16 ways to find your ancestors’ town of origin

Show Notes: Whether you want to visit the village where your ancestor was born on your next vacation, or you just want to find their records, you’ll need to know the exact place name and location. Professional genealogist Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogy joins me in this video to help us pin down those ancestral places.

find ancestral origin towns

Video and show notes

Watch the Video Premiere with Live Chat

Show Notes

Download the ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Ancestral Villages: Why near enough isn’t good enough.

Lisa: This is such an important topic; we’ve got to know where people came from to be able to track them down. I was just reading your article. It’s called Hometown Heroes, and the September / October issue of Family Tree Magazine. In it, you said something really interesting right off the bat, which was you said that “near enough isn’t good enough.” What are you trying to help people understand when you say that?

Rich: When we start with our research, we’re often starting with censuses especially, right? Those are often kind of the backbone of a lot of American research. And so, if people are moving around a lot, or if you aren’t exactly sure where they lived, because of the decennial census, you might be able to track them around and say, for example, they were living in California. Then you could figure out what they were first in Los Angeles, and then we went to San Francisco ,or whatever. But a lot of other countries, especially Western and Eastern European nations, don’t have similar types of these censuses, or at least not that are available to us. And so, if we only know, let’s say, the state where they’re from, or the province or region in a different country, it’s often really difficult to figure out where the records are, because a lot of times the records are going to be held at a really local level. So, unless you know that exact town or village, more often than not, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty getting any records and moving your research further back in the old country, because you really need to pinpoint that exact location.

Lisa: That’s a great point. Sometimes a record says, Warsaw, but they weren’t really in Warsaw, they were just really close by. Is that fairly common?

Rich: Yeah, precisely. My parents, I got to tell them that we know the exact Italian villages where their grandparents were all from. They always said Naples, right, or they heard Naples as part of their family story, but none of them are from Naples. They’re all from 45 minutes or an hour and a half outside of Naples. But I think that happens pretty frequently in the type of research that we’re doing.

Even today, when you meet people around the world or across the country, they’ll probably won’t often say the suburb of New York or Philly or DC, where they’re from. They will usually just say the city that’s close by. So, I think that kind of pervades today. Remember that when you see big cities listed on a death record or something like that, you might need to dig a little further to ascertain whether it was indeed that city or if it’s someplace that’s close by.

16 Records that can help you find your ancestor’s village

#1 Ship Manifests

Lisa: In the article, you give 16 sources that we can turn to, to try to pin this all down. Let’s start with number one, which I think is excellent, which is ship manifest.

Rich: Ship manifests are a great way to start when we’re looking for our ancestors who came over voluntarily and were interested in finding a better life for their family.

The problem with manifests is that they weren’t really used to regulate immigrants because of the laws in the United States until around the late 1800s. And so, because of that, there’s not always great detail on them. So, if you’re like me, and you have a lot of 20th century immigrant ancestors’ manifests, and they can often give you most all of the information that you need. But if you’re researching earlier ancestors, you might very well never find a manifest because there wasn’t one created, or the manifest is only going to give you a country of origin as opposed to any place more specific.

#2 Naturalization Records

Lisa: Number two is naturalization records. I love these. I just think they’re an amazing resource. Tell folks about what these are and what they might have for us.

Rich: Naturalization records are often kind of the next steppingstone when we’re researching immigrant ancestors. They relate to the process to become a US citizen, which was never a requirement, so you may find them for immigrant ancestors, but you may not.

Again, starting in the 20th century, we see really helpful information on these records, we generally get exact places of birthplace of last residence, which certainly isn’t always the same information, ship of arrival, and lots of other great details. But because of kind of the lack of regulation of these, or lack of federalization of these records, the forms weren’t standardized prior to the early 1900s. And as such, again, we run into this situation where every now and again, you’ll find a record from the 1850s that is super helpful and gives an exact place of origin and lots of other great genealogical details. But most pre-1906, naturalization records aren’t generally going to give you that exact location of origin that you really need to go across the pond.

Lisa: Sounds like we have to do a lot of collecting of all the different records. You never know which one’s going to have it. I know, in the case of my great grandparents, that was the only document that mentioned this little village of Kotten in East Prussia. Everything else was much more generic, and kind of the general area. So, you never know.

#3 Vital Records

Lisa: Number three is vital records. Birth marriage and death, right?

Rich: Right. These are a great way to, again, collect a lot of documentation and see maybe where, if you’ve got 10, or 15, or 20, to order, only one or two of them might have the precise information that you’re looking for. But if you’re researching a family that came over at different times, if you’ve got  uncles and aunts and cousins, you want to get all of those records, because it might only wind up being the last nephew’s death record that lists the place of origin of his parents. And it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it before, where you gather together all of this documentation, and if there’s 30 possible records to get, it’s the last one that has what you need. But that makes it really important not to skip out on all the records because it could be the only thing that mentions it, especially sometimes for earlier immigrants.

#4 Marriage Licenses

Lisa: Number four is marriage licenses and, and marriage records, which typically are somewhat older than some of the other available vital records, correct?

Rich: Yeah. I do very little colonial research, but I do know, there’s often colonial marriage bonds that people might be able to find. But also, in a lot of places, like in Pennsylvania, where I live, for instance, the marriage licenses in the county start in 1885. But the births and deaths for the state don’t start until 1906. So, you do often find that marriage records or marriage licenses might wind up predating some of the vital records.

In some cases, like for New York City, for instance, you may have the opportunity to get two or more different records related to the same event. There might have been an application for a marriage license, and then a marriage license or a marriage certificate or marriage return. And a lot of times, they’re not necessarily filed together. You might need to go digging around and looking to see if there are other records.

For instance, in New York City, they have a second set of marriage records. They have marriage licenses that people have to fill out prior to getting married, and the marriage certificate. And so between, I think it’s 1908 and 1937, there’s the secondary document that you definitely have to get because it asked for birthplace. It also asked for parents’ birthplace, and that information is not listed on the certificate. So, if you just stop with a certificate, you might be missing some great additional information.

Lisa: Hmm, reading between the lines, I’m really hearing you saying we’ve got to research the jurisdiction to know what they have, and what kind of records are created in their process because that varies a lot.

Rich: In Pennsylvania, we started marriage record keeping in the counties in 1835. And actually, for the first six years, there was a second copy that went to the state. So, if you happen to have people married in this small timeframe, you’ve got a county record. That’s the county record that was sent to the state which should be identical but might not be.

There’s also the potential for the religious record, right. And in some places they had city marriage returns as well, so there might be a possibility to find three or four or even five different records that all document the same event, but because the records are kept by different people, for different reasons, there might be a lot more information on some than on others.

Lisa: Every record has possibility.  I love it!

#5 Church Records

Lisa: Church records can go much older too, right?

Rich: Right. Absolutely. And that’s especially for folks researching ancestors who were Catholic. The Catholics were, and are, notorious record keepers. And they’re often very interested in figuring out or noting down, where the parties had been baptized to make sure that people getting married were Catholic, or the people that were baptizing their children were Catholic.

We’ve also got great records that go quite far back like the Quakers. There’s the Friends records, many of which have been digitized by Ancestry. And of course, there are other religions that have their own records, many of which may have not yet been digitized, but which could certainly include the same type of information about origin or place of residents, place of baptisms, something like that. So, it’s always a good idea to make sure to look for those types of records as well.

#6 Draft Registration Cards

Lisa: For number six we go a new direction toward military records: World War One and World War Two draft registrations. This might be new to some people/ Tell us about these.

Rich: Sure. These are records that are generally relatively easily findable on the big websites, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, MyHeritage, etc.

Oftentimes, they did ask for a place of birth. And so most immigrants who were here in the early to mid-1900s, that were born sometime from about the mid-1870s forward, should end up in these records, but that doesn’t mean that they served in the military. But if they were a man of draft age, they would have needed to fill one of these out.

Again, we run into this issue of the more recent, usually the more records are available. But in this case, it’s great, because you’re not just looking for people that wound up becoming citizens, you’re not just looking for people that may have been Catholic or whatever. All men that would have been between these certain ages on these dates, would or should have filled out these records. And so, these records may indeed, specify that exact location of origin.

#7 Military Serve and Pension Records

Lisa: Yes, they are one of the most comprehensive collections available. it really does cover everybody, which is terrific. But if they did serve, for number seven you have military service and pension records.

Rich: These are one of kind of the first ports of call that I would want to look into for an earlier immigrant ancestor.

We have pension records back to the Revolutionary War, and they move forward. The War of 1812, of course, was the big preserve the pensions project a few years ago, and they go up to the Civil War, and even a bit later, to the Spanish American War.

Folks whose immigrant ancestors served in the military, even if they came over 250 years ago, their pension records or their military service records could be really helpful. A lot of times, there’s things like affidavits that say, my name is John Smith, but I was born on this date, and this place, or it might even just say, the county in Ireland, for instance, or England. But even still, that’s obviously much more helpful than just Ireland or England.

There’s sometimes things like copies of family Bible records, or marriage records, because you have to remember that when we’re talking about pension records, we’re oftentimes talking about other people that would have been affected. So, if the ancestor died in the war, or shortly thereafter, their widow or their minor children could have been eligible for this pension. And so of course, they would need to prove the relationship. So, if the marriage occurred back in the old country, or something like that, there might be copies of these records, affidavits, some type of testimony that provides that which could all lead us to clues about that immigrants’ origins.

Lisa: Yes, it’s a record collection that could lead to many different kinds of records.

#8 Employment Records

Lisa: Number eight might be a little bit rarer, but gosh, if it exists, it would be well worth going after: employment records.

Rich: Yeah, these records sets definitely require a bit more advanced research. You definitely first need to figure out where your ancestor worked. But also, a lot of times, you need to do a lot of digging to determine where the records are, if they even exist, right? A lot of times we’re talking in archives, you’ve got to get boots on the ground, you’ve got to get your hands dirty with old records. But there are some really excellent employment records, some of which have been digitized. But we’re talking very few of these records have had been put online. Some railroad records have been, and so some of those have been put on some of the big websites. But a lot of times, we’ve got to figure out where the company was headquartered. Is it headquartered in a different place now than it was 100 years ago? Where might these records be, and also what type of records might exist.

There are some great repositories. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Heinz History Center, in Pittsburgh, for instance, has a great selection of employment records for Pittsburgh based companies, Alcoa, Heinz, Westinghouse. If your ancestor happened to go to work at one of these places, these records have now been put in an archive. They’re much more accessible than if the archive still remains with the company which may be much more difficult to get your hands on.

You may find things like applications for employment, or even just information about employees. There could be information about place of origin, there might be newspaper, there might be periodicals, a lot of companies did newsletters. And so there might also be things about somebody that passed away, which can elicit information, or new hires, for instance. There’s all sorts of possibilities.

This is definitely not the type of thing that you search it, and you find it easily. These are often hard-won victories, but they can be some really great, really interesting records. And oftentimes, well, sometimes, they may include a photograph as well, which can be really special.

Lisa: I agree with you, they do pose more of a challenge. They are kind of a good back pocket item when nothing else is panning out. And I have to say, I had a grandfather and a great grandfather who worked for the railroad. I was amazed to see the Railroad Retirement Board records available through the Atlanta National Archives. I mean, it was well worth it!

#9 Social Security Applications

Lisa: Well, gosh, well, silly me! I forgot to ask rich about item number nine, and that record group is social security applications. In his article, he says, “Social Security began in the mid-1930s, and most everyone who was alive and eligible applied throughout the following decades. Social security applications known as the SS-5s, asked for both a place of birth (albeit, often just to country of birth) and parents’ names. The SS-5s are available for a fee through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Social Security Administration.

#10 Alien Registrations

Lisa: Next we have alien registrations. I haven’t done much research in this area. Tell us about this.

Rich: Alien registrations weren’t really very regulated until the latter part of the 1800s, early part of the 1900s. Prior to that point, there are only a handful of times where there might be some instances of alien registration. But we do see some during the Alien and Sedition Acts shortly after the country was formed in the late 1700s. Unfortunately, most of the alien registrations from that timeframe were destroyed.

There was a period of time where, if you were naturalizing, you had to provide a copy of that alien registration. There is a 12-year period in the 1800s where naturalization records will contain a copy of an alien registration and they can contain information about exact location when they arrived. All the members of the family, the minor children, what have you, and that’s just not what we often find on these early naturalization Records.

There are some instances where earlier you’ll find some alien registrations available. And then once we get to the 20th century, of course, we have many more available during World War One and World War Two. There were enemy aliens who had to register, there was a nationwide alien registration in 1940. There’s a couple of statewide alien registrations in Maine, Minnesota and North Carolina. So those records are also available.

Alien registrations are a bit more difficult to research and wrap your head around, because it really depends upon the location of where they were living. You have to determine if there was some type of alien registration happening at that time.

The only really comprehensive registration, in terms of alien registrations, would be the one that occurred right before World War Two in 1940 and continued on to 1944. If you do have ancestors that were 19th or 20th century immigrants, if they’re an alien and in the 1940 census, that’s a really good indicator that they should have an alien registration form.

Alien Registration records are currently only available through the USCIS genealogy program. It’s quite a hefty fee to order a record, but the hope is that eventually they’ll make their way to the National Archives. We don’t know when that will happen.

I have heard some instances where folks who emigrated in the 1860s, 1870s, that were old men, but had never naturalized, were found in this 1940 alien registration form, and it is the only American document that tells a location of origin. So, it’s really important and might very well be worth the money to make that request if you would expect them to show up in those records based upon their alien status in 1940. And if you’ve exhausted a lot of the other possibilities of places to look for their place of origin.

#11 County Histories

Lisa: Number 11 is one of my favorites, and I think probably one that I’ve had a lot of success with, perhaps you have as well, and that is county histories. Thankfully, those are much more readily available than alien registrations.

Rich: The great thing about county histories as you well know, was this big push at the centenary of the country to document the histories of the counties and the United States and the people who lived in them. And so, we will often again, see much earlier immigrant ancestors in these books. Even people that had had long since been deceased, because their children or grandchildren were noting how they were the founders of the county or what have you.

County histories are sometimes giving a mini biography of an immigrant. Whether it’s someone who’s alive, or has since deceased, it will often say, at least what part of their country of origin they came from. So, those can be really helpful in providing some of those details, as well as information about how long they’ve lived in the county, what they did, how they got to the county. There’s sometimes some really interesting stories in there, and sometimes photos as well. So, county histories are definitely a great option for folks whose immigrant ancestors were 18th and 19th century arrivals as opposed to more recent arrivals.

#12 Newspapers

Lisa: And that leads right into number 12, which is newspapers. As I hear you talk about the stories we read in county histories, I think newspapers would be a great place to go and look for another take on those stories. Right?

Rich: Yeah, absolutely!

When we think of newspapers, we usually think of obituaries, which might list a place of origin. But of course, there’s all sorts of other things that might be listed.

If people were named as the executor in the will of their parents or sibling that was left back overseas, that might be listed in the paper, because there might have been some requirement about a legal notice about that. Or you might find steamship arrivals specifying so and so are coming to join Mr. And Mrs. Smith of this city. And they might even specify where they’re coming from more precisely than just that they arrived on the steamship. So, there’s a lot of great opportunities in newspapers.

And of course, more and more are getting digitized. A lot of states have their own digital newspapers, projects. And there’s some outside the box possibilities as well like ethnic newspapers, like religious newspapers, or company newspapers, or periodicals.

There arew all sorts of places that you might be able to find some really interesting newspapers about your ancestors, whether they tell you place of origin or not. Newspapers were great gossip rags, right? So, you can find some really interesting stuff in there about who’s fighting with who or, who’s playing at the church baseball game that weekend, or whatever. There’s all sorts of fun stuff that can be found in there.

Lisa: Yeah, I’ve even seen articles where they’re talking about folks gathering, I think it was at a Catholic church, and they were saying they all knew each other back in County Mayo, you know.  It wasn’t the point of the article, but they mentioned it.

Rich: You never know when those types of little things are going to come up. I just can’t over overstate their importance. They can have so much utility. And, as more time goes on, more and more are being digitized. So, you know, if you were on the big newspaper websites a while back, look, again, in six months, look again in 18 months, because there’s just so many resources that are being added. And, and so many small towns, they have their own little weekly newspaper or whatever. And those are really where you want to go if your ancestors live somewhere rural. That’s where you’re going to find the really interesting articles, and also the articles that might be more detailed, which could give you things like place of origin or other genealogical details that you’re missing.

Lisa: Yeah, that is excellent advice about going back and revisiting. In fact, some of the websites even now have a way to alert yourself. They’ll message you if they upload something that matches something you searched in the past. I keep finding new things that weren’t there two years ago.

Resource: Watch Reconstructing Ancestors’ Lives with Newspapers

#13 Cemetery Records

Lisa: Okay, we’ve covered so many great resources. And we’ve got four left and you never know which one is going to be the goldmine. Tell us about #13, cemetery records. Tombstones?

Rich: We think of tombstones as the first place to look. I’ll often find, especially with Irish immigrants, their descendants love to place on the tombstones where their families were originally from.

There could be other records as well in the cemetery. They might be dusty books in the basement. You might have to ask real nicely or bring some chocolate or send a check to get access to them. But you never know what type of information you’re going to find in there. And even if it doesn’t give you the exact location of origin, it might be helpful to help you determine family relationships.

If you now have more people to research, and you know that they’re all related, there may be some records that relate to the other people that are in the plot that can give you the type of information that you’re looking for. So of course, we want to start with tombstones.

There could certainly be records at the cemetery office as well. Sometimes records have been digitized, so check with the local genealogical or historical society. We could be talking about a ton of other records that might possibly be available for your cemetery of interest as well.

Lisa: Great point, so many different options there.

#14 Probate Files

Lisa: Speaking of death, #14 is probate files in court records.

Rich: A lot of the earlier probate files pre 1900s for most counties in the United States have been digitized. They’re relatively well indexed.0

When we think about probate files, it often isn’t going to say this person born in this place died on this day. But there might be, perhaps lands that they had a share of back in the old country. Or it could be that, along the way, maybe they came from Europe through Canada, and they had some property in Canada, which could be a helpful piece of information for you to have.

It also might be that if they were a single person or had no family, it could be that the people that needed to be notified were back in the old country. So, you sometimes will find copies of correspondence sent through the consulate back in the old country, notifying the brother that they needed to provide X information if they had a share in this, and how is it going to be handled. And so, both in US consular records that you find at the National Archives or College Park, but also in probate files that I’ve just seen in different county courthouses, you’ll sometimes see these affidavits in other languages noting siblings or other people that needed to somehow be involved in the process.

Now, of course, there are not going to be many or even a lot of these files, but you never know. So, you definitely want to look. And this is, again, where we employ the FAN principle where, if it’s one of five brothers, you’ve got to look at all the siblings.

Lisa: That’s the good news about a location. Siblings may not share the same birth date, but they might all share the same birth location. So, it gives us more people to work on.

#15 Fraternal Organization Records

Lisa: #15 is fraternal organization records. And there’s a lot of different fraternal organizations, aren’t there?

Rich: Yes. Oftentimes, you’ll find these types of records in archives. Very few of these have made their way online. There’s a couple of really good resources available on Ancestry. For instance, they’ve got the Massachusetts Masons, they’ve got the Order Sons of Italy and America for a couple of different states, though, not all of the states. And there’s a handful of other ones that have made their way online.

However, with a lot of these types of records, we’re going to be again, looking for in regional archives and regional repositories. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has tons of these types of records from all over the country, not just from Pennsylvania. And I’m lucky enough that it’s just around the corner from me so I can go hop over and do some research there anytime. But that’s because they subsumed the collections of the Balch Institute for ethnic studies, which was at Temple University. And so, they have all of these types of ethnic-related fraternal organization records that had been housed at the Balch. Those records made their way over to HSP. And so, there’s a couple of different archives like this around the country. There’s also the Immigrant History Research Center and Archive at the University of Minnesota.  They’ve got tons of fraternal organizational records from all over the country.

Again, this is not beginner research. It’s not necessarily easy research. You first have got to figure out if your ancestor was a member of an organization.  Look at obituaries, things like that, to see. If so, where are the records, and are the records for the different lodges in different places. You might need to do quite a bit of calling around to figure that out.

Lisa: You’ve been leading us through some of the low-hanging fruit some of the tougher to get records, and so many of them kind of dovetail into each other and help us lead through a path from one record to the next until we get to the one that has it.

#16 Neighbors

Lisa: This all leads us to your final item here in your article. Number 16 is Neighbors. I don’t think you’re saying I need to go next door, right?!

Rich: You never know, maybe your neighbors can be helpful! Maybe they’re also a genealogist. Maybe they’re a long-lost cousin who knows. Funny story: a few years ago, before I became a genealogist I wound up working with a distant cousin of mine and she was my desk neighbor. So, it could be that your neighbors have what you need! (laughs)

What I’m talking about is the fact that, since the beginning of the country, America has been populated by chain migration. One individual comes from a small town or village, they write back home, their brother comes, then their parents come, then the cousins come and other people from the village come It’s been that way since the 1600s and continues to be that way today because of the need for community, and also people that speak your language. It helps with the ability to find a job more easily, what have you.

You’ll find people that are coming from the same village living in the same neighborhood are oftentimes in the same apartment building. If you’re researching your family, and you have looked at all the documents, and you’ve done all the things, and you can’t figure it out, but they’re living at an address like my Italian grandpa’s at 500, Adams Street in Hoboken, you may find that everybody who lived there was from the same village, or at least from the same area.

When they came to the US, they lived in the same place that allowed them to get jobs more easily, connect with employment opportunities, connect with religious organizations. And so, you also want to look at the people that they’re living with. Who are the people in their apartment block? Who are the people that live next door? Who are the people that are witnessing their deeds that are the executing their wills? Who are the witnesses to their marriage. All these kinds of things could be really helpful.

Of course, that increases the amount of research you have to do 100-fold. But if what you’re really looking for is to figure out exactly location of origin in the old country, and especially if we’re talking earlier immigrants, it can be worth it. It was the same in the 1920s, as it was in the in the 1780s.

You definitely want to branch out and research the folks that your immigrant ancestors surrounded themselves with, whether it’s physical neighbors, or people that continually show up on their documents, as informants as witnesses, as co-signers, as bond guarantors, all of those kinds of things, because those people could very well have come from the same place.

Lisa: Well, when we’re looking at a census record for example and we see Italy, Italy, Italy,  listed and they’re all in apartments, then we just grab your article, and we run them through the 16 record sources again, and see if we can at least find an origin for them, which then would at least give us a clue of a place to look.

These are all terrific ideas, and I really recommend that everybody get the Family Tree Magazine September / October 2022 issue and check out your Hometown Heroes article. Thank you so much for helping us today, Rich.

Rich: Thanks for having me. I always appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and to write for Family Tree Magazine.  I hope that y’all got some good ideas and I wish you the best of luck in in figuring out where your folks were from and maybe eventually getting to go visit as well.

Lisa: Oh, yes, that’d be even better, wouldn’t it? Thank you so much.

Rich: Thank you

Resources

Download the ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

Irish Catholic Parish Registers from National Library of Ireland

Writer James Joyce's baptismal certificate; click to link to Wikipedia image.

Writer James Joyce’s baptismal certificate; click to link to Wikipedia image.

As of today, the National Library of Ireland expects to launch a free, digitized collection of ALL its Catholic parish registers on its website (this link takes you to the English version; it’s also available in Irish). Nearly 400,000 digital images of microfilmed parish records comprise this collection.

According to a press release, “The parish register records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census.  Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout the island of Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records….Their digitisation means that, for the first time, anyone who likes will be able to access these registers without having to travel to Dublin.”

Catholic parish registers are a vital genealogical resource. In addition to the names of those baptized or married, they usually include those event dates, names of parents of baptized children, godparents and witnesses (who may also be relatives).

NOTE: This is a browsable-only collection. There are currently no plans to index or transcribe the records. However, the press release included a great suggestion for accessing indexes: look to local family history centers for that parish or neighborhood. “The buy diet medication online nationwide network of local family history centres holds indexes and transcripts of parish registers for their local areas,” it says.

Roots Ireland county genealogical centresThose unfamiliar with Ireland research may assume this means local FamilySearch Family History Centers, but a map shows only a few of these in Ireland. I would start first with the network of county genealogy centers, accessible online at Roots Ireland. According to that site, “The county genealogy centres are based in local communities, working with volunteers, local historical societies, local clergy, local authorities, county libraries and government agencies to build a database of genealogical records for their county. By using this website you are supporting that work and the communities from which your ancestors originated.” Several counties actually already have online records you can access through the Roots Ireland link above. Ancestry also has several databases of Irish Catholic parish registers.

For more tips on researching your Irish relatives, listen to the FREE Family History Made Easy podcast episode 21, in which we interviewed Irish expert Judith Wight.  You’ll hear her tips on finding Church of Ireland records, civil registrations, estate records and how history helps us understand gaps in the records.

Thank you for sharing this post with those who will LOVE to know about these Irish genealogy resources!

 

How to Find Photos and Images in Old Newspapers with Newspaper Navigator

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: September 24, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

Newspaper Navigator is a new free online tool for finding images and photos in old newspapers at Chronicling America. It doesn’t work the way the Library of Congress website works, so in this episode I show you how to navigate the Newspaper Navigator. It’s a fun session that will have you finding new newspaper gems in no time!

About LOC Chronicling America

Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. It features free digitized historic newspapers spanning 1789-1963.

Newspapers Contain Imagery such as:

  • Photos
  • Drawings
  • Maps
  • Cartoons
  • Advertisements

You may not find the newspaper that you need for your research in the Chronicling America digitized collection. In those cases, turn to the US Newspaper Directory. It catalogs newspapers published 1690-present. Click the US Newspaper Directory button on the Chronicling America website to search. The catalog will tell you where known copies of the paper can be accessed.

Uses of Newspaper Images

Most of the old newspapers featured in Chronicling America include images. And because these old images are in the public domain, they are an ideal complement to family histories.

If you are very fortunate you may find photos or images of your ancestors, their homes, or other things specifically about your family.

Newspaper images are also a wonderful source when you need a photo or image to represent an important idea or item when telling your family’s story, whether in a blog post, article, book, video, PowerPoint presentation or other medium. Example of this would include a photograph of a blacksmith shop in the 1890s in the area where your ancestor worked as a blacksmith, or an advertisement for a Sears home kit just like the one your grandfather built.

Chronicling America’s Newspaper Navigator

The Newspaper Navigator dataset currently consists of 1.5 million pieces of extracted visual content from 16,358,041 historic newspaper pages in Chronicling America.

The visual content was identified using an object detection model trained on annotations of World War 1-era Chronicling America pages, made by staff and volunteers.

This “visual content recognition model” detects the following types of content:

  1.  Photograph
  2.  Illustration
  3.  Map
  4.  Comics/Cartoon
  5.  Editorial Cartoon
  6.  Headline
  7.  Advertisement

It also includes text corresponding to the imagery, identified by Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Searching the Newspaper Navigator

You can search all images with captions. The results will be returned in a Gallery view featuring up to 100 images per page. This results format makes it very easy to quicky browse the images.

You can also switch to List view which lists the images along with the text retrieved by OCR.

How to Find Images Faster in Old Newspapers

Run a search in Newspaper Navigator of the word baseball and then run the same search in Chronicling America. A comparison of the results highlights the between Chronicling America and Newspaper Navigator when it comes to finding images in old newspapers.

Word Searched: baseball
Results returned:
Newspaper Navigator: 5,427
Chronicling America: 921,534

The search results returned by the Newspaper Navigator are solely focused on photos and images. This means you have a fraction of the number results to review. Another big advantage of Newspaper Navigator over Chronicling America is the size of the image. Newspaper Navigator gives you just the large image to review, while Chronicling America shows you a thumbnail of the entire page with images so small that you must click and load the page to analyze them.

finding photos in newspapers at Chronicling America

Images appear much smaller at Chronicling America and require you to click through to the page for closer examination.

Start by running a keyword search. (example: Blacksmith). On the results you can filter the results by Location and Years. Because the search currently doesn’t support Boolean operators or other types of search operators, you may need to run a few different versions of the same search to get a complete picture of the potential results. We’ll talk more about search strategies in just a moment.

Once you find an image you want, click to open it. The pop-up box offers these four buttons:

  • Download Image – Downloads a high-resolution copy to your hard drive.
  • Cite this – Generates a source citation that is automatically copied to your computer clipboard. Then you can simply paste it as needed. You can also cite the dataset by including the image URL, plus a citation to the website such as “from the Library of Congress, Newspaper Navigatordataset: Extracted Visual Content from Chronicling America.” According to the website, all images are in the public domain and free to use. Learn more about Rights and Reproductions at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/about/.
  • Learn about this newspaper – Takes you to the Chronicling America catalog listing for the newspaper from which the image comes.
  • View Full Issue – Takes you to the complete newspaper issue at the Chronicling America website.
Newspaper image option buttons

Click the buttons to select the options

My Collection at Newspaper Navigator

You can gather and save collections of the newspaper images you find using Newspaper Navigator. Start by running a search. On the results page click to select the desired images, then click the Save button. This will generate a URL for that collection and copy it to your clipboard. Since Newspaper Navigator doesn’t currently allow you to log in and return to your past searches during different sessions, I suggest pasting the URL into a research log for future reference.

Train My AI Navigators at Newspaper Navigator

A unique feature of the Chronicling America Newspaper Navigator is the ability to “train” the site to search for you. It does this through machine learning.

Train My AI Navigator

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26

How to Train My AI Navigator:

  1. Run a search
  2. Click to select desired images
  3. Click Save to save the collection of images
  4. Click Train My AI Navigators
  5. Newspaper Navigator will deliver a new set of images based on your selected images. On that page, select additional images that you want by clicking toward the top (+) of the image.
  6. Click unwanted images by clicking toward the bottom (-) of the image.
    selecting unwanted images from historic newspapersClick to select the images you don’t want the AI Newspaper Navigator to find.
  7. Click Train My AI Navigator again
  8. Continue adding and subtracting images as needed to further train the system
  9. Type a name for this training session in the Name My AI Navigator The saved AI Navigator name will appear in the Select an AI Navigator column
  10. Click Save to generate a URL for this training session and paste into your research log.
  11. Click + New AI Navigator to create a new training session spring boarding from the first
  12. Click Clear & Restart to start a new search

Newspaper Navigator Search Strategies

Newspaper Navigator doesn’t, as of this writing, support Boolean Operators or offer an advanced search field. Here are some strategies that can help you have more success in searching the site:

Don’t use search operators, use variations

Even a space between initials can make a difference.

Variations in newspaper searches

Each variation has the potential to deliver a different result in newspaper images.

Search Locations

Considering how many variations there can be to a name, when searching for ancestors try searching first on the name of their town or location. If there are still quite a few results, you can then filter to only newspapers from their state. I search the town name first because an article may appear in a newspaper from a different state. In the case of my search for McMinnville, I received a small, manageable results list. Had it been large and included both McMinnville, TN and McMinnville, OR, filtering to just Oregon would be helpful.

Test your search theories

Analyze your results and try variations based on what you are learning about what Newspaper Navigator is focusing on.

Search for word strings

In testing my search theories, I learned that Newspaper Navigator did not do well with multiple words that do not appear right next to each other. Therefore, I tried to find word strings that pertained to my family that I could search for such as the name of a business: Consolidation Coal Company.

Search for Photos

Another interesting search you can run is the word Photo. On the results page filter to the state and years that apply to your research.

Use List View to Find on Page

When dealing with a large number of results, List View can help speed up the review process. List View also displays the text generated by OCR. While not perfect, it can be helpful. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature (control + F on a PC, Command + F on Mac) and type in a keyword such as a surname. This will take you instantly to all occurrences of that word in the text on the page. Click the next page and run it again.

Use Control + F to find OCR text in the results list at Newspaper Navigator

Find images quickly by word search in the List View

Learn More About Machine Learning

In the menu click Data Archaeology to learn more about machine learning and the Newspaper Navigator project.

Resources

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersPremium Video & Handout: Getting the Scoop from Old Newspapers. (Not a Premium member yet? Learn more here.)
Book: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Please Support this Free Show

If you’re enjoying the show, you can help others benefit from it too by leaving a comment below. Your comments…

  • helps me understand what matters to you.
  • helps others gather new ideas and encourages them to give the show a try.
  • tells Google / YouTube that this show is interesting and worth sending other people to through the search results.
  • provides great potential content for future episodes.

Clicking the red subscribe on our Genealogy Gems YouTube and then giving this video a thumbs up below the videosubscribe to our YouTube channel

By leaving a comment (what you enjoyed, questions you have or what you’d like to see in the future) below this video after the show’s over or at the bottom of the show notes page if you’re watching on my Genealogy Gems website.

 

Answers to Your Live Chat Questions

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. 

Bert asks: Are some newspapers only available for a fee on websites such as Ancestry
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, several genealogy websites have exclusive collections of digitized old newspapers. You can usually search or browse the site for free to determine if they have newspapers from the location and time frame that you need before you make a purchase. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve had good success with:

Genealogy Bank
MyHeritage
Ancestry
British Newspaper Archive (a goldmine for anyone with British ancestors!) 

We are compensated if you make a purchase after using our links above (at no additional cost to you.) Thank you for supporting this free show by doing so!

Christine asks: (What is the ) newspaper navigator date range? 
Lisa’s answer: Here’s a break down of the dates:

Chronicling America covers 1789 – 1963 (digitized newspapers)
Newspaper Navigator covers 1900 – 1963 (photos in digitized newspapers)
U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America covers 1690 – present (catalog, only some are digitized and those are part of Chronicling America.)

Rachel asks: I have an ancestor that was in the social pages all the time in our local newspaper in the 1800’s. I thought it would make a great book or video, any ideas on how to showcase them the best?
Lisa’s answer: I love both of those ideas and I cover many more in my Premium Membership video Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Personally I have found that short photo books and short videos that tell one story are received the best by family members. They both offer opportunities to share and highlight items from newspapers. Learn more about quickly and easily making family history videos by watching Elevenses with Lisa episode 16. And I strongly encourage Premium Members to watch these two videos:

Video Magic: Creating Brilliant Videos Quickly & Easily with Lisa Louise Cooke (creating videos)
Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully with Sunny Morton. (writing books)

lagomcurt asks: ​Are local small-town papers included in the collection?
Lisa’s answer: Yes.  

June asks: ​When you download it ask what to save as. What is your suggestion?
Lisa’s answer: I think you’ll find that JPEG is currently the only option in the Save as Type drop-down menu.

Sharon asks: ​Does Chronicling America have foreign language newspapers in America?
Lisa’s answer: Absolutely! Searching in the language will help retrieve items. 

Ohio Waisenfreund newspaper at Chronicling America

Ohio Waisenfreund newspaper at Chronicling America

Pat asks: ​Does it have Irish American newspapers?
Lisa’s answer:  Chronicling America does have Irish American newspapers. If they were published between 1900-1963 then they will be searchable by Newspaper Navigator. I would also recommend searching all newspapers (online and offline) by clicking the U.S. Newspaper Director button at Chronicling America. Then search by ethnicity (Irish) and Material Type (online.) You will find that some are linked to other websites where they can be found online. If you see an image of a newspaper on the catalog page, then you know it is available on Chronicling America in a digital format. 

how to search for irish newspapers online at US Newspaper Directory

Search for Irish newspapers online at US Newspaper Directory

 

 

Mark asks: Can the wash out pictures be enhance with the new MyHeritage Photo with the sharping feature and colorization to make it a better final experience with images?
Lisa’s answer: Yes indeed. Because the original quality will be poor and with low dots per inch (dpi) it likely won’t improve the way an original photo would. However enhancing and coloring just takes a few seconds and definitely improves the image. Even better, it often makes the print much more readable. I use it on documents too. Click here to try MyHeritage.

newspaper photo enhanced and colorized with Myheritage

Newspaper photo enhanced and colorized with MyHeritage

 

Kathy asks: ​If you do a search in English, will it find the search term(s) in newspapers that were written in German?
Lisa’s answer: No. You will need to search in German to pick up on any German text. However, if the image itself is similar, My AI Navigator should pick it up.

Lucinda asks: Who is in your necklace and the photo behind you, Lisa?
Lisa’s Answer: It’s my maternal grandmother’s high school graduation photo. 

Please Leave a Comment or Question Below

I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave it below.  You can also call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!

 

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39 Show Notes

Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!

Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

1. Have you selected a place to start?

I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play. 

For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)

At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not  stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.

In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.

It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.

2. Have you developed a project research question?

Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?

In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”

The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)

3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?

The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:

  • Where exactly was Washington from in England? 
  • When did he come to the United States?
  • Why/how did he end up out West?
  • Did he work on the railroad?
  • When and where did he marry?
  • When was their oldest child born?
  • Did he join the LDS church?

And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.

The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.

4. Do you have the research forms you need?

There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.

Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!

Free Genealogy Forms at Family Tree Magazine
Family Tree Magazine offers a plethora of free genealogy forms. You’ll need to register for a free website account to download the forms.

Free Genealogy Forms at Ancestry
Here you’ll find several common and helpful genealogy forms including:

  • Ancestral Chart
  • Research Calendar
  • Research Extract
  • Correspondence Record
  • Family Group Sheet
  • Source Summary
  • US, UK And Canadian Census Forms

5. Have you established Your Filing System?

Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.

Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.

In Elevenses with Lisa Episode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)

As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:

  • Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
  • Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)

Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:

  • Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
  • Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.

7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?

Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.

Here’s what my shopping list looks like:

  • 3” 3-Ring View Binders
    (allow you to customize covers & spines)
  • 1” 3-Ring View Binder
  • 1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
  • 3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers

8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?

How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.

Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:

  • Year (will force chronological order)
  • First Name (filed in surname folder)
  • Location

Example: 1920_robert_m_springfield_oh

Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.

8. Are you prepared to make copies?

Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data. 

Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off  from its cloud hosting service.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”

Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.

My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:

The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.

While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.

Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.

We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.

Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.

Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:

  • a good printer
  • extra ink
  • a stock of paper
  • a portable terabyte hard drive

Ideas for saving paper and ink:

  • Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
  • Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
  • Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
  • Make double-sided copies.
  • When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.

 

9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?

I use and recommend Backblaze for computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:

backblaze server podcast

Image courtesy of Backblaze.

I am also an affiliate of Backblaze so I appreciate when you use my link if you decided to make a purchase. I will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that supports this free show. https://www.backblaze.com/landing/podcast-lisa.html 

Learn more: Premium Members can watch the Premium video Your Guide to Cloud Backup and download the PDF handout. You’ll get answers to questions like:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Pick one area you want to improve your genealogy skills and knowledge and make time each week to learn something new about it.

Thank you for making Elevenses with Lisa and Genealogy Gems one of your places for genealogy learning, laughing and getting refilled!

On the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

  • Click the Subscribe button
  • Click the bell for notifications.
  • Use a free service like Blogtrottr.com to receive email notification reminders. Simply paste the Genealogy Gems channel URL into the first field,
    https://www.youtube.com/GenealogyGems
    enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.

Recap: 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

  1. Have you selected a place to start?
  2. Have you developed a project research question?
  3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
  4. Do you have the research forms you need?
  5. Have you established Your Filing System?
  6. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
  7. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
  8. Are you prepared to make copies?
  9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
  10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Get My Free Newsletter 

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Weekly Email Newsletter 
The newsletter is your guide to upcoming shows, articles, videos, podcasts and new Premium content.

Resources

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. I’d also like to hear from you about the topics you would like to learn more about in future episodes. Thanks!

 

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU