Republished Dec. 3, 2013
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 9: Using Census Records
In this episode we start off by talking about a group of records critical to family history research in my home country: U.S. Federal Census Records. You’ll learn not only what to find in the regular schedules, but about the enumerators, the instructions they followed, and special sections like the economic census.
Then in our second segment we go straight to the source: Bill Maury, Chief of History Staff at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ll be talking to him about the History section of the Census Department’s website. Note the updated Genealogy tab on the site, as well as the Through the Decades tab, which is packed with historical information for each census.
Since the show first aired, the 1940 U.S. Census has become publicly available. This was the largest, most comprehensive census taken, with over 132 million names of those known as the “greatest generation.” Full indexes and images are available at several sites. Your first stop should be the National Archives’ official 1940 census website to learn about the census itself. Then search it at your favorite genealogy data site in one of the links below.
Finally, I gave you specific instructions in the podcast on searching the 1930 U.S. Census online at Ancestry.com. To specifically search any of the U.S. censuses (or any other record collection) at Ancestry.com, go to the Search tab and select Card Catalog. You’ll see several censuses among the options they give you, or you can enter keywords like “1940 census.”
Search U.S. censuses online at:
OR Learn more about researching from microfilm at the National Archives website.
What did your relatives experience during World War II? Look for answers with these step-by-step instructions for finding WWII newspaper content and tips for searching about the war progress in the 1940s.
We have covered so many gripping and inspiring World War II stories in recent months (such as this one), it makes me want to learn more about what happened to my own family. Newspapers are the first place I look for everyday news happenings. But for the 1940s, newspapers in the U.S. and some other places are still copyright-protected–meaning not so widely available online for free–and of course, millions of local newspaper pages are not digitized online yet.
Try these 3 steps for finding and accessing 1940s newspaper content:
1. Understand what WWII newspapers may be available online
The major U.S. site for free digitized newspaper content, Chronicling America, recently started allowing post-1922 news, but it will take a while for copyright-cleared issues to post to the site (read more here.) Various state or local collections may vary; for example, the free Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection does have some WWII-era coverage.
Outside the U.S., Australia’s site Trove (which is free) does have digitized newspapers that include articles, like the 1942 casualty list from The Daily News (Perth), shown here. So do the overlapping British Newspaper Archive site and Findmypast.com’s British newspapers collection.
2. Explore premium and institutional databases for WWII newspapers
Start with digital newspaper content at free sites and subscription sites to which you have access. Then follow up with a trip to your local library, which likely offers additional historical newspaper databases. For example, in the U.S., these may include Access NewspaperARCHIVE, America’s GenealogyBank, America’s Historical Newspapers, America’s News, Newspaper Source, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Sometimes, you can access these databases from home with your library card log-in; if not, you’ll have to go to the library. (Genealogy Gems Premium members: check out Premium Podcast episode #125 for more great genealogical resources at public libraries.)
In the U.S., even these databases may only have limited coverage, such as titles from major cities for the 1940s. ProQuest Historical Newspapers has the Atlanta Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Though these may not give you small-town details and perspectives on your own family, you will get a sense of the progress of the war from the perspective of those who were living through it, and how the public was responding.
3. Search for individual WWII newspapers
If you can’t find digitized content you want, widen your net. Search for titles of all active newspapers in your family’s city during the war. In the U.S., do that with the U.S. Newspaper Directory on Chronicling America. The same directory links to thousands of library holdings. WorldCat.org has even more; run a follow-up search here on any titles you don’t see holdings for on Chronicling America. If you’re local to where your family lived or can visit there, you may find copies at the public library. If you’re not local, you may have to try to order microfilmed copies through interlibrary loan. Ask your local Reference Librarian for assistance.
Next, Google search for individual newspaper titles online. Though no longer actively digitizing and indexing newspapers, Google News Archive can help you locate online content for specific newspapers. Click here to access its alphabetical listing of newspapers. You can also enter keyword-searches in the search box on that webpage for all the newspapers listed there.
As needed, run a follow-up Google search using the newspaper title, city, state, and date range; for the latter, use the format “1941..1945” with two periods between the dates and no spaces. This helps to filter your date range to these specific years.
Learn more about Googling your ancestors in newspapers, websites, books, photographs, and more in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
My book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers is your ultimate guide to this topic, with tons of step-by-step instructions, online resources, and finding strategies. And, stay tuned for our up and coming post “Finding Family History in WWII Newspapers: Narrowing the Results” for more instructions on digitally searching WWII newspapers for war-related stories.
Here’s the code you will need for some of the coolest iPad bookmarklets. For these to work properly they must be copied EXACTLY! No extra spaces or characters.
You can learn much more about how to use Evernote for Genealogy by becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium that includes my 1 hour video class on Evernote, and the Evernote educational mini-series, in addition to over 100 Premium podcast episodes, and video classes.
You can get more great tips and tricks by subscribing to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter in the upper right corner of this page. As a thank you gift you’ll receive my free 20 page ebook “5 Fabulous Google Search Strategies for the Family Historian”.
If you use any of these online services there are more bookmarklets for you at iosbookmarklets.com:
CiteULike (Search, organize and share scholarly papers for free) <citeulike.org>
Hootsuite (Social media management) <hootsuite.com>
PDFmyURL (save anywebpage as a PDF) <pdfmyurl.com>
ProfessorWord (improve your vocab) <professorword.com>
RecordSeek (the only genealogy bookmarklet listed as of this writing) <recordseek.com>
Wunderlist – <wunderlist.com>
Zotero (Collect, organize, cite and share sources) <zotero.org>
Recently Tom wrote in with a question about a Civil War veterans database:
“I’ve been a listener of your podcast for quite a long time. Great job.
“We have a grass-roots group trying to locate and document Civil War Veterans buried in Washington state. Is there a good website where I can enter a name and unit identification and get results of the person’s [Civil War] service? I’m having a really hard time finding US Navy sailors.”
It sounds like Tom is conducting a very worthwhile project! (We added the link above to the website for the project, in case you’re interested.) An excellent resource–still in progress for sailors with only about 20% of them–is The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS).
The site describes its resources as a “database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which will be amended over time.”
This is an excellent resource for soldiers. As far as sailors go: “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System currently contains the records of approximately 18,000 African American sailors, though additional records will be added in the future. The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels. Approximately half of the sailors entered the service at the Navy’s established points of enlistment. For these men and women, enlistment records serve as the primary sources of information. The Howard University research team used muster rolls to fill in missing data or to correct apparent misinformation recorded at the time of enlistment. Information about the remainder of the enlistees was derived directly from these muster rolls. When research uncovered inconsistencies in the data (such as conflicting reports of an individual’s age at the time of enlistment) the most frequently recorded response was used.”
“Descendants of Civil War sailors will find biographical details regarding age, place of birth, and occupation that may help supplement or clarify details from such other sources of genealogical information as birth, death, and census records. Moreover, information about any individual sailor’s enlistment and service is necessary for determining the presence or absence of their pension records at the National Archives.” Click here to read an article from the National Archives about African-American servicemen in the Navy in the Civil War. I covered the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 149. Be sure to check out the show notes page (click the link I’ve provided.) There you’ll find the information written out for you and the links I discuss in the episode.
If a Navy ancestor isn’t among those already listed, my first instinct is always to turn to Google searches first. I ran a search in Google Books for free (fully digitized) books meeting the criteria “civil war” “sailors” and there are some resources there as well. Here’s a link to the search results. One example is the book shown here to the left: Manchester Men, which appears to be a published list of those who served from Manchester, N.H. (click on the book cover to read it in Google Books). Learn more about Google searching for “niche” topics like this in the fully-revised and updated edition of my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.