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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1
Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast. In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.
What’s at the library?
Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:
Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
Unique library expertise
TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.
TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.
How to prepare for your visit
Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases) Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.
Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want
Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search. It’s pretty useless.
4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia
Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:
Is the website up to date?
Reconfirm hours of operation
What’s the best time to come for more service?
Is wi-fi available?
Do you need change for copy machines?
Are there any special collections you should know about?
Do they offer orientations?
Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.
Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.
Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)
Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.
As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.
County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.
But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:
I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?
Birth Records in the 1800s
The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. 
Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)
West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level
Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.
There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.
Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries
I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!
1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier
As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.
Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)
Tara is most famous as the author of Tea & Cookies, recognized as one of the top 50 food blogs in the world. Orchard House is her recently-published memoir. Tara’s recipe for Orchard House is one part food, one part gardening and two parts family drama, liberally seasoned with humor and introspection. The “book jacket” summary from the publishers describes it this way:
“Peeling paint, stained floors, vine-covered windows, a neglected and wild garden—Tara can’t get the Seattle real estate listing out of her head. Any sane person would see the abandoned property for what it was: a ramshackle half-acre filled with dead grass, blackberry vines, and trouble. But Tara sees potential and promise—not only for the edible bounty the garden could yield for her family, but for the personal renewal she and her mother might reap along the way.
So begins Orchard House, a story of rehabilitation and cultivation—of land and soul. Through bleak winters, springs that sputter with rain and cold, golden days of summer, and autumns full of apples, pears, and pumpkins, this evocative memoir recounts the Weavers’ trials and triumphs, what grew and what didn’t, the obstacles overcome and the lessons learned. Inexorably, as mother and daughter tend this wild patch and the fruits of their labor begin to flourish, green shoots of hope emerge from the darkness of their past.
For anyone who has ever planted something they wished would survive—or tried to mend something that seemed forever broken—Orchard House is a tale of healing and growth, set in the most unlikely place.”
A note of thanks from Lisa for purchasing the book, if you so choose, through the links provided. Each purchase helps support the free Genealogy Gems podcast.
BOOK CLUB EVENTS COMING SOON!
RootsTech Book Club Open House: Thurs, Feb 4, 10am-11am at the Genealogy Gems booth #1230 in the Exhibitor Hall. Stop by and chat about books or family history or both! Free bookmarks, display copies of featured titles a win chance to win a great Book Club prize just for suggesting a book.
FEBRUARY: Catch a sneak preview of Orchard House (and a couple more book suggestions to whet your literary appetite) in the Genealogy Gems podcast.
MARCH: We’ll play an excerpt from an exclusive interview with Tara Austen Weaver in the free Genealogy Gems podcast. Genealogy Gems Premium website members will be able to listen to the full interview in March’s Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.
Love the Genealogy Gems Book Club idea?Click here to check out all the titles we’ve recommended in the past.
These days, genealogists can take all their research “to-go” on their iPad or tablet. Here are some of my favorite genealogy gift ideas that harness the power of portable computing and a Black Friday / Cyber Monday Special you won’t want to miss!
If you aren’t already using an iPad or tablet for genealogy, consider what it can do for you:
keep your family tree and all your sources at your fingertips with tools like the Ancestry and RootsMagic apps;
all kinds of imaging: document and photo scanning, microfilm imaging (right from the reader!) and a built-in regular and video camera for shots of relatives, tombstones, family artifacts and heritage sites;
share cool finds on the spot–when great-grandpa comes up in conversation you can pull up his picture on the gorgeous tablet display;
collaborate with other researchers with great free tools like online file sharing services such as Dropbox.com, and free video calls with Skype; etc.
keep track of travel details, to-do lists and other needs (genealogy or not!) and MORE.
Now here are my gift picks, starting with the obvious: the iPad itself. To shop these items, please click on the links below so your purchases will help support the Genealogy Gems podcast. Thank you!
iPad 4(with retina display, MD510LL/A, 16GB with Wifi, black). 5 MP forward- and rear-facing camera, a just-right-sized screen with gorgeous resolution, an HD video camera, plenty of storage for a portable device (with cloud storage, too, of course) and more. All this weighs in at less than 1.5 pounds, so it tucks easily in your messenger bag, backpack, purse, briefcase or even your laptop case. Click to get:Apple iPad with Retina Display MD510LL/A (16GB, Wi-Fi,) at a special discounted price.
The speaker on the iPad is fairly small and sometimes you just need to pump up the volume. Here’s the perfect, simple solution: SoundBender 2.0 Easy-Fit Magnetic Sound Enhancer (for iPad 2, 3 and 4). This wireless sound amplifier is really cool and works great! I originally saw it on the TV show Shark Tank and bought one immediately. It magnetically secures to the side of your iPad and bends sound toward you for your music, videos, games, Facetime and of course your Genealogy Gems podcast episodes! Click to get: SoundBender 2.0 Easy-Fit Magnetic Sound Enhancer for iPad 2 & iPad 3 & iPad 4
iPad Car Headrest/Mount/Holder (for iPad 1, 2, 3 and 4). My Grandsons LOVE this! Extra-long cable included. Turns your iPad into a backseat entertainment system. Perfect for watching movies, looking at pictures, playing games and more. Makes it more fun for non-researchers (adults and children!) to be along for the ride on those genealogy road trips and solves the problem of “who gets to play with the iPad.” Straps onto the headrest of the seat in front; extra-long cable extends 6.5 feet. Doesn’t require tools. Click to get:Ipad Car Headrest Mount Holder for Apple Ipads 1-4 Including Extra Long Cable
iPad Dashboard Car Mount. Use the vacuum base to safely secure your tablet onto the windshield. No messy adhesives! Makes it easier to consult online maps, recipes, weather apps and of course all those genealogy apps when you need to be hands-free. Use it to listen to the Genealogy Gems podcast while you work out, clean, sort files, cook and more! (Just don’t watch it while you’re driving!) Rotatable stand moves 180-degrees for comfortable positioning, Rotating ball joint ensures a perfectly angled display Click to get: SQdeal Universal Dashboard Car Mount Holder Cradle For Apple iPads 1 – 4 /iPad Mini
Learn how to get the most out of your iPad with my book, Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse. Learn how to think like an iPad/tablet user (it’s different than desktop computing). Discover everyday apps to help you with household, travel, business and other tasks. And of course, learn the myriad of ways you can harness the power of mobile computing for your genealogy. (Like all those ways mentioned above – imaging and document scanning and MORE.)
Between Black Friday (11/29/2013) and Cyber Monday (12/2/2013), you can purchase this book along with ALL my other books in special 40% 0ff bundles:
$29.95 for the e-book bundle $49.95 for the print bundle
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
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 8: Best Genealogy Websites, Part 2
In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success.
In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Now for some updates on these sites and MORE since the show first aired:
FamilySearch.org is still free and growing exponentially. It captures records from all over the world, not just North America and the U.K. It is now home to over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, with over 35 million new records added every month. In addition, they’ve added over 60,000 digital books to the site. The layout of the website has changed dramatically since I described it in the original show. Click on Search to get to their databases, then enter an ancestor’s name and, if you can, a life event (birth, marriage, residence or death). A significant portion of new online records are browsable but not yet indexed. So now, after you search for individuals in their databases, scroll down to the Browse section below the search fields. There you’ll be able to see what records you can browse for a locale (choose the international region, then you can choose more specific locations). You can still order microfilmed records at the Family History Library to a satellite FamilySearch library near you. From the Search screen, choose Catalog, and you can search for and order available records by location.
The National Archives (U.S.), also known as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) also offers more on its website now. The portal for genealogists looks a little different now but still helps you see how to search and use the site for genealogy. There’s a direct link to the 1940 census, with images, maps and descriptions. Remember that Footnote, the subscription site I mentioned that’s digitizing military records, is now Fold3, which we talked about in Episode 7.
EllisIsland.org still offers free access to the passenger records of those who landed at Ellis Island. In addition, you can still look at ship information (click on Ships from the home page). The Immigrant Experience and timeline I mention can be found by clicking on the Ellis Island tab.
The National Archives (U.K.) links from the home page to resources for ordering birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Read about updating order information, including costs, at these sites. There is still a portal for genealogists from which you can learn all about the various record groups I mention in the podcast and more.
Library and Archives Canada continues to add more valuable genealogical data to its site, including census data! Start from its Genealogy and Family History page. In addition to the features I mention in the show, they’ve improved their online indexes: scroll down on the above page and you’ll find the Ancestors Search (Databases) link to a main search engine and individual databases for vital records, censuses, immigration, land, military and several directories.