Episode 206 – Publishing Family History Books

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 206

blast from the past podcast episode

with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this Blast from the Past episode:

  • Lisa reprises a favorite research detour into vehicle forensics to identify an old family car and shares tips for creating short family history books like those she given as holiday gifts to loved ones.
  • Hear letters from listeners on a special adoption discovery and a 1940 census mystery that now makes more sense.
  • Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with 4 reasons to take a DNA test if you haven’t taken the plunge yet.
  • Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton spotlights the current Genealogy Gems Book Club title, Murder in Matera.
  • The vehicle forensics and family book segments originally appeared in Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 18 and 13, respectively, and are being republished here for web audiences.

MAILBOX: RICHARD ON THE 1940 CENSUS

1940 census tip: Listen in Genealogy Gems Episode 201 or read it on the Genealogy Gems blog.

Evidentia software helps genealogists organize and analyze their research discoveries. Free 14-day trial available.

MAILBOX: ADOPTEE DISCOVERY

Read the article here.

Tips for using DNA to solve adoption mysteries, taken from a conversation between genetic genealogy experts Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard and CeCe Moore from DNA Detectives.

Join our conversations on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App

Get the app here.

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is an audio excursion with Lisa on an old railroad track up to a silver mine in the Colorado Rockies, an excursion she originally shared in Episode 18 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, not now available online, and is being republished here exclusively for your enjoyment. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

GEM: MAKING FAMILY HISTORY BOOKS

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 2 with a segment on transcribing diaries was republished as Genealogy Gems episode 134.

Qualities of a successful short family history book, from Lisa Louise Cooke

  1. The book conveys an overall theme.

Start by reviewing all the available material you have. That will give you a good sense of what the time period was like for your ancestor. You’ll also start to understand their goals, experiences, and emotions.  Ultimately a theme should begin to surface.

In the case of A Nurse In Training, I wanted to communicate my grandmother as a young woman taking on a new adventure away from home that ultimately led to this warm, caring woman’s successful career as a nurse. I also tucked a bonus subplot in there of how she just happened to meet her husband at the same time!

You don’t need every scrap of research and every photo to get this theme across. It’s your job to be a sharp editor and to pick out the critical pieces. You want the words and photographs that clearly communicate your theme to the reader.

#2. The book can be read in one sitting.

Like it or not, if it takes too long read, they probably won’t.  Strive to create a book that doesn’t look intimidating.  I create books that are ten to twenty double-sided pages.  People will be willing to pick up a thinner book off the coffee table.  If it’s well done they’ll find that all of a sudden they’ve finished the entire book without wanting to put it down.  The final goal is that they will walk away with a real sense of having gotten to know that ancestor.

#3. It contains the best of the best of what you have.

This goes back to conveying the theme and being a strict editor.  My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them.  I picked the best of the best.  Anyone who reads the book should hopefully come away with the fact that she had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself.  So keep the content of your book focused, full of graphics and photos, and including the best of the best.  If you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them for the entire book.

#4. There are lots of photos and graphics.

A picture is definitely worth a thousand words.  Since the number of words in this size book will be limited, photographs will be your best friend.  If you’re lacking in family photos, many of my previous podcasts will give you countless ideas for locating associated photos.  In A Nurse In Training, I included scanned images of skating rink tickets, programs and announcements from my grandma’s scrapbook, and journal pages in my grandmother’s own hand.  These types of items really add texture and interest to your book, as well as help the reader to see that you’ve really done your homework.

#5. Keep it in chronological order.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and start going back and forth in time.  Believe me, for the reader’s sake keep things in chronological order. You as the researcher know this information backward and forwards, but this is probably your reader’s first exposure to it.  Be gentle with them and keep it straight forward and simple.  Your reader will thank you.

#6. You choose only high-quality images and printing.

High-quality glossy pages, good image quality and a hardcover binding all shout to the reader “I’m worth your time, read me!”  For example, I found a drawing of Dameron Hospital where my grandmother worked, but it was a low-quality image and didn’t translate well in the book.  As much as I wanted to include it, I ended up leaving it out. I’m glad I did; it wasn’t critical to the book and there were other ways to communicate the hospital to the reader.

animoto how a genealogy society can grow membership

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.

 

MyHeritage is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

4 REASONS TO RSVP YOUR DNA INVITATION

with Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide

I used to think that economics was just a series of numbers and calculations that helped to gauge the future growth of companies and countries. In a word: boring. But that was before I discovered that you can study the economics of people and essentially use math to describe human behavior, and therefore in some ways make that behavior more predictable.

This is of course especially intriguing to my current situation as the parent of a teenager, a pre-teen, and a daughter. Teenagers especially are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcom Gladwell, one of these interesting people-economists, describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” For my kids it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything that is humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11 year old).

In DNA testing in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed. Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it! But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!

This got me thinking though, who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test are those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.” To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP to your invitation to DNA test.

  1. Record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history, and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.
  2. Second Cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.
  3. Verify. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart, to a story and a life worth preserving.
  4. Philanthropy. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.

So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy by journalist Helene Stapinski. A story of poverty and power, love, tragic decisions, and a courageous and desperate woman’s leap for a new life across the ocean.

Murder in Matera continues to unravel a past Helene explored in her fantastic first family history memoir, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History. Find a whole list of fabulous family history-inspired reading at the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Rootsmagic

Genealogy Software

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, too: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

 

Visit http://www.backblaze.com/lisa

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 http://www.backblaze.com/lisa.

GEM: VEHICULAR FORENSICS: Updated links, tips and resources

Here’s the original photo of my grandma next to her father’s car:

The original zoomed in image of the license plate:

The license plate with the “alternative light source” applied:

Since I first published this episode, iGoogle has gone away.

Websites for identifying old cars:

Hubcap Café.com: Collector Car Resources

Flickr group called Vintage Car Identification

From ItStillRuns.com: “Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”

Learn more about ArchiveGrid in Premium Podcast episode 149 (Genealogy Gems Premium subscription required) and in this blog post: How to find original manuscripts and documents using ArchiveGrid.

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke for Google searches and even YouTube:

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

Take a ride in a 1928 Willys Knight made in, owned in and driven in Toledo, Ohio”

Forensic Files channel on YouTube

More updated resources:

The Colorful History of California License Plates” in LA Magazine

TIP: Remember that you may be able to make great discoveries IN old photos with your photo editing software (even just with whatever free software is on your computer):

1. Open up the photo editing software

2. Open the photograph in question in the program

3. Use the trim feature to zoom in on the license plate?or whatever feature you want to focus on

4. Zoom in to make it easier to see

5. Try using both the Brightness and Contrast feature of your program in combination until you achieve a favorable result

6. Apply Auto Sharpen for further detail

Savvy tips to help identify old photos

Photo editing apps and software for family history

The Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor is your ultimate guide to identifying old objects in pictures to help you learn more about your family history.

Get the book here

 

PROFILE AMERICA: FIRST TRAFFIC LIGHT

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

PRODUCTION CREDITS

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

Resources

Download the episode

Download the show notes

Genealogy Problem Solving: Conflicting Birthdates

Show Notes: Learn how to resolve conflicting evidence in your ancestors’ birth dates.

resolving conflicting birthdate genealogical evidence

Lisa’s special guest is genealogist Lindsey Harner.

 

In this Article and Video:

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

5 Questions You Should Ask About Conflicting Birthdates

Birth Record Substitutes

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

Have you ever been frustrated by finding conflicting birth dates for your ancestor? The article called Birthday Wishes appears in the July/August 2020 issue of Family Tree Magazine tackles this challenge. The article’s author, professional genealogist Lindsay Harner is here to share five questions that you should ask yourself when you are comparing birth dates across a variety of genealogical records. These questions will help you get a little closer to the truth.

Resource: Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

Lisa: What are some of the possible reasons that we might come across birthdate discrepancies when we’re looking at a variety of different genealogical records?

(01:08) Lindsay: We’re talking about vital records, birth, marriage and death records.  I think birth records tend to be a little different sometimes, because marriage records would be recorded by churches and in civil records for many, many years and often reported in the local newspaper. Death dates are often carved on headstones. But with the birthdate, nobody can remember their own birth date, right? So, in the days before documentation, a lot of times people had to rely on what they were told by maybe a parent or a relative in terms of what their actual birth date was.

(01:58) Lisa: That’s a good point, it poses a very unique challenge.

5 Questions You Should Ask about Conflicting Birthdates

Let’s jump into your five questions, because I think they will help us find the truth. What is the first thing that we should ask ourselves when we’re seeing a discrepancy?

Question #1: When was the birthdate record created?

(02:16) Lindsay: The first question you should ask yourself is, when was the record created?

Records tend to be more reliable the closer they were created to the actual event. People tend to remember events better when they’re fresher in their minds. We tend to remember things better that happened last week than, say, 10 years ago.

Question #2: Who was the source of the birthdate?

(02:52) The next thing you’re going to want to ask is who was the source of the birth information? Was it someone who could have been present at the birth?  They’re going to be the most reliable sources of information. People such as a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, maybe an older sibling who would have been old enough to remember, an attending physician or midwife if you’re lucky enough to find a record from one of them. People like that would be much more reliable than, say, the person’s child who of course, couldn’t have been present at the birth.

Lisa: A death certificate is a good example. It will often tell the birthdate of the person who died. However, you then look at the informant, and you realize that guy certainly wasn’t there when the person was born and certainly heard about it second or third hand. So that’s what you’re talking about, deciding how much weight to give it?

Lindsey: That’s right. Yes.

Question #3: Can the birthdate be corroborated?

(04:00) The next question you’re going to want to ask is whether or not the birth date can be corroborated with other records. For example, if you have three records that report one birthday, and then you find another record that gives a completely different birthday, chances are the record that differs from everything else is probably not accurate, if you can’t find anything else that matches it.

Lisa: So, you’re saying if one thing stands out as different while everything else seems to be lining up, then we give it less weight. That makes sense. And I imagine that there are some dates out there that just don’t make sense, right?

Lindsay: Yes, that’s right.

Question #4: Is the birthdate plausible?

(04:50) You’re going to want to take into consideration everything that you know about the person when you have conflicting information. Look at all of the records you have related to them in their immediate family. That should clue you in on whether or not a certain birthday is even plausible or makes sense.

For example, if someone is listed in the 1860 census, they couldn’t have been born in 1861 or later. Or if they had an older brother who was born in 1875 their birth date would have to be at least nine months after the older sibling’s birthday.

Lisa: That sounds logical. When you’re in the heat of a research challenge, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of those very simple discrepancies. What else should we be asking ourselves?

Question #5: Is the birthdate inaccurate on purpose?

(06:00) Lindsay: The last question that I recommend you ask yourself is, in this situation, is there a reason that the source would be dishonest? There are a lot of reasons why someone may have lied about their age. I’m sure most of us have heard about boys claiming to be older than they actually were in order to be eligible for military service.

Some people may have lied just for the sake of appearances. For example, I can think of an instance in my own family tree where I have a female ancestor who was about seven or eight years older than her husband. Once they were married, all of a sudden her birth year in census records became much later because she apparently didn’t want people to know she was so much older than her husband, or they just assumed that they were closer in age. So that’s one reason why someone could be dishonest.

Another possible reason for dishonesty could be that they had a financial incentive. My grandfather got his driver’s license when he was 15. He lied about his age for many years. His driver’s license never had the right age on it.

There are all sorts of reasons that people lie. So, you’ll just want to ask yourself, is there a reason? Did they stand to gain something from being dishonest?

Lisa: That’s a very good point. It makes me think back to my first job. If anybody ever finds my first job application, they will find a bit of a discrepancy on the age because I was really anxious to get to work. I was 15, and you had to be 16 to work. But I don’t do that anymore!

Birth Record Substitutes

When we’re looking at these kinds of records, and you were talking about finding additional records to corroborate what we’re finding, what are some of the birth records substitutes that we could be looking for?

(08:15) Lindsay: Yes, fortunately, even in the years before state issued birth certificates, there are a lot of other sources that we can turn to that would give a birth date. Probably the best sources out there would be a family Bible or a baptismal record.  Chances are, they were created very close to the birth, or not very long after.

If your ancestor lost a parent at a young age, there may be guardianship records that would record their birth date.

If your ancestor served in the military, there could be various military records, enlistment records, pension records, or World War One World War Two draft registration cards that would record birth dates. They’re both available on Ancestry.

Older headstones are another source. They might not record a birth date, but I’ve seen many where they’ll record the death date and give the person’s very specific age in years, days and months. And so even if it doesn’t record the actual birth date, you can calculate it.

There are also death certificates and obituaries. There are also many records that we record a person’s age at the time that the record was created. Census records are of course a big one, and marriage records. You can use those to help calculate a range of when their birth may have occurred.

Lisa: As you list those records, I think of so many others too, like a passport application. I know I’ve seen them on Ancestry.com. There are lots of different opportunities to come up with some additional records to help determine the true birthdate.

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

In your article in Family Tree Magazine, you provided a great case study. I always think it’s so interesting when we take the theory behind what we’re doing and really apply it to something. Tell us about the case study dealing with these discrepancies in birth records.

(10:41) Lindsay: I came across this situation a few times in my research, but probably the most interesting and perplexing case is the one I shared in the article. It’s about my great, great, grandfather, named Thomas H. Higgins. He was born in Pennsylvania in the 1850s which was many any years before Pennsylvania started issuing birth certificates. Pennsylvania didn’t start until 1906.

STRATEGY: Find out when your ancestor’s state started issuing birth certificates.

Fortunately, his life is very well documented. I have many records that record a birth date for him. Unfortunately, very few of these records match. I actually found six different birth dates for him. I went through each record and evaluated it based on the questions that we just talked about.

Initially, I believed he was born on December 9, 1856. I got that birth date from what I believe was a very, very reliable source. That birthdate had appeared in a biography my grandfather had written about him. It had also appeared in a school application I found. It also appeared in his mother’s Civil War, widows pension application, so that that date came from his mother!

However, as I continued to research him, I started to find many records that did not match that birthday and that made me start to question the accuracy of the 1856 birth date. I started to find quite a few records that said that he was born more than a year earlier in August 1855. Initially, I didn’t put much stock into some of these records, because quite often he was the source of the information. He actually was not a very reliable source because I also know that he had a history of lying about his age!

As I mentioned previously, quite often, young boys would claim to be older to enlist in the military. But in his case, he actually claimed to be about 15 or 16 years younger than he was in order to be able to enlist in the military. He was in his 60s during World War I, and he claimed to be in his 40s in order to enlist. So, I was skeptical of any record where he was the source. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him.

STRATEGY: Collect as many birth records as possible

Then I started to find other records. I found an additional birthdate buried in his mother’s Civil War pension application. I then found a baptismal record. They both corroborated the August 1855 birthdate. And, of course, if he was baptized in March of 1856, he couldn’t have been born in December 1856.

What was the reason for these multiple birthdates? Well, it turns out his parents weren’t married until April 1855, about four months before the August 1855 birth date. So, I believe that he was actually born in August 1855 and his mother fibbed about that in order to hide the fact that he was only born a few months after their marriage.

Lisa: That’s a great example of a reason why somebody might fudge things a little bit.

STRATEGY: Chart out the conflicting birthdates and sources.

I also really liked in the article how you shared a chart, almost like a timeline, but really charted out all the different items. It really helps you see the whole picture of all these conflicting dates, where they’re coming from, when they were created, all those things that you mentioned so that we can try to make a final determination.

The article is called Birthday wishes and it appears in the July / August 2022 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

About Author and Genealogist Lindsey Harner

Where can we learn more about what you’re up to these days?

(15:55) Lindsay: I focus on Pennsylvania and New York research primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’m always busy working on that. And you can find me on my website Lindsay’s Histories. I also have a blog there that you can check out and read more about my research.

Resources

Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

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How to Search the U.S. National Archives Online Catalog for Genealogy

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 40 Show Notes

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

The National Archives is a wonderful resource of unique genealogical records. Though the archives are closed, the website is open, and it’s a great place to search for records and prepare for future genealogy research trips.

The National Archives website and online catalog can be a bit mystifying. If you’ve ever tried to search it and wound up frustrated, you’re not alone. This is often the case because the nature of the archives and the search function of the online Catalog are not genealogically focused. Armed with an understanding of how and why it is set up the way it is, and the know-how to search, refine, and download documents, you’ll be ready to add it to your genealogy toolkit.

In this video episode and article, we’ll be answering important questions such as:

  • What kind of genealogy records can be found at the National Archives website?
  • Which genealogy records are not available at the National Archives?
  • How do I search for records at the National Archives online Catalog?
  • How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
  • How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
  • How do I download files from the National Archives Website?
  • What is the Record Group Explorer?

Original Air Date: Jan. 21, 2021

Important Links:
The National Archives Website: https://www.archives.gov
Search the Catalog: https://catalog.archives.gov/

What Kind of Records Can be Found at the National Archives Website?

To understand the types of records we can expect to find we must first understand the role and mission of the National Archives. Their role is preserving and making available only the permanent Federal Government records. Some have genealogical value.

  • These records are arranged as the agencies created them, so there is no master subject or name index.
  • While they have 110 million + digitized pages in the Catalog, this represents just a small fraction of the holdings.
  • The Catalog contains descriptions for their nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area, regional facilities, and Presidential Libraries.
  • The Catalog currently contains descriptions for 95% of the records, described at the “series” level.
  • You can find basic information about the records, including size and location, from the catalog description.
  • The National Archives is regularly adding more file unit and item descriptions, many of which include digital files.

Some traditional genealogy records can be found at the National Archives such as:

  • Census Records
  • Passenger Arrival Records (Immigration)
  • Land Records
  • Military Personnel Records
  • Court records
  • Fugitive slave cases
  • Naturalization records
  • Federal employees
  • Applications for enrollment in Native American tribes

Most if these records are available in person. However, all National Archives locations have been closed since March 13, 2020 and remain so as of this writing.

Genealogy Records You Will Not Find at the National Archives

Because the following genealogy records are not created at the federal level, they would not be cataloged or found at the National Archives:

  • Birth
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Death records
  • Deeds and wills.

To obtain these records, check with the appropriate state or county.

What to do before you search the National Archives Catalog online

Before you begin your online search:

  • Write down your research question.
  • Decide what topic you want to browse.
  • Think of possible ways your ancestor interacted with the Federal Government.

On the National Archives website they provide a great example of a research question that a genealogist might have and how it can lead to records.

QUESTION: Why did my ancestor have a significant decrease in net worth between the 1860 Census and 1870 Census?|
ASK YOURSELF: How might your ancestor have interacted with the federal government that could help explain this discrepancy?
RECORDS TO SEARCH FOR: The Bankruptcy Act of 1867 allowed many people to file for voluntary bankruptcy. The genealogists could search in the National Archives Catalog for bankruptcy AND [state where you ancestor lived during that timeframe] to see if bankruptcy records are available that could help answer the question.

How to Search the National Archives Catalog Online

There are three key types of searches you can conduct in the catalog:

  • Keyword searches
  • Filtered searches
  • Advanced search

Let’s start with a keyword search:

  1. Go to https://catalog.archives.gov
  2. Enter keywords in the search box in the center of the page.
    (If you are looking for an exact phrase using two or more words, put them in quotation marks example: “bounty land”)
  3. Press the magnifying glass button to run your search.
  4. The results will be returned starting with best results at the top.  
  5. To view a description, click on the blue title.  

You can use the filters on the left side of the results page to narrow down your results.

Refine your search results by type if you know the type of material you want. Example of material type include photos, maps, or textual records.

It’s important to remember that just because the item appears in the result does not mean that it is available online. Many of the descriptions don’t include digital images of the records.

How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?

You can dramatically narrow down your search results to include only digital items that you can review from home. To do this, on the search results page, click on the filter Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects. This will revise your results list so that you will only see descriptions of items with images attached.

How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?

It never hurts to try searching by name, although many record descriptions will not name the people who are named in the records. You can improve these searches by using quotes around the entire name, or just the surname. This will restrict results to only items that exactly matches what appears in the quotes.  

You’ll notice that there isn’t a specific search field for names in the National Archives Catalog.  Here are several additional search strategies you can use when searching for the names of people:

  • Search on the person’s full name in first name-last name order.
  • Search for last name – first name within quotes
  • Search on the surname only. Again you can use quotes.
  • Search on spelling variations using the search operator OR. This works well when searching name variations such as: Burkett OR Burkette.
  • Search on variant spellings of the first name, including “Americanized” versions.

Example: Joseph Maggio OR Guiseppe Maggio.

Again, keep in mind that most descriptions in the National Archives Catalog do not include the names of people mentioned in the record. If you know an individual participated in event, search for related keywords and look within the records. You will need to read them to see if your ancestor is mentioned.  

Another way to improve your search results is to shift your focus from people to topics. This is strongly recommended by the National Archives. You are much more likely to get a greater number of results because people aren’t usually named in descriptions. Be sure to read the description carefully to see if the item will be helpful and worth requesting.

When searching topics, think about and make a list of relevant phrases and keywords. For example, when searching for Land Records, try searching for phrases such as:

  • “Bounty Land”
  • Homestead
  • “Land Entry”

Premium Members Exclusive: Downloadable National Archives Topic Search cheat sheet (PDF)

How to Download Files from the National Archives Website

After clicking the description on the search results page you will be on the record page. If there is a digital image, it can be downloaded. Look below to see if there are additional pages. You can click to select the desired page and then click the download icon just below the image.

If you would like to download all of the images, look below the list of images to see if a compiled PDF is available. This will allow you to download and save all of the images in one convenient file.

The Record Group Explorer at the National Archives Website

The Record Group Explorer offers a unique way of visualizing and finding records at the National Archives website:

  • Allows you to browse NARA’s holdings by Record Group
  • Use it to get a sense of the scale and organization of records
  • Explore what is available online via the Catalog
  • Provides an overview of the digital scans available online within a Record Group: textual records, photographs, maps and charts, electronic records, and more.

Records are grouped by specific government agencies. Each group is represented visually in a section. The section is light blue, signifying the total volume of textual records. If a dark blue bar appears in the section, it is an indicator that some of the records are digitized. The percentage or number (depending on the view you select in the grey Record Group Explorer Tools bar across the top) of digital images will be shown.

If the section is green, that indicates that there are records online but they are not textual records. They may be items like photographs or films.

If the section is grey, there are no records available online at all.

Click a section to learn more about that Record Group and explore the records.

Record Group Highlight: Motion Pictures

The National Archives holds a surprising number of motion pictures. As you browse or search, focusing on topic will likely be more helpful than searching by name. Consider looking for your ancestors’ homes, businesses, military service, events and associated locations.

Check out Motion Picture Library Stock Shots, ca. 1953 – ca. 1959

“A series of films: 306-LSS, a group of more than 400 black and white reels of stock footage that ended up in the hands of the United States Information Agency (USIA).”

Answers to Live Chat Questions

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Sue M.:  Do they hold WPA and CCC records?
From Lisa: Yes to both!

From Steve S.: Can you use the * and ? as search operators in the NARA catalog? Also thanks for de-mystifying this site! you have made it much more understandable.
From Lisa: After the show Steve did some searching and found this handy page providing additional search tips and operators supported by the website. Thanks Steve!    

From Michael R.: Are the Naturalization records in the National Archives different from those in local courthouses?
From Lisa: I haven’t looked lately, but about 15 years ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received my great grandfather’s federal naturalization paperwork. It included a photograph that was not included at the county court level.

From Lynnette B.: I had my parent’s old home movies put on DVD’s several years ago. What is the next step in making them more available? Adobe spark video? YouTube? I want to identify each person on them?
From Lisa: An easy way to get started is by making Adobe Spark Videos (see episode 16)  which is free and easy. Use the Titles feature to add text explaining who is who. Uploading them to your free YouTube account channel is a super easy way to share them.

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World War I Free Records this Week in New and Updated Records

With the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I, this week we’re shining the spotlight on an immense collection of important WWI records that are available for free at FamilySearch. Here are all the details from their recent press release:

FamilySearch Marks World War I Centennial with Free Historic Record Collections

Salt Lake City, Utah (4 April 2017), Did your ancestor serve in World War I? As the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I approaches, FamilySearch International is highlighting its free online collections of World War I records. Millions of free draft registration, service, and naturalization records online help fill in details about ancestors who served in the military during the conflict. April 6, 2017, will mark the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.  Search the free collections at FamilySearch.org.

A century ago, the United States joined its allies to fight in World War I—the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” When the U.S. joined the war effort, battles had already raged in Europe for nearly three years between the Allies and the Central Powers.

World War I anniversary free records

Almost five million American military personnel marched to war under the command of General John Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force. More than 116,000 Americans died in the war—about half from the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe in 1918, killing millions around the world. Nearly 30,000 American military died of the flu before they even got to France.

The country followed the news of the war, with many people supporting the war effort in industry, farming, and other ways as they waited anxiously for the return of their loved ones. On November 11, 1918, about a year and a half after the United States entered the war, Germany formally surrendered, and terms of peace were negotiated. The nation rejoiced as soldiers returned home to rejoin their families and normal lives. But their experiences helped shape their lives, their posterity, and the country.

As the country remembers that war, many families seek to document the stories of their ancestors and friends who participated in the conflict. The veterans of that conflict are gone now, but many Americans are still alive who listened to the stories told by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of their families’ experience during World War I. Some have documents and old letters, but not everyone has such personalized memorabilia. They may find documents in FamilySearch’s searchable online collections to provide insights.

FamilySearch World War I Records Collections:

To find details about an ancestor’s military service, start with the Family History Research Wiki, which directs readers to related documents. Type World War I into the search box in the wiki. The results provide historical context to events during the war, suggestions of records that may provide World War I information, and links to records on other websites.

The most extensive collection on FamilySearch.org is the United States World War I Draft Registration Card collection, with nearly 25 million records. During the course of the war, the amount and kind of information required on draft cards changed, but draft registration cards typically included at least the registrant’s full name, home address, birth date, birthplace, marital status, occupation, physical description, and more.

In addition, many states have registration indexes and card collections that may include other information. For example, searchable state service-card collections on FamilySearch.org for:

provide information about service records, injuries, periods of service, place of birth, age at service or date of birth, units served with, and more for hundreds of thousands of military personnel.

FamilySearch.org has also published searchable images of World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits from San Francisco, California. This collection of records has nearly 34,000 records that offer invaluable genealogical information about noncitizen families during the war, including birth location, countries of citizenship, children, siblings, extended family, educational level, date of arrival in the United States, occupation, languages spoken, a description and a photo of the registrant, and more.

The United States Index to Naturalizations in World War I Soldiers, 1918 offers both indexed information about citizens naturalized during the war and links to images of the actual records.

Census records provide further clues about military service. The 1920 census did not ask questions specific to military service, but the 1930 and 1940 censuses did. Searchable images of the census sheets are online at FamilySearch.org.

One less-known collection containing information about the World War I military comes in records from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). This volunteer organization provided programs and supplies to support the troops, the sick and wounded, and prisoners of war. Family Search.org has 27,000 images from the YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919 collection that provide names, addresses, work, religious affiliation, and army service information.

The following World War I books can be found in FamilySearch’s digital book collection online:

Learn More About World War I for Genealogical Research

Here are three more Genealogy Gems articles to help you discover more about the impact of the Great War on your ancestors:

WWI History App in New and Updated Genealogical Collections
A WWI history app for genealogy leads our top picks for this week! History buffs are going to love Remembering WWI, an app that makes your WWI family history come alive. Also in this week’s new and updated genealogical collections, Swedish church records, Canadian marriage records, Pennsylvania naturalizations, and more.

3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories
How did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors.

Europeana for Genealogy: WWI Digital Archive and More
A major part of Europeana is its World War I digital archive. As the site describes, Europeana “has been running World War I family history roadshows around Europe, helping to digitize people’s stories, documents and memorabilia from 1914-1918.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineHere’s this week’s roundup of new genealogy records online. Highlights: Canadian marriages, German emigrants, Philippines civil registrations, Russian and Ukrainian church records and Michigan marriages.

CANADA – MARRIAGES. A new collection of district marriage register images for Ontario, Canada (1801-1858) is now free to browse at FamilySearch.org. Most entries are for the 1830s-1850s.

GERMANY – EMIGRANTS. The (former) Grand Duchy of Oldenburg Emigrants database just passed the 100.000 person mark. According to a note from the site host, “The database contains beside the emigrant itself also the family members we could trace in Germany or the Country to which he migrated.” Learn more at this blog post from the Oldenburgische Gesellschaft für Familienkunde. Click here to hear online German records expert Jim Beidler talk about new German records online.

PHILIPPINES – CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. FamilySearch.org has added 1.7 million+ browsable records to an existing collection of Philippines national civil registration records (1945-1984). These are described as “marriage and death certificates from various localities,” excluding Manila, for which there is a separate database.

RUSSIA – CHURCH. Nearly half a million browsable records have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of church books for Tatarstan, Russia (1721-1939). These are described as “images of births and baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials performed by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in the republic of Tatarstan.” More records are being added as they are available.

UKRAINE – CHURCH. Another 205,000 browsable records have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of church book duplicates for Kyiv, Ukraine (1734-1920).

U.S. – MICHIGAN – MARRIAGES. FamilySearch.org has added more than 60,000 indexed names to its collection of Michigan county marriage records (1820-1940) and another 2000+ names to its collection of Michigan church marriage records (1865-1931).

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