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 9: UsingCensus Records
In this episode we start off by talking about a group of records critical to family history research in my home country: U.S. Federal Census Records. You’ll learn not only what to find in the regular schedules, but about the enumerators, the instructions they followed, and special sections like the economic census.
Then in our second segment we go straight to the source: Bill Maury, Chief of History Staff at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ll be talking to him about the History section of the Census Department’s website. Note the updated Genealogy tab on the site, as well as the Through the Decades tab, which is packed with historical information for each census.
Since the show first aired, the 1940 U.S. Census has become publicly available. This was the largest, most comprehensive census taken, with over 132 million names of those known as the “greatest generation.” Full indexes and images are available at several sites. Your first stop should be the National Archives’ official 1940 census website to learn about the census itself. Then search it at your favorite genealogy data site in one of the links below.
Finally, I gave you specific instructions in the podcast on searching the 1930 U.S. Census online at Ancestry.com. To specifically search any of the U.S. censuses (or any other record collection) at Ancestry.com, go to the Search tab and select Card Catalog. You’ll see several censuses among the options they give you, or you can enter keywords like “1940 census.”
After a long winter in the U.S., it’s finally warming up! Just last week I did my first BillionGraves cemetery field trip of the season. So I’m pleased to see that they’re offering a BillionGraves challenge to those who take pictures or index:
“It can’t be any better than doing your favorite thing- taking pictures of headstones and transcribing them, AND winning prizes! So take advantage of the rising temperatures to capture some headstone images at your local cemetery or get your transcribing game on.”
We’ve blogged about BillionGraves before: it’s a leading site for capturing cemetery headstones around the world. Their free app (for iPhone and Android) makes it easy to find a cemetery near you (wherever you are) that needs imaging; use your smart phone to take geo-tagged tombstone photos; transcribe any images you care to; and upload them to their site. (I always upload when I return home so my phone will upload images using my home’s wi-fi instead of charging me data.) But you can also participate in the challenge by indexing records already on their site, if cemetery visits aren’t your thing.
Got kids who are out of school and looking for something to do? Take them with you to image headstones. My kids don’t necessarily prefer this to going to the pool, but they’re game sometimes, especially if a stop at an ice cream stand is part of the deal. Here’s Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with BillionGraves staffer and tips for getting started:
I recently read Lisa Louise Cooke’s 3rd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. I use Google every day and this book has so many helpful new search tips! But I was skeptical about her chapter on finding your family history on YouTube. So skeptical that I immediately opened YouTube to prove her wrong. Can you guess how this ends?
Following one of her tips, I entered an ancestral hometown and state and the word “history.” The fourth search result made my mouth drop open:
This is a 1937 newsreel showing my husband’s great-grandfather, Andrew O’Hotnicky, driving his fire truck with his dog Chief! Though Andrew’s not named, I can prove it’s him. He was the driver at the Olyphant Hose Co #2 during this time. Photos of him match the driver’s face. I have stories and a newspaper clipping about his dog, Chief. A distant relative watched the newsreel and confirmed his identity–and said a young man riding on the side of the truck was Andrew’s son Bill.
My father-in-law buy medication for dogs never knew his grandfather Andrew, who died before he was born. Imagine how thrilled he was to watch that newsreel! I was just as thrilled to find it. I’ve spent years researching Andrew’s family.
My own tip: search YouTube for relatives you already know something about. That way you will recognize them (from pictures or stories) when you see them. A lot of old footage won’t have names with it. I had to know who I was looking at. Once you find something, tag it with your relative’s name. You never know who will connect with you that way (check out the comments section in the above video)!
What can you learn about YOUR family history on YouTube or anywhere in the Google world? Learn how to search widely, deeply and effectively online in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Do you feel like every time you log in to your favorite genealogy data website, it’s changed? Well, that’s probably because it has. The sites themselves are gaining weight, both the weight of additional users and additional records. It only makes sense that the way you navigate these sites will change and (hopefully!) improve.
You’ll notice this in recent changes to Ancestry.com. The site has responded to user feedback by introducing three new features, described in a recent press release:
Ancestry photo comment sharing
1. Username=real name for new users.
“With more than 50 million family trees on Ancestry.com, connecting with other members can yield family history gold. We know it’s hard to make a personal connection with “TheRealCookieMonster53.” In an effort to promote collaboration and sharing, members profiles will use real names instead of usernames. Users can still change their setting at any time from their Member Profile page to show their preferred name.
Although this change is only for new users, we encourage everyone to update their Member Profile to a more personal and transparent name (sorry Cookie Monster).”
2. Comment sharing across all copies of a photo.
“Today, commenting happens on individual copies of photos which means most comment activity on shared photos is missed. We have made a new update on the site that will enable comment sharing across all copies of a shared photo so everyone can join the conversation. We’ll email users when new comment activity occurs, but also make sure the email volume isn’t overwhelming.
In addition, we’re refreshing the media page so it’s simpler to update, share, and view your family photos and stories.” (editor’s note: I’d be interested to hear if you, my lovely readers, find the emailed photo comments helpful, and limited as promised by Ancestry.)
3. Related Content suggestions in the image viewer:
“The Interactive Image Viewer has been updated with the Related Content panel. This is currently the most requested feature for the image viewer. A fantastic way to discover new content is just another avenue to easily flesh out more relevant records, the Related Content panel not only includes Suggested Records but will also show Related Trees.”