3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories

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.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

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

WWI photos, World War I photographs

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.

More WWI Genealogy Gems for You

Europeana World War I Digital Archive

5 Ways to Discover Your Family History in WWI

More Great Books to Read, Including Orange Lilies, a WWI-era Novella in the Forensic Genealogist series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

How to Find Images Online for Family History: Free Video Tutorials

Images make your family history more vivid. But how can you find just the right pictures to illustrate your family stories? These short, free video tutorials help genealogists find images online for family history.

picture is worth a thousand words

When it comes to sharing your family history, pictures are not only worth a thousand words: they’re priceless. A single image can convey an ancestor’s physical appearance, mood or attitude, living or working conditions, social environment, and more. Pictures catch the eye whether they are on coffee tables, hanging on the wall in frames, or shared with loved ones on social media, where they are oh-so-clickable.

So I was happy to get this email from Phyllis, asking for some tips on how to find images online for family history:

“Hi Lisa, I know you’ve told us before what some great resources are for locating historical photos and images. I’m looking for some from the Ragtime era (1895-1918). I don’t find much at the Library of Congress. Can you send me a few links to some of your podcasts that delve into where to find images? Thank you for all the hard work you do for the genealogy world.”

How to Find Images Online for Family History

Most recently, I shared some tips for finding images in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 194. But I also recommend this series of short video tutorials, which show you exactly how to do this.

How to Find Images Online: Use Google Images

The first place I search online for images for family history is Google Images. Watch this brief tutorial video to see how to find images using your Google web browser:

 

If you want to use your tablet or smartphone to find images for family history, here’s another short tutorial just for you:

 

How to Find Images Online: Image Search in Google Books

When I am looking for pictures of people, places, buildings, historical events, maps, and other images that commonly appear in books, I also search Google Books separately for pictures that haven’t shown up in the main Google search results. You can do that, too! Here’s how:

 

After you’ve found images via Google Books, you’ll want to save them. Here’s one last quick video to show you how:

 

 

Using the tips given in the above video tutorials, I can run a Google search to answer Phyllis’s specific question. I’ll type ragtime era as a keyword phrase and enter the range of years, separated by two dots and no spaces, to tell Google to search for any numbers within that range. Then, as shown below, I’ll click Images to limit the results to pictures:

 
 
The Image search results include some fun photos, including a photo of a ragtime band, several sheet music covers, illustrations of “ragtime dress” and even a link to old video footage:
 
 
 
Click on an interesting-looking image to see a larger version and more details about it, including the website that’s hosting it. You’ll also see the options to click through to the webpage on which that image is found (“Visit page”), or to click through to the URL for that image (“View image”):
 
 
 
 
When I want to use an image, I will take one additional step: Click the TOOLS button and select Labeled for reuse from the Usage rights menu. This generally filters my results down to those that don’t have copyright restrictions on them (although it’s up to me to verify this and cite the image appropriately when I use it). Here’s what it looks like to filter my results to those labeled for reuse:
 
 
 
Unfortunately, in this case, when I do this, all search results disappear. If you want to use images for your own personal use, try the Labeled for noncommercial reuse option. Not all images that are copyright free or in the public domain will be marked, so if you don’t find what you need, go back to your original search results and look at individual images that you like to see whether any of them come from government, wiki, or other websites that commonly offer copyright-free images. Click through to read any image restrictions or use policies posted on the site, or contact the site for permission to use them. In this case, I do find several hosted by libraries, and I will focus on them.
 
One last tip: filter your search results again for Videos, instead of for Images. An entirely new set of search results will appear, largely from YouTube but also from other websites:
 
 
 
If the spirit and movement of ragtime during this time period is what you’re looking for, watch these videos! They may not work for you if you need static images for a book, but they’re great for sharing on your family history blog or in a social media post. Just click through to the video page, click Share and copy and paste the Embed code onto your site.
 
The Genealogy Gems YouTube channel is a vast resource. I invite you to visit, explore, and subscribe. In addition to tech tip video demos such as these, you’ll also find interviews with genealogy experts. research tips for maps, newspapers and other record types, how-to series for family history blogging, creating videos, and using Evernote for genealogy, family history craft tutorials and more! Here’s a tip: Use the search box to find what you’d like to watch. (Google search operators work in YouTube searches, too. Use them to zero in on the video or podcast episode you want.)

Genealogy Gems Book Club: MORE Great Books Recommended

genealogy book club genealogy gemsLooking for something fun to read this holiday season? Whether you need reading material for holiday travels or just want to curl up under a blanket at home, here are two great titles I love. I shared these with Lisa in the December episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast–click here to hear our discussion and excerpts!

Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History
by Helene Stapinski is one of my favorite published family histories. The author recounts her family’s upbringing in the context of the notoriously corrupt culture of Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. It’s a page-turner, from the jaw-dropping opening sentence to the author’s final musings about how her own life reflects hand-me-down criminal tendencies. Some of the stories are snickeringly funny and some are sad, and the author keeps just the right distance from the drama. She’s close enough to sympathize with people who are trying to make their way within a culture that rewards dishonesty, greed and violence, yet can laugh at ironies like trying to learn about her grandfather’s petty thefts–when he’s stolen the very newspaper pages about his misdeeds from the library.

Homemade Biography: How to Collect, Record, and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love
This is more than “just” a how-to book for family historians—it’s a story of its own. I re-read it every time I want to be freshly inspired to pursue the stories of my family. New York Times best-selling author and journalist Tom Zoellner weaves stories of his own into fabulous, hard-won advice on interviewing people. He shares insider tips on how to get the best stories out of those we talk to. There’s even a helpful chapter on how to work with the memories of those who have Alzheimer’s!

Tune in next month to learn our next featured book for the first quarter of 2015. Learn more about other books we’ve recommended at the Genealogy Gems Book Club page.

Recent Ohio Adoption Records Now Open

e639359d72f66679cd7b7cdab94f5ddbRecently Genealogy Gems Premium member Katharine Ott wrote in this with newsworthy gem:

“Recent adoption records are being released in Ohio. Such an exciting time for those adoptees yearning to connect with their bloodlines! Before the bill took effect, they allowed birth mothers to redact their names. Out of 400,000 only around 110 took them up on that.  There’s also a preference form with the birth records where the mother can request not to be contacted. I wonder how often that might not be respected.  It’s such an interesting situation for someone to be in.”

Wow, that’s huge news about Ohio adoption records! Thanks for the news, Katharine. She sent us this link to a local news story that covers the story. The Ohio Department of Health posted this webpage about ordering adoption records.

Want to learn more about accessing adoption records in any state? Check out the U.S. Adoption Research page at the FamilySearch wiki for a terrific overview and helpful links.

Also, try running a Google search for the name of the state and the keywords adoption and genealogy. You’ll find lots of great resources, like this page on adoption records at the Pennsylvania state library or this online resource from the State Historical Society of Missouri.

The right Google search can shorten your search for the records you want! This tip brought to you by the newly-published, fully-revised and updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke.

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