Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
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 8: Best Genealogy Websites, Part 2
In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success.
In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Now for some updates on these sites and MORE since the show first aired:
FamilySearch.org is still free and growing exponentially. It captures records from all over the world, not just North America and the U.K. It is now home to over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, with over 35 million new records added every month. In addition, they’ve added over 60,000 digital books to the site. The layout of the website has changed dramatically since I described it in the original show. Click on Search to get to their databases, then enter an ancestor’s name and, if you can, a life event (birth, marriage, residence or death). A significant portion of new online records are browsable but not yet indexed. So now, after you search for individuals in their databases, scroll down to the Browse section below the search fields. There you’ll be able to see what records you can browse for a locale (choose the international region, then you can choose more specific locations). You can still order microfilmed records at the Family History Library to a satellite FamilySearch library near you. From the Search screen, choose Catalog, and you can search for and order available records by location.
The National Archives (U.S.), also known as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) also offers more on its website now. The portal for genealogists looks a little different now but still helps you see how to search and use the site for genealogy. There’s a direct link to the 1940 census, with images, maps and descriptions. Remember that Footnote, the subscription site I mentioned that’s digitizing military records, is now Fold3, which we talked about in Episode 7.
EllisIsland.org still offers free access to the passenger records of those who landed at Ellis Island. In addition, you can still look at ship information (click on Ships from the home page). The Immigrant Experience and timeline I mention can be found by clicking on the Ellis Island tab.
The National Archives (U.K.) links from the home page to resources for ordering birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Read about updating order information, including costs, at these sites. There is still a portal for genealogists from which you can learn all about the various record groups I mention in the podcast and more.
Library and Archives Canada continues to add more valuable genealogical data to its site, including census data! Start from its Genealogy and Family History page. In addition to the features I mention in the show, they’ve improved their online indexes: scroll down on the above page and you’ll find the Ancestors Search (Databases) link to a main search engine and individual databases for vital records, censuses, immigration, land, military and several directories.
Check out these 3 free online tools that help with how to pronounce names.
Recently, I heard from a Genealogy Gems listener in The Netherlands, who shared research tips for those starting to trace Dutch ancestors. I wanted to mention his email on my free Genealogy Gems podcast, but I didn’t know how to pronounce his name, Niek.
There have been other times I wished I knew how to pronounce names of ancestors or distant cousins, or other foreign words.
I received more than one email regarding the way I mispronounced Regina, Saskatchewan on my Genealogy Gems podcast. I pronounced it with a long “e” sound (like Rageena) when in reality it is pronounced with a long “i” sound (as in Reg-eye-na). I appreciated the correction. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could check how to say something before you say it?
Here are 3 free online tools that can help. They’re each a little different. I’m giving you all three so you can run the name through more than one site to be even more confident you’re getting the right pronunciation.
Google Translate is a powerful, free tool I use for quick translation look-ups. Google Translate now has an audio tool for some languages that will pronounce the words you enter. Look for the speaker icon in the bottom left corner of the translate box and click it:
Google Translate is an awesome free tool for other reasons, too.
As we research our family history it often leads us to records and reference books in foreign languages. The Google Translate app on your phone comes in very handy in such times.
You can translate short bit of text in real time. Here’s an example of a page from a German reference book:
In order to translate this page, I tapped the Camera icon in the app and then held my camera over the page. The image is sent via an internet connection to Google. Text recognition occurs and the text is translated. Here’s what the real-time translation looks like in the Google Translate app:
The translation may not be perfect, but it is much better than not being able to read the page at all.
You can also use the Scan feature to take a photograph of a page or document. This can often give you a better translation because the image is more stable. To do this, tap Scan in the bottom menu. Hold your phone over the page, and then tap the circle button. This is what the initial scan looks like:
Tap the Select All button if you want all the text to be translated. The other option is that you can swipe your finger over just the words that you want translated. As you can see in the image, each word has been individually found by Google providing you with precise selection control You can also tap the Clear button if you want to start over and take the image again. In the image below I have selected a portion of the text on the screen:
The translation is almost instantaneous, and it appears in the blue line at the top. Tap the right arrow on the blue line to see the full translation:
The Google Translate app is continually being improved, and is worth a try if you haven’t used it recently. The most recent updates included better translation quality and support for more languages.
Click here to read about one of its qualities that actually got a gasp out of the audience when I mentioned it in a lecture.
Forvo describes itself as “the largest pronunciation guide in the world, the place where you´ll find millions of words pronounced in their original languages.” It’s like a pronunciation wiki.
A quick search for “Niek” gave me the result shown here. I clicked on “Pronunciation by MissAppeltaart” to hear how that contributor (who is from The Netherlands) said that name.
By the way, you can contribute your own pronunciations by clicking on “Pronounce” to see a list of words that are waiting to be recorded.
3. Pronounce Names
Pronounce Names is a website that gives you visual cues for pronouncing a name. This can be helpful for those who aren’t sure they heard an audio pronunciation correctly. This is what it looks like when you ask for a name pronunciation for Niek:
Being a visual learner myself, I particularly appreciate this site! I think I would have remembered the correct pronunciation of Regina had I seen it in a format like this.
Now if I could just get the telephone solicitors to use the tools. Maybe then they will stop calling and asking “is Mrs. Cookie there?”
More Free Online Tools–These are Gems!
I’m always on the look up for free online tools that solve problems. Whether you are trying to find genealogy records, solve geographical questions, or you want to identify a face in a photographs, there are tools out there that just may do the trick. Here are three more articles that provides answers to challenges like these.
The Genealogy Center: Elevenses with Lisa Episode 31
If you’re looking for a wide array of free online genealogical records for your family history, look no further than then Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s the second largest genealogy library in the country. In addition to the in-house collection, the Genealogy Center offers a vast amount of free digitized resources through their website and partnerships with other websites.
I invited Allison Singleton, Senior Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana to the show. She is taking us on our tour of the website and sharing her tips and strategies for finding genealogy gems. Watch the video and follow along the highlights with the show notes below:
What is the Genealogy Center?
The Genealogy Center has one of the largest genealogy research collections available, incorporating records from around the world. The staff specializes in genealogy and is always available to help. Visit the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne Indiana.
There’s a lot to explore at the Genealogy Center website. Let’s start with the top-level menu on the Home page. Here we’ll find links to important resources such as:
Let’s take a closer look to a few in addition to other free resources available through the large colored buttons on the home page.
The Genealogy Community is the place to ask questions, sign up for their e-newsletter, and follow them on social media. They are extremely active on Facebook. You can also learn more about and get in touch with the staff of seasoned family history librarians.
PathFinders is a great place to start your family history search. It provides very small snapshots of what the Genealogy Center has in their collection for any given location or topic. Snapshot categories include:
Click on the logo from any page to return to the website’s Home page.
Free Databases at the Genealogy Center Website
The Genealogy Center does not interlibrary loan materials. Their collection is reference only. The website is the perfect place to plan your next visit. That being said, much of their invaluable collection has and is being scanned by Internet Archive and FamilySearch. If it is out of copyright, they work to get it online. So there’s plenty to find from the comfort of your own home.
You can find their Free Databases by clicking Resources on the home page and then Free Databases. These are all searchable and include digitized images that can be viewed from home.
In the Free Databases section you’ll find gateways to other specific areas including African-American and Native American. These provide an excellent place to start your research.
Free databases at the genealogy center
Family Bibles at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Family Bibles The Genealogy Center actively collects scans of family bible records pages.
Learn more about researching family Bibles for family history in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 29.
Watch episode 29 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn how to find and analyze your family bible for genealogy
You can donate more than just money to the Genealogy Center. They are also looking for research donations. Donating is a great way to make your genealogy research materials easily accessible to your family and other researchers. You’ll find Donations in the main menu on the Home page.
Donated digitized materials are freely available online on their website.
They are actively digitize records.
You can even bring your materials into the library and they will digitize them. You can then keep the originals.
You can also send in your own digitized scans.
Military Records at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Our Military Heritage They are actively collecting military information for inclusion in their collection. The collection includes many unique items donated by other family historians.
Copyright and Usage
The materials on their website are under copyright. You can view one page at a time. However, you can copy and print like you would if you were visiting the library. Include a source citation including the donor name. If in doubt about usage, contact the Genealogy Center.
Searching for Genealogy Center Content
The website is new (in 2020) so Google may not pick up everything in search. Use the website search field to search the entire collection.
Allison’s Catalog Search Tips:
When search the Allen County Public Library catalog, don’t use common words such as county and city.
Also, don’t use the plural form of words. For example, use directory not directories.
After running the search, on the left side of the page under “I only want” filter your results to only the Genealogy Center by clicking Branch and then
If an item is digitized, you will see a Web Link under More Info.
Lisa’s Search Tip: Use Control + F (PC) or Command +F (Mac) to quickly find words in a long list on a results page.
On-Site Databases at the Genealogy Center
You can only access on-site databases while in the library. No library card is required. The library does not offer an online subscription service.
Getting Help Online for Offline Resources
Navigation: On the homepage click Genealogy Community > Ask a Librarian. Here you can send brief questions and requests.
Family History Archives
Navigation: Click Family History Archives on the Home page and you’ll find links to other websites hosting Genealogy Center digitized content. Partners include:
FamilySearch (Public Access)
The Internet Archive (over 110,000 items)
Over 110,000 Free records at the Internet Archive from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
City Directories at the Genealogy Center
City Directories are a wonderful way to fill in information between census years. The Genealogy Center has the largest collection of city directories in the country. They are in both book form and microfilm.
The city directory collection cover across North American and even includes some international directories.
Compiled Family Histories at the Genealogy Center
Compiled family histories help you stand on the shoulders of other accomplished researchers. They have approximately 70,000 physical books. There are also family histories digitized and on the website. Search for the surname and include the word family. On the results page, filter down to Branch > Genealogy.
Free Consultations and Paid Professional Services
Navigation: Home > Our Services > Consultations. The Genealogy Center offers free (yes, you read that right!) 30-minute consultations with a Genealogy Center librarian. Consultations are held by Zoom, phone or email. You don’t even have to be a library card holder! Prepare well to get the most from your consultation.
You can also hire staff at the Genealogy Center to do more extensive research for you. Another option is to request a list of local professional researchers. Visit Our Services > Forms > Research Form
PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)
Navigation: Home > Our Resources > Onsite Databases > PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) PERSI offers a very wide range of periodicals, some of which are very unique and niche. The PERSI index is hosted by Findmpast. Search the index for free from home at Findmypast. Some of the items require a subscription.
Allison provided some excellent insider strategies for searching PERSI:
Articles are indexed by title.
Don’t search by keyword or “Who”.
Most people aren’t named in the article titles. Focus on location.
You can order the articles from the Genealogy Center. $7.50 for each form which includes up to six articles. Go to Our Services > Forms > Article Fulfillment.
Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.