by Lisa Cooke | Mar 19, 2014 | Beginner
Free Family History has a nice ring to it!
Did you know you don’t have to pay for a subscription to anything to be able to start learning more about your family history?
Start to find your family history for free by asking the four questions listed below.
1. What do you already know?
Chances are that you know something about your family already. The most important facts we start with are our relatives’ names and their dates and places of birth, marriage(s) and death. These facts can help you later to distinguish between records about our relatives and others with the same name.
Write down what you know about your “direct ancestors”–your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.–on a family tree chart like this free fill-in pdf format (these are also called pedigree charts). Then use family group sheets like this one to organize facts about each individual couple (this is where you can list all the children your grandparents had, for example).
2. What do your relatives know?
After filling out what you can, show your family tree chart and family group sheets to other relatives. Ask them if they can fill in some blanks. Remember these tips:
- Try to include a little note about who tells you each piece of information.
- Someone may dispute what you find. Everyone’s memory of an event is different. Don’t argue. Treat their information with respect:. Write it down. Then ask politely if they have any documentation you could see, or why they believe something to be true (who told them, etc).
- Ask whether anything is missing from your charts: a grandparent’s second marriage, a stillborn child or even whether someone’s name is accurate. You or others might know someone by a nickname or middle name.
- Be sensitive to information that might be confidential or not generally well-known, like a birth date that doesn’t appear more than 9 months after a wedding, or a first marriage. Consider asking living relatives if it’s okay for you to share certain facts. Consider only showing part of your charts to a relative.
3. What’s in the attic (or anywhere else)?
We can often find family documents in our own homes and those of our relatives. Look in attics, basements, storage units, safe deposit boxes and safes, filing cabinets, photo albums, scrapbooks, shoeboxes and other places where papers and memorabilia may be tucked. You’re looking for things like:
- certificates of birth, baptism, marriage or death;
- obituaries or other news articles, like anniversaries;
- funeral programs, wedding and birth announcements;
- photos with names or other notes on the backs;
- insurance, pension, military or other paperwork that may mention births or deaths or beneficiary information;
- wills and home ownership paperwork–even outdated ones;
- a family Bible.
When you find family names, relationships, dates and places in these documents, add them to your charts.
4. What’s available online for free?
There are two major types of family history information online: records and trees. Records are documents created about specific people, like obituaries, birth certificates and all those other examples I just mentioned. Trees are a computerized form of other people’s family tree charts and group sheets. It can be tempting to just look for someone else’s version of your family tree. Eventually you will want to consult those. But other people’s trees are notoriously full of mistakes! Instead, start by looking for records about the relatives you already have identified.
I suggest that you start your search at FamilySearch.org because it’s totally free. At most other sites, you’ll have to subscribe or pay to see all the search results. At FamilySearch, you just need to create a free user login to get the most access to their records.
After logging in, click Search. Choose a relative you don’t know a lot about. Search for that name. Use the different search options to add more information–even a range of dates and a state/province or country–so you don’t have to wade through thousands of near-matches.
The most common records to find on FamilySearch for many countries are census and vital records.
- A census is a tally of residents, voters or another target population. Entries often include details about a household: who lived there, how they were related, how old they were, where they were born, etc. You can often extract family information from census listings, though some things (like ages or name spellings) may not be totally accurate.
- Vital records are official records of someone’s birth, marriage or death. In these, you’ll often find important dates and places as well as names of parents, spouses or others important to the family. They aren’t always totally accurate, and you may only be able to see an index of the record (not the actual document).
As you find search results, compare what they say to what you’ve already learned. How likely is it that this record belongs to your family? Consider how many people seem to have the same name in that location and time period (for example, how many are mentioned in the 1880 U.S. census in that state?). Don’t just look at the search results list: click through to look at the full summary of the entry and, if you can, the original record itself. You may find additional details in these that can confirm whether this record belongs to your relative. You may even find out about new people: your great-grandparents’ parents, for example. Write it all down or begin building a family tree right there on the FamilySearch website (because it’s totally free: learn more about that here.) And one of the greatest keys to long term success is citing your sources. It’s imperative that you make careful note of where you got the resource so that you can find and refer to it again later, and back up your research if it is ever called into question.
People who research their family history often describe it as a puzzle with lots of different pieces. You will need to assemble a lot of puzzle pieces–information about each relative–to begin to see the “bigger picture” of your family history. You’ll start to sense which pieces may belong to a different family puzzle. You may put together a picture that is unexpected, or has some shadows and sadness. There will likely also emerge heroic, beautiful and touching images.
Ready to learn more?
Up next, read:
7 Great Ways to Use Your iPad for Family History
How to Find Your Family Tree Online
Best Genealogy Software
Search the SSDI for Your Family History
by Lisa Cooke | Nov 29, 2019 | 01 What's New, Records & databases |
New records at genealogy websites can come in all shapes and sizes. They may include new or updated indexes, digitized records, or improvements to the search function. It all adds up to new opportunities for you to find more information on your family history. Here’s the latest from some of the most popular genealogy records sites.
New at MyHeritage
Here’s the latest on new records from MyHeritage:
1801 Norway Census Index
“The 1801 census was carried out on Sunday, February 1, 1801, and is based on complete lists of individuals.
The census contains the names of farms (in rural areas), the full names of inhabitants, the familial ties between household members, their age, marital status, and occupation.
For married and previously married people, it was recorded how many times they had been married or widowed.
The age listed was the age on the next birthday.
The names of smallholdings are typically not included. People were registered in the regions where they belonged. Those who were absent, e.g. sailors, should be listed in their hometowns.
The department of statistics of the Exchequer in Copenhagen prepared the census and processed its results. In the rural districts, the census was carried out by parsons with the assistance of precentors and school teachers. In the towns the efforts were supervised by the Town Administration and carried out by the Subdivision Heads of each conscription district. The town lists are arranged by building numbers. This collection is provided through cooperation with the National Archives of Norway.”
1865 Norway Census Index
“This collection of over 1.68 million records is the first national census to list a place of birth for all persons recorded. This census contains the person’s name, residence, status in the family, occupation, sex, marital status, age, place of birth, religion if not a member of the state church, and other miscellaneous information.
Censuses have been taken by the Norwegian government and by ecclesiastical officials for population studies and taxation purposes.
Census and census-like records are found from the 1500s to 2000. After 1900, a national census was taken every 10 years until 2000. Access to the national census records is restricted for a period of 100 years after the date of enumeration.
Generally, you will find more detailed family information in more recent censuses.
Some known deficiencies in the 1865 original census material include records from Gol parish in Buskerud county, Holtålen Parish in Sør-Trøndelag county, Bjerke parish in the Nannestad dioceses in Akershus county, and at least 106 special lists in Kristiania (Old name for Oslo). This collection is provided through cooperation with the National Archives of Norway.”
United Kingdom, War Memorials, 1914–1949 Index
“This free collection of 1.1 million records provides details on soldiers from the United Kingdom that died during the wars in the early to mid 20th century.
During the first World War, alone, there was an average of over 450 British casualties per day. Information listed on these records may include: name, date of death or burial, burial place, and age at death. These records might also include rank, service and unit of the military as well as any honors earned during service.
The records primarily consist of soldiers from the First and Second World Wars with a few records from different wars. The number of British casualties was smaller in wars following World War II, and the number of records from other conflicts is consequently low.
This collection content is copyright of the Imperial War Museums and the index is provided by MyHeritage free of charge as a beneficial service to the genealogy community.”
Estonia, Gravestones, 1812–2019 Index
“This collection includes information from Estonia cemeteries and consists of records from 1812-2019. These include the name of the deceased, birth date when available, death date when available, date of burial when available, and the name of the cemetery.
Cemeteries can help you trace the burial and or death place of an Estonian relative. Cemetery records may also help identify ancestors when access to church records and census records is limited, or the death was not recorded in other records.”
North Carolina, Mecklenburg County Birth Index, 1913–2019 Index
“This collection is an index of birth records from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The records may contain the first name, middle name, last name, gender, and date of birth of the individual. Mecklenburg County is the largest county in North Carolina by population, and its county seat is Charlotte.”
North Carolina, Mecklenburg County Marriage Index, 1884–2019 Index
“This free collection is an index of marriage records from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The records may contain the following searchable information: first name, middle name, and last name of the bride and groom, and the marriage date of the couple. Records may also contain the marriage license number and the date of the application.
Mecklenburg County is the largest county in North Carolina by population, and its county seat is Charlotte.
Most records in this collection are from the 20th century or later, with just three percent from before the year 1900. However, there is a select amount of records dated from before 1884, with approximately one percent of the collection falling under this category.”
North Carolina, Mecklenburg County Death Index, 1916–2019 Index
“This free collection is an index of death records from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The records may contain the following searchable information: first name, middle name, last name, gender, and death date of the individual. Records may also contain the certificate number for the death. Mecklenburg County is the largest county in North Carolina by population, and its county seat is Charlotte.
In some cases, the gender is given as unknown along with a missing given name. This usually means the record is for a still-born baby. All records in this collection are from the 20th century or later. However, there is a select amount of records dated before 1916, with the earliest from 1908.”
Pennsylvania, Lawrence County Index of Obituaries, 1871–2016 Index
“This collection includes an index of obituaries and death records from Lawrence County Pennsylvania for the years 1871-2016. A record may include the first and last name of the deceased, death date, date of death announcement, name of spouse, name of parent(s), and the name of the newspaper that published the information.
Obituaries can be a good source of information about a person and may also include information about the deceased’s family members. Often an obituary will include information such as the birth date, marriage date, children, occupation, education, and the location of living family members at the time the obituary was written.”
Pennsylvania, Lawrence County Index of Marriage Announcement, 1858–2006 Index
“This collection includes marriage announcements from Lawrence County, Pennsylvania for the years 1858-2006. Records may include the first and last name of the bride and groom, the names of parent(s), the title of the newspaper that published the announcement, the page on which the announcement is located, the date of the marriage announcement, and the year of the marriage.
Marriage records are a valuable source of information. Marriage records found in newspapers are not limited to a specific form, like most government marriage records, therefore newspapers may contain details about a marriage not found elsewhere, such as names of siblings or other relatives.
Newspapers can report marriages of people who no longer live in the area but who still have friends or family there.”
Chile, Electoral Rolls, 2013 Index
“This collection of over 12 million records contains information about Chilean voters during the November 17, 2013 elections. Records include the names of voters and the location of the vote. The collection also includes records about canceled voters, mostly because of the death of the voter, and disqualified voters.
Search these collections at MyHeritage here.
All of the above newly updated collections are now available through MyHeritage SuperSearch™. Searching these records is free, but a Data or Complete subscription is required to view the records, save them to your family tree, and access Record Matches. Our Record Matching technology will get to work and notify you automatically if any of these records mention a member of your family tree. You’ll then have the ability to review the record and decide if you’d like to add the new information to your family tree.”
New Newspaper Content at GenealogyBank
GenealogyBank is one of the leading providers of digitized newspapers, and they’ve recently added new content for 152 newspaper titles from across 35 states including:
- District of Columbia
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Search GenealogyBank here.
Here’s a short video about another historic newspaper resource (click for sound):
More New Newspaper Content at the British Newspaper Archive
One of my favorite websites, the British Newspaper Archive celebrated its 8th birthday this week (the Archive was launched on 29th November 2011) and also reached the milestone of 35 million searchable pages. Here’s ta brief overview of the 128,362 new pages recently added.
New title added:
- Elgin Courant, and Morayshire Advertiser (Scotland, 1863-1905)
- The Reading Evening Post
- Wells Journal and the Bristol Times and Mirror (West country area)
Search or start a free trial here.
New at Ancestry
Here’s the latest from Ancestry:
“Pre-Confirmation books, otherwise known as Childrens’ Books, were used to record the names of children who had not yet been confirmed into the Lutheran church. These records are extremely valuable as they record family groups and provide dates of birth and sometimes a place of birth as well. Death dates may also occasionally be included. Once the child became eligible for Communion, they were then recorded in the Communion books.
Pre-Confirmation books were organised by villages and then by farm and household.
Users may find the following details for individuals found in the communion books (where available):
- Relation to Head
- Birth Date
- Birth Place
- Burial Date
- Death Date
Search the collection here.
UPDATED: U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014
On November 14, 2019 changes were made to improve the performance of this collection, so if you’ve ever searched it and not found what you were looking for, it might be worth another try. Note: no new records were added.
Search the collection here.
Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013
On May 20 Ancestry added 1,388,625 new records to this collection.
“This database contains both images of and indexes extracted from various records of marriages in Washington.
Marriage records can offer a wide range of details. While the indexes in this database may provide the basic facts surrounding a wedding—bride, groom, date, and place—images of marriage certificates may also include additional information such as
- marital status (single, divorced)
- whether a first marriage
- fathers’ names and birthplaces
- mothers’ names, maiden names, and birthplaces
This database does not contain an image for every document included in the index.”
Search the newly update collection here.
U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947
On Nov 7 Ancestry added 4,651,830 new records from the following states to the U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 collection:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
Search the updated collection here.
What Did You Find in the New Online Records?
We’ve got our fingers crossed that you are able to unearth some new genealogy gems from these new updates. If you do, please leave a comment and let us know, and then share this post with your friends.
by Lisa Cooke | Jun 24, 2014 | 01 What's New, Family History Podcast, Listeners & Readers
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 24, 2014
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.
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2
Today’s show is all about YOU! Just like Episode 36, this episode is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails again is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.
Question: Is there a way to get iTunes to download all of the podcasts instead of just the most recent ones? I thought I saw it on the website somewhere but now I can’t find it. –Melanie Armstrong
Answer: (updated since the podcast originally aired): In your iTunes LIBRARY, on the line where the Genealogy Gems Podcast is listed click the GET ALL button. This will download all the past episodes to iTunes on your computer, to be listened to at your convenience. Downloading will take several minutes. You will see a little spinning orange circle to the left of the podcast name as it downloads. Once the episode is downloaded the text will turn from gray to black. Double click the episode and it will start to play after a moment or two.
Question: I use the free forms at Family Tree Magazine’s website. Do you keep your old Family Group Sheets on file so you can double check them later? – R. Butler
Answer: I love all those free forms at Family Tree Magazine! I’ll tell you the truth, I decided to throw mine away. I transcribed everything into my database and threw away the paper. Everything is properly sourced there, which is key. I avoid duplicating efforts, which has happened to me when looking back at old paper forms. If I need to double-check things, I do it from the actual sources—the birth or death certificate or interview—not from the family group sheet. The only exception is if the group sheet is part of a brick wall case file that I haven’t solved yet. I keep them until the case is solved, and then the cited answers go into the database.
Question: How do you know when records/indices are complete? I have been looking for immigration records for my family and cannot find them.
They came in large family groups, so you would think it would be easy to find. Even though the name (Mauge) is often misspelled (Mange, Mauga) I cannot find them at Ellis Island, Steve Morse’s website, The National Archives or through my Ancestry.com subscription. The years span 1880 through 1885. Are these immigration records complete or am I looking in the wrong place? -Anne-Marie Eischen
Answer: There are many factors involved here, and many avenues to pursue. Based on other information you told me about your family’s arrival, here are some ideas:
- The Family History Library has microfilm of the Baltimore Passenger lists between 1920 and 1897 – and it lists the main author as the U.S. Dept of the Treasury, Bureau of Customs. Passengers are indexed by soundex and the soundex code for Mauge would be M200. But considering the variations you have found of the name you’ll want to arm yourself with the soundex codes for all those variations. The M200 names are on Film # 417302 which I found in the Family History Library catalog and familysearch.org and you can just go to your closes Family History Center and order the film for under $10 and they will send it to you to view at the center.
- Check the at the Immigrant’s Ships Transcribers Guild website.
- Click here for a great summary of Baltimore passenger lists by Joe Beine online.
- You will also find an index for Baltimore passenger lists between 1820 and 1897 at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN.
- Look closely at your source for the port information, and see if you can locate any other verification of that. Maybe she actually arrived through another port.
- Usually I would tell you to check departure lists, but in this case, departure lists for Bremen for that time period are not available.
- Here’s a great book recommendation for you: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DeMelle.
Question: I wanted to share the results of my Google Alerts. My father had red hair and was called “Red” most of his life. So when I ask for “Red” Browning in my alerts, I have received information on the red Browning sweater (the Browning clothing line), a red Browning rifle case (they make guns) and recently the Cincinnati Reds Tom Browning went to jail (the Red’s Browning…). Alas, nothing yet on my Dad! Another family name is Gorry – you can imagine what I got last Halloween! I do love the alerts though – and have added eBay alerts too, thanks to you. Keep encouraging us and thanks for the great tips! -Joan Ketterman
Answer: I’m not sure how much I can help with that one – keep playing with the “plus” and “minus” signs in your searches to refine what you’re looking for. And I’m glad you’re using those eBay alerts. Learn more about eBay alerts in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 140. Note: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about Google Alerts in Premium Podcast Episode 28.
Comment: On the podcast you recommended using Google Books. I have a “gem” for you….I have a link where the LDS church has archived loads of family history books: http://www.familyhistoryarchive.byu.edu. Follow the link and type in the surname of your choice. I have found some wonderful stories there about my ancestors. – Susan in West Palm Beach Florida
Note: The BYU Family History Archive she references has migrated into the Family History (Digital) Books collection at FamilySearch along with the digital book collections of other repositories/ They are now searchable at FamilySearch.org.
Question: This is just something that bugs me. WHICH is the correct pronunciation of Genealogy??? GEEN-e-alogy (with a long “e” at the beginning) or Gen-e-ology (with a short “e” at the beginning)?
Answer: I’ve heard it both ways and I’ve pronounced it both ways. But when I went to Dictionary.com, they actually have an audio pronunciation and they say, GEEN-e-alogy, with a long “e” at the beginning. However you pronounce it, it’s a barrel of fun!
Question: How can I learn more about the Freedom of Information Act?
Answer: Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 20 and Episode 21. It’s also covered in my book Genealogy Gems Ultimate Research Strategies.
Question: Hello, I just finished listening to the June Family Tree Magazine Podcast. I have been wanting to write to you for months now to ask you this question: Who is the musician playing the guitar music during the podcast? My husband is a big Chet Atkins fan and I thought it could be Chet but my husband says no just from listening to it. Can you please provide me with the musicians name? -Melissa Roberge
Listen to this episode to find out the answer!
by Lisa Cooke | Jul 9, 2015 | 01 What's New, Beginner, Brick Wall, images, MyHeritage, Records & databases, Technology
At some point in the past, many of our relatives–overseas or in the same land–spoke a different language. They used different versions of names we know. Records about their lives were created in a language we don’t know, whether their home tongue or the language of an institution, like church records in Latin.
Well, MyHeritage has just launched a groundbreaking new technology today that aims to remove language barriers in family history research. “Global Name Translation™ helps overcome the Tower of Babel syndrome,” says Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “The world is getting smaller and more connected, yet information from other countries is still mostly hidden from those who don’t speak the language.
Now you can now search for historical records at MyHeritage “in one language and receive relevant results from other languages, automatically translated for you into the language of your search,” explains Japhet. For example? “A search for Alessandro (Alexander in Italian) will also find ‘Саша’ (which is the Russian form of Sasha, a popular nickname of Alexander in Russia) with its corresponding transliteration into the language of your search.”
This technology is also integrated into MyHeritage matching technologies, so subscribers will begin receiving transliterated matches from other languages.
According to a press release, Global Name Translation™ works with “very high accuracy, generating all the plausible translations, to facilitate matches between names in different languages. In addition, a manual search in one language will also provide results in other languages, translated back to the user’s language for convenience. This is a unique innovation not offered elsewhere, useful for anyone interested in discovering their global roots.”
The first version works with several languages: English, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, Russian and Ukrainian. “The next version currently in development will add Chinese and Japanese, and additional languages will follow.”
Click here to learn more reasons we love MyHeritage, which is a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast, or click here to explore MyHeritage yourself. If you are looking for a language translation tool for genealogy outside of MyHeritage, check out the chapter on Google Translate in the fully-revised and updated second edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.