5 Reason You MUST Look at Original Records

Show Notes: When you find family history information online you MUST make every effort to find the original genealogy record so that your family tree will be accurate! There are 5 reasons to find original records. I’ll explain what they are, and what to look for so that you get the most information possible for your family tree.

If you’re a genealogy beginner, this video will help you avoid a lot of problems. And if you’re an advanced genealogist, now is the time to fix things. 

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Show Notes

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#1 Many online records are simply way too vague.

Records come in many forms. Many genealogy websites consider that each name that appears on a document is a “record” when they’re counting records. So, when you hear that 10 million records have been added to a website, it doesn’t necessarily mean that 10 million genealogical documents have been added. It oftentimes means that that’s the number of names that they’ve added.

One document could have a lot of names. In the case of a death certificate, it could have the name of the deceased, the name of the spouse, the name of the informant, and the names of the parents. Each one of those gets counted as a record.

Recently, MyHeritage announced they’ve added 78 million new records to their website. However, many of these records are simply transcriptions, they’re extracting the information from whatever the original source was. That information becomes searchable, and that’s terrific because they are great clues. So, sometimes when you go and look at the records themselves, it turns out that record really is just a transcription. There is no digital record to look at.

Sometimes the website doesn’t even tell you what the original record was. There will be clues, though. You can use those clues and run a search on those words. So, if it talks about a particular location, or type of record, or the name of the record, you could start searching online and find out where are those original records are actually held. Sometimes they are on another genealogy website. But a lot of times, and I’ve seen this more recently, they are publicly available records, oftentimes from governmental agencies. Very recently, we’ve been seeing more recent records that are just selected text. They may be records for people who just passed away a year or two ago.

There are a wide range of places where these types of records can come from. But if that genealogy website got its hands on the record, chances are you could too. And it’s really important to do that.

#2 What’s important to you might not have been prioritized for indexing.

The indexer is a person, or perhaps even an artificial intelligence machine, who has gone through the documents and extracted information and provided it in text form. Sometimes when you search on a genealogy website, all you’re getting is just that typed text, that transcription, of some of the key data from the original document.

I’ll tell you about one example in my family. I was looking at a 2x great grandmother back in Germany. Her name was Louise Leckzyk. She’s listed as Louise Nikolowski in the Ancestry record hint. Technically, that’s true, she was Louise Nikolowski at the time of the birth of her child. But if you pull up the original record, what you discover is she’s not listed as Louise Nikolowski on the record. She’s listed with her maiden name, which was usually the case in those old German church records. So that’s huge. We’ve talked about how challenging it can be to find maiden names here on the Genealogy Gems channel. So, we don’t want to miss any opportunity to get one. But if we had taken this record hint at face value, and just extracted that information, put it in our database, or attached it to our online family tree, and never looked at the original document, we would have completely missed her maiden name. And that maiden name is the key to finding the next generation, her parents.

#3 Not all information on a record is indexed.

It’s very common for large portions of information on a document not to be indexed. Here’s the reason for that: Indexing costs money. When a genealogy company takes a look at a new record collection they have some hard decisions to make. They have to decide which fields of information will be included in the indexing. Oftentimes, there will be several columns, as in a church record or a census record. The 1950 census was an example of this. There’s so much data that the company has to look at that and say, what do we think would be of the most value to our users? They then index those fields. They’ve got to pay to not only have them indexed, but potentially also reviewed human eyes, or AI. That all costs money.

So, there will inevitably be information that gets left off the index. That means that when you search the website you’re going to see the record result, and it can give you the impression that that is the complete record. But very often, it’s not the complete record. Tracking down and taking a look at the original digital scan of the record is the only way to know.

It’s possible that the records have not been digitally scanned. In the case of public government records, that information may have been typed into a database, not extracted from a digital image. There may not be a digital scanned image. It may be very possible that the only original is sitting in a courthouse or church basement somewhere. It’s also possible that the digital images are only available on a subscription website that you don’t subscribe to.

We need to do our best to try to track down the original document and take a look at it to see if there’s anything else that’s of value to us in our research that the indexers or the company just didn’t pick up on or didn’t spend the money to index.

#4 Different websites potentially have different digital scans of the same record.

Websites sometimes collaborate on acquiring and indexing records. In those cases, they might be working with the same digital images. But oftentimes, they create their own digital scans. That means that a record may be darker or lighter, or sharper or blurrier from one website to the next. So while you found the record on one website, another might have a copy that’s much easier to read.

Digital scanning has also come a long way over the years. Many genealogy sites now are looking at some of the earlier scans they did. They’re realizing that some are pretty low quality by today’s standards. They might determine that it’s worth going back and rescanning the record collection. This happened with some of the earliest census records that were digitized many years ago. It makes a lot of sense, because a lot of time has passed, and technology has certainly changed.

So even though you found information many years ago, it might be worth taking a second look if you have any questions about what’s on that document. You may find that that record is actually a newly digitized image on the same website, or you might find that it’s also available somewhere else.

A lot of the partnerships out there are with FamilySearch which is free. So, while you may have a paid subscription to a site like Ancestry or MyHeritage, if there’s anything that you’re questionable on, or you didn’t actually see the original document from one of those paid websites, head to FamilySearch.org. Run a search and see if they happen to have the digitized images. There’s a good chance they might, and it’s worth taking a look.

Sometimes the genealogy website will have tools that allow you to get a better look at the digitized document. Ancestry is a great example of this. On the digitized image page click the tool icon to open the Tools menu. One of my favorite tools is “Invert colors”. Click that button, and it will turn it into a negative image. Sometimes this allows words to pop out in a way that they were not as clearly visible in the normal view.

I downloaded a digital scan from a website several years ago, and it was hard to decipher. I did some searching and was able to find  a clearer copy on another website.

#5 You can verify that the words were indexed accurately.

Reviewing a scan of the entire document provides you with a lot of examples of the handwriting of the person who made the entry. If you have any doubt about words or spelling, making comparisons with other entries can be extremely helpful.

When I first looked at a baptismal record of my 2x great grandmother’s son, I thought her surname was Lekcyzk. However, after seeing a different digital scan, I started to question that. Having the original record allows me to review the handwriting of the person who wrote these records. Comparing the handwriting of other entries on the page helped me determine that the swish at the top is the dotting of an eye that just had a bit more flourish. I also reconfirmed that the Z in the name is definitely a Z by comparing it to other Zs on the page.  

Bonus Reason: You may have missed the second page.

Some records have more than one page, and it’s easy to miss them. If the indexer took information primarily off of the first page, it may not be obvious when you look at that page, that in fact, it’s a two-page (or more) document. More pages potentially means more valuable information!

It’s also possible that if you downloaded a document years ago when you first started doing genealogy, you might have missed the additional pages. Now that you’re a more experienced researcher, it would be worth going back and looking at particular types of records that are prone to having second pages. Examples of this are:

  • census records,
  • passenger list,
  • passport records,
  • criminal records,
  • and probate records.

If you have single page records that fall in one of these categories saved to your computer, you might want to go back and do another search for them and check the images that come before and after that page to see if there are more gems to be found.

I hope I’ve convinced you to always make the effort to obtain and review original records for the information that you find while doing genealogy research online.

I’ll bet there’s even more reasons to do this, so I’m counting on you. Please leave a comment and let me know what you’ve found following these 5 reasons, and any additional reasons that you have.

Resources

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Ellis Island Records! BEST Search Strategies

The free Ellis Island Passenger Search database is home to 65 million records of passengers arriving at the Port of New York from 1820 to 1957. Kathryn Marks, Manager at The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation explains the best strategies for finding your ancestors’ passenger list records in the Passenger Search Database on the Ellis Island website. Along the way, you’ll learn some surprising facts about Ellis Island and these invaluable records that will have your genealogy jumping for joy!

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Show Notes

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Information You Can Find in Passenger Lists

Here’s a list of the type of information you may be able to find in passengers lists, depending on the year:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of Birth
  • Physical Description
  • Occupation
  • Last Place of Residence
  • Where they are going
  • Ship name

What Else You Can Find at the Ellis Island Passenger Search

  • Crew Manifests
  • Ellis Island Detention Records and Records of Special Inquiry

How to find Ellis Island records about detained passengers:

  1. Find the manifest in the database.
  2. Look to the left of the name for markings. X or SI stands for Special Inquiry indicates the person was probably held on Ellis Island. LPC: Likely to Become a Public Charge.
  3. Detention records will tell you why they were detained. Detention records aren’t indexed. You can find them by locating the manifest first, and then scrolling through the carousel of images to find them at the beginning or end of the ship’s list.
  4. Determine the length of your ancestor’s detention by counting the number of meals recorded.

Ellis Island Records Through the Years

Ellis Island records coverage: 1820-1957

Pre-Ellis Island AKA Castle Garden Era Records: 1820-1892

Before 1892: Castle Garden was the state-run immigration station. The federal government took over the process of immigration, they built Ellis Island in 1892.

Pre-1897: Records are technically customs records. That’s why they have a very limited amount of information. Manifests were destroyed in a fire in 1897.

Peak Years at Ellis Island: 1892-1924

After 1907: Passenger lists became 2-page documents containing approximately 30 questions.

1924: Ellis Island’s focus turned to detention and deportation. Therefore, most people wouldn’t have actually stepped foot on Ellis Island.

Ellis Island closure: 1954

Records available through: 1957

Records were created at the port of departure. Upon arrival, Ellis Island inspectors asked the passenger the same questions to make sure they were answered the same way.

How to Search for Ancestors at Ellis Island Passenger Search

  1. Go to the Ellis Island Passenger Search page.
  2. Type your ancestor’s name into the search bar.
  3. Select from a variety of wild card searches. Kathryn recommends Close Matches, Sounds Like, and Alternative Spelling.
  4. If you get too many results, click Filters, or use the Wizard or One Page form. Kathryn recommends the One Page form.
  5. On the One Page form, Kathryn recommends using age at arrival, year of arrival, port of departure and/or country of origin. Pad the years to allow for errors and deviations.
  6. If you’re searching outside the peak year period, don’t use the filters. This is because the records after 1924 were indexed differently. Many passenger lists are only indexed by the year of arrival and are given a placeholder date of Jan. 1. Therefore, if you search for a month or day, you will not get results.

5 Search Strategies for Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Strategy 1: Start by running a broad search.

Strategy 2: Use the original ethnic name, because names were recorded at the port of departure. If you’re unsure of the first name, try entering just the first initial and checking the Contains wildcard. This often helps because the first letter of the name is often the same regardless of the language.

Strategy 3: Visit the Passenger List Database Search Help page and scroll down for search tips. For more tips on how best to utilize the database, check out Ellis Island’s Genealogy Primer page. If you have questions, email ContactUs@LibertyEllisFoundation.org.

Strategy 4: Be persistent. There are many factors that could lead to not initially finding your ancestor.

Strategy 5: Consider other scenarios.

  • Name variations – try searching many variations.
  • Remember that the clerks may have spelled names phonetically.
  • Many passenger lists are handwritten so they may have been transcribed and/or entered into the database incorrectly.
  • Your ancestors may have arrived at a different port of entry, such as Philadelphia, Boston, or Baltimore. Many of those passenger lists are also available online.

More Ellis Island Search Tips:

  • Italian women travel with their maiden name. Children may be under either the father or mother’s last name.
  • Jewish people may be traveling under their Yiddish name.
  • Families are listed together. If you can’t find the head of the family, try searching for the children.
  • In pre-Ellis records names may be abbreviated. Example: Wm. for William, and women may be listed under their husband’s name, such as “Mrs. Adam Smith”.

Coming to the Ellis Island Passenger Search in the Future

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation is planning on expanding and adding the records of all the other ports to the database.

Alternative Search Tool for the Ellis Island Database

Alternative search tool: Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step by Steve Morse.

Resources

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World War I Free Records this Week in New and Updated Records

With the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I, this week we’re shining the spotlight on an immense collection of important WWI records that are available for free at FamilySearch. Here are all the details from their recent press release:

FamilySearch Marks World War I Centennial with Free Historic Record Collections

Salt Lake City, Utah (4 April 2017), Did your ancestor serve in World War I? As the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I approaches, FamilySearch International is highlighting its free online collections of World War I records. Millions of free draft registration, service, and naturalization records online help fill in details about ancestors who served in the military during the conflict. April 6, 2017, will mark the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.  Search the free collections at FamilySearch.org.

A century ago, the United States joined its allies to fight in World War I—the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” When the U.S. joined the war effort, battles had already raged in Europe for nearly three years between the Allies and the Central Powers.

World War I anniversary free records

Almost five million American military personnel marched to war under the command of General John Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force. More than 116,000 Americans died in the war—about half from the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe in 1918, killing millions around the world. Nearly 30,000 American military died of the flu before they even got to France.

The country followed the news of the war, with many people supporting the war effort in industry, farming, and other ways as they waited anxiously for the return of their loved ones. On November 11, 1918, about a year and a half after the United States entered the war, Germany formally surrendered, and terms of peace were negotiated. The nation rejoiced as soldiers returned home to rejoin their families and normal lives. But their experiences helped shape their lives, their posterity, and the country.

As the country remembers that war, many families seek to document the stories of their ancestors and friends who participated in the conflict. The veterans of that conflict are gone now, but many Americans are still alive who listened to the stories told by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of their families’ experience during World War I. Some have documents and old letters, but not everyone has such personalized memorabilia. They may find documents in FamilySearch’s searchable online collections to provide insights.

FamilySearch World War I Records Collections:

To find details about an ancestor’s military service, start with the Family History Research Wiki, which directs readers to related documents. Type World War I into the search box in the wiki. The results provide historical context to events during the war, suggestions of records that may provide World War I information, and links to records on other websites.

The most extensive collection on FamilySearch.org is the United States World War I Draft Registration Card collection, with nearly 25 million records. During the course of the war, the amount and kind of information required on draft cards changed, but draft registration cards typically included at least the registrant’s full name, home address, birth date, birthplace, marital status, occupation, physical description, and more.

In addition, many states have registration indexes and card collections that may include other information. For example, searchable state service-card collections on FamilySearch.org for:

provide information about service records, injuries, periods of service, place of birth, age at service or date of birth, units served with, and more for hundreds of thousands of military personnel.

FamilySearch.org has also published searchable images of World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits from San Francisco, California. This collection of records has nearly 34,000 records that offer invaluable genealogical information about noncitizen families during the war, including birth location, countries of citizenship, children, siblings, extended family, educational level, date of arrival in the United States, occupation, languages spoken, a description and a photo of the registrant, and more.

The United States Index to Naturalizations in World War I Soldiers, 1918 offers both indexed information about citizens naturalized during the war and links to images of the actual records.

Census records provide further clues about military service. The 1920 census did not ask questions specific to military service, but the 1930 and 1940 censuses did. Searchable images of the census sheets are online at FamilySearch.org.

One less-known collection containing information about the World War I military comes in records from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). This volunteer organization provided programs and supplies to support the troops, the sick and wounded, and prisoners of war. Family Search.org has 27,000 images from the YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919 collection that provide names, addresses, work, religious affiliation, and army service information.

The following World War I books can be found in FamilySearch’s digital book collection online:

Learn More About World War I for Genealogical Research

Here are three more Genealogy Gems articles to help you discover more about the impact of the Great War on your ancestors:

WWI History App in New and Updated Genealogical Collections
A WWI history app for genealogy leads our top picks for this week! History buffs are going to love Remembering WWI, an app that makes your WWI family history come alive. Also in this week’s new and updated genealogical collections, Swedish church records, Canadian marriage records, Pennsylvania naturalizations, and more.

3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories
How did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors.

Europeana for Genealogy: WWI Digital Archive and More
A major part of Europeana is its World War I digital archive. As the site describes, Europeana “has been running World War I family history roadshows around Europe, helping to digitize people’s stories, documents and memorabilia from 1914-1918.

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