Unclaimed Persons Project Offers Opportunity to Apply Your Genealogy Skills

When the recent press release from  the Unclaimed Persons project crossed my desk, it jumped out at me in a very personal way. I majored in Forensic Anthropology (the study of human remains) in college, and was no stranger to coroner’s offices. I’ve witnessed first-hand what happens when a decedent enters a morgue, and it’s a very cold (literally!) and lonely experience. My passion for forensics stemmed from a desire to ensure that families wouldn’t be left wondering what happened to their loved ones. The Unclaimed Persons project focuses on the other side of that mission: ensuring that the loved one is reunited with their family and laid to rest with dignity.

Unclaimed Persons Project - image By P.J.L Laurens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From an Unclaimed Persons project press release:

Alone in death and tucked away on dark shelves or cold gurneys in morgues across the country, thousands of deceased individuals whose names are known to coroners, medical examiners, and a handful of friends have no known family members to claim their remains. Homelessness, mental illness, long-term estrangement, deaths of all apparent next of kin, and other circumstances have severed familial connections. Ever-increasing caseloads and shrinking budgets make it nearly impossible for medical examiners, coroners, and investigators who cannot quickly identify family to find deceased individuals’ relatives without help.

Unclaimed Persons project uses genealogy skills

Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person. It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them. Thus, the Unclaimed Persons project was born! In 2008, genealogy author, speaker, consultant, and on-air expert Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak started this organization online. She shares how she got started working with these cases in this video:

“My first time that I worked with a coroner’s office was actually sort of an accident. I was just reading the newspaper and I tripped across this article about the situation of these people who are essentially unclaimed people, people whose next-of-kin just can’t be found. And I was reading about a couple of the actual examples they gave, and one of them made a fleeting reference to a particular case where they actually had the fellow’s family bible. And that’s what made the connection for me that ‘Aha! Maybe I can use the genealogical sleuthing skills to find these families as well.” -Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

After assisting two coroners with unclaimed persons cases, Megan founded a Facebook group with the goal of solving even more unclaimed persons cases. The online community of volunteer researchers joined forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest.

Unclaimed Persons is now celebrating their 9th anniversary with the launch of their new website, and to date have solved 471 cases with a 70% solve rate! But the unclaimed epidemic in morgues persists, and Unclaimed Persons is always recruiting more volunteers. As it turns out, family history enthusiasts make some of the best detectives in these cases! Genealogists combine classic sleuthing skills with their knowledge of family record keeping to track down even the most elusive relatives. This is a wonderful opportunity for genealogists to use their specialized training for an even greater good.

unclaimed persons project statistics

500+ veterans escorted the unclaimed remains of seven Iowa veterans to their final resting place at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, Van Meter, Iowa, in 2009. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Gary Ward 

How you can help the Unclaimed Person project

You don’t have to be a seasoned genealogist to be a volunteer! Anyone with an interest is welcome to join. Visit https://unclaimed-persons.org/ to register as a member. You will need to complete a member profile with your basic information, and agree to Unclaimed Persons Forum Rules. Unclaimed Persons encourages researchers to have access to tools such as Ancestry.com, GenealogyBank.com, historical newspaper archives, and other online subscriptions related to genealogical research. However, there are many publicly available online databases that can also help with your research.

As an Unclaimed Persons volunteer, one of the most important things to know and adhere to is that researchers should not contact identified family members, nor should they contact coroners directly. Each case is assigned a case manager, and all discoveries should be sent directly to them. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but in fact it ensures that coroners, medical examiners, and investigators are not inundated or hindered with duplicate information and can continue to manage their daily workloads.

And Unclaimed Persons feels very strongly that contacting even one family in error would jeopardize the high standards and reputation of the organization. While the ultimate goal is bring closure for family members, the primary focus of Unclaimed Persons is to assist these agencies with the difficult task of locating them, rather than to be the ones delivering the news directly. But for your own sense of closure, Unclaimed Persons will announce on their Facebook group page and their online forum when a case has been solved so you and the other volunteers can celebrate together!

like buttonIf you don’t have time or resources to help with research, you can still help Unclaimed Persons by ‘Liking’ their Facebook page and sharing the cases among the genealogy community. You can also follow Unclaimed Persons on social media for announcements of new cases where you may have information or experience that can help (specific locations, surnames, etc.).

Click here to learn more about how to become a volunteer member.

Welsh Genealogy and More: New Genealogy Records Online

A new Welsh genealogy resource has been launched by the National Library of Wales! Other new genealogy records online: Canadian military bounty applications, English and Scottish newspapers, Peru civil registration, Swiss census, a WWI online exhibit, Massachusetts probate records, and Minnesota Methodist records.

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

Featured: Welsh Genealogy

Article hosted at Welsh Journals Online. Click to view.

The National Library of Wales has launched Welsh Journals Online, a new website with its largest online research resource to date. It contains over 1.2 million digitized pages of over 450 Welsh journals. “Providing free remote access to a variety of Welsh and English language journals published between 1735 and 2007, the website allows users to search the content as well as browse through titles and editions,” states an article at Business News Wales. “The website also enables users to browse by year and decades and provides a link to the catalog entry for each journal.”

The collection is described as containing the nation’s “intellectual history,” valuable whether you want to learn about attitudes of the day, find old recipes, or explore popular products and fashions. According to the above article, “Welsh Journals Online is a sister-site to Welsh Newspapers Online, which was launched in 2013 and which last year received almost half a million visits.”

Canada military bounty applications

A new database at Ancestry.com contains the names of Canadian militiamen who served between 1866-71 against the Irish nationalist raids of the Fenian Brotherhood and survived long enough to apply for bounty rewards beginning in 1912. Raids took place in New Brunswick, Ontario, the Quebec border, and Manitoba; members of the Canadian Militia in Ontario, Quebec and even Nova Scotia were called up in defense. The database includes both successful and disallowed applications and some pension-related records for those who were killed or disabled while on active duty.

England newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive recently celebrated putting its 20 millionth newspaper page online! They’re running a flash sale: 20% off 1-month subscriptions until 6/20/17 with promocode BNAJUN20. New content there includes historical news coverage of:

Findmypast also recently announced 11 brand new titles and over 1.3 million new articles in its collection of historical British newspapers. New titles now available to search include Dudley Herald, Warrington Guardian, Willesden Chronicle, Goole Times, Weston Mercury, Annandale Observer and Advertiser, Bridgnorth Journal and South Shropshire Advertiser, Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald, Fraserburgh Herald and Northern Counties’ Advertiser, Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter, and Eastern Morning News.

Peru civil registration

Over a million indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s existing collection of Peruvian civil registration records, which span over a century (1874-1996). According to the collection descriptions, these records include “births, marriages, deaths, indexes and other records created by civil registration offices in the department of Lima, Peru.”

Scotland newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive has added more newspaper coverage from Arbroath, Angus in eastern Scotland. Issues from 1873-1875 from the Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review have been added, bringing the total coverage to 1849-1919.

Swiss census records

A new collection of indexed images of the 1880 census for Fribourg, Switzerland is now searchable at the free FamilySearch.org website. According to the collection description, “Each entry includes name, birthplace, year of birth, gender, marital status, religion, occupation.”

This 1880 census entry image courtesy of the FamilySearch wiki. Click to view.

U.S.: WWI Online Exhibit

The Veterans History Project has launched a web exhibit complementing the Library of Congress’s exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I. ” The three-part web exhibit will help tell the larger story of the war from the perspective of those who served in it,” states an announcement. “The first part is now available at loc.gov/vets/.  Part II and Part III will be available in July and September 2017.”

The Veterans History Project has on file nearly 400 personal narratives from World War I veterans. Watch some of these narratives in the video below.

U.S.: Massachusetts probate records

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has added a new database: Berkshire County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1791-1900. “Drawn from digital images and an index contributed to NEHGS by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives, this database makes available 21,143 Berkshire County probate cases filed between 1761 and 1900.” Watch this short video for tips on navigating this collection:

U.S.: Minnesota Methodists

The cover of an original Methodist membership register from the Minnesota conference archive. Registers often include members’ names, family relationship clues, baptisms, marriages and more.

Now it’s easier to locate records relating to your Methodist ancestors in Minnesota. The archive of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church now has an online catalog of its holdings. The catalog contains about 700 items, according to a Conference press release, and continues to be updated regularly.

A Methodist conference is a regional geographic unit of government, similar to but often larger than Catholic dioceses. Each conference has an archive, to which congregations may send their original records. The online catalog has collections of photographs, archival material such as records of closed churches, and library material such as books about Methodism in Minnesota. Currently the catalog shows 42 collections of original church records, which are often the most useful for genealogists.

Stay current with new genealogy records online!

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Great Scott! Genealogy Gems is Attending Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conference for 2016 is “Time Travel: Centuries of Memories” and will be held in Springfield, Illinois. See what your future holds by learning about the past. Genealogy Gems will be there, and you’re going to love our line-up of free 30-minute classes in the exhibit hall (booth #200). Plus, enter to win our Grand Prize drawing! Here are all the details.

Make Your Future Whatever You Want, But Make it a Good One

TeamTimeCar.com-BTTF DeLorean Time Machine-OtoGodfrey.com-JMortonPhoto.com-07

JMortonPhoto.com & OtoGodfrey.com [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With his iconic exclamation of “Great Scott!”, Back to the Future’s Dr. Emmitt Brown reminded us that the future is in our own hands. Make your future genealogy research “a good one” by attending this year’s conference.

This Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference will benefit the novice, the professional, and anyone in between. With over 160 sessions and 72 expert speakers from all over the world, you will be inspired to reach greater heights in all things genealogy.

Each day, a new set of classes will guide you through:

  • the U.S. Midwest (regional track)
  • the United Kingdom (British Isles and Commonwealth track)
  • the continental European research (ethnic track), to give you the latest and greatest in genealogy research.

If you missed early registration, that’s okay. Walk-in registration is available by clicking here. Enjoy all four days of inspiring classes, only attend a day or two, or just meander around the exhibit hall.

Free Stuff in the Exhibit Hall

The exhibit hall is always a favorite place to network and socialize with your genealogy buddies. Wander from booth to booth to see what the future holds for genealogists and gather up all the fun and free swag, too.

Most importantly, Lisa wants to see you for our free sessions that are back by popular demand! With such a positive response last year, Genealogy Gems will once again be hosting a series of free presentations at this year’s FGS conference. Join us in our Genealogy Gems Theater in booth #200 in the exhibit hall. Our 30-minute information-packed sessions will help you think outside the box for greater genealogy success.

Attend any of our sessions and sign-up to receive our free e-book of handouts for all the sessions. Want to plan ahead so you don’t miss a thing? Glance over the schedule below (click the button to download the schedule) and mark your can’t-miss sessions. (Not able to attend? Stay tuned because we will be announcing which sessions will be broadcast live over Periscope for free.)

download now

BONUS: Join Lisa in the FGS theater area of the exhibit hall
Saturday at 12:10 for
Top Google Search Strategies for Genealogists

FGS 2016 Genealogy Gems booth schedule

Grand Prize Drawing: Total Retail Value over $210

Presenters at the Genealogy Gems Theater have pitched in for this year’s Grand Prize drawing. The winner will receive:

…from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems

…from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard

…from Family Tree Magazine: an e-book bundle valued at about $100

Click here for the Grand Prize entry form, which also gets you the free e-book with all the session handouts. Drop the entry off at booth #200. The winner will be notified by email.

map of Genealogy Gems booth at FGS

Lisa will of course be presenting lectures during the daily sessions. Jump on over to our website page for even more information about the FGS Conference.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there, friends!

FamilySearch Indexing in Another Language: A Call to Arms

According to an article on the FamilySearch blog, 90% of all indexed records on FamilySearch are those for English-speaking countries. While this is super exciting for me and my family tree, many of my friends are unable to trace their family histories past their great-grandparents. Why? Because the records in their native country have been digitized, but not indexed.FamilySearch indexing international records

FamilySearch Indexing in These Easy Steps

I have been indexing at FamilySearch for years and you can join me! Just follow these simple steps:

  • Go to www.familysearch.org.
  • Sign-in and click on Indexing and choose Overview fromFamilySearch indexing icon the pull-down menu.
  • Click on Get Started, which will direct you to the Get Started page. You will need to download the indexing program directly to your device.
  • From your desktop, open the FamilySearch Indexing program by clicking on the icon.
  • Sign-in again and click Download Batch at the top left corner.
  • Choose a project to work on.

If you feel you need some further instruction, watch these helpful videos below:

FamilySearch Indexing: How to Start

FamilySearch Indexing Training: Video 1

FamilySearch Indexing in Another Language

FamilySearch indexing French records

Training for French Language

FamilySearch is looking for three kinds of people:

  • Fluent, native speakers of non-English languages living in their native county or in an English-speaking country.
  • People who have extensive training in a non-English language.
  • English speakers who are willing to learn how to index specific types of non-English records.

I know what you are thinking…you hardly passed French 101 in high school! But, you can do it.

There was recently a very successful Italian indexing training initiative in the U.S. It more than doubled the worldwide number of individuals working on Italian records. You can be a part of the growing need for French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese record sets.

Training guides and videos have been created for the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages. As we accomplish the work for these places, FamilySearch will add more languages. The videos and guides will help volunteers to learn how to index specific types of records. Click here to learn about this language learning initiative and to get started.

What Else Can You Do for FamilySearch Indexing?

If you have friends or family who are fluent in another language, ask them to join you. Share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook to get the word out. Does your teen need some service hours for graduation, Girl/Boy Scouts, or other organization? This is a unique service project that even teens can do and that will be meaningful to many.Facebook_Logo

We would love to hear your stories of successes in indexing. Leave a comment below or post to our Genealogy Gems Facebook page.

More Gems on Indexing

Volunteer Gem: He Indexed Milwaukee Journal Obituaries Himself!

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