Pay It Forward in Genealogy: 4 Ways to Give Back to the Community

During this giving season, why not give back to the community of global genealogy lovers who quietly and continually enrich our family history research? Here are 4 ways to pay it forward in genealogy from the comfort of wherever you are! One gem you may not have heard of: the British Library’s project to index old maps.

pay it forward in genealogy

4 Ways to Pay it Forward in Genealogy

1. Help with global gravestone research.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered the final resting places of many an ancestor–perhaps along with important biographical data and even additional relatives–with the help of websites such as BillionGraves and Find A Grave.

BillionGraves says it’s “the world′s largest resource for searchable GPS cemetery data, and is growing bigger and better every day.” Its volunteers take GPS-tagged pictures of headstones in cemeteries around the world and transcribe them for their free searchable database.

How you can help:

  • Image headstones: download the free app to your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play. Take images of headstones in cemeteries you visit, whether it’s your own ancestor’s burial place or a local graveyard.
  • Transcribe personal information found on gravestone images. You can transcribe the images you take or you can visit the site and transcribe images that someone else has uploaded. Click here to get started.
  • Upload additional source documentation to BillionGraves tombstone images, such as obituaries, cemetery records, and the like. You’ll make these virtual gravestone sites even more genealogically valuable! Click here to learn more.

Find A Grave has a slightly different model for collecting global gravestone data. Here you can create free memorial pages for ancestors, which “generally include birth, death, and burial information and may include pictures, biographies, family information, and more.” You can also upload your own headstone images and transcribe them (or someone else’s images), and you can even upload a spreadsheet of cemetery burials you may have already transcribed.

Who’s behind Find A Grave? It’s owned by subscription website Ancestry.com, but it’s a separate, free site powered by volunteers: “Thousands of contributors submit new listings, updates, corrections, photographs and virtual flowers every hour. The site simply wouldn’t exist without the million+ contributors.”

Find A Grave has recently updated its site to make it more secure, faster, easier to use, and accessible to new devices and other languages. More than 100 million graves from over half a million cemeteries worldwide are already searchable at the site. To get started, download the Find A Grave app at Google Play or the App Store, or just visit the website.

2. Transcribe old documents and maps.

Millions–even billions–of digital images of old documents contain genealogical clues, but those names, dates, and places need to be extracted from those image files before they become easily searchable. Transcribing that information is also known in genealogy circles as indexing (or creating indexes). Here are four places to contribute your indexing skills:

FamilySearch Indexing. Thousands of you have likely participated in this best-known volunteer record transcription project out there. (We blogged about it recently in honor of their worldwide weekend indexing event.) Their indexing platform recently became fully cloud-based, so you can index more easily on your computer or mobile device. Volunteers are especially needed right now who can read Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, and Dutch.

British Library Georeferencing Project. The British Library is recruiting volunteers to help geo-reference thousands of old maps that are already online. Geo-referencing, or geotagging, means assigning geographic reference points (longitude, latitude) to points on a map image. Doing this with old maps allows them to be linked to their modern-day locations, allowing us to compare the past and present (as Lisa teaches about in her free Google Earth video class). Over 8,000 maps have already been “placed” by participants (and subsequently checked for accuracy and approved by their panel of expert reviewers). The latest phase of the project includes 50,000 maps, mostly 19th-century maps from books published in Europe. The British Library says that “some places have changed significantly or disappeared completely,” increasing both the intriguing challenges for volunteers and the value to those who will benefit from their map sleuthing skills.

Ancestry World Archives Project. “The Ancestry World Archives Project is thousands of volunteers from around the world with a passion for genealogy and a desire to help others discover their roots,” says the project home page. “And all it takes is a computer, some basic software we provide and a little of your time.” Even though Ancestry.com itself is a subscription website, any records indexed through the Ancestry World Archives Project remain free to search on the site.

Here’s a screenshot of their current projects (click on it to visit the site):

National Archives Citizen Archivist Program. “A Citizen Archivist is a virtual volunteer that helps the U.S. National Archives increase the online access to their historical records,” reports Melissa Barker in a recent blog post. “This is done by crowdsourcing metadata about their records through tagging, transcribing, and adding comments to the U.S. National Archives catalog.”  Click here to read the full article and get started.

3. Reunite heirlooms with long-lost relatives.

Probably millions of “lost” family items are out there: in flea markets, second-hand shops, online auction listings, perhaps even your own closets or attics. Genealogy Gems has reported many times in the past about genealogy heroes who claim these “orphaned heirlooms” just long enough to research and contact living relatives who would love to find them.

Whether it’s a family bible, an old marriage certificate in a dusty frame, a fading photo album, or a pile of old letters, each “orphaned heirloom” is unique–and so is the experience of tracking down its family and reuniting them. Here are several stories to inspire your next visit to eBay or a secondhand shop:

4. Solve “unclaimed persons” mysteries.

Unclaimed Persons Project“Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person,” writes Lacey Cooke, Genealogy Gems service manager, who has a forensic anthropology degree. “It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them.”

Lacey is the one who introduced us to the Unclaimed Persons project earlier this year. With Unclaimed Persons, an online community of volunteer researchers joins forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest. Click here to read more about that effort.

How will you pay it forward in genealogy?

Click on one of the opportunities above–or tell us about one you’ve tried–to give back to your genealogy community this season. This largely-invisible community is all around us and enriches all our efforts, from late-night research sessions by ourselves (in records indexed by volunteers!) to local societies who host classes that inspire us or who answer our obituary inquiries and Facebook posts about their locales. If you are already one of those volunteers, THANK YOU. You are a gem and we here at Genealogy Gems are grateful for you.

P.S. You can also “pay it forward” by sharing free content like this from our website with your genealogy friends and society members. Why not link to this post on social media or in an email and challenge those you know to do good in the genealogy world?

 

 

New Genealogy Records this Week Nov. 8, 2019

It’s another big week for genealogical records. Here’s the latest including two rare opportunities for free access to subscription military records.

new genealogy records military

Ancestry® Veteran’s Day 2019 Free Access To World’s Largest US Military Records Collection

From Ancestry: Ancestry® boasts the world’s largest US military records collection.  Find inspiring stories about heroic family members who served our country.  

  • The free access promotion ends November 17 at 11:59 PM EST.
  • Visit the collection here.
  • More than 260 million US military records
  • More than 60% of Ancestry U.S. subscribers who have a family tree have found at least one military record for an ancestor!
  • Find draft cards, enlistment records, soldier pension indexes and more
  • Our U.S. military records cover all 50 states and nearly 400 years of American history
  • View the full list of collections
  • Anyone can help honor our veterans: Capture WWII Veteran’s Stories

My search for Sidney Mansfield retrieved at least three records:

veterans records at ancestry

Search results for Sidney F Mansfield of Minnesota

While I had found some of these before, this records from the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 collection was a pleasant surprise, although reading it brings to light an unpleasant time for Sidney:

U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 Ancestry.com

Record of Sidney F. Mansfield

Findmypast Granted Free Access to International Records Ahead of Veterans day 2019

The free access promotion ended at 12 pm GMT on Monday, November 11th 

Findmypast includes more than 85 million military records covering the Armed Forces of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Researches can search for their ancestors in a variety of fascinating documents ranging from service records and pensions to medal rolls, POW records, casualty lists and more.

New Historical Records at MyHeritage

From the MyHeritage blog: “18.6 million new historical records have been added in October 2019 in seven new collections from all over the world, including:

  • Australia,
  • Spain,
  • the former Soviet Union,
  • Latvia,
  • the United States,
  • Germany,
  • and Denmark.”

Here are the full details of these new record collections:

Australia Death Notices, 1860–2019

“This collection of over 7 million records contains death notices, funeral notices, and obituaries from Australia from a variety of sources. The dates of these notices primarily range from 1900–2019, with a few entries from the previous 50 years.”

Spain, Bilbao Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1501–1900

“This collection of over 4.9 million records consists of baptism, marriage, and death records for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao in Spain. The majority of the records correspond to the historical region of Biscay, Spain within the Basque Country, with a small minority of records from Cantabria.

Baptismal records contain the following searchable information: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the child and parents, date, and location. For marriages: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the bride and groom, date, and location. For death records: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the deceased, date, and location. The parish is also listed in most records.”

Soviet Union, Soldier Memorials, 1915–1950

“The 4.5 million records in this collection provide details on soldiers from the Soviet Union who died or went missing during the wars in the early to mid-20th century.

Information listed on these records may include:

  • name
  • year of birth
  • place of birth
  • rank
  • date of retirement
  • place of retirement

These records might also include place of service, cause of death, and hospitalizations. Most of the information in this collection is in Russian. MyHeritage provides the ability to search this collection in one language and receive results in another using its unique Global Name Translation™ technology. The technology automatically translates given names and surnames into the language of the query. For example, a search for Alessandro (Alexander in Italian) will also find “Саша,” the Russian form of Sasha — a popular nickname for Alexander — with its corresponding translation into the language of your search.”

Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index, 1918–1940

“In the city of Riga during the interwar period, every person over the age of 15 was supposed to have an internal passport as proof of identity. This database of 890,811 records includes residents of Riga and may include the surname, given name, father’s name, date of birth, place of birth, and place of origin of the passport holder. This collection is completely free to search, view, and add to your family tree.

Many of the internal passport files contain all addresses the person lived at during the passport’s validity, including those outside of Riga.

Whenever the passport’s validity expired, the passport was to be returned to the government. It is not known how many actually returned their passport to the government, so this collection is not a complete representation of all people who lived in Riga during this period of time.”

United States Index of Gravestones, 1900–2018

“This collection includes 601,986 records from more than 25 cemeteries located in the United States.

The records include headstone inscriptions and burial records. In these records you may find information such as:

  • deceased’s name
  • date of birth
  • date of death
  • date of burial
  • place of burial

Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women.

Records from cemeteries in the following states can be found in this collection:

  • California,
  • Connecticut,
  • Washington D.C.,
  • Georgia,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Michigan,
  • Ohio,
  • Oregon,
  • Rhode Island,
  • and South Dakota.”

Germany, Emigrants from Southwestern Germany, 1736–1963

“This collection of 285,158 records is an index of emigrants leaving Southwestern Germany largely between 1736 and 1963. Records may contain the following searchable information: first and last name, birth date, date and county of emigration, and first and last name of a relative.

The following information may also be viewable:

  • title
  • alternate name
  • former residence
  • district
  • address
  • marital status
  • religion
  • occupation
  • birth name
  • destination
  • additional information on the family of the individual.

Emigration from Germany occurred in a number of waves, triggered by current events such as the July Revolution of 1830, the 1848 March Revolution, the foundation of the German Reich in the 1870s, World War I, and other significant events. The majority of the records from this collection are from the mid 1750s to the early 1900s.”

Denmark, Copenhagen Burials, 1860–1912

“This collection of 255,733 records is an index to burial records from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Records typically list:

  • the name of the deceased
  • death date
  • burial place.

In some cases, the deceased’s age, occupation, and cause of death may also be listed.

Burials usually took place with a few days of death. Burials in Denmark were recorded in the records of the parish where the burial occurred. Original burial records have been digitized and made searchable by the Copenhagen City Archives.”

danish records at myheritage

Sample: Thorvald Nikolaj Thiele Died: Sep 26 1910 Danish astronomer and director of the Copenhagen Observatory. He was also an actuary and mathematician.

 

Enjoy searching all of these new collections that are now available on MyHeritage SuperSearch™. Searching these records is always free, and you can also view and save records to your family tree from the Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index for free. To access Record Matches or to view or save records from the other collections, you’ll need a Data or Complete subscription

MyHeritage’s Record Matching technology will notify you automatically if any of these records mention a member of your family tree. You’ll then be able to review the record and decide if you’d like to add the new information to your tree. Learn more about Record Matches on MyHeritage Education.

New Digitized Collections at the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress: “Researchers and students have gained access to seven newly digitized collections of manuscript materials from the Library of Congress, including records of one of the most important women’s suffrage organizations, the papers of President Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and collections on the history of federal monetary policy. The availability of these collections added more than 465,000 images to the Library’s already vast online resources.”

The new collections include: 

Women’s Suffrage:
The records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association:
records from one of the most important national women’s suffrage organizations in the U.S. The collection includes more than 26,000 items, most of which were digitized from 73 microfilm reels.

Library of Congress Women's Suffrage digital collection

Women’s Suffrage Records

Civil War: 
The papers of the presidential secretary and biographer John G. Nicolay (1832–1901) consist of 5,500 items scanned from original materials. Spanning the years 1811 to 1943, the collection particularly reflects Nicolay’s tenure as private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln.

From the same era, the papers of Confederate general Jubal Anderson Early were also released online.

Jubal Anderson Early Papers at the Library of Congress

Massachusetts Business:
Olmsted Associates Landscape Architectural Firm – The collection documents the work of the landscape architectural firm originally founded by Frederick Law Olmsted as it was continued by his sons in Massachusetts. It includes nearly 150,000 items scanned from 532 reels of microfilm.

Federal Monetary Policy: 
Three newly released collections relate to federal monetary policy:

Read the entire announcement at the Library of Congress.

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 210

with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode:

  • You’ve heard of “burned counties,” a phrase used to describe places where courthouse fires or other disasters have destroyed key genealogy records? In this episode, a listener presents the problem of her burned city?Chicago.
  • Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares some of the latest buzz about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history?and some opinions about them
  • News from the Genealogy Gems Book Club
  • Get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury
  • The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shines the spotlight on archival collections that haven’t even been processed yet (and suggestions for getting to them)
  • Five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on researching your family in the 1940s and preparing for its release

MAILBOX: GEMS FOR YOU AND YOUR SOCIETY

 

   

Gail mentioned the free step-by-step Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Great news! Your genealogy society or group may reprint articles from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems blog! Click here to learn more.

MAILBOX: GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

    

Shannon by Frank Delaney and Ireland by Frank Delaney
(Thank you for supporting the free podcast by using our links to get your copies of these books.)

Book Club Guru Sunny Morton recommends the novels of Frank Delaney, beginning with Shannon (and now she’s reading Ireland). Frank is a master storyteller, and family history themes wind throughout his stories. Tip: he narrates his audiobooks himself. They are well worth listening to! But they’re so beautifully written Sunny is buying them in print, too.

 

MAILBOX: THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE

   

Resource: Newspapers.com
“Burned county” research tips
Sam Fink’s list (an index of Cook County marriages and deaths)

Recommended:

Rootsmagic

Visit www.RootsMagic.com

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

 

ARCHIVE LADY: UNPROCESSED RECORDS

As an archivist, working in an archive every day, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the genealogical and historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Archives receive donations of documents, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts almost on a daily basis.

Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.

 

 

Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.

Many times record collections haven’t even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn’t allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help you decide if a particular collection will be of help to you and your genealogy research.

The answer to your genealogical question could be sitting in a box of unprocessed records. I like to always encourage genealogists to put “unprocessed records” on their to-do list. As genealogists, we should leave no stone or box of records, unturned.

DNA WITH DIAHAN: MORE DNA HEALTH REPORTS

Recently, Family Tree DNA offered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.

How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder test with Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”

At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard:

There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:

Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports:  Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”

Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”

Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”

And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”

This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these. Click here to read about their health reports, and click here and here to read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)

Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.

Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.

When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.

Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report?based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report?that includes some nutritional factors. (I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports. Click here to read it!) Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.

GEM: COUNTDOWN TO THE 1950 CENSUS: 5 TIPS

Get a copy of a census record for yourself or a relative (1950-2010). This costs $65 per person, per census year. In addition to genealogy uses, census records are legally-recognized documents to prove your identity, citizenship or age if you’re applying for a passport and you’ve lost your birth certificate or other situations like that. Order it through the Age Search Service” offered through the US Census Bureau.

Video tutorial: How to obtain a copy of your census record

Find your family in all possible records before and during WWII

5 places to find city directories:

Find your family in all possible records AFTER the war

  • City directories, yearbooks, deeds, divorce records (the divorce rate went up after WWII)
  • Post-WWII draft registrations: Click here to order copies of draft registration records for men born 1897-1957. Requires full name of applicant, address at time of registration (tip: get it from a city directory).

Help create location tools for the 1950 US Census

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

Google your family’s history during the 1940s and 1950s

Follow-up your discoveries with Google and YouTube search questions. Example: You find your grandmother working as a telephone operator in the 1940s in a city directory. What would her job have been like? Search YouTube:

YouTube videos on 1940s telephone operators

1950 US Census Questions

Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 53 1950 Census Questions

LEGACY TREE TIP: START YOUR SWEDISH GENEALOGY

     

Click here to read Paul Woodbury’s tips on the Genealogy Gems website.

PROFILE AMERICA: THE OPEN ROAD

Gasoline Rationing

“The busiest spot on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Library of Congress photograph; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see full citation.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a lightning-quick tech tip from Lisa Louise Cooke on how to undo that last browser you just closed and didn’t mean to! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

FREE NEWSLETTER:

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Resources

Download this episode

Download the show notes

5 Reason You MUST Look at Original Records

Show Notes: When you find family history information online you MUST make every effort to find the original genealogy record so that your family tree will be accurate! There are 5 reasons to find original records. I’ll explain what they are, and what to look for so that you get the most information possible for your family tree.

If you’re a genealogy beginner, this video will help you avoid a lot of problems. And if you’re an advanced genealogist, now is the time to fix things. 

Watch the Video

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

#1 Many online records are simply way too vague.

Records come in many forms. Many genealogy websites consider that each name that appears on a document is a “record” when they’re counting records. So, when you hear that 10 million records have been added to a website, it doesn’t necessarily mean that 10 million genealogical documents have been added. It oftentimes means that that’s the number of names that they’ve added.

One document could have a lot of names. In the case of a death certificate, it could have the name of the deceased, the name of the spouse, the name of the informant, and the names of the parents. Each one of those gets counted as a record.

Recently, MyHeritage announced they’ve added 78 million new records to their website. However, many of these records are simply transcriptions, they’re extracting the information from whatever the original source was. That information becomes searchable, and that’s terrific because they are great clues. So, sometimes when you go and look at the records themselves, it turns out that record really is just a transcription. There is no digital record to look at.

Sometimes the website doesn’t even tell you what the original record was. There will be clues, though. You can use those clues and run a search on those words. So, if it talks about a particular location, or type of record, or the name of the record, you could start searching online and find out where are those original records are actually held. Sometimes they are on another genealogy website. But a lot of times, and I’ve seen this more recently, they are publicly available records, oftentimes from governmental agencies. Very recently, we’ve been seeing more recent records that are just selected text. They may be records for people who just passed away a year or two ago.

There are a wide range of places where these types of records can come from. But if that genealogy website got its hands on the record, chances are you could too. And it’s really important to do that.

#2 What’s important to you might not have been prioritized for indexing.

The indexer is a person, or perhaps even an artificial intelligence machine, who has gone through the documents and extracted information and provided it in text form. Sometimes when you search on a genealogy website, all you’re getting is just that typed text, that transcription, of some of the key data from the original document.

I’ll tell you about one example in my family. I was looking at a 2x great grandmother back in Germany. Her name was Louise Leckzyk. She’s listed as Louise Nikolowski in the Ancestry record hint. Technically, that’s true, she was Louise Nikolowski at the time of the birth of her child. But if you pull up the original record, what you discover is she’s not listed as Louise Nikolowski on the record. She’s listed with her maiden name, which was usually the case in those old German church records. So that’s huge. We’ve talked about how challenging it can be to find maiden names here on the Genealogy Gems channel. So, we don’t want to miss any opportunity to get one. But if we had taken this record hint at face value, and just extracted that information, put it in our database, or attached it to our online family tree, and never looked at the original document, we would have completely missed her maiden name. And that maiden name is the key to finding the next generation, her parents.

#3 Not all information on a record is indexed.

It’s very common for large portions of information on a document not to be indexed. Here’s the reason for that: Indexing costs money. When a genealogy company takes a look at a new record collection they have some hard decisions to make. They have to decide which fields of information will be included in the indexing. Oftentimes, there will be several columns, as in a church record or a census record. The 1950 census was an example of this. There’s so much data that the company has to look at that and say, what do we think would be of the most value to our users? They then index those fields. They’ve got to pay to not only have them indexed, but potentially also reviewed human eyes, or AI. That all costs money.

So, there will inevitably be information that gets left off the index. That means that when you search the website you’re going to see the record result, and it can give you the impression that that is the complete record. But very often, it’s not the complete record. Tracking down and taking a look at the original digital scan of the record is the only way to know.

It’s possible that the records have not been digitally scanned. In the case of public government records, that information may have been typed into a database, not extracted from a digital image. There may not be a digital scanned image. It may be very possible that the only original is sitting in a courthouse or church basement somewhere. It’s also possible that the digital images are only available on a subscription website that you don’t subscribe to.

We need to do our best to try to track down the original document and take a look at it to see if there’s anything else that’s of value to us in our research that the indexers or the company just didn’t pick up on or didn’t spend the money to index.

#4 Different websites potentially have different digital scans of the same record.

Websites sometimes collaborate on acquiring and indexing records. In those cases, they might be working with the same digital images. But oftentimes, they create their own digital scans. That means that a record may be darker or lighter, or sharper or blurrier from one website to the next. So while you found the record on one website, another might have a copy that’s much easier to read.

Digital scanning has also come a long way over the years. Many genealogy sites now are looking at some of the earlier scans they did. They’re realizing that some are pretty low quality by today’s standards. They might determine that it’s worth going back and rescanning the record collection. This happened with some of the earliest census records that were digitized many years ago. It makes a lot of sense, because a lot of time has passed, and technology has certainly changed.

So even though you found information many years ago, it might be worth taking a second look if you have any questions about what’s on that document. You may find that that record is actually a newly digitized image on the same website, or you might find that it’s also available somewhere else.

A lot of the partnerships out there are with FamilySearch which is free. So, while you may have a paid subscription to a site like Ancestry or MyHeritage, if there’s anything that you’re questionable on, or you didn’t actually see the original document from one of those paid websites, head to FamilySearch.org. Run a search and see if they happen to have the digitized images. There’s a good chance they might, and it’s worth taking a look.

Sometimes the genealogy website will have tools that allow you to get a better look at the digitized document. Ancestry is a great example of this. On the digitized image page click the tool icon to open the Tools menu. One of my favorite tools is “Invert colors”. Click that button, and it will turn it into a negative image. Sometimes this allows words to pop out in a way that they were not as clearly visible in the normal view.

I downloaded a digital scan from a website several years ago, and it was hard to decipher. I did some searching and was able to find  a clearer copy on another website.

#5 You can verify that the words were indexed accurately.

Reviewing a scan of the entire document provides you with a lot of examples of the handwriting of the person who made the entry. If you have any doubt about words or spelling, making comparisons with other entries can be extremely helpful.

When I first looked at a baptismal record of my 2x great grandmother’s son, I thought her surname was Lekcyzk. However, after seeing a different digital scan, I started to question that. Having the original record allows me to review the handwriting of the person who wrote these records. Comparing the handwriting of other entries on the page helped me determine that the swish at the top is the dotting of an eye that just had a bit more flourish. I also reconfirmed that the Z in the name is definitely a Z by comparing it to other Zs on the page.  

Bonus Reason: You may have missed the second page.

Some records have more than one page, and it’s easy to miss them. If the indexer took information primarily off of the first page, it may not be obvious when you look at that page, that in fact, it’s a two-page (or more) document. More pages potentially means more valuable information!

It’s also possible that if you downloaded a document years ago when you first started doing genealogy, you might have missed the additional pages. Now that you’re a more experienced researcher, it would be worth going back and looking at particular types of records that are prone to having second pages. Examples of this are:

  • census records,
  • passenger list,
  • passport records,
  • criminal records,
  • and probate records.

If you have single page records that fall in one of these categories saved to your computer, you might want to go back and do another search for them and check the images that come before and after that page to see if there are more gems to be found.

I hope I’ve convinced you to always make the effort to obtain and review original records for the information that you find while doing genealogy research online.

I’ll bet there’s even more reasons to do this, so I’m counting on you. Please leave a comment and let me know what you’ve found following these 5 reasons, and any additional reasons that you have.

Resources

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