Old film footage can make your family stories truly unforgettable–even for those relatives who seem to forget every fact you tell them about your genealogy! Follow these tips to find old film footage and video online.
If a picture’s worth a thousand words when you share your family history, how much more do you think a video is worth?
A while back, we told the gripping story of Betty McIntosh, a Honolulu reporter-turned-World War II spy. What fun it was to research and share on the blog! The post has multimedia sources threaded throughout: an image of a young Betty from the CIA’s website, news articles, oral histories with more memories of Pearl Harbor, a YouTube video interview with Betty, and even a dramatic radio broadcast clip from the day of the attack, when the media was trying to reach the mainland with news of the attack.
We found all those sources via Google searching. And while we could go into great depth on how to find each of those kinds of sources (and I do, in resources such as my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox), in this article, I wanted to share some tips on finding old film footage online, using Betty as a case study. Think about how you might use these tips to look for old video or films related to your family history–and let me know what you find! I’d love to hear from you.
How to find old film footage online: 4 tips
1. Search for your topic on YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing website. My book The Genealogist’s Google Toolboxhas an entire chapter devoted to YouTube searches for family history, so I won’t go into great depth here. I will tell you to think of search terms that pertain to the family history stories you want to share: a person’s name, a place, an event in history, or even an occupation or industry. Enter those search terms at YouTube.com.
Betty lived in the 20th century and was recognized publicly for her work during her own lifetime. So there was a good chance that old film or video would exist about her. And they do! A YouTube search brought up video interviews with her, such as this one:
2. Repeat the searches on Google. YouTube searches can only bring up what’s actually been put on YouTube. Google searches are much wider, across millions of websites, and you may find some other wonderful resources. When your Google search results come up, click Videos to narrow your results:
You’ll have some duplication with results from YouTube. In the case of Betty McIntosh, I found two additional videos that didn’t come up on YouTube. One of them was at NBC News.com and the other was an hour-long interview on C-Span!
3. Run multiple searches on both Google and YouTube. Repeat your searches with various search parameters to broaden or narrow your results, or to capture different kinds of results. In Betty’s case, keywords such as spy and reporter were important to filter out unwanted results.
Remember that Google and YouTube aren’t specifically designed for searching for name variants like your favorite genealogy website is. So these sites may not recognize nicknames or other name variants, such as “Elizabeth” instead of “Betty.” Also search by surnames only, maiden and married names and even initials. Here’s a quick video tutorial I did on using asterisks to search for name variations on Google:
4. Pay attention to copyright restrictions if you want to share old film footage, such as if you’re making your own family history video. For example, I found these copyright restrictions for using C-Span video (noncommercial use is allowed and there’s even a handy video clipping tool right on the site if you want to clip part of it and save it).
The New York State Death Index (1880-1956) is online for the first time! Also: letters of complaints to the city of Sydney, Australia; marriage records for Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Washington; and the newspaper of a historically black North Carolina university. Coming soon: a major new online archive for Ontario, Canada.
Featured: New York State Death Index
For the first time, the New York State Death Index (1880-1956) has been made available online–and it’s free! The nonprofit advocacy group Reclaim the Records won its case that this index should be made available as free public records. According to the organization’s announcement, the index isn’t completely statewide: New York City death records were maintained separately, and Yonkers, Buffalo and Albany are not included until 1914 or 1915. The index for 1880 and 1881 is sparse, as record-keeping wasn’t good yet, and the index for 1943 is difficult to read. And it’s unclear whether those who died at some state institutions were included. The link above takes you to each year’s index on Internet Archive.
Australia: Complaints to the City of Sydney
Over 56,000 letters written by residents to the City of Sydney in the latter part of the 1800s have been digitized and added to the City of Sydney Archive online. A city historian quoted at the Daily Telegraph.com said people’s complaints “range from the mundane to the bizarre,” such as “foul smells, night time noise, stray farm animals and smoke billowing from homes and blacksmiths’ forges.” This same online city archive also hosts a collection of historical photographs, a full run of Sands directories, postal directories, and other resources for researching your house history. Find this collection by clicking Archives Investigator and then “Letters Received by Council, 1843-1899.”
Canada: New Ontario collections planned
Findmypast and the Ontario Genealogical Society have announced a new partnership that will bring millions of Ontario records online. According to a Findmypast announcement, “The first phase will be launched later this year with the online publication of over six million fascinating Ontario records, including:
The Ontario Name Index (TONI) – over 3.7 million records – a mega-index of names with the goal of including every name found in any publication relating to Ontario, ranging from registers of birth, marriage & death to obituaries, memorial inscriptions, newspaper articles and more.
The Ontario Genealogical Society Provincial Index (OGSPI) – over 2.6 million records – containing data from censuses, birth, marriage and death registers, references in books, land records, passenger lists, military records and a host of other references.
Oddfellows Life Insurance Applications (1875-1929) – over 240,000 names released online for the very first time, containing a collection of just over 59,000 life insurance applications to the Odd-Fellows’ Relief Association of Canada. The applications contain answers to up to thirty-one questions about sex, age, occupation, height, weight, ethnic origins, marital status, family structure, and past and present health conditions.
Ontario Genealogical Society Bulletin/Families and NewsLeaf – new images from official society publications and journals will become available to search through Findmypast’s Periodical Source Index (PERSI) – the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world.”
Stay tuned to the Genealogy Gems blog for an announcement when the collections are available.
US: North Carolina university newspaper
Several issues of the student newspaper for Johnson C. Smith University are now online at DigitalNC. “Johnson C Smith University, a historically black university in Charlotte, NC was founded in 1867 as the Biddle Memorial Institute,” explains a Digital North Carolina blog post. “The name was changed to Johnson C Smith University in 1923 after a benefactress’ husband, shortly before the available run of papers were published.” Online editions span 1926 – 1930.
Marriage record example from “Nebraska Marriage Records, 1855-1906” on Ancestry.com. Click to view.
US: Marriage records: NE, WA, IN, IA
Ancestry.com has published a new index of Nebraska, Marriage Records, 1855-1908 with over 1.4 million records. It includes indexed images of records that generally include the couple’s names, birthdates, birthplaces, parents’ names and date and place of the wedding. Also new on Ancestry.com is Washington, State Marriage Indexes, 1969-2014, described as “a statewide index to over 3.9 million marriages that were performed in Washington between 1969 and 2014.” It includes only the names of the couple, date of the wedding, and county.
The site has also recently updated marriage records collections for the states of Indiana, Iowa and an update to Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013, described as “images of and indexes extracted from various records of marriages in Washington” from the state archive (and, with over 10.5 million records, likely overlaps with the above new collection).
Thanks for helping us spread the word about new genealogy records online! Just share this post with your genealogy buddies and fellow society members. You’re a gem!
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Social Security Death Index (SSDI) search is not necessarily as straight forward as you might think. We’re going to explore what SSDI records are, their range of availability, and how they compare across the Genealogy Giants records websites.
If you’ve been dabbling in genealogy research for a while, then you are very likely familiar with the Social Security Death Index, more commonly referred to as the SSDI. But even experienced researchers have questions, like the one that Marti sent me recently:
From Marti in Texas:
Thank you so much for all your helpful resources on your website!! I just listened to the SSDI Working Backwards podcast episode (Family History: Genealogy Made Easy episode 3) and my grandparents passed away in 2012 and 2014. Do you know when the last time the index has been updated, I cannot locate them.
Thank you so much!!
This two-fold question is a good one. While many genealogical record sets have privacy laws that dramatically restrict more recent records from being available, the SSDI is not one of them. But even if the records are available, there may still be times when we have trouble locating our relatives.
Whenever you run into a road block finding ancestors in a record collection, do what good detectives do, and go back to the beginning. In this case, let’s learn more about the collection itself.
Social Security Death Index Background
The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1937, more than 30 million Americans had registered. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains around 90 million records of deaths and they are publicly available online.
Some data goes as far back as 1937, but most of the information included in the SSDI dates from 1962. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Some of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.
It’s important to know that the SSDI does not have a death record for everyone. It’s also very possible that you may occasionally find an error here and there if something was reported incorrectly. But don’t let that stop you from tapping into this major resource! It’s a wonderful alternative source for finding people who were counted in the 1890 census (which was unfortunately mostly destroyed) because they may still appear in the SSDI. Also, those who were born before vital records registration in their home state began, may also show up. Remember, working folks just had to live past 1937 to have been possibly included. That means some people could have been born sometime in the late 1800s.
Now that we have a handle on the history of the SSDI, let’s look at who has it and how recent their records are.
Where to Find the SSDI
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is available on all of the ‘big 4’ genealogy records websites, which we here at Genealogy Gems refer to as the “Genealogy Giants.” The links below will take you directly to the SSDI search page for each.
MyHeritage (It is not stated how current the database is, but a search for 2014 did retrieve results)
(No dates or citation provided, but a search for people who died in 2014 did retrieve results)
In Marti’s case, she will want to search every single one of these websites for her ancestors. The good news is that they all appear to be up-to-date, but that doesn’t mean they are all exactly the same. The same collection of genealogy records can appear differently from site to site for a number of reasons such as accidental omissions, variations in the power of their search engine, differences between indexers and scanners, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) inaccuracies. These may or may not affect the SSDI, but the point is that you can’t go wrong searching each one of the Genealogy Giants just in case. And since SSDI search can be conducted for free at all of the Genealogy Giants, it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.
A quick way to find all of the websites that include the SSDI is to Google SSDI genealogy. Here’s a link to the results.
SSDI Search Head-to-Head Comparison
Another excellent reason to search the SSDI on multiple websites is that each website displays the information a little differently. And as you can see from the chart below, when it comes to the Genealogy Giants, there are definitely differences.
It’s interesting to note that Ancestry is the only website that provides information about the year that the Social Security number was issued. It isn’t exact, but it’s more than the others offered in my search for Alfred H. Sporan.
The differences between the 4 major websites can be sometimes subtle or quite dramatic. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses, as well as free versus subscription offerings, is key to successful research that is both efficient and cost-effective.
The quick reference guide Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites is a must-have for anyone serious about getting the most out of free and paid subscriptions.
The author of this 4-page full-color cheat sheet, Sunny Morton, is Contributing Editor here at Genealogy Gems, and she’s packed this guide with everything you would ever want to know, and many things you probably didn’t know that you needed to know. You can pick up your copy here in our store.
SSDI Search and Beyond
There is another database at Ancestry that is worth keeping your eye on. It’s called the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index and it shouldn’t be missed! Currently, this covers 1936-2007, but who knows, they may update it in the future. It includes even more information. It was first released in 2015. Read more about it here at Genealogy Gems.
Gems: Share Your SSDI Search Experience!
I invite you to take a moment to share your SSDI search experience in the comments below. Have you had any surprises? Did you find a difference between the records found at different websites? We want to hear your story because we all benefit from each other’s experiences.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!