with Lisa Louise Cooke Recorded May 2020
Please enjoy free access to this Premium podcast episode. Learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium member by clicking here.
This episode is really about getting a fresh new view of our research and our ancestors’ world. To expand our view we’re going to dig into that word “view” in one of my favorite free tools, Google books which contains some wonderful gems, and I’ll tell you how to find them. But first I chat with a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how her eyes were opened to a new view of her research, and 3 very important things she learned from it.
GEM: Interview with Pat Dalpiaz
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #238 I shared two tales of mystery. The first was a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman shared how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises. And the second story was the mystery of a lost family scrapbook that was chock full of twists, turns and even murder! At the end of that episode I invited you to share your stories of discovery and the lessons you learned along the way. Long time listener and Genealogy Gems premium member Pat Dalpiaz did just that, and she joins me on this episode to tell us about it.
How did you first learn of the story of John Handran? “John Handran of Newfoundland and Essex County Massachusetts was lost at sea in December of 1885 while aboard the Schooner Cleopatra. The story of that sea disaster is pretty amazing in itself. A brief version is told in the blog post I will reference and share. He left behind a wife and 3 young children.
He also left behind the story of his sea rescue of a fellow Navy shipmate who was swept overboard in Lisbon Portugal from the US Steamer Franklin in 1876, for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor by President U. S. Grant.
This story of his Medal of Honor had been a family story, accepted in full as given by another cousin researcher (expert level). So, I shared it on my blog Gathering the Cousins.”
What stirred the story back up? “One day about 4 years ago, I was contacted by members of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States as well as by a Canadian who specializes in honoring Canadians who have been awarded the US Medal of Honor. This came about directly as a result of publishing his story on my blog, a point made by others that I can help verify.
I was asked to determine if the John Handran in my family tree was THE John Handran who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1876. Dope slap. I had never made that direct connection using documents and proof. I just accepted the story. So, the work began to collect the “smoking gun” documentation to prove “my” John Handran and the Medal of Honor John Handran.”
What approach did you take to try and verify this story? “In 2017, I was finally able to locate a newspaper article regarding John’s death that stated he had been in the US Navy connecting him as needed. I found a copy of the 1885 local paper and shared it with the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States.”
What are you doing to restore this historical story to your community? “As a result, they have been able to coordinate the placement of a “In Memory Of” marker at his widow’s grave in Gloucester Massachusetts. It took almost 3 years to accomplish that feat and then the virus interrupted plans to hold a service to mark John’s bravery and service to country.
In addition, I used some of your recommended Google techniques to locate a granddaughter nearby so she can be part of the service when it is held and visit the memorial when she’s ready.”
Where can listeners read more about this and your family history adventures? “I also contribute to a blog called Good Morning Gloucester and have shared some of this information in that manner as well. Here’s a link to one of those posts.”
3 Lessons Learned:
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Pat did not know there was a group out there specializing in something as specific as Canadians awarded the US Medal of Honor. Writing about the story on her family history blog brought them to her!
The importance of validating those family stories.
The extra work you do to confirm your family stories might require close-reading very old newspapers or other similar documents. Pat says, “It might take a long time but stick with it.”
Finding family members CAN be accomplished with Google!
Pat said she used the techniques that I talk about in the podcast and my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox on a regular basis, with ongoing success. She wrote: “Thank you as always for your efforts to share your expertise with us. I just renewed my Premium membership. It’s the most worthwhile genealogy money I spend each year!”
John Handran In Memory Of plaque at Calvary Cemetery in Gloucester MA. An official ceremony will be planned as the pandemic allows.
The “smoking gun” part of the newspaper article Jan 1, 1886 in the Cape Ann Advertiser which accompanied a longer article about the Schooner Cleopatra sinking.
Google Books is a goldmine of genealogical resources including over 25 million books. Many of the books are fully digitized and available for free. In this episode we are focusing on getting a view of our ancestors’ world. Simply focusing on the word view can help us find old book that include photographs, illustrations, maps and more.
Try searches such as:
A view of Australia
An illustrated view of California
Once you identify a book of interest, use the thumbnail view button in the toolbar at the top of the screen (it looks like a checkerboard) to view many pages at one time. This will help make maps, photos, and other images easy to spot.
Thumbnail view of King’s View of New York City, 1903
Search Operators are symbols or words that narrow or broaden a search. Quotation Marks can be used when you want to search for an exact word or phrase.
Example: “illustrated view”
How to narrow your search results only to fully digitized books:
Wednesday, May 27th. The difficulty of neatly painting cars two different colors led to the patenting of a universally practical product on this date in 1930. Five years earlier, Richard Drew, while working for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, had developed an easy-to-peel, glue-backed masking tape. It considerably eased the task of separating two-tone paint jobs on new cars, which until then involved moistened plaster tape. Then, he expanded its use by introducing a clear backing. The result, an immediate hit, became known as Scotch Tape.
Now, 90 years on, 3M is joined by about 560 manufacturers of various adhesive products nationwide. This specialty generates sales of more than $13 billion a year and provides jobs for about 24,000 people.
As you’ll remember I launched this show after the first week of the stay at home recommendation in March, and back then my first recommendation was that you resist the temptation to cut your own bangs. Well it turns out that Scotch tape has had a wide variety of uses throughout the last 90 years.
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 3: Working Backward and the SSDI
In our first segment in this episode my guest is Miriam Robbins Midkiff, a well-known genealogy blogger and teacher. She shares her best research tips, what motivates her to delve into her family history and how that discovery has enriched her life.
Then in our second segment we answer the question, “Why do we work backwards in genealogy?” and then fire up the Internet and go after your first genealogical record. Below, find current links to the record sources I talk about in the show. Also, when I recently checked, the Social Security Death Index was no longer free at WorldVitalRecords as I mention in the podcast and some of the site features I mention may have changed. I’ve given you links below to more options for searching, including plenty of FREE options!
When it comes to tracing your family history, there are standard methods that will help you build a solid family tree. Starting with yourself and working backwards is a cornerstone of genealogical research. It will be tempting to start with a great grandparent that you just got some juicy information on after interviewing Aunt Martha, but resist the temptation to start with that great grandparent, and go back to the beginning – and that’s YOU!
There’s a very good reason why working backward is so effective. Let’s say you have filled in info on yourself, and then recorded everything about your parents and now it’s time to work on one of your grandfathers and all you have is the date he died and the date he was born. If you are lucky enough to have his birth date and birthplace and you get his birth certificate it will tell you who his parents were, but it can’t predict his future can it? Where he went to school, where he lived over the years, etc. Documents can only tell you what has occurred in the past, not what will occur in that person’s future.
But if you get his death certificate it will give you key information at the end of his life that can lead you to the various events throughout his life. If you don’t have his birthdate and birthplace, you’ll probably find it on the death certificate. It will also likely name his parents and his spouse. A birth record can’t tell you who he will marry, but a death record can tell you who he did marry. You can start to see how starting at the end of someone’s life and working backwards will be the most efficient and accurate way to research.
Records are like the bread crumb trail of your family tree! If you don’t work systematically backwards, it will be very easy to miss a crucial piece of evidence, and you might end up relying on guesswork and end up building a false history on it. Believe me you don’t want to invest time in a tree that you’re going to have to chop down and replant!
So now that you understand and are committed to following this cornerstone concept of systematically starting with yourself and working backwards, it’s time to fire up the Internet and put it into practice by finding your first record. What type of record will we be looking for? A death record of course!
Is one of your parents deceased? If so, you’re going to start with them. If they are still living, and you’ve got their information entered into your genealogy database choose one of their parents, your grandparents, who is deceased – or if you’re lucky enough to be starting at a young age you may have to go back to a deceased great grandparent! (And good for you for starting now while you’re young!)
Chances are the person that you’ve chosen, for this example let’s say it’s your grandfather, he most likely had a social security card. And there is a wonderful free database online in the United States called the Social Security Death Index, what is commonly referred to as the SSDI, that you can use to find that grandparent.
In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.
Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.
The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! As with all records it provides clues that you should try to verify through an additional record source.
There are many websites that feature this database, as seen in the UPDATED links below. This database is free at most sites, even sites that charge for access to other data.
On the Search page, enter your grandparent’s given name which is their first name, the family name which is their last name or surname, the place of their death – this could just be the state – and the year they died, and click the Search button. Hopefully you will get back a result that includes your grandparent.
Now remember you’re looking at an index, not an original record or primary source. We talked about sources in Episode 2. A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event by an authoritative source, usually someone with direct personal knowledge of the event that’s being documented, like a death certificate is completed at the time of death by the attending physician. These are the best and usually most accurate types of sources you can find. And that’s what we want!
The really key information in this search result is the county information. In order to get an original death certificate which would be your primary source you have to know which county they died in. You may already know that for your grandparent, but keep this in mind because the further back we go, the more crucial it will be to know the county involved since that’s where death certificates are recorded.
By any chance did your grandparent not show up in the results even though you know they worked after 1937 when the Social Security got rolling, and you know they have passed away? Don’t fret – We have other ways to try and find the info!
This brings us to what I think is a really important concept to keep in mind whenever you’re researching your family on the Internet. Each search is conducted at a specific moment in time. Running an SSDI search or a Google search tomorrow might give you results different than the one you ran today. The Internet is being updated second by second, and the SSDI has been updated several times over the years.
In the case of the SSDI database, you can’t be absolutely sure that the website you are using to search the SSDI has the most current version available. Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated.
Here’s a perfect example of that: When I searched for my grandfather on my dad’s side from the Family Tree Legends website, I got no results. Now I KNOW he died in 1971 and I KNOW he worked his entire life so he had to have been registered with Social Security. Then I went to Ancestry.com and searched for him in their SSDI database and he popped right up.
On the other hand, my maternal grandmother shows up on all three websites I’ve mentioned. In most cases, you’ll find who you’re looking for, but occasionally, like with my grandfather, you may have to dig in your heels and try the SSDI on a couple of different websites to find who them. Never give up, never surrender. That’s my motto!
And of course, each website offers just a little different variation on the terms that you can search on.
So just in case you have a stubborn ancestor who eludes your first SSDI search, try finding them at several of the SSDI databases. If you do have luck on World Vital Records, be sure and click the More Details link next to your search results because it includes some fun extras like a link called Historical Events next to their birth year and death year that will take you to a list of important historical events that were happening those particular years. It’s kind of fun to see what was going on in the world when your grandparent was born.
You’ll also find a link called Neighbors which will take you to a listing of folks who lived in the same county as your ancestor and died in within a year or two of them.
But most helpful is that your research results on World Vital Records will include a listing of nearby cemeteries which are good possibilities for where your ancestor may have been buried. (Again, just clues to hopefully send you in the right direction.) But as I said, the death certificate is going to be your best and primary source and almost always includes the name and address of the cemetery where the person was buried.
Here are a few more search tips if you don’t find your ancestor right away:
1. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.
2. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.
3. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.
4. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE! Go figure!
5. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.
6. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.
While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there. I admit it, in the past I’ve managed to check out books I’ve already looked through and order a record or two that I already had. Lesson learned!
So here’s your assignment for this week: Go through your genealogy database and do a Social Security Death Index search on every deceased person who was living after 1937. Hopefully you will be able to fill in several more blanks in your genealogy database and family tree!
StoryWorthfor Father’s Day: Invite your dad to share stories with loved ones every week, and then get them all bound in a beautiful hardcover book at the end of the year. Go to http://www.storyworth.com/lisa for $20 off when you subscribe. This Father’s Day is actually a gift for you, too!
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Listen to Lisa’s other podcast
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. Visit www.RootsMagic.com
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
MAILBOX: MILITARY DRAFT REGISTRATIONS
Click hereto read about finding military draft registrations
INTERVIEW: JIM BEIDLER ON PENNSYLVANIA RESEARCH QUESTION
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
Disclosure: This page 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 this free podcast and blog!