Website Review & How To: Archives.com

VIDEO & SHOW NOTES: Learn how Archives.com can help you find your family history. We cover getting started, finding records, building your family tree and answer the question as to whether you should use it if you already use another genealogy website.

Why Use Archives.com?

If you’re new to genealogy, returning after taking a break, or just need a new place to search, Archives.com has a lot to offer. I’m going to show you how to get started with this affordable website packed with genealogical records.

The folks at Archives.com asked me to make a video sharing what I think about their website, so full disclosure, they are sponsoring this video. However, they have no clue what I’m going to say. For the past 17 years that I’ve been podcasting and just shy of that I’ve been publishing videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I’ve always given you my honest opinion and shared my best strategies. So let’s get started and do that right now as I answer some of the most common questions about Archives.com.

What Makes Archives.com Unique?

Like many other genealogy websites, it has billions of genealogy records. However, the subscription is a fraction of the cost of other big name websites. That makes it ideal for beginners, or if you just need a new place to dig for records in addition to your other subscriptions. Start with a free 7-day trial to find out what Archives can do for your genealogy research. 

archives.com

What Does Archives.com Offer?

The main focus of the website is searching for genealogical records. And they have billions of the most popular.

Archive.com is owned by Ancestry, and according to the folks at Archives there is some overlap, just like there would be with other genealogy records sites. But Archives does include records you won’t find on Ancestry, and there are records on Ancestry that are not on Archives. Since Archives is much less expensive, it’s worth a look.

What Record Collections are Included?

The easiest way to find out if Archives.com has the record collections you want is to go to the Collections page at https://www.archives.com/collections or click Collections in the menu.

They currently have 650 record collections that include billions of individual records. 

Use the filters on the Collections page to browse by Keywords, Record Type or Country. Click the down arrow on the Record Type filter to get a quick overview of the types of records the site focuses on.

In addition to some of the traditional types of records like birth, marriage, death, census and immigration, you’ll find some special collections such as Memory Pages, Surname Histories, and City Directories.

If you’re trying to find ancestors in the “old country”, check the Countries filter list before you start searching. No point in looking for records for a country that they don’t have.

How to Search for Records at Archives.com

In genealogy, we start with ourselves and work backwards. Your grandparents are a great place to start searching. When searching for records, I recommend that you start with a particular ancestor in mind and fill in as many details as you can about them before you move further back in your family tree.

There are three different ways to start searching:

  1. Use the search fields at the top of the home page.
  2. Click the Advanced Search link to go to a more robust search page.
  3. Or click SEARCH in the menu which also takes you to the Advanced Search page.

I recommend going straight to the Advanced Search page. This way you can cut out the results that don’t match and zero in on the time frame and also the type of records you want to find.

In searching for genealogy records it’s important to balance searching narrowly enough to get to what you want while searching broadly enough not to miss something.

When searching for less common names, try just searching on the name without clicking the Exact match box. This will keep your results fairly broad and provide an opportunity to see how many and what kind of results you get. By not narrowing the scope of the search, you’re less likely to miss a record that has a slight name deviation.

Take a moment to quickly scroll down and see how many are close matches. Chances are it’s just a fraction of the total results. In my case, there were only about 9 close results out of over 40,000. 

If the name you are searching is fairly common, then adding a location and life events with dates can help differentiate people and results.

A Beginner’s Basic Guide 

Archives Record filters are in the general order that you need for genealogy:

  1. Gather Death, Marriage and Birth records first.
  2. Fill in with Census Records throughout your ancestors’ lifetime.
  3. Military Service and Immigration Records are also really important milestones to find.
  4. Fill in even more like City and Telephone Directories which were often published yearly.
  5. Check out Family Trees that might include your ancestor, and Media records that can further fill in their story.

Can You Build a Family Tree?

Yes! Archives.com includes a family tree builder users can attach their records to and a discovery engine that helps users find new records about their ancestors. Start with your parents or grandparents.

You can search other people’s family trees from the Advanced Search page. You can also create your own tree. Archive’s provides a nice, simple user interface to build out a family tree online.

I just want to say that in my opinion, the very best place to build your family tree is in genealogy database software that you use on your own computer. That way you always have control of it no matter how long you have a subscription to any website. But if you’re just getting started, this is a great way to get your feet wet

If you’ve already created your tree on your own computer, then you can export it as a GEDCOM. That is the universal file type for genealogy family trees specifically. You can then upload that file to Archives.com and work with it from there.

My online family trees are not what I call my ‘master family tree’. That is on my computer. So why do I create an online tree? The reason is simple. It’s a great way to generate Discoveries and connections. I use it to generate clues and record hints.

Archives.com makes it easy to create a family tree. Start with yourself, add your parents, and what you know about your grandparents, and you are off to the races! Or, as I mentioned before, you can upload an existing GEDCOM file.

Learn more about GEDCOMS with this video: All About GEDCOMS.

As soon as you set up your tree on Archives and start looking at records, you will start generating Discoveries automatically. It’s a way to speed up the research process and make genealogy easier than it’s ever been before.

Resources:

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4 Steps for Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!family history google earth tour

It can be very surprising to discover that you lived somewhere that you never knew you lived. That was the case for Professional genealogist Alvie Davidson, who recently wrote to me. He’d done some fantastic sleuthing on his own recent family history, and discovered that his family had lived in Huntsville, Alabama when he was a toddler. “This is the first I have even known they lived in Madison County, AL.” But he was not sure about how to use Google Earth to help him locate the family addresses he’d discovered.

“I have learned from the U S Government that my parents lived at (three) different addresses in Huntsville, Madison County, AL when I was a toddler in 1944….I never knew we lived in Huntsville but I learned my mother worked for munitions productions during World War II at Redstone Arsenal. She worked several months toward the end of 1944 and had to quit due to onset of pregnancy. We moved to Florida shortly after she left employment at Redstone Arsenal because we show up on the 1945 Florida State Census.”

Alvie sent me three family addresses. Then he asked for some step-by-step help instructions on how to put Google Earth to work to identify their location today.

4 Steps to Revealing More with Google Earth

1. Search each address in Google Earth. Enter the address in the search box in the upper left corner of Google Earth. If you get a hit, mark it with a placemark (clicking the button that looks like a push pin in Google Earth’s toolbar) and name it. In this case I found two of the three street addresses.

2. Locate a map of the area for the appropriate time period. With a little Google searching, I found the 1940 census enumeration map for Huntsville at the National Archives website. Here’s what that map looks like. (Image right) I then went in search of each of the three addresses on the map.

In this case, I conducted a block-by-block search of the 1940 enumeration district map for the missing address: 110 Winston Street. Unfortunately, not all the street names were clearly legible on this particular map, and I was unable to locate it.

You can learn more about locating enumeration district maps in my article How to Find Enumeration District Maps.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: log in and watch my Premium video 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps featuring instruction for locating and using enumeration district maps.

3. Overlay and georeference the enumeration district map in Google Earth to compare the past to the present. Georeference just means to match up known landmarks on the historic map with physical locations on the modern-day map, thereby allowing you to match the two maps up together. By so doing, I was able to locate on the enumeration district map the modern-day locations of the two addresses that I found using Google Earth.

georeference historic map overlay in Google Earth

There are businesses in both locations today. Below right is a screen shot showing the current location of one of those addresses. Clearly no longer the old family home.Alvie Google Earth for genealogy problem

4. Dig deeper for addresses that have changed. As I mentioned previously, I searched for the 110 Winston Street address in Google Earth with no result. If that happens to you, remove the house number and run a second search on the street name alone. Numbers can change, but it is important to verify whether the street still exists today.

In this case, Google Earth did not locate a Winston Street in Huntsville, AL. Knowing that errors and typos can happen to the best of us, I ran a quick Google search for Huntsville, AL city directories, and verified that indeed Winston Street did exist at that time in history. So, at some point between 1940 and today, the name appears to have been changed.

I headed back to Google and ran the following search query:

“winston street” “huntsville alabama”

The quotation marks tell Google that each exact phrase must appear in all search results. The phrases will appear in bold in the snippet descriptions of each result.

google search

The result above caught my eye because it mentions the “Winston Street Branch Library.” Even when street names change, buildings named for those streets often don’t. However, in this case, the website discusses the history of the library, and the Winston Street Elementary School.  According to the website, the library “became a part of the Huntsville Public Library (now Huntsville-Madison County Public Library) in 1943. In 1947, the branch was renamed the Dulcina DeBerry Library.” Perhaps the street was renamed at that time as well.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Sign in and watch the Ultimate Google Search Strategies video class to learn more.

Jumping back into Google Earth I entered “Winston Street Branch Library” in the search box, and was immediately taken to the location, which is just south of the other two known addresses! At this point I would recommend to Alvie, who is a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, to watch my video class Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps to track down additional maps from the time frame that may have Winston Street clearly marked on the map.

Once I identified this landmark, I then marked the location with a placemark. You can turn off the 1940 enumeration district map overlay by unchecking the box next to it in the Places Panel. Doing this revealed the location on the modern day map. Finally, I headed to the Layers panel and clicked the box next to the “Roads” overlay to reveal the modern day street names.

street names

You can use this technique when you have more success than I did in finding an old address on an old map. Overlay the map, position a placemark on the location, and then turn the overlay off. With one click of the Roads layer you can now see the current street name for the old location you found on the map overlay.

Further digging online did deliver additional maps from the era and area:

google earth for genealogy

 

We all have locations in our family history that have given way over time to new buildings and parking lots. By using the power of Google Earth, Google search, and historic maps, they don’t have to be lost forever.

Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy

Learn all these Google skills–with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations–in Lisa’s book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!

FREE video: Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Bundle! The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition PLUS  learn how to create your own historical map overlays in my Google Earth for Genealogy 2-video CD set.

Use Google Earth to Plot Your DNA Matches

 

 

Google Books for Genealogy Success Story

Using Google Books for genealogy is a successful tool to many. A Gem’s reader shares the remarkable story she uncovered using the tips for using Google Books she learned from a recent Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.

From Genealogy Gems Premium member:

“Hi Lisa,

Premium 137I was just listening to the newest Premium podcast concerning filtering the lists on Google Books (Premium episode 137). I would like to relay my story for using your hints and tips on Google.

My great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. At the age of 48, he married my great-grandmother and my grandmother was born the next year. I found much to my dismay, that he committed suicide when my grandmother was a few weeks old. It was stated that he had what would be described today as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the burning of the court house where he worked as a county clerk set off something. My Dad was born on what would have been my great-grandfather’s 90th birthday.

I have known for about 30 years that my great-grandfather wrote articles under a pen name. My aunt told me she had been told he wrote articles about the scenery in southern Utah where he lived. I searched and searched and never found any of his articles. Then, I had a breakthrough. I found the pen name by using several tips you mentioned for using Google. The pen name was Lock Melone. It was spelled differently than I had been told.

It turns out, he was a very well-known humorist. One of his stories appears in a publication alongside an article by Mark Twain. (He wrote articles in the 1870s and 1880s.)

Now, back to your tips on Google. I was Googling, checking all the old newspapers I could find to collect his writings. One of the sources continually mentioned in Google Books was a literary magazine called The Californian.  These were not all free on Google, but I was not to be deterred after all these years! I used the basic information and time frames listed in Google Books and looked at WorldCat. That led me to e-books and to some of the holdings in universities around the country.

As of today, I have found 69 of his articles! They have made an ancestor who I thought had a rough life with a tragic end, a new person, full of life and laughter! I am sure his stories are based on events that occurred during his “real life” adventures. He lived life to the fullest, traveling a great deal, and saw the world through a light heart.

I am continuing to search for more articles and have begun to compile his writings to give to my children and cousins for a Christmas present this year (if I can figure out how to put it all together!) With my grandmother as his only child, I will have given his life to all his descendants, a very special chore on which I have worked on with great pleasure.

Thanks for the tips on Google and other sites you have given over the years.”

This Gems member is certainly on the right track in many ways. She figured out how to harness the power of Google to search for the proverbial needle in a haystack—not just her grandfather’s articles but articles written under a pseudonym! Good for her for using Google Books and WorldCat. That’s a great combination. You can learn more about using WorldCat for genealogy in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers and in the Premium video Getting the Scoop Part 2: Tech Tools for Newspapers.

Follow-up Ideas for Using Google Books for Genealogy

Here are a few follow-up suggestions reGoogle Books and Scholar for genealogy success lating to finding issues of a literary magazine or another scholarly publication like The Californian:

First, turn to another powerful free tool in the Google toolbox: Google Scholar. It takes Google Books to the next level and you may hit on some things that Google Books may miss. Refer back to Premium Podcast 136 for a discussion of Google Scholar for genealogy, and Chapter 11 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

Second, remember that sometimes serial publications change names, or two different ones may have the same name. Wikipedia’s not the most expert source, but its article on The Californian says something you can follow up on. The Californian was published from 1880 to 1882, as a continuation of the earlier Overland Monthly which had stopped in 1875, and then in 1882 it switched back to its old name. This means you should look for both titles.

A third idea may be to check e-bay for back issues of old magazines and journals. Sometimes, it’s cheaper and easier to buy them than to try to borrow them through inter-library loan. E-bay does happen to have a CD version for sale of The Californian issues from 1880 to 1882. I talk more about finding family history items on e-bay in the Premium Podcast episodes 16, 76, and 131.

Lastly, don’t forget JSTOR. JSTOR is a shared digital library for scholarly journals and the like. It launched in 1995 to serve university and college libraries, running out of space to store old journal issues. Today, it includes over 2,300 journals and thousands of other materials. It’s even started including books. Over 50 million pages are digitized, with another 3 million being added every year.

The nice thing about JSTOR is that you don’t have to be affiliated with a major library to get access now. Individuals can register for free access allowing them to read some materials online. They offer free access to their Early Journal Content collection of scholarly content published before 1923 in the U.S. (and before 1870 in other parts of the world.) That collection alone has nearly a half million articles from over 200 journals.

Unfortunately in this case, JSTOR doesn’t have The Californian or Overland Monthly in its collections. But one can certainly use JSTOR to search for other journals. JSTOR is just a great resource for anyone to use when searching for historical articles, especially those you may come across in Google Scholar without the full article text.

Your Google Books for Genealogy Success Stories

It is so rewarding to hear your success stories in using Google Books for genealogy. Your stories inspire others. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Keep Reading: More Gems on Using Google Books for Genealogy Success

Free Video: Google Books Image Search for Genealogy and Family History

Google Scholar for Genealogy? Here’s Why to Try It

Solutions for Broken Website Links

Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.

Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you. 

broken genealogy website links solutions

I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:

“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.

Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”

That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.

How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared

I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!

Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!

The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!

Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:

1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites

1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.

wayback-machine-result

You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.

One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.

This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages. 

save this page Wayback Machine

To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.

The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.

2. Google Your Question

You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it! And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google. 

If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided. 

Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.   

Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:

  • When did world vital records close?
  • Sunset notice for World Vital Records  
  • Who acquired World Vital Records?

world vital records search

As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details. 

When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.

Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.

3. Google the Content 

As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.

Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.

Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.

Here’s an example of how this works:

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)

Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.

Obvious, But Not Always 

While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.

Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.

This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?

Lisa Louise CookeAbout the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and columnist for Family Tree Magazine.

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