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.
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.
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!
If 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.
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.
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:
Norwich, Norfolk: over 7,000 pages from the Eastern Evening News for several years between 1884 and 1891 (total coverage for this paper planned to span 1882-1910).
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.”
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.
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The new MyHeritage Collection Catalog is making the site even easier to use. Read our 3 favorite uses for the new MyHeritage Collection Catalog, and a description of how MyHeritage counts its records.
The new MyHeritage Collection Catalog has just been released, and is dedicated to searching records collections on the site. It’s a public catalog, available whether you are a subscriber or not, so now you can easily see whether MyHeritage may have the historical records you need.
It’s a public catalog, available whether you are a subscriber or not!
“The new Collection Catalog provides a useful listing of the collections on SuperSearch and is a gateway to the vast historical treasure trove of 7.8 billion records currently offered by MyHeritage,” says a MyHeritage press release. “The catalog lists our 6,503 main collections and excludes tiny collections that have fewer than 500 records each.” (Those may be added to the catalog later on.)
Here are 3 top uses we see for the new MyHeritage Collection Catalog:
1. Look for specific record types for a particular place and time period. Use the left side menu to select record types, locations and time periods. Within many of those, you’ll be able to choose more specific subcategories. You can also do keyword searches if you’re generally looking for particular kinds of records (“newspaper” or “church”).
2. See what’s new on the site, or what collections have been recently updated. To see what’s been added or updated lately, roll over Sort by and select “Last updated.” You’ll also see a little tag on any collections that are new or have been recently updated. This helps you to know whether you’re seeing the most recent data available, particularly in collections they index from other websites, such as the FamilySearch Tree or Geni World Family Tree.
3. See how many records are in a collection. This may help you determine how comprehensive a particular database might be, and compare how many records for a particular place are on their site.
Speaking of record counts, MyHeritage also shared a description of how they count records. I’m really encouraged to see a major records site do this and I hope this trend continues! In our newest quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, we talk about how difficult it is to compare record content on different genealogy websites because there’s no uniform standard for counting them, and they don’t all define their counting methods alongside their site statistics. Here’s MyHeritage’s description of how they count records:
“In structured collections, such as census records, birth, and marriage records, each individual name is counted as one record. For example, a marriage document naming both the bride and groom is counted as two records. Nicknames or aliases are not counted as additional records. In family trees, each tree profile is counted as one record, even when it is available in more than one language. Each photo is counted as one record. In unstructured collections, such as newspapers or yearbooks, each page is counted as one record even though it may include hundreds of names. We count each page as a single record because we don’t want to inflate the record count by guessing.” (MyHeritage previously published this information in a 2014 blog post.)
Getting the Most from MyHeritage
Here at Genealogy Gems we strive to help you get the most out of the genealogy websites you choose to use in your research. In the case of MyHeritage, we’ve got two jam-packed quick reference guides like no others on the market:
Adding Source Citations is our third post in the Inherited Genealogy Files series, and in this post, we answer a listener’s question.
We recently received this letter from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, Cristy. She says:
Thank you for your tip about starting from the present and working backwards. I was having a hard time knowing where to start. I had inherited a tree passed from my mom and my great-grandmother, that when combined with the information my husband’s aunt gave me [I had a] tree with almost 1200 names. But the information from my great-grandmother and my aunt does not have any sources and all of my mom’s sources got lost in our various moves over the years. She only had her old school database that just had the facts and no sources.
I determined that a genealogy book my mom used as a source for one of our lines [had been] copied [from] an older genealogy line that has been proven incorrect. So, my goal has been to re-find my mom’s sources and document everything. I didn’t know where to start. I have now made a second tree in my database keeping the original as a place to start and only putting what I have proved using actual sources and attaching the documentation as I go. Your episode on the Genealogical Proof Standard was really helpful. It will be a big help as I clean up my tree.
Finding Source Citations for Your Inherited Family Tree
Let’s first give a brief definition of source citation.
Source Citation: the information that tells your reader where you obtained a particular piece of genealogical data.
For example, a family tree should include a source citation for the birth date and place, the death date and place, and the marriage date and place…and that’s just the start.
Finding source citations is really easy if you are using FamilySearch. Let’s say I used a death record I found online at FamilySearch as the proof of my ancestors death date. What is so wonderful about using FamilySearch.org for finding records is that it includes a source citation for you to copy and paste. Take a look.
You can highlight the source citation text and copy it into your genealogy software. A bonus is knowing that FamilySearch is free and easy to use.
Adding Source Citations for Genealogy to RootsMagic Software
As I mentioned above, you can take the source citation you found on FamilySearch and copy and paste it into your genealogy software. RootsMagic is the genealogy software we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use (and we are proud that they sponsor our free Genealogy Gems Podcast.) It is an easy-to-use and effective software for both PC and Mac users. (To learn more about using RootsMagic, read here.)
Using RootsMagic, let’s add a source citation to an event in a family tree:
In this example above, we have double clicked on Clarence’s name and opened up the Edit Person window. We would like to add a source citation for Clarence Bowser’s death date and place. In the line for death, we click on the box in the source citation column. The source citation column is indicated by that little icon that looks like a record.
At the pop-up window, we click Add new source and from the options, choose Free Form and click OK.
Now, let’s assume you copied the following source citation from a record you found at FamilySearch.org:
“Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN : accessed 8 December 2014), Clarence W Bowser, 09 Nov 1958.
The first part of the citation is the title of the collection and the location you found it. “Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN. That front half of the citation is going to go in the Footnote area of the next pop-up window. The remainder of the citation you copied is going to go in the Page field. Then click, OK.
Notice, the entire footnote at the right of the screen looks like the one you copied from FamilySearch. You may wonder why on earth we separated the citation. Because, RootsMagic is going to remember you have a source citation from Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007. The next time you find an ancestor’s death record in this index, you will not need to click Add new source. Rather, you will click Cite existing source, and choose the Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007.
At the next screen, the Footnote field will already be filled out for you. All you need to do is fill in the Page field with the back-half of the new source.
You can get loads more tips and tricks in our helpful Evernotefor Windows for Genealogists quick reference guide (also available for Mac users). Also, get a quick overview about this amazing product from this video clip on our YouTube Channel.
DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.
According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”
Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.
Why Try DNA Testing for Kids
Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.
If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!
DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.
A Warning and Caution
As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.
An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.
An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.
More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids
Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.