve had our volunteers actually transcribe all the ED definitions for 1940 and 1950 prior to 1940.  For 1940 we did transcribe all the EDs, all the definitions from the microfilm. NARA came to us for 1940 and asked if they could have our transcriptions. They, of course, had the microfilm, but they didn’t have it transcribed. So, we said, ‘sure, absolutely.’ We were glad to give that to them. They haven’t come to us for 1950. I keep saying “yet”, but at this late date, I’m sure they’re not going to. I’m sure they’ve done their own transcriptions.

I haven’t seen their transcriptions. But I’d venture to say that ours are going to be better for the following reason. Since we’re using the transcriptions to search for small towns, and we want to get as many towns in the ED as possible. More Eds than are mentioned in the on the microfilm. So, what Joel has done with the volunteers, is to go through the ED maps and see what other towns are in each ED and add that to the definitions. So, I believe in that case, our ED definitions would be more robust than the ones that the National Archives is going to have on their website.

11:00
Lisa: It sure sounds like it. That’s an amazing undertaking, and what a difference it makes!

Using ED Numbers to Search the Census

So, the genealogist is really going to benefit by knowing the actual address because then they can use the cross streets that you have to really zero in on the exact enumeration district that the address falls within. Please tell folks how that helps when the records are released, and they want to start searching. How do they use that number?

11:33
Steve: Well, of course, we don’t have it up and running yet. But what we plan on doing is, once the census does come out, you would click on the ED number that you just found, and that will take you right to the census pages.

The pages are hosted on some other website, either on NARA’s website, or FamilySearch’s, or one of the large commercial websites whose name I’m not going to mention, because I’m not advertising for them, but you know what I’m talking about.

11:59
Lisa: So how long would that take you? I mean, when the records first get released, and everybody gets access to them? It sounds like kind of a manual job to link up digitized records with the website. Is that going to take a while?

12:16
Steve: You have to know what the structure of their site is, and how you can get onto their site with the ED number.

We’ve been talking with FamilySearch, and they’ve been very cooperative. We’re getting information from them as to how we can link into their site.

So, on opening day, they’ll be very busy ingesting all the material from the National Archives. And so hopefully, we’ll have that information ready before opening day. So, an opening day we can link right into their website. And then at the same time, I’ve also been trying to figure out the structure on the National Archives website and the large commercial website and link into those as well. But we anticipate FamilySearch will be the first one that we will link into.

Enumeration District (ED) Maps

12:58
Lisa: And of course I noticed that right now there are many different kinds of links that do work that are on the website. Tell folks about some of the extra items, the collateral items that they can actually access right now with the links from your website.

13:15
Steve: ED maps sounds like it’d be the best thing if you can get an ED map. Look at the ED map and see what the ED definition is what ED boundaries are so you know exactly what the correct ED is. Problem is the maps are not that easy to use. For one thing, they’re on the National Archives website. But it’s pretty hard to get to them from the National Archives website. You have to go to the catalog on their website, and then type in the correct string that will get you to the ED maps. And it’s not obvious what the string would be. And you can’t really navigate through them by from state to state.

What I’ve done on the One-Step website, is that I put up a tool to get the ED maps from NARA. But you get to it by entering a state and then the county, and then probably a town within the county. Entering all that information will then bring up the maps from NARA for that particular locality. Yes, it’s coming from NARA’s website, but it’s hard to get to from the NARA website. That’s why you can do it in “One-Step.”

14:18
Lisa: Yes, and I can attest to that. It’s much easier and absolutely wonderful to use.

How to Find Census ED Definitions

Maybe this is what you were discussing before, but I came across digitized pages on your website of the book that was describing each enumeration district in more detail. Is that what you were talking about when you mentioned the Census Definitions?

14:41
Steve: Yes, when he’s talking about the definitions, we have a tool that gets you to the microphone definitions. And another tool that gets you to the transcribed definitions. That’s what our volunteers did in transcribing what’s on the microfilm. So, we have tools for doing both of those.

Meaning of Census Occupation Codes

14:57
Lisa: Tell us a little bit about the codes. I know I saw occupational codes. And these are numbers that show up on the census records. If we’re wondering what they mean or the details behind those, your site can help us learn that as well. Tell us about that.

15:17
Steve: Well, for the most part, those codes don’t really tell you that much, although they do in certain cases.

They are codes that were added later by the Census Bureau to group different occupations together so they could get statistics as to how many people did various kinds of work. But you know, what your grandfather’s occupation was, it’s on the census page. So, the code will not tell you anything new, except for the following.

What if you couldn’t read what was written. It’s legible on the original, but on the microfilm copies you might not be able to read the occupation code. But, if you knew the code, you can then look up from the code to see what kind of occupations fell into that code. I have a tool that lets you decode the number that they added.

The census taker wrote down what the person said. The Census Bureau clerk’s later added a code to put people in certain categories. And then the One-Step tool lets you take that code and get back to what the actual occupation was.

You just might be curious to see what the Census Bureau thought about your ancestor if he had an unusual occupation. The example I give in my lectures is Donald Duck. His occupation was he was a trained duck. So, there’s no category “well-trained duck”. So, they had to put him in one of the standard categories. They assigned a number for that occupation. If you then decode that number it says, “hucksters and peddlers”. You now see what the census taker thought about your ancestor’s occupation.

16:59
Lisa: So, are there any other elements of the census or census records that you wish you had more time to work on or that you feel like you would want to add to your website? Or do you really feel like the One-Step webpages has reached the pinnacle of what’s possible with searching these records?

17:20
Steve: I can’t think of anything else. I think if I could, I would have done it.

17:24
Lisa: Exactly!

How to Prepare to Search the 1950 Census

17:27
Steve: With just one month ago (as of this recording), I think we’re in a good position right now. We’re ready to provide the tools that people will need on opening day.

I should mention, people should be using this before opening day to get their ED. They should have a list of the people they want to look up and get their addresses and then get the ED. Don’t leave that for opening day.

On opening day there will be an onslaught. In 2012 for the 1940 census, my website didn’t crash, but the National Archives website did. My website didn’t crash, but it flickered. I typically get between 100 and 250,000 hits a day, which is good considering this is a private website, it’s not a company, that’s a very respectable number. But in 2012, we got two and a quarter million hits! Obviously things have slowed down. So don’t leave it for opening day. Do it now. Get your ducks in a row, get all your ED numbers so on opening day, you can just dive in with the ED number and get right to the census page.

18:31
Lisa: Exactly. And in fact, in the video description for this video, here at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I have some links to a few other videos we have here at the channel to help people get ready. I mean, there is so much that we can do even before the records get released to be prepared and get the most use out of them.

More Uses for the One-Step Webpages Tools

And of course, even after the records get indexed, and are fully searchable, the One-Step tools can still really help us, can’t they? I mean, particularly if you can’t find somebody or you’re just wondering if there are other entries for a person. They can still really prove to be helpful, right?

19:13
Steve: Yeah, even after it is indexed, the Location tools we have will still be very important. I’ll give you several examples as to when you would want to use the Location tools in spite of having a name index.

Your ancestor, your grandfather, came from a foreign country, spoke with a thick foreign accent, and had a long unpronounceable name. Well, the census taker probably got it wrong when he wrote it down. In that case, he had to take his best guess as to what he thinks your ancestor said. And then they had to transcribe all this. Then, another transcriber had to take their best guess as to what he thinks that the census taker wrote down. The census takers’ handwriting were sometimes of questionable quality. So, the chances of getting this right here are less and less. It’s like the game of telephone.

In most cases, you will find your ancestor by doing a name search. But there will be those cases and you’re going to run into them, when no matter how creative you are with the name search, you just won’t be able to find him. You have to do a location search. And that’s where the ED and other location tools come into play.

The other example that I give is when searching by location is useful. Let’s say you just bought a brand-new house and you’re very proud of your house. You want to find out who else lived in this house in prior years. We don’t know the names, but you do know the address. So, you want to find your house in the 1950 census, the 1940 census, 1930 census, and location tools are the only way you can do that.

20:41
Lisa: That’s fascinating. And it’s so true. I remember looking through the 1940 census at my Nikolowski family. The census taker had a hard time spelling Nikolowski but they also got the first name as “Vaulter” because my great grandmother’s saying “Vaulter” (in her accent) not “Walter”. And that’s exactly how he recorded it!

I just want to thank you, on behalf of all genealogists really, for making these kinds of tools available to us. You help us in so many ways be more successful.

More About Steve Morse and One-Step Webpages

We don’t get a chance to talk every day, so while I have you here, I just want people to get to know you. Is there something about you that maybe they don’t know? Or would be interested to know? Perhaps what you do in your spare time when you’re not creating One-Step tools.

21:33
Steve: My hobbies or electronics. My degree is in electrical engineering. It’s really computer science. So, I’ve always loved electricity and electronics, and I play around with that. And I’m a gadgeteer, I build things.

21:48
Lisa: Oh my gosh, well, I can only imagine what’s down in your basement…the kinds of things that you must be coming up with, how interesting!

Steve Morse, thank you so much. I encourage everybody to go visit https://stevemorse.org/. Thank you for being here on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure!

22:07
Steve: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you as well.

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Beginning Swedish Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists

Beginning Swedish genealogy can be daunting. But don’t let language barriers or unfamiliar naming traditions deter you! Check out these getting-started tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

This guest post comes from Paul Woodbury, a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. He’s an internationally recognized genetic genealogy expert and his varied geographical interests include Scandinavia. Thanks, Paul!

Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful for several reasons.

1. You can “read” many records without reading Swedish.

Particularly in late 18th and 19th century records, you don’t need in-depth Swedish language skills to make exciting discoveries. Swedish church records of the time were kept in tables and were largely composed of names, dates, and residences. Records include those of:

  • Birth and christening (födelse och döpte)
  • Marriage and engagement (lysning och vigsel)
  • Death and burial (död och begravning)
  • Moving-in lists (inflyttade) and moving-out lists (utflyttade)
  • Clerical examination (“husförhörslängd”)–more on these below.

Dates were frequently recorded in number formats according to the European system (dd-mm-yyyy). As a result, researchers can learn a great deal from Swedish documents with little knowledge of the Swedish language. For the few additional words you may need to learn, consider reviewing this list of words commonly found in Swedish documents available through FamilySearch.org.

2. Family events are summarized in Swedish clerical examinations.

The clerical examination or “husförhörslängd” can act as an index to important family events. Beginning in 1686, each parish was required to keep a household examination for each household. Many early records don’t survive, but copies of these records exist for many parishes in Sweden after about 1780. As part of the household examination, parish priests of the Swedish Lutheran church were required to visit with the members of their parish at least once yearly and test them on their knowledge of the catechism.

Typically, these registers document a family over the course of 5-10 years. They not only include information about the family’s religious duties, but additional information regarding migration, family structure, residence and important family events. If a child was born, he or she was added to the clerical examination, and the birth date and christening date were noted. If an individual or a family moved within the parish, a note was made in the clerical examination with a reference to the page number of the family’s new residence. If they moved out of the parish, the date they left was often recorded along with the number of their entry in the moving-out books. The dates of deaths, confirmations, marriages, vaccinations and communions were also recorded. If you are lucky, additional notes might comment on crimes, physical characteristics, occupations, punishments, social standing, economic status, or other life events with references to pertinent records.

ArkivDigital, Dals-Ed (P) AI:15 (1866-1875), clerical examination, household of Per Johansson, Image 74 / page 64, https://app.arkivdigital.se, subscription database, accessed July 2017.

The above Household Clerical Examination in Dals-Ed Parish in Älvsborg covers 1866-1875 and shows the household of Per Johansson on the farm of Lilla Wahlberg in Bälnäs. The document provides birth dates and places for each household member. It shows that Per’s son, Andreas, moved to Norway in 1872. Another son, Emanuel, moved within the parish but returned after just a month. Among other notes on the document, we learn that Emanuel only had one eye and that he was a dwarf.

3. Many Swedish records cross-reference each other.

Clerical examinations reference other church records, such as those of a child’s birth or a couple’s marriage. But the reverse is also true: birth, marriage, death and migration records frequently reference household examinations. Birth records might list the page number of the child’s family in the household examination. Marriage records indicate the corresponding pages of the residences of the bride and the groom. Death records identify the residence of the deceased. Moving-in and moving-out records frequently report the corresponding page numbers of the farm where a migrant eventually settled or the parish from whence he came.

The yeoman farmer Ollas Per Persson and his wife Greta at a hut in Dalecarlia. Photograph by: Einar Erici, c1930. Wikimedia Commons image, Permission granted Swedish National Heritage Board @ Flickr Commons.

Most clerical examination buy medication for anxiety volumes include an index of farms and residences within the parish. In the case of some larger parishes and cities, local genealogical societies have sometimes indexed all individuals in the volume by name. When researching in multiple volumes, note the farm or residence of your ancestor in the previous record and then search the index of residences near the front or end of the next clerical examination volume. Usually, this will narrow your search to just a few pages out of the book rather than the entire volume.

4. You can trouble-shoot record gaps.

Even when an ancestor’s record trail turns cold, recent publications and indexes created by active Swedish genealogical societies make it possible to pick up the trails of elusive ancestors in earlier and later records. Even if these records do not list the specific pages of interest, they may still provide the reported residences, which can then be located in the clerical examination records.

Occasionally, an ancestor might have moved in a year for which migration records are not currently available, or they might have moved to a larger city with many parishes. Other times, their migration may not have been noted, or jurisdiction lines may have been redrawn resulting in the formation of a new farm and residence. In these cases it may be difficult to continue tracing an ancestor’s record trail. One strategy to overcome these situations is to search the clerical examinations by reported birth date. The birth dates or ages of Swedish ancestors are recorded in many of their records. If you are browsing through large collections, consider searching by birth date rather than by name. Since birth dates were often recorded in their own unique column and are more immediately recognizable than names, this may expedite your search. Even if these strategies still yield no results, searches in indexes may help to uncover an elusive ancestor’s record trail.

5. There are some excellent Swedish indexes and databases online.

In recent years, online indexes and databases have made Swedish genealogical research simpler than ever:

  • FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com all have large collections of indexed birth, marriage and death records from Sweden.
  • Sveriges Släktforskarföbund has compiled an index of Swedish death records from 1900 to 2013. It includes the birth dates, birth places, names, maiden names, death dates, residences at time of death, age at time of death, and if the individual was married or widowed, the index will also include the date of marriage or the date of death of their spouse. If they were not married, it will indicate their civil status. Click here to purchase the database (the price is in Swedish krona; do a Google search such as currency converter sek to usd to see the price in your country’s currency).  (A related Ancestry.com database is entitled “Births from the Swedish Death Index” and only includes names, maiden name, birth dates and birth places of the individuals in the index.)
  • MyHeritage has partnered with ArkivDigital to provide an index to Swedish clerical examinations between 1880 and 1920. (Indexing is underway for household examinations from 1850 to 1880.)
  • Other indexed collections at ArkivDigital include the 1950 and 1960 Swedish censuses.
  • Ancestry.com has indexes of Gotenburg passenger lists, which can help identify relatives who migrated from Sweden to others parts of the world.

As you can see, Swedish genealogical records from the late 1700s and 1800s can be fairly easy to read, detailed and full of cross-references. It’s often possible to trace a Swedish ancestor in every year of their life from birth to death! So don’t let language or patronymics (naming traditions) frighten you away from exploring your Swedish family tree.

Help is available when you need it

Have you hit a brick wall that could use professional help? Or maybe you simply don’t have the time for research right now? Our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists provide full-service professional research customized to your family history, and deliver comprehensive results that will preserve your family’s legacy.

To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree website here.
 
Summer Sale Legacy Tree Genealogists

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!

Recent New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

There are a wide range of genealogical records newly available online. Here are new and updated collections as of this week. We’ve included important information about each collection that will help you determine whether it is suitable for your genealogical research. We include affiliate links for which we may be compensated, at no expense to you. Thank you for supporting free article like this by using our links. 

new genealogy records

The latest genealogy records from Genealogy Gems.

NEW: HALL COUNTY NEBRASKA NEWSPAPER DIGITIZATION PROJECT

About the collection:

“The Hall County Newspaper Digitization Project is a collaborative project supported by the historical and genealogical societies, newspapers, public libraries, and museums in Hall County. This project will digitize the 28 historic newspapers published in Hall County since 1870. The Grand Island Independent (up to 1924) is included in this project.”  

Newspapers included in the first completed phase of digitization include:

  • Platte Valley Independent (1870-1884);
  • Grand Island Times (1873-1892);
  • Grand Island Independent (1884-1900);
  • Wood River Gazette (1884-1892);
  • Doniphan Eagle (1892-1895);
  • Staats-Anzeiger und Herald (1894-1918);
  • Wood River Interests (1894-1919);
  • Wood River Sunbeam (1906-2003).

Search the collection here. 
 

DIGITAL LIBRARY OF GEORGIA

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Select Georgia towns and cities. 1923-1941)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Digital Library of Georgia

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Digital Library of Georgia

About the collection:

“The Digital Library of Georgia has just made Sanborn fire insurance maps produced between 1923-1941 for 39 Georgia towns and cities in 35 counties freely available online. The maps, which are now in the public domain, can be retrieved at dlg.usg.edu/collection/dlg_sanb, and complement the DLG’s existing collection of the University of Georgia Map and Government Information Library’s 539 Sanborn maps dating from 1884-1922 that have been available since 2005. The DLG has also upgraded its image viewer, which will allow better access and improved navigation to the new and older Sanborn images from this collection.”

Search the collection here. 

MYHERITAGE

Search the following collections here at MyHeritage

NEW: New York, Birth Index, 1881-1942

About the collection: 

“This collection consists of indexes of births from the state of New York between the years 1881 and 1942. The State of New York began statewide registration of births in 1881, supervised by the local board of health. A record may include the following information when it is available: given name and surname, birth date, town of birth, and gender. The images in this collection have been obtained through the outstanding work and efforts of Reclaim the Records.

This index does not contain lists of births from New York City. New York City is considered to be a separate vital records jurisdiction from the rest of New York state, and consequently the city has its own birth indices. However, a small number of New York City birth listings are found throughout this index. This is due to the births happening in towns that were previously independent before the consolidation of the city in 1898 (for example, a pre-1898 birth in a place like Canarsie [Brooklyn] or Flushing [Queens] might be listed here) or because there was a late birth registration.”

NEW: Minnesota, Death Index, 1904-2001

About this collection: 

“This collection includes an index of death records from Minnesota, between 1904-2001. Information may include the deceased name, date of death, county of death, date of birth, county of birth and certificate number. It may also include the mother’s maiden name when available. 

Information for the years 1908-2001 is recorded from death certificates as recorded by a physician or a mortician. Information in this collection for years prior to 1908 is taken from death cards. Unlike death certificates, many death cards were filled out very incompletely. Cards, especially for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, frequently contain little more information than the name of the decedent, date of death, sex, marital status, birthplace, cause of death, and person reporting the death.”

Number of records: 4,460,579

NEW: Minnesota, Birth Index, 1900-1934

About this collection: 

“This collection contains an index to birth records from Minnesota between 1900-1934. Information may include: first name, middle name, and last name of the child. It may also include the date and county of birth, certificate number. It may also include the mother’s maiden name when available.

Birth certificates were used to record birth information beginning in 1907. When a child was born, a physician or midwife compiled information about the child on a birth certificate. The certificate was registered with the local county registrar. Birth cards were used to collect birth information from 1900 to 1907. Unlike birth certificates, many birth cards were not completely filled out. 80% of this collection takes place between 1907-1937, 19% is from 1900-1907 and 1% is from before 1900.”

Number of records: 3,406,802

Updated: MyHeritage Photos and Docs

About this collection: 

“This collection includes public photos, videos and documents posted by MyHeritage members on their family sites. You may contact a member who submitted a photo to get in touch or request additional information.”

Number of records: 141,129,707

ANCESTRY

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

About the collection: “This database is a collection of directories for U.S. cities and counties in various years. The database currently contains directories for all states except Alaska.

Generally a city directory will contain an alphabetical list of citizens, listing the names of the heads of households, their addresses, and occupational information. Sometimes a wife’s name will be listed in parentheses or italics following the husband’s. Other helpful information might include death dates for individuals who had been listed in the previous year’s directory, names of partners in firms, and forwarding addresses or post offices for people who had moved to another town.”

Search the collection here.

NEW: New York State, Address Notification and Absentee Ballot Application Cards, 1944

About the collection:

“This collection consists of notices received in 1944 by the War Ballot Commission from members of the United States Armed Forces, American Red Cross, and other service organizations serving in World War II that resided in New York requesting absentee ballots or notifying the office of a change in address. For more information on this collection, please visit the Finding Aid page on the New York State Archives site. There are two main forms present in this collection – pre-printed applications for war ballot, and postcards with change of address information.”

Information contained varies, and may include:

  • soldier’s name
  • soldier’s rank or rating and service number
  • soldier’s birth date
  • soldier’s residence at time of request

Search the collection here.

Updated: 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules

About the collection:

“The slave schedule was used in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.”

Search the collection here.

Updated: 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules

About the collection: 

“The slave schedule was used in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.”

Search the collection here. 

Updated: New Zealand, Cemetery Records, 1800-2007

About the collection: 

“These transcriptions of headstones from cemeteries in New Zealand typically include details such as name, birth date, death date, and the cemetery name and plot location. But they may also provide family relationships with name and other details about a spouse, cause of death, military dates, an epitaph, or even a description of the headstone.”

378,207 new records were added.

Search the collection here.

Updated: U.S. Virgin Islands, Danish West Indies Slave Records, 1672-1917

About the collection: 

“This database contains Danish records relating to slavery in what became the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

During Danish rule, officials kept voluminous records, including the slave-related records found in this database. They include the following:

  • case papers concerning contested slave ownership
  • emancipation records
  • registers of free men, women, and children of color
  • lists of baptisms, marriages, and burials
  • lists of slave owners and former slaves
  • mortgages and loans
  • slave lists and censuses
  • records of Royal Blacks
  • compensation agreements
  • courts martial

The records can be a valuable source of names, dates, places, and other details. These records have not yet been indexed, but they can be browsed by record type. Most of the records are in Danish.

This collection was previously published as image only. The collection has since been indexed and this update adds 80,184 new records.”

Search the collection here.

About the collection: “This database consists primarily of the voter indexes published every two years, including indexes to the Great Registers, to affidavits for registration, and to precinct registers.

Voter registrations were kept on the county level by the county clerk. Indexes to these records are organized according to county and voting wards and/or precincts. Within each precinct voters are listed alphabetically according to surname.”

Information may include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Address
  • Occupation
  • Political Affiliation

Search the collection here

UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO – CITY DIRECTORIES

The University Libraries has recently digitized early city directories of Reno, Sparks, and the surrounding areas, which date from 1900.

Nevada City Directories at the University of Nevada

Nevada City Directories at the University of Nevada

Search the collection here. 

FINDMYPAST

NEW: Canadian Directories & Almanacs

Findmypast has launched brand new collection with records from the province of Prince Edward Island. According to the company, more will be added from across Canada over the coming months.

About the collection:

“The eclectic mix of five directories cover the late 19th century from 1880 to 1899.”

The titles included are:

  • Frederick’s Prince Edward Island Directory
  • McMillian’s Agricultural and Nautical Almanac
  • McMullan’s Almanac
  • Teare’s Directory & Hand Book Of The Province of Prince Edward Island
  • The Prince Edward Island Almanac

Search the collection here. 

Updated: PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)

About the collection:

“Over 7,000 images have been added covering a variety of PERSI publications, perfect for fleshing out family stories. The new periodical titles that have been added are:

  • Vermont Quarterly Gazetteer: A Historical Magazine / Bound With New Title: Vermont Historical Gazetteer
  • Recherches Historiques
  • Cambridge Historical Society Publications/proceedings
  • Archivium Hibernicum / Irish Historical Records
  • Queen City Heritage / Ohio Valley History
  • Connecticut Historical Society Collections

Simply filter by periodical to get to the latest additions.”

Search the collection here. 

5 Steps to Finding Marriage Records

Show Notes: Marriage records are essential to building your family tree. Here are the 5 steps you need to in order to find an ancestor’s marriage record. 

Watch the Video

5 Steps to Finding Marriage Records for Genealogy

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes Marriage Records Worksheet for Premium Members

A really good Spring cleaning task is to look through your family tree, starting with yourself and working backwards, and just checking to see if you have all the vital records for everyone. Vital records include birth, marriage and death records. Civil marriage records are typically some of the oldest vital records, and offer valuable information. 

Step 1:  Determine the time and place.

Time and place are critical to marriage record searches. Records like census records can help you get within 10 years of a marriage, and can also help you narrow in on the location of the wedding. Thankfully, all U.S. Federal Census records are free and online at FamilySearch.

Marriage records are typically filed at the county level. However, they can sometimes be found at the town level, particularly in New England. 

It’s very important to identify the correct county at the time of the estimated marriage. You can do that using the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. Click on the state and then select the time frame. 

Step 2: Use a genealogy guidance website

Genealogy “guidance” websites pull together information from a variety of sources to aid you in your research in a particular area. Here are two of my favorites:

The FamilySearch Wiki 

Click on North America > United States > State. Scroll down the state page and click on the county. Use Alt + F to quickly search for the word marriage.

The wiki will likely also provide you with links and clues as to where to find the records. Remember, it’s not always a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start.

Learn more about the Wiki with these videos:

If civil marriage records had not yet started when your ancestors married, look for church marriage records. Learn more with my video: How to Use Church Records for Genealogy (Premium)

US GenWeb

  • All-volunteer website
  • Organized by state and then county.
  • Great place to tap into the collective brain trust of genealogists interested in the same area.
  • Provides information such as when records started, how to access them, or if they are no longer available.
  • Provides links to online records.

Step 3: Genealogy Records Websites

If those leads don’t pan out, next turn to major genealogy websites. Start with the free FamilySearch, then if you have subscriptions to sites like Ancestry or MyHeritage, use those. (Note: These are affiliate links and we are compensated if you make a purhcase.) Only a fraction of these website’s record collections are included in their hints and suggestions. This means that the card catalog is essential if you want to scour all the records. 

Learn more about searching Ancestry’s card catalog: Ancestry Top Tips and Hot Keys (Premium)

Step 4: Contact the jurisdiction that originally created the records

If you don’t get the record that way, you’ll need to do it the old-fashioned way: contact the county or town clerk.

Early vital records are often moved to the state level. That contact information can likely be found on the FamilySearch Wiki page you found, or you can Google:
County name, state “marriage records”

Check the following repositories:

  • State Library
  • State Archive
  • State Historical Society
  • County Historical Society
  • Other: _________________________________________

Step 5: Google Search

If all else fails, turn to Google to see if there are any other repositories or online resources outside of the largest genealogy websites and archives. Use search operators to focus your search.

Example:  Randolph County Indiana “marriage records” 1880..1900

The quotation marks ensure that the exact phrase (Marriage records) is included on each web page result you get.

Two numbers separated by two periods is called a Numrange search. This instructs Google to also ensure that each web page result includes a number (in our case, a year) that falls within that range. It’s a great way to target marriage records from a particular time frame. 

Learn more about marriage record research with these two instructional videos:

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes Marriage Records Worksheet for Premium Members

 

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