How did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors.
Our current Genealogy Gems Book Club title takes place at the outset of WWI.The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson has endearing characters who experience fairly light-hearted dramas–and then they are plunged into war.
Through their eyes, readers begin to understand that those who lived through ‘the Great War’ experienced something totally unprecedented. There had never been such a massive loss of life and devastation.
1. Ask family what they know. Ask all living relatives what they know about ancestors’ involvement in World War I. Listen for stories about anyone who may have served in the military, dodged military service, took care of things on the homefront, lost their own lives or loved ones or lived in an area affected by the war. Ask about any old documents, photos or letters that may survive.
There are lots of ways to ask your relatives these questions. Poll everyone at your next family gathering or reunion. Use Facebook (click here for some great tips) or other social media. Connect with other tree owners who have documented ancestors of WWI interest (see step 2, below) through communication tools provided at sites such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org.
2. Identify ancestors affected by WWI. Look for families and individuals who were alive between 1914 and 1918. Where did they live? Was it an active war zone? Research local histories and maps to determine how their city–or even neighborhood or property–was affected. Scan death dates on your family tree–did anyone living in a war zone die during that time period?
Were they in a country that sent troops to war? If so, look for soldiers on your tree. The age of those who served in World War I varied. In general, look for men born between 1880 and 1900 who were alive in 1914. Again, look for death dates during the war.
3. Search military records on genealogy websites.Fold3.com’s WWI landing page is the place to start for WWI ancestors in the U.S., since it specializes in military records (you may be able to access it from your home library). Ancestry.com users can go to this landing page to search all WWI records from the U.S. and here to search U.K. records. Findmypast.com users can search WWI records here, including an extensive collection of British military records but also others from around the world. If you’re searching U.S. records, remember that draft registrations are not records of military service.
If you’re looking for a country or region not represented in these online collections, start Googling! Google search phrases such as “Germany WWI genealogy” will bring up results like these. (Click here to watch free video tutorials about Google searching for genealogy records.) You may discover new databases online or records collections you could access through archives or libraries.
Available at http://genealogygems.com
These tips are just to get you started. As you discover records, you’ll have a better sense for the stories of your WWI ancestors. Then you can start chasing those stories in newspapers, local histories and other sources. Turn to a book like Lisa Louise Cooke’s How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers to learn
British volunteers for “Kitchener’s Army” waiting for their pay in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. August 1914. Wikimedia Commons Image
sleuthing skills you’ll need for searching out your WWI family stories in the news.
New archival collections at your favorite repository may be the long-awaited key to solving your family history mysteries! But how can you keep up with what’s new at archives and libraries? Professional archivist Melissa Barker shares her favorite tips.
Many of us can say that our ancestors were living in a certain area and their records should be located at certain local archives, libraries, or genealogical or historical societies. Maybe we have even done research there in the past, either by visiting the facility, contacting them by phone or email, or using their records online. Records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts are constantly being discovered and made available in all of our wonderful archives. Many of these records may not make it to microfilm or online, but they are so rich with family information. (Don’t know where to look? Click here to learn how to find archives and libraries near your ancestor’s locale.)
But trying to keep up with all the new records that are being processed in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies can make your head spin! So how are genealogists supposed to stay current?
3 Ways to Keep Up with New Archival Collections
1. Check the archives website. See if they have announced new records collections that are available for research (many archives do). The archives may even have a blog or newsletter that you can subscribe to, which will give you the latest news right at your fingertips. Not only will the archives announce new records that are available but they will even let their patrons know what has been recently donated to the archives and which records are currently being processed.
2. See if the archive has a social media presence. Archives like to post photos of new discoveries and records collections that are ready for the researcher. I know at the Houston County, TN. Archives I like to scan and post images of great documents or artifacts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Like the post pictured here that I shared recently.)
LISA’S TIP: Remember to use Google search terms to find your favorite archive’s website and social media homes! A quick search such as National Archives Pinterest might be faster than trying to find it on the actual social media site. That search brings up tempting boards for National Archives in both the US and the UK:
3. When visiting an archive, ask: “What’s new?” Talk to archivists about records collections that have recently been processed and made available for research. This is a great way to find more information and records about your ancestors. As an archivist who processes records on a daily basis that are not online or even microfilmed, I get excited about sharing what I find with the genealogy community.
Until next time, this is The Archive Lady, remember it’s not all online, so contact or visit an archive today!
Learn More about Using Archival Collections
Listen to me on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! This year the podcast is celebrating its 10th-year anniversary. Tune in to hear more inspiring stories and tips to help your family history research. Listen on your computer or on your mobile device through the Genealogy Gems app. Click here to learn more.
Early American Ancestors Research Elevenses with Lisa Episode 33
Lindsay Fulton, VP New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)
In this episode we head back to 17th century New England with Lindsay Fulton of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org
Lindsay Fulton is with American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society where leads the Research and Library Services team as Vice President. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog and was featured in the Emmy-Winning Program: Finding your Roots: The Seedlings, a web series inspired by the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”
Watch the video and follow along with the show notes below as we cover how to get started researching our early American ancestors. Lindsay will also provide her top genealogical resources.
Getting Started with Colonial-Era Research
During this period of American history, New England includes:
To get started in Colonial-Era genealogical research, Lindsay says the first thing you need to do is put your ancestors into an historical context:
When did they arrive in New England?
Where did they migrate to?
Significant dates and events at this time include:
The Mayflower’s arrival in 1620
The Great Migration: 1620-1640, with the peak years between 1633 and 1638.
The Civil War in England, which slowed migration.
Turn to the book The Expansion of New England, The spread of New England Settlement and Institutions to the Mississippi Rover 1620-1865 by L. K. Mathews. Published in 1909 this important book includes 30 to 40 historical maps.
More Resources for 17th Century American Genealogy Research
AmericanAncestors.org/town-guides/ for New England
Early New England Finding Aids
Finding Aids provide a comprehensive list of all the available records for a person / family.
The first place to look for people settling in New England prior to 1700: New England Marriages Prior to 1700 by Clarence Almon Torrey. This book includes scholarship prior to 1962. Learn more about it here.
The next place to look: Founders of Early American Families by Meredith Colkert. Scholarship goes a little further than 1962 and ventures beyond New England. This book covers 1607-1657.
The next place to look: New Englanders in the 1600s, A Guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2010 by Martin E. Hollick. At the beginning of the book there is a key to all of the original sources. For example, TAG refers to The American Genealogist.
From Lindsay: “The thing about 17th century research, like a said at the beginning, the most studied people on the planet. So, don’t reinvent the wheel, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to find all of this information on your own. You have to stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you. There are all of these people who have done all this research before. Please look at first. Always look at with a little bit of hesitation because there’s always possibilities that mistakes were made. But at least take a peek at what’s already been done first!”
Colonial-Era Study Projects
The first example that Lindsay provided of a study project for early American ancestors is the Great Migration Study Project (searchable online database at AmericanAncestors.org)
Directed by Robert Charles Anderson, FASG
Started in 1988
Genealogical and biographical sketch for immigrants to New England from 1620 to 1640
Fourteen published volumes
Newsletter (bound versions available)
Tours and other educational programs
Searchable online databases
The Great Migration Directory, Immigrants to New England, 1620-1640
The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 (3 vols.)
The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635 (7 vols.)
The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633
The Winthrop Fleet: Massachusetts Bay Company Immigrants to New England 1629-1630
The Great Migration Newsletter, vols. 1-20
The Mayflower Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth, 1620
Those who are included in the study project:
If person appeared in a record
Direct or indirect implication of arrival
Appearance of an immediate family of a person known to have arrived
New England Historical and Genealogical Register (published since 1847)
New York Biographical & Genealogical Record
The Mayflower Descendant
The American Genealogist
These can be searched on AmericanAncestors.org: Database Search > Select the Category Journals and Periodicals, and then scroll through all of the available items. They are fully searchable. You will be able to see the actual record. You can download and print the items.
Mayflower Research Resources
The Silver books and the Pink books done by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. It’s looking at those passengers with known descendants. These are only available currently in book form. If you are interested in applying to the Mayflower Society, they accept these as original records. You can cite the pages. (Learn more about Mayflower related resources at American Ancestors.)
Mayflower Families 5th Gen. Desc.
Available at AmericanAncestors.org
Index of all the 5th Generation descendants,
their spouses and children
If you click Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880, it will take you to a search page where you can search by names and years, or search by volumes. It will bring up all of the available records.
General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) Membership Applications, 1620-1920
New – available soon. Only on AmericanAncestors.org
Contains all Mayflower Society Applications for applicants born before 1920. Approximately ~30,000 applications
All data indexed for each generation
Available to: American Ancestors & NEHGS Members, FamilySearch Affiliate members, and GSMD Members.
New England Genealogy Records
When doing New England genealogy research look for the following records:
Probate Records Court Records
Usually you’ll be looking at the town level. This is why you must know where your ancestors were living, and what the place was called at that time, and what the borders were.
Premium Podcast episode 177 (Genealogy Gems Premium Membership is required.) In this episode we explore the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors website with Claire Vail, Director of Creative and Digital Strategy for the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About Colonial American Genealogy
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Susan W: Is there a source for Rhode Island? (I’m not sure if she was thinking about one particular resource you mentioned or generally. Perhaps she just needs a RI finding aid?) From Lindsay: Yes! American Ancestors-NEHGS has a fantastic guide to Rhode Island research, which you can access with a free guest membership here.
From Cindy A: What percentage of the items you showed would require a paid membership? From Lindsay: The majority of the databases shown are included as a benefit of membership with American Ancestors-NEHGS, but if you are interested in Colonial American genealogy, you should consider membership. We have hundreds of databases that will help you to discover more about your 17th and 18th Century ancestry. You can learn more about these databases (and books in the library) with a free guest membership.
From Sue M: What resource was Nathan Snow in. He’s related to my BATES family. From Lindsay: Nathan Snow was included in the American Ancestors-NEHGS database, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. This database supports the following searchable fields: First and last name, Year, Record type, Location, Family member names: Spouse, Mother and Father (where available), Keyword – for names in the lineage text of direct descendants.
From Kathy M: Excellent. Can you comment on both land inheritance (i.e. did it follow English primogeniture) and on best sources for finding 1600 female ancestors’ family names. From Lindsay: Alicia Crane Williams wrote a blog post about this entitled, Probate records: Part One, where she states, “for the most part, a testator could leave anything to anyone, unless they were dealing with colonies such as Virginia that followed the laws of primogeniture where all real estate was left to the oldest son. This did not apply in New England, although it was customary to follow the legal model of giving a double share to the oldest son. A legitimate heir who was left out of a will could potentially contest it in court, thus the bequests of one pound or one dollar to cover any claim that someone had been accidentally forgotten.” For more information about land inheritance in New England (and the U.S.), you should examine Wade Hone’s Land & Property Research in the United States. It is an excellent deep-dive into land records. As for female ancestors’ family names in the 1600s, I would recommend examining Torrey’s New England Marriages and Hollick’s New Englanders in the 1600s. Those are the two best places to start your search for the ladies in your family (I covered these in the episode too).
From Louann H: Suggestions for time period 1660-1776? From Lindsay: Many of the resources discussed during the presentation covered the 17th century, and would be your best bet for resources for 1660-1700. You can learn more about these databases (and books in the library) with a free guest membership. After 1700, there are few compiled resources similar to the Great Migration Study Project; however, you could start with a search of the American Ancestors-NEHGS Library catalog. We have thousands of published genealogies that may cover your family history in the first half of the 18th Century.
From Jane C: This has been wonderful, doing Mayflower research. What are Notarial Records? From Lindsay: Notarial records are a private agreement written by a notary in the form of a contract. Some of the most common ones are marriage contracts, wills, estate inventories, leases, and sales contracts. While they were not common record keeping practices in New England and New York, notarial records were plentiful in Quebec. You can learn more about them by watching our free webinar called Navigating Notarial Records in Quebec.
News You Can Use: Google Photos Update
Google Photos is currently the home of more than 4 trillion photos and videos of users around the world. According to Google, 29 billion new photos and videos are uploaded every week. They just announced that starting June 1, 20201 “all new photos and videos backed up in High Quality will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with your Google account or any additional storage you may have purchased, the same way other Google services like Google Drive and Gmail already do.”
In that episode we discuss that “High Quality” is the slightly compressed version of images and videos and “Original” quality are full size, uncompressed images and videos. In the past you could upload “High Quality” for free.
All “High Quality” content uploaded before June 1, 2021 is exempt from counting against your storage. On that date they plan to launch a new storage management tool that they say will help you easily identify items you’re currently storing that you may want to remove if they are low quality or otherwise unwanted. This will help you reduce the amount of storage you use.
If you don’t want to pay for additional storage, here are some tips:
Use Google Photos as a tool for specific projects rather than a complete storage system.
Turn off auto-sync of your photos from your phone and other devices.
Carefully select and manually add images and videos.