Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 8: Best Genealogy Websites, Part 2
In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success.
In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Now for some updates on these sites and MORE since the show first aired:
FamilySearch.org is still free and growing exponentially. It captures records from all over the world, not just North America and the U.K. It is now home to over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, with over 35 million new records added every month. In addition, they’ve added over 60,000 digital books to the site. The layout of the website has changed dramatically since I described it in the original show. Click on Search to get to their databases, then enter an ancestor’s name and, if you can, a life event (birth, marriage, residence or death). A significant portion of new online records are browsable but not yet indexed. So now, after you search for individuals in their databases, scroll down to the Browse section below the search fields. There you’ll be able to see what records you can browse for a locale (choose the international region, then you can choose more specific locations). You can still order microfilmed records at the Family History Library to a satellite FamilySearch library near you. From the Search screen, choose Catalog, and you can search for and order available records by location.
The National Archives (U.S.), also known as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) also offers more on its website now. The portal for genealogists looks a little different now but still helps you see how to search and use the site for genealogy. There’s a direct link to the 1940 census, with images, maps and descriptions. Remember that Footnote, the subscription site I mentioned that’s digitizing military records, is now Fold3, which we talked about in Episode 7.
EllisIsland.org still offers free access to the passenger records of those who landed at Ellis Island. In addition, you can still look at ship information (click on Ships from the home page). The Immigrant Experience and timeline I mention can be found by clicking on the Ellis Island tab.
The National Archives (U.K.) links from the home page to resources for ordering birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Read about updating order information, including costs, at these sites. There is still a portal for genealogists from which you can learn all about the various record groups I mention in the podcast and more.
Library and Archives Canada continues to add more valuable genealogical data to its site, including census data! Start from its Genealogy and Family History page. In addition to the features I mention in the show, they’ve improved their online indexes: scroll down on the above page and you’ll find the Ancestors Search (Databases) link to a main search engine and individual databases for vital records, censuses, immigration, land, military and several directories.
Do you ever feel like Google Alerts aren’t what they used to be? Or have you never used them? It’s time to revisit your strategy for using Google Alerts for genealogy!
Google Alerts are customized, automated Google keyword searches. You can set them up to constantly search the Internet for new mentions of your ancestors, their hometowns or anything else.
The key to Google Alerts is that they tell us about NEW material. After an initial barrage of results, you may not see anything for awhile, especially for very specific topics. Don’t get discouraged! Google Alerts are long-term strategies for finding family history. And Alerts will at least let you know as soon as someone puts something new online–which won’t happen if you just do your own searches every so often.
If you haven’t gotten results for a while, consider modifying your keyword search terms. Set up multiple searches, if you feel like that might help!
All editing of alerts is done in the Google Alerts dashboard. Here’s how to edit a Google Alert:
1. Go to Google Alerts and sign in to your account. 2. Locate the alert you want to edit in the alphabetical list and click the Edit icon that looks like a pencil (shown here).
3. Make the desired changes in the edit window.
4. When you’re done, click the Update Alert
Google Alerts offer genealogists a rare opportunity to get more done in less time. That’s why in the newest edition of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. I devoted an entire chapter on how to use Google Alerts effectively for genealogy. In that chapter, I suggest several different types of alerts you may want to create. For example, with what businesses, churches, schools and other organizations were your ancestors affiliated? Create alerts with their surnames and the names of these organizations. You’ll find several more suggestions in that chapter that will help you get the MOST out of Google Alerts!
Who else do you know who should be using Google Alerts? (Like, just about everyone?) Will you please share this post with them? Just copy and paste the URL into an email address or share with your favorite social media platform, like Facebook or Pinterest. Thank you!
Show Notes: Discover more than 100,000 old family photos on Dead Fred. Founder Joe Bott explains how to find photos of your relatives on this free website.
Video Premiere and live chat
Watch the Video
Would you like to find more old family photos? One of the secrets is to search places where other distant relatives (and even people not related to you) are uploading old photos – hundreds of thousands of photos!
In this video, Dead Fred founder Joe Bott explains how to find photos of your relatives on his free website. Joe will also provide some of the back story on how he ended up devoting his life to helping families find their photos, and how in the world he decided on this most unusual name for his website!
From Joe: “I’m sitting down here in my little niche, scanning photos and putting them on my website so people can find them. That’s what I do for retirement now. I post photos, put them on the internet and wait for somebody to come knock on my door and say, “Hey, I know who that is! That’s my great, great whatever!” It’s happened already about 3000 times since I’ve started. Actually 3,157 times, just to be specific.”
What Does the DeadFred Website do?
“You take your photographs taken before 1965, and the people in the photographs have passed on. You can put them on there. It’s free to use. There are instructions on how to post your photos. Where it says Post Your Photos, click on that and just go ahead and do it.
When you post your first photo, you’ll receive a password in your email. You use that to manage your postings.
You can post as many photos as you’d like. Now, I might take a day or two to get it up on the website because I check every photo that comes in to make sure there’s nothing untoward. Because they do pop up every once in a while.”
After you post the photo, other DeadFred users will search the website, and that’s how old family photos can get reunited with descendants.
It’s also useful if you want to learn more about a photo. When you post your photo, include additional comments and questions. When you’re logged in you can post a sticky note.
Why was the website named DeadFred?
“People often ask me why it is called DeadFred, and that gives me the opportunity to tell them that Dead Fred is a photo.”
The photo Joe is referring to is of Frederick the Great, who died in Germany. “The young man had cancer of the throat and died. My great great grandfather was living during that time in Germany, so that’s sort of the genealogy connection to it.”
The reason behind the name DeadFred
Joe and his family were sitting around a table trying to figure out what to call the website. He had purchased the photo of Frederick the Great on ebay and it came in the mail. “We opened it up and one of my sons, I have four boys, one of them said, ‘Well, we’ll just call it that, Fred.’ Everybody seems to like it. That’s the story.
“That photo of Fred is on my website…Just scroll down on the right-hand side and you’ll see him.”
Has Joe always been fascinated with old photos?
“Not always. In fact, I didn’t know I was fascinated with photographs until 1965 while I was in the Navy. I was in Newport Rhode Island, and I was walking down the street and it started to pour, I mean really pour, and I didn’t want to get my suit wet, my sailor outfit. So, I ran into this antique store. I hadn’t looked like I was going to buy something, but I found something. I found this photo album, and it just totally amazed me. And it most likely said, “buy me!” and I had to. I didn’t have a lot of money back then. I don’t have a lot of money now, but I didn’t have a lot of money back then either. And I bought it for $18. Now $18 in ’65 was a lot of money, especially for a sailor that has just joined the Navy. So, I bought it. And that was my first album. I have it sitting up here on my cabinet. But that’s how it started. I just said, wow, look at this. I couldn’t get my eyes off it!”
Reuniting Photos with Families: A Success Story from Joe
“When I was working. I was driving up to Iowa. And I stopped in store at the antique store. I found some photos in a box – a whole family – and I bought it. I worked out a deal. I learned how to do that over the years. I got a good deal on it. I went home and I scanned the photos. They were from Saskatchewan, Canada.
I got a phone call, or I actually got an email. I eventually got a phone call from a woman from South Saskatchewan who says “that’s my whole family. My grandparents, their aunts and uncles, the cousins, the whole shebang!” And apparently, now this is in the 1980s, late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and those pictures were taken 100 years before. The family left Saskatchewan and they moved to Iowa and farmed there until they all died out. There wasn’t anybody to take the photographs. So, there were the boxes, so I bought them, and I put them up on the website. Somebody from Saskatchewan said they knew who they were. And they sure did. Then I sent them home. That was an exciting moment for me right there.
Now there’s a lot of stories like that. There are stories where people cry when they find their photographs. There are cases when somebody is dying, and there’s a picture of a wife or a mother and their family wants to show them a picture before they die. So, there’s a lot of stories to be told. I could write a book about people that have found photographs. I sent out a couple every week now. Matter of fact, I just sent one of a baby, which was great. The baby has died now, got old and died at the age of 88, and I sent it out to his grandson. Yeah. My mind’s getting older, so I can’t remember as much as I would like to as far as names and places. But these kinds of things, they stick in your head.”
How to Post Photos on DeadFred
The first step in submitting a photo to DeadFred is to make sure it meets the guidelines. Currently, they accept photos that are earlier than 1965 and that, for privacy reasons, the people in the photo are deceased. Make sure to identify the photo in some way. This could mean including a country, date, state, etc.
Scan your photo in JPG format. Per the website, for best results, scan at 150 dpi resolution or higher and save at 72 dpi.
On the home page, under the Tools column on the right-side, click Post Photos in the menu. Under Step One, read the directions, check the box for the Terms of Service, and click the Choose File button to locate the photo file on your computer. Then click on the “Upload Image” button.
Your photo will receive a unique record number. Follow the prompts on the page, type in the identification information in the proper fields, and then submit.
You can expect your photos to appear on the DeadFred website typically within 3-5 days of being uploaded.
4 Ways to Search for Photos at Dead Fred
Every photograph on DeadFred website is unique, as is the information associated with the photo. That’s why there are 5 ways to search for them. Here’s how:
1 Surname Search
There are two options for searching Dead Fred for photos by surname. Option 1: Quick Search Field and Option 2: Linked first letter of the surname.
2 Detailed Search
On the home page, click the link for the Detailed Search. This will take you to a form that you can complete. The more information you can enter into the Detailed Search form, the better your chances of finding a match.
3 Search by Photographers
Of important note on the Detailed Search form is the Photographer field. Many old photos, particularly cabinet cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include the stamp of the photographer. Sometimes you’ll find a tremendous amount of detail about the photographer on the backside too. Use this information to conduct a photographer search.
Searching by a photographer is a great way to find other photos potentially related to your family’s history. Take a look at the photos you already have for the family you want to search for and make note of the photographers. Then, conduct a search by entering the surname of the photographer in the Photographer field. This will retrieve all photos listing that photographer’s name.
4 Keyword Search
Many DeadFred users include surnames that are related or associated with the photograph in the Comments field if they are not certain of the subject’s identity. You can take advantage of this in your search by using the Keyword search field on the home page of the website. For example, search on the word baby and you’ll get all the photos where that word is mentioned in the Comments.
Keyword Search results for baby
Accessing DeadFred Photos
When you click a photo on the search results page, it will take you to that photo hosted on the Dead Fred website. Notice that the page URL ends in .jpg indicating this is the image file itself. You can right-click on the image for usage options.
The US Public Records Index can be useful for genealogy–if you understand what it is and how to use it properly. Here’s an example and some tips.
Not long Russ sent in this tip recommending the US Public Records Index for genealogy:
“I was listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast 181 [in which] you were talking about where do we search while we are waiting for the 1950 Census….I recently discovered a wonderful resource, on Ancestry.com, that I have used along with city directories. The name of the record group doesn’t sound interesting but it can be a Gem for you: the US Public Record Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2. Volume 1 is far more interesting with more data. A search will return a name AND birth date, along with more than one address, zip code and sometimes phone numbers.”
Here’s a sample search result:
Russ kindly sent me Ancestry’s description of its online database for Volume 1, which says that original data comes from public records spanning all 50 states, such as voter registration lists, public record filings, historical residential records and other household database listings.
What: U.S. Public Records Index
Where: Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage
Years Spanned: 1950-2009
Source Type: Lacking original source citations.“Hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.”
Then he shared the following example of using the US Public Records Index to find recent relatives that he can’t look up yet in the 1950 census:
“I had a hint for a cousin in a yearbook. I know that she recently lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know where she went to college and I know her birthday. The name is not unique, not also not common. At the same time, I had the hint for the Public Record Index. You know those things we can’t use in a proof argument, but there [she] was in Philadelphia. The yearbook had her picture and only her name, not spelled the way I know it, but the Public Record Index puts her in Philadelphia at the right time and place.
I have seen 2 or 3 addresses for folks in the 1980s and 1990s in these indexes. Not all addresses have dates, but some do. I have one cousin with 5 addresses since 1983 and he won’t be in a census until the 1960 Census Records are released.”
The U.S. Public Records Index pops up in my search results sometimes, too. Both volume 1 and volume 2 are searchable on Ancestry.com, as Russ says, in separate databases. Each has over 400,000 records in it. There’s also a free partial version of this database for 1970-2009 at FamilySearch.org and yet a third version at MyHeritage, with 816 million records, with nearly the same time frame. The FamilySearch database says its data comes from “telephone directories, property tax assessments, credit applications, and other records available to the public.”
More on the US Public Records Index
Here are a few tips worth mentioning about the US Public Records Index. Some of these points come from the FamilySearch wiki:
Not everyone who lived in the U.S. appears in the index, and you’re more likely to find birth information for those born between 1900 and 1990. What you’ll find is primarily where someone lived, and often when they lived there.
It’s rarely possible to positively identify a relative in this index since there’s limited information and it spans the entire country for up to a half-century, and you can’t follow up on the record it comes from because the index doesn’t say where individual records come from. So as Russ says, this is a great resource to use in combination with other records. It’s a similar concept to the way you might consult family trees that lack sources: hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.
When you find more recent listings, you can sometimes find telephone numbers for living distant relatives. If the thought of cold-calling distant relatives seems a little intimidating, listen to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14-15, for tips–and to get your courage up!