Website Review & How To: Archives.com

VIDEO & SHOW NOTES: Learn how Archives.com can help you find your family history. We cover getting started, finding records, building your family tree and answer the question as to whether you should use it if you already use another genealogy website.

Why Use Archives.com?

If you’re new to genealogy, returning after taking a break, or just need a new place to search, Archives.com has a lot to offer. I’m going to show you how to get started with this affordable website packed with genealogical records.

The folks at Archives.com asked me to make a video sharing what I think about their website, so full disclosure, they are sponsoring this video. However, they have no clue what I’m going to say. For the past 17 years that I’ve been podcasting and just shy of that I’ve been publishing videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I’ve always given you my honest opinion and shared my best strategies. So let’s get started and do that right now as I answer some of the most common questions about Archives.com.

What Makes Archives.com Unique?

Like many other genealogy websites, it has billions of genealogy records. However, the subscription is a fraction of the cost of other big name websites. That makes it ideal for beginners, or if you just need a new place to dig for records in addition to your other subscriptions. Start with a free 7-day trial to find out what Archives can do for your genealogy research. 

archives.com

What Does Archives.com Offer?

The main focus of the website is searching for genealogical records. And they have billions of the most popular.

Archive.com is owned by Ancestry, and according to the folks at Archives there is some overlap, just like there would be with other genealogy records sites. But Archives does include records you won’t find on Ancestry, and there are records on Ancestry that are not on Archives. Since Archives is much less expensive, it’s worth a look.

What Record Collections are Included?

The easiest way to find out if Archives.com has the record collections you want is to go to the Collections page at https://www.archives.com/collections or click Collections in the menu.

They currently have 650 record collections that include billions of individual records. 

Use the filters on the Collections page to browse by Keywords, Record Type or Country. Click the down arrow on the Record Type filter to get a quick overview of the types of records the site focuses on.

In addition to some of the traditional types of records like birth, marriage, death, census and immigration, you’ll find some special collections such as Memory Pages, Surname Histories, and City Directories.

If you’re trying to find ancestors in the “old country”, check the Countries filter list before you start searching. No point in looking for records for a country that they don’t have.

How to Search for Records at Archives.com

In genealogy, we start with ourselves and work backwards. Your grandparents are a great place to start searching. When searching for records, I recommend that you start with a particular ancestor in mind and fill in as many details as you can about them before you move further back in your family tree.

There are three different ways to start searching:

  1. Use the search fields at the top of the home page.
  2. Click the Advanced Search link to go to a more robust search page.
  3. Or click SEARCH in the menu which also takes you to the Advanced Search page.

I recommend going straight to the Advanced Search page. This way you can cut out the results that don’t match and zero in on the time frame and also the type of records you want to find.

In searching for genealogy records it’s important to balance searching narrowly enough to get to what you want while searching broadly enough not to miss something.

When searching for less common names, try just searching on the name without clicking the Exact match box. This will keep your results fairly broad and provide an opportunity to see how many and what kind of results you get. By not narrowing the scope of the search, you’re less likely to miss a record that has a slight name deviation.

Take a moment to quickly scroll down and see how many are close matches. Chances are it’s just a fraction of the total results. In my case, there were only about 9 close results out of over 40,000. 

If the name you are searching is fairly common, then adding a location and life events with dates can help differentiate people and results.

A Beginner’s Basic Guide 

Archives Record filters are in the general order that you need for genealogy:

  1. Gather Death, Marriage and Birth records first.
  2. Fill in with Census Records throughout your ancestors’ lifetime.
  3. Military Service and Immigration Records are also really important milestones to find.
  4. Fill in even more like City and Telephone Directories which were often published yearly.
  5. Check out Family Trees that might include your ancestor, and Media records that can further fill in their story.

Can You Build a Family Tree?

Yes! Archives.com includes a family tree builder users can attach their records to and a discovery engine that helps users find new records about their ancestors. Start with your parents or grandparents.

You can search other people’s family trees from the Advanced Search page. You can also create your own tree. Archive’s provides a nice, simple user interface to build out a family tree online.

I just want to say that in my opinion, the very best place to build your family tree is in genealogy database software that you use on your own computer. That way you always have control of it no matter how long you have a subscription to any website. But if you’re just getting started, this is a great way to get your feet wet

If you’ve already created your tree on your own computer, then you can export it as a GEDCOM. That is the universal file type for genealogy family trees specifically. You can then upload that file to Archives.com and work with it from there.

My online family trees are not what I call my ‘master family tree’. That is on my computer. So why do I create an online tree? The reason is simple. It’s a great way to generate Discoveries and connections. I use it to generate clues and record hints.

Archives.com makes it easy to create a family tree. Start with yourself, add your parents, and what you know about your grandparents, and you are off to the races! Or, as I mentioned before, you can upload an existing GEDCOM file.

Learn more about GEDCOMS with this video: All About GEDCOMS.

As soon as you set up your tree on Archives and start looking at records, you will start generating Discoveries automatically. It’s a way to speed up the research process and make genealogy easier than it’s ever been before.

Resources:

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Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History

We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.

View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.

It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.

I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:

“Dear Lisa and Company,

I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!

I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.

Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.

I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.

Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”

5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History

Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!

1. Start with Google. The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.

2. Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:

Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.

3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.

4. Search YouTube separately. YouTube has several video clips of the Eastland disaster. The Chicago Tribune has wrapped that historical video clip into a short video documentary that includes additional photos their researchers discovered. You’ll also find an animation from the Eastland Disaster Historical Society that recreates what happened and how. Read chapter 14 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition which is devoted to using YouTube for your genealogy research.

5. Explore Gendisasters.com. This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!

Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools

Google Drive and other tipsLastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.

Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.

Cold-Calling Your Kin: How to Contact Distant Relatives

Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!

Cold Calling

Today, online trees, social media, and email make it easier than ever to find relatives you don’t know well (or at all). And there are SO many reasons to contact them: to collaborate on research, swap photos or stories, or even request a DNA sample.

In these cases, you may need to make what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” or an unexpected contact to someone you don’t know. I’ve done it successfully many times myself, so I can tell you this: it does get easier. Follow these steps to make it a smoother experience.

1. Identify the person you want to call.
Common ways to identify a new relative include:

  • Another relative tells you about them
  • Family artifact, such as an old greeting card, address book, captioned photograph, letter, etc.
  • On a genealogy message board
  • In an online family tree (with enough information showing to identify them)
  • As the author of a book, article, or blog post with information about your family

2. Locate the person’s phone number, address, and/or email address. 

cold calling step 2 Google SearchHere are some great websites for locating people you don’t know, or at least learning more about them (as you can on LinkedIn):

TIP: When looking through a geographically-based directory, don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name, particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers.

3. Prepare ahead for making the call.
Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first!

  • Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
  • Choose a time when you are not too rushed
  • Set yourself up in a quiet place, where there will be minimal background noise or disruptions
  • Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
  • Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
  • Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips

4. Adopt a positive mindset.
It’s natural to feel some apprehension when calling someone you don’t know. Before you pick up the phone, give yourself a little pep talk. Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself, “I can do this. This is important!” Be positive and remember, all they can do is say, “No thank you.”

5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first and last name and tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share. Tell them who referred them to you or how you located them. Cover these basics before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.

6. Overcome reluctant relatives.
Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest. If they are very hesitant or caught off-guard, offer to mail them information and call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can get their bearings, too.

do this during the call - Note taking7. Do these things during the call:

  • Take notes: try a headset or use speakerphone, which will help to free up your hands for writing.
  • Ask for new information and confirm what you already have.

If you have a way to record the call, then you won’t have to take notes and you can focus all your attention on the conversation. You can then transcribe the recording later. However, in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without telling them first and/or getting a person’s permission (not to mention discourteous). It can be very off-putting to start the first call by asking if you can record them. So, establish a connection first, make your request to record, and then press the record button.

Read more: How to Record a Conversation on your Smartphone or Skype

8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name clearly, and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back. These days many people are more comfortable with email for the first contact.

9. Ask questions like these:

  • “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs or a family Bible that I could arrange to get copies of? (Reassure them that you are happy to pay for copies and shipping.)
  • “Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
  • “May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
  • “Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time? What is your preferred method of contact?”

10. Wrap up the call.
Offer to give them your address, phone number, and email address. Ask for their mailing address and email address. Repeat or state your desire to share information you have, and tell them how you’ll send it. Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.

 11. Document the call.
Keep track in your genealogy database of each time you call someone and the outcome (“left a message” or summary of conversation). Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you know when it’s time to follow-up with whom—and who wasn’t so interested in chatting again.

After a conversation, sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number, and date of the conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.

12. Enter new information into your genealogy database. 

This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind. Cite the conversation as the source of the information.

Remember to respect the privacy of those who prefer to remain “off-the-record” by not naming them in sources you post on public online trees.

 

13. Create an action item list.
Create action items based on what you learned.  Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end goal. It’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.

Cold Calling:
“The call is not the end goal.”

Lisa Louise Cooke

14. Follow up.
Send the person a written thank-you note or email. Remind them of your willingness to share your information, and acknowledge any willingness they expressed to share theirs (restate your willingness to help with copying expenses, postage etc. and consider including a few dollars). You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!

Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. Try this service: Birthday Alarm. If you don’t know their birthday but do have an address or email, send a greeting card for the next major holiday or on your shared ancestor’s anniversary or birth date. It’s another way of keeping the connection alive and expressing that you really do appreciate their help.

Occasionally make a follow-up call. See how they are doing, share any new family items you’ve come across recently, and ask whether they have they heard or found anything else.

Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn strategies for finding living relatives with their exclusive access to my video class, “Unleash your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives.” Class includes:

  • a handout summarizing 9 strategies and resources
  • a resource guide for online public records (U.S.)
  • a downloadable Living Relatives worksheet you can print (or open in Word) that will help you capture and organize what you learn about them

Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.

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