Celebrating Freedom and Records Access: 50 Years of FOIA and Genealogy

Happy July 4th–and Happy 50th to the Freedom of Information Act! Read more about the FOIA and genealogy records we can access because of it.

Today we in the United States celebrate our Independence Day with grateful hearts and parades. Well, genealogists with U.S. ancestors have an extra reason for fireworks: today marks 50 years since Congresss signed the Freedom of Information Act into law, and the U.S. became one of the first nations to open its records to the public.

The Freedom of Information Act

The FOIA opens certain kinds of information about the federal government and certain information created by the federal government. It doesn’t apply to everything, including documents that relate to national security, privacy and trade secrets. The FOIA also only applies to documents created by the federal government, not state or local governments.

Since it was passed, the FOIA has continued to be expanded and amended. Over the years, the numbers of FOIA document requests has skyrocketed, too. In the first five years after the FOIA passed, it only resulted in about 500 total requests for information–that’s an average of just 100 per year. Last year alone, there were more than 700,000 requests!

The FOIA and Genealogy

So, of course we have to ask the question: how well do FOIA and genealogy go together? As it turns out, quite well. My favorite FOIA request is for an ancestor’s Social Security application (the SS-5 form). This is the form that generated the assignment of a relative’s Social Security number and was the first step to receiving any Social Security benefits. It’s what the very limited information on the Social Security Death Index comes from, as well as the much-richer (but not comprehensively available) Social Security Applications and Claims database at Ancestry.com. That was released last year and caused a LOT of us to do a serious genealogy happy dance.

But if you want to see everything in that SS-5 application, you should order an image copy of the original (you can now also order a computerized abstract of it, which is cheaper but might not get everything right). Here’s what an SS-5 application looks like:

Osby Johnson SS5 FOIA and genealogy

This one confirms the names of an African-American man’s parents–parents who survived slavery and left few other records of their existence. This man was part of the first generation in his family to legally learn to read and write. His signature is on the record.

You can also access other key 20th-century genealogy records that haven’t made it online yet–and in some cases, haven’t even been sent to the National Archives yet.

These include the following (with links to where to learn more):

There is some fine print on some of these records request procedures, so read carefully what records are there, what you’re allowed to order and how to request it. Happy Independence Day–and Happy FOIA anniversary!

More FOIA and Genealogy Gems

Social Security Death Index SSDI Try This Now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 21 about military record requests through FOIA

Guion Miller Roll for Native American Research

Today is the last day that the Native American records collections is available for free on Fold3.com. Many American families have a tradition of Native American ancestry. Here are some helpful tips when researching the Guion Miller Roll at Fold3.com.

guionmillerroll_featureimage_attributionneeded

Pub. by Standard Souvenirs & Novelties, Inc., Knoxville, TN. Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Flickr.com.

Purpose of the Guion Miller Roll

In our most recent post, “Eastern Cherokee Applications for Native American Research,” we shared how to find and use the Eastern Cherokee Applications at Fold3.com. Today’s post is on the Guion Miller Roll. It is a list of those who were eligible after having filled out the Eastern Cherokee Application. These eligible persons were made into a list and that list, or roll, is called the Guion Miller Roll.

Looking to see if your ancestor is found on the Guion Miller Roll is important because information on this roll is later than the information in the Dawes Rolls. New information (like names of additional family members) in the Guion Miller Roll may not have been on the Dawes Rolls. Additionally, not finding a targeted ancestor listed with their family on the later Guion Miller Roll could also narrow down a date of death.

Fold3.com has the Guion Miller Roll online and has titled it Guion Miller Roll. Ancestry.com also has this list, but at Ancestry it is called U.S., Records Related to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910.

Insights into the Guion Miller Roll Publication

Take a look at the titles under the publication of Guion Miller Roll at Fold3.com.

If you are not a member of Fold3.com, you will first need to go to www.fold3.com. Click in the center of the homepage where it says Free Access to Native American Records. Next, on the left you will see Records from Archives. Go ahead and click that.

From the list now showing on your screen, choose Guion Miller Roll.

Native American records include Guion Miller Roll

Scroll to the bottom and click Learn more at the bottom right. You will be directed to a new screen. At this new screen, click Browse by title, over to the right.

guionmillerroll_2

You are directed to the publication titled Guion Miller Roll, and there is a list of five categories.

Let’s take a look at the list:

Fold3 offers the Guion Miller Roll

The categories under the Guion Miller Roll publication are:

  1. General Index to Eastern Cherokee
  2. Indexes, Rolls of Eastern Cherokee
  3. Miscellaneous Testimony Taken Before
  4. Report Submitted by Guion Miller
  5. Roll of Eastern Cherokee and Report On

Some of these publication titles are duplicates of other publication titles on Fold3. See this helpful image below:

guionmillerroll_new

Duplicates can actually be beneficial. As an example, in the last title called the Roll of Eastern Cherokee And Report on Exceptions, With Supplemental Roll (the title has been shortened on your screen, but that is the full name) there is something you may not have realized. This title is the same thing as the title Roll of Eastern Cherokees in the Eastern Cherokee Applications publication. Why would Fold3 have two of the same thing? There is one exception between these two nearly buy prescription medication online uk identical groups of records. The exception is: Eastern Cherokee Applications>Roll of Eastern Cherokees indicated in the top part of the image, has the roll numbers cut off in some of their digital images. In other words, if you had only looked at that one and not the Roll of Eastern Cherokee and Report on Exceptions, With Supplemental Roll under the Guion Miller publication, you would have missed that.

From time to time, a digital copy will be made of a record set that ends up being too dark, too blurry, or too crooked. When this happens, some of the information on the record will be cut off or simply not readable. It’s great when there is a second set of digital images because hopefully the second copy will not have these problems. As in all things, if there is ever more than one copy of something, check them both! You never know how they may differ in quality of copy.

Miscellaneous Testimony Taken Before

This title, Miscellaneous Testimony Taken Before, under the publication of Guion Miller Roll is filled with hints and clues for your genealogy story. I think it has been my most important find in the Guion Miller Roll publication.

Testimony relating to the Guion Miller Roll

Testimony relating to the Guion Miller Roll.

The testimonies are broken up into ten volumes. Within these volumes are short (or long) testimonies from the applicant, friends, family, or acquaintances regarding their belief that someone was or was not of Indian descent. Many of the testimonies include names and dates of vital events, as well as residences. Even though we must take these records with a grain of salt because individuals may have had something to gain financially, the information would be considered valuable clues. Each testimony indicates which application it attached to.

How to Find a Testimony Record Related to an Eastern Cherokee Application

There is no index by name for testimony volumes 1-9 at Fold3, so you would have to go volume-by-volume, then page-by-page to find your ancestor. That would take a very long time! But if you go to Ancestry.com to U.S., Records Related to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910, you can search by name and you will find the image of the testimony there.

[Note: Volume 10 is broken down into three subcategories. These are Creek Testimony which includes an index on the fourth page of the roll, Poindexter Testimony with no index, and Sizemore Testimony, also with no index. The Poindexter testimonies and the Sizemore testimonies are those testimonies claiming their Native American heritage through those surnames.]

More on Native American Research

Using Native American collections for genealogy research can be challenging. We hope this has helped you to better understand the ins and outs for using the record collections at Fold3. For even more helpful tips, read:

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Applying to Lineage Societies: Why Hire a Pro to Help You

A professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies. Joining is a time-honored way to honor your heritage and document your family history research. But it’s not easy! Here’s why even experienced genealogists may want to hire a professional to help with the process.

Professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for supplying this guest blog post.

Applying to lineage societies

Do you have an ancestor who lived in Colonial America when the Revolutionary War was fought, or perhaps earlier in Jamestown, Virginia? Does your ancestry extend back to New England when the Mayflower arrived? If so, there are various lineage societies you could consider joining:

family history video documents applying to lineage societiesWhile each organization has different requirements for their lineage society application, most have the same principles: prove a connection from yourself to the person of interest by use of vital records (where available). Where not available, other documentation that proves family connections can be used. (DAR now also accepts DNA evidence.)

You may not know that most societies allow you to “piggy-back” on applications they have previously accepted. Let’s say your second cousin Steve already joined a society based on your common patriot (or pioneer) ancestor, Alexander Smith. You would just need to provide documentation proving your connection to your parents, your relevant parent’s connection to his/her parents, and your relevant grandparent’s connection to your common great-grandparents, who were already mentioned in Steve’s application. You may then be able to reference Steve’s application for the remainder of the lineage going back to Alexander Smith.

Overall, this may sound like a simple process. But it often takes quite a bit of work because the records needed to prove each generational link are not always readily available–and sometimes they just don’t exist at all.

Why get help when applying to lineage societies

Below are five ways that a professional genealogist can help you apply to lineage societies:

1. Help you determine how to apply. As we mentioned, each lineage society has different requirements, so you’ll want to be sure you know what they expect in order to be as efficient as possible in gathering documentation. A professional can help you determine exactly what documentation is required and locate contact information for those with whom you need to work to submit your application.

2. Identify where your research should stop and start. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes. If your lineage ties into one that has already been acceptably documented by another member of the society, you should use it! A professional genealogist can help you identify any previous lineage society applications that have already been approved for your lineage. This single step can save you a lot of time and money.

3. Organize your information. A professional genealogist can work with you to determine what documentation you already have and what you will need to order. They can help you order copies of missing vital records or find acceptable substitutes in archives, libraries, and online.

weigh conflicting evidence applying to lineage societies4. Conduct in-depth research as needed. Many times, at least one ‘problem’ generation requires in-depth research, circumstantial evidence, and a proof summary in order to make the connection. A well-written proof summary explains how all the circumstantial evidence fits together to support the generational link, and often aids the applicant in obtaining membership when not enough concrete documentation is available (or when it conflicts). This often involves delving into land records, tax lists, probate records, and other more obscure sources to find any and all clues and pieces of information that can be used to tie two generations together. It can be a time-consuming task. A professional genealogist can do this efficiently and thoroughly.

5. Compile and present all records to the lineage society for admittance. You’ll be the one to present or submit your documentation, but professionals can help you get it all ready so that you’ll be as prepared and organized as possible.

Save time and money when applying to lineage societies

A well-prepared lineage society application often shortens the waiting period to be accepted into a society because it is easier to verify and follows the rules of the society. If an application is poorly prepared, it can take several submissions before acceptance into the society is granted. And of course, the lineage society determines what they will and will not accept as proof, so there’s never a guarantee. They may request additional information, and then you have to go back and keep digging! But since professional genealogists have experience working with the various societies and know what types of documentation are usually accepted, working with a pro can make the application process to a lineage easier, more efficient, and in the end, more rewarding.

If you have an ancestor in your lineage who may qualify you to join a lineage society, experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists can help you gather your documentation and prepare your application. They are the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. Based near the world’s largest family history library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Legacy Tree has developed a network of professional researchers and archives around the globe.

Contact them today to discuss your options–and your ancestors. EXCLUSIVE OFFER for Genealogy Gems readers! Receive $100 off a 20-hour+ research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists with code GEMS100. Offer good through December 31, 2017.

Pinellas Genealogy Society Seminar

Follow me, Lisa Louise Cooke, in 2017 as I share Google research techniques, newspaper research for genealogy, finding living relatives, and much more. I’ll be in Florida in February – here’s the scoop!

The Annual Pinellas Genealogy Society Seminar, co-sponsored by the Largo Public Library, is scheduled for 25 February 2017 at the Largo Public Library from 8 am to 4 pm. The library is located at 120 Central Park Drive, Largo, FL.

I will be the featured speaker, in addition to three great breakout speakers. My four presentations are:

1. Google Tools and Procedures for Solving Family History Mysteries

2. Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors with Newspapers

3. Nine Strategies for Finding Living Relatives

4. Future Technology and Genealogy – 5 Strategies You Need

The topics of the breakout sessions will be (1) “How Do I Organize My Genealogy Records?” by Debbe Hagner, (2) “What’s New at FamilySearch.org with Focus on ‘Memories’” by Debra Fleming, and (3) “English & Welsh Family History: Useful Online Research Resources” by Liz Pearson.

In addition to the speakers, this event boasts a continental breakfast, box lunch, raffles, door prizes, huge book sale, and plenty of time to network with guest organizations and other researchers. The all-inclusive registration fee is $40 for PGS members and $45 for non-members. After 18 February, the cost is $50, so register early.

What: The Annual Pinellas Genealogy Society Seminar co-sponsored by the Largo Public Library

When: Saturday, 25 February 2017, from 8 am to 4 pm

Where: The Largo Public Library at 120 Central Park Drive, Largo, FL.

A detailed schedule of events and a registration form are found at http://www.flpgs.org/NMbrs/seminar/2017/Sem17.aspx . Questions can be addressed to pgsfla@yahoo.com.

My entire lecture schedule for 2017 can be viewed here. I hope to meet with many of you as you pursue genealogy greatness this new year!

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